Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tilly - James Joyce

He travels after a winter sun,
Urging the cattle along a cold red road,
Calling to them, a voice they know,
He drives his beasts above Cabra.

The voice tells them home is warm.
They moo and make brute music with their hoofs.
He drives them with a flowering branch before him,
Smoke pluming their foreheads.

Boor, bond of the herd,
Tonight stretch full by the fire!
I bleed by the black stream
For my torn bough!

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Flower Given to My Daughter - James Joyce

Frail the white rose and frail are
Her hands that gave
Whose soul is sere and paler
Than time's wan wave.

Rosefrail and fair- yet frailest
A wonder wild
In gentle eyes thou veilest,
My blueveined child.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tears, Idle Tears - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

The striking repetition of "the days that are no more" are to me, idle tears.  They are overwhelming, incomprehensible reminders of the past, which exist in a realm not governed by conscious faculties.  Memories and sense memories so powerful that they can reduce us to tears are things that we've all encountered at some point.

The otherworldly imagery employed only heightens the sense of the incomprehensible power of our own memories, and our attachments to the past.  It's also some beautiful imagery.  I particularly enjoy the passage, "Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,/That brings our friends up from the underworld"  It's a very apt description of memory.  Our memories can be crisp and clear as the image of sailing on a wonderful day, but at the same time, they dredge up long dead friends, alive forever in the boat of our memory.  Fantastic imagery.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sic Vita - Henry King

Like to the falling of a star,
Or as the flights of eagles are,
Or like the fresh spring's gaudy hue,
Or silver drops of morning dew,
Or like a wind that chafes the flood,
Or bubbles which on water stood:
Even such is man, whose borrowed light
Is straight called in, and paid to night.

The wind blows out, the bubbles dies,
The spring entombed in autumn lies,
The dew dries up, the star is shot,
The flight is past, and man forgot.

The omnipresent repetition of the first stanza of the poem serves to really highlight the incredible variety that life encompasses.  It's an effective strategy for emphasizing diversity, though in this case, I find it grows somewhat wearisome and tedious.  The second, shorter stanza, avoids this problem entirely, due largely to its brevity.

I like the concept of man being a "borrowed light."  We are highly emphemeral, though in our time, we burn brightly, and for a time, light the world.  It's somehow reassuring to know that we do burn brightly, even if we are, in time, forgot.  We do grow old and pass, but in that short span, we live every facet of life.  It's a wonderful diversity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Light and Gold - Edward Esch

warm and heavy
as pure gold,
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn babe.

Some of you readers made be more familiar with this poem in a Latin setting, as used by composer Eric Whitacre, as his "Lux Aurumque."  But before I embed a wonderful video of it being performed, I'm going to talk a bit about the lovely images and presentation of the poem.  Lovely as it is, I don't want the music to inform your opinion of the text just yet.

My favorite aspect of the poem would have to be the seeming disconnect between the poem's first three lines and its last two.  The lack of connecting phrases makes the contrast more natural, as it is free from the awkward stranglehold of prepositional phrases.  The light connects directly into the image of the babe, just as one's eyes would follow a beam of light down to its resting place.

I also really like the way light is equated with sound in the poem.  The light, which is warm and rare, beautiful as gold, is one of two sensory images provided; the other is the angels singing.  Sound and light are equated, and the result is an all-enveloping gold, which, since it is for the Christ child, is meant as an image of universal love.  The light is the sound is the love is the poem.  It's a wonderful image, and one that surpasses the limits of individual senses.

As promised, here is the Eric Whitacre setting,"Lux Aurumque."  It's a surpassingly beautiful setting which I feel captures that feeling of light, and it does so, appropriately, through sound, warm and heavy as pure gold.

Immersion - Taylor Blackwell

I listen to birds.
They know what theye're doing.
They fly without appartent aim
And talk to people, learning, kn0wing.
They don't get it wrong.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Late Night Lung Power - Taylor Blackwell

I'm done talking,
but he said it's gonna be a footnote in history
regardless of what happens
you brought it up

im assuming you had someone in mind
who me?
i didnt say that

neither did i?
he did?
now that you told me,
you shouldnt include any of them

Hurricane - Chris Hart

A locked dorm
-For our own safety-
Is where we will weather
Whether we want to or not.

The winds of change blow
And whip outside my window,
Reminding me that this year
Will be like no other before it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sores - Chris Hart

The sores on the bottom of my feet,
Burst from long hours of learning
Are good reminders that nothing
Worth doing is easy.

As I bandage a blister,
I remind myself that for many,
These are not marks of learning,
Or signs of satisfaction,
But the daily scars of a life hard lived.

Satisfaction - Chris Hart

the wonderful weight
of an eyelid long overdue
slamming its foot down
declaring sleep

the sink of a head
into a pillow
beckoning sleep
immediate and deep

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Computation - John Donne

For the first twenty years, since yesterday,
I scarce believed thou couldst be gone away;
For forty more, I fed on favors past,
And forty on hopes - that thou wouldst, they might, last.
Tears drowned one hundred, and sighs blew out two;
A thousand, I did neither think, nor do,
Or not divide, all being one thought of you;
Or in a thousand more forgot that too.
Yet call not this long life, but think that I
Am, by being dead, immortal.  Can ghosts die?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Packing - Chris Hart

Every square inch matters
when packing.
Packing in the hopes,
the fears, the clothes,
the aspirations
of another year.

Unpack them
into something brilliant.
And when finished,
pack up your bags once more,
filling them with the
realizations of your dreams.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fifth Grade Autobiography - Rita Dove

I was four in this photograph fishing
with my grandparents at a lake in Michigan.
My brother squats in poison ivy.
His Davy Crockett cap
sits squared on his head so the raccoon tail
flounces down the back of his sailor suit.

My grandfather sits to the far right
in a folding chair,
and I know his left hand is on
the tobacco in his pants pocket
because I used to wrap it for him
every Christmas.  Grandmother's hips
bulge from the brush, she's leaning
into the ice chest, sun through the trees
printing her dress with soft
luminous paws.

I am staring jealously at my brother;
the day before he rode his first horse, alone.
I was strapped in a basket
behind my grandfather.
He smelled of lemons.  He's died -

but I remember his hands.

I mostly like this poem for the very last line.  Hands are fascinating, and every person's hand tells the story of their life.  Looking at my hands, I can see some calluses and toughened skin in the spots where my trombone touches my hand.  It's a trombone mark, and I like it.  My hands are also very large, which is in itself a memorable feature.  And they're always warm, even in winter, and other people use my hands like heaters.  I like my hands, and I like to think that someday, a grandchild of mine might remember them when I'm gone.

My life never overlapped with that of either of my grandfathers, which is another thing about this poem that fascinates me.  I don't know what it's like, really, to have a grandfather.  The stories I've heard about them, both paternal and maternal, make me really wish I had met them.  I can really see where I came from, hearing those stories.  It's my hope that someday, I'll be a grandfather to someone, and can pass on what I know to some child.  I hope he or she remembers my hands.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Merciless Beauty - Geoffrey Chaucer

Your eyen two wol slee me sodeinly;
I may the beautee of hem nat sustene
So woundeth it thurghout my herte kene.

And but your word wol helen hastily
My hertes wounde whyl that it is grene,
Your eyen two wol slee me sodeinly;
I may the beautee of hem nat sustene.

Upon my trouth I sey you feithfully
That ye been of my lyf and deeth the quene,
For with my deeth the trouthe shal be sene:

Your eyen two wol slee me sodeinly;
I may the beautee of hem nat sustene,
So woundeth it thurghout my my herte kene.

So hath your beautee fro your herte chaced
Pitee that me n'availeth nat to pleyne,
For Daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne.

Giltles my deeth thus han ye me purchased.
I sey yow sooth, me nedeth nat to feyne,
So hath your beautee fro your herte chaced
Pitee that me n'availeth nat to pleyne.

Allas, that nature hath in yow compaced
So grete beautee that no man may atteyne
To mercy though he sterve for the peyne,

So hath your beautee fro your herte chaced
Pitee that me n'availeth nat to pleyne,
For Daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne.

Sin I fro Love escaped am so fat,
I never think to been in his prison lene;
Sin I am free, I counte him nat a

He may answere and seye this and that;
I do no fors, I speke right as a I mene.
Sin I fro Love escaped am so fat,
I never think to been in his prison lene.

