American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Between the Ghosts and the Guests

with 4 comments

Bob Arons in my father's room, trusty iPhone in hand.

For me this has been a more difficult year than most, beginning with my father’s stroke in February; then continuing through spring, when his survival was still uncertain; then through summer, when I was packing up his apartment; then through fall, as I waited for bed space to open up in a local nursing home. I’m still waiting.

Luckily for me, and thankfully for my father, numerous friends have helped in a substantive, ongoing way all through this travail, especially Bob. Bob’s loyalty to my father has been — there’s no other word for it — epic. “A poem including history,” if I can quote the old fascist in this context (Bob being a cousin of Joseph Rosen, and my father… well, I’ve written about that before).

Anyway, friendship aside, and perseverance aside, I’m glad that 2009 is done; pulverized into sand and trickled away. Now, instead of turning the glass over, let’s smash it, and learn to measure time in a new way.

Looking for an appropriate new year’s poem, I kept coming back to the one below. Not that my friends and loved ones are more dead than living — though I did lose my mother-in-law this year; I think of her often — only that “mist and shadow” block my sun. Temporarily, no doubt. 2010 is bound to bring more light. More clarity, if not more happiness, but more happiness surely. In the meantime, in loving memory of all those who did pass, here’s a poem written by Longfellow in 1870, when he was 63 years old, in the midst of a long twilight that began about nine years before, with the death of his beloved Fanny:

The Meeting

After so long an absence
At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
In the top of the uppermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Written by Ben Friedlander

December 31, 2009 at 12:17 pm

4 Responses

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  1. thanks as always &
    earnest best wishes
    for 2010


    December 31, 2009 at 1:45 pm

  2. Ben,
    Thanks for that. Happy New Year. I miss you and Carla, a lot and often.
    Happy New Year.


    January 1, 2010 at 9:33 am

  3. This is a wonderful gift, especially the last couple of stanzas Thank you for that poem, Ben, and may the year be good to you!

    Annie Finch

    January 1, 2010 at 10:39 am

  4. Peter, Belle, Annie:

    Much love to you also for the new year!


    Ben Friedlander

    January 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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