Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

I’ll be back in five to seven days. With all the free time on my hands I hope to catch up on four or five books I’ve been putting off reading (and a few bought just for this special occasion).

I’m not sure how I’ll handle the nurses since there will be far too many tubes in my neck and head to be able to talk. I’ve never had to go to a hospital before without my “dry” sense of humor to protect myself. I’m not looking forward to not having some way to defend myself from all those needles and wake up calls for medicine to help me sleep.

Hopefully when I get back I’ll have time to fix some of the broken links in these pages, links broken when I had to switch servers. Since Blogger and the new AT&T servers refuse to play nicely together, I’m planning on completely switching to GoLive to update my pages in the near future.

Grinding My Ink

This short book of haiku written by Margaret Chula strikes me as one of the finest books of American haiku I have ever read. What’s more, the book is masterfully laid out, sometimes with only one poem per page, reinforcing the simplicity and starkness of the poems themselves.

I bought this small book of haiku to accompany me on my many visits to the doctor’s office in recent weeks. The deceptively simple poems provided a calming influence in a very tense situation.

Perhaps I felt reassured by the many ties to my own community. The author lived in Portland in 1993, right across the river from where I live, and the book was printed and bound locally. So, although the poems were written while the author was living in Japan, they also seem very near.

Most of all, though, the poems illustrate that a westerner, with enough training and enough exposure to Japanese culture, can master this great Japanese art. Although many of them do not quite capture the essence of my favorite Japanese haiku, at their best I like them as much as any traditional Japanese haiku translations I have read.

Here are a few of my favorites from the book. You may well find that others resonate more to your life.

As an avid gardener, I found

making it harder
to trim the tree
a perfect web

particularly interesting as it suggests two equally valid realities. Practically speaking, there’s nothing worse than having to wade through cobwebs to do a job. More important, though, is the suggestion that the tree is already “perfect,” at least for the moment, so why would you even consider trimming it? Natural perfection neither needs nor endures man’s intervention.

Although I’m not particularly fond of cats or kittens, I found the imagery in this haiku delightful:

spring cleaning
a white kitten
rolls in the dust

The rambunctious kitten provides a perfect metaphor for the rebirth of spring, and the white ball covered in dust provides an equally perfect metaphor for spring cleaning.

As an ex-teacher who well knows how difficult it is to teach on a hot day with a classroom full of sleepy students, even a crow’s answer would be welcome:

teacher’s question
hangs in the drowsy classroom
a crow answers

I liked this haiku describing sweeping because it reminds me of one of my favorite poems by William Carlos Williams which uses the same metaphor as the controlling image in the poem:

sweeping, sweeping, sweep
the old woman’s broom
no match for the wind

The startling contrast, and yet careful blending, between the new and the old simply snaps you into a new awareness of how modern consumption has invaded all aspects of our lives:

brown-robed monk
raking leaves into neat piles
his new Adidas

It’s hard to imagine how anyone who loves haiku wouldn’t find this book a delightful addition to their collection.


It is in the small things we see it.

The child’s first step,

as awesome as an earthquake.

The first time you rode a bike,

wallowing up the sidewalk.

The first spanking when your heart

went on a journey all alone.

When they called you crybaby

or poor or fatty or crazy

and made you into an alien,

you drank their acid

and concealed it.


if you faced the death of bombs and bullets

you did not do it with a banner,

you did it with only a hat to

cover your heart.

You did not fondle the weakness inside you

though it was there.

Your courage was a small coal

that you kept swallowing.

If your buddy saved you

and died himself in so doing,

then his courage was not courage,

it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.


if you have endured a great despair,

then you did it alone,

getting a transfusion from the fire,

picking the scabs off your heart,

then wringing it out like a sock.

Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,

you gave it a back rub

and then you covered it with a blanket

and after it had slept a while

it woke to the wings of the roses

and was transformed.


when you face old age and its natural conclusion

your courage will still be shown in the little ways,

each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,

those you love will live in a fever of love,

and you’ll bargain with the calendar

and at the last moment

when death opens the back door

you’ll put on your carpet slippers

and stride out.

from Anne Sexton The Awful Rowing Toward God

Because courage comes in so many forms we often fail to recognize it when we see. Most of us, though, have felt the hot coal of courage as we swallow in anticipation, though mine seems more like a watermelon right now, and most of us have “picked the scabs off” our heart as we relive all the mistakes we have made in a relationship gone bad.

Luckily, though, it doesn’t take too much courage to face what life throws at us because most of the time we have no choice but to face it. Walk or be left behind forever. Endure the bullets and bombs or die. Face the despair of divorce or live the rest of your life unloving and unloved.

So we get up and face life, do the best we can, and hopefully appear brave enough to to those who most love us.

Hopefully when I get old I will be ready to put on my slippers and stride out the back door into forever, though I somehow doubt it. Until then, I expect each spring to seem just a little more beautiful than the ones before. I may even be able to love those around me just a little more, though I’m sure Gavin, like my daughter once did, will say, “Patah, please don’t yell my name like that during the game.” or “Patah, you’re hugging me too tight.”

P.S. Thanks to Ted at the Evil Empire I have been able to work mainly in OS X for the last two days. I almost believe that my writing has gotten a little better with the new version of Office X.

The Terrible Abyss

When I started writing this weblog right after September 11th, I was primarily concerned about the crisis our nation was facing and how we would deal with it. My hope was that we might learn something about ourselves as a nation and deal with Afghanistan in a more enlightened way then we had dealt with the Middle East in the past. In some ways, I was attempting to use these pages to talk to someone other than myself about what I felt were failures in our government’s policies. In some ways, I think America has done a better job in this war than might have been expected, even though we may well be facing an entirely new Constitutional crisis in the way we deal with aliens and those who are suspected of aiding and abetting terrorists.

Suddenly, though, that my concern over the nation’s problems has taken a backseat to my own personal crisis. In the last month-and-a-half I have discovered that I have a large cancerous tumor in my throat and have had to examine the different treatments available, none of which are very good, and decide which of these treatments I will try. In essence, I have been making life-and-death decisions and decisions about the quality of life almost daily over the last two weeks.

I’m not writing this to complain about my health or to garner sympathy for I’m getting more than enough of that. I am saying, though, that the philosophical positions I have been exploring on these pages have suddenly taken on a new importance and have influenced the way I have dealt with these problems. To the extent that these philosophies have allowed me to make calm, rational decisions based on my value system, I have been happy with them. However, when I feel unable to make a decision or when after talking to a doctor, I just want to give up and go to sleep for the night at 5:00, I feel my philosophy has failed me and I need to re-examine my beliefs.

Obviously, I would rather not be going through this right now. Just as I would rather not have gone through the Vietnam War, my first fight with thyroid cancer, or my divorce. However, I truly believe that moments like this, if we survive them, help us to get more out of life. By forcing us to see our life’s decisions in the hard glare of critical decisions, we can begin to see how strong our beliefs are and whether or not they truly help us to make decisions when we need to. They force us to consider whether we are wasting our lives when there are more important things to be done and to decide what really is important.

After I have had my upcoming surgery, I will be unable to eat, except through a tube, or talk for several weeks. I plan on spending those weeks reading and meditating. There is no better way to see life than to see the abyss that surrounds it.

So the abyss—

The slippery cold heights,

After the blinding misery,

The climbing, the endless turning,

Strikes like a fire,

A terrible violence of creation,

A flash into the burning heart of the abominable;

Yet if we wait, unafraid, beyond the fearful instant,

The burning lake turns into a forest pool,

The fire subsides into rings of water,

A sunlit silence.

from Theodore Roethke’s “The Abyss” in The Far Field