Though much is taken, much abides...


The deed has been done, the die cast, the existential leap taken. I pull the plug on gainful employment in August when I turn 65. The paperwork has been submitted, the wheels of bureaucracy churn, no timid turning back.

The move comes with some anxiety. I am rolling the dice a little bit on the financial end, not too foolishly, I hope. Time will tell if it would behoove me to invest in a tent and put in a reservation for a spot under the Hawthorne Bridge. For now my focus will be on study and trying to write poems again.

The will to write poems comes from a perhaps quixotic sense of who I am and what my life is about as I try, in Jim Harrison's words, to keep faith with that dream I had when I was nineteen of being a poet. This is coupled with an intellectual curiosity that has been with me from the outset and remains alive and without bound.

I hold to Emerson's maxim that beneath every deep, a lower deep opens. We never get to the bottom of things. Yet what else am I to do in this never finished adventure, often as not misadventure, of becoming who I am, always with hope but never certainty that I will turn out to be someone I want to be? If I have had a life's work, that is it.

For me this has always entailed trying to stand for values that defy the marketplace and metrics of productivity out of conviction that the market is not the appropriate measure for every aspect of our individual and social lives.

I have in mind beauty, integrity, love of family and friends, and other principles that perhaps fall under the rubric of a certain nobility of spirit that lies outside the scope of the marketplace, and may indeed be beyond my capacity but is always in mind.

Devotion to learning and art do not absolve us of other responsibilities. I believe it was the Greek poet Alexandros Panagoulis, imprisoned and tortured after his attempt to assassinate the dictator Papadopoulos in 1968, who said, "Politics is a duty, poetry is a need." This is as true today as it has ever been.

Meantime, the sixty-fifth birthday is coming at me like the great Jim Brown turning the corner on a power sweep, looking for some hapless defensive back to plow over. Nothing to do but hurl myself at the brute's ankles and hope damage is minimal when he steps on my head.

Of late several people at the office have expressed surprise on learning my age. I find this heartening. When I mentioned it, a friend ventured to guess that I have aged well because I run more than his uncle's cattle dog. I'll go with that.

Another friend remarked that she wishes sometimes that she had my discipline. I found this intriguing because I tend not to think in terms of discipline except insofar as I feel that I am not nearly as disciplined as I would like to be. Running, study, and writing are simply things that I do, who I am.

Funny thing about the retirement announcement. It brought on a flurry of invitations to get together for a drink or dinner. Gadzooks, I have a social life! Maybe I should have retired years ago.

In Tennyson's "Ulysses," the aging king remains restless. "I cannot rest from travel; I will drink / Life to the lees." Weary of the duties of kingship and bored hanging around the palace, he turns over to his son Telemachus "the sceptre and the isle" and entreats his old pals to join him on one last grand adventure, acknowledging that age exacts its toll while asserting that something essential nonetheless remains:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,— One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This seems to me pretty much how things are.

#Miscellany

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David Matthews

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