Thursday, April 30, 2015

Love (III) - George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I, the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

No matter how undeserving one feels, Love is present for us nonetheless.  That's the main crux of this poem, a dialogue between the unworthy feeling narrator and Love.  Herbert's narrator feels the "dust and sin" that is the human condition.  Regardless, Love ameliorates these fears, inviting the narrator in for all of his faults and loving him all the same.  It has a divine character, this Love, reinforced by the capitalization of the L throughout.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

[It's no use / Mother dear] - Sappho

translated by Mary Barnard

It's no use

Mother dear, I
can't finish my
          You may
blame Aphordite

soft as she is

she has almost
killed me with
love for that boy

A simple dialogue between a girl and her mother.  The girl has to set her weaving aside, unfinished, because love burns too strongly within her.  She's unable to keep her mind upon any one task, for she is almost "killed" with love.  The way it's put is elegant in its simplicity and directness.  Sappho has understandably become a legendary figure, and sometimes the facts of her life are mixed with legend.  I'd encourage you to take in a brief biography here to get some better background than what I can provide.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

[Deeply repentant of my sinful ways] - Gaspara Stampa

translated by Lorna De Lucchi

Deeply repentant of my sinful ways
And of my trivial, manifold desires,
Of squandering, alas, these few brief days
Of fugitive life in tending love's vain fires,
To Thee, Lord, Who dost move hard hearts again,
And render warmth unto the frozen snow,
And lighten every bitter load of pain
For those who with Thy sacred ardours glow,
   To Thee I turn, O stretch forth Thy right hand
And from this whirlpool rescue me, for I
Without Thine aid could never reach the land;
O willingly for us didst suffer loss,
And to redeem mankind hung on the Cross,
O gentle Saviour, leave me not to die.

Today, Gaspara Stampa is considered one of the greatest Renaissance poets, and in her own time, was often compared to Sappho for the lyrical nature of her work.  She died early, a mere 31, but left behind a large volume of poetry for us to enjoy and appreciate today.

This poem is a prayer more than anything.  Asking for forgiveness and mercy, Stampa recognizes herself as inadequate to rescue herself, knowing that power can only rest in a merciful God, who suffered on our behalf.  Obviously, this is a very religious poem, but I feel like its humility can be a lesson to us all regardless of religious beliefs.  Recognizing our own faults and admitting we need help is incredibly difficult to do.  I think praise is also due to the translator, who has done a wonderful job maintaining both rhyme and meter.

Monday, April 27, 2015

From a Railway Carriage - Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with a man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

Ever since their introduction, trains, and the unique rhythms and perspectives they provide have captivated poets.  Everything you can see out of a train window is a small scene, a small slice.  Those scenes fuel our imaginations, as this poem shows.  Every line we see here is a quick account of something seen for just a second.  The line that best sums it up is the final one: "Each a glimpse and gone for ever!"

I wrote a similar poem when I took a bus from Leeds to London, and was captivated by the countryside.  Though it didn't have the train's rhythm, I tried to replicate the way the countryside seems to blur together as you pass it at motorway speeds.  I hope it was effective! 

Friday, April 24, 2015

[Exultation is the Going] - Emily Dickinson

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea, -
Past the houses - past the headlands,
Into deep eternity -

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

The thrill of travel away from home, into unknown territory, is captured perfectly in this short poem by Emily Dickinson.  It's going sailing for the first time, this poem.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

O What Is That Sound - W. H. Auden

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
   Down in the valley drumming, drumming?
Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
   The soldiers coming.

O what is the light I see flashing so clear
   Over the distance brightly, brightly?
Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
   As they step lightly.

O what are they doing with all that gear,
   What are they doing this morning, morning?
Only their usual manoeuvres, dear,
   Or perhaps a warning.

O why have they left the road down there,
   Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
Perhaps a change in their orders, dear,
   Why are you kneeling?

O haven't they stopped for the doctor's care,
   Haven't they reined their horses, horses?
Why, they are none of them wounded, dear,
   None of these forces.

O is it the parson they want, with white hair,
   Is it the parson, is it, is it?
No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
   Without a visit.

O it must be the farmer that lives so near.
   It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
They have passed the farmyard already, dear,
   And now they are running.

O where are you going? Stay with me here!
   Were the vows you swore deceiving, deceiving?
No, I promised to love you, dear,
   But I must be leaving.

