Friday, May 29, 2015

Spring, the sweet spring - Thomas Nashe

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year's pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
     Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country horses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
     Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
     Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!
          Spring, the sweet spring!

What an outpouring of love for spring Thomas Nashe had!  The birds are singing their cuckoos and to-wiita-woos and the world seems sunny and pleasant for a time.  It's the season of love for young and old, and everywhere you go, the sound of birds.  I seem to have unintentionally made a theme of spring this week, readers, and with how pleasant the weather has been, I think I can see why!  Enjoy it, and this incredibly sunny, springy, joyful poem.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Spring - Thomas Carew

Now that the winter's gone, the earth hath lost
Her snow-white robe's, and now no more the frost
Candies the grass, or casts an icy cream
Upon the silver lake or crystal stream;
But the warm sun thaws the benumbed earth,
And makes it tender; gives a sacred birth
To the dead swallow; wakes in hollow tree
The drowsy cuckoo, and the humble-bee.
Now do a choir of chirping minstrels bring
In triumph to the world the youthful Spring.
The valleys, hills, and woods in rich array
Welcome the coming of the long'd-for May.
Now all things smile, only my love doth lour;
Nor hath the scalding noonday sun the power
To melt that marble ice, which still doth hold
Her heart congeal'd, and makes her pity cold.
The ox, which lately did for shelter fly
Into the stall, doth now securely lie
In open fields; and love no more is made
By the fireside, but in the cooler shade
Amyntas now doth with his Chloris sleep
Under a sycamore, and all things keep
Time with the season; only she doth carry
June in her eyes, in her heart January.

It is spring, but Thomas Carew's lover's heart has not thawed along with the rest of the world.  Oxen which once sought shelter that now frolic in the sun, pastoral lovers (Amyntas and Chloris) lounge under a sycamore tree, and "a choir of chirping minstrels bring in triumph to the world the youthful Spring."  For all that, his lover carries "June in her eyes, in her heart January."  What a line.  I feel there's little left for me to explain.  Just read slowly and enjoy the lovely images.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Walking - Thomas Traherne

To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
          Else may the silent feet,
               Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good
          Nor joy nor glory meet.

Ev'n carts and wheels their place do change,
But cannot see, though very strange
          The glory that is by;
               Dead puppets may
Move in the bright and glorious day,
          Yet not behold the sky.

And are not men than they more blind,
Who having eyes yet never find
          The bliss in which they move;
                Like statues dead
They up and down are carried
          Yet never see nor love.

To walk is by a thought to go;
To move in spirit to and fro;
          To mind the good we see;
                To taste the sweet;
Observing all the things we meet
           How choice and rich they be.

To note the beauty of the day,
And golden fields of corn survey;
          Admire each pretty flow'r
               With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
          The marks of his great pow'r.

To fly abroad like active bees,
Among the hedges and the trees,
          To cull the dew that lies
               On ev'ry blade,
From ev'ry blossom; till we lade
          Our minds, as they their thighs.

Observe those rich and glorious things.
The rivers, meadows, woods, and springs,
           The fructifying sun;
                 To note from far
The rising of each twinkling star
          For us his race to run.

A little child these well perceives,
Who, tumbling in green grass and leaves,
           May rich as kings be thought,
               But there's a sight
Which perfect manhood may delight,
          To which we shall be brought.

While in those pleasant paths we talk,
'Tis that tow'rds which at last we walk;
          For we may by degrees
                Wisely proceed
Pleasures of love and praise to heed,
          From viewing herbs and trees.

Take a walk, reader.  Don't merely move yourself about through nature, but as Thomas Traherne instructs us, walk with your full mindfulness on just how amazing and full of beauty the world around you is.  For Traherne, a priest, it was all a sign of God's glory.  It doesn't have to be so for you, but I think you'd be as blind as the cart and dead puppets Traherne mentions to not see some sort of beauty when you really look about you.

Two lines in this poem in particular stand out to me as especially noteworthy.  First, "To walk is by a thought to go."  It couldn't be truer.  Walking, and indeed, all movement, is the manifestation of thought into action in the world.  We think and so we go.  Second is the short phrase, "the fructifying sun."  To fructify is to make something productive, or fruitful.  The sun does this for the whole world, and it just stuck out to me as such a nice phrase.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Broken Appointment - Thomas Hardy

     You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb, -
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness' sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
     You did not come.

     You love not me,
And love alone can lend you loyalty;
-I know and knew it. But, unto the store
Of human deeds divine in all but name,
Was it not worth a little hour or more
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
     You love not me?

Who among us hasn't felt the sting of rejection without a word of forewarning?  Whether romantic, platonic, or business, this kind of rejection is painful and makes one feel worthless, as if your own basic existence isn't worth someone else's attention.  The poem begins without ambiguity: "You did not come."  Hardy is unflinching in laying on not just the accusation, but goes on to talk about what that broken appointment does to one's hopes, particularly when the arena is love.  He grieves not just for the loss of the woman's presence, but that she lacks the "high compassion" to even reject someone else in person.

The only conclusion he can draw?  "You love not me."  The part that gets me most are the last four lines of the second stanza.  He asks if it just wasn't worth her time, "worth a little hour more" to tell him to his face that she loves him not.  "To soothe a time-torn man" even though you do not love him would be a mark of "that high compassion which can overbear reluctance" that is mentioned in the first stanza, and which this woman evidently lacked.

The modern equivalent of this poem is breaking up with one's partner by text message.  It dehumanizes them and sends the fundamental message of "You are not worth my time."  If only compassion always did overbear our reluctance, maybe we'd all be better to one another.  Many of us have probably been on both sides of this coin.  Whether through malice, ignorance, forgetfulness, or whatever else, who hasn't broken an appointment?  It hurts deeply, as this poem shows.  Let's all strive together to be compassionate, even when we do not love one another.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cleanliness - Charles Lamb

Come my little Robert near -
Fie! what filthy hands are here!
Who that e'er could understand
The rare structure of a hand,
With its branching fingers fine,
Work itself of hands divine,
Strong, yet delicately knit,
For ten thousand uses fit,
Overlaid with so clear skin
You may see the blood within,
And the curious palm, disposed
In such lines, some have supposed
You may read the fortunes there
By the figures that appear -
Who this hand would choose to cover
With a crust of dirt all over,
Till it look'd in hue and shape
Like the fore-foot of an Ape?
Man or boy that works or plays
In the fields or the highways
May, without offence or hurt,
From the soil contract a dirtm
Which the next clear spring or river
Washes out and out for ever -
But to cherish stains impure,
Soil deliberate to endure,
On the skin to fix a stain
Till it works into the grain,
Argues a degenerate mind,
Sordid, slothful, ill inclin'd,
Wanting in that self-respect
Which does virtue best protect.

     All-endearing Cleanliness,
Virtue next to Godliness,
Easiest, cheapest, needful'st duty,
To the body health and beauty,
Who that's human would refuse it,
When a little water does it?

This is a reminder from Charles Lamb to wash your hands, readers.  From the detailed description of the intricacies of the hand to the crusty dirt descriptions, this poem is packed full of imagery.  The whole poem is framed as talking to a child who has presumably entered the house with dirty hands, and who now receives a stern lecture on the importance of hand-washing.  It's a charming poem, and one can imagine it being read to a child with dirt-encrusted fingers quite easily.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Song - Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea

Love, thou art best of Human Joys,
   Our chiefest Happiness below;
All other Pleasures are but Toys,
Musick without Thee is but Noise,
   And Beauty but an empty show.

Heav'n, who knew best what Man wou'd move,
   And raise his Thoughts above the Brute;
Said, Let him Be, and Let him Love;
That must alone his Soul improve,
   Howe'er Philosophers dispute.

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, lived and wrote in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  Her work is still read widely today and lived a fascinating life.  Her verse was influential in its own time and beyond, inspiring in particular William Wordsworth.  She balanced the prevailing Augustan formalities and structures with emotional content, as she herself thought that Love and Verse were inseparable, one useless without the other, much as this particular poem explains.

Love is what separates us from lesser beasts, from the "Brute" according to Finch.  When creating man, "Heav'n" said, rather beautifully, "Let him Be, and Let him Love."  It's clear in Finch's poem the purpose of our being; to love, to let our thoughts be moved towards Love.  Love is the "best of Human Joys" and without it, music is just noise, pleasures are toys, and beauty is hollow.  It's the fuel that runs our world, and given its divine origin in this poem, I think it's clear that it has a divine context as well.  Loving brings us closer to Heaven, for Finch, and I think that's a beautiful image.  No matter what philosophers and thinkers say about Love, Finch has made up her mind that it improves the human soul.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Fair Singer - Andrew Marvell

To make a final conquest of all me,
Love did compose so sweet an enemy,
In whom both beauties to my death agree,
Joining themselves in fatal harmony;
That while she with her eyes my heart does bind,
She with her voice might captivate my mind.

I could have fled from one but singly fair,
My disentangled soul itself might save,
Breaking the curled trammels of her hair.
But how should I avoid to be her slave,
Whose subtle art invisibly can wreath
My fetters of the very air I breathe?

It had been easy fighting in some plain,
Where victory might hang in equal choice,
But all resistance against her is vain,
Who has th'advantage both of eyes and voice,
And all my forces needs must be undone,
She having gained both the wind and sun.

The narrator in this Andrew Marvell poem seems proud to not have succumbed to love.  He hadn't at least, until he met the woman in this poem.  He caught the narrator's eyes with her own, and her voice captivated him.  The poem is full of the most flowery language of falling in love. and outlandish comparisons.  To the narrator, even fighting in open warfare is easier, because at least there there is a chance of victory.  But with a woman who is a fair singer?  She has gained "both the wind and sun."  What an image for voice and eye!  His fetters (chains) are woven out of the very air he himself breathes when she shapes it into song.  It's a beautiful account of infatuation, and I like very much that the poem focuses on the voice rather than just physical features.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Time I've Lost in Wooing - Thomas Moore

The time I've lost in wooing,
In watching and pursuing
The light, that lies
In woman's eyes,
Has been my heart's undoing.
Though Wisdom oft has sought me,
I scorn'd the lore she brought me,
My only books
Were woman's looks,
And folly's all they've taught me.

Her smile when Beauty granted,
I hung with gaze enchanted,
Like him the Sprite,
Whom maids by night
Oft meet in glen that's haunted.
Like him, too, Beauty won me,
But while her eyes were on me,
If once their ray
Was turn'd away,
Oh! winds could not outrun me.

And are those follies going?
And is my proud heart growing
Too cold or wise
For brilliant eyes
Again to set it glowing?
No, vain, alas! th' endeavour
From bonds so sweet to sever;
Poor Wisdom's chance
Against a glance
Is now as weak as ever.

Thomas Moore, among the Romantic poets, was one of the most prolific and sometimes regarded as among the less talented.  Moore himself knew that he was not a genius, though he was talented, and as a result he was more in tune with the sensibilities of the reading public than many others.  He was exceedingly popular in his day and he remains widely-read today, and I think for good reason.  Even if he isn't Keats, his poetry is worthy of praise and reading.

It's hard not to be charmed by the hopeless romantic affliction from which the narrator of this poem suffers.  He knows full well that his chasing of romance "has been my heart's undoing" and that he has scorned wisdom.  He only learned folly, and yet, knowing that, he just can't help himself.  He wants that romantic feeling, craves it, much like the reader of this poem would seek it (hence buying these poems!).  The last stanza is my favorite part.  It's essentially, "I know that I've been a fool, but Wisdom doesn't stand a chance against a glance from a pretty lady."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Gifts - Juliana Horatia Ewing

You ask me what since we must part
You shall bring back to me.
Bring back a pure and faithful heart
As true as mine to thee.

You talk of gems from foreign lands,
Of treasure, spoil, and prize.
Ah love! I shall not search your hands
But look into your eyes.

The only treasure this narrator's lover could bring back after a long journey is himself.  It's easy to forget that in our modern day of convenience, even a small trip meant days or weeks of no contact.  A world-wide voyage during Juliana Horatia Ewing's lifetime (1841-1885) would have meant months, perhaps years.  There was peril involved, and in this case, it sounds like a woman wishing her soldier lover farewell on his way to war.  No greater treasure would there be than the safe reunion of the two.  Direct, simple, and sincere.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Catch For Singing - Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Said the Old Young Man to the Young Old Man:
"Alack and well-a-day!"
Said the Young Old Man to the Old Young Man:
"The cherry tree's in flourish!"

Said the Old Young Man to the Young Old Man:
"The world is growing gray."
Said the Young Old Man to the Old Young Man:
"The cherry three's in flourish!"

Said the Old Young Man to the Young Old Man:
"Both flower and fruit decay."
Said the Young Old Man to the Old Young Man:
"The cherry three's in flourish!"

Said the Old Young Man to the Young Old Man:
"Alack and well-a-day!
The world is growing gray:
And flower and fruit decay.
Beware, Old Man - beware, Old Man!
For the end of life is nearing;
And the grave yawns by the way..."

Said the Young Old Man to the Old Young Man:
"I'm a trifle hard of hearing;
And can't catch a word you say...
But the cherry-tree's in flourish!"

The two characters of this poem, the Old Young Man, and the Young Old Man, show that youth and age are not just physical states, but states of mental being.  The Old Young Man is a youth, fiery, filled with the doom of the world, and as Gibson characterizes him, a real nuisance.  He can't see the good or renewal of life implicit in the flourishing of the cherry-tree, only the eventual rot and decay.  He's all the crotchety old man in the world stuffed into a young man's body.

The Young Old Man, on the other hand, completely ignores him (or is simply hard of hearing as he said) and delights in the flourishing of the cherry tree.  He sees the beauty in the world and revels therein.  He's all the carefree delight and dalliance of youth in an old man's body.  I certainly know I'd rather spend an afternoon with the Young Old Man than with the Old Young Man.  The Old Young Man comes across as childish in his doom and gloom blustering, and I think Gibson intended as such.
I know that personally, I can sometimes come across as the Old Young Man, though I try my best not to.  It's good to step back and see the flowers in bloom, to feel carefree when confronted with beauty.  I think the constant connectedness of us all to bad news has turned us societally into Old Young Men (and Women).  Let's take some time to work on seeing beauty together.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Waiting for the Barbarians - C. P. Cavafy

translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

     The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

     Because the barbarians are coming today.
     What's the point of senators making laws now?
     Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's man gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
     He's even got a scroll to give him,
     loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't out distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying to rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

     Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
     And some of our men just in from the border say
     there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

What do we do when we're out of excuses?  When the scapegoat doesn't show up, when there is no one left onto whom we can foist our responsibilities?  That's the final question of this poem by Greek poet C. P. Cavafy.  He even says, "those people were a kind of solution."  You could see how eager all the members of society in the poem were to abdicate their responsibilities.  The emperor himself, in full state attire, ready to hand over leadership with a "loaded with titles, with imposing names."

The senate has ceased legislation because why bother if the barbarians are coming?  That sounds just a bit too familiar, honestly.  The city state (or nation) seems to not care about functioning if there is a foreign presence at the door.  The narrator wonders incredulously at the lethargy of his fellow people, and this leads me to a more reaching conclusion.  How can you wait for the barbarians when you've already become them?

