It’s funny how one thing leads to another don’t you think. I spoke with dear Peter Willis (Peter’s picture above) this week and was reminded of his verve and energy for life, which is precious. Perhaps this is even more so when infirmity and the rigours of age are upon us. There is a particular intensity to life as the years pass. We lose the freshness of youth – that easy, taken for granted period where life stretches out ahead – but we gain something too. Perhaps it’s like the colours of autumn leaves, that vividness an indication of the quality I am talking about.
Peter has been reading Robert Dessaix’s book What Days are For (Robert being another of those people who have a particular pleasure in being alive I think, and a man who knows about the finiteness of our time, and about long term precarious health) (Robert’s picture above). Peter sent through some quotes from the book and I was most struck by the bits about days being where we live:
forget years, forget lifetimes and the shapes they’ve taken on, it’s a succession of days you live in, so make sure they’re good ones, be happy in them as they pass, one after the other, that’s the point. That’s where we live – not so much in Hobart or Hull in this year or that, not even in lifetimes, let alone ‘in the moment’ (how fatuous) or in God’s timeless gaze, as in our own succession of days. Learn to value that. (p.64)
What great advice this is I think – to focus on the day we are in and making it good. His book’s title comes from a poem of Philip Larkin’s (Philip’s picture above), called ‘Days’ – here it is:
What are days for? Days are where we live. They come, they wake us Time and time over. They are to be happy in: Where can we live but days? Ah, solving that question Brings the priest and the doctor In their long coats Running over the fields. Philip Larkin
In Larkin’s poem he speaks quite indirectly somehow (the days come and they wake us, they are to be happy in etc), but Dessaix is quite insistent that we have to make each day a good one – the making of it is the thing. Our own actions, our own creative endeavours, our own way. This idea in turn reminded me of a lovely book that I have here somewhere, but can’t currently put my hand on, called Making Your Own Days, by Kenneth Koch (Ken’s picture above). It’s about writing and reading poetry, and more broadly about creativity and daily life. It contains an excellent poem by Frank O’Hara, which contains the quote that is the title of Koch’s book. Here it is:
A True Account Of Talking To The Sun At Fire Island
The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying “Hey! I’ve been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are
only the second poet I’ve ever chosen
to speak to personally
aren’t you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can’t hang around
here all day.”
“Sorry, Sun, I stayed
up late last night talking to Hal.”
“When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt” the Sun said
petulantly. “Most people are up
already waiting to see if I’m going
to put in an appearance.”
to apologize “I missed you yesterday.”
“That’s better” he said. “I didn’t
know you’d come out.” “You may be wondering why I’ve come so close?”
“Yes” I said beginning to feel hot
and wondering if maybe he wasn’t
“Frankly I wanted to tell you
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you’re okay. You
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you’re different. Now, I’ve heard some
say you’re crazy, they being excessively
calm themselves to my mind, and other
crazy poets think that you’re a boring
reactionary. Not me.
Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You’ll
find that some people always will
complain about the atmosphere,
either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days
too short or too long.
If you don’t appear
at all one day they think you’re lazy
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.
And don’t worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you
I knew it and saw you moving. I was
for you to get to work.
And now that you
are making your own days, so to
even if no one reads you but me
you won’t be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes.”
“Oh Sun, I’m so grateful to you!”
“Thanks and remember I’m watching.
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don’t have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.
always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the
and you should follow it to hell, if
necessary, which I doubt.
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem
in that brain of yours as my farewell.”
“Sun, don’t go!” I was awake
at last. “No, go I must, they’re calling
“Who are they?”
Rising he said “Some
day you’ll know. They’re calling to you
too.” Darkly he rose, and then I slept.
(Frank O’Hara, written 1958. It’s got that 1950’s vibe I think, a certain beat and informality. Frank died when he was hit by a car in 1966, aged 40 – how excellent that he had been making his days for a while by then…) (Frank’s picture above!)
And then here I am today, thinking of Peter W and Robert D and Philip L and Ken K and Frank O’H and the pleasures of being alive in this world.