Love hath my name y-strike out of his sclat,
And he is stirke out of my bookes clene
For evermo; ther is noon other mene.
Sin I fro Love escaped am so fat,
I never think to been in his prison lene;
Sin I am free, I counte him nat a bene.

I enjoy the challenge of reading poetry in Middle English, but more than that, the language itself is really wonderful and lyrical.  For those unfamiliar with it, look up a pronunciation guide online and try to read it aloud.  The vowels are much closer to vowels in continental European romance languages than they are to current English vowels.  It's a really lovely sound, and I wish I was better at it, but still, the attempt is fun.  Give it a shot!  It's rewarding, and the language and content of this poem are certainly lovely enough to merit the attempt.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways - William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
-Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Francis Quarles - On Change of Weather

And were it for thy profit, to obtain
All sunshine?  No vicissitude of rain?
Think'st thou that thy laborious plough requires
Not winter frosts as well as summer fires?
There must be both: sometimes these hearts of ours
Must have the sweet, the seasonable showers
Of tears; sometimes the frost of chill despair
Makes our desired sunshine seem more fair;
Weathers that most oppose the flesh and blood
Are such as help to make our harvest good.
We may not choose, great God: it is thy task;
We know not what to have, nor how to ask.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Cool Web - Robert Graves

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose's cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at least and slowly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

Monday, August 15, 2011

[Wild Nights - Wild Nights!] - Emily Dickinson

Wild Nights - Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the Winds -
To a Heart in port-
Done with the Compass-
Done with the Chart-

Rowing in Eden-
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor- Tonight-
In Thee!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reflections of Ice-Breaking - Ogden Nash

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.

Humorous poetry should always have a place, so please, enjoy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Alone - James Joyce

The moon's greygolden meshes make
All night a veil,
The shorelamps in the sleeping lake
Laburnum tendrils trail.

The sly reeds whisper to the night
A name- her name-
And all my soul is a delight,
A swoon of shame.

Last semester, as part of my application for the Fenwick Scholar position, I set, as proof of concept, a poem of James Joyce's to music, and wrote a brief write-up about how the text and music interacted.  The poem I settled on was XXIII, from Chamber Music.  However, my first attempt was to set this poem, Alone, from Joyce's Pomes Penyeach.  I wrote a lovely melody that I feel captures the piece well, but when it came time to write a piano accompaniment, I was at a complete loss.  I'll revisit this eventually, and compose an adequate setting.  To do so may require my to throw out my previous idea, but that's alright.  I'm sure Joyce tossed out more drafts than any of us can imagine.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Blues - Billy Collins

Much of what is said here
must be said twice,
a reminder that no one
takes an immediate interest in the pain of others.

Nobody will listen, it would seem,
if you simply admit
your baby left you early this morning
she didn't even stop to say good-bye.

But if you sing it again
with the help of the band
which will now lift you to a higher,
more ardent, and beseeching key,

people will not only listen,
they will shift to the sympathetic
edges of their chairs,
moved to such acute anticipation

by that chord and the delay that follows,
they will not be able to sleep
unless you release with one finger
a scream from the throat of your guitar

and turn your head back to the microphone
to let them know
you're a hard-hearted man
but that woman's sure going to make you cry.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Western Wind

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Foilsman - Ralph Goldstein

The Foilsman likes to dance around on swiftly moving feet.
He spends long hours practicing to beat a quick retreat.
He lunges fifty times a day and sweats his youth away,
Until at last he wises up and learns to fence Epee.

I searched out this humorous little poem while talking to a friend about fencing, a sport which I love dearly, and miss very much.  I started fencing at age 7, and stopped during high school, because I became too busy with other things, mainly music.  I still think of fencing as a large part of my personality, even if I am seriously out of practice.

And yes, epee is the superior weapon, despite what saber fencers will tell you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach - Richard Snyder

She turns them over in her slow hands,
as did the sea sending them to her;
broken bits from the mazarine maze,
they are the calmest things on this sand.
They unbroken children splash and shout,
rough as surf, gay as their nesting towels.
But she plays soberly with the sea's
small change and hums back to it its slow vowels.

The title of this poem completely dictates the way in which one reads the poem.  Without the title, and the knowledge that the child is somehow different, the poem might seem like an account of an overly thoughtful child.  To me as a writer, this poem is a reminder to choose my titles carefully, knowing that they dictate the terms on which the reader reads the poem.

Monday, August 8, 2011

They Are Not Long - Ernest Dowson

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam.

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

The Latin at the start of the poem reads, "The shortness of life prevents us from entertaining far-off hopes" and is a quote from Horace, in the Odes (Odes 1.4.15).  I think it's a good preface to a poem which concerns itself with the ephemeral nature of our most extreme emotions.  Highest bliss and deepest hate are short things, in the long run.  Somehow, this is comforting.  It's good to know that the worst of the world will not follow us after death.  And if life is but a misty dream, peppered with days of wine and roses, and days of hate, then it is a good dream, on the whole.  That's what I take away from the poem, at least.

Does the poem strike you as more depressing than reassuring?  Is it dreary to know that all of our emotional life is, in the end, as nothing?  Let me know.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When to Her Lute Corinna Sings - Thomas Campion

When to her lute Corinna sings,
Here voice revives the leaden strings,
And doth in highest notes appear
As any challenged echo clear;
But when she doth of mourning speak,
Ev'n with her sighs the strings do break.

And as her lute doth live or die,
Led by her passion, so must I:
For when of pleasure she doth sing,
My thoughts enjoy a sudden spring;
But if she doth of sorrow speak,
Ev'n from my heart the strings do break.

The marvelous repetition of the last line of each sextet is what really brings this poem together for me.  The song-like rhythm fits with the subject matter of the poem, and the rhymes are even couplets.  The last line being close to the same in each repetition effectively paints the relationship between speaker and listener.  The speaker in the poem is the listener in the situation, whose heart breaks in sync with Corinna', hence the repetition, once from the view of the singer, once from the view of the listener.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Yukon Song - Bill Watterson

My tiger friend has got the sled,
And I have packed a snack.
We're all set for the trip ahead.
We're never coming back!

We're abandoning this life we've led!
So long, Mom and Pop!
We're sick of doing what you've said,
And now it's going to stop!

We're going where it snows all year,
Where life can have real meaning.
A place where we won't have to hear,
"Your room could stand some cleaning."

The Yukon is the place for us!
That's where we want to live.
Up there we'll get to yell and cuss,
And act real primitive.

We'll never have to go to school,
Forced into submission,
By monstrous, crabby teacher who'll
Make us learn addition.

We'll never have to clean  plate,
Of veggie glops and good.
Messily we'll masticate
Using any fork we choose!

The timber wolves will be our friends.
We'll stay up late and howl,
At the moon, till nighttime ends,
Before going on the prowl.

Oh, what a life!  We cannot wait,
To be in that arctic lang,
Where we'll be masters of our fate,
And leaf a life that's grand!

No more of parental rules!
We're heading for some snow!
Good riddance to those grown-up ghouls!
We're leaving!  Yukon ho!

For me, Calvin and Hobbes (from which this poem is excerpted) is the spirit of childhood wrapped in the intellectualism of adulthood.  The way Calvin speaks is that of an adult, but his sentiments all (usually) represent the unbridled enthusiasm and desire of youth.  The desire for autonomy in the above poem is childish, certainly, but it's endearing, and something we've all felt.  Even I still feel it sometimes.  There's something bizarrely re-assuring to me, knowing that I can, at any moment, just get up and go.  There's nothing stopping me from getting in my car and just driving.  Not that I ever would, but somehow, it's always good to know that I'm free (or at least that I have the functional illusion of freedom) to do as I choose at any given moment.

