Ralph Waldo Emerson, toward the end
of his life, found the names
of familiar objects escaping him.
He wanted to say something about a window,
or a table, or a book on a table.
But the word wasn't there,
although other words could still suggest
the shape of what he meant.
Then someone, his wife perhaps,
would understand: "Yes, window! I'm sorry,
is there a draft?" He'd nod.
She'd rise. Once a friend dropped by
to visit, shook out his umbrella
in the hall, remarked upon the rain.
Later the word umbrella
vanished and became
the thing that strangers take away.
Paper, pen, table, book:
was it possible for a man to think
without them? To know
that he was thinking? We remember
that we forget, he'd written once,
before he started to forget.
Three times he was told
that Longfellow had died.
Without the past, the present
lay around him like the sea.
Or like a ship, becalmed,
upon the sea. He smiled
to think he was the captain then,
gazing off into whiteness,
waiting for the wind to rise.
[From The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor]