Tuesday, August 23, 2016

April Love - Ernest Dowson

We have walked in Love's land a little way,
We have learnt his lesson a little while,
And shall we not part at the end of day,
With a sigh, a smile?
A little while in the shine of the sun,
We were twined together, joined lips, forgot
How the shadows fall when the day is done,
And when Love is not.
We have made no vows--there will none be broke,
Our love was free as the wind on the hill,
There was no word said we need wish unspoken,
We have wrought no ill.
So shall we not part at the end of day,
Who have loved and lingered a little while,
Join lips for the last time, go our way,
With a sigh, a smile?

This love poem from Ernest Dowson, short and pleasant as a passing romance or a summer breeze, reminds me greatly of one of my favorite poems by Michael Drayton, about which I've written before.  That poem, too, is about lovers parting with a goodbye kiss, seeking to leave with no animosity or hard feelings.  There, as here, it feels somewhat as if the narrator is trying to convince himself that it is indeed possible to part with a kiss and not feel some measure of sadness and heartbreak.  The difference for me is that this is a more positive poem, evoking pleasant memories of a pleasant, passing romance.

Dowson seems fairly well able to convince himself that such a love, an "April Love" as the title suggests, is possible.  The bright, simple language of the poem evokes all the niceties of springl  The sun shines, the breeze on the hill blows, "shadows fall when the day is done, and when Love is not."  It's a lovely image.  Lovers twined, lips joined, a beautiful springtime.  There is no malice in their parting, no desperate hope for a rekindling of romance.  Still, as the poem is framed as a series of questions, I read it with a hint of self-convincing.  "We can kiss, smile, and part without heartbreak...right?" 

Even with that seed of doubt and the questioning nature of the poem, I am hopelessly charmed by the idea of two people meeting, becoming lovers, and parting friends with a happy sigh and a watery-eyed smile.  A goodbye kiss without drama, so to speak.  Maybe it's the springtime loving imagery of the poem, or the warm feeling imagining the loving parting last kiss, but I like to think that such a thing is possible.  A romance doesn't have to be long and dramatic to be meaningful, and if it feels like a warm spring breeze, then letting it be that free and easy can only be beautiful, just like this poem.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fall, leaves, fall - Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

At first glance, this poem from Emily Brontë may seem bleak or joyless, but I do not think that is the case.  I felt compelled to post this poem today, as it was the first day when it felt like summer would soon fade away and bring with it the gorgeous New England fall weather so many, myself included, cherish.  Thinking about the inherent beauties of fall and winter, this poem starts to feel much less bleak and takes on a bit of a wry twist.

The Brontë sisters are not exactly known for being cheerful.  They were not those I would call "summer" people.  The heat and brightness can be oppressive at times, and I know I certainly prefer colder weather to hotter.  I don't think there's any genuine malice wished towards summer in this poem.  Read it with a half-cocked smile and it takes on a far more playful tone.  Fall, leaves, give us longer nights, falling leaves, blossoming wreaths of snow instead of roses.  What day better to sit by the fire with a book than a dreary one?  Looked at in this way, the poem seems to me to anticipate those sorts of winter days when one wants nothing more than to cozy up to a nice book under a warm blanket, watching snow lazily fall.

First though, the leaves must fall.  I've had enough of hot summer days, so I know I'm looking forward to the falling of the leaves and turning of the seasons.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Short Poem - Arthur Gregor

When eyes pass by trembling with presence,
hold on to the urge for possession of
the love without which you must learn
to remain content; then love with all you possess
that shadow wherein hovers a promise
like a young swallow in a thicket of trees.

If you seek to possess love, you must learn to be content without it, posits Arthur Gregor in his appropriately named short poem.  What I especially love about this poem is the aura of nervousness it cultivates.  Eyes tremble, love passes in shadows, and is as flighty as a bird in a thicket of trees.  There is also a wonderful sense of urgency to it all.  The subject wants so desperately to love those eyes "trembling with presence" that the narrator must urge caution.  Do not seek to possess love. 

I especially love the lines, "hold on to the urge for possession of / the love without which you must learn / to remain content."  If you put all of your happiness into possessing those eyes trembling with presence, you will end up ruined.  You must be whole, you must learn to remain content without love.  Instead, Gregor says, love the shadow of a promise of love.  Be ever hopeful of love rather than possessive is my takeaway.  Really, I simply adore the language of the poem.  It is beautiful and sometimes, that is enough.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Valley Song - Carl Sandburg

Your eyes and the valley are memories-
Your eyes fire and the valley a bowl.
It was here a moonrise crept over the timberline;
It was here we turned the coffee-cups upside down.
And your eyes and the moon swept the valley.

