Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Green Farmhouse Chairs and Being Thirteen

I heard Billy Collins talking on the radio today about his view that poetry needs a certain amount of accessibility to draw the reader in and a certain amount of mystery or difficulty to keep us there and draw us deeper (I'm paraphrasing here). Just before April's National Poetry month started, I found myself totally taken in by a poem with these qualities, Donald Hall's poem "Green Farmhouse Chairs." It was a poem that took several reads for me to really appreciate, and I know that I still haven't gotten it entirely. Still, it's a beautiful poem. The poem's speaker is in his 90s, and stylistically the poem mimics the wandering mind, making connections over a lifetime. At the same time, of course, it's carefully constructed and circles back in interesting ways. One of the parts that caught me up in the poem was this section:
Idolatrous of this white farmhouse
since I was ten, in my ninth decade
I daydream that it burns to the ground

3. so that nobody will empty it.
My children comfort me with their care,
bringing five grandchildren to visit,
but none will settle in the country.
There's a part of me that wishes I was one of those grandchildren, that I did want to settle there, in the country. I mean, I do want to settle in the country, but as much as I'm looking forward to us building our own house, there's a part of me that wishes I had some old family enclave to inherit--not just because it's cheaper but because of the sense of place, the fragments of family history in the house: Hall refers to a number of these explicitly, the tokens that have come down of family members over generations.

What it comes down to, I suppose, is that I'm nostalgic for something that I never had but of which I can understand the appeal. I have a similar reaction to Stephen Kellogg's song "Thirteen," in which he looks back on the innocence of being 13 years old and, in essence, a naive player. Meeting all these girls over the summer, these girls "French-kissing boys into men," these brief but intense relationships that are destined to be over even before the summer is.

That was never my experience in any way, shape, or form, but when I listen to the song, I find myself getting nostalgic for that experience.

Isn't that a funny thing, though, looking back wistfully on something you never had? As if there isn't enough wist for the life you did have...

Here, for your listening pleasure, is Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers live with "Thirteen":

1 comment:

  1. Ah, but the things you imagine are perfect, whereas the things you had are not. You "wist" for a dream, and who has never done that?