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Whispers from a Dead Poet

There is no dusk to be,
There is no dawn that was,
Only there’s now, and now,
And the wind in the grass.

Days I remember of
Now in my heart, are now;
Days that I dream will bloom
White the peach bough.

Dying shall never be
Now in the windy grass;
Now under shooken leaves
Death never was.

– Archibald MacLeish, An Eternity

I confess to not really knowing much about Archibald MacLeish, who died in Boston exactly 39 years ago yesterday, the day I started thinking about Archibald MacLeish at all. It started the night before, watching Ken Burns’ Hemingway and latching on to his name as someone Hemingway hung out with in Spain, as someone I ought to look into. Much of his poetry is available online, and I waded through a strong dose of it. And then I read his biography:

“His mother was a Hillard, a family that, as Dialogues of Archibald MacLeish and Mark Van Doren reveals, MacLeish was fond of tracing back through its New England generations to Elder Brewster, the minister aboard the Mayflower.” – Poetry Foundation Biography of Archibald MacLeish

It seems I’m a distant relative of Mr. MacLeish, both of us pointing to Elder Brewster as a connection to the Mayflower. I don’t dwell on the Mayflower connection – who cares if you were the first European to settle here or the millionth? What matters is how you behaved when you got here. I think on the whole Brewster settled his accounts well. And MacLeish lived a life of consequence himself. So how does one keep up with the relatives?

What do you make of meeting a long dead relative through his work on the very day he passed 39 years before? Serendipity? Whispers? Or just history and happenstance capturing my imagination and carrying it away once again, as it’s done so many times before?

It doesn’t matter so much, does it? We have the advantage of now, and now. Until we lose it. Until we are whispers ourselves, hardly heard in the swirling wind in the grass. Days we remember and dreams of the future matter little compared to the urgent matter of now. And what we might do with it.

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