Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Power of a Poem 3

Intensity and Depth of Feeling

Many years ago when I was a young man of twenty-five a good friend described me as being intense, and hastened to add that his opinion was in no way negative or, indeed, a criticism of any kind.  Of course, I did not take it as such nor would I ever have.  Indeed, I have always delighted in my intensity, because I have always associated it with depth of character, and the absolute opposite to shallowness.   There are several definitions of the word "intense," but the one I allude to here is the following meaning (a)  "Deeply felt; profound: intense emotion." and (b) Tending to feel deeply: an intense writer.  This is exactly what I have in mind here in this short piece.  Now, the great poet and short story writer, whose poem I wish to append below is none other than the great Raymond Carver who died at the relatively young age of fifty. Carver's career was dedicated to short stories and poetry. He described himself as "inclined toward brevity and intensity" and "hooked on writing short stories."  This is precisely what we get in Carver's short stories and also in his poems.  The poems are short and pithy, and almost epigrammatic, while the stories are brief and succinct.

I also love Raymond Carver's epitaph which runs:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
It will not surprise the reader that Raymond Carver was an alcoholic for a lengthy period of his life and that when he was sober and writing he was always a member of the AA.  The poem I wish to append here today is one called Gravy, and as far as I know this is also inscribed on his tombstone.  Carver was dying of cancer when he wrote this poem, and I love his absolute determination to celebrate life and the good years that he had lived.  He had, in fact, almost died from alcoholism ten years before he wrote this poem, but he succeeded in giving up drinking and then met his second wife, having divorced the first.  He also found peace of mind and soul, and the last decade of his life was very happy and very productive as he published several volumes of wonderful short stories and poems.  This poem, then, is about being given a second chance, and about really appreciating life.  Reflect on this poem and you will gain a lot.


No other word will do. For that's what it was.Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. "Don't weep for me,"
he said to his friends. "I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don't forget it."



Above, Raymond Carver in a typically strong pose.

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