Saturday, January 31, 2009

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

Crossing the River Styx, c. 1861. Gustave Dore

Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Souls on the Banks of the River Styx, c. 1873
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

W.B. Yeats, 70 Years Ago Today

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright known for his menacing symbolism. He was one of the most important poets of the 20th century and won the Nobel Prize for literature. He wrote some of his best work after he won the prize. Yeats died on January 28, 1939.


O you not hear me calling, white deer with no horns?
I have been changed to a hound with one red ear;
I have been in the Path of Stones and the Wood of Thorns,
For somebody hid hatred and hope and desire and fear
Under my feet that they follow you night and day.
A man with a hazel wand came without sound;
He changed me suddenly; I was looking another way;
And now my calling is but the calling of a hound;
And Time and Birth and Change are hurrying by.
I would that the Boar without bristles had come from the West
And had rooted the sun and moon and stars out of the sky
And lay in the darkness, grunting, and turning to his rest.

William Butler Yeats; b. June 13, 1865, d. January 28, 1939.

"He Mourns for the Change that has Come Upon Him and His Beloved, and Longs for the End of the World" is reprinted from The Wind Among the Reeds. W.B. Yeats. London: Elkin Mathews, 1899.

Portrait: William Butler Yeats, by John Singer Sargent, 1908.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Truth the Dead Know

By Anne Sexton

For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

Anne Sexton, “The Truth the Dead Know” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. Reprinted with the permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.Source: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (1981).
Photography by Janice Stiles-Boults, Copyright 2007
Cape Cod sunrise
Cape Cod moonrise

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Goddess of Love

The Birth of Venus
Sandro Botticelli, c. 1482–1486

Venus and Adonis
Angelica Kauffmann, 1786

She bows her head, the new-sprung flower to smell,
Comparing it to her Adonis' breath,
And says, within her bosom it shall dwell,
Since he himself is reft from her by death:
She crops the stalk, and in the breach appears
Green dropping sap, which she compares to tears.


Venus is the second-closest planet to the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after the Roman goddess of love. It is the brightest natural object in the night sky, except for the Moon. Venus reaches its maximum brightness shortly before sunrise or shortly after sunset, for which reason it is often called the Morning Star or the Evening Star.

Size comparison of terrestrial planets (left to right): Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Reaper and the Flowers

There is a Reaper whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.

``Shall I have nought that is fair?'' saith he;
``Have nought but the bearded grain?
Though the breath of these flowers is sweet to me,
I will give them all back again.''

He gazed at the flowers with tearful eyes,
He kissed their drooping leaves;
It was for the Lord of Paradise
He bound them in his sheaves.

``My Lord has need of these flowerets gay,''
The Reaper said, and smiled;
``Dear tokens of the earth are they,
Where he was once a child.

``They shall all bloom in fields of light,
Transplanted by my care,
And saints, upon their garments white,
These sacred blossoms wear.''

And the mother gave, in tears and pain,
The flowers she most did love;
She knew she should find them all again
In the fields of light above.

O, not in cruelty, not in wrath,
The Reaper came that day;
'Twas an angel visited the green earth,
And took the flowers away.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow-

Photograph by Jan Boults, copyright 2007


In Roman mythology, Janus (or Ianus) was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings. His most prominent remnants in modern culture are his namesakes: the month of January, which begins the new year, and the janitor, who is a caretaker of doors and halls.

Janus was usually depicted with two heads looking in opposite directions. According to a legend, he had received from the God Saturn, in reward for the hospitality received, the gift to see both future and past.

In general, Janus was the patron of concrete and abstract beginnings, such the religion and the Gods themselves, of the world and the human life, of new historical ages, economical enterprises. He was also the God of the home entrance (ianua), gates, bridges and covered and arcaded passages (iani).

He was frequently used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of past to future, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, the growing up of young people, and of one universe to another. He was also known as the figure representing time because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Roman bust of Janus, Vatican Museums.

