Monday, July 24, 2017

A.M. Klein: The Mountain (1948)

Montreal

Many of us have memories of the mountain, Mont-Royal, especially those of us who grew within close proximity to it during our youth, as the poet A.M. Klein [1909–1972] did during his and I during mine. The mountain was a place to explore, and find out history and plan futures to match the fantastic dreams of our imaginings, made more real when and while looking at the skies, blue and white. It was where magic was made and where the mysteries of the universe were viewed, with awe and understanding.

If you lived near the mountain, you couldn’t help but notice its cross, which some consider an intrusion, but many a welcome intrusion. There has been a cross atop Mont Royal since the days of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Jeanne Mance and the founding of the city (officially celebrated as May 17, 1642; the City of Montreal is 375 years old); the current cross dates to 1924.

The second terrace recalls Dante’s Purgatorio (Cantos XIII, XIV), the place where envy is purged, only to be replaced by love. It is a place where covetousness, which includes the love of money, is expunged. Truly, “the love of money” and a devotion to it has contributed to and resulted in much human suffering.

As noted in the poem, one was always aware of the mountain’s illuminated cross, bathed in a white luminescence; its steel-metal structure visible from a distance. Its presence familiar and comforting, clothed in dignified strength, always calling you to come closer. Many heeded its invocation; many undoubtedly did, making declarations of love and obedience.

The Mountain
by A.M. Klein

Who knows it only by the famous cross which bleeds
into the fifty miles of night its light
knows a night—scene;
and who upon a postcard knows its shape —
the buffalo straggled of the laurentian herd, —
holds in his hand a postcard.

In layers of mountains the history of mankind,
and in Mount Royal
which daily in a streetcar I surround
my youth, my childhood —
the pissabed dandelion, the coolie acorn,
green prickly husk of chestnut beneath mat of grass—
O all the amber afternoons
are still to be found.

There is a meadow, near the pebbly brook,
where buttercups, like once on the under of my chin
upon my heart still throw their rounds of yellow.

And Cartier's monument, based with nude figures
still stands where playing hookey
Lefty and I tested our gravel aim
(with occupation flinging away our guilt)
against the bronze tits of Justice.

And all my Aprils there are marked and spotted
upon the adder's tongue, darting in light,
upon the easy threes of trilliums, dark green, green, and white,
threaded with earth, and rooted
beside the bloodroots near the leaning fence—
corms and corollas of childhood,
a teacher's presents.

And chokecherry summer clowning black on my teeth!

The birchtree stripped by the golden zigzag still
stands at the mouth of the dry cave where I
one suppertime in August watched the sky
grow dark, the wood quiet, and then suddenly spill
from barrels of thunder and broken staves of lightning —
terror and holiday!

One of these days I shall go up to the second terrace
to see if it still is there—
the uncomfortable sentimental bench
where, — as we listened to the brass of the band concerts
made soft and to our mood by dark and distance—
I told the girl I loved
I loved her.

***************
The Mountain is part of a collection of poems in A.M. Klein's The Rocking Chair and Other Poems, published in 1948 by The Ryerson Press; it won the Governor General’s Award for poetry.

—Perry J. Greenbaum, July 24, 2017

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