Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Who Remembers?

I hear it all the time. Different voices but the same question. When are you going to publish a book? "I don't know."  I can't stop writing new things. Before I'm done with one, a new one presents itself.  I have notebooks of ideas that came and went as well as those novels.

Over the years, many things would interfere with writing but I never stopped, not really. Marriage, military, children, school, work, and now illness have all sown tares in my writing life. I do not regret these things at all. I have had a relatively wonderful life.

Now I'm retired, what every writer dreams of, and should be able to write as much as I want. Reality is seldom what you dream.  In my case, health has become a bigger hinderance than any of the others. I'm doing better these days but it has been difficult for a long time. This National Novel Writing Month I wrote what is probably the best story I've ever written. I've stunned by it and that just doesn't happen. However, the overwhelming task of finishing a book after you've been away from it for a while is hard to cope with, but I'm working on it. And the romance returns slowly.

Today, I picked up one of my favorite books. The Poems of Longfellow. It is a book long out of print that I bought at a used book shop that has since burned. I bought it to replace another copy given to me by my step-father when I was no more than 10 or 11 but lost in a move many years ago. That copy was old and had not been cared for as the covers and title page were gone when I got it. I read my favorite Longfellow poems over and over for many years until I lost it. When I found this copy in that bookstore it was like finding a long lost relative.

Today, I opened it up and the yellowed pages fell open to a poem I've never read. There are many in the book. Longfellow was prolific. Of course, I read the first poem I saw. It is about a French poet by the same name. I've never heard of Oliver Basselin. I've never read his poetry. Longfellow apparently knew of him. The poem spoke to me in an unexpected way.

Oliver Basselin
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the Valley of the Vire
  Still is seen an ancient mill,
With its gables quaint and queer,
  And beneath the window-sill,
      On the stone,
      These words alone:
"Oliver Basselin lived here." 

Far above it, on the steep,
  Ruined stands the old Chateau;
Nothing but the donjon-keep
  Left for shelter or for show.
      Its vacant eyes
      Stare at the skies,
Stare at the valley green and deep. 

Once a convent, old and brown,
  Looked, but ah! it looks no more,
From the neighboring hillside down
  On the rushing and the roar
      Of the stream
      Whose sunny gleam
Cheers the little Norman town. 

In that darksome mill of stone,
  To the water's dash and din,
Careless, humble, and unknown,
  Sang the poet Basselin
      Songs that fill
      That ancient mill
With a splendor of its own. 

Never feeling of unrest
  Broke the pleasant dream he dreamed;
Only made to be his nest,
  All the lovely valley seemed;
      No desire
      Of soaring higher
Stirred or fluttered in his breast. 

True, his songs were not divine;
  Were not songs of that high art,
Which, as winds do in the pine,
  Find an answer in each heart;
      But the mirth
      Of this green earth
Laughed and revelled in his line. 

From the alehouse and the inn,
  Opening on the narrow street,
Came the loud, convivial din,
  Singing and applause of feet,
      The laughing lays
      That in those days
Sang the poet Basselin. 

In the castle, cased in steel,
  Knights, who fought at Agincourt,
Watched and waited, spur on heel;
  But the poet sang for sport
      Songs that rang
      Another clang,
Songs that lowlier hearts could feel. 

In the convent, clad in gray,
  Sat the monks in lonely cells,
Paced the cloisters, knelt to pray,
  And the poet heard their bells;
      But his rhymes
      Found other chimes,
Nearer to the earth than they. 

Gone are all the barons bold,
  Gone are all the knights and squires,
Gone the abbot stern and cold,
  And the brotherhood of friars;
      Not a name
      Remains to fame,
From those mouldering days of old! 

But the poet's memory here
  Of the landscape makes a part;
Like the river, swift and clear,
  Flows his song through many a heart;
      Haunting still
      That ancient mill,
In the Valley of the Vire.

I don't know that a stone will ever mark my residence for posterity. A book may never be on the shelves but I've shared my words with many people. So maybe someday, when the bookstores are burned, today's books are out of print, when the movie stars and politicians are all dead, maybe someone somewhere will remember my words.

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