Ephemeral Beauty in the Book of My Memory

Monday Morning Musings:

In the book of my memory—the part of it before which not much is legible—there is the heading Incipit vita nova [here begins a new life].

–Dante Alihieri, Vita Nuova

“There are lovely things in the world, lovely that don’t endure, and the lovelier for that.”

–Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song

“People like films because stories are a structure, and when things turn bad it’s still part of a plan. There’s a point to it.”

–Tom Buckley in Their Finest

 

Dawn opens the book

write or draw upon the page

ephemeral life

transitory beauty, grasped,

chronicled by poet’s hand

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Every morning, I wake and turn another page,

what will be written there that day?

Not a book, a story, a movie, a play,

our lives

we plan, we think there is a structure, a plot

reasons for our rhyme

we study the past

but put our trust in hope and beauty

 

My husband and I eat Chinese food

sitting in our living room we watch a movie,

about a woman who lived a hundred years ago in Scotland,

using technology that did not exist in that era,

and that will become outdated all too soon,

it’s a rural life of hardship and beauty,

of fighting and song,

an abusive father, a depressed mother, a brother who leaves,

she puts away her books,

but there is the land to sustain her

she falls in love and marries

but the land is still there,

glowing through the director’s vision,

though the work is hard,

her husband goes to war

(the war that was to end all wars)

it changes him

it changes the nation

and all the nations that lose so many of their young men

the poets write, the tyrants sing

dulce et decomum est pro patri mori

the old lie,

that vicious lie,

life is ephemeral,

but love,

that is true and lasting

 

In the morning, I wake and turn another page,

we see another movie

this one about the next big war

about keeping the spirits up and boosting morale,

the movie is funny and charming and sad,

I enjoy it very much,

my husband does, too,

though he says, “It’s a Merril movie.”

And I guess it is,

though I’m not sure what that means,

the movie is mainly about a woman

who gets a job writing “slops,”

the women’s dialog for war movies,

this one is about unlikely women heroes at Dunkirk

the war ministry wants it to have everything though—

even an American and a dog–

and we see the writing (the clicking of typewriters)

and the construction of the movie

location and studio

while the world around them shatters,

and we know that the world will get worse,

and women will take “men’s work,”

then be forced back into their boxes,

but there is romance and Bill Nighy

and really what else do you need in a movie?

 

After the movie,

the spring day turned fine,

we walk around the old city,

where traces of the past remain,

though much has vanished,

structures, people,

and before that

giant creatures who once walked the earth

 

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American Philosophical Society

 

we drink coffee,

enjoy the view,

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laugh at the booming voice of a tour guide

helpfully informing a group that

“Carpenter’s Hall was built for carpenters.”

(though the term carpenters is misleading)

 

Nearby stood the house of a bodice-maker

now house and man, long gone—along with the fashion

all fleeting moments in time

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Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia

 

In a garden, we see tulips

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but many of the early spring flowers are already gone,

the petals of the flowering trees float to the ground

joining piles of catkins

(leaving pollen to blow everywhere)

the fleeting life of a butterfly,

helping to create beauty in the world,

ephemeral beauty

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the beauty of spring, fading into summer

lovely things that don’t endure

and are they lovelier for that,

and is that the point?

What will I remember,

what will be retained in the book of my memory?

These moments of beauty, I hope.

We go home

feed our cats and ourselves,

the mundane tasks of life

that have their own beauty and joy,

we sleep,

and in the morning

I wake and turn another page,

hoping for beauty, though it may not endure,

wondering if there’s a plan

wondering and hoping

holding love close

 

We watched the movie, Sunset Song, on Netflix. Here’s a review. I haven’t read the book, which I know is a classic in Scotland. We saw Their Finest in a theater. Here’s a trailer.