First the reminder: Be smart and back up everything saved on your computer hard drive — today. Take it from one who learned the hard way. Our home computer died a couple of months ago and with it went my “stuff”, including photographs, recipes, saved pages and other bits and pieces that meant something to me. I hope to find someone who can recover things from that dead hard drive, but at odd moments I think of my lost collections and of possibly reconstructing what I had. I know I lost two poems introduced to me in long-ago high school literature classes. After leaving home for college, and for the longest time before online searching became possible, every time I found myself in a book store (remember them?) or any library, I would browse anthologies of poetry hoping to find either poem listed in some book’s table of contents or index.
The feelings each poem evokes, if not their words, have stayed with me through the years. One fires me up, bringing up defiance and strength in the face of adversity. “Invictus”, Latin for unconquered or unbeaten, is the title of William Ernest Henley’s poem that left a lasting impression on my teen and adult self. Invictus also is the title of a 2009 movie that starred Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent 27 years in prison for campaigning against apartheid and then served as South Africa’s first black president. The other poem encourages patience and reflection and reins me in. At moments in my life, recalling Vernon Watkins’ Triads has guided me to my senses. I found these poems again online and now I share them here for safekeeping, sort of. At any time I can search the library catalog for poems, but for now I intend to keep my resolution to do scheduled backups of my computer hard drive.
by Vernon Watkins (1906-67)
Who am I to load the year with continual misunderstanding?
I will not accuse winter of a protracted hardness,
Nor spring of callousness, nor summer of regret.
The oak-leaf changes; green gloss cups the acorn.
First hidden, then emerging from resistance to statement,
The fruit holds nothing in its fullness but the tree.
To have held through hail, stormwinds, and black frost in darkness
Through the long months, gives meaning to the bud when it opens.
Song loses nothing of moments that are past.
So my labour is still: it is still determination
To resolve itself slowly in the weathers of knowledge.
By virtue of the hidden the poem is revealed.
Remember Earth’s triads: the faith of a dumb animal,
The mountain stream falling, music to the wheat-ears;
The salt wave echoing the grieving of the bones.
The lamb leaps: it is stubborn in its innocence.
The hawk drops, in the energy of instinct,
Dawn fires kindle perfection like a sword.
Fires: the hawk’s talons, the tongue of the chameleon,
In a peacock’s wings’ lightning the contraction of glory,
In death the last miracle, the unconditional gift.
What do I need but patience before the unpredictable,
The endurance of the stepping-stone before the footprint,
Cadence that reconciles wisdom and the dance?
I need more, I need more. In the moment of perception
Fit me, prayer, to lose everything, that nothing may be lost.
The stone that accumulates history is falling.
History is a pageant, and all men belong to it.
We die into each other: remember how many
Confided their love, not in vain, to the same earth.