Feb 27

The older I get, the less and less I understand this world.

Today, I read this poem for the first time and it touched a nerve deep inside of me. I have lost friends to untimely death and that loss is always hard to bear, but the friend who has stopped contact is most puzzling and that hurts more.


To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death

by Lloyd Schwartz


In today’s paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment
made me ache to call you—the only person I know
who’d still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-
absorption. We’d laugh (at what haven’t we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can’t call,
because I don’t know what became of you.
—After sixty years, with no explanation, you’re suddenly not there.
Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid
you might be dead. But you’re not dead.
You’ve left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on “respecting your privacy.” I located
your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you’re alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.
What’s happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you’ve done? Something I’ve done?
We used to tell each other everything: our automatic
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,
and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other “Happy Birthday” every birthday?
(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)
How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude—the easy
unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.
This mysterious silence isn’t kind. It keeps
me up at night, bewildered, at some “stage “of grief.
Would your actual death be easier to bear?
I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. “When one’s friends hate each other,”
Pound wrote near the end of his life, “how can there be
peace in the world?” We loved each other. Why why why
am I dead to you?
Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less
I understand this world,
and the people in it.
About this poem:
“This poem was written out of great sadness, about the sudden and inexplicable loss, though not the literal death, of a friend—my oldest friend, a friend since childhood. It’s a common trope to address a poem to someone we know won’t read it—someone who has actually died, a former lover, even a lost object. The act of putting our losses into words and letting the world eavesdrop seems some sort of consolation, or at least an acknowledgement that we all suffer such losses. Here, the most painful element is the very mystery of this disconnection, which for me gives Pound’s poignant late-in-life lament such particular resonance.”
Lloyd Schwartz

Permanent link to this article: http://english-speak-english.com/poem-reached-inside/


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  1. I love this poem, not least because I have had just this experience. But I don’t understand the function of the Pound quotation. Pound seems to be saying that when one has friends, and those friends hate each other, then there is no peace. But Schwarz seems to be saying that when one’s friends hate one, then there can be no peace. Care to shed light on this?

    1. Cheers and thanks for your comment, Caleb. I’m curious to know how you found my little spot on the interwebs…if you care to share that info I would be grateful.
      With respect to your request for illumination, I am by no means an authority on either of these poets, their poems, or, poetry in general. However, it maybe important to highlight the fact that Pound wrote the Cantos (from which the original quote derives) during the 12 year period he was held in a psych-ward. The depths of that type of loneliness can not be overstated. Schwartz does a disservice to the reader in the explanation of his own poem! To be sure, “deep sadness” at the death of a close friend or relative resonates almost universally, but isn’t Schwartz comparing the loss of connection, feeling of rejection, inability to comprehend the why of an old friend refusing to respond to Pound at the end of his life after twelve years in prison? That level of profound loss is almost palpable. The sense of despair, feelings of helplessness/hopelessness, of being powerless are monumental to the man who is unjustly incarcerated as they are to the anyone who has experienced the loss of connection from a dear one and not known why. It is the lack of knowing why that is the troublesome part. Of course, we may also consider that in our interactions with, even the closest of friends, we sometimes lack sufficient candor to admit why a particular relationship has dissolved. Schwartz (you, me, a lot of people) is(are) unable/unwilling to know Bottom line: Peace is rare and fleeting. Inner peace even more so.

    • Horsy on August 29, 2014 at 5:14 am
    • Reply

    “Would your actual death be easier to bear? ”

    “I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
    comedy of errors. how can there be
    peace in the world?”

    am I dead to you?
    How much great sadness and inexplicable loss we can bear?

    Those words made me cry!
    tks my friend!

    1. This poem struck a nerve in me and it is interesting to see that I am not alone in that regard. Thanks for your comment, ZH.

    • SPRING on August 29, 2014 at 5:41 am
    • Reply

    Many of us may have already had similar experience and this poem has struck a responsive chord in the heart of me. I also have a friend who moved away from the city and never wrote a letter in reply since that. Sometimes i will wonder what happens to her . Most of the time we can just accept that and tell ourselves cause life’s like this.
    I also notice an interesting part of this poem that in some degree, the shape is arranged with symmetry.Sometimes shape can also have hidden meaning but i can not figure out an answer. I will really appreciate that if you’d like to explain it for me and recommend some easy-to-understand and touching poem just like this one

    1. Yes, Spring, I agree that most people will suffer the dissolution of a friendship during their lifetime, but the profundity with which this poem expresses that loss is striking!
      I am not sure how to respond to your question about the “symmetry” of the poem. Let’s talk about it in your next lesson.

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