Sorrow Everywhere #letterfromladyn

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For the good are always merry, / save by an evil chance, / and the merry love the fiddle, / and the merry love to dance: – from The Fiddler of Dooney by W.B. Yeats

I don’t know about anybody else but I am having difficulty even taking in what happened at the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice. Unlike the locals, the holiday-makers, the emergency services there, I had the luxury of waiting a while before I finally got the courage to read the details through the small lens of my mobile phone – and the luxury of choosing not to watch the very upsetting things. I have no idea how to respond in any way that might bring comfort or solace.

I am not

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

I am not sure about what can bring any kind of comfort from a social media/online media distance. I’ve seen some response from the people of Paris to say that they found the outpouring of grief in this realm a comfort. I also have observed that the social media community – if there is such a thing – has learned a lot by virtue of trying to operate for good in this medium in the face of atrocious happenings. That the proximity to those who feel like our people are more likely to hold us closer to the horror; that the quick hastags and symbols that appear in the beginning simply as a show of solidarity in the face of suffering, can as quickly become places of debate as to what that solidarity actually means. I know I have not used the #JeSuis.. hashtags very much. I need to say that this is a personal choice – and not a criticism. I understand well that it is a show of solidarity but for all I want desperately that these things are not happening and will not happen again – I am not Paris,  I am not Orlando, I am not Brussels or Bagdad, I am not even any part of Northern Ireland – and I honour those who actually are in the midst of any great trouble. I did, however, use one #JeSuis hashtag, and the reason I am writing this is, that in every instance since, I have found myself wanting to continue to use it.


We’ll shout HA HA in the face of death!*

Neither was I in the offices of Parisian satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The reason this has stayed with me is that I do feel an incredibly strong connection to humour/satire as a way of providing different perspectives in a place where feelings are the only thing that risk injury. Today, I am not able to talk about humour in its form of laughter or comedy, but rather the steelier versions: from the poignant #PeaceforParis symbol by artist Jean Jullien, to the wry eye, the satirical, all the way to the meciless depictions of all that is absurd in society and government. I need to say that my own preference is more ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’ than ‘Savage Eye’, and I find scatological/ schoolboy humour a bit sickening but I am going out in sympathy with the fact that in the unfolding of the drama, the fool is the one who is gifted with permission to bring the truth to the audience. There is a genuis in finding the right pitch to the delivery of this but…  ‘O wad some power the giftie gie us / to see oursels as ithers see us…’

Security and Freedom

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s way. – Vicktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Jon Snow, Channel 4 News, asked a spokesperson in Nice whether security had been tight enough and he replied that it is very difficult to balance security and freedom. Reading the commentaries and op ed responses to what has happened in Nice coming so soon after a lengthening list of threats to personal security, whether outright attack or destablised government structures, it seems to me that we are all now more than ever challenged to find a way to balance these two needs. I have no immediate answer. I know vulnerability and powerlessness do not feel good. I know that beyond the vital role of fear to warn of real danger, its cousins anxiety and terror are second function responses that can operate to paralyze the extending parts of being human like love, joy, compassion and empathy; and humour. States of terror, whether personal, local or global, are in every sense of the word no laughing matter. I honestly don’t know how to get my head around all this but I observe how a devastating bit of wit can reduce a very large situation to a more manageable size to get the head around.  And in even a brief pause in fear, I hope, there may be, at least, a halt on the road to hate and retaliation, if not other roads presenting themselves.

Taking risks

The title of the blog is from Jack Gilbert’s poem ‘A Brief for the Defense’. It is a touchstone poem for me but when I share it is always with a short introduction that says that if I had found this at twenty I would have hated it. In mid-life I can still be prickled by the way its written (and I am not down with the divil-talk) but two decades later I have found that I agree that in a dark world when it can seem difficult or dishonouring – laughter, joy, delight are risks we must take. This is not about eating cake while others starve and having an excuse for it, but rather, in the midst of anguish at the devastation, acknowledging and allowing everyone to take those risks that create lives worth living, and sharing, no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in.

A Brief for the Defense – Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

(from Refusing Heaven, Knopf, 2005)


*This is a quote from an English black and white film. I don’t know its title but would be glad if anybody else recognises it.

The time has come – the Walrus said #lettersfromladyn

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings-“

Oysters don’t be alarmed. My earworm for this week is one of those shorthand phrases that families have. For the Broderick clan it meant – it’s time to take action (often marking the end of one thing and the move to the next – like the end of a day at the beach and the clear-up to go home). For me, this week, it means getting my schedule organised and on the road.

Some wonderful things on the horizon in the next month:

  • Castle Ward Book Fair: Traditionally held in November, but now moved to a June date. In 2016, 11 & 12 June. This little bit of paradise for the average bookorm is organised in conjunction with the wonderful second hand bookshop at Castle Ward.  ‘Words for Castle Ward’ will be hosting a reading on Sunday 12th – and my plan is to also host one or two open workshops during the day. I’ll keep you posted.
  • Belfast Book Festival, 9-19 June:You wait all year for a celebration of books and two come along at the same time! BBF16 is a mighty programme this year. There are two evenings of readings by Templar poets. I’m planning to attend the reading on the 11th. A generous helping of new writing both poetry and fiction, and some great workshops as well.
  • Newry Writers’ Festival, 17-18 June: This is an exciting new development from SRC Newry Campus. A number of members of ‘Words for Castle Ward’ are reading at the evening event at the Sean Holywood Centre. This showcase also includes the launch of SRC’s Creative Writing Journal. All events are free but need to be booked in advance – although I think the evening event may be fully booked at this stage.
  • Remembering Ann Zell, 19 June: I had been a member of the ‘Word of Mouth’ poetry collective for a number of years and was very fortunate to have had sound feedback and encouragement from Ann Zell – as well as the privilege hearing her work as it arrived. Everybody who knew her or her work are warmly invited to a celebration and poetic rememberance of her life at the Crescent Arts Centre at 6pm on the 19 June.
  • Poems on a Sunday Afternoon, 26 June: It’s lovely to see how this gentle space has grown and flourished over time. Particularly this year, we’ve been meeting some wonderful new writers. My thanks as always to Down Arts Centre for partnering on this venture with me. They are stellar to work with. It’s on 2.30-430pm and as always we are looking forward to the opportunity of hearing your words (or songs) on the day.
  • Dundrum Imaginarium, 30/09, 1 & 2/10: Save the date. The programme is just this week finalised for our 2016 Imagainarium. The organisers have had some exciting developments themselves (this nourishing creative retreat can be powerful as well as relaxing). We’ll be putting out a call for participants from June. Exciting times!

In the meantime, I have some great digital/comms work going on as always.

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National Poetry Month: Tristich 21-30 #NaPoWriMo


It’s National Poetry Month – and I ‘ve taken up the challenge of writing a three-line poem (tristich) for each of April’s thirty days. Today is April 30th – and I am feeling very happy to have have completed the challenge.

Thanks again to for introducing the concept. Thanks too @thepoetryschool (on instagram) whose prompts I’ve been using. I’ve also been mixing it up with prompts from the NAPOWRIMO website – and that’s adding a bit of excitment to the challenge.

This past ten days have been supercharged given that we’ve had Earth Day (22 April); Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary (23 April) and National Poetry Day (Ireland – 28 April). It’s funny how this challenge helped to make each day that much more present.

Here are the Tristichs:

Tristich 1-10

Tristich 11-20

Tristich 21-30

21/30 Sea Glass

Clíodhna sends a message in multi-coloured pieces;

a slightly damaged prism for apprentice scientists;

broad wave on a calm day, sun flares bright as crystal.

(translation of poem told through another medium)


22/30 Herbalists

Brothers: forgotten children of my great-grandfather’s first marriage:

Jesuit brothers, her legend has it, and learned plant scientists –

in the wild home of their Mother, of their Father Earth.


23/30 Dark Love

Say who you were; or

who you are; who you

will be to me.


24/30 Choosing a Bouquet

Season for tulips, everywhere the Dutch allusion, gathering

in living rooms: aperture for people whose airless lives blow open like bells;

Gathering, in the heat of events, she says she worries, as they descend.


25/30 Shaking

Constant fear of not being ready: vibrato breeze

makes clouds and small high leaves restless – light, shadow

change place endlessly: this kind of shaking makes me steady.


26/30 Éist do bhéal / Whisht

Listen, listen, listen -says the wind that circles the moat of the Mound;

a songbird and a raindrop cut in – and anyway, it’s not my mouth

it’s my mind that keeps wandering, wandering, wandering.

(Note: éist do bheal – trans(ish) – listen with your mouth – be quiet)


27/30 One Verse Terza Rima

This sorry is a courtesy – there is seldom remorse in choice /

You quote the Inferno – but I, post purgatorio lover /

My suffering is not less; I just want it to have a different voice / [over]



A windy day is not a day for thatching.

Catching the last bus back to Downpatrick

I watch late-April trees with unclad branches.


29/30 Rooms on Fire im D.L.

David: I remember how she wiped my eye – older woman at eighteen.

They said the church was filled with crying girls; no other Troy

for you to burn; and something worse than first love unrequited: I remember.


30/30 Leaving Idaho, via Belfast – for Ann Zell

Just yesterday, someone gave me a laurel branch.

Search, search, sweet bird, for a new resting place

while the comfort of your own nest is still fresh in your memory.

(referencing Ann Zell trans ‘The Laurel Branch’  by Galina Usova (Where the Neva Rushes Backwards: Lagan Press – and ‘Dans La Foret by Jules Supervielle)


Olive Broderick © 2016


National Poetry Month: Tristich 11-20 #NaPoWriMo

It’s National Poetry Month – and I’ve taken up the challenge of writing a poem each day for April 2016. In my case I’ve gone with three-line poems to ensure that I keep up the momentum. Really delighted to have gotten this far with no slippage.

Thanks again to for introducing the concept. Thanks too @thepoetryschool (on instagram) whose prompts I’ve been using. Some very intriquing ideas coming through both in terms of subject matter and in format of the writing. Yesterday’s prompt involved burning and walking – both activities which I enjoy – although there is a bit of an after-smell of burnt paper today here that isn’t too lovely.  I’ve also been mixing it up with prompts from the NAPOWRIMO website – and that’s adding an interesting dynamic.


(Tristiches 1-10 are HERE)


11/30 Finders Keepers

It’s a different jurisdiction – and all the advice is for children.

Don’t pick it up, tell a trusted adult (what if that were me?).

On the firearm forum, they disucss whether they could get to keep it.


12/30 I Grant You This

When I am in the area, you find that you forget

to feel the need to be more – or maybe, sometimes, less;

Then magically it happens that others become less of a threat.


13/30 Golden Beak

Not shy, but you like to keep it low key when scoping out territory;

Bird of mystery – we’d never noticed you except for that trademark flashy beak;

Truly, we don’t need to know the score, just let your ancient/ordinary art stand us still.


14/30 Short Bio

Imaginary pastimes, who caused the sense of absence, a home-place painted red.

Fragile images become lines, how can a colour be quenched, now I am missing you.

Releasing the debt that red acrrued, what if day-dreaming were banned, what if dreams came true.


15/30 Exile

Cashmere and canvas: you pitch your tent tonight.

Wind-burnt dancer – disappear or relent tonight.

Say yes? Here in Ithaca I lament tonight.

after ‘Tonight’ by Agha Shahid Ali


16/30 Guided Meditation

By the black water, in the cleft of an oak;

An ornate box – contents: a hat pin,

Whole moon on a windy night, a milk tooth.


17/30 After-sunset Couplet (aka Heuston we have a problem)

In the beginning there was only one.

Then another – and two became one.

And another..o so wrong..felt so right 🙂


18/30 Dovecote

Actually it’s the sound that isn’t here that makes this home – none of their

entitled noise, angry, demanding to know whose fault it is: when will I fix it –

nor the neighbour’s pigeons cooing on the roof in their brief moments free from the coop.


19/30 How to Navigate the Storms of Winter

Remember the Daughter of the Wind, the Son of the Morning Star – their exalted union;

How they drowned – and were brought back to life by the gods but as birds named for seam foam;

Seek out the seven calm days close to the winter solstice – Halcyon Days – when kingfishers tend their burrows.


20/30 Burning your letters wasn’t easy



in a tiny window.


I’m adding them day-by-day to my instagram account @pearldiver32 – an ongoing creative challenge is the accompanying images! More to follow here, hopefully, at the end of April. Fingers crossed I clear the last ten!

Olive Broderick © 2016

National Poetry Month: Tristich 1-10 #NaPoWriMo


Who said April is the cruellest month? In fact, it appears April is National Poetry Month. How come I didn’t know this. Thanks to Lagan Press for introducing #NaPoWriMo and furnishing the poetry writing community here with daily prompts.

Over on Instagram (pearldiver32), I have been writing a tristich (three line poem) a day and feeling a bit self-satisfied as I have managed to keep on track this far. Really enjoying it. I have done a bit of prompt-hopping, mostly because I needed the prompt early in the day to ensure that I got a chance to do the writing / image creating by the end of the day. The second half of the prompts are from The Poetry School who run some fantastic online and offline poetry courses.

NaPoWriMo Thirty Tristiches – 1-10


1/30: Vernal Equinox at Avebury

West Kennet longbarrow with mouth open – welcoming;

Stone chambers clean, dry and empty;

In the crevices, RIP offerings to the maybe-grave-dwellers.


2/30: Between Times

My love, I try to catch up, match your long strides – regular;

A day added, hours gained or lost to create this Roman calendar – and you must take my time too;

My womb, like an ancient astronomer – and I – cannot stray from the course of a year that is lunar.


3/10: Single-glazed

On the inside, I touch the pane;

Smooth and cold like it was a wall

Of rain facing the other way.


4/10: No Reliable Witness

In its muted light, the wall of one barrow chamber seems blue;

Single storey like your home – and as silent as to why things turned out so;

You left in stages like the waning moon, were easy to blame and much too easy to lose.


5/10: Polycystic Heart

Cysts that develop over time – I wonder what might be growing in those hidden chambers;

In the parlour of the present company I snap-back and forth between here and trying to find the cure;

In the lost hours of bedtime I wonder what this thing called memory really is.

-for Colin & Geraldine


6/10: Dusk Haiku

Long evening light, cold;

Early April buds breaking open;

Backlit, colour appears in the Cathedral’s stained glass windows.


7/10: Letter from Black Hawk Delta

Weather changeable – daffodil bud cases litter the base of the vase;

Half a rusty nail with hex head found at my door;

The sound the cracked glass jar made after I quenched the flame.


8/10: Old Building Artefacts found on English Street

Half a screw, three-quarters of a hoop – both of badly corroded metal;

Enough, they seem to say, of these persistent renovations – our preserved facades

are disintegrating; keep these ‘bones’ of us as a kind of memento mori.


9/10: At Aries Point

How subtly the sequence of the light changes;

Here at isophase, the antique lamp is just about to increase the duration of brightness;

Though it will retract later, we always retain the sweeping beam


10/30: Place of Domestic Tides

The moon comes to this room first /

face filtered through frosted glass /

watches over our singular waning and preparing rituals


 Olive Broderick © 2016

Claire de Lune, Mournful Fetes Galantes and translating across artforms

“et quasi tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques” / “and almost sad despite their whimsical costumes” (my trans.)

Thanks Mark Till and The Reader Online for this  blog on Paul Verlaine and  the translation for Claire de Lune…and the link from a commentator (scroll down) to the Faure song. Beautiful (or you can find various lovely versions on YouTube).

I haven’t been a great fan of French Symbolist poetry – truth to tell, I don’t know that much about it at all. But I’ve been listening and listening to the Faure song this Summer and at the same time trying to translate the poem. Trying to translate not so much the words, but the feeling I have in response to hearing it.

Perhaps music is a better way of translating what I am hearing…. and I have to credit ‘Claire de Lune’ with my introduction to Debussy. Honestly, I listened too many times to Claire de Lune – but ‘The Sunken Cathedral’ has been my private theme tune to the Titanic commemorations of 2012.

The Reader Online


Today is the 165th Birthday of French poet Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896). 

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Timelessness & translating: poetry from the morning of the world

“…once, I had grasped the effect of the Japenese original on a wide range of Japanese readers, I scrapped all my preliminary work and endeavoured to write a poem-in-English that would have the equivalent effect on a similar range of English readers. At the risk of making a mere phrase, I was in fact seeking to translate, from Japanese to English, not so much the poem as the poetry.” 

From The Morning of the World. Poems from the Manyoshu – The First Anthology of Poetry in Japanese. Translated by Graeme Wilson (page xxviii)

It’s been awhile. But I’m back because this week, after years looking for it, I finally have in my hands a copy of Graeme Wilson’s Manyoshu translations including Pearl Diver – the inspiration for this blog. I came across the poem in ‘Lifelines 2’ nd it’s been a favourite since then.

I’m none the wiser about our eighth-century, Lady Nakatomi (Lady N). I do know more about the other hidden voice which I love in this particular poem –  the translator, Graeme Wilson. Actually, in truth, I know as much about him as I know about Lady Nakatomi, but in the introduction he gives a fascinating insight into how he went about translating the poems.

I love the thought of him selecting ten Japenese readers from all walks of life in order to ascertain the feeling that a particular poem produced in them; then throwing out his translation of the original text and reworking something in English that would produce the same effect on the same number of English readers. It seems a bit mad – but madly enthusiastic too in the belief that these 6/7/8th century poems would hit the spot today as they had so many centuries ago.

I’m not sure in the end whether I’m sure that rhyme was always the right choice. I’d come across another poem in the anthology differently translated and like the other translation more but, that said, they are both beyond doubt drawn from the same poem and it’s what’s said that I liked. It’s just a picked that up quicker in the non-rhyming translation.

But the rhyme in Pearl Diver is definitely its strength – and it certainly has the ‘memorability’, the ‘tight coherence’ and the ‘clinching finality’ that he attributes to the Japanese syllabic rhythm.

And nothing is known, it says, of Lady Nakatomi (fl.c.740) – except that her five poems are addressed to the key figure and collector Otomo no Yakamochi and as he appeared to have had quite a reputation with the ladies, it is supposed that she was one of the court ladies to whom he was connected as a young buck.

When she woke up that morning, an early morning in the world of writing, with the inspiration to write her poems, I wonder whether she imagined the time and distance that her words would carry.

From the Morning of the World (poems from the Manyoshu The First Anthology of Poetry in Japanese) translated by Graeme Wilson, published by Harvill an imprint of HarperCollins, 1991

Re-imagining & the Man Booker Shortlist

Somewhere, the other day, I read a quote which went something like you can’t turn back time but you can look at the past in ways that make it better. Could be a misquote and my thanks to whoever said it. Tonight at the wonderful Man Booker celebration event (10th one) at the Downpatrick Library, this quote kept going through my mind.

I haven’t read any of the books that were on the shortlist. I tend to use this annual event as a marker for the ones worth reading. Kevin Quinn, as MC, always invites the sort of people who have a strong literary background and strong, well argued opinions. This is always best when the opinions are diametrically opposed and in the crossfire one poor work of literary fiction.

Tonight I was struck by the sheer weight of historical research that had gone into the books on this year’s shortlist. Even the Coetzee is a take on the past (but is it historically accurate, a revisioning or all done with smoke and mirrors).  After the reviewers had finished eleborating the historical context that the novels were set in, it seemed, to me to be difficult to get a measure of the novel’s in their own right. Of course, all novels have a setting – was it my imagination or was re-imagining the greater part of the works here.

I have a love of historical fiction and, even more, archaeology which seems to rely even more on imaginative implying of circumstances to create a picture of how-it-might-have-been until more evidence has been found to prove further or disprove.

 But I was left asking myself – and not for the first time – about the function of fiction – or, maybe, more accurately of the author as maker or remaker of history, through re-imagining it through the eyes of the current time. Will this always ultimately be the voice of the unreliable narrator – and do we have to approach such things with eagerness and wonder but also with the ‘let-the-buyer-beware’ caution.

I don’t have the answer. The reading world will be drawn in the direction of Tudor England, and I am about to open the first pages of The Children’s Book by AS Bryant, because I like the sound of it.

We stand on the shoulders of giants

Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size. (John of Salisbury)

Bear with me. I’m finding this daily discipline difficult. But it’s just an experiment – ends 31st of October.  It’s been a strange sort of day and this post will match its mood. Having finished yesterday’s letter, I ended up searching for Donagh McDonagh’s poem ‘A Warning to Conquerors’. It was a favourite of mine as a teenager and I wondered whether I would still like it – particularly as I’m now living in Northern Ireland.  I did – but maybe not as much. I also found a translation of the Líadan & Cuirithir poem by him and went on a hunt for more information about those 9th Century poets as I hadn’t heard of them; and then ended up at a University College Cork site which I remembered friends working on when it started up – at least fifteen years ago, if not more. Having gotten there, though, I couldn’t make understand the original(?) Líadan poem as it is in 9th Century Irish; I found a tract about St Declan of Ardmore which was wonderful to read so resplendent was it in miracles and wonder. No mention at all of the Pattern – although I’m squirrelling away both references to his black bell (which brought about many miracles); and the Líadan and Cuirithir dilemna of the heart versus art.

All day, I’ve been thinking about a poem I wrote last Christmas that needs to be edited – it doesn’t have any reference to a literary or cultural past. But there are things that I want to write about where Declan’s Black Bell or Líadan’s dilemna will give me a point of departure, or a framework – and it feels good to make that connection.

Rodin: and a world ignorant of the Inferno

It said in the literature that he always carried a battered copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy in his pocket. I love Rodin’s sculptures – particularly the dancers. But in the garden of the Rodin Museum, we looked at the sculpture of Ugolino devouring his children and we asked ‘what’s that about?’. Why is it that tonight, this has come back to me?

My education – fine and broad as it was – did not include Dante. So in my formation as one who writes poetry, what was the effect of not being learned in this uber-influence on the world of European & english language art. Discuss.

I like the thought of all art having a landscape and a history – where the personal meets the wider artistic world that it inhabits –  but I think just now that the core of my world is not hell – or it might be and I am unknowingly a haunting in one of the less interesting parts.  It’s clear that very many artists, in very many contexts and languages have reached for the handle of the highly ornate Port d’Enfer – passed through it, finding there – like water – their own level. And having found it, have brought back images of it, which might (if you didn’t know about the Inferno) be reflections of their own condition on a highly polished surface. I am standing, in my imagination, in the mirror gallery at the palace of the Sun King.

What I’m trying to work out is where is my place with a door. Is it the door of a Japanese temple where a woman by virtue of her royal birth gets to preside in place of a local goddess for a small while, gathering shells on the banks of the nearby river, reciting tanka – afterwards returning to the city to resume life as normal. Or, perhaps I am well versed in being drawn to the door of sorrow, and the summerlands that lie behind it.