Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Deor's Lament - Exeter Book

Weland himself, by means of worms (swords)
experienced agony,
the strong-minded noble
endured troubles:
he had for his companions
sorrow and longing,
winter-bitter wrack,
he often found misery
after Niðhad
put fetters on him,
supple sinew-bonds
on the better man.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

Beadohild was not
as sad in mind
for the death of her borhters
as for her own trouble,
she had 
clearly realized
that she was pregnant;
she could never
think resolutely
of how that would have to (turn out).
That was overcome, so may this be.

We heard that
the moans of Matilda
of the lady of Geat
were numberless
so that her sorrowful love
entirely deprived of sleep.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

Theodric ruled
for thirty winters
the city of the Mærings;
that was known to many.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

We heard
wolfish thought;
he ruled widely the people
of the kingdom of the Goths -
That was a grim king!
Many a warrior sat,
bound up by cares,
woes in mind,
wished constantly
that the kingdom
were overcome.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

He sits sorrowful and anxious,
bereft of joy,
darkening in his mind,
he think sot himself
that (it) is endless
the (his) part of troubles;
then he can consider 
that throughout this world
the wise Lord
always goes, 
to many men
he shows honour,
sure glory,
to some a share of troubles.

I, for myself,
want to say this,
that for a while I was
the scop (bard) of the Hedenings,
dear to my lord;
my name was Deor.
I had for many winters
a good position,
a loyal lord,
until Heorrenda now,
a man skillful in songs,
has taken the estate
that the protector of warriors
before game to me.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

This is an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem, commonly known as "Deor" or "Deor's Lament."  In it, our narrator, Deor, tells how he has fallen from grace in his position as a scop (a bard, storyteller) in the court of the Hedenings at the hand of Heorrenda.  A common repeating line through the poem is "That was overcome, so may this be."  That repetition is cited through the many historical and mythological (is there any difference, really?) examples Deor gives, of people or places in painful situations of suffering who overcome.  It feels like Deor's own personal tonic, himself reassuring himself that things can change, untenable situations can be overcome, and life can take on a positive aspect once more.  

Despite being likely over a thousand years old, and translated from an English so archaic as to be unreadable, who reading this can't relate to a fall of some sort?  The poem contains real truth, regardless of if any of it ever happened or not.  It doesn't matter if you don't know who Weland is to know that suffering can be overcome.  You can sympathize with the soldiers who wish for their own kingdom to be overcome because of the tyrant ruling over them.  

The translation I used can be found here.  There are many translations of Deor, but I particularly appreciated this one for its inclusion of the original text and for its many notes, which I encourage you to read only after you've read the poem a number of times.

If you are having trouble in your life, reader, just think, "That was overcome, so may this be,"

Monday, March 30, 2015

[2 little whos] - E. E. Cummings

2 little whos
(he and she)
under are this
wonderful tree

smiling stand
(all realms of where
and when beyond)
now and here

(far from a grown
-up i&you-
ful world of known)
who and who

(2 little ams
and over them this
aflame with dreams
incredible is)

E.E. Cummings presents an often insurmountable feeling challenge to many readers, which is why I try to feature his work fairly frequently on this blog, because despite his poetry's wacky syntax and nonsense words, I feel that it is far easier to understand than you might think.  To start with this one, let's ignore everything in the parentheses and see what we have:

2 little whos
under are this
wonderful tree

smiling stand
now and here

who and who

We get a fairly simple picture of two people, likely children (little), under a tree, smiling, "now and here" in the moment.  Two "whos", two people.  There's a warm sense of happiness and wonder about it, as if the word "wonderful" for once really does mean full of wonder.  The poem becomes more understandable, and now, we can start re-introducing the parentheses and unpacking those.  The first, (he and she), doesn't need much explanation.  It doesn't matter much just who those two whos are, but this is just a detail to fuel your imagination.  Feel free to ignore it; I did.

The next, (all realms of where and when beyond) prefaces "now and here."  From this, I take that under that tree, every moment, every place, is conceivable.  All of time is presenting itself in the moment of here and now.  It serves as contrast to the tale of the two little whos.

The next parenthetical aside is the narrator talking to us, the reader.  By breaking up the line structure, I think this aside becomes much clearer.  "Far from a grown-up i&you-ful world of known" is what we're left with.  The narrator is telling us that these 2 little whos are not savvy to the world like we are.  They don't have a grown up(ful) perspective.  The last stanza of the poem is now told entirely in parentheses, from this narrator's point of view.

"2 little ams"  Simple enough, right?  Those two little whos, but this time, as self-declaring.  "and over them this"  What's over them?  A tree, filled with wonder.  That tree's leaves, if we visualize it?  "aflame with dreams"  Know what this is?  "incredible is"

By breaking Cummings down, slowly, it becomes clear to me that his works are not so challenging after all, and I hope I've helped guide you.  I know this has been a longer post than usual, but I think you, reader, for getting through it.  I hope this poem can fill you with a sense of wonder and offer a framework by which you can try to tackle E.E. Cummings poems in the future.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"There is a gold light in certain old paintings" - Donald Justice


There is a gold light in certain old paintings
That represents a diffusion of sunlight.
It is like happiness, when we are happy.
It comes from everywhere and nowhere at once, this light,
          And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross
          Share in its charity equally with the cross.


Orpheus hesitated beside the black river.
With so much to look forward to he looked back.
We think he sang then, but the song is lost.
At least he had seen once more the beloved back
          I say the song went this way: O prolong
          Now the sorrow if that is all there is to prolong.


The world is very dusty, uncle. Let us work.
One day the sickness shall pass from the earth from good.
The orchard will bloom; someone will play the guitar.
Our work will be seen as strong and clean and good.
          And all that we suffered through having existed
          Shall be forgotten as though it had never existed.

One of my favorite poets as of late, Donald Justice offers this meditation on art and mythology as it relates to our daily lives.  While I could find the paintings he references here (chances are you can picture them yourself) I will not, because I don't want to color your mind with the art, but rather let the light Justice describes fill you.

In the first stanza, we can look at the scene in both a religious or non-religious context.  The religious context is clear; this is a scene from the Passion, wherein Christ is crucified.  The heavenly light that shines down shines on all.  Even those who killed Christ can be forgiven is the message implicit there.  We all "share in its charity equally."  This can have a non-religious context as well.  The same sun shines on all of us, humans, animals, dirt, everything.  We are equal parts of the world and are only special because of our internal monologues.  While the religious context here is the most clear, I think the lesson is largely the same with or without that framework.

In the second stanza, we see the tragic scene where Orpheus turns and Eurydice, recently rescued from the underworld, disappears.  The prolonging of sorrow is the only way he can hang onto any shred of his love.  I love the line, "We think he sang then, but the song is lost."  What else could Orpheus do?  At that point, his song was all he had.

The last stanza, despite being couched in language of ending, is reassuring.  All the suffering in the world will be forgotten with your death, and it will be as though it never existed.  I see no bleakness here.  The work these two do "will be seen as strong and clean and good."  Virtues of hard work are seldom forgotten.  Sickness will pass in time, even if we pass before it.  That's calming.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Song - Aphra Behn

O Love! that stronger art than wine,
Pleasing delusion, witchery divine,
Wont to be prized above all wealth,
Disease that has more joys than health;
Though we blaspheme thee in our pain,
And of thy tyranny complain,
We are all bettered by thy reign.

What reason never can bestow
We to this useful passion owe;
Love wakes the dull from sluggish ease,
And learns a clown the art to please,
Humbles the vain, kindles the cold,
Makes misers free, and cowards bold;
'Tis he reforms the sot from drink,
And teaches airy fops to think.

When full brute appetite is fed,
And choked the glutton lies and dead,
Thou new spirits dost dispense
And 'finest the gross delights of sense:
Virtue's unconquerable aid
That against Nature can persuade,
And makes a roving mind retire
Within the bounds of just desire;
Cheerer or age, youth's kind unrest,
And half the heaven of the blest!

Here, Aphra Behn extols the virtues of Love despite the many wounds it deals us all.  She describes love as a delusion and witchery, but to both of those descriptions, adds pleasing and divine.  Love is a "disease that has more joys than health" and in the end, we are "all bettered by thy reign."  Love is a tyrant we submit to happily, a disease we are glad to have, and a delusion from which we never wish to wake.  Behn goes on in the second stanza to describe in greater detail the ways in which love enhances our lives.

