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On taking the weather with you
SSar's Beast
Apparently I'm in a mood to appreciate poetry. One of these appeared on a friend's page today (thanks voksen! ^!^) and I sucked in my breath - it's strong medicine, so I post it here with something of a counterpoint.

The City
C.P. Cavafy

You said: I'll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I've spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.

You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(pause, and)

Any Morning
William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

Do they really work together? I think so. Each presents a particular mood that you are invited, or expected, to humour (forgive the pun). The first devastates with its use of the second person: I enter this poem imagining the poet talking to a friend, and then I come to believe that he is talking to me.

'The City' is about a person running from themselves - running on the spot - and the voice of the poet almost seems to say, Stop. The wild discontent of the addressee projects infinitely into their future, and the poet is one step ahead of them in that future, spelling out its logical, bleak conclusion.

'The City' is momentless - the person's attitude is described in groundless extremes: whatever, whenever, wherever. My mother, who loves and is highly trained in conflict management, corporate negotiations, and now psychotherapy, has pointed out that when those kinds of terms come into a discussion ("I never get to do X!" it is a sure derailment; the person is feeling threatened and is either unable to, or does not know how to, come at the heart of their problem.) But whenever, whatever, wherever are not real - reality must be found elsewhere, at the point that whenever-whatever-wherever have been worked out logically, like the end of an equation, which could only happen for this person when they have tried every thing, looked every where, used up all of their time. So, at the end of their journey: destruction.

In contrast, 'Any Morning' describes something very concrete. This person on their couch, "being happy", is protected against the rest of the world. This moment is offered to the reader as a gift: not you are, but you can. 'Any Morning' says: this is happening now (it is grounded), but it could happen at any time. It might even be possible for you to have these kinds of simple, peaceful reflections right under other people's noses. Other people might be doing this under your nose.

'Any Morning' is very light - perhaps it seems flippant. And yet one poem invites you to imagine ennui, self-disgust, and the other invites you to imagine calmness, contentment; and either is a fair thought experiment.

'Any Morning' does play with ideas of happiness as a zero-sum game - implying that other people might choose to jeopardise yours (for no given reason) or that trouble's occupation elsewhere means it can't be with you; and happiness as a zero-sum game troubles me. (Similarly, in the age of anxiety, the idea that happiness is "left lying around" or "easy" makes me wary). But that play is so light-hearted and the poem is so devoid of devoir that it truly feels like an invitation, not a moral exercise.

-Imagine this world where happiness comes upon you suddenly, where it is all yours for however long it lasts, where you do not owe it to anyone, where the idea of anyone's opinion on your happiness is a joke.
-Yes, and what then?
-Just imagine it.

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