The Death of the Flowers

William Cullen Bryant (November 3, 1794 - June 12, 1878)
American romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post.

Bryant was born in a log cabin near Cummington, Massachusetts; the home of his birth is today marked with a plaque. Bryant and his family moved to a new home when he was two years old. The William Cullen Bryant Homestead, his boyhood home, is now a museum.

Writing poetry was not enough to financially sustain a family. From 1816 to 1825, he practiced law in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the building pictured below, which still houses law offices. He supplemented his income with such work as service as the town's hog reeve. Distaste for pettifoggery and the sometimes absurd judgments pronounced by the courts gradually drove him to break with the profession.

The Death of the Flowers

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit's tread;
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.

Where are the flowers, the fair young flowers, that lately sprang and stood
In brighter light and softer airs, a beauteous sisterhood?
Alas! they all are in their graves, the gentle race of flowers
Are lying in their lowly beds, with the fair and good of ours.
The rain is falling where they lie, but the cold November rain
Calls not from out the gloomy earth the lovely ones again.

The wind-flower and the violet, they perished long ago,
And the brier-rose and the orchis died amid the summer glow;
But on the hills the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood,
And the yellow sun-flower by the brook, in autumn beauty stood,
Till fell the frost from the clear cold heaven, as falls the plague on men,
And the brightness of their smile was gone, from upland, glade, and glen.

And now, when comes the calm mild day, as still such days will come,
To call the squirrel and the bee from out their winter home:
When the sound of dropping nuts is heard, though all the trees are still,
And twinkle in the smoky light the waters of the rill,
The south wind searches for the flowers whose fragrance late he bore,
And sighs to find them in the wood and by the stream no more.

And then I think of one who in her youthful beauty died,
The fair meek blossom that grew up and faded by my side.
In the cold moist earth we laid her, when the forests cast the leaf,
And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief:
Yet not unmeet it was that one, like that young friend of ours,
So gentle and so beautiful, should perish with the flowers.

-William Cullen Bryant-

Stargazer Lily Photo by Jan Boults. Copyright 2007

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

All My Pretty Ones

All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What! all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?...
I cannot but remember such things were,
That were most precious to me.


Father, this year’s jinx rides us apart
where you followed our mother to her cold slumber;
a second shock boiling its stone to your heart,
leaving me here to shuffle and disencumber
you from the residence you could not afford:
a gold key, your half of a woolen mill,
twenty suits from Dunne’s, an English Ford,
the love and legal verbiage of another will,
boxes of pictures of people I do not know.
I touch their cardboard faces. They must go.

But the eyes, as thick as wood in this album,
hold me. I stop here, where a small boy
waits in a ruffled dress for someone to come ...
for this soldier who holds his bugle like a toy
or for this velvet lady who cannot smile.
Is this your father’s father, this commodore
in a mailman suit? My father, time meanwhile
has made it unimportant who you are looking for.
I’ll never know what these faces are all about.
I lock them into their book and throw them out.

This is the yellow scrapbook that you began
the year I was born; as crackling now and wrinkly
as tobacco leaves: clippings where Hoover outran
the Democrats, wiggling his dry finger at me
and Prohibition; news where the Hindenburg went
down and recent years where you went flush
on war. This year, solvent but sick, you meant
to marry that pretty widow in a one-month rush.
But before you had that second chance, I cried
on your fat shoulder. Three days later you died.

These are the snapshots of marriage, stopped in places.
Side by side at the rail toward Nassau now;
here, with the winner’s cup at the speedboat races,
here, in tails at the Cotillion, you take a bow,
here, by our kennel of dogs with their pink eyes,
running like show-bred pigs in their chain-link pen;
here, at the horseshow where my sister wins a prize;
and here, standing like a duke among groups of men.
Now I fold you down, my drunkard, my navigator,
my first lost keeper, to love or look at later.

