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October 19, 2009
I should write these things down when they occur to me -- two excellent eMo titles popped into my mind yesterday. Certain that I would remember such gems, I resolved to choose one for today, and went to sleep secure in the knowledge that today's eMo would be a home run, no matter which one I selected. This morning, both are gone.

Perhaps if I go to the place where I was, they will come back. Physically, I mean -- I do this sometimes if I forget why I've entered a room: I go out and come back in again, and it works. So here I am, back on the couch, where I was when I had the first of the two great ideas. I forget now where I was when I had the second.

When people tell me they get stuck in journal writing, that they can't think of anything to write, I always suggest that they write about that. Write about what it's like having nothing to say. Such an essay can and should be productive of some nice existential dread. For instance, taking my own advice this morning evoked a rather unpleasant prospect for the future: as I grow more and more forgetful, coming up with wonderful ideas for essays and then forgetting them before I can write about them, forcing myself again and again back to the topic of forgetting them, I'll develop a certain reputation. Oh, you know who I mean -- the lady who writes all those pieces about how she forgets stuff.

My mother-in-law had Alzheimer's disease in her old age. A time came when she couldn't even answer a question -- couldn't hold the thread of memory that long. One Christmas morning, we took her communion. We gave some thought to the little service: we'd use the 1928 prayer book, the one she had been used to, and Q would read the Christmas story from the King James. I set up the little silver communion chalice and paten on her bedside table, and we began. All went well -- it was nice, I reflected as I read the service, hearing those old words again. But I stumbled a bit on the Prayer of Humble Access -- although I grew up with that book, I didn't celebrate from it as a priest, as we had just started using its successor when I was ordained, and one sentence in that prayer had been slightly changed in the new version. No matter, though: she picked it right up where I stumbled, gliding smoothly through a complicated Elizabethan phrase like a well-trained Shakespearean actor.

When we were finished, she thanked me politely for coming. I knew she did not know who I was, that she had no memory of what we had just done. But those ancient words had remained in her memory after other words had fled. Much is taken from us -- well, everything is, eventually. But surprising things remain.


See the dew on the sunflower
And a rose that is fading
Roses whither away
Like the sunflower
I yearn to turn my face to the dawn
I am waiting for the day . . .

Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan

All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

Every streetlamp
Seems to beat a fatalistic warning
Someone mutters
And the streetlamp gutters
And soon it will be morning

I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I musn't give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
The streetlamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning

Touch me
It's so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You'll understand what happiness is

A new day has begun.

-- Andrew Lloyd Webber, 1981
After a poem by T. S. Eliot

And here is Eliot's darker poem, from which Webber derived his very popular song lyric.

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

Twelve o'clock.
Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,
Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,
The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, "Regard that woman
Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.
You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin."

The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Half-past two,
The street lamp said,
"Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter."
So the hand of a child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child's eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

The lamp hummed:
"Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smoothes the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain."
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars."

The lamp said,
"Four o'clock,
Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."

The last twist of the knife.
--- T. S. Eliot, 1915
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