Ponderings on a Pier


Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.
When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky
Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.
                                                                                                    “The End” ~ Mark Strand


Comments always are welcome.
For more information on poet Mark Strand, U.S. Poet Laureate in 1990, please click here.

56 thoughts on “Ponderings on a Pier

    1. True, indeed. Until I read Mark Strand’s biography again, I hadn’t realized that he was born on Prince Edward’s Island. (The link is fixed, now.) For some reason, I’ve become more sensitive to all things Canadian!

  1. “When the weight of the past leans against nothing” made me think of a structure toppling and becoming a ruin after there’s no more physical support for it, which of course accords with the poem’s theme. An extra draw for you is the maritime references.

    I noted on the Poetry Foundation website: “I was never much good with language as a child,” Strand admitted during an interview with Bill Thomas for the Los Angeles Times Magazine. “Believe me, the idea that I would someday become a poet would have come as a complete shock to everyone in my family.”

    And this admission: Strand admitted there were some benefits to being a poet during the turbulent 1960s. “Groupies were a big part of the scene,” he told Thomas. “Poets were underground pop stars, and when we made the campus circuit, girls would flock around. It wasn’t bad. I rather liked the uncertainties of my life then.” It seems the groupies were actually more of a certainty than an uncertainty.

    1. I have the link to that Poetry Foundation page fixed now. I smiled at the reference to groupies, too. Probably one of the best examples of the phenomenon was Rod McKuen, who may not have garnered accolades from the poetry critics, but who certainly appealed to a lot of people, including the same 1960’s crowd who followed Ginsberg, et.al. McKuen and Ginsberg both came to our campus during my undergraduate days; I went to see Ginsberg, but not McKuen.

      Your mention of a “structure toppling and becoming a ruin” brought to mind “Ozymandias,” and these compelling lines:

      Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
      Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
      The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    1. This poem appealed to me the first time I read it, and I’ve had it in my files for some time, re-reading it every now and again. While I enjoy the older (or even ancient) poets, there are many more modern poets I also appreciate, and Strand is one.

    1. I usually don’t mess with my photos in post-processing, but I did work with this one to get just the right ‘feel’ for the words of the poem. I’m glad for your affirmation that it worked, and glad you enjoyed Strand’s poem.

  2. Excellent poem. The sentence that Steve commented on, is the one that caught my interest too. Writers even nowadays quite often reference “The weight of history” and that sentence can mean a lot of different things, about our collective history, or our individual pasts. You have a real knack for finding good poetry Linda

    1. You’re right that ‘the weight of history’ can have a multitude of meanings. History can be a burden, as well as a memory-filled treasure. Sometimes it’s both, which can really complicate things! Mark Strand’s one of those poets I came across accidentally, and I don’t even remember where I found this poem. I just tucked it into my files, knowing how much I liked it, and that I wanted to share it some day. I’m glad you liked it.

  3. I hadn’t read any of Mark Strand’s work before your post. I prefer his “The End” to Jim Morrison’s. I agree that your pier image works well with the poem and now I will visit the link and learn more about Strand. I appreciate the end of the poem as there really is no knowing what awaits.

    1. There were a few Doors singles I liked, and a couple of them still appeal, but “The End” was about the bleakest thing I’d ever heard. I much prefer this, which doesn’t seem at all depressing or distressing.

      I took this photo on the same afternoon I photographed the chapel that you turned into a black and white. The two places are so different, and yet they’re separated by only a few miles. I did a little messing with this photo, too: some desaturation, and a few other tweaks that I don’t quite remember. I just knew that when it looked like it does here, it was ready to be paired with the poem.

      1. It’s funny how sometimes we shoot several different subjects on the same day that are relatively unrelated. I find that once I start another subject or composition I totally forget what came before and sometimes when I am driving home I think about what I’ve captured and can’t remember much besides the last one until I download the files. Especially true when I start at sunrise and then spend hours in the woods. That’s always a nice experience when you get to a point in the processing where you know that you have hit the right spot.
        Maybe you would enjoy Ray Manzarek’s story of the making of “Riders on the Storm”. Kind of creepy lyrics (pretty much what you’d expect from Morrison) but the music was very cool. I think I enjoy this more than the actual song.