I hold a five-year diary that my mother kept
for three years, telling all she does not say
of your alcoholic tendency. You overslept,
she writes. My God, father, each Christmas Day
with your blood, will I drink down your glass
of wine? The diary of your hurly-burly years
goes to my shelf to wait for my age to pass.
Only in this hoarded span will love persevere.
Whether you are pretty or not, I outlive you,
bend down my strange face to yours and forgive you.

Anne Sexton, “All My Pretty Ones” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. Reprinted with the permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

Three Dahlias', photograph by Jan Boults, copyright 2008

Whole Grains and Honey

Maybe if it stops raining, I'll stop
hurting so much. It's been a week
of water and of loss. I've managed
to eat breakfast, but now my body
it doesn't want honey and whole
grains, only you.
I have to go on eating, sleeping,
walking in the wet.
My life can't stop because I want you,
it feels as though it could. I'd leave
my body sitting here, with coffee cups
and crumpled
napkins-leave you, and Bach softly
in the background, and the white cat
who greets me
on Sacramento Street, and the days
when whole grains and honey taste like
the world's
gift. As long as I remember joy, I can't
loss. If I can last through the rain, I
may find myself
again warm and dry and grateful for
this world.

Whole Grains and Honey, by Rebecca Radner
Photograph: Wheat in the Wind, by Janice Stiles-Boults

Albert Camus

In the midst of winter I found at last

there was within myself

an invincible summer.

- Albert Camus

Dahlia photo by Janice Stiles-Boults
Copyright 2008

A Year of Mourning

In Memory of
Martha Louise Cook Stiles
August 28, 1923

December 31, 1994
You were the one.
I am most grateful.

Early January
Sudden Departure

The Christmas tree lay on the porch
For so long into the fading light of that New Year,
Slowly dying
Something you were spared.
Your sudden departure, the crash, the death
Is not comprehensible, inconceivable,
With you one morning,
Without you the next.
Returned, forlorn, in shock,
Back to your home, we must plow on
The gray day was dawning
Felt cold and alone.
Shrill rings the phone as we walk in
Racing to answer - certain it is the hospital
To say there is a mistake
To say you are not dead.
Sympathy seeps through the line instead, mourners
Are at the door, food piles up on the table, and I know
You are really gone
Singing your last song.
Stealing away I find the clothes you wore
That last earthly day
I hugged them to my breast,
Buried my face in your scent
And wept.

February 17, 1995
Messages from You
(Greek Mythology, Hermes, Messenger of God)

Ethereal messages from you
Catch me off guard
Pray hard for answers
Caught up in so many decisions.
When I least expect it
You hand me down your wisdom.
A spectral aura
Emanates from your home
As I sit among your life’s collections
Feel your presence
As if you have not gone at all.
Hermes reiterates what you told me
I must be strong.
You left too fast, too soon, too young
Your death revealed a faith
I did not know
Even with you in heaven
I will never walk alone.

March 1, 1995
Stages of Anger

In every dream you come back, this time though
I was angry.
How could you have caused so much sorrow?
I ask
My heart bleeds, my head breaks
I am on my knees
Yearning for the escape.
To choke on the same liquid
Fire that killed you.
In bottled spirits are the enemies
That slowly creep into the soul.
My dream was unreal; you had not died at all.
Ran away instead
Seeking something missed
In your time with us.
Travel through these stages of anger
Ponder the questions that secretly steal emotions.
Yesterday I found memories in chronological order,
Neatly buried, stashed away
In a dark and dusty corner.
Opening this box I try to guess now of your heartaches,
Within my own pain I see
What must have hurt you.
I mourn and long for you,
Please know that I loved you.

March 31, 1995
Death Came to Me

In one short year
Death came to me,
Two matriarchs and a crusader
Vanished, lineage broke free.
Blue-blooded generations
Sliced away time, placing me
At the end of the line.
Pages of a story
Turn over reasons
Aware now
Of the hidden and locked closets,
And that cupboard of strength
That gives out
Much more than one can take.
I have had my fill of libations
And your sudden death,
The quick fall, silently clutching your chest,
Gasping a last breath, alone
With no chance for goodbye.