The poem itself is delightful, full of exciting childhood dreams (roaming with the wolves, being free of school and vegetables) and fun imagery.  Who wouldn't want the opportunity to yell and scream for no reason other than that you can?  It's part of being a kid, desiring these things.  It's a lovely little encasement of childhood sentiment, and it comes across as genuine, rather than idealized or cliche and tinted.  Really, to me, this poem is a warming shield, reminding me that I, too, used to be a kid who romped around the backyard on grand adventures.  Particularly fun was chopping down dandelions with sticks, pretending I was a cool swordsman cutting down evil monsters.  I hope I never forget being that heroic little swordsman.  Were I to meet my 7 year old self, I hope I'd be able to play along with him in his imaginative games.  I want to be an adult that my littler self can be proud of, and I think poems like this help to keep me on track.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Triumph of Bullshit - T.S. Eliot

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited
If you consider my merits are small
Etiolated, alembicated,
Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,
Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,
Impotent galamatias
Affected, possibly imitated,
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies, who find my intentions ridiculous
Awkward, insipid and horribly gauche
Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous
Dull as the heart of an unbaked brioche
Floundering versicles freely versiculous
Often attenuate, frequently crass
Attempts at emotion that turn isiculous,
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies who think me unduly vociferous
Amiable cabotin making a noise
That people may cry out "this stuff is too stiff for us"-
Ingenuous child with a box of new toys
Toy lions carnivorous, cannon fumiferous
Engines vaporous- all this will pass;
Quite innocent, -"he only wants to make shiver us."
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

And when thyself with silver foot shall pass
Among the theories scattered on the grass
Take up my good intentions with the rest
And then for Christ's sake stick them up your ass.

Listen to an audio recording
A friend suggested I post this wonderful T.S. Eliot, and I must say, typing it out was an absolute delight.  I should mention that I never copy and paste poems into this blog, but rather, type each one out individually.  It gives me a great feel of the cadence of the poem, and also gives me a lot of time to think about the way I'll present the poem.

In this case, I could spend time pointing out all of the little brilliant turns of phrase employed (particularly the line "Floundering versicles freely versiculous") but I feel that would be counter to the poem's overall intent.  Eliot would probably tell me to stick it up my ass if I did take all that time to try to explain the poem.  So enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Hear America Singing - Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day-at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

I have no patience for Walt Whitman's idealized song of America.  Do you not hear the song of the oppressed?  Of the immigrant crushed beneath the cities of the age?  Of the tens of thousands of slaves still held at the time of the poem's composition?  It's saccharine and trite to suggest that America is a song without dissonance.

I have no trouble imagining America as a song, but to suggest that it is purely "melodious," particularly in 1860, is insulting.  Dissonance enriches music, making it complex, full bodied, and stimulating.  Walt Whitman seems not to hear that oppressed mass of America's voices, crushed by institutionalized racism, or the poverty that plagued many northern cities.  What America do you hear, Walt Whitman?  The wealthy America that can afford to gallivant about in the woods, the America that can play at poet frontiersman.  Your America sings poorly.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Upon Julia's Clothes - Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration, each way free,
O, how that glittering taketh me!

In his unashamed admiration of the beauty of the movement of Julia's silks, Robert Herrick never directly discusses Julia herself.  While odd to think of at first, it seems to me a very clever way of describing Julia's graceful qualities without sounding obvious and overt.  Saying that "Julia is exceedingly graceful" is nowhere near as effective as showing us how her clothes, like liquid, drape and glitter just so.  Clothes alone cannot move in a way so enticing as to inspire poesy.

The soundscape this poem creates is smartly constructed, full of vowel sounds that flow and rhyme (flows, goes, clothes) as silk does.  The sing song meter of the poem also contributes to the sense of motion of the piece, allowing us to, out loud, recreate those brave vibrations of Julia's silk.  Try reading this out loud.  Let the pace at which you read ebb and flow naturally, and you'll feel a slight tug and pull, almost like stirring bath water with your hands.  It's a wonderful poem to read aloud.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Slim Cunning Hands - Walter de le Mare

Slim cunning hands at rest, and cozening eyes-
Under this stone one loved too wildly lies;
How false she was, no granite could declare;
Nor all earth's flowers, how fair.

This is a beautiful testament to how very strange people can be.  A buried lover, false, unfaithful, characterized by "slim cunning hands" is still too wildly loved to be described.  No amount of flowers could ever speak to her fairness and beauty, which is a reflection of how well loved she was by the narrator.  Her virtues and shortcomings are much too great for earthly things (granite, representing the coldness of her betrayals and the finality of her death, flowers representing the joy of her presence, and the promise of renewed life) to speak for.

It's somehow reassuring to know that for all of someone's faults, awful as they can be, that they can still be loved beyond measure.  We're all strange that way, I suppose.  If we weren't, we wouldn't write poems like this.  I'm glad that we do, though, because it allows us to all remember those who have passed out of our lives, whether by death or circumstance, who were deeply flawed and deeply loved.  Then we must consider that we are all on that end of the equation for someone.  Each and every one of us has left someone else's life, remembered equally as a bringer of sorrow and a bringer of joy.  The memory itself, in its totality, deserves celebration, as this poem reminds us.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dulce et Decorum Est - Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marches asleep.  Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

Gas!  Gas!  Quick, boys! -An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.-
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This may be my favorite anti-war poem of all time, because it excruciatingly, agonizingly details the human horrors of trench warfare in World War I.  There is a reason it was called the "Great War" because no one could imagine another war, not after all the horror and the massive human toll of the war.  Sadly mistaken as the world was, this poem's scathing account of the state of warfare in 1917 is as potent now as it was then. 

Owen is unsparing in his detail of the gassed man.  If you're alarmed, or disturbed, or put ill at ease by the description, then Owen has done his job.  I'm sure no amount of text could ever truly convey the horror of that scene, but as an approximation, it works.  Typing it out was very effective, as I could feel the harsh cadence of the lines, and reading it in my head, the harsh, contrasting consonants strengthened the imagery.  "Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs" is particularly effective, as the consonant attacks on "gargling" and "corrupted" add a harshness to the line that somewhat mimics coughing, in this case, coughing blood.  It's touches like these that make it essential to be mindful of the out loud, physical sound aspect of poetry.

The scathing hatred of the old "Lie" in this poem is what brings it all together for me.  Surely we've all heard, in one form or another, that there is some honor in fighting and dying for one's own country.  It is sweet and right to die for your country, we are told.  Owen rejects that, for with this new, modern war, there is no dignity in death.  The old Lie has become bankrupt for his generation, and he rejects it with all the hatred of an exploding bomb.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fair Horicon - H. Marvin

Not placid Lake Leman,
Where I've late been straying;
Not gifted Pliny's
Wild tumultuous lake;
Not magiore round
Its islands playing;
More beauteous visions
In the mind awake
Than thou fair Horicon!
Whose waters bright,
And pure and holy,
Now first greet my sight.

This lovely poem is the essence of seeing Lake George for the first time.  It's a discovery unlike any other, and the lake's natural beauty washes any other anxieties (and any other lakes) from one's mind.  While I cannot speak for them being holy, the waters of Lake George are brighter and purer than any others I've known, and they are, to me, among the most wondrous waters in the world.

It's no surprise then, that there exists an entire book of poems about the lake.  Some are pedantic and cliche, but others, such as this one, capture the wonderful breathless rapture of gazing on the lake in the early morning.  The sun, cresting over the mighty mountains between which the lake lies, strikes the water, and they spring to life,surface aflame with morning's mists.  It's one of my favorite places on the planet, so if you see more posts relating to Lake George in the future, you will know why.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Pike - Theodore Roethke

The river turns,
Leaving a place for the eye to rest,
A furred, a rocky pool,
A bottom of water.

The crabs tilt and eat, leisurely,
And the small fish lie, without shadow, motionless,
Or drift lazily in and out of the weeds.
The bottom-stones shimmer back their irregular striations,
And the half-sunken branch bends away from the gazer's eye.

A scene for the self to abjure!-
And I lean, almost into the water,
My eye always beyond the surface reflection;
I lean, and love these manifold shapes,
Until, out from a dark cove,
From beyond the end of a mossy log,
With one sinuous ripple, then a rush,
A thrashing-up of the whole pool
The pike strikes.

I was fortunate enough to receive a collection of poems about fish as a gift, and this is one fairly well known poem from the collection.  The language of this poem captures the majesty and power of the fish as a creature, which I like.  Many poems focus on the observer, or the fisher, which is perfectly fine, but it is refreshing to enjoy a poem that savors the fish instead of savoring the fishing only.

From my personal experience, the pike is every bit as beautiful and savage as this poem makes it out to be.  Dormant, almost inert, until suddenly, action, and their sharp teeth find their mark.  They thrash, killing the victim with beautiful efficiency.  Absolutely wonderful.

Friday, July 29, 2011

London - William Blake

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Doe - C.K. Williams

Near dusk, near a path, near a brook,
we stopped, I in disquiet and dismay
for the suffering of someone I loved,
the doe in her always incipient alarm.

All that moved was her pivoting ear
the reddening sun was shining through
transformed to a color I'd only seen
in a photo of a new child in a womb.

Nothing else stirred, not a leaf,
not the air, but she startled and bolted
away from me into the crackling brush.

The part of my pain which sometimes
releases me from it fled with her, the rest,
in the rake of the late light, stayed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cat - Chris Hart

The shuddering, vibrating
Warm lump
In my lap is a dear friend.

Rubbing headbutts, paws kneading,
Big cat
Shows me that he likes me.

Or at least that I feed him
And scratch his belly

When he flops over, asking
That I shower him with attention.

I'm okay with that.
Cats are the best cats.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sunburn - Chris Hart

Every movement brings upon me
A scorching sweep of fire.
It's as if I am enthralled
In my own funeral pyre.

Even with mighty SPF white kid,
Though I try, and try, and try,
I'm left with one lesson, one word, today,
Reapply, reapply, reapply.

Six Flags was great fun today, but seriously, my sunblock did nothing and now I'm a lobster and in burning pain.  Welp!  Lessons reminded: reapply.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On the Late Massacre in Piedmont - John Milton

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones.
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piemontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks.  Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven.  Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O'er all th' Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple tyrant, that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

[Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame] - William Shakespeare

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and, till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight:
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof; and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sonnet to Sleep - John Keats

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the Amen ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes:
Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like the mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.

I often find myself returning to Keats, and I think it's due to the lush beauty of his imagery.  I know of no better description of sleep.  Instead of boring myself with details, I'm going to let the poem do most of the speaking. I'd only like to add that the twinge of mortality the dying Keats added to the poem's ending with, "And seal the hushed casket of my soul" makes me shiver every time.  It's lovely and chilling.

As a side note, Keats makes me feel crushingly unaccomplished.  Dead by 25, and forever remembered as one of the greatest poets writing in the English language.  Amazing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I - James Joyce

Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.

There's music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.

All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.

This poem, the first in Joyce's "Chamber Music" collection, is a wonderfully musical poem.  Being the first poem in a collection which, from the very title, is linked to music, its lyricism is unsurprising.  What I find most amazing, however, is the wealth of ways in which that lyricism may be interpreted.

I present for you, the Luciano Berio setting of Joyce's "Chamber Music."

I very much enjoy this setting, for it maintains an element of lyricism and melody while I feel, effectively exploring the somewhat melancholic depiction of love as an introverted, shy musician by a river.  Pale flowers, dark leaves, this imagery, along with the depiction of Love as "bent" and somewhat absorbed in his music, leaves the impression that Joyce was feeling the sting of Love, rather than its balm.  Berio conveys this through the texture and intervalic qualities of his work, though, this being a poetry blog, I will avoid an extensive discussion of musical techniques.  That, and I do not want to do all the work of analysis on this piece at the moment.  I most certainly will be doing an in depth analysis of this poem in the coming months, but that will be for my own project of setting the entirety of "Chamber Music" to music in the form of a song cycle.

So all my blathering aside, enjoy the beautiful music and ponder the text, much as I imagine Joyce's image of Love would.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Pizza the Size of the Sun - Jack Prelutsky

I'm making a pizza the size of the sun,
a pizza that's sure to weigh more than a ton,
a pizza too massive to pick up and toss,
a pizza resplendent with oceans of sauce.

I'm topping my pizza with mountains of cheese,
with acres of peppers, pimentos, and peas,
with mushrooms, tomatoes, and sausage galore,
with every last olive they had at the store.

My pizza is sure to be one of a kind,
my pizza will leave other pizzas behind,
my pizza will be a delectable treat,
that all who love pizza are welcome to eat.

The oven is hot, I believe it will take
a year and a half for my pizza to bake.
I can hardly wait til my pizza is done,
my wonderful pizza the size of the sun.

It's fun to look back on a poem from childhood, particularly when it's as delightfully imaginative as this.  It conveys a sense of playful scope, and is just fun to read out loud.  Really, I only wanted to post this because I'm a pizza delivery guy this summer.  I was trying to think of a poem to write about pizza, but nothing I came up with was any good.  Thankfully, my good friend reminded me that this poem exists!  I owe her one for saving me some considerable shame, as whatever poem I wrote about pizza would no doubt be dreadful.

So always remember the little kid in you, with starry eyed enthusiasm for the wondrous dream of making a pizza pie the size of the sun :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

London, 1802 - William Wordsworth

Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness.  We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful goodliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Wordsworth, here, falls into the trap that every generation fall into at some point: assuming that the present is a diseased state that needs curing from an older, lost, generation.  This is a trend in music, art, and social thought that has been present in every generation, and will be present in every generation.  Musicians once condemned the use of the tritone, and today, it is trite and overused.  Essentially, London is 1802 was not a cesspool of stagnation in the arts and virtues as Wordsworth claims.  The existence of men like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and others is proof enough of that.

I also wonder if Wordsworth allowed his idolization of Milton to interfere with the reality of who Milton was.  Truly, Milton's voice was as the sea, but laying the lowliest duties on his heart?  Folly.  Milton was the most hated man in Europe after he wrote to justify Cromwell's regicide.  Milton himself thought himself on a heavenly duty to write Paradise Lost, in the later years of his life.  He was also a fairly terrible father, and not exactly the most caring husband.  He could be self-absorbed to the point of making his daughters resent him completely.  Claiming that this man would restore virtue to England is an overstatement.  I do not like when hero worship overcomes our faculties of reason, as Wordsworth seems to let himself do.

It's symptomatic of a larger problem still at play today.  People are quick to say that the inventions of the past are to be forever unsurpassed.  Even among things so trivial as pop music, people claim that we're in a period of stagnation, and can't match the greats of yesteryear.  Untrue.  What we remember from the past's musical output is always what is best, not is what most popular.  The most popular music of today is not what will be remembered in 40 years.  People need to stop and remind themselves that every single generation has considered itself on the precipice of moral degradation and creative bankruptcy.  And yet, here we are.  We've yet to ever come close to hitting that point.  People are more polite today than ever before.  There is virtually no chance that you will be spat at during an argument nowadays.  In Wordsworth's day that was a fairly common sight.

I post this poem in hopes that you will consider that things are not so bad.  We are not in need of Milton to return, for he has never left us.  His writings are as enduring today as they ever have been.  As are Wordsworth's.  For all that I criticized the content of the poem, the language itself is inspirational and beautiful.  I just think Wordsworth got caught up in a righteous fervor, as we all may from time to time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beatlemania - Chris Hart

Girl, act naturally.
Every little thing,
Crying, waiting, hoping,
Let it be, little child.

Loving you, real love,
That means a lot.
From me to you, don't ever change.

You like me too much, woman.
It's only love?  It's all too much.
Another girl can't buy me love,
How do you do it?

I call your name.
No reply.  Misery.
Oh! Darling, slow down,
Because chains come together,
Hold me tight.

I lost my little girl.
I need you.
I, me, mine,
I feel...fine.


P.S. I love you

Thinking of Demetri Martin's beer bottle poem, I wanted to try my own "found" poetry.  Rather than a beer bottle, or a book cover, I decided to limit myself to the titles of Beatles songs.  The resulting poem is a bit clunky, but overall, tells a neat little story of a man forsaken by his love.

Unsurprisingly, I noticed that the majority of the titles were love themed, so this forced me into a similar theme for the poem.  I could have tried to break away from that, but it felt wrong to fight the flow of narrative logic in this case.  I was free with punctuation, which allowed me to color some of the titles in ways other than their original context, which I felt was necessary.

My main worry with this poem was that the song titles would feel too obvious, and stick out too much, which is why I tried to avoid terse statements.  The fourth and fifth stanzas are riddled with unfortunately short passages, though I think they still work.  By that late stage in the poem, the tone is set firmly enough that the inherent novelty of song titles being the means of composition do not jump out so much as they might have earlier in the poem.  I also was able to use a strategic rhyme at the end of the poem, as I lauded Seamus Heaney for doing in "Mid-Term Break" and I think it's rather nice.  I couldn't resist tagging "P.S. I love you" on to the end.  I'm pleased that I managed to subvert the phrase "P.S. I Love You" from its original peppy, happy tone to a grueling, agonizing admission.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ropartz Piece in Eb Minor - Chris Hart

When Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever"
I do not think he had a trombone in mind.
That's alright, I forgive him.

A golden glint of movement, sliding
Into sound, pure rose-brass sound,
Baubles of delight, suspended in air.

Forever a joy, liquid gold from my horn
Fills me with the glow of eternal satisfaction,
The satisfaction of knowing

There can be beauty, enveloping
Warming beauty, that, sounding, gloriously sounding,
Fills the air, and for a short while, is reality.

Looking through a book of Keats I had lying nearby, I read the famous first line of his "Endymion" and was struck by the sentiment that beauty is always a joy.  I agree, and tried to think of beautiful things to write about.  It was then that I realized that I was already listening to something that will forever be a joy: a favorite trombone piece of mine, Guy Ropartz's "Piece in Eb Minor for Trombone and Piano."

In the language of the poem, I tried to capture what I feel is the essence of a trombone's romantic, expressive side: warm tone, liquid smoothness, and great emotive and expressive capability.  I wanted the reader to feel a warm glow, like being in a womb of golden liquid sound.  I love the feeling of playing the piece I had in mind, and I tried to convey that love in writing.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

[Coolness-] - Yosa Buson

Coolness -
the sound of the bell
as it leaves the bell.

Even in translation, haiku provide images for contemplation.  Somewhat similar to the Imagist Pound poem I posted a few weeks ago, this poem brings up a single instant in time, unspecific, but somewhat universal.  Thinking in such physical terms about sound is refreshing.  Coolness, one might say.  I don't really have much to say, other than I encourage you to take at least ten minutes to mull this poem over, and examine it in your head.  Ponder it.  Repeat it to yourself.  Coolness.  It's a wonderful thing to contemplate.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On My First Son - Ben Jonson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy:
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O could I lose all father now! for why
Will man lament the state he should envy,
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest if soft peace, and asked, say, "Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry."
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

They Flee From Me - Sir Thomas Wyatt

They flee from me, that sometime did me seek,
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them, gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild, and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be Fortune it hath been otherwise,
Twenty times better, but once in special,
In thin array, after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small.
And therewith all sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"

It was no dream, I lay broad waking.
But all is turned, thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go, of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindely am served,
I fain would know what she hath deserved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mid-Term Break - Seamus Heaney

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying-
He had always taken funerals in his stride-
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room.  Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks.  Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Last night, in my considerations of Robert Frost, and how his poetry does nothing for me, I wondered about the dimensions of his poetry.  Prominent among them was rhyme.  Here, I am reminded that a well placed rhyme can add weight and emotional impact to a poem.

The ending two lines, and the rhyme of clear and year, drives home the absence of the poet's younger sibling very strongly, making it impossible to escape the sad reality of his all too early death.  I love the way the Heaney substitutes details of physical aspects of the event for emotion.  It's a coping mechanism many employ (I know I like to be detail-oriented when I'm distraught) and it's conveyed in a very natural way.

In an earlier post, we saw death turned into a chair.  Here, death is a box, likened to a cot (a resting place), but really, death is in the details, for Heaney.  It's a coping mechanism that provides less long-time solace than turning one's dead into a chair, but is valuable in the short tern nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I must confess, I have no love for Frost's poems.  For whatever reason, their rhymes, imagery, and sentiments often fall flat to me.  I feel as the composers who abandoned tonality in music must have felt when the tonal system, even as expanded as it had become, held no artistic value for them.  I do not know why Frost's poems fall so dead to me.

I cannot deny that the scene is a lovely one, and one that I have myself taken before.  I have stopped on a snowy evening, and stood for a while, with no specific thoughts.  I was merely watching, much as Frost is.  And yet, I cannot enjoy the poetic sentiment he expresses.  It's the strangest feeling for me, as I know the exact feeling the poem describes, but bizarrely, this poem's delivery of it does not engender that feeling in me. It's not that I don't appreciate rhyme, because I think rhyme can be especially effective.

Perhaps it is just an age gap.  I know that in my own poetic attempts, any time I've tried to describe nature, it ends up sounding "nice" in the most damning sense of the word.  It sounds too sterile.  I can't capture the quiet contemplation of a snowy evening with stupid words like "quiet contemplation."  It just doesn't work for me and I don't know why.

What about you, reader?  Does Frost fall flat to you as well?  Or is there something in his easy lyricism and clean cut nature that speaks to you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Sketch - Chris Hart

Partially penciled lines
Outline leisure hours
Spent with friends
And pencils.

Rough edges, repeatedly rubbed
To shade and blur
Obscure half-finished ideas
Heroes and villains
Whose battles will have to wait.

But rather than unfinished
These sketches are
Potential embodied.
It's not too late for them
To be anything they want to be.

I noticed some old sketch books of mine sitting around, and flipped through them.  My favorite part of sketching is that if what I'm drawing isn't holding my attention, I can just leave it a wonderful, weird, wacky, unfinished things.  It's fun to look back through them.

I don't think I quite managed to capture that in the poem.  I wanted to reflect the uncertain lines of a sketch, and its somewhat aloof qualities.  I'm not so sure I did, but I tried.  I also wanted to reflect the bizarre attraction and majesty of an unfinished thing.  I'd write more, but I really want to sketch now.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

All of the Words on a Bottle of Rolling Rock Beer in a Different Order - Demetri Martin

Women, your ability to operate
extra tender
springs from birth.
Good machinery comes
as your contents
cause enjoyment.
Cash, beer, a car ...rock and rolling?
During "it", the general warning:
"We may risk pregnancy
according to old problems."
Your refund from the government
for alcoholic beverages?
Not OK.
Refund this premium, beer surgeon,
because premium beer impairs taste.
A drink - to the tribute of health, to the pale alcoholic.
Rolling, glass tanks of beverages rock this lined mountain.
Should the defects
of consumption
drive me ...
or you?
Latrobe, Latrobe COL, CT, DE, IA, MA, NY, VT, CA, MI

Comedian Demetri Martin took every word on a Rolling Rock bottle of beer, and re-arranged them (much as the title suggests) into this lovely, humorous poem.  While this is clearly a poem intended for comedic value, I think there's an art in its arrangement.

The obvious goal of the poem is to amuse, and it does so in a few ways.  First off, by even existing, this poem has shown that we can "find" poetry in unlikely places, such as a bottle of piss cheap beer.  One does not associate Rolling Rock with high art, much less even with good beer.  So in taking the words (usually completely ignored) on the bottle of a frankly undesirable beer, and rearranging them into something imitating (or, as I think, being) art, Martin has instilled the entire work with a comedic value.

Secondly, the actual words of the poem are humorous.  The nonsense speak of some passages almost imitates a drunken state of speech.  Other statements are coherent, and in being clear (which is at odds with the "Engrish" sound of the rest of the poem) are themselves funny.  "Your refund from the government for alcoholic beverages?  Not OK" is an example of a sentence that makes sense, and out of context, is somewhat puzzling, but in the context of this poem, is a bizarrely hilarious moment of clarity.

Really, I like this poem because it shows that poetic inspiration can come from anywhere.  The off kilter final feel of this poem only contributes to the charm of finding the words on a beer bottle.  It's also a true feat of creativity to compose a poem out of the limited vocabulary one finds on a beer bottle.

On Rediscovering An Old Calendar - Chris Hart

Old, forgotten calendars reveal
New insights about my former self.
Margin notes, furiously scrawled,
Remind me to remember things
Which I strangely did not write down.
That's one thing that hasn't changed,
My brilliant organization skills.

Flipping back in time
Through my old calendars
Is seeing all of my insecurities
Hopes and fears
Laid bare to the neat lines
Of a helpful schedule planner.

If only I could know
What my current calendar
Reflects about me.
All I know now
Is that I have work tomorrow:
It says so on the calendar.

This poem was half composed as a note on my phone, which I scrawled down after flipping through a few old planners I found in my room.  It's strange to look back on the things I thought were important enough to remind myself of.  I saw a lot of nervous energy in those entries, and a lot of un-vented aggression.  It's an interesting retrospective, so I tried to say something about that without disclosing the exact contents of past entries.

The notes on the calendars do not matter so much, for the sake of the poem, as the fact that there are notes on the calendar.  That I felt the need to remind myself of something gives me some insight into my state of mind.  I remember a friend telling me once that looking through her old diaries, if there were spans were she didn't write anything down, she knows that it was a time when she was deluding herself into thinking she didn't have anything to worry about.  The absence of entries showed her that things in that time period weren't peachy keen.  For me, it's somewhat opposite.  If I'm taking the time to write something down, it usually means that I have some sort of strong feeling that I am unsure of how to categorize.  And so, I neatly put it into a schedule.  Problem solved?  Not at all, but looking back, it seems I may have thought that way.

I regret that, in finishing this poem, that I didn't choose to adopt a rhyme scheme.  I find the result somewhat bland, without any interesting aural functions.  I tried to get by on an aloof tone, though I hardly think that cuts it for poetry.  I tried to keep the internal sounds of the line contrasting and fun to speak, though I don't know if I succeeded fully.  Maybe the central idea isn't strong enough to fit a strong formal structure.  Either way, it's an experiment, and success or failure, it can be nothing unless it's shared.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This Is Just To Say (and Parody) - William Carlos Williams and Brian McGackin

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

The above, one of the most famous William Carlos Williams poems, is a classic poem.  That's why, when my friend Andrew shared a brilliant parody of it with me (which is now probably my favorite parody poem of all time) I felt compelled to post the original and the parody.  And now, the parody:

I have finished
the beer
which was in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for Friday

Forgive me
this girl came over
so sweet
so hot

Apart from the great comedic value, the parody is a brilliant re-creation of the original, maintaining a lot of the same lines, even, while totally transforming the tone and meaning.  Absolutely fantastic.  Nothing too deep from me tonight, just an appreciation of some brilliant parody work.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

After a Death - Roo Borson

Seeing that there's no other way,
I turn his absence into a chair.
I can sit in it,
gaze out through the window.
I can do what I do best
and then go out into the world.
And I can return then with my useless love,
to rest,
because the chair is there.

An empty chair is my favorite image of the emotional aftermath of death.  An empty chair is such a devastating physical presence in the way it reminds us all of a loved one lost.  I remember in high school, after a friend's death, the awkward two days of an empty seat, before the seats were re-arranged.  The presence of that empty chair was too much for us all to take.

But as Borson shows us, the chair does not always have to be heartbreaking.  It can be therapeutic as well.  When Borson, tired, full of "useless love" returns, there is a chair upon which to rest.  It shows us that those we love are never truly gone from us.  They're still there to support us when we're tired, and to help us through the day.  Turning a loved one lost into an empty chair is part of the healing process of grief.  A lovely, painful, helpful image.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Having Misidentified A Wild Flower

A thrush, because I'd been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.

Continuing with more short form poetry, Richard Wilbur describes what happened in a moment that he mistakenly misidentified a wild flower.  Like last night's Pound, this poem conveys a specific moment of time and presents it as clearly as possible.  The difference between the two, I think, has to do with scale.  Pound's poem is content to be a somewhat enigmatic, foggy idealization of a moment, whereas Wilbur recognizes a larger world around him.

The thrush's song, as laughter at Wilbur's mistake, reminds Wilbur that this world is not just there for him.  This is not a self-absorbed moment, but one of those rare, wonderful moments that reminds us all of how very big the world is.  The line "not governed by me only" is my favorite, for it really drives home that feeling of being part of something larger.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In a Station of the Metro - Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Given the economy of words used in this poem, Pound creates a striking image of a place and moment: the Metro station.  The use of the word "these" in talking about the faces in the crowd indicates specificity.  The faces you imagine in the metro are not the faces Pound writes about.  He saves a moment he experienced, or imagined, and kept it to himself.  He likened them to "petals on a wet, black bough" giving us some idea, but not a full picture.  And yet, the scene is complete, for we know that a fuller scene exists.  We are simply not privy to it.

In discussing extremely short form poetry, there is little to say, at times.  And I think that is part of the point.  Pound presents a scene that we can picture, but never picture fully.  The beauty of the words themselves is enough to let us know that these little moments of life are meaningful, and carry weight beyond their apparent brevity.  So too does the poem.  Short form poetry, at its best, presents poems that are in structure and form their function.  There is no divide between the two, ideally, and that is presented perfectly here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Marks - Linda Pastan

My husband gives me an A
for last night's supper,
an incomplete for my ironing,
a B plus in bed.
My son says I am average,
an average mother, but if
I put my mind to it
I could improve.
My daughter believes
in Pass/Fail and tells me
I pass.  Wait 'til they learn
I'm dropping out.

This poem strikes me in two different senses:  Immediately, the poem is humorous and ironic.  The poet adopts the grading metaphor in talking about how she is sick and tired of being evaluated at all turns.  The idea is humorous, and it's a witty way to turn a situation around.  However, the last two lines strike me as being almost dark.  If life is graded, dropping out is suicide.

Could this poem be read as a suicide note?  Perhaps a journal entry of the disturbed?  Its tone seems almost too playful for that, but perhaps that last line is meant to be a turning point in tone.  I've certainly read the poem as quippy and ironic, but reading it as suicidal is also valid, I feel.

How do you feel about the portrayal of easy judgments like those portrayed in the poem?  Some may take something like, "A plus on that dinner, honey" as a compliment.  Is it degrading to be judged by others?  And can the poem be read as suicidal?  Let me know.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The New Colossus - Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A might woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips.  "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

For the 4th of July, I thought the poem gracing the inside of our very own Statue of Liberty appropriate.  It's the rejection of the old guard, the stuffy, exclusive, pompous continent from which we sought to break mentally.  And for a long time, we governed by this poem, more or less.  We were the refuge of the weary and those yearning to be free.

It's time to make good on those promises again, America.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer - John Keats

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific - and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Continuing last night's exploration of poetry that looks at other art, we have Keats, talking about the experience he had upon first opening George Chapman's translation of the Iliad.  The structure of the poem is two-fold:  The beginning lines set up a Homeric parallel between Keats and Odysseus, and the ending of the poem recreates the experience by comparing it to an experience of discovery.

In presenting himself as a lost wanderer, who experiences the joys of the world upon opening Chapman's translation, Keats is marking the journey between lost and found.  Once that transition happens, Keats' language suddenly explodes into the realm of the "loud and bold."  He compares the discovery to that of a new planet, which is a momentous and incredible thing to grasp.

The effect of all these comparisons is to express in poetry the wonder of discovering poetry that was previously inaccessible.  Poetry seems to be the right method of expressing this, as it is a joyful form, filled with discovery on the part of the reader.  Really, for me, this is just a breathtaking poem of revelatory joy.  It's like standing at the precipice of a mountain and surveying the incredible horizon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Museum Piece - Richard Wilbur

The good gray guardians of art
Patrol the halls on spongy shoes,
Impartially protective, though
Perhaps suspicious of Toulouse.

Here dozes one against the wall,
Disposed upon a funeral chair.
A Degas dancer pirouettes
Upon the parting of his hair.

See how she spins!  The grace is there,
But strain as well is plain to see.
Degas loved the two together.
Beauty joined to energy.

Edgar Degas purchased once
A fine El Greco, which he kept
Against the wall beside his bed
To hang his pants on while he slept.

The multiple layers of casual disregard for art present in this poem are, to me, its most interesting feature.  In the poem's present tense, we have the museum security guards, who are impartial to the treasures they guard. One dozes up against a chair, presumably also an art piece.  Right above his head spins a famous Degas painting.  Initial outrage at the guard's negligence and failure to appreciate the art right above his head is then superseded by the story about how Degas hung his pants on an El Greco painting.  What Wilbur presents is a cycle of people disregarding art that may have serious expressive power.  As Wilbur notes, the Degas under which the guard sleeps is full of energy, passion, and beauty.  But does that concern the guard?  Not so much.  However, this is nothing new, as Wilbur shows with the Degas anecdote.

What does this mean for those of us in the present?  Well, it makes me consider my desk, and how about it are stacked piles of books, many of them volumes of poetry.  Within each book on my desk are passages that could bring a heart of stone to tears, and yet, here they are, stacked haphazardly.  I, too, am no different than the guard, and in turn, Degas.  It's just how we are, it seems.  We can, on the one hand, appreciate beauty, and on the other, completely ignore it to suit our own needs.  Peculiar.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

[The Brain -is wider than the Sky-] - Emily Dickinson

The Brain - is wider than the Sky-
For - put them side by side-
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You- beside-

The Brain is deeper than the sea-
For - hold them - Blue to Blue -
The one the other will absorb -
As Sponges - Buckets - do -

The Brain is just the weight of God -
For - Heft them - Pound for Pound -
And they will differ - if they do -
As Syllable from Sound-

This poem makes a number of interesting comparisons, which are quite intelligible, if unusual.  The image of the brain compared to the sky, and how easily the brain can contain something such as the sky (or at least the concept of it) and all within the world.  It's a great mental comparison as well, as the image forces one to imagine the finite space of a brain versus the seemingly infinite space of the sky.  In doing that, you've essentially proven the truth of that first comparison.  You can fathom the seemingly unfathomable on a level that is understandable, even if without experience.

Taking the concept of something understandable yet unfathomable, Dickinson applies that same thought to God.  Her assertion is that your the sky is to your brain as your brain is to God.  That is to say, you can contain the infinite sky in your head, just as easily as God contains all of infinity in Him.  The simile, "As Syllable from Sound" is a great example.  Looking at a syllable, one knows how it is pronounced.  But the sound itself cannot be contained wholly within the syllable.  They are so closely related, but the difference is in tangibility.  We can contain and bind a syllable, but not a Sound.  So too, Dickinson asserts, is God.  It's a lovely and thought provoking image, and applies to human life in general, whether one believes in God or not.

Does the comparison speak to you in any way, or is Dickinson just repeating what people have always intuitively understood?  Let me know.

As an added bonus, if you sing nearly any Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of the "Gilligan's Island" theme song, it works perfectly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Song - John Donne

Go, and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me, where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou beest born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee;
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear
No where
Lives a woman, true, and fair.

If thou find'st one, let me know;
Such a pilgrimage were sweet.
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet:
Though she were true when you met her,
And last til you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

Donne's scathing account of women's loyalty (or shocking lack thereof) is interesting to me because of its title and structure.  Donne entitles his poem, "Song" and this begs a number of questions:  In what formal and structural aspects is this a song?  Why sing such an angry account of infidelity?  Who is Donne speaking to?

In setting his poem as a "song" Donne creates an expectation in the reader.  Generally, readers expect poetry as song to be melodious, and beautiful.  This, however, is a harsh poem, full of irregularly cadenced lines.  This is not counter intuitive to the idea of song in Donne's time.  Madrigals, a through-sung form meant to express in music the meaning of a text, were popular and plentiful.  This text would work very well as a through-sung (nothing repeated) work, and there are many musical features that could highlight the irregular cadence of the poem.  It would heighten the sense of betrayal and uncertainty that permeates the text.  Donne names his poem "Song" to play with our expectations, and then bring us around to the realization that songs, like love, are not always beautiful.

Donne seems to be responding to a friend, who is, perhaps telling him of a love he found, who is fair, and true.  Donne, seemingly deeply resentful towards women (some seriously bad experiences, I imagine) breaks down, point by point, how women fit none of the traditional ideals of values ascribed to them.  While I can't agree with Donne's outlook on women and fidelity, I do appreciate the strength of emotion that comes through in this poem.  His bitter, bitter angry flows, in a way (seemingly) backed by reason and experience.  While it's an unreasonable view, Donne is, perhaps, speaking out of experience, and that pain he has felt is clearly captured.  Even if his friend found a true woman, and wrote Donne about it, Donne would not go, for he is sure that she would have been untrue by the time Donne arrived.  What harsh words!

By placing his anger in the form of a "song" Donne plays with our expectations and reverses our idea of what a "love song" is and how we view women.  While I don't agree with Donne's appraisal of women (and I hope you don't either!) his setting of the text as "song" is very thought provoking.  What do you think?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flock - Billy Collins

It has been calculated the each copy of the Gutenberg Bible...required the skins of 300 sheep.
-from an article on printing

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed,

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

For some reason, I find this poem particularly striking, mostly for the dark humor of the ending sentiment.  To a sheep, the shepherd must seem a lordly figure, guiding them through their entire lives.  It's rather funny, though in a somewhat dark way, when you consider the outcome for the sheep.

That's not to say that I pity the sheep.  They are sheep, their meat was probably well used, and their skins formed the vellum used to print one of the most important books of all time.  I don't think Collins takes away from the extraordinary achievement that is the Gutenberg Bible with this poem.  It would certainly be somewhat inappropriate for him to do so, as his livelihood is made in the printing of his works.  From the poem's very inception, we are reminded of the importance of printing, as Collins cites an article he read (presumably in print, about the history of print).  No, I do not think Collins intends us to feel for the sheep in the poem.  Rather, I think he wants to call our attention to the importance that they played in the printing.  He's emphasizing here, as he does in many of his poems, the unimportant aspects of daily life that are often overlooked.  In printing, we rarely think of the process, just the outcome.  Collins puts a unique twist on something we now regard as mundane, if we regard it at all.  Obviously, the process has changed over the years, but a little history now and then is always a good thing.

Do you agree that Collins did not mean us to pity the sheep?  Do you feel for those sheep whose hides were transformed into the medium for printing?  Let me know.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Parodic Poems - Chris Hart

This post requires a bit of a preface.  When I'm writing a paper, and it's late into the night on the last day, whether I be finishing the last few pages, or editing, or revising, I usually need to find a way to distract myself.  When I start feeling burnt out, I like to take a break, and one way I do that is to write a parodic poem, usually on the subject of my paper.  I apologize if these hold little humor value for you, dear reader.  They require either a knowledge of the original poem, or of the particular class I was in, as both of the following examples reference professors at my school.  Either way, I hope you find some enjoyment in them!  Following are two examples of my procrastination poetry:

A Parody on Milton's Sonnet XIX:
When I consider how my time is spent,
Ere half my days, in this lib'ry big, bright,
And that one paper which is death to write
Lodged with me useless, though my mind more bent
To serve therewith Prof. Morse, and to present
My true paper, lest he returning chide,
"Doth I exact day-labor, night denied?"
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent
That murmur soon replies: "Morse doth need not
Your insufficient paper.  He who best
Revise well his writ, serve him best.  His might
Is Kingly; students at his bidding jot
And work all night and day without rest;
They also serve who only sit and write."

Writing a parody on Milton's Sonnet XIX, which I believe I shared in an earlier post, was fun, because I was forced to work within the rhyming and metrical structure of a sonnet, while still working to deliver a humorous message about how I was up all night working on a paper for my professor, Prof. Morse.  I showed him this poem, and he thought it was hilarious.  You, reader, may find it somewhat less so, since Milton is not your career, and you aren't directly referenced as having kingly might.  Either way, the poem stands on its own as a functional, if uninteresting sonnet.  I kept much of Milton's language intact, sometimes even whole lines, because I was able to work them into a coherent parodic narrative.

Parodic Prologue to the Canterbury Tales:
Wan hem clepe Kee with his breo sote
We scolers of bokes hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every-wight in swich trauail,
Of which vertu engendred is the weyle;
Whan Kee eek with his stronge warke
Inspired hath in every scoler irke
And frustir, al-wat the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
We slepen nan the night, with open ye-
So priketh hem James in our corages-
Than longen we to gooon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes,
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Worceste to ouren endes we wende,
A holy blisful reste for to seke,
That wille us holpen, encombred seke.

Writing a parody of the introduction to the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales presented three unique challenges:
1)  The General Prologue's introduction is perhaps the most well known 18 line chunk of poetry in the English language.  So many people are familiar with it, even in its Middle English format, and in translation, that a parody of it must keep a general feeling of the original intact, so that its source may be clearly understood.  Basically, writing a parody on something so well known is intimidating.

