The Generations Pass
The generations pass. Time lays to waste
All those that came before, and now we stand
Upon the brink, for which there is foretaste
Awaiting our own turn nature has planned.
I stand upon the bluff, and feel the spray
As water crashes on the rocks below,
Successive waves, that melt into the bay
“In sequent toil” and endless, restless flow.
How many years have waves crashed at this spot?
O, many. I was never at this shore,
Though even out of sight, yet it was not
Unnoticed, as I heard its ceaseless roar
Ever although in childhood came diminished
The sound unto my ears, far-off and faint,
Hearing the old folks talk of those who finished
Their earthly sojourn, tears held in restraint--
Persons whose names held vague significance
Perhaps to me, yet ever more to them,
Spoken with resignation, remonstrance,
Again as flow of tears they try to stem.
The waves keep rushing into shore, the tears
Keep flowing—it is endless, this progression,
That grows familiar over many years,
Yet mostly, which we may avoid to mention.
I hear them talking now, their voices echo
Within the corridors of memory
I hear deep in my mind; talk with respect to
Persons long vanished, whom I may not see,
The names of whom carry vague intimations
Within my mind, but nothing more—and they,
The elders of my tribe whose conversations
I yet recall, they too have gone away.
The elders whom we looked to to secure us
Against Time’s maddening onrush—these have gone,
As now we talk of them, children endure us
Absorbed in their own games, heeding no one.
Memories of the dead, what are they to
Children absorbed most deeply in the moment,
For they know they have better things to do
Nor to their ears do we address our comment.
We talk of years gone by; of persons whom
We knew, who knew us, and who interacted
With us in memories suffused with gloom,
Shared by us not to ever be retracted.
Stories we heard of this or that great-uncle,
Comical scenes, or else more general
Remembered illness, bunion or carbuncle
That caused vexation; how one dressed, stood tall.
Speculate we may on relationships
Between them, two or three, now all deceased,
Remembered incidents, fast spoken quips
That none may replicate; or pants well-creased.
Mostly we may remember but a timbre
Held in the voice, a special kind of laugh,
How they perhaps seemed stiff while we were limber
As children, though we understood not half
Of the dimension of the world they faced
Now changed within our lifetime; the milieu
In which their lives evolved, now laid to waste
Never to be recaptured. We review
What in their lives had been major events,
Disasters, wars, whose consequence was global
By which their lives were touched; or incidents
Personal, small in nature, times in trouble,
Times of uncertainty or which did breach
All prior expectation; or perhaps
We talk about an outing at the beach,
Or family secrets hidden under wraps.
And while we talk, we realize that even
Earth-shattering events, the major wars
Felt by their generation, leave in heaven
The traces of their footprints—other cares
Concern the children of our present era
That has its present wars and ruminations,
While remnants of their stories hardly bear a
Footnote within the histories of nations.
These elders we remember—though they may
Even as we recall them, have been younger
Then than we even find ourselves today
Engaged in reminiscence that makes stronger
The bonds between the living and the dead--
These elders live, if only circumspect
In memories held by the living head
Which we preserve as precious, to protect
And call them forth within our dialogue.
These elders are remembered by few living,
And as the waves crash in and stir a fog
Of misty memory, their forward driving
Endless perpetual in sequent motion,
We stand upon the bluff and contemplate
How out beyond the bay there lies the ocean
So vast our rumination it predate
In all eternity. We feel the rush
Of air that is stirred up upon our faces
Laden with spray, as waters forward crush
Upon the shore, and wear away all traces
Of what had been before. Perhaps this bluff
Upon which we are standing, had been inland
Eons ago, worn by the ocean rough
While there, before our feet, it all had been land
Grassy as where we stand, where now but juts
In the expanse beneath our foot, slabbed crags
Against which ocean water chops and cuts
Driven unto this spot from many leagues.
The air is wonderful, so cold and fresh,
And I, on the abutment, feebly stand,
Aware of the immensity my flesh
And wonder at the breadth of life so spanned.
I think upon the lines and turn them over
Within my mind, that had been written long
Ago in England, at the cliffs of Dover
In which the poet captured in his song
The ageless lamentation dating back
To nights on the Aegean, as he stood
Together with his loved-one, the attack
Of armies in their ignorance which brewed
Far-off forebodings of the threat of war
Intruding not upon the poignancy
Of present moment shared. It seems so far
Away and long ago; yet that same spray
Is felt by us today, the ocean violent,
As we upon the edge of continent
Discuss the past, or present, or stand silent,
Before the ocean’s crash without relent.