O it's broken the lock and splintered the door,
   O it's the game where they're turning, turning,
Their boots are heavy on the floor
   And their eyes are burning.

Written in ballad form, this Auden poem catches us readers up in its moment, as soldiers come for one or both of the narrators.  Presumably a husband and wife (or wife and husband, as I read it, respectively) are listening to the sounds of soldiers making their way into their town.  Throughout the poem, they try to rationalize their fear, to explain these movements and noises.  There is a bit of a spat between the two narrators, as one seeks to flee rather than support the other, despite their marriage vows.  Fear for self overrode those vows, it seems. 

The real strength of this poem is in its driving rhythm.  The ballad format of four strong beats per line is familiar to all, but the subject matter here is not the stuff of typical ballads.  Instead, we get a real-time narrative which ends with splintering wood and hateful eyed soldiers.  Even though we, the readers, hopefully will never be caught in a situation like this, we can relate to the way the narrator seeks to rationalize and explain all of the frightening things occurring, not realizing their inevitable outcome.  The poem is not hard to understand, really.  It's just remarkable that we can become caught up in the drama of it, as if it was unfolding before us in all its terrible, all too believable reality.  Even though soldiers today are unlikely to come charging up the lane on horseback, we see news clips from all over the world of this kind of fearful tragedy playing out in more modern terms.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sonnet 35: No More Be Grieved At That Which Thou Hast Done - William Shakespeare

No more be grieved at what thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authórizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense -
Thy adverse party is thy advocate -
And 'gainst myself in a lawful plea commence.
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
   That I an áccessory needs must be
   To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

Considering the breadth of topics and poets that this blog has covered, it is somewhat surprising that I've only engaged with Shakespeare three times, one of which did not even provide any sort of analysis.  Shakespeare is one of the great sonnet writers in the English language, and it's not hard to understand why.  Even so long after their writing, they can speak to our hearts directly, becoming immediately modern and relevant.  I firmly believe that his writings will never go to the wayside.

The forgiveness of love, even when it is self-damaging, is the central theme and source of the narrator's pain in this sonnet.  The narrator's love, be it romantic or otherwise, clearly has some flaws.  That's okay.  The first four lines establish that all things, even beautiful things, have their (often painful) flaws.  Roses have thorns, fountains get muddy, the sun and moon are hidden from sight, flowers get dead spots.  The narrator admits as much of himself.  "All men make faults, and even I in this."

In this refers to the narrator's habit of enabling his love's faults.  "Authorizing thy tresspass" is the way he puts it.  He corrupts his love, and encourages bad behavior, instead of "salving" (healing).  He over-excuses the faults of the other.  Even when he is the one harmed, he advocates for his love.  "For to the adverse party is thy advocate."  The narrator's "civil war" is the way he enables this behavior from his love, gets hurt, and does it again regardless out of love.  He is the accessory to that which "sourly robs from me."  

To act out of love in such a self-destructive way, knowing full well that you are causing your own woes, but being unable to do otherwise.  That's as relevant today as it has ever been.  So often people are attracted to those who are bad for them, and they know it, but they persist anyways.  This poem will never stop being relevant, and this internal struggle will always play out.  It's somehow comforting to know that people who lived in such an almost unimaginably different past than us had such similar struggles in their daily lives.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

For Sleep, Or Death - Ruth Pitter

Cure me with quietness,
Bless me with peace;
Comfort my heaviness,
Stay me with ease.
Stillness in solitude
Send down like dew;
Mine armour of fortitude
Piece and make new:
That when I rise again
I may shine bright
As the sky after rain,
Day after night.

Ruth Pitter was a 20th century British poet, and contrary to the modernist movement in poetry at the time, her poems were largely traditional and comprehensible.  Fitting for the weeks after Easter, this poem is as much about sleeping and waking as it is about death and resurrection.  The sleep (death) must come so "that when I rise again, I may shine bright."  This poem could be like a nightly prayer, said daily, or a deathbed sigh.  It works in both ways, and it does so without being at all obtuse or opaque.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Sea-Prayer - William Stanley Braithwaite

Lord of wind and water
Where the ships go down
Reaching the sunrise,
Lifting like a crown,

Out of the deep-hidden
Wells of night and day -
Mind the great sea-farers
On the open way.