Love helps where reason fails us.  When our logic fails, love is there.  Love can perform miracles it seems.  It "humbles the vain" and "kindles" (warms) the cold.  It makes cowards bold and can reform a drunkard, or even teach an idiot (so nicely described here as "airy fop") to think.  This disease, this divine witchery, has some serious power.

It's love that makes the world go 'round for Behn, and though this poem is over 300 years old, I think the sentiment is still relevant, and despite some old fashioned turns of phrase, fairly easy to understand.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spring - Kay Ryan

It would be
good to shrug
out of winter
as cicadas do:
look: a crisp
freestanding you
and you walking
off, soft as

I saw this poem posted by a fellow poetry blogger, whose excellent poem a day blog you should follow, and could not resist posting it myself.  It's a crunchy image, tangible almost.  I think many of us would like to shed our shells right now, and to feel as new as the buds struggling to push up through the snow.  Spring is the renewal of the world, and if we choose, of ourselves.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If By Dull Rhymes Our English Must Be Chain'd - John Keats

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,
   And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter'd, in spire of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
   Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weight the stress
Of every chord, and see what my be gain'd
   By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
   Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
   Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
   She will be bound with garlands of her own.

As I am currently 25, the age at which John Keats died, I cannot help but feel very unaccomplished.  After all, he is remembered as one of the foremost Romantics, his deserved fame no doubt enhanced by the tragedy of his circumstances.  I'm just some person who writes simple analyses of poetry online.  That's okay, though.  We don't all need to be Keats.

This poem is fundamentally an introspection on poetry, and how She, as personified by Keats, is bound by "dull rhymes."  What Keats wants to do, since he feels unable to liberate poetry from rhyme entirely (though he does utilize slant rhyme in some places here) is use other techniques in order to make it not feel quite so constrained.  "Sandals more interwoven and complete to fit the naked foot of poesy" are what Keats wants to create.  To do so, by ear, he wants to listen closely to every part of a poem for musical content and beauty, not just the rhyme.  Keats does this very thing all through the poem, with pleasing assonance and consonance throughout.  It's a clever poem, and of course, beautiful, even if it is chained by "dull rhymes."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tomorrow - Dennis O'Driscoll


Tomorrow I will start to be happy.
The morning will light up like a celebratory cigar.
Sunbeams sprawling on the lawn will set
dew sparkling like a cut-glass tumbler of champagne.
Today will end the worst phase of my life.

I will put my shapeless days behind me,
fencing off the past, as a golden rind
of sand parts slipshod sea from solid land.
It is tomorrow I want to look back on, not today.
Tomorrow I start to be happy; today is almost yesterday.

Australia, how wise you are to get the day
over and done with first, out of the way.
You have eaten the fruit of knowledge, while
we are dithering about which main course to choose.
How liberated you must feel, hoe free from doubt:

the rise and fall of stocks, today's closing prices
are revealed to you before our bidding has begun.
Australia, you can gather in your accident statistics
like a harvest while our roads still have hours to kill.
When we are in the dark, you have sagely seen the light.


Cagily, presumptuously, I dare to write 2018.
A date without character or tone. 2018.
A year without interest rates or mean daily temperature.
Its hit songs have yet to be written, its new-year
babies yet to be induced, its truces to be signed.

Much too far off for prophecy, though one hazards 
a tentative guess - a so-so year most likely,
vague in retrospect, fizzling out with the usual
end-of-season sales; everything slashed:
your last chance to salvage something of its style.

Putting our hopes onto tomorrow is effectively putting them off, relegating them to an eternal tomorrow which will never come.  As we speak, it is already becoming yesterday, that magical tomorrow moving towards the far horizon, and our status quo today replacing the golden glimmering tomorrow without us even noticing.  That's what this poem says to me.  No matter how much we say we will put our shapeless days behind us, as O'Driscoll so elegantly puts it, we tell ourselves that lie, "Tomorrow I start to be happy."

