Sunday, April 16, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - On the Transience & Transcendence of Life

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

Sending very best wishes this Easter weekend!  And a pertinent poem to boot.

The poem is by Jane Hirshfield, who has been described by another notable poet, David Baker, as one of "our finest, memorable contemporary poets." It's a poem about the transience of our gift of material life, and it came out in today's issue of Knopf Poetry. Here it is, followed by a brief commentary on it:

In My Wallet I Carry a Card

by Jane Hirshfield

In my wallet I carry a card

which declares I have the power to marry.

In my wallet I carry a card

which declares I may drive.

In my wallet I carry a card

that says to a merchant I may be trusted to pay her.

In my wallet I carry a card

that states I can borrow a book in the town where I live.

In my hand I carry a card.

Its lines declare I am cardless, carless,

stateless, and have no money.

It is buoyant and edgeless.

It names me one of the Order of All Who Will Die.

Clearly, the first three stanzas evince pleasant testimonies to material accomplishments that can guarantee some of our basic rights, preferences & benefits (matrimony, movement, financial security, and access to reading material). To be sure, not everyone who deserves unalloyed meaningful life has these things (for all manner of inhumane reasons), and therein lies the real import of the poem. Although the persona in the poem possesses all those material life benefits, there is something missing ~~ the transcendence of life, as captured so well by the first and last lines of the penultimate and last stanzas respectively: In my hand I carry a card / It names me one of the Order of All Who Will Die.

The transience of life is indisputable as evidenced in the fifth and sixth stanzas, but therein also lies a revealing paradox: It's all in our hands. The evidence of our transient life is spiritually encrypted in our hands/palms and the spirit, of course, never dies. That core spiritual element is "buoyant and edgeless." There is a convergence of the transience and transcendence of life, one might say (if only philosophically). We don't need a psychic/palm reader to reckon that that mix of cards, do we? (smile). And here is another take, which was probably not meant to be conveyed by the poet: The final 7-syllable characterization, Order of All Who Will Die, presents a reminder of the "3-score & 10" age around which many depart from this PhysiqueLand (smile).

Finally, do the four stanzas on material life symbolize something in seasonal terms? The matrimonial card for the Spring season of our lives?  The driving card for the Summer season of our peak years?  The credit/debit card for the Fall season of midlife. The last card for the Winter season of our twilight and musing years?  OK, knowing that those seasons are not universal, how about a joyous song from the Global South? It's titled Magic in the Air, by the Ivorian musical group called Magic System and featuring the Moroccan singer, Chawki.  Here goes, enjoy! 

With Peace & Love,


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