Tennyson (from Silent Noise)

Silent Noise was the first book of mine to be published. It is a novella. I’m going to excerpt a chapter here, and leave the link to a YouTube video reading as well. The story behind this chapter, as you’ll find if you watch the video, is interesting. It is basically inspired by my failed attempts to help the homeless population of Salt Lake, the way in which I was blocked by providers from making a difference.

I hope you enjoy it. If you like what you read or hear, feel free to check out the book: http://www.amazon.com/Silent-Noise-Phoenix/dp/1502963450/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460145931&sr=1-2&keywords=stephan+heard

Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxabJ7_Pqe0

Enjoy!

Tennyson. Not the poet, mind you, or at least the famous Victorian poet … but certainly he could have been a poet if he’d been human.

Tennyson is a dog. He’s a little small for a golden retriever, but he looks beautiful, his hair golden and shiny, with him panting like crazy.

I pet him. I notice that we are in a more quiet part of the city, specifically in an alley. I had decided to walk through an alley for a change of scenery, and I’m glad I did, because that’s when Tennyson came bounding toward me.

I continue to pet him, and he snuggles up close to me. I imagine he hasn’t been pet or shown affection in quite some time (I can tell he’s been on his own for a while), and that doesn’t stop him from soaking up my attention like a thirsty sponge.

The more I pet him, the more beautiful he seems to me. The more I want to take him with me.

I pet the dog for at least half an hour, and then that’s when he leaves for a little while. I’m thinking that for sure that he has ditched me, but that’s when I decide to name him Tennyson. I have a feeling that was his name before he became homeless.

He then surprises me, though, by coming back with a book tucked between his teeth. He drops it at my feet, and I smile, and he smiles back in his doggie way, wagging his tail.

I pick up the book. It’s titled The Selected Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson.

I can’t help but feel quite amazed at this. But I know these coincidences happen for a reason. A dog I named Tennyson, and then the poetry of Tennyson, right in my hands.

I flip through the pages. For a moment, I wish that I could hear poetry, because I would have loved to hear the beautiful rhyming of this amazing poet. T.S. Eliot backhands and complisults Tennyson in a passive aggressive way when he says that Tennyson had the most beautiful ear in poetry … but also the stupidest. That, I vehemently disagree with. Nothing stupid about Tennyson’s poetry. He’s right about the beauty, though. You don’t have to be able to hear it to feel the rhythm. It flows smoothly, it flows beautifully.

I pet Tennyson for showing me the other Tennyson, and continue to read the book, sitting beside a dog I’d like to call my own. I read one of my favorite poems that Tennyson has written, a selected poem from Idylls of the King, called “Merlin and Vivien.” Good stuff.

Then I read my favorite poem by Tennyson (“The Lady of Shalott”). Yeah, I know, I know, it’s one of his famous poems, one of his more generic and iconic poems, like me saying that my favorite poem by T.S. Eliot (who had the most creatively experimental mind in Modernist literature … but also the dumbest …) is The Waste Land, but it’s all good. Tennyson is a good poet, and he’s one of my favorite Victorian poets.

As I continue reading Tennyson, I can’t help but think of Tennyson’s unique fascination with the tales of King Arthur. There are indeed a lot to work with, and I like how he, with a more modern/Victorian twist, puts those tales in verse, with his own twists.

But obviously there are others, like “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” An interesting poem for sure. Considering the violence of the topic, he writes beautifully, letting the poetry speak for itself. Letting the beauty speak for itself.

Alfred Tennyson: 1809 to 1892.

I’m so immersed in this book by Tennyson, trying to analyze his poetry and feeling a little enigmatic even with all of the mellifluousness and beauty of the poetry, that I haven’t realized that Tennyson has come back and dropped off another book.

I set down Tennyson, and that’s when I see the book: The Complete Works of Christina Rossetti. I flip through it. One of my favorite female poets to ever hit the bookshelf, except perhaps for the strangely innocently antisocial poetry of Emily Dickinson, or the wonderfully delightful and freeing poetry of Charlotte Smith.

My favorite poem by far is of course her poem “Goblin Market,” particularly because of all the magic that that poem contains. It’s kind of another violent Victorian poem, but I think it works (those blasted Victorians …). I’m curious to know what Eliot would say about Rossetti …
This book is more worn than the other, with the taped spine losing its adhesive agent. But that doesn’t stop me from continuing to read through the book. A lot of good stuff.

I stop at her poem “Winter: My Secret,” and as I read through the poem, my thoughts drift a little bit. The Victorians, I think really mastered the art of rhyming beautifully, before it all fell apart in Modernism (with, of course, perhaps, the exception of Robert Frost, who famously quoted that writing poetry without rhyme—and probably meter and iambic pentameter, etc.—is like playing tennis without a net). I could just be speculating, but I almost want to say that the Victorians really mastered the art of rhythm and rhyming, perfecting the form before that form became meaningless and antiquated in a “modern” setting.

Now I focus on the poem I’m reading: secrets. And I’m always fascinated by this poem, by the fact that the secret is never truly revealed, which could in and of itself be the secret. Maybe stretching a little bit? I’ll decide later. But I think I like this poem even more than “Goblin Market,” and I like Rossetti’s poetry for its honest voice.

That’s when Tennyson nudges me. I pet him, and he quickly darts in the direction he’s been going to get to the books. I decide to follow him. Maybe there’s something he wants to show me.