I like that he coats this bitter pill in comedy.  The second section, about how Australia gets their business out of the way first (because of the time difference) is silly and enjoyable.  The last segment has taken on a bit of a sad tint, as the author passed away in 2012, long before the 2018 he dreamed about.  Thankfully though, what that last stanza is is potential.  2018 has not been decided yet, even as we approach the middle months of 2015.  Even though O'Driscoll tempers any enthusiasm with the last stanza, in which he concludes that 2018 will likely be a so-so year, you can't help but feel that maybe, just maybe, our tomorrows can be better.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Reminiscence - Anne Brontë

YES, thou art gone! and never more
     Thy sunny smile shall gladden me;
But I may pass the old church door,
     And pace the floor that covers thee.

May stand upon the cold, damp stone,
     And think that, frozen, lies below
The lightest heart that I have known,
     The kindest I shall ever know.

Yet, though I cannot see thee more,
     'Tis still a comfort to have seen;
And though thy transient life is o'er,
     'Tis sweet to think that thou hast been;

To think a soul so near divine,
     Within a form so angel fair,
United to a heart like thine,
     Has gladdened once our humble sphere.

Our time on earth is short, as this heartbreaking poem by Anne Brontë shows.  The "lightest heart" she ever knew is dead and buried, and that person's sunny smile can never again gladden her.  Despite the nearly palpable sense of how much Brontë misses this gone soul, you get the idea that she is genuinely glad to have known them.  She says, "though they transient life is o'er, 'tis sweet to think that thou hast been."  Merely knowing that someone so good as the departed in this poem is enough to gladden the whole earth.  "A form so near divine" is the way she describes this dead person.

The old adage, "It's better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all" doesn't quite cover it, in this case.  It's less personal than that.  A person so good and so beloved that their existence has brightened the entire world.  It's a warming experience, just reading the poem and trying to imagine the person that could have made Brontë feel that way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

His Wish to God - Robert Herrick

I would to God, that mine old age might have
Before my last, but here a living grave;
Some one poor almshouse, there to lie, or stir,
Ghost-like, as in my meaner sepulchre;
A little piggin, and a pipkin by,
To hold things fitting my necessity,
Which, rightly us'd, both in their time and place,
Might me excite to fore, and after, grace.
Thy cross, my Christ, fix'd fore my eyes should be,
Not to adore that, but to worship Thee.
So here the remnant of my days I'd spend,
Reading Thy bible, and my book; so end.

Deeply pious in an intimate way, Robert Herrick, who was almost forgotten entirely in the 18th century, is today widely read and respected for his lyricism and craft.  This poem is a desire to, before passing on, to have a sort of preliminary death, a death to the world, in which he may become closer to God by shedding all worldly attachments.

There's a deep strain of self-deprecation running throughout, wherein Herrick doesn't find himself fit for anything but a "poor almshouse."  It's almost like a form of asceticism.  While I am personally not a particularly pious person, I find it hard not to admire the sense of resolve that must be needed to make a poem like this.  I imagine Herrick sitting there, reading his bible, meditating, until he passes quietly from one world to some other one.  It reminds me of how some monks meditate in the lotus position until they die quietly and deliberately.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Silver Swan - Orlando Gibbons

The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
"Farewell, all joys; Oh death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise."

Gibbons was known mostly as a composer in late 1500s and early 1600s England.  This text is from his most famous madrigal (a through-sung composition for multiple voices) and deals with the beauty of how ephemeral things are, and how beauty leaves the world.  Even in the early 17th century, the notion that there were more idiots than not was prevalent.  It's a simple, beautiful poem, a sophisticated heartbreak image represented by a swan singing out a single, pure beautiful note.

Here's the music.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

from The Contesse of Montgomery's Urania: "Love peruse me, seeke, and finde" - Lady Mary Wroth

Love peruse me, seeke, and finde
How each corner of my minde
          Is a twine
          Woven to shine.
Not a Webb ill made, foule fram'd,
Bastard not by Father nam'd,
          Such in me
          Cannot bee.
Deare behold me, you shall see
Faith the Hive, and love the Bee,
          Which doe bring.
          Gaine and sting.
Pray desect me, sinewes, vaines,
Hold, and loves life in those gaines;
          Lying bare
          To despaire,
When you thus anotamise
All my body, my heart prise;
          Being true
          Just to you.
Close the Truncke, enbalme the Chest,
Where your power still shall rest,
          Joy entombe,
          Loves just doome.

