Echoes

What do you think?

First, a poem, “Gone From My Sight,” written by my father’s great-grandfather, Henry Van Dyke. The name was familiar to me, but I hadn’t read any of his work. It came to my attention now because of my father’s recent death.

Below it is a poem, “Penelope,” written by my daughter when she was fourteen. We were studying poetry, and she was at a loss for an idea to write about. We had just read Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” so I suggested that she write a poem in response to that, from Penelope’s point of view. Read what she wrote (it was partially excerpted in my essay, “Letting Go: In Her Words” published last month in Hippocampus Magazine.

Tell me if you don’t see the one in the other.

 

Gone From My Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying…

 

Penelope

Perhaps you think I have waited, for you
In a cushioned chair, my feet propped
On an embroidered footstool.
Nay, I have had naught
But clever foes’ daggers at my back
Who design to sever my resolve: to stand fast
Beside the windblown crags, for you.
The salted sea has been changeless for me
Day after day, while you
Have drunken to battle-lust and glory
On the windy plains of a distant land.
Now you say you are but a name,
A blade lacking burnishing.
I have stood fast, for your name, Ulysses,
I, your aged wife, have stood beside
This grey shore, with only a name
For twenty years.

In your westward glancing heart I glimpse
That heart which hath moved heaven and earth:
Keen swords, flashing fire, falling stars
Beyond your drenched mast—
I knew you then, I know you now.
The yearning gust that blew you in
Will blow you out again.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail,
So go;
And if you seek beyond the arch
Of your desires, you will
Forever sail for me
Along the froth-edged waves
Of the sunset sea.

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