Friday, July 8, 2011


In my last posting, I told the story of two encounters that my college roommate, Anthony, and I had fifty years ago with the novelist William Faulkner.  Little did I know when I wrote that post that Anthony was in the last days of his battle with mantle cell lymphoma, a cancer that he had been fighting for more than a decade. A few days ago, I learned that just eight days after my post, Anthony finally succumbed to the disease and died in Buenos Aires, the city in which he had chosen to spend his final days.

Since learning of Anthony's death, I have felt the need to offer a small tribute to his life.  It's been a difficult task, however, because this was not one of those friendships that endured through thick and thin.  While our lives intersected for a few good years during our youth, we eventually followed very different paths and lifestyles, and, increasingly with each passing year, we had less and less in common.  One thing that remained, however, was a mutual love of language and the myriad ways in which words can be crafted and spoken to lift and sustain the human spirit.  Words, words, words — their beauty, their magic, and their undeniable power — a power that drove me to become a lawyer and Anthony to become an actor. 

Anthony's life was so complex that I would surely miss the mark if I tried to pay tribute to his life with my own words.  A far better tribute, I think, will emerge if I simply quote the words of three poetic works that were chiseled into Anthony's memory and psyche.  These words always spoke deeply to Anthony's soul, and at this particular moment, they speak deeply to mine.

                 How Calmly Does The Orange Branch
                               by Tennessee Williams
                   (From "Night of the Iguana," Act III)

                    How calmly does the orange branch
                    Observe the sky begin to blanch
                    Without a cry, without a prayer,
                    With no betrayal of despair.

                    Sometime while night obscures the tree
                    The zenith of its life will be
                    Gone past forever, and from thence
                    A second history will commence.

                    A chronicle no longer gold,
                    A bargaining with mist and mould,
                    And finally the broken stem
                    The plummeting to earth; and then

                    An intercourse not well designed
                    For beings of a golden kind
                    Whose native green must arch above
                    The earth's obscene, corrupting love.

                    And still the ripe fruit and the branch
                    Observe the sky begin to blanch
                    Without a cry, without a prayer,
                    With no betrayal of despair.

                    O Courage, could you not as well
                    Select a second place to dwell,
                    Not only in that golden tree
                    But in the frightened heart of me?

                          Explanations of Love
                               Carl Sandburg

     There is a place where love begins and a place
     where love ends.

     There is a touch of two hands that foils all 

     There is a look of eyes fierce as a big Bethlehem open
     furnace or a little green-fire acetylene torch.

     There are single careless bywords portentous as a 
      big bend in the Mississippi River.

     Hands, eyes, bywords—out of these love makes
     battlegrounds and workshops,

     There is a pair of shoes love wears and the coming
      is a mystery.
     There is a warning love sends and the cost of it
      is never written till long afterward.

     There are explanations of love in all languages
     and not one found wiser than this:

     There is a place where love begins and a place
     where love ends—and love asks nothing.

        The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet
( an excerpt from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream")

         Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
         Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
         More than cool reason ever comprehends.
         The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
         Are of imagination all compact.
         One sees more devils that vast hell can hold;
         That is the madman.  The lover, all as frantic,
         Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
         The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
         Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
         And as imagination bodies forth
         The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
         Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
         A local habitation and a name.
         Such tricks hath strong imagination
         That if it would but apprehend some joy,
         It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
         Or in the night, imagining some fear,
         How easy is a bush supposed to bear!

Perhaps there is a lunatic, a lover, and a poet in each of us — our lunatic selves seeing more devils than hell can hold, our lover selves always in a state of frenzy, and our poet selves always turning our experiences into comprehensible shapes, shapes that, hopefully, will bear more joy than fear.  And if there is more fear than joy, perhaps we can always  summon Courage to come and dwell in our frightened hearts.

Whatever the case, Anthony, I thank you for those good and memorable days of youthful friendship, those days when we rowed oar-to-oar like mates of Ulysses, determined, in Tennyson's glorious words, "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."  With your passing, I cannot help but recall those words that Horatio spoke on Hamlet's death:  May "flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Credit:  Photo by Mohamed Amarochan, Wikimedia Commons.