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.


  1. What a loving and kind tribute to your friend, to celebrate his life with words that you know meant much to him. And with these words, yours and the others, flights of angels did, indeed, sing him to his rest.

  2. Thanks, TERESA. As I said in the piece, I think that Anthony's favorite passages from literature say more about the man than I could ever say.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear of your friend's passing, because I know firsthand the pain losing a friend causes—a loss not only of the person, but of the immediacy of both the friendship and shared history. When a friend goes, with them goes a part of our past that memory can't replace, though memories, as consoling and wonderful as they can be, are all we have. Friends, new, old, longtime, or more connected to a certain season and place in your life, are gifts to be treasured. They shape us in ways we may never realize; guide us, sometimes, without saying a word. We find wisdom and blessing in friends—and strength, too.

    Words do have beauty and power and magic. Like you and your late friend, I love words, love the way they can be crafted together into poem and prose, song and speech, a document to guide a nation or a prayer to comfort you in the night when the world is dark and you've lost your way. But words are not adequate when it comes to expressing or healing the soul-deep wound of a friend's passing…only time and mourning will ease that sharp numbing.

    Take care. You've given your friend a loving, heartfelt tribute. Your pathways may have diverged, but your friendship has endured beyond your differences.

  4. To Grizz,

    Thanks so much, Grizz, for your thoughtful and sensitive comments. While I don't know your specific age, I'm guessing we are both at an age when the death of a friend becomes increasingly difficult to process. More often than in the past, these are deaths of our contemporaries, and in some cases, people who are younger than ourselves. It's all very strange, even as it's very natural. That said, we move on, bolstered by the knowledge that nothing, not even death, can erase the experience we have had as fellow travelers with our friends. It must also be repeated, of course, that every death reminds of of the need to live in fullness, peace, gratitude, and creativity each day. This day, this moment, this opportunity — these are our greatest treasures.

  5. I'm so sorry to hear of your friend's passing, I'm sure he would appreciate the beautiful tribute that you have written to him. As Grizz says with the passing of a friend or a family member we lose a little of ourselves as well, the memories always remain though and they bring a measure of comfort.

  6. Thanks for sharing this tribute, George. I like the Sandburg. I had not come across it before. I recognise the lunatic, the lover and the poet. Proportionately, I feel a poor lover and poet at the moment, but an utter lunatic.

  7. I'm sorry to hear that your friend has left, George.

    As a woman who loves words, I feel surrounded by friendly and intimate beauty here. What is more moving than words such as these spoken from a stage in a hushed theater? The theater-goer leaves with something almost tangible in her heart. Something of life that is incomprehensible has been made comprehensible, and it lasts in the heart as a memory of beauty.

    That is how all these words, quite wondrously gathered on the stage of this post honoring Anthony, feel to me. Now I sit for some minutes, hoping the lights won't come up too soon, and that the visions of George and Anthony can live a little longer in my mind's eye. When I go out into the light of the street, I'll take this with me, like a playbill to tuck into my treasured keepsakes.

  8. A very moving and beautiful tribute, George, to a friend and, perhaps, to much more, to friendship itself, that hallowed meeting ground for the lovers, madmen and poets in us. Your words certainly did not miss the mark. Though we may well admire the organge branch, we know that we could not and would not really want to live the joys and pains of life "without a cry, without a prayer, with no betrayal of despair". Perhaps friendship is where we share those unuttered cries and paryers and the despair becomes less weighty. Sorry for your loss; grateful for your spirit and friendship.

  9. Thanks, KARIN. I'm happy you enjoyed the post.

  10. To Rowan,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Rowan. I think you've identified what sometime troubles me in these situations, specifically, that we are losing a part of ourselves when we lose someone who was once part offer journey.

  11. To Robert,

    Thanks for the comments, Robert, and I identify with your last point. I've been there and still go there frequently. This too, however, shall pass.

  12. To Ruth,

    Thanks for such thoughtful and sensitive comments, Ruth. I'm delighted that you were moved by these words. That, perhaps, is the best way to honor the passing of Anthony, for his professional life was devoted to passing on those treasures he had discovered for himself. Have a great weekend.

  13. To Lorenzo,

    Thanks, Lorenzo. So good to hear from you. Yes, notwithstanding the loveliness of Tennessee Williams' poem, I'm inclined to agree that the despair, the tears, and the prayers have their proper place on the landscape of life, for how could we know joy without despair, how could we know laughter without tears, and how could we have hope without prayer? Have a great weekend.

