“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.”
– William Blake, Eternity
Great songwriters, like great poets, are possessed by a passionate melancholic sensibility that gives them joy in the telling. They seem always to be homesick for a home they can’t define or find. At the heart of their songs is a presence of an absence that is unnameable. That is what draws listeners in.
While great songs usually take but a few minutes to travel from the singer’s mouth to the listener’s ears, they keep echoing for a long time, as if they had taken both singer and listener on a circular journey out and back, and then, in true Odyssean fashion, replay the cyclic song of the shared poetic mystery that is life and death, love and loss, the going up and coming down, the abiding nostalgia for a future home.
Kris Kristofferson’s songs keep echoing in my mind.
My very old mother, as she neared death, would often tell me, “Don’t let me go.” I would tell her I was trying, knowing my efforts were a temporary stay and that through our conversations we were building what D. H. Lawrence called her “ship of death”:
Build then the ship of death, for you must take
the longest journey, to oblivion.
And die the death, the long and painful death
that lies between the old self and the new.
We are dying, we are dying, so all we can do
is now to be willing to die, and to build the ship
of death to carry the soul on the longest journey.
And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
on the pink flood,
and the frail soul steps out, into her house again
filling the heart with peace.
In those days she also used to ask me: “Now that you have lived more of your life in Massachusetts than in New York City,