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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Bridge

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I stood on the bridge at midnight,
As the clocks were striking the hour,
And the moon rose o'er the city,
Behind the dark church-tower.

I saw her bright reflection
In the waters under me,
Like a golden goblet falling
And sinking into the sea.

And far in the hazy distance
Of that lovely night in June,
The blaze of the flaming furnace
Gleamed redder than the moon.

Among the long, black rafters
The wavering shadows lay,
And the current that came from the ocean
Seemed to lift and bear them away;

As, sweeping and eddying through them,
Rose the belated tide,
And, streaming into the moonlight,
The seaweed floated wide.

And like those waters rushing
Among the wooden piers,
A flood of thoughts came o'er me
That filled my eyes with tears.

How often, oh, how often,
In the days that had gone by,
I had stood on that bridge at midnight
And gazed on that wave and sky!

How often, oh, how often,
I had wished that the ebbing tide
Would bear me away on its bosom
O'er the ocean wild and wide!

For my heart was hot and restless,
And my life was full of care,
And the burden laid upon me
Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,
It is buried in the sea;
And only the sorrow of others
Throws its shadow over me.

Yet whenever I cross the river
On its bridge with wooden piers,
Like the odor of brine from the ocean
Comes the thought of other years.

And I think how many thousands
Of care-encumbered men,
Each bearing his burden of sorrow,
Have crossed the bridge since then.

I see the long procession
Still passing to and fro,
The young heart hot and restless,
And the old subdued and slow!

And forever and forever,
As long as the river flows,
As long as the heart has passions,
As long as life has woes;

The moon and its broken reflection
And its shadows shall appear,
As the symbol of love in heaven,
And its wavering image here.

Added by AOW: information about Longfellow Bridge.


  1. Reading that poem makes me feel old...

  2. It's a most beautiful, elegiac utterance. Thank you for posting it, Sam.

    I see a "message" there, whether strictly intended or not. It says to me that Youth and Immaturity are self-centered, self-seeking, self-serving, self-pitying, while Age and Wisdom (if acquired!) have learned to see the Self as only a small part of the Great Scheme, and realize that the hopes, dreams, sufferings and triumphs of others matter as much -- or more -- than one's own.

    The image is wistful, but very beautiful.

    Poets know better than most that pain and sorrow may be inevitable but are in TRUTH a big part of the JOY of living. A paradox, I know, but I maintain that Life is exactly that –– a paradox.

    I have a favorite saying I saw on a greeting card about fifty-five years ago. I quote it often:

    "LIfe is a Mystery to be Lived - Not a Problem to be Solved."

    In my opinion we may never know Joy until we accepted Sorrow -- and come to the realization that we, as individual egos, are not The Center of the Universe. GOD is just that. He is the Heart of All.

    Good poetry has about it an aura of mystery –– a sense that much is implied not spelled out, and that even the poet, himself, might not fully understand every aspect of his inspiration.

    Please don't feel "old," SilverFiddle. Instead, enjoy the reflective, introspective, contemplative aspects of your growing maturity. There is nothing melancholy about it. It is rather a Sign of greater Understanding, Compassion and Depth, which can only make you a better person.

    "This is the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

    Thank you again, Sam, for posting this beautiful poem. I was not familiar with it, and am so glad to encounter it at last.

    ~ FreeThinke

  3. @FT

    "LIfe is a Mystery to be Lived - Not a Problem to be Solved."

    I lkke that. Very nice way to look at life.

  4. "And I think how many thousands
    Of care-encumbered men,
    Each bearing his burden of sorrow,
    Have crossed the bridge since then."

    Not exactly an upbeat work. Of course, there might be more than one bridge with Longfellow thinking about the sad one.

    Thanks for the post. Good stuff.

  5. Than you, COF. It really is helpful to remember those few words when things seem to spin out of control and make no sense.

    Another motto just occurred to me:

    Life is a Challenge to be Embraced, Not a Battle to be Fought.

    No as good, of course, but possibly "serviceable," don't you think?

    Please stop by my blog when you have a chance.

    FreeThinkesblog at blogspot,com should get you there.

