Memorial for Adrienne Rich

Memorial for Adrienne Rich March 29, 2012

Adrienne Rich, celebrated poet and feminist, passed away yesterday.  I know Rich mostly for the following poem which reminds me to beware of trying to get ready to live my life — which just causes me to miss out on it as it passes me by.

Transcendental Etude

No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
or music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
–And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.

Along the same lines is the following poem, which reminds me that there is no holding on the the present — I can only embrace the ceaseless flow of change.

My Heart is Moved

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Casting my lot with those who reconstitute the world — that reminds me of a quote by Joseph Campbell which states that continued life is only found by dying and being reborn (whether literally or symbolically):

“The hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what? That precisely is the riddle that today we have to ask ourselves and that it is everywhere the primary virtue and historic deed of the hero to have solved … Schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardhearted work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death — the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. Within the soul, within the body social, there must be — if we are to experience long survival — continuous ‘recurrence of birth’ (palingenesia) to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death. For it is by means of our own victories, if we are not regenerated, that the work of Nemesis is wrought: doom breaks from the shell of our very virtue. Peace then is a snare; war is a snare; change is a snare; permanence a snare. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do, except be crucified – and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn.

Both of Rich’s poems above go along with the theme of my previous post: change.  Both poems can be found the the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition.

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