They are not mean, but meaning to be kind,
the ones whose work it is to bring him here–
merely a job to do, to hold and steer
an old man who is frail, half-blind,
toward a sunny bench where he may find
companionship in leafy atmosphere–
perhaps a little bird to tweet some cheer
and take him out of his own mind.

Here, everything is new under the sun:
the spill of light climbs up a tree
a little breast of sand temples the ants
a chickadee bows like a tiny nun
upon a branch, to hear the pink soliloquy
of a wild rose, dressed for the dance.

All is circumstance.
Seated between mirth and agony
no longer wishing to foresee
no longer slave to memory
his ancientness, still as a garden gnome,
waits for whoever comes to fetch him home.

54 responses »

  1. Pour moi c’est presque trop émouvant. Tu l’as regardé, je crois; t’as pensé “Là, sauf pour la grâce de dieu, je suis …” C’est ça que je penserais …

    • C’est ça, mon amie…tu as raison. Mais lorsque l’on atteint à l’âge de plus de soixante-dix ans, ces images, ces pensées sont peut-être inévitables, n’est-ce pas? Est-ce possible, aussi, que quand on arrive à ce jardin on découvre que tout va tout à fait bien….?

  2. Cynth, as lovely a picture as you weave, you remind me why I don’t want to go there. I remember your touching poem about taking Gramp for a ride and another about the goldfish waiting for whatever is happening to be over.
    This reaches a new level, as if you’ve been there though you haven’t. I picture you walking past such people. So much depends on so little.
    Good job!

  3. Love the variety of rhythms a TAKE him OUT of his OWN MIND. That’s almost violent compared to the quick suavity of the previous lines. The middle stanza features sound images one after the other. Perhaps he listens well, being half blind.the final stanza is flatter, but the image of gnome and the indifference of whoever suggests his self-sufficiency. So the ending fulfills the formal requirement, noted by Wittgenstein, that the ending offer something fresh and revealing.

    • Very interesting aperçus as always, Tom, especially when the adaptation of a traditional caudate sonnet is what has been attempted. In this context, your mention of Wittgenstein also brings to mind his assertion that eternity does not mean infinite temporal duration, but rather timelessness: “…eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.”

  4. Ah Cynthia….another beauty of a poem! Sooo good in so many ways! I am sure when you reach your garden all will be well and the reflection of the beauty of your poetry will bring you peace and fulfillment! 🙂

    • Your lovely comment comes at an apt time, and lifts my flagging spirits..thank you, Rob. You have understood what “the garden” is all about…and that reminds me of Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and every kind of thing shall be well…” 🙂

      • Exactly Cynthia — all IS well. Sometimes we just need a reminder of the perspective! 🙂 – apologies for the delay in response- have been away for short bush break! Rhinos, giraffe and loads of various buck (gazelle, impala, blou wildebeest, etc. ) – gift from a friend… Very fortunate and grateful. Do hope your spirits remain high and flying! There is so much to do, see and experience – wherever,and however, you find yourself! Your spirit is gold! -:)

  5. yes, this is very moving, most poignant Cynthia — and of course beautifully controlled in tone and prosody.
    I’m intrigued by the form. Did it emerge as a Petrachan sonnet and evolve into something with a tail or was that the original intention? I confess that I had not come across the term caudate sonnet before.

    • Hello John….ah the caudate (caudated) sonnet, or sonnet with codas. I believe it was “invented” by an Italian poet, used by John Milton when he was feeling satirical, and by G. M. Hopkins among his many experiments.

      My old reliable, dog-eared Turco tells me: “The caudated sonnet adds two three-foot tails and two heroic couplets to the Italian sonnet and rhymes. abbaabba. cdecde. efffgg…thus it is twenty lines long.” Lines 15 and 18 are the three-beat lines; the rest are pentameter.

      As it happens, I repeated the “d” rhyme where an “f” rhyme should be, in the above poem—a case of “it happened”, so I let it happen! I like this form when the usual 14-line sonnet doesn’t seem like enough room. FRA PENNAFOLIO RECYCLES, and QUALMS, in my archives, are also caudate sonnets.

      Now go outside and get some fresh air! Oh, I forget…it’s dark now in the UK, though a bright sunny afternoon here…. 🙂

      • Yes it’s pitch black outside and wet too but all is illuminated inside now! Thank you for the careful explanation. That’s most interesting. And I admire your willingness to let variations happen!

  6. I, who know so little about the caudated sonnet, loved the rhythm and ease of the rhyme of this poignant poem. In some respects it is sad to think about the old man but somehow the gentleness of your sonnet and the garden’s description conveys peace. I often imagine, and hope, that when one is very old and approaching death that a sense of peace may accompany the loss of mobility and senses. This is my present hope. Right now all I can say is that old age stinks. I often postulate that youth is wasted on the young!

    • I concur, Jane, with every pain-ridden step I take. Youth is somehow protected by its ignorance, or innocence, I guess. The young have no idea what it’s like to be old….on the other hand we oldies do know what it’s like to be young….hmm.where does that leave us?

  7. Beautiful imagery carries me throughout this poem, beautiful in its mirth and agony, Cynthia. This poem leaves me uncertain for this man who waits (uncertain for the state of his mind, heart, and dignity), still as a garden gnome…waiting to be taken home, so passive. You are a talented poet, Cynthia. Another poem to dig into and enjoy.

  8. This one struck a chord Cynthia so I tweeted it! Dementia is in our family. I am the youngest by a long way with much of this to watch I am sure..

    • We can only guess, given the irrevocable fact, and our position as outsiders, what that is like….there is much yet to be learned, and not just by scientific medicine…..Thank you so much, Karen

  9. Poignantly written, Cynthia. And also written with a tender respect. (I visit my mom regularly in her assisted living home and see it in her and those around her. It’s a hard subject to write about, but you’ve done it beautifully.)

  10. A wonderful caudet, Cynthia. Your skill at forms always amazes me–as well as your knowledge about forms. I think you outmatch me many-fold.
    The power of this sonnet lies in its subject,
    “an old man who is frail, half-blind…”
    The old man is clearly toward the end of his life, always, at least for an old man, an emotional awareness. But the old man has been brought to his bench by caretakers who, like most caretakers,
    …”are not mean, but meaning to be kind…”
    He is taken to “a sunny bench where he may find
    companionship in leafy atmosphere–
    perhaps a little bird to tweet some cheer…”
    where he can escape the prison of his age and the care of his caretakers so that he can be taken
    ” out of his own mind.”
    “Here, everything is new under the sun:
    the spill of light climbs up a tree…”
    And these images, wrought by a master poet,
    “a little breast of sand temples the ants
    a chickadee bows like a tiny nun
    upon a branch, to hear the pink soliloquy
    of a wild rose, dressed for the dance.”
    Then, as is proper, the summing of power:
    “All is circumstance…”
    How do we suddenly become so old and frail we need caretakers?
    “Seated between mirth and agony
    no longer wishing to foresee
    no longer slave to memory
    his ancientness, still as a garden gnome,
    waits for whoever comes to fetch him home.”
    And so life becomes at the end, “between mirth and agony,” relieved of the compulsion “to foresee” our future possibilities, “now longer a slave to memory,” but caught in “ancientness,” an awareness of a single moment where “everything is new under the sun” where “the spill of light climbs up a tree” and “a chickadee bows like a tiny nun…to hear the soliloquy of a wild rose, dressed for dance…”
    the time when, “still as a garden gnome” the old man, perhaps all humanity, “waits for whoever comes to fetch him home.”
    I say it again, Cynthia, powerful.

    • You have a wonderful way of taking a walk through a poem as if it were an enchanted forest where you stop to savor single moments of observation, muse and savor and express what you see, think, and feel as you travel along.

      (I am reminded of how we used to do that, in a French Lit. Seminar called “Explication de Textes”, long ago, when I was in college, and we took time with things.)

      Anyway, your comments are a gift, and a delight. Thank you, Thomas.

  11. It’s lovely work Cynthia, as the scene is quietly recognizable for many. The elegance of life floating by and around the person, doesn’t get lost on me – Mother is a couple of years into dementia and one of these days when I call she’s not going to recognize my voice, I’m unprepared. But I think she survives in a happy place as a gentle humming replaces many of her voiced thoughts these days.

    • It’s probably more difficult for us who must lose the awareness of our loved ones in this way, than it may be for them….a slow and agonizing process for you, Mary. You just may find you have the courage to face that moment when it happens. I wish you peace of mind and heart.

  12. This is a lovely poem, Cynthia. I’m not surpised it has touched so many of your readers – it is about something about which so may of us have unresolved and unarticulated feelings… and yet you find beauty in the scene too – the second stanza, on second reading, is full of beauty.
    I was impressed with your explanation to John as well. I will be keeping my eye out for caudated sonnets.
    I found the title intriguing, and was surprised that none of the comments mentioned it. I wouldn’t like to tread on the mysteries of your craft, but I would be interested to know what you meant by it…

    • The title is one that I have lived with for many years…envisioned for a collection of poems about a dys-Eden where Adam and Eve were more buddhist than judaeo-christian. Like many of my good ideas for a collection it remains “unfinished”, and one day recently I wrote the title down, and this poem followed. What can I say? 🙂

  13. Ah-ha – one of your ‘literary cigarettes’… I remember Joseph Campbell writing about Eden and Buddhism. In Buddhism, the closest thing to the Judeo-Christian Eden was the garden wher Sidharta wondered as a young prince, ignorant of the world outside. His discovery and entrance to that world, with all of its corruption and pain is framed as the first step in his growth towards becoming the Buddha, and not as a fall from grace. The figure in the poem has returned to that primeval innocence – or ignorance – which I find, in a strange way, a comforting thought.

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