2)  I had to maintain the prose of the original while somehow still making it about how our professor, Prof. James Kee, had assigned us a very challenging paper (on, if you so chose, some facet of the Canterbury Tales.  As an aside, my paper was about how the structure of the Canterbury Tales itself, and the structure of some of the tales, namely the Nun's Priest's tale, represented Chaucer as an ironic narrator, who realizes through his poetic career, moving from dream visionary poetry to the Tales, that self-emptying love is the highest ideal of Christian love, and he then proceeded to represent it in literature, etc, etc this is way too long a paranthetical aside) and how we all spent many nights finishing it.  I worked that idea into how we, the students, would like to go on pilgrimage, from Worcester (where we all go to school) to our own "ends," meaning, our homes.

3)  I chose to write it in Middle English, rather than in Modern English.  Middle English is a beautiful language, though it was one that at this point, I only had experience reading.  What reading experience I had was also fairly limited.  It's a challenging language, and it's hard to believe, at times, that it is still English.  I pulled up several reference guides online, and in print, to enable me to write this 18 line parody.  In the end, what was supposed to be a small distraction from my paper ended up taking me nearly two hours, though I would say the end product is worth it.

Now, with both of these parodies as a whole, the only question they really raise is "Why do I spend my time doing this when I should be writing a paper?"  The answer is pretty simple, and pretty silly.  Because I enjoy it!  I know that it's not a terribly productive or smart way to spend time that should be spent in other academic pursuits, but I find it fairly fulfilling, and enjoyable.  As a procrastination technique, it usually revs my brain back up into high gear, so when I finish these poems of procrastination, I'm fired up and ready to continue my real work!  And I get to share these poems with friends who are going through similar situations, and that's fun for me.

What are your procrastination techniques?  Anyone else write poetry?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ode on a Grecian Urn Summarized - Desmond Skirrow

Gods chase.
Round vase.
What say?
What play?
Don't know.
Nice, though.

Following last night's satirical poem, I remembered this, a humorous (but provocative) summary of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn."  In summarizing the most basic elements of the poem (the gods chasing around the round vase), Skirrow then poses questions about the poem itself.  What is Keats saying with his poetic examination of a (likely fictional or idealized) Grecian urn?  What's at play, in the poem itself, or on the vase?  Skirrow comes to the conclusion that he does not know, but still, rather enjoys the poem.

This is the experience many people have with poetry.  It's incomprehensible, and often leaves the reader with very little to say about the poem.  The reader may comment that "it was nice" or that "I liked it" but rarely do we find the words to express that.  Skirrow highlights that incomprehensible nature of poetry in simple language, indicating that Skirrow believes that poetry is not inaccessible, but rather, can express deep ideas and thoughts in a simple and easily accessible manner.  The humor of the poem only bolsters that notion, making the poem pointed and memorable.

Do poems often seem inaccessible to you?  Do you often label them as "nice" and walk away?  Do you think Skirrow is reflecting a larger cultural distance from poems, or is he merely being funny?  Let me know!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Quaere - George Farewell

Whether at doomsday (tell, ye reverend wise)
My friend Priapus with myself shall rise?

This extremely short poem is a serious question hiding behind a humorous quip.  The obvious meaning is, "Tell me, preacher, at the end, will I get a rise (erection) as I rise (to the afterlife)?"  Funny as this is (and based in fact of mortuary erection), it is, I think, a defense mechanism that we all employ when facing an uncomfortable subject, in this case, the end of times.

How many times do you catch yourself laughing at something not funny, or laughing in the face of fear, solely to not be afraid?  How often do we all dodge uncomfortable questions with humor?  That is, in effect, what this poem is doing.  It's taking the question of, "What will the end of times be like?" and subverting it, asking "Will I get a boner when I die?" instead.  It's funny, but belies a deeper unease with one's place in the world.  This is, I think, intentional, evidenced by the almost mocking tone the poet takes (ye reverend wise, being an example).  In the end, there's really not that much to say about this poem.  It's a great and funny example of a common defense mechanism that we all share.  I just thought the poem humorous enough to share.

Friday, June 24, 2011

We Real Cool - Gwendolyn Brooks


We real cool.  We
Left school.  We

Lurk late.  We
Strike straight.  We

Sing sin.  We
Thin gin.  We

Jazz June.  We
Die soon.

The most obvious feature of this poem is how none distinctly un-cool the poet thinks the subjects of the poem are.  The pool players in the poem are, presumably, free loading men, dropouts, contributing nothing to the world but a few occasional dollars to the local liquor store.  They think themselves the height of cool, drinking, playing pool, when in fact, they are portrayed very unfavorable in the poem.  This is all obvious and clear, and to me, is not the most interesting part of the poem.

For me, the interesting rhythmic patterns of the poem are the most noteworthy feature.  Their cadence mimics phrases of an improvised jazz solo.  The short bursts are like little melodivitic ideas.  Combining them into two line stanzas creates a small "idea" that mimics motives jazz artists weave into their solos.  They all contribute to a coherent whole, which, like a jazz solo, carries some sort of artistic expression, and meaning.  For me, this poem is useless unless read aloud.

So do yourself a favor:  read this poem out loud, dramatically.  We reeeaaalll cool.  We left school.  Ham it up.  Play with it.  This is jazzy, and needs speak.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

To Autumn - John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lined by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady they laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with a patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring?  Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, bourne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Last night's Tennyson put me in a Romantic mood, so I fished up one of the most touching Keats poems I know.  Written within a year of Keats' death, the poem is characterized by death and acceptance, with hints of the beauty of it all interspersed throughout.

In the first stanza, Keats describes autumn as a season of "mellow fruitfulness."  While we tend to associate autumn as a time of ending, Keats does well to remind us of harvest time, which is perhaps the most fruitful time of the year.  The trees are bent with apples.  The imagery throughout is lush, and inviting.  Autumn is a giving season, blessed by bounty.  Why, then, does Keats move away from pastoral imagery and into images of neglect and death?

"Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find/Thee sitting careless on a granary floor," are the third and fourth lines of the second stanza, characterizing the stanza.  Autumn as found, careless, among the scraps of harvest time.  It's a stark contrast to the bounty imagery of the first stanza.  Fall is half dead, rather than a mellow fruitfulness.  This contrast brings to mind thoughts of Keats' own impending mortality, of which he was very much aware.  Moving into the third stanza, Keats reintroduces the beauty of the season, suggesting that there is something beautiful about endings.

As Keats says, think not of the songs of Spring, for Autumn has its music, too.  Even though it be a "wailful choir" it is still music, and still beautiful.  The poems ends on images of natural songs, and overall, on I feel, an optimistic note.  Singing into the twilight of the season, Keats is realizing that his own mortality doesn't need to be an ugly thing.  Even if it is painful, and will be greeted by "wailful choir" at least he leaves this lovely legacy behind him.

Do you feel the same vague optimism that I do at the end of the third stanza?  Is there beauty in something fading away quietly?  Or has Keats subverted the autumnal harvest into his own funeral dirge?  Does he ultimately accept his untimely death?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ulysses - Lord Alfred Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crag,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the less.  All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on share, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea.  I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known-cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all-
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy,
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life!  Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas.  My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads0 you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are-
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ulysses' final lines are among the most inspirational lines of poetry I've encountered.  While I know a few people who cannot stand the notions of Romanticism in poetry, the plain language of men past their prime still seeking to seek more is very powerful, I think.  The notion that the journey is never over, and that there is nobility in pushing beyond one's time and means is breathtaking.  The last line in particular, "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." always excites me, making me want to seek out my own fortune.  While I'm not about to sail off into the sunset, the message applies to any life.

I'm no classicist, so I can't properly speak about Tennyson's appropriation of the Ulysses figure for his poem, though it still strikes me as somewhat problematic.  While the Homeric hero is a symbol of exploration, he is not a good life model.  The character of the Homeric hero and the Ulysses in the poem are very different.  I do not think that this matters so much in the overall scheme of the poem, however, and think that Tennyson titled the poem Ulysses to give it an air of grand adventure, of facing the unknown, and of approaching the mythic.

I'm a sucker for inspirational Romantic poetry.  What about you?  Are you moved to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield?  Or do you gag at the prospect of the elderly king seeking to live new glory days?  Let me know.