Beginnings

The Book of Genesis contains two creation stories. Some biblical literalist would no doubt have preferred that there be just the one. But those ancient redactors who put the bible together knew that beginnings are always messy affairs.

I have seen sketch drafts of poems that W.B. Yeats wrote. The finished product often-times bears little resemblance to the sketched idea. In one of his final poems, “Cuchalain Comforted,” written just a few weeks before his death, for example, the note “A shade recently arrived went through a valley in the country of the dead,” became:

A man that had six mortal wounds, a man
Violent and famous, strode among the dead;
Eyes stared out of the branches and were gone.

Then certain Shrouds that muttered head to head
Came and were gone.  He leant upon a tree
As though to meditate on wounds and blood.

A Shroud that seemed to have authority
Among those bird-like things came, and let fall
A bundle of linen.  Shrouds by two and three

Came creeping up because the man was still.
And thereupon that linen-carrier said:
“Your life can grow much sweeter if you will

“Obey our ancient rule and make a shroud;
Mainly because of what we only know
The rattle of those arms makes us afraid.

“We thread the needles’ eyes, and all we do
All must together do.’ That done, the man
Took up the nearest and began to sew.

“Now must we sing and sing the best we can,
But first you must be told our character:
Convicted cowards all, by kindred slain

“Or driven from home and left to die in fear.’
They sang, but had nor human tunes nor words,
Though all was done in common as before;

They had changed their throats and had the throats of
birds.

The simple dictated sketch, like the  bird-like things, needed to be fully fleshed out. And so Yeats did… with 70 years of poetic skill, language, and symbolism.

Beginnings are where outlines are made, plans and schemes laid out. The finished product, however, remains far  down the road.

That I choose a poem about death to talk about beginnings is not a mistake, any more than when the redactors of the Bible chose to include the creation story of Adam and Eve and sin and death. Beginnings and endings are not two ends of a sequential line but, as we learn in our messy lives, two birds that always travel together.

And so we begin…

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