"And some of our men just in from the border say / there are no barbarians any longer."  Why could that be?  Well, let's see.  Why are the statesmen robed in opulent array?  "because...things like that dazzle the barbarians,"  So too do the praetors and consuls, but anyways, let's move on.  The orators haven't shown up to speak?  It's because the barbarians are bored by "rhetoric and public speaking."  So the orators who couldn't be bothered to show up and speak aren't bored by their own craft?  It seems clear to me from every stanza of the poem and its response which pushes attributes onto imaginary barbarians that the transition happened much more seamlessly than anyone ever expected.

This indeed is borne out by history if we think of Rome.  Sure, we can point to a "fall of Rome" in our textbooks, but Rome continued to function as a city state under its foreign emperors, its citizens never once stopping to think themselves fallen or anything but Roman.  That seems to be the realization of this poem, and it reminds me all too much of real life.  On personal levels, too, we might all have our own convenient "barbarians" for whom we refrain from operating at our full capacity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spring Wind - Chris Hart

O spring wind,
You are the fine line
Between cool and warm,
The promise of green and

O spring wind,
Grant me wings,
Spread my arms and
Lift me up with your blowing,

With the remarkable weather we've had lately, I felt the impulse to write.  Maybe it's too saccharine and contrived, but I present to you without a hint of irony my feelings about the spring wind.  I think we unfairly denigrate sincerity in our society today and I find the only antidote is to be sincere.  Enjoy spring, friends.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Eagle - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Pure majesty, both the poem and the bird.  There's little for me to say, so I'll stop bleating already and let you enjoy the poem.  Next you see an eagle, or any other bird of prey, I hope you can remember this poem.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd. - Emmeline Grangerford (Mark Twain)

And did young Stephen sicken,
     And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
     And did the mourners cry?

No; such was not the fate of
     Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts around him thickened,
     'Twas not from sickness' shots.

No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
     Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
     Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

Despised love struck not with woe
     That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
     Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

O no. Then list with tearful eye,
     Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world,
     By falling down a well.

They got him out and emptied him;
     Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
     In the realms of the good and great.

Emmeline Grangerford, a character in Huckleberry Finn, is a parody of real-life poet, Julia Moore, who was dubbed "The Sweet Singer of Michigan."  Twain himself said of Moore than she had "the touch that makes an intentionally humorous episode pathetic and an intentionally pathetic one funny."  We can see that so very clearly in this poem inside Huckleberry Finn, where Emmeline describes the death of an unfortunate boy, Stephen Dowling Bots.  She learned of him by reading the obituaries section of the Presbyterian Observer.  Emmeline loved nothing more than to write maudlin elegies to all of the obituaries she saw.

The poem is hilarious, frankly.  I'm particularly tickled by "They got him out and emptied him."  It's like deflating a sponge.  As Twain said of Moore, this poem really did make a pathetic incident comedic.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Very Self - Walter de la Mare

Clear eyes, beneath clear brows, gaze out at me,
Clear, true and lovely things therein I see;
Yet mystery, past ev'n naming, takes their place
As mine stay pondering on that much-loved face.

Deep in another's eyes, what do you see?  No matter how well known, how loved, there is mystery there, or so says Walter de la Mare.  While eyes can be "clear, true, and lovely" they are still another person's, and therefore, unknowable on a certain level.  The interior lives of our friends and lovers are forever hidden from us, no matter how close.  It's a thrilling mystery, to be sure, and expressed cleanly, clearly, and elegantly, much like the face and eyes in the poem.

As an alternate reading, I think you can also consider this as looking into a mirror.  While I don't think it fits fully ("much-loved face" stands out to me as not fitting a mirror reading) it's still workable to address the mystery within ourselves.  How long can you view your own eyes in the mirror before they become that of a stranger's?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sea Fever - John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
   And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

For anyone who has ever felt the keen pang of wanderlust, I present John Masefield's poem.  A former merchant seaman, he traveled from England to New York City where he deserted to work for a time.  Eventually he returned to London to write, and found great success in doing so.  It seems clear to me that that thrill of travel never quite left him.  Once you get the itch, it never really goes away, as I can now attest.

The call of the sea and all its allure is at the heart of every line of this poem.  Its driving rhythm and power are inescapable.  The descriptions are crisp and clear, as picturesque as a postcard.  For Masefield, living the life of a sailor, which is having nothing, means he has everything he names in the poem.  He has the sky, and the sea, and the company of other like-minded spirits.  It's a romantic image, and for anyone who has ever traveled even slightly afield, whether by land, sea, or sky, it will raise that familiar impulse to get up and go.  Somewhere, anywhere, it doesn't matter.  Once you start moving, everything is yours.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rain - Edward Thomas

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all stiff and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.

Our time upon the earth is short, and at times, it feels as though we are helpless to stop suffering or to live meaningfully.  Despite all of that, we still maintain hope, even if like in this poem, it's a bleak sort of hope.  Thomas' narrator experiences "nothing but the wild rain," "solitude, and me."  He feels totally isolated in this rain.  It makes him conscious that he too will die, and no longer be able to experience the rain, or to thank it for cleaning him, both physically and spiritually.

There's a shade of the Beatitudes about this poem as well.  "Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon" is the line which most evokes those.  Even saying that the dead are blessed, Thomas cannot wish death upon any whom he once loved.  Maybe they, like him, are having some sort of mental crisis, are experiencing pain, or too feel helpless.  Despite never once giving his poem the aspect of hope, by the narrator's reluctance to embrace death, to abdicate from suffering and helplessness, these inform a feeling of gratitude towards life, towards experience.  The dead upon whom the rain rains cannot experience anything.  Even though the narrator says they are blessed, probably for that very reason, he won't embrace that just yet.

The only thing the rain has not dissolved is his "love of death."  Death here is not defined as a mere cessation of life, but, as the tempest, the storm, informs him, of perfection.  Death is the perfected state in which no more suffering can occur.  Sounds an awful lot like heaven to me.  I know that I am reading quite a lot into that, but I cannot see the narrator here as anything but fundamentally hopeful, even in the face of bleakest midnight rain.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Winter - Anne Hunter

Behold the gloomy tyrant's awful form
Binding the captive earth in icy chains;
His chilling breath sweeps o'er the watery plains,
Howls in the blast, and swells the rising storm.

See from its centre bends the rifted tower,
Threat'ning the lowly vale with frowning pride,
O'er the scared flocks that seek its sheltering side,
A fearful ruin o'er their heads to pour.

While to the cheerful hearth and social board
Content and ease repair, the sons of want
Receive from niggard fate their pittance scant;
And where some shed bleak covert may afford,
Wan poverty, amidst her meagre host
Casts round her haggard eyes, and shivers at the frost.

Anne Hunter gives us this masterful account of the wrath of a pending winter storm, and how its effects will be felt throughout different parts of society.  Those in the countryside, the "scared flocks" both sheep and man, seek the shelter of the valley, as a "fearful ruin" brews overhead.  Those who have a life of ease relax by the "cheerful hearth" as the storm approached, unaware that there are others, those "sons of want" who have to seek some small shelter from the storm.  Niggard (one who is not generous) fate gives them almost no pity.  Poverty, here personified as a woman, "shivers at the frost."

Through the first stanza you can really feel the fearful force of the incoming storm.  It is a "gloomy tyrant" with "chilling breath."  In so few lines, Hunter does a wonderful job making us feel for all of the characters in her poem.  Reading it, we want to share the warmth of the hearth with poverty.  I think that's her intent, to make us think about how things affect others, particularly those less fortunate.  It would have been easy to ignore them and write a poem just about the storm, but in this case, I am glad she didn't.