The Poetry Chain

Not many people like chain emails, but I received one that really made me want to take it on.  I just had to find a poem and send it to the person at the top of a two-person list.  Then copy and paste the email into a BCC list of twenty friends.  So far – totally innocuous.  I did the sums: I’ll get four hundred poems back (or is it twenty?).  Anyway, I really like the idea of being sent some poems that I might not have seen before, so I cheerfully set off to choose a poem for Dave (name at the top of the list, husband of a good friend – should be easy).  Half a day later I finally settled on a bit of ‘Lycidas’.  Then I had two emails from friends telling me they don’t like chain emails.  Heart sinks.  Then a lovely email from Crete – and an even more lovely poem by Cavafy to go with it.

The God Abandons Antony
At midnight, when suddenly you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive – don’t mourn them uselessly:
as one long prepared, and full of courage,
say goodbye to her, to Alexandria who is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and full of courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion,
but not with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen – your final pleasure – to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

Constantine P. Cavafy —
It makes me think of all our Alexandrias – all the things that we say goodbye to, as we grow up, or grow old.  I think of today’s conversation, when we talked about how to find out what we are acquiring, as we leave other things behind.  How childhood loses spontaneity and cuddliness, moving to the teenager’s clearer sense of self and of protectiveness and personal space; how adults and parents lose independence but gain pride in responsibility; how now, as we age beyond that, we lose jobs and status but gain in dignity and a relaxedness about our place in the world.  Not everybody in the same way, of course, and all of us a different speeds.  Some age into anger, I suppose, while others mellow into insight and a willingness to explore.
Next comes an email from someone who sends a poem but doesn’t plan to join the chain.  (Now I guess I’ll get seventeen times twenty – at most – but one mustn’t be churlish.  That’s still a terrific number of poems.)

“As it is Easter Day, how about the second ‘Burnt Norton’ lyric?” – said my husband’s friend.

Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us?  After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.


Do you all think as I do?  (I think: Why have I let it be so long since I last read Eliot?)  Thank you to the ether, and the banality of the internet for giving me this moment of stillness and transcendence.  Thank you to the moment when I went forward with the poetry chain (now my poetry chain), though I could so easily have turned away and clicked ‘delete’.

I hope there will be more poems to post here, over the next few days and weeks.

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3 Responses to “The Poetry Chain”

  1. Merle Newman Says:

    Wonderful idea,ilove it. Especially Burnt Norton hope to get more as good love from mum

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Woman walking Max Says:

    Thank you for the poems, refreshing for the spirit to read. So glad you took up the ‘challenge of the chain.’ A friend sent me a link, and I was too idle, or wary of being sucked into streams of emails !

  3. albertine Says:

    It’s not too late – you could still join in. Must meet for a coffee soon!

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