"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Faraway Auld Lang Syne


Though it is not a holiday piece, there is something about the following story -- maybe it's the foggy weather or the gathering of friends -- that always brings New Year's Eve to mind. Like the Tennessee Williams poem ("The Summer Belvedere") that I posted a few weeks ago, this story by William Saroyan is not easy to locate, so I'll use this fortnight's blog post to pass it on to you.

"The Faraway Night" was first passed on to me thirty years ago by a co-worker, someone I knew for only a short time and never knew well. We never kept in contact; yet, she is memorable to me for adding to my frame of reference this very short story by an author that I had been unfamiliar with until that time. Would I have discovered the story anyway, in some anthology or other, or through some other acquaintance? Perhaps so, but maybe not. I prefer to believe the Fates arranged for our paths to cross so that I might have this sad beautiful story in my life.

The Faraway Night
by William Saroyan

Armenian - American Author, 1908 - 1981
Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1949
Academy Award for Best Original Story, 1943

This was a day of fog and remembrance of old days and old songs. I sat in the house all afternoon listening to the songs. It was darker everywhere than light and I remembered a song I sang to girl on a bus once. For a while there we were in love, but when the bus reached Topeka she got off and I never saw her again. In the middle of the night when I kissed her she began to cry and I got sick with the sickness of love. That was a young night in August, and I was on my way to New York for the first time in my life. I got sick because I was going my way and she was going hers.

All this day of fog I sat in the house remembering the way a man's life goes one way and all the other lives another, each of them going its own way and a certain number of young people dying all the time. A certain number of them going along and dying. If you don't see them again they are dead even if it is a small world: even if you go back and look for each of them and find them you find them dead because any way any of them go is a way that kills.

The bus came to Topeka and she got off and walked around a corner and I never saw her again. I saw many others, many of them as lovely as she, but never another like her, never another with that sadness and loveliness of voice and never another who wept as she wept. There never will be another with her sadness. There never will be an American night like that again. She herself may be lovelier now than then but there will never be another sadness of night like that and never again will she or anyone else weep that way and no man who kisses her will grow sick with the sickness of the love of that night. All of it belongs to a night in America which is lost and can never be found. All of it belongs to the centuries of small accidents, all trivial, all insignificant, which brought her to the seat beside me, and all the small accidents which placed me there, waiting for her.

She came and sat beside me, and I knew the waiting of all the years had been for her, but when she got off the bus in Topeka I stayed on and three days later I reached New York. That's all that happened except that something of myself is still there in that warm, faraway American night.

When the darkness of day became the darkness of night I put on my hat and left the house. I walked through the fog to the city, my heart following me like a big patient dog, and in the city I found some of the dead who are my friends, and in laughter more deathly and grievous than the bitterest weeping we ate and drank and talked and sang and all that I remembered was the loveliness of her weeping because the years of small accidents had brought us together, and the foolishness of my heart telling me to stay with her and go nowhere, telling me there was nowhere to go.


It's that line, "A certain number of young people dying all the time," that cuts straight to the quick. He's right, of course. Some do die young; others just die away from our reality: "If you don't see them again they are dead even if it is a small world."

We are fortunate that the world is smaller these days than it was when Saroyan was writing; with email and facebook, people don't slip away quite so easily. And even without technology, there is still the occasional, good old-fashioned coincidence. It could happen in real life, just as it does in Dan Fogelberg's song "Same Auld Lang Syne," old friends meeting unexpectedly in the grocery store on New Year's Eve, picking up last minute party supplies -- paper hats, balloons, eggs, a bottle of champagne. It could happen.

Happy New Year! Auld Lang Syne!

28 December ~ The Fourth Day of Christmas

First Fortnightly Post of the New Year
Friday, January 14, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Fall Reason, A Winter Reason

Rustic Porch Lanterns, December Dusk

According to the calendar, it's still autumn; but judging by six inches of snow on the ground, it's definitely winter. I like the way my friend Olynn describes it on her recent facebook post: "One week till first day of winter!! Yea!! Love first day of winter cause as soon as it gets here days start getting longer. Hate first day of summer cause when you are finally ready for lots of warm sunny weather...days start getting shorter." It seems so backward, doesn't it?

Miroslav Holub has written a couple of excellent poems for this transitional time of year. First comes the "yellow foliage" when there are still a few leaves to be seen and then at last the "reddish boniness" when it appears that all is lost.

Fingers of the autumn sun
fiddle with yellow foliage
outside. . . .
this year we are
immersed in history
like a web of light.

Miroslav Holub (1923 - 98)
Czech poet and immunologist
from his poem, "Philosophy of Fall"

And it is all over.

No more sweetpeas,
no more wide-eyed bunnies
dropping from the sky.

a reddish boniness
under the sun of hoarfrost,
a thievish fog,
an insipid solution of love,
and crowing.

But next year
larches will try
to make the land full of larches again
and larks will try
to make the land full of larks.

And thrushes will try
to make all the trees sing,
and goldfinches will try
to make all the grass golden,

and burying beetles
with their creaky love will try
to make all the corpses
rise from the dead,


Both poems translated by Stuart Friebert and Dana Habova;
in Holub's collection,
Intensive Care: Selected and New Poems, 1996

Even as Holub writes of the year's demise, he anticipates the coming cycle of renewed life, a new generation of sweetpeas, bunnies, thrushes, and beetles. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950) looks from the opposite perspective, however, writing in "Sonnet XXXV" that even at the height of summer, she can feel the full weight of love's decline:

If in widening silence you should guess
I read the moment with recording eyes,
Taking your love and all your loveliness
Into a listening body hushed of sighs . . .
Though summer's rife and the warm rose in season,
Rebuke me not: I have a winter reason.

from "Clearly my ruined garden"
in Fatal Interview, 1931

If you have a winter reason, well, now's the time. But keep in mind the larches and the larks! As Olynn observes, just one short week to go before the days start getting longer . . .

Appropriate for any time of year is this beautiful closing thought from Holub's poem "United Flight 412":

" . . . where would we be
if love was not stronger than poetry
and poetry stronger than love?"

The Lanterns, Filled With Snow

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading