Do you ever semi-wake up and not know where you are, how old you are, who is next to you (or not), what it is you are meant to do, who it is you are meant to be? As I typed that question just now, the words fugue state drifted into my mind. What exactly fugue state means I didn’t know until a second ago, when I looked it up, but it fits the feeling of those half-asleep wakings.
So does this poem. A while ago I woke up with time is the fire in which we burn running through my head. It felt familiar, but why? Had I made it up and then abandoned it somewhere in some unfinished novel? I typed the exact line into a search engine and up floated Delmore Schwartz, calling to me from the previous century, haunting me with his own unanswered questions.
Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day, by Delmore Schwartz
Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
metropolitan poetry here and there,
in the park sit pauper and rentier,
the screaming children, the motor-car
fugitive about us, running away,
between the worker and the millionaire
number provides all distances,
it is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
many great dears are taken away,
what will become of you and me
(this is the school in which we learn …)
besides the photo and the memory?
(… that time is the fire in which we burn.)
(This is the school in which we learn …)
what is the self amid this blaze?
what am I now that I was then
which I shall suffer and act again,
the theodicy I wrote in my high school days
restored all life from infancy,
the children shouting are bright as they run
(this is the school in which they learn …)
ravished entirely in their passing play!
(… that time is the fire in which they burn.)
Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
Where is my father and Eleanor?
Not where are they now, dead seven years,
but what they were then?
No more? No more?
From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
not where they are now (where are they now?)
but what they were then, both beautiful;
each minute bursts in the burning room,
the great globe reels in the solar fire,
spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
the smallest color of the smallest day:
time is the school in which we learn,
time is the fire in which we burn.
For more information about Delmore Schwartz, click here.
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Thank you for this on this vague Saturday morning. Bill