I will see you again in a million years.
I will see you again to-morrow.
I will never know your dark eyes again.
These are three ghosts I keep;
These are three sumach-red dogs I run with.

All of it wraps and knots to a riddle:
I have the moon, the timberline, and you.
All three are gone - and I keep all three.

Isn't memory a marvelous mystery?  Here, Carl Sandburg elegantly and simply makes the case for the almost mystical power of memory.  He has the moon, the timberline of the valley, and "you."  Of course, none of these things are his; no one can have the moon, just as no one can ever really have their lover.  Not forever, anyways.  And still, with the wonder of memory, Sandburg will "see you again in a million years" and still "see you again to-morrow."

Because the language of the poem is framed in memory, I feel that the "you" of the poem is a lover, now gone.  Really, apart from a love, who else can be compared to a valley, or to the moon?  Reading the first stanza, I imagined the narrator tracing his finger through the air, as if stroking the face of a lost love or tracing the outline of the valley slopes.  It's a fond, bittersweet memory.  Even though the narrator will "never know your dark eyes again" he keeps those memories with him, ghosts, dogs, with which he lives his daily life.

Sandburg ends with the wonderful paradox of memory.  "All three are gone - and I keep all three."  No one can take these memories away.  They are his to treasure until the end of time, and now, reader, they are ours, as well.  I'm sure this poem conjures in your mind your own valley, your own "you," and your own moon.  Think of those three ghosts tonight, and feel the company of everyone else who has ever done the same.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Idea 14: [If he from heaven that filched that living fire] - Michael Drayton

If he from heaven that filched that living fire
Condemned by Jove to endless torment be,
I greatly marvel how you still go free,
That far beyond Prometheus did aspire.
The fire he stole, although of heavenly kind,
Which from above he craftily did take,
Of liveless clods, us living men to make,
He did bestow in temper of the mind.
But you broke into heaven's immortal store,
Where virtue, honor, wit, and beauty lay;
Which taking thence you have escaped away,
Yet stand as free as ere you did before;
Yet old Prometheus punished for his rape.
Thus poor thieves suffer when the greater 'scape.

It has been some time, friends.  I do regret not having posted any poetry whatsoever for the past eight months.  I hope some of you see a message in your inbox and remember reading my blog fondly.  I can no longer let the busy-ness of my daily life prevent me from reading and sharing the poetry that I love with you, reader.  It is my sincere hope that you take five or ten minutes out of your day to slow down, relax, and read a poem a day.  If you let me, I would love to help.

Today's selection is a sonnet from Michael Drayton, whose poetry I have long enjoyed.  His work captures that odd mix of jealousy and admiration that constitute affection.  Here, the narrator expresses his wonderment at the perfection that is the target of his affections.  The person in question has stolen heaven's own "virtue, honor, wit, and beauty" for their own.  The comparisons are all couched in the language of classical myth, which are effective for two reasons.

Firstly, the myth of Prometheus would have been familiar to any of Drayton's readers.  Any educated person in the Elizabethan era would have been well versed in classical literature and myth.  Prometheus, for those of us who didn't receive an Elizabethan schooling, was a titan in Greek myth, who stole fire from Mount Olympus to give to mankind, raising us from towards Enlightenment.  Prometheus was then punished eternally by Zeus, chained and tortured, immortal and unable to escape by means of death.

Drayton's love object did Prometheus one better.  Not only did they steal all the wonders and virtues of heaven, they escaped without bearing punishment, and stand free, Titanic (quite literally, given the comparison with Prometheus) among mere humans, who can only admire.  For all that however, Drayton's tone is not purely admiration.  While he assuredly is in awe of the graces his love possesses, he still calls them a thief.  A great thief, to be sure, but it's hard to not hear, to my ears, at least, a hint of jealousy.  You steal all these things, and yet you go unpunished?  Prometheus, who stole for our benefit, is punished eternally, and you are rewarded with freedom for your theft? 

Still, Drayton cannot help but bitterly admire this thief.  While love is not a central theme of this poem, given the overall arc of Drayton's "Ideas" (sonnets) it is impossible to read it as anything else.  This poem captures that strange mix of jealousy, inferiority, and pure admiration that one smitten by (potentially one sided) love may feel. 

I'm not certain I've read this poem entirely correctly, but I'm nonetheless fascinated by it.  The comparison with mythic figures elevates the master thief, whom I imagine stole Drayton's heart along with virtue, beauty, wit, and honor.  It's a frustrated, almost exasperated feeling poem, and it reminds me of some wonderfully confusing feelings I myself have had when wondering how someone so clearly more wonderful than me could possibly love me.  Of course, no one is perfect.  Drayton acknowledges this in his other poems extensively.  But sometimes, reader, we can't help but wonder how someone can possibly be so perfect, and that's what I got from this poem.

