That’s the Hard Part, Knowing the Darkness is There and Singing Anyway – The Lasting Words and Legacy of Canadian Poet Patrick Lane (1939-2019)

 

 

Canadian Poet Patrick Lane (1939-2019)

God Walks Burning Through Me

When I sleep the birds come to the garden
With their gifts of seeds. Out of ice

last year’s leaves of grass lift into night.
All my songs have been one song.

The palm of my hand and the sole of my foot
remember everything I have forgotten.

The old lantern by the pond has always been there.
Now is the time to light it.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

I begin this blog post with thanks to Canadian poet Barbara Pelman whose share of my blog post honouring the Canadian poet and novelist Patrick Lane from three years today ago brought it back to mind and also this great poem of Patrick’s I feature in that blog post: God Walks Burning Through Me. (Most of that blog post is copied below.)

And now, again, at this dark time of year I get to celebrate Patrick  but this time under even darker circumstances, in the shadow of his death earlier this year, March 7th. What a loss. What a darkness cast by his death. Yet how important Patrick’s reminder to light what must be lit! That empty lantern snuffed out in me by Patrick’s death, how I must light it. Again and again!

One way I light this lantern is to remember these lines from my most-beloved poem of Patrick’s, False Dawn (copied in full below):

……………………………The earliest birds
wake me now and I get up into what
others called the false dawn. I know it sweeter.
That’s the hard part, knowing darkness is there
and singing anyway.

Knowing the darkness is there and singing anyway. The singing we do as poets each time we write into the darkness with a poem! How I can’t be reminded too much of this! How I must sing my life, my poems, into the darkness of Patrick’s passing. This reminder to sing is what I emphazied in my blog post three years ago. And so lovely to be able to share this theme again!

As part of my mourning and healing I memorized False Dawn after Patrick died.  That way something of him stays alive in me. This poem written in his early days of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, this remarkable praise poem to life. With life’s capacity for both misery and love so evident in these lines: I think misery is mostly what we know. Yet there are days I overflow with love. And these lines with their indomitable call to live no matter what:

This morning I set out the early sprinkler
and out of the darkness robins came
and varied thrushes I thought our cats had killed.
The water from our highest mountains turned
and turned above our earth
and all the bird went under that falling
with everything they had.
Maybe that’s the measure.
Maybe in the morning light we pray
and rain falls and we lift to its falling
as if we still had feathers, as if with words
we could scrape the sky clean of every kind of pain.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

This call to lift into the falling away that life is. My falling away. Your falling away. Patrick’s falling away this past March. But my oh my, also his lifting in his recovery, his poems, his singing!

I love the hope in False Dawn. How in the poem, out of the darkness the robins come, that hope and then this hope, this metaphor of rebirth: and the varied thrushes I thought our cats had killed. This beauty not killed! Not dead. And the power of the three iambs in that line. They pound into me each time I recite the poem: I thought our cats had killed!

And I so resonate to the longing in the lines that suggest why we turn to words, why we poets sing, why we keep turning to words:

…………………………..as if with words
we could scrape the sky clean of every kind of pain. 

I had the privilege of giving a talk based on False Dawn at two Sunday morning services at Hillhurst United Church in Calgary this past October. What a joy to share this poem then. And, again, now.

False Dawn
    For Stephen & Susan

We turn towards words because there’s not much more
to turn to. I love you becomes what I used to call
the dark. I prayed this morning. It wasn’t much,
just me and the god I understand. The earliest birds
wake me now and I keep getting up into what
others call false dawn. I know it sweeter.
That’s the hard part, knowing darkness is there
and singing anyway. Becoming more
becomes less. It’s like an origami dove
chased by a flying child, a kind of solitude
so perfect you keep searching even as you know
there is no cure. I think misery is mostly
what we know. Yet there are days I overflow with love.
My friends are so fragile I’m afraid
to take their hands for fear I’ll break them.
This morning I set out the early sprinkler
and out of the darkness robins came
and varied thrushes I thought our cats had killed.
The water from our highest mountains turned
and turned above our earth
and all the bird went under that falling
with everything they had.
Maybe that’s the measure.
Maybe in the morning light we pray
and rain falls and we lift to its falling
as if we still had feathers, as if with words
we could scrape the sky clean of every kind of pain.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

Now, as promised my post from three years ago:

“God Walks Burning Through Me

When I sleep the birds come to the garden
With their gifts of seeds. Out of ice

last year’s leaves of grass lift into night.
All my songs have been one song.

The palm of my hand and the sole of my foot
remember everything I have forgotten.

The old lantern by the pond has always been there.
Now is the time to light it.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

Since the solstice a few days ago, we here in the Northern hemisphere have begun the slow movement back toward to the sun. Days will lengthen. But in practice, we remain fully locked into the darkest time of the year. Bright light at a premium!

This darkness. This time of year, this time in the world. How do I keep a light burning in face of these darknesses? I come back to Patrick Lane’s poem , again and again; it’s declarations: a stay against darkness and death. The need to sing (All my songs have been one song.) and the need to light the old lantern, the one waiting to be lit. To help bring light into the dark.

So much hope in this small poem. In a cold time, winter time, the birds come still, with their seeds. The tall grasses stand tall in spite of the ice. And once again Lane uses his signature metaphor of song, singing, as his ultimate declaration of his place in the world. His saying to the world: here I am, see me, hear me.

Through his poem Lane keeps his song alive, fashions his own light in the darkness.  In his poem The Beauty Lane says: And still we sing; in his poem  Small Elegy for New York he says: The silence of the dead is what we own. It’s why we sing. And in his poem Sooke Potholes he says:  Sometimes a song is all we have. 

A light in the dark. A cry that says I am here. I live. In spite of all threats to that living. Lane reminds all of us, no matter our beliefs or disbeliefs, to keep singing.. To go to that garden, whatever that metaphor means for you, and find that lantern by the pond. And light it. Especially now, in the dark time of the year.

On this Christmas Eve, 2016, I feel such deep thanks to Patrick Lane, award winning Canadian master poet, for this poem and all the others he has written in his fifty-five-year writing career. And for his generous mentor-ship of so many poets, including me. He has taught us to sing and keep singing no matter what. To light our lanterns and hold them up, even into the wind.

 

2 Comments

  1. Heiderose Garnett
    Posted December 25, 2019 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Richard, how apt your tribute to Patrick on this special night. I adore this poem and just now pulled The Bare Plum of Winter Rain off my shelf to browse. There is a poem in it that reminded me of Somae and you: How Small Love Is. One of the things I loved about Patrick was his immense love for Lorna.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted December 29, 2019 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Heidi: Am going to track down that poem! And yes his love for Lorna was bigger than big.

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