When the last lights darken
On the far coastline,
Wave and port and peril
Sea-Lord - all are thine.

As the title says, this is a simple prayer to the Lord of the seas, asking humbly for the protection of those who sail its lanes.  The poem is full of language that exalts the "Sea-Lord," as if recognizing his power and greatness while still begging his mercy and protection.  The sunrise is like a crown on his kingdom of all seas.  The narrators asks for him to "mind the great sea-farers on the open way."  Mind them.  Protect them.  There's a deep respect and reverence in the simple rhythm of the poem, and it exudes humility.

I like to imagine this poem being said by the loved one of a sailor at night, looking out over the frightening ocean.  Prayers said into the night, over a domain of "wave and port and peril."  Hope and humility are present in equal measure, and one can't help but hope that the Sea-Lord listened to this prayer.

Friday, April 17, 2015

I Would Live In Your Love - Sara Teasdale

I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads.

Before I begin with this poem, I need to make a note about the line breaks.  Copying this down from the text source I have on hand, the poem is broken into 8 lines.  However, it is a slim volume from which I copied this poem, so I think those breaks were inserted for the purpose of readability.  Checking online sources, I saw two different line break schemes, one seemingly done at random, and the above, which presents the poem as four lines.  I've chosen the one you see because I feel it preserves the rhythm of the poem best.

This short love poem by Sara Teasdale is about the desire to be lost in a love greater than yourself.  Love here is in a simile, as being like the sea-grasses that live in the sea.  Love is engulfing, huge, an essential component of life.  Teasdale's narrator wants to be in perfect harmony with her love; "I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads."  This is a common theme in poetry, that of a self-emptying love, and the ocean comparisons here make it clear just how synchronous Teasdale's narrator wants to be with her love.  Joined forever through ups and downs, "borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes."  Lovely imagery, and one can't help but feel the ebb and flow of the ocean in the poem's rhythm.

I was recently given a lovely gift of a volume of poetry, Annie Finch's "Measure for Measure," which organizes poems by their meter.  While I generally refrain from explaining in technical detail the rhythm of poems, I'm going to make an exception here.  The rhythm in this poem is what's called "anapestic."  Anapestic poetry is stressed, following a patter of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable.  Graphically, the shorthand for this is uu/.  The "u" is the unstrssed, the "/" the stressed.  The first line follows this almost exactly.  "I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea."  The only part of the line that isn't strictly anapestic is the iamb (two syllable foot) "grasses live" which is there to provide interest and contrast.  I know this sort of analysis can be boring, but I felt this explanation helps justify my choice of line break in the text of the poem itself.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Very Short Song - Dorothy Parker

Once, when I was young and true,
     Someone left me sad -
Broke my brittle heart in two;
     And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
     Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
     And that, I think, is worse.

A very short song indeed.  Dorothy Parker today is best known for her wit and her blacklisting from Hollywood.  However, what we're here to talk about today is the very short song she penned, which is direct and poignant without being trite or sentimental.

Written as if talking to a child, the poem explains without condescending what heartbreak is.  Even though Parker calls love a curse on unlucky folk, I can't read too much bitterness into the line.  Sadness and regret are present, for sure, but they're presented in a friendly way.  The simple rhythm and rhyme scheme, besides tying in with the title, help soften the blow of breaking someone else's heart.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Reign - Dean Young

Thank you whoever tuned the radio
to rain, thank you who spilled
the strong-willed wine for not
being me so I'm not to blame. I'm glad

I'm not that broken tree although
it looks sublime. And glad I'm not
taking a test and running out of time.
What's a tetrahedron anyway? What's

the sublime, 3,483 divided by 9,
the tenth amendment, the ferryman's name
on the River Styx? We're all missing
more and more tricks, losing our grips,

guilty of crimes we didn't commit.
The horse rears and races then moves no more,
the sports coupe grinds to a stop, beginning
a new life as rot, beaten to shit. Whitman

grass stain, consciousness swamp gas,
the bones and brain, protoplasm and liver,
ground down like stones in a river. Or does
the heart's cinder wash up as delta froth

out of which hops frog spawn, dog song,
the next rhyming grind, next kid literati?
Maybe the world's just a bubble, all
philosophy ants in a muddle,

an engine inside an elk's skull on a pole.
Maybe an angel's long overdue and we're
all in trouble. Meanwhile thanks whoever
for the dial turned to green downpour, thanks

for feathery conniptions at the seashore
and moth-minded, match-flash breath.
Thank you for whatever's left.

