Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Poems I Journey With 7

  1. I remember one of my former students once exclaiming "Huh, families!" in quiet desperation. He had simply felt smothered by his.  On another occasion I remember an older colleague remarking about his first marriage that he had married a family not an individual. Freud spoke about the Oedipus Complex, that is, his theory, the validity of which is often hotly debated still, that there is a complex of emotions aroused in a young child, typically around the age of four, by an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex and a wish to exclude the parent of the same sex. (He had applied the term originally to boys but Jung and others applied the term also to girls and designated it by a new title, namely the Electra Complex.) However, let's not get too bogged down in terminology for its own sake. What I simply wish to point out here is how complex the relationships within any one family are in actuality.  As we grow up we initially model ourselves on our same-sex parents, then we begin to pit one against the other, and as we further age we begin to grow away from them as we enter our adolescent years and finally we then break to a greater or lesser extent those ties that bind us to our family of origin as we form new families of our own.  All of this intense relational interaction causes a complexity of joy and pain, little clarity and much confusion for all concerned.  However, that is the price we must pay for growing up.

    Having given this brief introduction to the complexity of our inter-relationships within our families of origin, I wish to present the reader with two poems in which the respective authors look back rather critically on how their parents reared them.  As many have often remarked parenthood is often simply thrust upon us by necessity, rather than by foresight or planning and that it is one task for which none of us has really ever been properly prepared in the first place.  I remember when I was in my late teens arguing with my mother and saying to her in a fit of anger that I had never asked to be born. Indeed, it was a dreadful thing to say, and had I even thought about it I would have realised that neither had she either.  Indeed, recently I was sitting with some friends looking at some little birds feeding at a seed feeder in a garden when a magpie came up and chased the little ones away.  My friend Mia remarked that the magpie while a somewhat ugly and repulsive bird was "just another of God's creatures that had never asked to be born." Here I was reminded of Heidegger's phrase that we humans experience a sense of "dasein" or "thrownness" into existence. Indeed, for me this is exactly what my friend Mia was expressing.  The two poems I offer the reader in today's poetic reflection are poems that speak essentially about that existential condition of our thrownness (random as it is) into existence.  No wonder the first action of any child is to cry out in fear at the feeling of new being in an alien world.

    Our first poem is called "This Be The Verse" by Philip Larkin (1922-1985), a poem which I have seen used quite profitably in a counselling session and "Sorry" by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)  They are two poems that are very provocative and necessarily so, as we often need to be confronted by such reality! I believe they have much to teach us insofar as they may help us come to grips with ourselves and our relationships with our mothers and with our fathers. I will offer them below as a diptych without commentary by way of comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable.
    Philip Larkin, librarian and poet 

                                      This Be The Verse
                                          Philip Larkin

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    R.S. Thomas

    Dear parents,
    I forgive you my life,
    Begotten in a drab town,
    The intention was good;
    Passing the street now,
    I see still the remains of sunlight.

    It was not the bone buckled;

    You gave me enough food
    To renew myself.
    It was the mind's weight
    Kept me bent, as I grew tall.

    It was not your fault.

    What should have gone on,
    Arrow aimed from a tried bow
    At a tried target, has turned back,
    Wounding itself
    With questions you had not asked.

  2. R.S. Thomas

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