Monday, August 01, 2005

Poem of the Week 7/26/2005: Love-Letter Burning


The archivist in us shudders at such cold-
blooded destruction of the word, but since
we're only human, we commit our sins
to the flames. Sauve qui peut: fear makes us bold.

Tanka was bolder: when the weather turned
from fair to frigid, he saw his way clear
to build a sacrificial fire
in which a priceless temple Buddha burned.

(The pretext? Simple: what he sought
was legendary Essence in the ask.
But if it shows up only in the flesh - ?
He grinned and said, Let's burn the lot!)

Believers in the afterlife perform
this purifying rite. At last
a match is struck: it's done. The past
will shed some light, but never keep us warm.

Daniel Hall 1990

**close-read coming soon!**

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sarah, as I am coming in late to your PotW you probably have already remarked on this poem, but I thought I would write my own and tell a little story that has greatly enriched my life.

On love-letter burning.
This poem probably holds a lot of weight with anyone who has once loved because it mentions the thing that so many of us would never want to do, burn our love-letters: the last physical remnants of something we once had. It is simply the fear that makes this such a "cold-blooded" idea, as Hall put it, but I am envious of those who can let go.

This summer when I went to visit my family, likely one of the last times I will see my grandfather, and the first time without my grandmother we all got together for something unexpected. My grandfather was a jeweller for his entire life and he put so much stake in the beauty and significance of jewellry and nice things. On so many occassions he gave his wife some piece of jewellry as a sign and act of his love for her. Now that she has passed on however, he realized that he does not need them as reminders. In his daily readings of the Bible he found a passage that said "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Like "love-letter-burning," where Hall belittles the importance and superficial gaudiness of the buddha, and the love-letter, by saying that "the past will shed some light, but never keep us warm." With everything that you can learn from the past, the material items that remind you don't even have enough weight to burn long enough to warm you. And this was my grandpa's idea, that he needed not those beautiful mememtos because he had his memories and his love for my grandmother, and that was all he needed to live the rest of his life and pass on to heaven.

I am not a religious person by any means, but this is something to remember for all of us, that the attachments in the physical plane of our existence are nothing more than attachments and nothing but the love and memories and actions that we hold for ourselves make us who we are. So be bold, and "let's burn the lot!"