This poem by contemporary poet Dean Young has shades or absurdism and surrealism all over it, evidenced best in the wild imagery which fluctuates wildly in scale.  The line that best characterizes this starts halfway through the 6th stanza.  "Maybe all the world's just a bubble, all philosophy ants in a muddle"  So to start, we're in a bubble, our big ideas like ants all mixed up.  He continues, "an engine inside an elk's skull on a pole."  All through the poem, these large abstract ideas are mashed up in disjointed imagery, flowing along from consonant sound to consonant sound.

As an example of this collision of sound and scale, the following line: "bones and brain, protoplasm and liver, ground down like stones in a river."  It's effective and even if it doesn't make sense in any traditional sense, the effect adds over the course of the poem to create a cohesive vision of the confusion of the world and the promise of renewal and continuity implicit in nature.

Fundamentally, this is a poem of thanksgiving.  It starts and ends with the narrator thanking "whoever."  This whoever operates on both a cosmic scale (changing the seasons) and a personal scale (knocking over wine).  While the tone is flippant, I think the emotion is serious.  Young's narrator does thank the world for the "green downpour" of spring and the radio being tuned to rain.  Even if the world is sometimes incomprehensible feeling chaos, we ought to thank whoever anyways.  That's my takeaway, at least.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Upon a Time - Jonathan David

If ever the sweet spring comes,
     I'll put aside these dead books
And try to feel the herbage freshen
     Along the withered boughs of old dry thoughts.

I'll walk out somewhere a garden grows,
     And there I'll stand some summer evening,
Hat beside elbows on the gray stone wall,
     And the wind will stir, coming from behind the hill.

Afterward I'll walk home, hands behind me,
     And pause a moment before going in,
Half fancying some one has called my name,
     Or been awakened to a flutter as I passed.

Of course, I'll enter, but leave the door ajar,
     For someone might come in, you know,
Expectantly I'll sit to fancy the long evening through
     That a pair of eyes in the summer night

Might light a candle in the dull world,
     So softly that none might see to smile at,
Yet ardently enough - like a vestal candle burning -
     For a little heat in a cold house.

The word on which this poem hangs is "if."  Everything that follows that first word is imaginative fantasy, which would certainly explain its fanciful tone.  The narrator knows that most of what he imagines is likely never to happen.  After all, who makes house calls when they see an open door?  That doesn't matter though.  Spring, the spring of the poet's imagining, is limitless in its scope, and just that ardent imagination can bring "a little heat" to a cold house, kept in winter for what seems like so long a time.

Monday, April 13, 2015

April Midnight - Arthur Symons

Side by side through the streets at midnight,
Roaming together,
Through the tumultuous night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.

Roaming together under the gaslight,
Day's work over,
How the Spring calls to us, here in the city,
Calls to the heart from the heart of a lover!

Cool to the wind blows, fresh in our faces,
Cleansing, entrancing,
After the heat and the fumes and the footlights,
Where you dance and I watch your dancing.

Good it is to be here together,
Good to be roaming,
Even in London, even at midnight,
Lover-like in a lover's gloaming.

You the dancer and I the dreamer,
Children together,
Wandering lost in the night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.

In the miraculous April weather indeed.  So far this April, barely two weeks in, we've had snow here in Connecticut, as well as a few lovely warm days.  The robins must have been rather confused, but it is a miraculous time of year.  My brother said today that everything smells alive, and it most certainly does.  I've only been in London in the fall, but given Arthur Symon's utterly hypnotic and boundlessly jubilant poem, I certainly would like to be there in the spring, too.

First off, while the poem is set in April in London at midnight, it is first and foremost a love poem.  Love is the spring which doesn't die, which makes the April weather miraculous.  "Good it is to be here together" is a lover's tonic and daily bread.  Any place is good if you're together and in love.  Still, we can't overlook the part that April itself plays in this magical moment.

The wind of April is cleansing and entrancing, cool.  We get the sense that this wind is renewing and healing, even if as much as that isn't explicitly stated.  It's set in opposition to the heat and grind of work in a city.  Spring can invade any city, even London, which in the late 1800s when Symons was writing, was the city by which all others in the world were judged.  If spring can creep into even that city, "even in London, even at midnight" then it can be everywhere.  Even for those of us who are alone right now, are we really when it's midnight at April, outside?  I feel like the magic of the season can unite us all.  I know that sounds hokey, but when the cool breeze blows with just the faintest whiff of flower, and the tiniest hint of coming warmth, I can't help but feel part of a larger experience than just my own.

Friday, April 10, 2015

To A Lady Who Said It Was Sinful to Read Novels - Christian Milne

To love these books, and harmless tea,
   Has always been my foible,
Yet will I ne'er forgetful be
   To read my Psalms and Bible.

Travels I like, and history too,
   Or entertaining fiction;
Novels and plays I'd have a few,
   If sense and proper diction.

I love a natural harmless song,
   But I cannot sing like Handel;
Deprived of such resource, the tongue
   Is sure employed - in scandal.

As a way of responding to a presumably unbearable sanctimonious "holier than thou" type woman, Christian Milne writes this somewhat wry, somewhat conciliatory poem.  While it's clear that Milne disagrees that reading novels is sinful (as she rightly should, what a ridiculous notion!) I think she does attempt to placate the woman addressing her with the last stanza.  Milne implies that song could be scandalous if not skillfully employed.  I'm not convinced that Milne entirely means this, though I must remember that cultural standards of sinfulness have changed quite a lot between Milne's life (1773-1816) and mine.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Most sweet it is - William Wordsworth

Most sweet it is with unuplifted eyes
To pace the ground, if path there be or none,
While a fair region round the traveler lies
Which he forbears again to look upon;
Pleased rather with some soft ideal scene,
The work of Fancy, or some happy tone
Of meditation, slipping in between
The beauty coming and the beauty gone.
If Thought and Love desert us, from that day
Let us break off all commerce with the Muse:
With Thought and Love companions of our way,
Whate'er the senses take or may refuse,
The Mind's internal heaven shall shed her dews
Of inspiration on the humblest lay.

Wordsworth's birthday passed recently, so I thought it an opportune time to share one of my favorite Wordsworth poems.  It is indeed sweet to ramble through nature, looking anywhere your fancy takes you.  If all else fails in life, the mind and its "internal heaven" will always provide inspiration when Thought and Love don't.  The poem is a beautiful blend of self-reliance and harmony with nature, and appreciation of the beauty of both the world and the mind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Fragment 1: Sea-ward, white gleaming thro' the busy scud - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sea-war, white gleaming thro' the busy scud
With arching Wings, the sea-mew o'er my head
Posts on, as bent on speed, now passaging
Edges the stiffer Breeze, now, yielding, drifts,
Now floats upon the air, and sends from far
A wildly-wailing Note.

A sea-mew is a common gull, or mew gull, just to clarify what might be the one confusing part of this poem.  Apart from that, it really is a simple and evocative poem.  A gull winging overhead, floating upon the breeze, sometimes working against it.  Anyone who has lived remotely near a coastline can picture it fairly well.  The emotional content of the poem almost feels mystical or reverent, though it can change for everyone.  This is Coleridge at the height of Romanticism, so I think awe at the grandeur and mystery of nature is the goal, but again, to each their own.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ypres - Laurence Binyon

She was a city of patience; of proud name,
Dimmed by neglecting Time; of beauty and loss;
Of acquiescence in the creeping moss.
But on a sudden fierce destruction came
Tigerishly pouncing: thunderbolt and flame
Showered on her streets, to shatter them and toss
Her ancient towers to ashes. Riven across,
She rose, dead, into never-dying fame.
White against heavens of storm, a ghost, she is known
To the world's ends. The myriads of the brave
Sleep round her. Desolately glorified,
She, moon-like, draws her own far-moving tide
Of sorrow and memory; toward her, each alone,
Glide the dark dreams that seek an English grave.

Ypres, an ancient city in West Flanders, Belgium, is the subject of this haunting poem, set against the backdrop of the unimaginable horrors of the first world war.  Ypres was a center of several prolonged battles between German and Allied forces during the war, and as the poem alludes, experienced awful devastation.  The war did come upon "her" as the poem personifies, with a "sudden fierce destruction."  It was an ancient city, mentioned as far back as Roman times, and more recently in The Canterbury Tales, and remains an important cultural center today.  Ypres was one of the first places to experience chemical warfare, and as such, today is an advocate for cities never being targets of war again.

