Monday, October 25, 2010

Poems from the Past

The other night, Mr Wonderful and I were dining at his parents house-pasta with cheese and bacon, topped with a potato-chip crust. It was divine, but I digress.

During the meal, his father turned to me and began to recite: Oh Love! Could you and I conspire/ to grasp the Scheme of Things entire..." (It grew from a thread of the general conversation, turning it to a subject less tense than the political subjects we had been discussing).
He asked if I knew this verse. I admit, I had heard it somewhere, and being an English major felt pressure to rise to the occasion. Nodding, I waited for him to continue, however, I was asked to finish the recitation.

Ummm....I had heard it, but had no real idea where or in what context.I certainly couldn't recite it.

My future Father-in-law continued undaunted.

"Oh love! Could you and I conspire
To grasp this Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter them to bits-and then
Re-mold it to our Heart's Desire."

A beautiful verse made richer by his thick Lebanese accent.
He repeated the lines again, so I could learn it.

"Do you know who wrote this?"
"No," I had to confess.
"Omar Khayam. The Rubaiyat. Rubaiyat- for quartets- four." He smiled, repeated the words again.
They stayed with me long after dinner was over and Mr. Wonderful and I returned home.

In my mother's possesions I found some things that puzzled me. One was a poem, by Christina Rosetti written on a 3x5 card in a script much too neat to have come from my mother's hand. Or at least, the mother I knew. But I am sure it was hers, penned carefully and thoughtfully; the similarities to her hurried everyday penmanship were there:
For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.
-Christina Rosetti 1830-1894

Another was a tiny book titled, Sprigs of Persian Wisdom.

The third was a small coopy of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayam.

An inscription just inside the cover read,"Aug 12 1965, Honolulu. Birthday greetings in a thought-filled book-May your life be guided by wisdom and a questioning mind. A happy day + life. Snooker"

And there, on the penultimate page, the verse recited at dinner.

My aunt, Snooker, moved to Hawaii in 1964 and stayed there until 1996. In 1965, my sister was six; I would follow three years later.

I guess, until I had found those artifacts, until my mother and aunt were gone, until I wrote pieces of their stories in my college thesis, I never really considered the depth of their relationship. They were seven years apart, my sister and I, nine. I assumed the younger relationship reflected the older. There was an ebb and flow to the sibling regard between my sister and I, so maybe we were following an iherited precedent. My sister and I certainly have come closer with time and semi-maturity (I refuse to grow up!)as did my mother and Snooker (who obviously had trouble with the aging process).

Wait! I take it back! I don't want to be Snooker! It's my sister that is collecting baskets and childrens books, and spending hours in craft stores!! So maybe that analogy doesn't work.

But I could see my sister sending a card to me with the Rossetti poem inside. I can imagine sending her a book of verse for her birthday.

There is pain there. These three objects, perhaps have more meaning in the absence of those that sent or kept them. Perhaps, my mother wrote the poem down in order to memorize it. It is possible to imagine her snickering at it, as if to say yeah, right. Or maybe, Snooker, in her usual last minute, but thoughtful modus operandi, found that book in a shop and thought, OOH! I can send that for Betty's birthday. A little Arabic verse will do her good.

Probably not.

The two Khayam quartets as they appear in my mother's copy of The Rubaiyat:

Would but some wing'ed Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!

Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits-and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

I wish that were possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment