Maddenation

Leslie Norris, poet, 1920-2006

Leslie Norris (1920-2006)A week ago, on April 6, Leslie Norris, a Welsh poet in residence at BYU for the past 23 years, died, suddenly, of a massive stroke. The day before, he had been up and about, walking his dog with his wife, as he always did. He was a professor of mine at BYU, and a colleague of sorts in the past year and a half (he was retired, but still showed up for some events) Yesterday, I attended his funeral service (he will be buried in Wales, his country). Apart from the inherent emotion of such an event, this was a touching tribute to a great man. He had been married for 57 years to his wife, Kitty. They were a little couple, utterly endearing, the kind of people I’d call perfect, or nearly so. Of the hundreds of people in attendance, and the hundreds more across the world who knew him or his work, I am one of those who knew him least, but he was still an important person to me. I just spoke with him at a lunch last month.

Here are some articles/obituaries:

And a two-year-old article about Leslie:

And one of his poems, one of my favorite poems by anybody:

Bridal Veil Falls, Early Winter

The season’s freeze has locked the waterfall,
its wavering fluid, into a cold permanence.
The last arcs of free spray, crystalised
in mid-air, are scattered among the stones.
Here is a preserved droplet, a Victorian stopper,
which will not melt for months. Water is held,
as these lines hold under the bite of words.
The wind is the one sound, hissing
into the crevice over the quiet ice.

For seventy hardening seasons I’ve watched
the stopping of waterfalls. Some of the time
I knew and perhaps understood how water
changed in winter, what happened to molecules,
how the structures of elements could petrify
in a night from bounding liquid to
an obdurate smoothness. Not any longer.
All that’s confusing now. I am content
to watch the world turn cold with its old grace.

Soon younger men will come, active, dressed
against ice, with crampons and pitons, coils
of nylon rope, looking up quite differently
from the river bed. They’ll wear their red
windproofs on the pallor of the ice,
search for fingerhold and toehold, secure
their spiked boots, begin to climb.
It’s grim work. At first one sees them progress
with a quick elegance, straight up, few overhangs.

But soon they must steady, take the ice axe
from its holster, with brisk hacks
of the blade cut steps out of the sliding
fall, blocks of cold spoil dropping
to the valley floor, skittering down.
They’ll pull themselves up to the line
of sky above them, the canyon’s edge.
What then? No axe will chop footholds
in that thin air. They won’t fly, I can tell them.

PatrickNews04/13/06 0 comments

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