Once you get past the very non-standard spelling (standardized orthography was not really a thing in the 17th century) I think you'll find this poem, an except from Lady Mary Wroth's romance to be remarkably contemporary and understandable.  The narrator (having not read the source material, only this excerpt, I cannot say man or woman) asks a lover to inspect, to read deeply (peruse) and find how in every single nook and cranny of their body lives their love.  The lover holds absolute power, and the narrator is inviting that lover to see that for themselves, essentially handing them the key to their heart.  Indeed, the body here is the trunk and chest, so a key analogy fits quite well.

My favorite single line must be "behold me, you shall see Faith the Hive, and love the Bee."  Faith is nourished by love, but like a bee, love can bring both gain and sting, pleasure and pain.  It's an elegant metaphor.  I think I owe it to myself, and to you, readers, to read the full romance at some point and further my understanding of it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Invictus - William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem is the declaration of the indomitable spirit.  The Latin title means "unconquered" and was originally not attached to the poem at its first printing, though it fits perfectly.  In the face of all evil and all horror, in the face of death ("the horror of the shade"), the narrator remains and will forever remain unafraid.  It's an inspirational, bold, and makes me want to be the best I can be.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Days among the Dead are Past - Robert Southey

My days among the Dead are past;
Around me I behold,
Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old;
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.

With them I take delight in weal,
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedew'd
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

My thoughts are with the Dead, with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears,
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead, anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.

Rest assured, Robert Southey, your name has not perished in the dust, and with the Dead now, I too converse.  The Dead are all around us, their relics being those things they made from which we benefit today.  Southey was so moved by this longevity that he'd shed tears of gratitude, according to the second stanza.  What this poem is concerned with is the immortality of those who create, and how we can learn from it.  It's a simple poem, though effective, and I'm sure we've all felt immensely grateful to the great minds of the past.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Musical Instrument - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,
    Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat
     With the dragon-fly on the river.

He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
     From the deep cool bed of the river:
The limpid water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
And the dragon-fly had fled away,
     Ere he brought it out of the river.

High on the shore sat the great god Pan,
     While turbidly flowed the river;
And hacked and hewed as a great god can,
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
Till there was not a sign of a lead indeed
     To prove it fresh from the river.

He cut it short, did the great god Pan,
     (How tall it stood in the river!)
Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
Steadily from the outside ring,
And notched the poor dry empty thing
     In holes, as he sate by the river.

'This is the way, ' laughed the great god Pan,
     (Laughed while he sate by the river,)
'The only way, since gods began
To make sweet music, they could succeed.'
Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
     He blew in power by the river.

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
     Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
     Came back to dream on the river.

Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
     To laugh as he sits by the river,
Making a poet out of a man:
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain,-
For the reed which grows nevermore again
     As a reed with the reeds in the river.

In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of the wilds, of shepherds, of all things pastoral in nature.  He is half goat, having the legs of a goat, similar to a satyr.  In this enchanting poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, we follow Pan as he creates a musical instrument out of a reed in a river.  Indeed, the name for an instrument made of reeds lined up, blown on, we call a panflute.  The imagery throughout the poem is a lovely, detailed account of the process of making the instrument.  Where the poem takes a turn is in the last two stanzas, when Pan begins to play his flute.

In the 6th stanza, the lines become rapturous.  "Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!" the narrator exclaims.  There's a sense of rapture, almost sexual ecstasy at hearing Pan play.  The music is "piercing sweet" and "blinding sweet."  It's so nice that the sun itself forgets to set, and the whole scene is suspended in time.  Then, in the 7th stanza, we move back from the human, sense-oriented point of view.

Pan is no true god, but a half-god, and at his actions "the true gods sigh."  To make his music, Pan has uprooted the reed from the river.  The "cost and pain" of Pan's actions is how the reed, now a flute, which "grows nevermore again as a reed with the reeds in the river."  Despite that beautiful music, the gods see only the destruction of nature.

Personally, I cannot sympathize entirely with the environmentalist and naturalist sentiment of the gods in the 7th stanza.  Partly, it is because I am a human and a musician, and I crave the rapturous, sensuous beauty of the music described in the 6th stanza.  I cannot understand the gods' point of view about the reed which will never grow again, because more reeds may be planted.  Still, I think we're meant to understand that beauty has consequences which we often overlook.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

December 30 - Richard Brautigan

At 1:03 in the morning a fart
smells like a marriage between
an avocado and a fish head.

I have to get out of bed
to write this down without
   my glasses on.

Honestly, I chose this poem because it made me laugh, and because of how easily to relate to I found it.  Those silly thoughts that sometimes flit into the mind in the early hours of the morning, those bizarrisms of which we're all capable; this poem captures it nicely.  Presumably having cracked a particularly nasty fart, Brautigan remarked on its smell to himself and liked the turn of phrase so much that he had to get out, without his glasses, even, and write it down.  I've had similar thoughts in similar situations (off the top of my head, I can remember comparing a fart to a war crime and wondering if I just broke the Geneva convention) though I've never written them down.  Maybe I should.  Brautigan's certainly brought me a laugh.  It's nice for poetry to be gross sometimes.  It doesn't always need to be about beauty or truth.  Besides, I'm pretty sure fart jokes have been funny since time immemorial.

A friend of mine hit on something interesting with this poem.  "That sounds like the journal entry of an insomniac" was his comment.  I think that's a cool way to look at it, and it fits, what with the very specific time and date annotation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

West Yorkshire Through a Coach Window in Late Autumn - Chris Hart

Mackerel sun squares
fast passing
brinded banded clouds
blue and white
light checkering
checkerboard hedges
edged green
grass fields,
fallow or full,
fall in bloom,
womb of earth,
last birth before

I sigh
and think of you.

This poem, as the title might suggest, was written as I took a coach (since we're talking and writing in England, may as well say that instead of bus, right?) from Leeds to London last November.  I still consider it a fragment, and will revisit it at some point, I think.  I'm not sure about the last two lines, and I think I may want to add another stanza which reflects the bus, because I'm not sure I quite captured the moving nature of the landscape when viewed at motorway speeds.  As it stands, I tried to create a very fast moving poem, by using similar sounding words to begin and end every line.  White light, checkering checkerboards, etc.  I think it mostly worked, and the landscape did briefly look like a second spring to me, as the last late fields were ready for harvesting.  It was very beautiful, and reminded me pretty strongly of my own Connecticut homeland, which was comforting to me, as at the time I wrote this poem, I had been away for over 16 months.

I'm not sure if this poem is a success, but I can never be the one to judge that.  That's for you, reader, so I hope that the poem can stand on its own merit in absence of my explanation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

[On a branch] - Kobayashi Issa

Translated by Jane Hirshfield

On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.

I posted a haiku by Issa just a few days ago, and I was captivated to the point where I had to look up another.  What I like about these haiku are how remarkably alike they are to later Imagist poems and other forms of early modernism which merely present a scene without attaching any sort of emotional attachment or moral lesson to them.  The scene isn't romanticized, but it certainly is Romantic, but without any of the grand emotion that goes along with that movement.  What we're left with a lovely scene, a clear image, and a chirping sound.  It's completely wonderful.

Monday, March 2, 2015

[After great pain, a formal feeling comes-] - Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes -
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs -
The stiff heart questions 'was it He, that bore,'
And 'Yesterday, or Centuries before'?

The Feet, mechanical, go round -
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought -
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone -

This is the Hour of Lead -
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow -
First - Chill - then Stupor - the the letting go -

That heavy moment after emotional upheaval seems to transcend all time, settling into an almost crystalline ("Quartz" like, in this poem) moment, apart from place, time, making us feel wooden, mechanical.  We use the phrase "going through the motions" today for a similar feeling.  Doing something in absence of meaning or knowledge.  Even the memory of these moments after "great pain" is enough to freeze us in place, as described so perfectly in the last stanza.  It is the "Hour of Lead."  When we remember this pain, if we even survive it to begin with, it is like recollecting snow.  It first chills us, puts us into a stupor, and then, finally, we awake, and let go of the pain.

It is a formal feeling, both in that it follows a form and pattern, and also in how there is almost a nobility to such suffering.  The language of the poem, though simple, feels somehow elevated by the subject matter.  Natural elements are present in their most basic forms.  Air.  Ground.  Quartz.  Lead.  Cold.  There's something elemental about this, and the nerves being the tombs of our emotions and feelings is understandable.  That numbness and tingling that comes with heartache and emotional trauma are like a minor death of the self.  What a magnificent poem.