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The Poets

May 19, 2019

Jean-François Millet's The Gleaners and Poetry




The Wheat Fields

Lo, the drowsy heat of summer
Hanging humid, low and near,
As peasants gleaning frail and humble
Thank the Lord whom they revere.

Lo, the wheat-line yon receding
Into gray obscurity—
How thankless greed absconds with nature
And her virgin purity …

-jwm




Poetic Parameters:

Stanza Type: Quatrain

Meter: Line 1 in each stanza is eight syllables; lines 2 and 4 in each stanza is seven syllables; and line 3 in each stanza is nine syllables

Rhyme Scheme: xaxa xbxb (where ‘x’ represents unrhymed lines)

Composition: May 19, 2019

This poem was inspired by an 1857 painting titled, The Gleaners; a work of art produced by Jean-FrançoisMillet (1814 – 1875). One of the founders of the Barbizon School, Millet’s realist style significantly helped usher in the modern period of art.

Millet had an empathetic eye for conditions surrounding the rural life of peasant farmers, as he himself grew up in these conditions. After having trained in Cherbourg and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and after the French Revolution, Millet moved to the village of Barbizon to paint the harsh life of rural peasantry.

The Gleaners was first exhibited in Salon in 1857. It was initially received with criticism as it seemed to glorify the arduous existence of the impoverished- an implicit condemnation of the middle- and upper-class tiers of society. It did not help that the poor significantly outnumbered the rich, and that there was a palpable tension between the lower-class and those who were well off.



Lo, the drowsy heat of summer
Hanging humid, low and near,
As peasants gleaning frail and humble
Thank the Lord whom they revere.


The first stanza of the poem focuses on the peasants who are gathering up scraps of leftover wheat grain. Despite the wafting heat of the heavy summer day, and despite the scarcity of wheat left, I wanted the stanza to depict the poor as thankful that Providence has brought them the opportunity to gather food together. I wanted to depict them as grateful harvesters of nature’s bounty.



Lo, the wheat-line yon receding
Into gray obscurity—
How thankless greed absconds with nature
And her virgin purity …


The second stanza is an entirely different story. The abundance of wheat, if you look off into the distance of the painting by clicking the image, seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate, as if being devoured by some ravenous entity.

Wholescale farming is, of course, necessary, but the poem wants to do two things. It wants to magnify the rapacious indifference of the process- a sort of  thankless, and even violent apathy with regard to what is being done, as if nature herself were being plundered. 

The poem also wants to show the disparity between the poor and the rich: between the peasants who are both humble and thankful; and the overabundance achieved by insatiable greed (represented by the overseer on the horse).

In short, the second stanza is a diatribe aimed at greed- whose destructive proclivity wreaks havoc on both nature and humanity.




The last element of the poem is the ellipsis at the end, an indicator that this marauding of nature is ceaseless.




February 09, 2019

An Idyll of Virtue



An Idyll of Virtue

When Virtue grows weary within and is old
And all signs of her youth disappear
You will note how the sky will seem paler and cold
And how autumn seems eerily near

When alas she departs and slips into night                      
You will note how the maples are bare
When her voice isn’t heard and when gone is her light
You will know then that winter is here

-jwm


Of the Poem

An Idyll of Virtue is a tragic cautionary poem about the decline of moral propriety within an individual, or a group of individuals, or even a nation.

Modeled on Theocritus’ (270 BC) ten pastoral poems, an idyll is a pastoral work that meditates upon themes revolving around nature, rural existence, the seasons, and other such agrarian topics. The word itself comes from the Greek word eidyllion (ειδύλλιο), meaning ‘little picture’ or ‘short poem’.

The title of the poem is a play on words, where idyll serves as an allusion to ‘idleness’- indicating therefore an idleness with regard to a virtuous disposition.

The pastoral elements that I draw upon are the environmental changes that are emerging as a result of seasonal changes from autumn to winter- where autumn is contrasted with old age (propriety in decline), and winter is contrasted with death (a state of being morally reprobate).

I was hoping in this particular work to represent Virtue’s old age as a sort of process of desolation, and to compound that representation with autumn- a season where blue skies are made deathly pale, and all of the green foliage begins to wither away as winter’s desolation swallows everything up.

When our conscience ceases to call, and when we are no longer guided by truths (‘when her voice isn’t heard and when gone is her light’) it is a grim sign of moral and spiritual privation (i.e. winter), so the poem warns.

It is said that we are governed by the principles we assume. I wrote this poem as a sort of reminder to be diligent with regard to the kind of person I want to be, to hold on to principles that are pleasing to the Lord, that are useful to my neighbor, and that are edifying to me.



Poetic Parameters


Stanza Type: Quatrain


Meter: The first line of each stanza contains eleven syllables; the second and fourth lines of each stanza contains nine syllables; and the third line of each contains twelve syllables. 


Rhyme Scheme: abab cbcb


Composition: February 5th, 2019


October 29, 2018

A Collection of My Poems!!


I am very proud- and quite frankly excited- to announce the publication of a collection of my poems.

The title of the collection, named after a title within it, is ‘A Dawning of Dying’.

A Dawning of Dying’ is a collection of poems written over the course of ten years whose themes are intended to be both existentially and metaphysically curious, if not haunting. These are poems that were inspired by feelings of dread, sublimity and elation. The ideas behind many of these works orbit around life and death, beauty and pain, the world of nature and the world of myth and superstition.


The collection is also coupled with an appendix of author’s notes relating to the styles, influences, contexts, and ideas behind the selected works within the volume.


Below are a few generous comments with regard to my works. 

“John May tantalizes the reader with a wide variety of rhythmic timing while maintaining adherence to meter as he unfolds a bevy of subjects that inspire an emotive response.”

–Aaron Cole, Lover of Poetry and Cyclic Verse

“There are a lot of reasons a 21st century reader should appreciate John May: For one thing, he is a wise, compassionate, curious, and careful commentator on poetics and literature. In addition, his own poems are often unapologetically Victorian in flavor: rich in imagery and rhyme, celebrating the senses, enchanted by nature, and not afraid of the big ideas (i.e. truth, beauty, the Divine, etc.). It is a refreshing thing to encounter a poet who has wrestled with and truly appreciates the artifice of the art of poetry. In an age when there are plenty of people writing fragmentary diary entries of cut up prose under the rubric of poetry, John reminds us that fidelity to formal verse can be its own intrinsic reward. As he writes in the final lines of his poem, “Monarch”: The only thing that moves me now/Is that I share this flight somehow.”

–Daniel Klawitter, author of Plato Poetica and Quiet Insurrections

“I have followed John’s poetry since we connected over a shared passion for words years ago. I love that his attention to technical detail does not interrupt the raw emotion that comes through in his poetry.”
 –Kendra Lise, Poet and Blogger

“John provides such inspiration through his poetry. I am drawn to the poems that show his spiritual side. The imagery is so vivid; his words delicate and touching. I can feel the emotion right along with him. It is just one facet of appreciation that I have for his work.” 

–Nicole Marino Brigger, Fan and Lover of the Beat Generation
“Over the years, John May has moved many of us with his written word. Thought provoking and spiritual, John’s poetry tells a story we all can share.” 

Catherine Slusar Buck, My Friend and Literary Savant

“John is a prolific writer, his passion for poetry and prose graciously eases into any genre, meter, rhythm and flow like a masterclass in penmanship. For nearly ten years I have been privileged to feast my eyes on the many works of John. I feel qualified to express that the underpinning of his writing is his commitment to telling the story and his unflinching truth that comes from a sweet soul. He pours his heart out onto the page. This project is a long time coming, I am happy that readers will have the privilege of transcending to that place where the journey of his poetry permits us to be and will have the pleasure of drinking in every word.” 

–Patricia Smith, My London Friend and Poet


*******

The collection may be found at Amazon.com or by clicking on this link. There you will be able to see the Table of Contents and even read a few of the poems in the collection. Very cool!

With that, I express pure gratitude to you, my reader, for picking up this collection of poems and deeming them worthy of both your time and your attention.



January 27, 2018

Of Rilke


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” 

August 20, 2017

2017 Eclipse



.. faith without works is dead ..

Praxis

Oh, let me not just overreach 
And force what You would have me learn
Unduly, early, what You teach
Despite my pensive yearn


Upon Your precious Word I fall
So eagerly, and wanting more
And yet, so calmly, comes Your call
To love as those of yore

So guide me, Lord, and show me how
To live a life of love as You
I’ll leave this ‘learning’ here and now
If You can draw me through

-jwm


June 10, 2017

About a Dream I Had




Monarch

These lift me through the airy height
These wings acquired through a night
Into a foreign world above
Of light and warmth and truth and love

What seems a dream are days gone by
When I knew nothing of the sky
Just toil on an earthly bed
And thoughts of milkweed in my head

But then I there within a husk
That dangled from an Aspen tusk
Began to form a different bent
That I knew not was Heaven meant

And now I’m lifted through this air
And though attaining beauty fair
The only thing that moves me now
Is that I share this flight somehow

 -jwm



Of the Poem

I think it was in 2008, but I was asleep one afternoon when in my dream these words- in both rhyme and meter- came to me: "But then I there within a husk / That dangled from an Aspen tusk". I woke up, I wrote them down, and for the next several weeks tried to give context to them in this poem above.

I chose the simple
rhyme scheme of aabb based on the scheme given me in the dream, and adhered to iambic tetrameter as the guiding meter for the same reason.

The works of
Emanuel Swedenborg heavily influenced the content and message of the poem, as did the idea of redemption.

I hope you guys enjoyed it.

October 10, 2016

An Elegy to Heather Tripler



On October 10th, 2008, a woman entered my life who I've never met, and who I'll never forget.

When I arrived home from work that day there was a story on the news of a woman who was found dead on a park bench in Grand Junction. She was very young, only 34, homeless, and died there alone in the elements. Her name was Heather Tripler.

I can't even begin to explain the overwhelming grief and saddened that hit me after having heard this (a grief and sadness that's fresh with me ...still). A few days later it snowed, and as I stood there near the front door watching it calmly descend, I couldn't stop thinking about her- homeless and all alone in that park. This is when I knew that I had to write about her.

I promised myself that I would allow the poem to come to me on its own, to never force it, and to scribe every word as if Heather were standing there next to me. Two years later the poem was complete.


Initially, I was just going to keep the poem to myself, but something felt wrong about that. So I went online and, by searching the Grand Junction Free Press, found the name of a family member who I might be able to contact. And I did, and explained the how the poem came to be, and asked permission to post it- to my delight I was given permission.


And that's the story and context behind this poem- Heather's poem. As I said, though we've never met, as long as there's breath in this body, I'll never forget her.


Emerson Park
An Elegy on the Passing of Heather Tripler

There’s snow there now where once she lay
Alone that Autumn eve
And though that day seems far away
I still lamenting grieve

For she- a daughter, mother, friend
She pined, I’m sure, in grief
For hard distraught there came her end
By Death, that surly thief

She roamed, she roamed through deepest dark
Alone, no friend to guide
And when she came upon that park
There on a bench she died

No tear went forth, nor word was said
To her who lay asleep
Til angels by her bed were led
In solace ever deep

“Awake, dear child, slumber’s past”
They said in one accord
“Come to the warmth and light at last
For therein is the Lord”
-jwm

March 31, 2016

Epictetus, the Moirai, and Control: A Poem


Epictetus

What we cannot control, he said
We mustn't fear nor tacit dread
For its becoming, good or ill
Transcends the limits of our will
What we must rather do, he states
Is line our will up with the Fates
And let their hands our lives unfold
And bask serene in peace untold

But let us not in vain pretend
That there is little we can lend
For there is Power in our soul
And there are things we do control

-jwm

Of the Poem (A Brief Note):

Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher whose works I've known for nearly two decades. He was born around 55 AD, in what is now modern day Turkey, and espoused and delineated a philosophical system of ethics that reaches as far back as Zeno of Citium, but whose system of ethics was heavily influenced by Cleanthes and Chrysippus.

Much like Socrates (who in the Stoic tradition was the quintessential ethical standard), Epictetus regarded the pursuit of philosophical contemplation and reason as something intrinsically practical, as a way of actually understanding life and living it in order to attain its highest treasure: Happiness.

It would be overkill for this particular post to review the system of ethics held by the Stoics. Suffice it to say, however, that Epictetus constantly warns that there are things that are in staunch (and sometimes brutal) control of external forces, and that, if we want to achieve anything resembling a happy and content life, we ought to allow Fate to reside over those things.

