The Sestina of a Lifetime

If you are not aware of the poetic structure of a sestina, it is a poem of highly structured word repetitions (6 words) following this pattern of retrogradatio cruciata: wherein all six chosen words appear in every end-position possible within 6 stanzas of 6 lines.

Table of sestina end-words (columns for stanzas, rows for lines, order+word listed as number+letter)
OneTwoThrFourFiveSix
1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B
2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D
3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F
4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E
5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C
6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A

This is followed by a final 3-line stanza, the envoi, containing the 6 words again in this order: 2-5 / 4-3 / 6-1.

You might surmise by now that a poem with such rigid and repetitive structure that lasts for a significant number of lines (39 in total) is good for expressing something about the more repetitive things in life. I’ve seen good ones about a long train ride with strange people (Sestina of a Train by Al Purdy), and obsessive lovers who can’t stop thinking about each other (The Lover’s Sestina by Bruce Meyer). Both poems capitalised on the repetitive aspect of the sestina form to create that (oppressive) feeling of reading the same words over and over. But I really wanted to try a sestina in which the words clearly repeated without such a heavy feeling of them repeating. For this I had to choose the kind of words that could have varied meanings. I did “cheat” in that I intentionally chose to make one of the six words change throughout the poem, but I decided that before even beginning to write. Besides that disclaimer, I don’t want to over-explain the poem. Here is my attempt:

The Sestina of a Lifetime

9 months she ate the things she craved to eat.
On Monday noon he heard the doctor call,
with trepidation rushed in from the hall,
to see his babe emerge from head to feet,
untangled from the womb to be set free:
To hold her was to see her as The Only.

They sent her off to school when only 5:
a sandwich, fruit, and cookie she would eat,
then play with friends outdoors when time was free.
When bullies nasty names of her did call,
her mother taught her how to turn defeat
into the courage shown in concert halls.

Then, fresh-faced from her graduation hall,
she joined a firm to ‘start her life’. Only,
Monday mornings she would drag her feet
and wonder, “Eat to work or work to eat?”
She’d close her eyes her childhood to recall,
and wonder how she squandered times once free.

When dreamy man her passions did set free,
they tied the knot and filled a banquet hall.
Guests watched as pastor at the altar called
them husband wife – each other: one and only.
They barely sat to celebrate and eat;
their life would start once they had thrown their fête!

But changing diapers proved to be a feat
from which young parents struggled to be free
when seven mouths would cry, “I want to eat!”
Then soon their children passed through college halls,
and once again they were each other’s Only,
except when grown-up children came to call.

On Friday night she got a sudden call:
his heart attack had brought him to his fate,
and once again she lived with herself only,
until her soul fled too. Finally. Free.
Some tears were shed by loved ones in the hall,
then dust to dust and soon the worms would eat.

All counted, would you call your life as “free”?
Which Way goes your feet walking down the hall?
These questions, only, away at you to eat.

Romans 8:38-39

Reading the August 1st entry from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, I noticed something in these verses that I didn’t before. Read the whole thing first.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [ESV]

What is it that I noticed? Paul is sure that neither death nor life will be able to separate us from the love of God. Life cannot separate us from the love of God. Sometimes I am convinced that things suck and I’m tired of it and wish God would decide that it’s time for me to go. There’s a faint sense, at least in thinking of what I would be like if I were convinced that God loved me much, that I am tired of life because I think God doesn’t love me hence this is what he’s giving me. Conventionally, death sounds something terrible, but sometimes for Christians, life is what conventionally sounds something terrible if, you know, we get to be with God in death and free from this world. I’m not sure this is an orthodox or accurate interpretation of the verse, but to those who think like me at times, here it is: even sucky times of life do not mean we are separated from the love of God.

Bilbo Baggins makes a decision

As one of those who watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey within the first 24 hours of its release in Canada, I can say that I enjoyed it.

The following concerns one of the most chilling moments of The Hobbit for me, though it’s probably not what you would typically consider a chilling moment. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, although if you’re against watching trailers, this does reference content in the trailer.

You can watch a snippet from 2:00 in this trailer if you wish, just of the exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf.

Bilbo Gandalf

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: …No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
[Click image for original website.]

Like Bilbo, I want that assurance of familiarity. Gandalf’s words that you and others will not be the same are almost like a nightmare.

Bilbo Baggins’ fear of change and strangers and uncertainty, his apprehension at leaving all that he knows and loves and values, and his reluctance to dive into a life-changing adventure are all things that I, at the depths of my play-it-safe nature, very much identify with.

This fear is one of the huge challenges for humanity, as expressed in so many of the stories in our culture: letting go of what could have been for what could be.

Frodo Baggins leaving the Shire for the Fellowship of the Ring.

Jay Gatsby refusing to let go of his ideal of Daisy.

Daisy Buchanan pursuing her ideal of love. (Funny how ideal is not far from the spelling of idol.)

Simba leaving his desert oasis paradise to challenge Scar on Pride Rock.

Spiderman taking on his burden of  great responsibility that comes with great power.

The twelve disciples answering Jesus’ call to follow him.

Again and again, we are shown that the world is not static, and that we must adapt as life happens, but we don’t always respond favourably. Most of us are control freaks, in the sense that if things are out of control and beyond our zone of comfort, we freak out. The thing is, if we see what we are as fine-and-dandy, we will abhor change; if we have a healthy discontent that recognizes how we could be changed for the better, we would be more open to change, in reasonable proportions. (I’m not talking complete overhaul for no reason.)

Now, I know my resolution to this fear, and it is something I remind myself of all the time. Yet this is a recurring concern that comes back to taunt me, in case I can be hoodwinked to forget the source of my confidence, so then I fend it off with my sword. I shall leave this post unresolved.

They call it “osmosis”

There you have it: the gummi bear was destroyed by the end, and by something so benign as water.

As we continue considering loss, grief, and any kind of transition in life, there is a point that needs to be made. (Surprise! Haven’t you noticed a theme in recent posts?) When we lose something, we replace it. On a trivial scale, I dropped my phone on the ground recently and broke the speaker. It didn’t make sense to fix it, so I considered it a “total loss” and replaced it with a low-end smartphone. (Hello decade of 2010. Sort of – still no data plan.) I digress. When we lose something, no matter how attached we were, we inevitably let other things fill the void left behind, or else consciously fill the void ourselves, even if it’s gradual and slow.

The law of osmosis: when high concentrations of solvent molecules move through a semi-permeable membrane to regions of higher solute concentrations. The lack of solvent molecules in one region of solution is an open invitation to other solvent molecules to creep in. 

The period of grief poses a sad but simple time when you can really feel all the words like “blessed be the name of the Lord” and “all is well with my soul” and “fix your eyes upon Jesus.” It’s emotionally hard to bear the pain but emotionally easy to rely on the love of God. After the most intense moments of trial have passed, emotions stabilize and are easier to bear, but it becomes harder again to feel the passion of your complete abandon to God.

This time-of-trial VS time-of-ease conundrum of drawing close to God is a most common concern I’ve heard amongst Christians. In the case of grief+loss it is easy at first to fill your loss with the comfort of the presence of God, but as the pain lessens and as life resumes, other things begin to take precedence. That vision of devotion once so clear becomes more clouded. In considering this, I’ve been reminded of a principle I just read in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus speaks regarding the Sabbath.

[23] One Sabbath he [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. [24] And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” [25] And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: [26] how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” [27] And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. [28] So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

(Mark 2:23-28 ESV)

The command to keep the Sabbath day holy is not a restriction from lifting a finger on the day of rest at all costs, but a call to honour God consciously with strength of discipline. ***

Similarly, with loss, it’s not that you can literally have nothing in your life but Christ. The idea is that as life continues and activities and people begin to fill our lives again, we will have grown some and will consider our motivations in how we fill our lives and to what end. We shan’t be passively filled by our convenient environments via osmosis, but filled by contending in the faith, working out our salvation in a spirit of submissive but eager obedience to follow a good and faithful God who called us before the creation of the world. Hopefully filling our lives in a way that reflects being a good and faithful servant cognizant that our Master will return and that the pleasures of the world shall pass.

*** (For my own benefit and for yours if you are interested, here is an article about rest and how to rest by Tim Keller that I want to remember: http://theresurgence.com/2012/07/11/5-practical-thoughts-on-rest)

livid, adj.

Furiously angry

blue with rage?

also defined pale with rage.

Livid because of the Careless.

Careless are Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker and the like; so wrapped up in themselves but lavishing the cheap love of a millionaire donating in pennies.

Careless because you smile; not a care in the world.

Even when Tom takes Myrtle as a mistress. Daisy smiles. “Nick. You remind me of a rose, an absolute rose!”

In a careless society, the great Jay Gatsby met his death.

The careless society that shoved everything messy under the rug, smiled, and glittered, leading a glamorous life.

The Roaring Twenties.

Hope

You know chick flicks? They’re mostly run-of-the-mill pieces of mediocrity that directors make to guarantee some femme group-spending on a ladies’ movie night. On the contrary, there’s something to be said for the power of a feel-good flick watched with good girl friends.

Realist movies aren’t as fun to watch as the unrealistic fast food of a chick flick.

[Below are spoilers for the movies Alfie and Sweet Home Alabama.]

Take Alfie – despite the possible chick flick designation for having Jude Law in the cast, this movie ends as a downer. Alfie’s really messed things up for others and himself with his playboy lifestyle that includes personal attachments to many women. He thinks it’s ok; he always makes it clear beforehand that he’s not the type ready to commit. Still, the movie ends and he is lonely and guilt-ridden. Realistic? Maybe. Droll? Definitely.

Take Sweet Home Alabama – despite definite chick flick flavours such as good-looking screen personnel and a fairytale storyline of economic success and ‘true’ love, it does kind of subvert fairytale romances of the urban fashionable blue-blood strain where the rich marry each other or some poor girl or boy. (It does upkeep the childhood sweetheart fairytale though.) In any case, we admittedly hope for our own fairytale.

Back to the point. “S/he/It is so real.” That’s what we say when we’re impressed with how something has moved us deeply. Like when something has the raw power to connect with a part of ourselves that we believe to be ‘real’. What is real? We keep returning to the chick flick; whether we say it is real or we don’t, we include it in the functions of our life.

Perhaps the ‘real’ thing we see in chick flicks is the hope it inspires. That hope may not be for any realistic target, but the act of hope is viscerally real. And hope is far more appealing than despair.