Saturday, January 07, 2006

Triumphant Impeccability (and Layton poem), blog entry, Jan 5 06
by Dr. J, Canada
January 5, 2006 @ 5:53:56 AM
The Aching And Triumphant Impeccability Of His Life

Sad news: Canadian poet Irving Layton passed away yesterday in Montreal. In recent years, Layton had been suffering from Alzheimer's, a fate beyond cruelty for a man who was once one of this country's finest poetic minds. He also taught for many years at the institution I rather shamefacedly describe as my employer, and in a department that now only rarely dares to mention, let alone teach, him in undergraduate courses. Some of his poems are as good as any poet's of the twentieth-century, with "The Cold Green Element" and "The Birth of Tragedy" seeming to me especially powerful. It seems appropriate, though, to commemorate Layton's passing with "Grand Finale," a poem sadly too ironic by half. Here it is:

Grand Finale

I've seen the grey-haired lyrists come down from the hills;
they think because they howl with eloquence and conviction
the townspeople will forgive their disgraceful sores
and not care how scandalous and odd they look;
how vain their contrite blurtings over booze and women
or the senescent itch for the one true faith.

Not for me sorrowful and inglorious age
not for me resignation and breastbeating
or reverbing of guilts till one's limbs begin to tremble
and a man's brought to his knees whimpering and ashamed;
not for me if there's a flicker of life still left
and I can laugh at the gods and shake my fist.

Rather than howl and yowl like an ailing cat
on wet or freezing nights or mumble thin pieties
over a crucifix like some poor forsaken codger
in a rented room, I'll let the darkness come only when I
an angry and unforgiving old man yank the cloth of heaven
and the moon and all the stars come crashing down.

--- 1978

It's also worth glancing at this (rather old) article from The Toronto Star about Layton and his most famous mentee, Leonard Cohen.


Blogger Dr J said...

Thanks, Tara, not just for quoting me here, but for putting together this blog. I have just added a follow-up on my blog re Layton, and connected to an entry by one of my good friends -- and one of Layton's old colleagues at York.

Again, thanks. Cheers and best.

6:55 AM  

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