Tilting at Windmills

A year full of tilting at windmills.
Enemies imagined, a knight-errant schooled in chivalry
that no longer exists and a need
to withstand suffering, accept reality principles
discard idealistic, romantic, heroic, ideas about dying.

Poor Don Quixote – born into the lowest nobility in La Mancha, he has read so many chivalric romances that he either loses or pretends to have lost his mind. He becomes a caballero andante and wants to revive chivalry. He rides under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha.

He does attack a windmill and “tilting at windmills” became an English idiom that means “attacking imaginary enemies.” In Miguel de Cervantes’ novel, these confrontations are not always against windmills but are ones where he has misinterpreted or misapplied his romantic notions. These largely inopportune, unfounded, and vain efforts against adversaries real or imagined eventually lead him to what Freud called the reality principle – that one must battle to withstand suffering but accept the reality of death.

I suppose this sounds like quite a pessimistic poem for a New Year’s Eve, but do you see the optimism in it too?

He Never Learned to Swim

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned at sea,
not yet thirty, off the coast of Italy.
He had learned political poems wouldn’t change
the world, but sailing a stormy sea,
his schooner sank. He never learned to swim.

Percy Bysshe Shelley had been living in Lerici, Italy for about four years. Leaving England, he also left his radical political poetry behind and turned to a more Romantic idealism. He was sailing home from Livorno when they encountered a storm and the boat was swamped. Percy could not swim and drowned along with the crew of three. Shelley’s badly decomposed body washed ashore at Viareggio ten days later and was identified by his clothing and a copy of Keats’s “Lamia” in a jacket pocket.

The conservative London newspaper The Courier, reported, “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned: now he knows whether there is a God or no.” But his friends and admirers, including his second wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, set about to create a Romantic legacy for him. His body was cremated on the beach in a kind of pagan ceremony. Shelley’s heart, which had not burned, was retrieved from the pyre. Mary kept it for the rest of her life, wrapped in a copy of his poem “Adonais” which is an elegy on the death of John Keats, Here is how that poem ends:

The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the Tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.

The rest of his ashes were interred at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome with a monument inscribed with the words Cor Cordium — “heart of hearts” — and lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:
“Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.”

Black Velvet

a black velvet petunia

Her neck rises from the white lace
necklaced with a black velvet band soft
as her pink and purple garden petunias.
Syllables of velvet from a tender perennial.
Flowers blackened by Death still blooming annually.

Emily created as a young girl (before the poetry) a herbarium in which she collected 424 flowers from the Amherst region. She called them “beautiful children of spring,” and arranged them in a 66-page large leather-bound album with labels of the common names and sometimes the official Linnaean ones. All are in her elegant handwriting. I don’ think she had a black petunia in the book, but I think she would have liked the flower.

Emily’s portrait with her black velvet band

A poem by Emily – #334

All the letters I can write
Are not fair as this—
Syllables of Velvet—
Sentences of Plush,
Depths of Ruby, undrained,
Hid, Lip, for Thee—
Play it were a Humming Bird—
And just sipped—me—

Death Cleaning

It’s not dusting, vacuuming or straightening up.
It’s permanent organization for your everyday life.
It’s the cleaning your family would do
after your death, being done by you.
Clear conscience and shelves in the afterlife.


Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter 
In Sweden, this is called döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” Clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later – before others have to do it for you. This method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming.

A Hole in the Sky

sky hole

For Laura Boss

“Every living thing is turning into something else.” – Ovid

All of your poems that remain unwritten.
Promises to and from family not kept. 
Urn of ashes on a son’s mantle.
Things read aloud to laughter and tears,
now lost in the country of time.

Laura Boss was an American, award-winning poet and a friend and mentor. She was the founder and Editor of Lips poetry magazine for four decades. Laura died on April 9, 2021, after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.