Sunday, April 12, 2015
TURNING A HUNDRED
I was much moved, reading this poem by the late Mark Strand, which I received yesterday as an email forward. It's called
When I Turned a Hundred
I wanted to go on an immense journey, to travel night and day into the unknown until, forgetting my old self, I came into possession of a new self, one that I might have missed on my previous travels. But the first step was beyond me. I lay in bed, unable to move, pondering, as one does at my age, the ways of melancholy—how it seeps into the spirit, how it disincarnates the will, how it banished the sense to the chill of twilight, how even the best and worst intentions wither in its keep. I kept staring at the ceiling, then suddenly felt a blast of cold air, and I was gone.
Readers might recall that I wrote a farewell note to Mark on The Buddha Diaries a few months ago, on learning of his death, expressing my gratitude for his recognition of my work as a poet and for bringing me to the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. Reading "When I Turned a Hundred" some time after his death gave me that "blast of cold air" he describes so well in the poem. I have shared his experience of the "melancholy" that "seeps into the spirit" and "disincarnates the will", and have observed in my own life how "even the best and worst intentions wither in its keep." Mark is gone now, as he seems to have foreseen in this poem. It seems like a cliché to say that "his work will live on", but his contribution was a real and lasting one. I am once more grateful to him for having expressed in such precise, affecting and curiously comforting words a feeling with which I continue to struggle as the years mount up.