POEMS I HAVE LOVED IN LIFE – “A SONG OF LIVING”

BLOG #20, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #4
“A SONG OF LIVING”
May 15, 2013

No small thanks to my dearly beloved mother, a master of elocution, short stories, readings, and poetry, in both her public and private performances, I grew up with a great love of poetry, (other than quotations, the most succinct and condensed form of knowledge and insight transferal we know).

Three times before, I constructed foundation blocks under this new series with Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” (July 28, 2010); Tennyson’s Enoch Arden (May 9, 2012); and Tennyson’s “Ulysses (May 16, 2012). On these three, I launch my new series of blogs centered on some of the poems I’ve loved most in life.

Like most of our blogs, something triggered this particular blog. As is true with most of us, I’ve generally lived each day with a rather cavalier disregard for death: Oh, someday, far off in the mists of time, it may happen to me . . . but not soon. Well, for us the trigger turned out to be the sideswiping of our rental car by a large tour bus on the Monterey coast only two weeks ago. Our lives were spared, but only by inches: only a few inches to the right and all four of us would have been splattered on California’s Coastal Highway 1.

Needless to say, that close call was a stark reminder of just how fragile this thin thread we call “life” really is.

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Only once in our 80 books have I anthologized very many poems. In Tears of Joy for Mothers [we celebrated another Mother’s Day just last Sunday], in a tribute to my mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler, I wrote a long introduction titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” in which I assembled for the first time all of the poems of the home my mother loved and recited most. In retrospect, it seems to her three children that she had in her arsenal a poem for every kind of child misbehavior there exists—and, because we were a perverse threesome, she needed them all! Very few of Mother’s poems exist in poetry anthologies, mainly because they were folk poems that were recited by elocutionists from generation to generation without ever gracing the more formal genre of book collections.

Late in life [I was privileged to experience one of them], my mother and father (he, with music) put on memorable programs titled “From the Cradle to the Grave,” celebrations of life, in all its multidimensionality with audiences large and small. I can hear her marvelous poetic lines as I write these words, and my eyes mist over—for I never then realized I was hearing her poetic declarations for the last time.

Always, in these programs, she concluded with what had become, over the years, her life’s signature poem, “A Song of Living” [I’ve never found out who wrote it]. She first recited it in public at the age of fourteen in a high school elocutionary contest. At college, it was while hearing her recite it for a program that my father first set eyes on her. By the time she’d finished, he’d fallen in love with her.

Here are the words:

Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings to be lost in the blue of the sky,
I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
My cheek like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I have kissed young love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end.
I have struck my hand like a seal, in the loyal hand of a friend,
I have known the peace of Heaven, the comfort of work done well.
I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of Hell.
Because I have loved life, I have no sorrow to die.

I give a share of my soul to the world where my course is run.
I know that another shall finish the task that I leave undone.
I know that no flower, no flint, was in vain on the path I trod.
As one looks on a face through a window, through life, I have looked on God.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

Included in my anthology of motherhood stories, Tears of Joy for Mothers (Nashville: W Publishing Group/Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006). $13.99. Though out of print, we still have copies available. You can reach me at my email: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

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