I follow him, and eventually arrive at a dumpster. And that’s when I see them: books, and paintings. They are all scattered about the dumpster. The person, who obviously wanted to throw them away, didn’t even bother to put them in the dumpster.

I’m assuming that person probably prefers contemporary poetry …

But no, seriously: who would throw away such a wealth of Victorian work? Because as I look at the paintings and look through the books, I see that it is all Victorian work.

Books by Matthew Arnold, Charles Swinburne, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A.E. Houseman, Henry Longfellow, Victor Hugo, and many that I hadn’t even heard of before.

As far as the artwork, that’s when I see a painting by Dante Rossetti, as well as many other Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite works, and suddenly, I feel sick to my stomach. This is a lot of stuff, to just throw away.

But that’s when Tennyson, as though reading my mind like a page of fine poetry, books it out of the alley. I struggle to keep up with him (I’m tired from all the walking I’ve been doing from city to city, town to town, poetic world to poetic world), but it isn’t long before we’re directly in front of a homeless shelter for kids.

Tennyson wags his tail, looking at me with intent. I know what I need to do.

I slowly walk into the building. They could use a donation of such fine literature. So, I work up the courage (not quite sure why I’m nervous … maybe because I’m afraid they’ll be mean to me, since I’m deaf and mute, and not realize I can relate to homeless people), and go to the front desk.

The receptionist looks up, and I begin to sign, but she shakes her head, but then puts up her finger, suggesting, One moment.

It isn’t long before an old man, with pepper and salt hair, walks out, and begins to sign to me.

Hello. What is your name?

Micah, I sign.

Micah. Nice name. What can I do for you, kid?

I’m a little taken aback by the kindness, but explain the situation. There’s a beautiful collection of art and poetry, all Victorian in nature, that’s waiting for you guys by some dumpsters. The people who got rid of the work were so sick of the work that they didn’t even bother to throw it in the dumpster, so it’s all around the dumpster. But it’s all good stuff. It’s all good quality stuff that you can use, to teach people. You can have your own library of Victorian literature.

The kind old man looks at me curiously, like, am I really telling the truth. But then he says, Can you show me, kid, where this wonderful treasury is located?

I nod, and go outside, and we follow Tennyson toward the trash.

The old man looks for quite some time at the collection of Victorian art and poetry, clearly amazed that all of this could be abandoned and thrown away.

He signs to me, One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I’ll be back, kid.

He leaves, and I pet Tennyson, signing to him, Good boy.

He seems to understand: he looks proud, wagging his tail.

The man returns with a few boxes. He signs to me, I can’t thank you enough for finding this treasure trove for us. We’ve been trying to enact a literacy program, but we don’t, unfortunately, have enough money to purchase books, even used ones, and so our department is severely lacking. But you found us poetry, wonderful poetry, with some artwork to top it off, like icing on the cake, or a cherry on top of a sundae. So, because you found this, I’m not going to coerce you into helping me bring this work back to the facility, but I’m going to ask.

I smile. Well, Tennyson, this wonderful dog, found the work, but yes, I wouldn’t mind helping you bring it all back to the facility.

The man nods, smiling now. You’re a good kid. You two make a good team.

I pet Tennyson. I know, I sign.

We begin to pack up the books and the artwork into the boxes, careful with the art, and then bring them back to the facility. He leads me to a room that has empty bookshelves. I immediately understand the starving nature of this facility, the bookshelves a metaphor for that lack of literacy. But now they have books! Now they have the ability! And that makes me happy. They can learn.

Who is going to teach them reading? I sign, as we put away the books.

I am, the man signs proudly. I’m going to help the adults learn how to read, but also teach the kids some beautiful poetry. I think all kids, whether five or fifteen, should have the chance to dip into some Hopkins every once in a while. He just has such a knack for language, and even though his language is very heavy, his light rhyming at the ends manages to keep it light. I like the dichotomy, of the heaviness of his language with the softer side of his rhyme.

Yeah, me too, I say, and we continue to put the books in their place.

When we finish, we survey our work. We are very proud of it. The paintings are on the table, and the man tells me that he’s going to put them in the hallways of the building, to kind of brighten up the place a little.

And then he completely catches me off guard: he hugs me.

I let him hug me, and I realize he’s crying. I sign, It’s okay.

I know, I know … it’s okay. I just get emotional when miracles like this happen. Our society is so wasteful. If you hadn’t been there for Tennyson to show you the art, it would have gone to waste. Which is especially unfair when considering how much we needed those things, those materials. I just don’t understand. I get it if you don’t like the aesthetic of the Victorians, but it’s amazing how that becomes more of a matter of philistinism, more of a matter of depriving people of work and writing that could change their lives. The people here desperately need to learn how to read, and the tools to do that were carelessly thrown away. It’s cruel, if you ask me.

It is, I agree, but there’s no point in worrying about it now. You’ve got a good start to a good collection. Maybe eventually, you’ll get a grant that will let you purchase some books.

Yes, perhaps, says the man, and he shakes my hand. It’s been a pleasure. I have to get back to work, but I hope to see you again.

I nod, and this is enough for the man. He leaves, and then I leave, with Tennyson.

I notice that storm clouds are coming in. It looks like it’s going to rain in T minus three minutes. I can’t help but think that if the timing had been any less perfect, all of that work would have been ruined by the rain, and lost forever, like a Classical Greek painting or a Medieval text, otherwise a classic, erased forever …

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