The poem itself, in addition to recounting the awful destruction which fell upon the city, celebrates its longevity.  "She rose, dead, into never-dying fame."  The city, a bombed out, hollowed out shell, is forever remembered in the mind of the world.  All around the ruined cities lie "the myriads of the brave," those war dead who fell in and around it.

I don't often like doing this, but I feel it's important in this case.  Here is what the city looked like after its bombing in the war:

And to end this entry on a happier note, here is Ypres today, restored:

Monday, April 6, 2015

On Education - Elizabeth Bentley

December 1789

When infant Reason first exerts her sway,
And new-formed thoughts their earliest charms display;
Then let the growing race employ your care
Then guard their opening minds from Folly's snare;
Correct the rising passions of their youth,
Teach them each serious, each important truth;
Plant heavenly virtue in the tender breast,
Destroy each vice that might its growth molest;
Point out betimes the course they should pursue;
Then with redoubled pleasure shall you view
Their reason strengthen as their years increase,
Their virtue ripen and their follies cease;
Like corn sown early in the fertile soil,
The rich harvest shall repay your toil.

As someone who has been an educator, and knows many other educators, this poem couldn't help but make me smile a bit.  Despite some disagreements I have with Elizabeth Bentley's views on what the exact role of education is (I'm less for programming than she is), it's clear that we agree on the main thing: education is insurance for the future and investing in the education of the young is the surest way to guarantee our futures.  I think all educators can relate to the desire for one's pupils to grow in a healthy manner, too, even if I don't think it's our job to "plant heavenly virtue."

Friday, April 3, 2015

[Tell all the truth but tell it slant] - Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind -

A classic Emily Dickinson poem which explains itself well.  We as people are "infirm" when confronted with someone so radical and dazzling as the capital "T" Truth.  However, we can understand it.  It just has to be slanted a bit, told in a way that will not terrify us too too much.  Come to think of it, a poem is an indirect way of telling Truth.  Fancy that!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On the Death of Anne Brontë - Charlotte Brontë

There's little joy in life for me,
     And little terror in the grave;
I've lived the parting hour to see
     Of one I would have died to save.

Calmly to watch the failing breath,
     Wishing each sigh might be the last;
Longing to see the shade of death
     O'er those belovèd features cast.

The cloud, the stillness that must part
     The darling of my life from me;
And then to thank God from my heart,
     To thank Him well and fervently;

Although I knew that we had lost
     The hope and glory of our life;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
     Must bear alone the weary strife.

Think of this poem as a sort of spiritual companion piece to the one I posted a week or so ago, by Anne herself.  Both poems deal with the death of a loved one, and how we, the living, can react.  Here, Charlotte, the last surviving of the Brontë sisters, pours out her grief at losing Anne, and resigns herself to bearing "alone the weary strife" of life.  She isn't afraid of death, because she's seen the "parting hour...of one [she] would have died to save."

At the end of suffering, she thanks God well and fervently despite the difficulty in doing so, because at last, her sister is freed from suffering.  There is no morsel of happiness for Charlotte's future in this poem.  It is pain and grace encapsulated, and beautiful.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Song: Strephon, your breach of faith and trust - Laetitia Pilkington

Strephon, your breach of faith and trust
     Afford me no surprise;
A man who grateful was, or just,
     Might make my wonder rise.

That heart to you so fondly tied,
     With pleasure wore its chain,
But from your cold neglectful pride,
     Found liberty again.

For this no wrath inflames my mind,
     My thanks are due to thee;
Such thanks as gen'rous victors find,
     Who set their captives free.

Laetitia Pilkington is not surprised by this man, Strephon's, betrayal.  Rather, she expected it.  Anyone honest would have just made her wondrous.  When it comes to matters of love, feeling utterly vexed over one's feelings for someone one knows is bad for them is an old problem indeed.  It was true in the early half of the 18th century when Pilkington wrote this, true today, and true thousands of years ago.  She writes honestly and directly.

It's worth noting that "fondly" as it's used in the second stanza doesn't have the same meaning we think of it having today.  "Fondly" then had the meaning of "foolishly" and as such, the stanza makes more sense.  She stayed foolishly attached to Strephon because of the pleasure she took in being with him.  Thanks to his cold negligence though, she found her emotional freedom once more, and thanks him for being such an ass that she was able to get over him.