Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Am Not Resigned

While rereading the comments left on my previous post regarding Mary Oliver's poem, "Peonies," I was struck again by the beauty of her images and the metaphors for life abundant within her words. When Cletis Stump, in his comments, mentioned Edna St. Vincent Millay, I saw similarities in the cadence of certain lines in that poem and Edna's, "Dirge Without Music." I first heard it many years ago while watching a movie starring Robert Duvall. I don't know for certain but it may have been, "The Apostle," or  perhaps, "The Stone Boy."  In the film, if I recall correctly, a high school English teacher reads this poem to her students. It was the first time I had ever heard it. I was so moved I had to find and reread it as soon as possible. My mother had recently passed and it struck a chord. Let me share it with you and then I'll tell you why, "I am not resigned."

"Dirge Without Music"

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the
   hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, -- but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter,
   the love, --
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in
   the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know, but I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

I haven't yet written a great deal about my father. Father's Day came and went, as did his birthday a couple of days later, and still I didn't feel any draw towards writing about him. As the date of his passing approaches, June 30th, six years ago now, I have given this some thought and realized it's because I don't feel he's gone. I still feel his presence in my life, very much. I'm not referring to his influence on me, although there is that, I actually feel his presence, and have since the day he passed. No, not every day, all day long. Certainly nothing like that. I do, though, often feel him near when I have questions and have turned to him for his thoughts when I'm struggling a bit. So, to write as though he is gone doesn't feel true. This is not just wishful thinking nor a flight of fancy. Perhaps I should tell you about what happened the day of his passing. I don't know anything with absolute certainty, but I know what I experienced.

I got the call from my sisters around 5:00 in the morning. I was half expecting the call as I had just flown from Santa Fe to Minnesota twice in the previous six weeks when we thought his passing was imminent, but was instead a false alarm from which he had seemed to rally. I had spoken to Dad on the phone the previous morning and felt we were very much at peace about our relationship although Dad, I know, had lingering concerns about me living far away from home and family.

After the call, some crying and walking around in a daze for a while, I made plans to fly home. I couldn't get a flight until the following morning, so I decided to run a couple of errands in town. As I often did, I took the service road running parallel to the interstate. It's a somewhat calmer drive, although usually a fairly busy road. This day it seemed to be very quiet, in fact, I didn't pass a single car. A few miles outside of town, I saw him. No, not my dad, but something that very much symbolized him. He was coming up out of the arroyo and onto the road directly in front of me: a beautiful, large whitetail deer with a magnificent set of antlers. I put on my brakes as he calmly walked past, chest jutting out with a sense of pride, strength, and determination. He looked like Bambi's dad. Seriously. And I swear, he paused ever so slightly to look at me through the windshield. I sat there, transfixed.

After he had walked out of sight, I slowly moved on, held in a sense of wonder. Just before I got to town, I pulled over on the side of the road as a torrent of emotions washed over and through me.

That afternoon, I called to tell my sister. She said she had just returned from the funeral home where Dad had a couple of years earlier made most of his own arrangements, including the selection of his casket. She said that on the inside of the lid, embossed in beige satin, was a large whitetail deer with a magnificent set of antlers.

Photo: Edna St. Vincent Millay


  1. Hello Teresa:
    What a very personal and moving account you give here of your father's death, and we can so well understand how you are 'not resigned'. And, in our view, nor should you be 'resigned' since you understand your own feelings and emotions better than anyone else ever can and you can be comfortable with them. Conventions do not have to always apply and we feel that it is such a gift that you enjoy the daily closeness with your father. Yes, be not 'resigned'.

  2. Wow. Thanks for the story about your dad.

    My dad had a large stuffed gorilla named Magilla who sat in a chair in the living room. The night he died, I was sitting alone in the dusk - my mom was downstairs at the neighbors. I looked over at Magilla and my dad was watching me through his eyes.

    I saw my dad again two years ago, in my mother's room at the nursing home the day before she died. He was smiling.

  3. Lovely sharing of thoughts. I used to have my dad over when I did any remodeling, he enjoyed this a lot. We had our routines and I enjoy dreaming about doing these still,many years after his passing. I wake so refreshed.
    Steve, OOTP

  4. I don't know quite what to say except beautiful. Beautiful in every possible way; the poem, of course, and your story of why you are not resigned.

    These moments come in life and grab us and keep us, don't they?

    My own father died 42 years ago. I was 19, a college student, and was devastated, but, carried on. I could because he was always there, and still is. I wish I had known this poem then, but, you know, it is so wonderful that I will keep it now.

  5. WOW is all I can say.

  6. For as long as the feeling of your father's presence is as close as this, he is is not gone.
    Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, the dead are with us while we remember them. Your account of your father's importance in your life is very moving; keep him close and he will remain so.

    Without having said so, your deep appreciation of him comes across to me. You are fortunate to have him in your life.

