Richard Vallance.


June 2002 Vallance Review:

After Long Days of Dull Perpetual Rain
by William Wetmore Story




INTRODUCTION

I suppose the first comment I ought to make, and get out of the way is this: I just had to laugh when I saw the poet's name - "Wetmore". It appears he has quite a wet little "story" to tell! Very droll.

Here's a thematically "Shakespearian" Sonnet, if I ever saw one!



THE SONNET:

After Long Days of Dull Perpetual Rain

After long days of dull perpetual rain,
And from gray skies, the sun at last shines bright,
And all the sparkling trees are glad with light,
And all the happy world laughs out again;
The sorrow is forgotten, past the pain;
For Nature has no memory, feels the blight
Of no regret, nor mars the day's delight
With idle fears and hopes and longings vain.
Ah me! it is not so with us; the ghost
Of vanished joys pursues us everywhere;
We live as much in all that we have lost
As what we own; no present is so fair
That the best moment's sunlight is not crossed
By shadowy shapes of hope, and fear, and care.

William Wetmore Story (1819-1895)

American


THE REVIEW:

This "primavera" Sonnet (the term which I shall henceforth use to denote any sonnet about Spring) falls squarely within the classical tradition of primavera poetry, which has been in existence receding far into the mists of ancient times.

The Greeks, Sanskrit poets, Japanese haiku poets, and ancient Chinese poets were deeply fascinated by the seasons, and in particular with the mythologies of their respective lands revolving around the coming of spring, when an abundance of life returned to a dreary, exhausted world and the advent of winter, when most of the natural world seemed to lapse into a coma.

To this very day, our collective unconscious (if indeed this is the trigger, as it were, of such mythological concerns) is still haunted by the onset of Spring, which awakes from the long, dark night of Winter, when so many of us are locked in despair, or as we would have it nowadays, seasonal affective disorder.

On another note, consider how this remarkable sonnet, by another "soi-disant" (so-called) "minor" poet, hinges in natural equilibrium on its fulcrum at the end of the octave. In the octave, the poet raises our spirits to an almost sublime peak with his beautiful description of Nature's easeful ways. All of this is so exquisitely summed in Jesus' own putative words, and in this lovely New Testament quatrain:

Matthew 6:25-33
  1. Consider the lilies and how they grow,
    For they never toil or spin you know,
    Yet Solomon in all his finery
    Was never arrayed like one of these.

  2. And look at the ravens up in the air,
    For they never sow or gather there,
    Yet your Father feeds them from day to day.
    Are you not of far more worth then they?

  3. If God clothes the grass of the field this way,
    Which lives and which dies in a single day,
    If God feeds the birds of the heavens too,
    Will He not do even more for you?

  4. So therefore I say, "Take no anxious care,
    For what you shall eat and what you shall wear,
    But seek first God's Kingdom and righteousness,
    and with all these things you shall be blest."


Words and music © by Mark Graham
http://www.cgmusic.com/cghymnal/members/considerthelilies.htm

The Sestet:

In the sestet, Wetmore's surprising anticlimax effectively drags us back down into the Styx of the human soul, with its morbid concerns with the past, with troubles and cares, with death, in a word, with issues that matter not one jot to the Natural World, or for that matter, to the Universe at large. As Shakespeare so aptly put it, the octave might be said to express this philosophy:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

(Hamlet I.v. 174-175)

At first sight, the sestet appears to complain bitterly and (dare I say?) uselessly, in tones reminiscent of Macbeth's piteous lament:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

      (Macbeth V.v. 19-28)


Interestingly enough, it is precisely this last theme, catapulting the eye-catching opener to the sonnet itself,
After long days of dull perpetual rain,
which seems to inform us that Nature herself has been suffering from dull boredom and perhaps even depression. But in fact, she has not, not in the least, as Wetmore makes this abundantly clear:
For Nature has no memory, feels the blight
Of no regret, nor mars the day's delight
With idle fears and hopes and longings vain.

No, it is not Nature who harbours "idle fears and hopes and longings vain." It is merely we humans, who read these feelings, these thoughts, and this despairing at life into her reality. The Natural world can and does do just fine without any concern for idle emotional preoccupations.

Rather it is mankind, who alone attributes Evil and Good to the World, which he inhabits and sadly contaminates with his fears. As Hamlet has it, in his morbid pre-occupations over fate:

Why, then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

(Hamlet II.ii. 244-252)
(Italics mine)

Had we not come along, and with our perverted consciousness (sometimes called, "sin") and gone and wrecked our once-pristine environment (generally referred to as, "the fall", as Milton would have it in his grand epic, Paradise Lost), this lovely Earth of ours would perhaps still be what she primevally had been, Eden, when mankind had not yet evolved to consciousness. And yet, it is our very consciousness which determines either our doom or fate (Greek, "moira") or our eventual Destiny, should we manage as a collective organism or, in Teilhard de Chardin's terminology, noosphere to overcome our "sin" and rise to a conscious Paradise in peaceful alliance with unconsciousness. This begs the question of the so-called, "Miracle"? Does such even exist?

What then is "Miracle"? Miracle is simply our living Life, both as individuals and as the psycho-social collective, and not complaining about it, or harping on the griefs and despairs of our past, none of which may be retrieved from the abyss of time, regardless. As the old saying goes, "Why cry over spilled milk?"

There is, after all, only one Eternity and that is the Here-and-Now. Neither the past, nor the future have any substantial being or existence, except in our grasping onto straws in our desperation to escape our responsibilities to live in the present, to accept the present as what it truly is, a present, a gift. We cannot escape this paradox. This is one of the keys to the Mystery of Life. This is the source of all miracle. Let us then celebrate the present, and exult in the glorious sunshine of our springs and the harvests of our summers!

That the best moment's sunlight is not crossed

By shadowy shapes of hope, and fear, and care.


© Vallance Review June 2002
Richard Vallance, May 27th., 2002





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