A photo of Maria Callas at La Scala.‘Dirge for a Dying Diva’ and Other Sonnets by Lionel Willis The Society July 10, 2021 Beauty, Culture, Music, Poetry 12 Comments . Dirge for a Dying Diva Who’s alive now who ever heard the voice That once adorned La Scala and The Met, A native of this land where we forget Artists quicker than books or melted ice? The wonder of her lovely lyric highs Survives in one rich memory as yet, And while I’m still around I’ll never let The rest of you quite lose what never dies. Music achieves an end that sounds complete. Music remains the Heaven of the Mind. Music holds gifts you seem inclined to miss, And she whose cadences once rang so sweet Devoted all her skill to help you find That benison of ear, that world of bliss. . . To Nevermore Immortal raven who can never go Into that grey immensity where I, Like any poet, even your maker, Poe Must slip, sooner or later – Not to die: That would be easy. – But slowly to fade Out of all reputation and effect, To become one with all the thrills that jade, One with the sermons none can recollect; Unending negative, uniquely deep, Full stop, unanswered in the mourner’s heart, Your sable wings unfurl in the long sleep Beyond reach of civility and art. Truly more than a word, you mean the lot: When other words have lost all sense, you’ll not. . . Deathbed He’s grown so very old that he forgets How short his lifelong memory now seems As cataracting down through his numbed dreams, It raises mist that, when he wakes, still wets His pillow, flashes where the sun now sets Behind the trees, branches into thin streams And in that maze of ever fainter gleams, Dies in obscurity with no regrets. As blessed as wise, he lovingly perceives How each small present thing, his medicine Tint in a glass, a mint dropped by the nurse, Three sparrows bickering under darkened eaves, Speeds toward its rightful station in The scene that will complete his universe. . . Lionel Willis was born in Toronto in 1932. He has been a mosaic designer, portrait painter, watercolorist, biological illustrator, field entomologist and professor of English Literature as well as a poet. His verse has appeared in A Miscellany of Prints and Poems, The Canadian Forum, Candelabrum Poetry Magazine, Descant, Dream International Quarterly, Harp Strings Poetry Journal, Hrafnhoh, Iambs & Trochees, Light, Romantics Quarterly, The Classical Outlook, The Society of Classical Poets, The Deronda Review, The Eclectic Muse, The Fiddlehead, The Formalist, The Lyric, The Road Not Taken, Troubadour and White Wall Review, and in two books, The Dreamstone and Other Rhymes (The Plowman, 2003) and Heartscape, a Book of Bucolic Verse (EIDOLON, 2019). NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets. NOTE TO POETS: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to email@example.com. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. CODEC News:Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 12 Responses Joseph S. Salemi July 10, 2021 These are three very beautiful sonnets, though deeply tinged with the thought of mortality. I remember Lionel Willis as a contributor to the magazine Iambs and Trochees, when Bill Carlson and I ran it. Reply lionel willis July 10, 2021 Joeseph and Susan: Thank you for your very kind praise, which I know you could very easily have tempered. You are both expert critics. I remember vividly how well things went for me at Iambs and Trochees, thanks to your wise counsel, Joe! Reply Susan Jarvis Bryant July 10, 2021 This triumphant trio of superlative sonnets is a masterclass in magnificent poetry and I am reveling in the beauty and craftmanship of your fine work! Thank you, Mr. Willis. Reply Margaret Coats July 10, 2021 You speak in a most intriguing way of memory, Mr. Willis. First, your rich and belligerent memory eternizing Maria Callas in “Dirge for a Dying Diva,” and then in “Deathbed,” a memory growing fainter but at the same time growing toward completion. There “each small present thing” accelerates noticeably in that shorter, next-to-last line, to reach its place in the individual memory’s completed universe. What a reminder how full of sensory impressions we are! Reply lionel willis July 10, 2021 Thank you, Margaret, for making certain connections explicit. You have given my three essays the consideration I am arrogant enough to believe they deserve. I think you ought to know that the subject, unnamed in the poems, is partly a Canadian coloratura soprano who was active in my youth (I was born in 1932.) Her name is Collette Boki. My wife and I met her at a balance and hearing clinic at a Toronto hospital in 2016, where we were all struggling with the same problems of old age. While I waited for my wife to complete her tests, Collette and I chatted (shouting, of course) about the value of Art. I believe she may be still alive too, though the Pandemic frays the fabric of discourse. We share the need for music even if we can barely hear it. And canes. Reply Margaret Coats July 11, 2021 I should have remarked that, without the name in the poem, it could suit any great singer whose reputation is diminishing. You did say, “A native of this land,” and I should have checked what land you come from! Thought your subject might be Maria Callas because she was Greek but born in New York. I am glad to hear of Collette Boki, and to know that she may be with us yet. I am a singer who has been frustrated that the pandemic took music from us for so long, even though solo and schola singing could have been done from a perfectly safe distance. Eventually, I led outdoor singing for a number of persons who were longing to hear or sing any music. Hope you are now able to enjoy some live performances! Julian D. Woodruff July 11, 2021 Mr. Willis, Thank you so much for these skilled and discerning tributes, and also for your explanatory note on “Diva.” About declining powers: 1) if these 3 were composed recently, then you rival Verdi (Pezzi sacri at ca. 86) and surpass Stravinsky (Requiem canticles at ca. 83); 2) one can find on the web performances of Franck’s Panis angelicus by a soprano aged 96 and a Debussy prelude by a pianist aged 107. Let the spirit remain williing! Reply lionel willis July 11, 2021 Thank you. Mr. Woodruff. I’m 89. But anything is possible in imagination. The Dark One has started at the bottom instead of the top. My knees are terrible, but my mind seems as clear as ever, though my memory may be shoving the last relics to the front to hide the widening gaps. Reply Cheryl Corey July 12, 2021 89? Mr. Willis, you’re an inspiration for us all. There’s no expiration date on creativity, and your mind is definitely young! Thank you for sharing your excellent work. Cynthia Erlandson July 11, 2021 All three of these are just mesmerizing! The statements in the first about the power of music are profound; your address to the raven is a brilliant idea beautifully executed; if I read it right, he represents the enduring nature of art. And “Deathbed” is exquisite, particularly in its striking imagery of a cataract, which you’ve carried through strongly for several lines — and its last line draws out so much emotion, but without the crutch of sentimentalism. Reply James Sale July 12, 2021 Some very powerful work and I am encouraged to learn that Lionel is 89 years old. This reminds me of W.B. Yeats – in my view the greatest poet of the C20th – who carried on writing astonishing work even days before his death (e.g. The Black Tower – a mini-masterpiece) and this is true glory: that the Muse does not desert those who love her, and the full power of the Spirit is there. Well done Lionel, live for another 89 years. Reply Lucia Haase July 13, 2021 Wow…very beautifully written…all of them. Thank you! Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.