        1. Good video. That was one of my favorite songs, and Manzarek’s role in giving The Doors that distinctive sound isn’t always appreciated. It was fun to see him talking through the lyrics.

          1. Thanks for watching. They all added a little something but Morrison was the big name. You really never know how lyrics are created and that was interesting as they started with Ghost Riders. Speaking of which, did I ever share this with you?

    1. ‘Poignant’ is a good word. I like his use of such specific details — the roses, and the cat. In a way, he’s coloring a very human experience in the same way you color your photos: paying attention to the small details that sometimes get lost.

    1. I couldn’t ask for anything better! There are several nice compilations of his work, and one extraordinary collaboration with an artist called 89 Clouds. That one’s out of print now, but it can be had from sellers like Abe Books for only two or three hundred dollars. I believe I’ll keep haunting the library sales and used book shops!

  4. For some reason, this poem strikes me as terribly sad … unlike your photo, which I view as most optimistic. Of course, I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal, so if there’s a way to see something as hopeful, I’m going to try! That said, Strand’s poem evokes a longing — no, more like a sadness. Perhaps that no one really knows what it feels like to die and leave everything behind. But my religious upbringing assures me that something way better lies ahead, and death is merely a portal that will usher me there. Nice thought–provoking post this day, Linda.

    1. Isn’t it interesting how differently people experience a piece of writing? This one doesn’t seem at all sad to me: a little melancholy, perhaps, or poignant, but not exactly sad. But, since you do find it tending toward the ‘sad’ end of the scale, I’m glad the photo balanced it for you.

      I suppose one thing that influences my reading of the poem is my sailing experience: having watched a whole assortment of piers recede into the distance as another voyage begins. That moment’s always a mix of anticipation, uncertainty, and even a little apprehension: feelings that probably come to us all at life’s end, however strong our faith.

    1. I’m glad you found it congenial, Gerard. I like it very much. It seems like a very gentle and approachable way around a universal but difficult experience: the endings of every sort that come to us all.

    1. It’s hard to find an accessible, simple pier around here, Curt. Most piers are storm-damaged, on private property, or surrounded by too much “stuff.” I really liked this one, and was pleased to have it to pair with the poem.

  5. I love the image – the textured grey wood piecing the water. (with a big “stop” rail at the end or mesmerized we might just go right off.)
    Maybe a familiar theme, but the way this poem expresses it is wonderful – worth a thought and a reread or two! (now that’s successful writing, yes?)

    1. I’ve been re-reading this poem for three or four years, and appreciating it more every time. I’ve had the photo since 2015, and it just never clicked that the poem and the photo belonged together. Better late than never, as they say. Trinity Bay never looked so good. The pier’s near Double Bayou.

  6. I love the poem and the image.

    The pier in the image is one of those timeless ‘reflections’ of past;/present/future and one might only hazard a guess at its age.

    1. That’s a great observation about the pier. It does have a bit of a timeless quality to it. Perhaps the simplicity of the image reinforces that. With only sky, water, and wood immediately obvious, there’s nothing to date the photo: no advertising signs, no motorboat tied up, no litter. I’m glad you enjoyed the pairing.

    1. Funny, how we sometimes have both the image and the poem, but don’t see how well they complement one another until some time has passed. I’m glad it appealed, Derrick.

        1. I’ve found a reciprocal relationship exists when a poem is used in that way. First, the event — wedding, funeral, commemoration — includes the poem. Then, forevermore, the poem includes the whole of the event for us.

    1. That’s one of the side benefits of having both a poem and an image: if you don’t like one, there’s always a chance you’ll like the other. It’s akin to finding a poem that seems just perfect, and then discovering you can’t stand anything else the person has written. Odd, this matter of taste — but aren’t we glad we’re free to indulge it!

    1. I’ll bet you have some docks and piers like this up at the lake — although perhaps not quite so isolated. This one isn’t all that isolated, but it is across the bay in a much less populated area. It’s the sort of place that lends itself to the kind of musings Strand included in his poem.

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