March 31, 1995
The Fates
(Classical Mythology, Three Goddesses who control human destiny)

My tears are pouring
My nights are stormy
My life is not the same.
Death visits, and suddenly
Everything has changed.
Gone awry
Gone astray
New patterns force their way
Into shell shocked remains
Conjuring the power
Of the mystical Fates to my side
For now, this time, the life ride
Will never be free.

Easter, 1995
Death Lingers

The process continues
As Death lingers
Tears keep falling.
First holidays are the hardest
Without you here.
We stumble, we blindly step
Into your shoes that do not fit any of us.
We go about what you would do
Although it is never quite the same.
Numbness has set in
Where your love should be,
You are free now
We are prisoners of pain.

Mother's Day, May 14, 1995
Generation of Mothers

Your day came, Mother,
As I knew it would
Never thought I’d be
A visitor at your grave.
Today, alone, afraid at home
I dug deep in the earth
Hammering the soil
Beating the ground
Tossing rocks
Cutting trees
To give you a garden –
My gift this Mother’s Day.
I thought of all the women
Gone before me
As I tended to my flowers,
I praise that generation of Mothers
That helped you to know
How to nurture and to love me.

July 4, 1995
My Enlightenment

On the last day of December
The old gave way,
To the patterns of change
New adjustments, beginnings
Time for reminiscing.
This is the year of my enlightenment,
The year of loss,
The year of sorrow.
This is the year I turned gray
The year we suffered, Mother
The year I aged.

Dad's Birthday, July 7, 1995

Forces that connect
Hold us very still
Within our separate realms
To rise above and lift
Hearts to the acceptance of pain
Intertwined generations
Roll, clash, and suffer
Alone thoughts stir and melt
Hot tears of lost tomorrows.

July 8, 1995
Dance Away

Could not have guessed
At your day of death
How very much I would unravel
With a blur of visions, rush of memories
Swiftly speed ahead
Then rapidly lose each moment.
I tried so hard to be strong Mom
While all along this year we mourned
Those special days.
The summer is heavy with cobwebs and dust
That clings and cloaks the mind,
I try to travel in tiny steps
So I can dance away this time.

July 13, 1995
Faces of Grief

All around the world moves
While someone has fallen,
A broken piece is missing.
We cannot brush off,
Uncover, reveal
The truths now hidden in a grave.
Ashes to ashes, and what remains
Are the faces of grief
Trapped in a year of mourning.
These new roles have been delivered
Wrapped so tight with pain
There will be no adjustment, ever.
When we buried your heart
We slit ours wide open.

August 1, 1995
Farewell Home

Unusual connections landed me
At the old Cook Homestead for a week
A turn of fate, twisted enough to matter.
It was summer, sticky and sweet.
My old room – Mom’s room at the end
Where teenage rebellion echoes off the walls,
Maturing woman’s fears hover near the door
And a lost soul collapses under the bed.
Fallen angels call,
They whisper endearments in my head
Upon that chipped, forlorn front porch
I sit with Father and listen.
The day is long, our words are quiet
Silences are comfortable.
We miss her together, feel the newness of loss
In a simple reminder of what she would have said,
Or done, her laughter gone.
This is my farewell to your home, Mother
A reprieve in a moment of time.
To let go, to shine, smile
And say goodbye.

August 3, 1995
The Cook House

I have come to love and understand
This big house and all its old glory.
Feeling the presence of my past,
The generations, the stories.
In darkness I roam the hallways,
Steal down steep or winding stairs,
Step out on a porch to a starry night
Ink black sky, heavy heat cloaks the air.
History is long, straight in this place,
Heirlooms and ghosts hidden in closets
Seep out an aura of days lost.
Time in each family has folded
Slipped away, old to new adjustments, change.
Connections of blood are relived, reborn
I have come to appreciate my forefathers,
The women, their era, who have all gone,
Leaving the wisdom to grow alone.
Great Grandpa Cook’s plan
Drawn up, measured out, cash in hand,
Created my childhood home,
And all the best of memories
One could ever dream
Continue to live on.