    I think you'd enjoy it. It's only been around a couple of weeks, and we're still "tweaking" it, but the idea is to make an effort to look at the problems we face with more humorous, upbeat, less scornful, yet still realistic approach, and also to share information about non-political matters that ought to encourage and enrich our lives.

    ~ FreeThinke

  6. People On A Bridge
    - Wislawa Szymborska

    A strange planet with its strange people.
    They yield to time but don't recognize it.
    They have ways of expressing their protest.
    They make pictures, like this one for instance:

    At first glance, nothing special.
    You see water.
    You see a shore.
    You see a boat sailing laboriously upstream.
    You see a bridge over the water and people on the bridge.
    The people are visibly quickening their step,
    because a downpour has just started
    lashing sharply from a dark cloud.

    The point is that nothing happens next.
    The cloud doesn't change its color or shape.
    The rain neither intensifies nor stops.
    The boat sails on motionless.
    The people on the bridge
    run just where they were a moment ago.

    It's difficult to avoid remarking here:
    this isn't by any means an innocent picture.
    Here time has been stopped.
    Its laws have been ignored.
    It's been denied influence on developing events.
    It's been insulted and spurned.

    Thanks to a rebel,
    a certain Hiroshige Utagawa
    (a being which as it happens
    has long since and quite properly passed away)
    time stumbled and fell.

    Maybe this was a whim of no significance,
    a freak covering just a pair of galaxies,
    but we should perhaps add the following:

    Here it's considered proper
    to regard this little picture highly,
    admire it and thrill to it from age to age.

    For some this isn't enough.
    They even hear the pouring rain,
    they feel the cool drops on necks and shoulders,
    they look at the bridge and the people
    as if they saw themselves there
    in the self-same never-finished run
    along an endless road eternally to be traveled
    and believe in their impudence
    that things are really thus.

  7. The URL for FreeThinke's blog = http://freethinkesblog.blogspot.com/

  8. "Some Like Poetry" by Wislawa Szymborska, about whom I had never heard until Duck left a comment in this thread:

    Some -
    thus not all. Not even the majority of all but the minority.
    Not counting schools, where one has to,
    and the poets themselves,
    there might be two people per thousand.

    Like -
    but one also likes chicken soup with noodles,
    one likes compliments and the color blue,
    one likes an old scarf,
    one likes having the upper hand,
    one likes stroking a dog.

    Poetry -
    but what is poetry.
    Many shaky answers
    have been given to this question.
    But I don't know and don't know and hold on to it
    like to a sustaining railing.

    Of course, the above is a translation of the original Polish.

  9. Thanks for the "plug," AOW. We could use more visitors over there.

    Maybe I haven't been irritating and controversial enough to attract much attention?

    I'm not averse to Wislawa Szymborska's work at all, but I'm sure it loses a great deal of its "music" in translation.

    Poetry is not just abut ideas and mages, it's also about rhythm, color, and special kinds of euphony juxtaposed with bits of cacophony.

    "Rhyme" is hardly a requirement, but in my never humble opinion much of the best poetry adheres to specific patterns of rhythm and meter that a listener need not be aware of when treated to a truly skilled reading.

    As we all should know, the plays of Shakespeare are written almost entirely in iambic pentameter:

    ^/ ^/ ^/ ^/ ^/

    It would be pretty dull, however, if actors emphasized that pattern in a deadly singsong fashion.

    When read for meaning the pattern is all-but-indiscernible, yet it as a subtle unifying, almost mesmerizing effect on listeners.

    I'd love to hear Szymborska's work read in its original Polish by a sensitive, classically trained, highly skilled actor.

    I imagine I'd get more out of it that way, even though I am ignorant of Polish.

    Not many understand that the music is always far more important tan the words.

    By "music," I mean "the inherent expressive quality and unique insight and character" brought to life through understanding.

    words mean little or nothing detached from expressivity.

    I know the lawyers and statisticians would disagree, but they tend to be like the Pharisees -- a tiresome lot.

    ~ FreeThinke

  10. FT,
    It takes a while to bring commenters to a blog.

    If you go back to the first several weeks of my first blog, you'll see what I mean.

  11. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I believe poetry should rhyme, thus:

    A limerick holds laughs astronomical
    In a few short lines; economical,
    But the good ones I've seen
    So rarely are clean,
    And the clean ones so rarely are comical.


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