Went up a year this evening!

Barbarians from the South, 1600, Kano Naizen
Background Image: Barbarians from the South, 1600, Kano Naizen

My initial / quick thoughts: I had to read and reread the poem multiple times to get a sense of what she’s writing about. She starts off with memory, remembering the past year, and the she talks about leaving on a journey of some kind, like a hero (Homer – ish) who the people will not know how long they will be gone. And then the crowd watches them leave (“ascended”) and never came back.

I got the impression she was writing about a friend who has left on an ocean voyage and may never return and this poem is her remembering the day she watched his ship sailing off over the horizon.

The first two lines speak of the memory (she “recollect[s]”) of a year ago, “a year this evening!” But the next two lines have an odd tinge of sadness in that there is no fanfare to recollect the subject of this poem, “no bells nor bravos”, but perhaps there is some gossip from “The bystanders will tell” – so maybe the town is also recalling this event?

The lines “Cheerful”, “Tranquil”, and “Chastened” describe the village where the speaker lives (perhaps) and from where this traveler came from, “this humble Tourist rose”. The wordplay here is nice in that rose not only could mean ‘to rise’ but also the flower, as in the rose is a tourist which brings beauty and love to wherever it goes. In fact, if you think about how a ‘rose is a rose’ (which Gertrude Stein so beautifully played with) but also of how wherever you go in the world there will be roses waiting for you there as if it’s the same rose all over the earth travelling around waiting for you.

The speaker then writes about time and fate (“propitious” meaning the merciful fates of the Gods / God willing) and of if the “Tourist” will ever be seen in this village again (and I recall Homer setting out). And again the poem mentions Roses, this time the flower, and how the “Tourist” will pick new flowers in a new land in a new time.

The final few lines speak of the crowd that watches the “Tourist” leave, and at first I recalled her poem “Could live – did live” where the bystanders – who she describes beautifully as “The wonderous”) watched “the launching” (alluding to Christ ascending into heaven and whose return is certain but the time unknown and this poem could also be an allusion to Christ), and here she builds on that image but mixes it with when you watch a ship sailing out towards the horizon and how it seems to ascend “from our vision”, as if the ship and horizon are above us (I miss watching ships on the ocean). And that ship is headed off to new lands (“A Difference”) and will pick new flowers (“A Daisy”).

Finally, since it’s been a year as the speaker recalls this moment, then we are brought back to the present time because the “Tourist” has not yet returned and thus “Is all the rest I knew” because she has had no new news.

Beautiful poem.