  7. Teresa, I am more and more stunned by your eloquence. Miss Milay would be (is) proud.

  8. I wasn't expecting that, but then again, I am not surprised and I am not resigned. Gives me the goose bumps if you know what I mean, but those kind of goose bumps are all and everything one wishes to find.

  9. Oh my god Teresa! This story is amazing. Somehow you just know, don't you!!! I am envious of the fact that you feel him with you in times of need and that he feels like he has not left you completely. I did write a piece about my father on Father's Day and all my life I have wanted a sign that he was around watching over me; wanted to know that I had a guardian angel. I have never felt that though and I really miss that connection. I am endebted to you for this wonderful post. You have given me hope. And, that poem by Edna! I have never heard it before and feel like what a wonderful tribute it would be to someone when they pass over to the other side. Thank you for sharing this and for your comments today. I hope that you always feel you father close by.

  10. What a beautiful moment you shared with that white deer. It indeed was a synchronous moment that aligned all parts together into one magnificent symphony. It's wonderful to feel your father still with you like you do, Teresa. You make me happy to have gotten to meet you and read your stories. I am smiling with happiness right now.

  11. It's so beautiful and brilliant what you say to us here, Teresa. Your experience with the white-tailed deer, well, sometimes you'll just have to wonder, if this is a coincidence or if there is more between heaven and earth than you can imagine.

    The fine poem fits my feelings too. I do not resign. I do not approve. "More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world".

    The Swedish author August Strindberg once said "Det är så synd om människorna" = "Man's fate is a tragedy" (I hope you understand, translation is impossible) - and his words always come to my mind when bad things happen.

    Thank you for a beautiful post.

  12. I literally got chills when I read your story. They are good chills...the kind I always get when I feel something beyond our realm. I have no doubt it was your Dad comforting you.
    I still feel my Mother at certain times and she even has a sign that she sends. She has done this at special family times. Recently when I had to deal with something difficult. It was beyond my scope of understanding. I saw the sign and just asked her to help me know how to handle this one.
    I really like the poem, it is so sad. We can never resign to something that is beyond our comprehension.

  13. T-
    I have shivers down my spine...I truly beleive we have a connection with those that have passed before us; no, not anything poltergeist like that but subtle connections where we do feel their presence. I've a couple times woke from sleep having had a conversation with my dad...it's all fascinating...
    thinking of you as the day approaches and yet, I feel you are at peace with it!

  14. Teresa, what a wonderful, moving post. I really appreciate you sharing these moments. How wonderful to see that deer. What a splendid moment of wonder...

  15. I've read and reread each of your comments and am so very grateful for them. I appreciate the time you took to read this and leave your thoughts, your reactions. Thank you to those of you who shared personal stories and for the kindness you've all shown. The friendship I've found here in our blogging community means a great deal to me. It's not always easy to put ourselves out there as we all do. I'm glad for the respect shown for our varying perspectives. Thank you.

  16. This is so beautiful Teresa. I love when these encounters happen. And that you continue to be open to him even now. Your dad must have really been somethin'. I'll be thinking of you tomorrow and wishing for you another such encounter to fill your heart with joy. xo

  17. Wow, karena, thank you so much. How thoughtful and kind. I know that you've had encounters of this nature and am very happy for your wishes. They are deeply appreciated.

  18. How I envy your beautiful prose and poetry. More than that, I envy the wonderful things you do with your talent! Your words have such impact on everybody. You truly share the spirit of the poets. May the blessings of your gift comfort you and others for a long time to come.

  19. My Mum Passed On Just Over Two Years Ago.I Recognize What You Say.She Still Just Does Not Feel In The Past Tense.I guess She Never Will.
    Yes.Increasingly, My World Comes To Symbolize Her.Lovely Post.Thank You. X.

  20. Beautiful post Teresa. Thinking of you and sending you big hugs.
    xxoo Catherine

  21. Ms. Sparrow. I cannot adequately express how much your words mean to me. How very kind, and oh so encouraging they are. I share what means something to me and hope that perhaps it will mean something to others. I can only hope what you've written is true. Thank you, dear lady.

  22. Tony, Those people with whom we enter life stay with us. "My world comes to symbolize her." Yes, isn't that so true? Thank you. Very much.

  23. I know just what you mean I still feel my Mum around me,and what a fantastic meeting you had with the majestic deer. I understand completely how you felt, I've written elsewhere of my own meeting and of the thrill those eyes looking into mine. How very moving when later you found about about the casket from your sister!

    Thank you so much for your lovely comments on my blog..I DO appreciate your visits so much.

  24. Jane, I'm happy to hear from you again and trust all is Well. After returning to your blog, I remembered where I had recently seen an excerpt from Mary Oliver that triggered the Peonies poem for me. There it was on your lovely place. I thank you!