Thank you for being loyal readers, friends.  I hope to bring you many more poems in the coming months and years.  I must say it felt very good to write about poetry again.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Youth and Calm - Matthew Arnold

'Tis death! and peace, indeed, is here,
And ease from shame, and rest from fear.
There's nothing can dismarble now
The smoothness of that limpid brow.
But is a calm like this, in truth,
The crowning end of life and youth,
And when this boon rewards the dead,
Are all debts paid, has all been said?
And is the heart of youth so light,
Its step so firm, its eye so bright,
Because on its hot brow there blows
A wind of promise and repose
From the far grave, to which it goes;
Because it hath the hope to come,
One day, to harbour in the tomb?
Ah no, the bliss youth dreams is one
For daylight, for the cheerful sun,
For feeling nerves and living breath -
Youth dreams a bliss on this side death.
It dreams a rest, if not more deep,
More grateful than this marble sleep;
It hears a voice within it tell:
Calm's not life's crown, though calm is well.
'Tis all perhaps which man acquires,
But 'tis not what our youth desires.

How do death and youth intersect?  At the start of the poem, Arnold sets up the image of death as peace.  That's a pretty conventional image.  Ease from shame, rest from fear, no more worries to crease a face.  Is that it, though?  As he asks, "Is a calm like this...the crowning end of life and youth?"  In essence, is the height of youth, in all its grandeur, to be reduced to the calm of death?

Youth itself promises repose from the grave with its "hot brow" and firm step and light heart.  Arnold asks if for all of that, its only destination and final repose can be the grave.  Youth makes us feel as though we can fly high forever, even if this is not true.  The poem, too, brings us down from our flight to reality.  "Ah no, " Arnold writes, wistfully, "the bliss youth dreams is one for daylight, for the cheerful sun, for feeling nerves and living breath."  Youth is the dream for the living, from which we wake only to find death, and a final repose.

Still though, the dream of youth is noble and beautiful, and "dreams a rest, if not more deep, more grateful" than the "marble sleep" of death.  I like how Arnold brings the word "marble" back into the poem after he so beautifully used the word "dismarble" to describe how nothing can disturb the calm face of the dead.  As the last two lines perfectly note, calm is the only thing we end up with at our end, though it isn't what our youth desires.

What I like most about this poem is how knowingly Arnold accepts that death is our final destination, and he describes its calm as beautiful, clear, and deep.  And despite that knowledge, despite the certainty of it, the hot blooded dream of youth is more gratifying and satisfying to us, even though, maybe because, we know it is fleeting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Lonely Death - Adelaide Crapsey

In the cold I will rise, I will bathe
In waters of ice; myself
Will shiver, and shrive myself,
Alone in the dawn, and anoint
Forehead and feet and hands;
I will shutter the windows from light,
I will place in their sockets the four
Tall candles and set them a-flame
In the grey of the dawn; and myself
Will lay myself straight in my bed,
And draw the sheet under my chin.

What does it mean to be really, truly alone?  Adelaide Crapsey gives us an account of a lonely death, in which the narrator readies herself for death, from bathing, to confession, to preparation of the funeral bed, before finally laying down to die.  It's a bleak picture, but it is in no way pitiful, as I expected it to be.  Rather, I'm overwhelmed by the narrator's tremendous force of will.  Someone so alone could just lay down and die unwashed, without any sort of dignity, and no one would know.  That's not for this narrator, though.

This narrator is determined to face death head on, unbending, even in solitude.  They will rise, they will bathe.  Will is repeated so many times that's it's certainly no accident that the force of will was impressed upon me.  The repetition of the word "myself" contributes to this as well, best exemplified in the line "myself will lay myself straight in my bed."  No one else but "myself" will do it.  Myself is the actor and myself is the object of action.  It's a solitary figure of solitary strength.

There is dignity in every line of this poem, a constant railing against the knowledge that death finds us all alone.  Yes, death will take me, but on my terms, this poem seems to say.  Loneliness in this poem also means independence.  No one is there to take care of the narrator but no one is needed, because the strength of self is sufficient to conquer death, if only for a moment.  Even though there is no one to discover the passing and none to mourn, the effort is everything.

As a personal aside, I apologize, readers, for being dormant so long.  I've had a number of changes in my role at work which require much more of my time than before.  I work so much that it's difficult for me to find the time or mental effort to devote to writing about poetry.  Given though, how good this return to writing has made me feel, I will strive to make the time as best I can, and I hope you continue, reader, to make the time for poetry and art in your daily life.