August 20, 1995
Day of My Birth

You who gave me life
Are dead
On this day of my birth
Parent creator
I still need you.
Cheated out of time instead
Walking that thin sharp line
I cannot hold this pain inside
The hour grows dim with tears
Dull pain throbs, I know
That today
I feel your absence the most.

August 20, 1995
Last Moments

That winter day was bright
Laughing together
In our last moments with you.
At dawn your life ended
Just like that –
You were gone.
Abruptly a new year began
Shock set in along
Cracks in my heart
Sorrow became my make-up.
Memories replay in my head
Over and over I see you
Letting go, and your voice
Repeats to me your message
That I would have to be strong.

September 6, 1995
Wait, Watch, Listen

Mom, oh Mommy!
Devastation, depression
Intense sadness fills
Days of frustration.
Why you do not come to me
At my hour of need
Ticking, trickling
I wait, I watch, I listen
For the sound of you
The feel of you.
Your guidance, calm patience,
The smile I miss.
Words are absent, your spirit silent.
I just cannot hold on
Mom, oh Mommy!

September 21, 1995, Gramma Cook's Birthday
Without a Mother

Today was your mothers’ birthday
You did not live long
After her death
It was never the same for you.
I am third generation
From your mother,
Not a birthmother
Now without a mother.
You took your own life
To slowly die
My parent, partner, friend
For the circle to close again.

September 23, 1995
Autumn Colors

Autumn colors my world
Gentle hues turn the season
Turn the time
Change my life.
Brisk cold air lingers
In the early morning hour
A chill sets into my soul
No warmth can erase.

September 30, 1995
Just Like You

Today I saw your childhood friend,
It made me cry
While we discussed your life
And how suddenly you died.
She told me that I look
Just like you
Something I have heard
Many times
In this long year of mourning.

October 1, 1995
New Fall

I walked through your garden today
Filled with a rainbow of autumn
The one I struggled to build
All those cold spring mornings.
My grief in that Mother’s Day gift
Has grown through a process
That began with shocked
Selfish possession
Of your precious memory
The harsh reality
Sets in and I will not see
Your beautiful face again.
On earth, in the soil of this garden
Tears bitter and sweet
Have mixed with the dust.
Watch now as the late sun
Reaches long fingers
Across the lawn
And with every glorious color
That I tread upon
I miss you.

November 1, 1995
Frozen Ground

Flurries in the air
Dark sky, fresh sting
Winter on the rise
Snow brings
A memory of the frozen ground
And the circle all around
Your grave
Trying to be brave, we stood numb
Bitter cold, burying your soul
With no sense to make
Of the depth of that day.

December 31, 1995
A Year of Mourning

My heartache is renewed by a fresh pierce of pain
How will we ever face Christmas without you?
The season holds precious memories
This time is the hardest of all.
We will miss you more
Than one could imagine
As we approach the final stage
Of our first year of mourning.
January saw our tree slowly dying
As it lay neglected on the porch
Something you were spared
Your death not comprehensible.
Spring brought me daffodils from bulbs
You gave me that very last fall,
When they appeared, I cried out loud
And lay down in all that golden glory.
Mother's day shattered my emotions
While pounding the ground for your garden
A gift that would help to heal my soul.
Summer was long and steamy
I spent a week wandering
Old halls, calling for your ghost.
Autumn brought splendid colors
Sprinkled throughout my yard
I found I could not cope, it was just too hard.
Winter came with a sudden burst
Brilliant snow white, shining clear
That made me hurt for that last day
Of your last year on Earth.
New Year's Eve descended, suddenly we were there
The anniversary of your death
We did not hurt any less
At the end of this year of mourning.

~~**~~   ~~**~~

Blessed are they that mourn:
For they shall be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

Original poetry by Janice L. Stiles-Boults
© 1995.