Poetry and Poets: November 2003 Archives

I chose this poem because it has been a theme much on my mind since diving into more of the materials on another site--as I hope to discuss in some detail later.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Wallace Stevens


I
† † † † † † Among twenty snowy mountains,
† † † † † † The only moving thing
† † † † † † Was the eye of the black bird.

II
† † † † † † I was of three minds,
† † † † † † Like a tree
† † † † † † In which there are three blackbirds.

III
† † † † † † The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
† † † † † † It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
† † † † † † A man and a woman
† † † † † † Are one.
† † † † † † A man and a woman and a blackbird
† † † † † † Are one.

V
† † † † † † I do not know which to prefer,
† † † † † † The beauty of inflections
† † † † † † Or the beauty of innuendoes,
† † † † † † The blackbird whistling
† † † † † † Or just after.

VI
† † † † † † Icicles filled the long window
† † † † † † With barbaric glass.
† † † † † † The shadow of the blackbird
† † † † † † Crossed it, to and fro.
† † † † † † The mood
† † † † † † Traced in the shadow
† † † † † † An indecipherable cause.

VII
† † † † † † O thin men of Haddam,
† † † † † † Why do you imagine golden birds?
† † † † † † Do you not see how the blackbird
† † † † † † Walks around the feet
† † † † † † Of the women about you?

VIII
† † † † † † I know noble accents
† † † † † † And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
† † † † † † But I know, too,
† † † † † † That the blackbird is involved
† † † † † † In what I know.

IX
† † † † † † When the blackbird flew out of sight,
† † † † † † It marked the edge
† † † † † † Of one of many circles.

X
† † † † † † At the sight of blackbirds
† † † † † † Flying in a green light,
† † † † † † Even the bawds of euphony
† † † † † † Would cry out sharply.

XI
† † † † † † He rode over Connecticut
† † † † † † In a glass coach.
† † † † † † Once, a fear pierced him,
† † † † † † In that he mistook
† † † † † † The shadow of his equipage
† † † † † † For blackbirds.

XII
† † † † † † The river is moving.
† † † † † † The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
† † † † † † It was evening all afternoon.
† † † † † † It was snowing
† † † † † † And it was going to snow.
† † † † † † The blackbird sat
† † † † † † In the cedar-limbs.

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In honor of my trip to Virginia coming up shortly:

Ode to the Virginian Voyage
Michael Drayton

† † † † † † You brave heroic minds,
† † † † † † Worthy your country's name,
† † † † † † That honour still pursue,
† † † † † † Go and subdue!
† † † † † †Whilst loit'ring hinds
† † † † † † Lurk here at home with shame.

† † † † † † Britons, you stay too long;
† † † † † † Quickly aboard bestow you,
† † † † † † And with a merry gale
† † † † † † Swell your stretch'd sail,
† † † † † † With vows as strong
† † † † † † As the winds that blow you!

† † † † † † Your course securely steer,
† † † † † † West and by south forth keep;
† † † † † † Rocks, lee-shores, nor shoals,
† † † † † † When ∆olus scowls,
† † † † † † You need not fear,
† † † † † † So absolute the deep.

† † † † † † And cheerfully at sea
† † † † † † Success you still entice
† † † † † † To get the pearl and gold,
† † † † † † And ours to hold
† † † † † † Virginia,
† † † † † † Earth's only paradise!

† † † † † † Where nature hath in store
† † † † † † Fowl, venison, and fish,
† † † † † † And the fruitful'st soil,
† † † † † † Without your toil,
† † † † † † Three harvests more,
† † † † † † All greater than your wish.

† † † † † † And the ambitious vine
† † † † † † Crowns with his purple mass,
† † † † † † The cedar reaching high
† † † † † † To kiss the sky,
† † † † † † The cypress, pine,
† † † † † † And useful sassafras;

† † † † † † To whose the golden age
† † † † † † Still nature's laws doth give;
† † † † † † No other cares that tend
† † † † † † But them to defend
† † † † † † From winter's age,
† † † † † † That long there doth not live.

† † † † † † When as the luscious smell
† † † † † † Of that delicious land,
† † † † † † Above the seas that flows,
† † † † † † The clear wind throws,
† † † † † † Your hearts to swell
† † † † † † Approaching the dear strand.

† † † † † † In kenning of the shore,
† † † † † † Thanks to God first given,
† † † † † † O you, the happiest men,
† † † † † † Be frolic then!
† † † † † † Let cannons roar
† † † † † † Frighting the wide heaven.

† † † † † † And in regions far
† † † † † † Such heroes bring ye forth,
† † † † † † As those from whom we came;
† † † † † † And plant our name
† † † † † † Under that star
† † † † † † Not known unto our north.

† † † † † † And, as there plenty grows
† † † † † † Of laurel everywhere,
† † † † † † Apollo's sacred tree,
† † † † † † You may it see
† † † † † † A poet's brows
† † † † † † To crown, that may sing there.

† † † † † † Thy voyages attend,
† † † † † † Industrious Hakluyt,
† † † † † † Whose reading shall enflame
† † † † † † Men to seek fame,
† † † † † † And much commend
† † † † † † To after-times thy wit.

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November Poem--George Herbert--Time

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George Herbert is one of the greatest poets with explicitly Christian themes. His works are still vibrant and meaningful today, and nearly everyone has already encountered him either in "The Temple" or in "Easter Wings," two of the most widely anothologized poems in the English language.

Note: the word "sithe" below is not the usual "sith" or "since" as context conveys, but an archaic spelling of scythe.

Time
George Herbert

Meeting with Time, slack thing, said I,
Thy sithe is dull; whet it for shame.
No marvell Sir, he did replie,
If it at length deserve some blame:
But where one man would have me grinde it,
Twentie for one too sharp do finde it.

Perhaps some such of old did passe,
Who above all things lovíd this life:
To whom thy sithe a hatchet was,
Which now is but a pruning knife.
Christs coming hath made man thy debter,
Since by thy cutting he grows better.

And in his blessing thou art blest:
For where thou onely wert before
An executioner at best;
Thou art a gardíner now, and more,
An usher to convey our souls
Beyond the utmost starres and poles.

And this is that makes life so long,
While it detains us from our God.
Evín pleasures here increase the wrong,
And length of dayes lengthen the rod.
Who wants the place, where God doth dwell,
Partakes already half of hell.

Of what strange length must that needs be,
Which evín eternitie excludes!
Thus farre Time heard me patiently:
Then chafing said, This man deludes:
What do I here before his doore?
He doth not crave lesse time, but more.


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I delight in these finely etched translations of Mary Sidney Herbert. There is something magnificent in the way they capture the essence of the psalm in tightly metrical verse. These could truly be put to music and sound most wonderful.

Psalm 52
Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, 1599

TYRANT, why swell'st thou thus,
Of mischief vaunting?
Since help from God to us
Is never wanting.

Lewd lies thy tongue contrives,
Loud lies it soundeth;
Sharper than sharpest knives
With lies it woundeth.

Falsehood thy wit approves,
All truth rejected:
Thy will all vices loves,
Virtue neglected.

Not words from cursed thee,
But gulfs are poured;
Gulfs wherein daily be
Good men devoured.

Think'st thou to bear it so?
God shall displace thee;
God shall thee overthrow,
Crush thee, deface thee.

The just shall fearing see
These fearful chances,
And laughing shoot at thee
With scornful glances.

Lo, lo, the wretched wight,
Who God disdaining,
His mischief made his might,
His guard his gaining.

I as an olive tree
Still green shall flourish:
God's house the soil shall be
My roots to nourish.

My trust in his true love
Truly attending,
Shall never thence remove,
Never see ending.

Thee will I honour still,
Lord, for this justice;
There fix my hopes I will
Where thy saints' trust is.

Thy saints trust in thy name,
Therein they joy them:
Protected by the same,
Naught can annoy them.

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A return to one of my favorite centuries of poetry and to a lyric that is most marvelous and wonderful--one that may have a certain resonance with one of our parish priests

Christ Crucified
Richard Crashaw

THY restless feet now cannot go †
††For us and our eternal good, †
As they were ever wont. What though †
††They swim, alas! in their own flood? †

Thy hands to give Thou canst not lift, †††††††††
††Yet will Thy hand still giving be; †
It gives, but O, itself's the gift! †
††It gives tho' bound, tho' bound 'tis free!

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Something a bit more accessible. Even though it is "set" in spring, there is something terribly autumnal about it. And perhaps even worse is "Good fences make good neighbors." Boundaries are good, but they aren't the only good, nor the greatest good. Perhaps good gates also make good neighbors.

Mending Wall
Robert Frost

† † † † † † Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
† † † † † † That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
† † † † † † And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
† † † † † † And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
† † † † † † The work of hunters is another thing:
† † † † † † I have come after them and made repair
† † † † † † Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
† † † † † † But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
† † † † † † To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
† † † † † † No one has seen them made or heard them made,
† † † † † † But at spring mending-time we find them there.
† † † † † † I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
† † † † † † And on a day we meet to walk the line
† † † † † † And set the wall between us once again.
† † † † † † We keep the wall between us as we go.
† † † † † † To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
† † † † † † And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
† † † † † † We have to use a spell to make them balance:
† † † † † † "Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
† † † † † † We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
† † † † † † Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
† † † † † † One on a side. It comes to little more:
† † † † † † There where it is we do not need the wall:
† † † † † † He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
† † † † † † My apple trees will never get across
† † † † † † And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
† † † † † † He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
† † † † † † Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
† † † † † † If I could put a notion in his head:
† † † † † † "Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
† † † † † † Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
† † † † † † Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
† † † † † † What I was walling in or walling out,
† † † † † † And to whom I was like to give offence.
† † † † † † Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
† † † † † † That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
† † † † † † But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
† † † † † † He said it for himself. I see him there
† † † † † † Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
† † † † † † In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
† † † † † † He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
† † † † † † Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
† † † † † † He will not go behind his father's saying,
† † † † † † And he likes having thought of it so well
† † † † † † He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

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A light entertainment from that most famous of works--Love Sonnets of a Cave-Man

XIII. The First Feminist
Don Marquis


When first I chased and beat you to your knees
And wried your arm and marked your temple bone
And wooed you, Sweet, and won you for my own,
Those were not hairless-chested times like these!
Wing'd saurians slithered down the charnel seas
And giant insects glistened, basked, and shone,
And snag-toothed ape-men fought with knives of stone --
And wise she-spouses mostly aimed to please!
But were not you the Primal Feminist
Ten hundred thousand years ago, my Love,
When we were first incarnate? I will say
Women Expressed themselves e'en then, Sweet Dove!
I do recall as if 'twere yesterday
That time your teeth met through my dexter wrist

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Supremacy
Edward Arlington Robinson


There is a drear and lonely tract of hell
From all the common gloom removed afar:
A flat, sad land it is, where shadows are,
Whose lorn estate my verse may never tell.
I walked among them and I knew them well:
Men I had slandered on life's little star
For churls and sluggards; and I knew the scar
Upon their brows of woe ineffable.


But as I went majestic on my way,
Into the dark they vanished, one by one,
Till, with a shaft of God's eternal day,
The dream of all my glory was undone,--
And, with a fool's importunate dismay,
I heard the dead men singing in the sun.

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It sometimes astonishes me to realize that a great many people have never encountered the Bard in any significant way, either through choice or through the poor preparation of our educational system. When I was in nineth grade, the required reading for the year included Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." My teacher, Mrs. Erskine, had no time or tolerance for that "muddled romantic prattle" and further thought it set a bad example for young students. And so instead we read, and I fell in love with "The Merchant of Venice." Things I memorized in that year, I remember still and the play lives with me day to day. It is unlikely that Shakespeare meant it as an indictment of prejudices common at the time, and yet it is so easy to discern that thread. And this is a sililoquy that everyone should have some acquaintance with--so, if it is new savor it, and if not, enjoy the reacquaintance.

And so, without further ado, the poem:

from "The Merchant of Venice" Act IV Scene I
Portia, disguised as a Judge speaking
William Shakespeare

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

Something more of our legal profession might do well to internalize. More, something we could all benefit from practicing more often in our relations with others.

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Taken from the long anthology of small-town gossip Spoon River Anthology. One year I had the privilege of attending a regional Geological Society of America Convention held in Macomb Illinois at the University of Western Illinois. In passing through the state we stopped briefly at Dickson Mounds State park and drove by Edgar Lee Masters house in a nearby town. This was yet another enormous thrill for me. Nearly as exciting as the time when stumbling through Amish Country in Ohio, we happened upon Winesburg.

from Spoon River Anthology
Benjamin Pantier
Edgar Lee Masters

Benjamin Pantier

† † † † † † Together in this grave lie Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law,
† † † † † † And Nig, his dog, constant companion, solace and friend.
† † † † † † Down the gray road, friends, children, men and women,
† † † † † † Passing one by one out of life, left me till I was alone
† † † † † † With Nig for partner, bed-fellow, comrade in drink.
† † † † † † In the morning of life I knew aspiration and saw glory.
† † † † † † Then she, who survives me, snared my soul
† † † † † † With a snare which bled me to death,
† † † † † † Till I, once strong of will, lay broken, indifferent,
† † † † † † Living with Nig in a room back of a dingy office.
† † † † † † Under my jaw-bone is snuggled the bony nose of Nig --
† † † † † † Our story is lost in silence. Go by, mad world!

And for good measure, Mrs. Pantier's side of the story

Mrs. Benjamin Pantier

† † † † † † I know that he told that I snared his soul
† † † † † † With a snare which bled him to death.
† † † † † † And all the men loved him,
† † † † † † And most of the women pitied him.
† † † † † † But suppose you are really a lady, and have delicate tastes,
† † † † † † And loathe the smell of whiskey and onions.
† † † † † † And the rhythm of Wordsworth's "Ode" runs in your ears,
† † † † † † While he goes about from morning till night
† † † † † † Repeating bits of that common thing;
† † † † † † "Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?"
† † † † † † And then, suppose:
† † † † † † You are a woman well endowed,
† † † † † † And the only man with whom the law and morality
† † † † † † Permit you to have the marital relation
† † † † † † Is the very man that fills you with disgust
† † † † † † Every time you think of it -- while you think of it
† † † † † † Every time you see him?
† † † † † † That's why I drove him away from home
† † † † † † To live with his dog in a dingy room
† † † † † † Back of his office.

