For the last few weeks, as Liz has lost physical function, we have been “camping out” in our living room, where Liz can be in front of the fireplace and see the birds on the bird-feeder from her bed. She sleeps in a motorized hospital bed, and I sleep in a twin-bed next to her, half awake to any changes in her breathing that may need my attention.
I was awakened this morning just before 4 a.m. by the sound of a blizzard swirling around our house. We live on a hill, and storms buffet our house with greater force than they do the houses in more sheltered areas. As I lay in bed unable to sleep, worrying about Liz and worrying as well about losing power in our house. The first lines of Yeats’ poem “A Prayer for My Daughter” came unbidden into my mind. As Liz has become completely dependent on me physically, and as her mental horizon has narrowed and become endearingly childlike, our relationship has evolved into something like that between a father and an infant daughter. So the poem had resonance with my present situation.
I have long loved the Yeats poem. I committed it to memory many years ago, thanks to which its opening lines gave my pre-dawn anxieties a local habitation and a name.
Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory's wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.
And then a second poetic guest arrived, perhaps because of the father-daughter theme of the first. For as I turned over in my mind what I might do if the storm isolates us or causes the loss of power to our home, again unbidden, Lear’s words to Cordelia came into my head:
Come, let's away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing I'll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,--
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;--
And take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies: and we'll wear out,
In a wall'd prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by the moon.