  14. Yes, friendships come and go George, but some of them remain even though we grow apart. I am sure he felt similarly about you too, just as I am sure there will be sadness.
    That first poem is one I have not heard before and I think it is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read which really is on the subject of death I suppose. Thank you for printing it.

    On the subject of your visit to Hadrian's wall - I live not too far away. I do hope you have a lovely time and that you enjoy meeting and walking with Robert (Solitary Walker). Robert
    is married to a niece of mine, so I know him well and I am sure you will get on well together.

  15. To Pat,

    Thanks for your lovely comments, Pat. I'm especially delighted that you found beauty and meaning in the poem by Tennessee Williams. It truly is a thought-provoking work.

    Yes, I'm looking forward to meeting Robert in person. Although I have never met him in person before, he has already become a treasured friend, as indeed many other of my blogging friends have become. Have a great weekend.

  16. Hi George:

    I wrote a comment earlier, but after hitting 'Post Comment' I received the dreaded 'Service Unavailable' notice.

    I'm so sorry to hear of Anthony's passing. Your wonderful post about adventures with Anthony and Faulkner has stayed in my mind.

    Have to admit this is the first time I have read Sandburg's Explanations of Love. Thank you so much for sharing it here. It struck me as I read the last three words 'love asks nothing' - that you and Anthony had given each other that sort of philial love - allowing each other to go your own way while treasuring the connection already forged.

    You have honoured your friend twice in the recent weeks in such meaningful ways. I feel privileged to have learned a bit about Anthony and your relationship with him.

  17. To Bonnie,

    Thanks, Bonnie, for your thoughtful comments. I'm especially glad that you liked the Sandburg poem, "Explanations of Love." There is much truth here about the transitory nature of love, its finite nature, but suspect that most of us are somewhat uncomfortable with that truth.

  18. Hello George, Your college roommate's death, coming so soon after you wrote of your meeting with Faulkner must have come as a shock. Sometimes, we lose track of friendships, but there is still a bond of caring and of shared memories. Your thoughtful choosing of these poems to honor Anthony is the mark of a good friend. I'm thinking about the lunatic, the lover, and the poet - you always leave me with new ideas.

  19. Hi Barb,

    Thanks for your kind thoughts, and I'm moved by your statement that, even after we lose track of friendships, there remains "a bond of caring and shared memories." That is what led me to write this piece.

    Yes, there is much to think about in that Shakespeare quote. Personally, I think the lunatic, the lover, and the poet dwells in each of us.

  20. I read this post yesterday; because I was pressed for time I didn't comment then.

    I still don't really know what to say. The loss of someone dear, whether currently or in the past, is a great shock. A part of life has disappeared for good, unretrievable. Whatever we might want to add to what was said before, now goes into empty space, there is a vacuum which is strangely disconcerting.

    'We go on forever, why didn't he?' Or perhaps we won't either?

    The poems you cited, it would have been so much more satisfying to read them, discuss them, experience the power of their words together.

    Now they serve to enhance his memory.

  21. To Friko,

    Thanks for your thoughts, Friko, and don't fret over not knowing exactly what to say in response to this post. I simple wanted to honor in some way the life of someone who was once a close friend, but with whom I had grown distant in recent years. You're right, of course. Words can never explain our confused and conflicting thoughts when someone we have known well passes away.

  22. George what a beautiful tribute to the memory of Anthony and the friendship that you shared. x

  23. To Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Sometimes the best way to pay tribute to someone is to remind people of what that person loved — in this case, words — for what we loves says a great deal about who we are.

  24. Hello George, I've just discovered your excellent blog via a post on Dominic Rivron's blog (about walking Hadrian's Wall) and have begun to read some of your earlier posts, finding so much that resonates with me. I'll certainly be back and have added you to my blogroll. If you have time, perhaps you'll visit my own blog and website. I'm an artist/writer living in London, UK. Thank you for the beautiful and relevant tribute to your friend, and for much else in your thouight-provoking writing.

  25. Hi Natalie. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments. I'm delighted that you found something here that resonated with you, and I hope you will make a return visit. Yes, indeed, I will get over to your blog as soon as possible. I'm always interested in learning more about the journeys of other people.