Absolutely unlovely, and yet a portrait too clear and true of some unfortunate and selfish souls.

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Many do not care for my longer poetic excerpts here, but this is so marvelous a lyric, so wonderful a poem, it would be a shame to try to truncate it. The poem is a dramatic monologue, the speaker Ferrara is talking to someone who may be brokering his next marriage. He tells the story of his previous and it is by way of a mystery.

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Unlike my plan for the rest of the site, I have not real plan for the presentation of poetry--whatever happens to strike my fancy on a given day. If you were prefer some greater structure, let me know. In the near future I do plan to start "illuminating" the poems--providing explanatory notes and reasons why I like or perhaps appreciate the particular poems.

A Poison Tree
William Blake

† † † † † † I was angry with my friend.
† † † † † † I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
† † † † † † I was angry with my foe.
† † † † † † I told it not, my wrath did grow;

† † † † † † And I water'd it in fears,
† † † † † † Night and morning with my tears;
† † † † † † And I sunned it with smiles,
† † † † † † And with soft deceitful wiles;

† † † † † † And it grew both day and night
† † † † † † Till it bore an apple bright,
† † † † † † And my foe beheld it shine,
† † † † † † And he knew that it was mine,

† † † † † † And into my garden stole
† † † † † † When the night had veil'd the pole.
† † † † † † In the morning glad I see
† † † † † † My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Besides being William Blake, who is one of the great, if one of the stranger, poets of all time, this poem has a special place in my heart because it gave title to one of the very few mysteries by V.C. Clinton-Baddley (My Foe Outstretch'd Beneath the Tree). I think this author starting writing very late in life and gave rise to only four complete novels and a fifth that was finished by a son. I don't recall the details, but I do remember liking the detective very much.

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After some fairly somber and serious poetry, it seemed time for a break, time for a bit of levity, even if Leigh Hunt didn't intend for it to be amusing:

Song of Fairies Robbing an Orchard
Leigh Hunt


We, the Fairies, blithe and antic,
Of dimensions not gigantic,
Though the moonshine mostly keep us,
Oft in orchards frisk and peep us.


Stolen sweets are always sweeter,
Stolen kisses much completer,
Stolen looks are nice in chapels,
Stolen, stolen, be your apples.


When to bed the world are bobbing,
Then's the time for orchard-robbing;
Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling,
Were it not for stealing, stealing.

Leigh Hunt is the poet who gave us "Abou Ben Adhem" among other pieces. During his time, a well-reputed poet, now nearly forgotten.

Later: Ms. Moss notes that likely Hunt did intend for it to be amusing. It's always so difficult to tell--but given the general tenor of some other poems she is probably right.

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Sorry, just one other that gives a sense of the other side of things. Another poem written in memoriam.

from "Lycidas"
John MIlton

Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat'ry floor;
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high
Through the dear might of him that walk'd the waves;
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the Saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more:
Henceforth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.

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From Tennyson's lengthy cycle trying to cope with the loss of a dear friend. Tennyson himself says of it that it is:

"a poem, not a biography .... The different moods of sorrow as in a drama are dramatically given, and my conviction that fear, doubts, and suffering will find answer and relief only through Faith in a God of Love. `I' is not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking through him."

from In Memoriam--A.H.H. Obiit MDCCCXXXIII #54
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;


That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;


That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.


Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last--far off--at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.


So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

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Find a formal prayer for each of seven days here

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It was fantabulously difficult to find a poem for All-Saints. Don't know why--I suppose I could have picked any individual Saint. Be that as it may, this hymn came up in the course of search and I thought it wonderful.

Hymn
Alexander Pope

Thou art my God, sole object of my love;
Not for the hope of endless joys above;
Not for the fear of endless pains below,
Which they who love thee not must undergo.
For me, and such as me, thou deign'st to bear
An ignominious cross, the nails, the spear:
A thorny crown transpierced thy sacred brow,
While bloody sweats from every member flow.
For me in tortures thou resign'st thy breath,
Embraced me on the cross, and saved me by thy death.
And can these sufferings fail my heart to move?
What but thyself can now deserve my love?
Such as then was, and is, thy love to me,
Such is, and shall be still, my love to thee--
To thee, Redeemer! mercy's sacred spring!
My God, my Father, Maker, and my King!

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Poetry and Poets category from November 2003.

Poetry and Poets: October 2003 is the previous archive.

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