So when thunderstorms come, or illnesses arise, or death or the conflagration of the world unfolds, we must not shrink beneath them in fear, but rather know that though these things be, there are things that we in fact do have control over- namely, the way we view events, how we respond to them both emotionally and intellectually, what we ought to fear and what not. In short, the interiors of our mental states, which neither thunderstorm, nor illness, nor even death have the power to assail. Hence the poem.

As a side note, while it is true that the ancients believed in the Moirai (i.e. the Fates), it doesn't follow that the Stoics did. However, they most certainly believed that, while we have free will, the universe and all in it are still governed by Fate.

February 09, 2016

Southey's War


There's nothing more horrifying to me than war. That we have it 'in us' to slaughter each other by the billions, without compunction, and with such derelict indifference, is something so unbelievable to me that I've literally caught myself doubting whether warfare ever happens at all- no exaggeration. And yet, to my own dismay- because I find the subject so indelibly intriguing, even mystifying and sometimes morally imperative- I find myself steeped in scruples about it.

I purchased The New Oxford Book of War Poetry recently, and the first poem I flipped to was Robert Southey'sThe Battle of Blenheima poem lauded in England as an anti-war poem ... and yet Southey isn't exactly an anti-war poet like, say, Siegfried Sassoon, or Wilfred Owen (the two of whom, by the way, were soldiers in a war much more brutal than that of Blenheim). 


Byron couldn't peg Southey either. On the one hand, The Battle of Blenheim seems to detest the indifference we have when it comes to the carnage war brings, and yet in another poem of his, The Poet's Pilgrimage to Waterloo, our poet seems to lend a sort of homage it. According to Wikipedia, "By 1820, however, Southey had changed his mind about the Battle [of Blenheim], describing it instead as the most brilliant moment in British arms." And yet, again, The Battle of Blenheim, written in 1796, implicitly, if not directly, condemns the apathetic attitude we have about war.

And so I find myself somewhat akin to Southey's ebb and flow on the topic of warfare, and its aftermath. 

Summary of the Poem

In Southey's poem an old man sits in front of his cottage with his granddaughter as the two watch her brother play by a stream. The brother finds something large and round, which he brings to his grandfather. Turns out, the boy found a human skull. The grandfather, Kaspar, tells young Peterkin that he finds these all the time, sometimes even turns up bones out of the ground when he ploughs. He goes on to explain that there was a great battle in the area between the English and the French, and that many lives were lost- even innocent women and children- but that the battle was nevertheless a great victory. Astonished, the grandson inquires into the reason for the battle, and the grandfather, cognizant only of the great victory and not of the thousands of lives lost, admits that he has absolutely no idea why the bloodshed occurred ... hence the poem's polemic on war as a seemingly unnecessary and unfortunate reality (not to mention our indifference towards it). Below, the poem in its entirety.  

The Poem

The Battle of Blenheim

                    I.
It was a summer evening,
    Old Kaspar's work was done;
And he before his cottage door
    Was sitting in the sun,
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.
                    II.
She saw her brother Peterkin
    Roll something large and round,
That he beside the rivulet
    In playing there had found;
He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large, and smooth, and round.
                   III.
Old Kaspar took it from the boy
    Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
    And with a natural sigh,
'Tis some poor fellow's scull, said he,
Who fell in the great victory.

                    IV.
I find them in the garden, for
    There's many here about,
And often when I go to plough,
    The ploughshare turns them out;
For many thousand men, said he,
Were slain in the great victory.
                    V.
Now tell us what 'twas all about,
    Young Peterkin he cries,
And little Wilhelmine looks up
    With wonder-waiting eyes;
Now tell us all about the war,
And what they kill'd each other for.
                    VI.
It was the English, Kaspar cried,
    That put the French to rout;
But what they kill'd each other for,
    I could not well make out.
But every body said, quoth he,
That 'twas a famous victory.
                   VII.
My father lived at Blenheim then,
    Yon little stream hard by,
They burnt his dwelling to the ground
    And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.
                   VIII.
With fire and sword the country round
    Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
    And new-born infant died.
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.
                    IX.
They say it was a shocking sight
    After the field was won,
For many thousand bodies here
    Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that you know must be
After a famous victory.
                    X.
Great praise the Duke of Marlbro' won,
    And our good Prince Eugene.—
Why 'twas a very wicked thing!
    Said little Wilhelmine.
Nay—nay—my little girl, quoth he,
It was a famous victory.
                    XI.
And every body praised the Duke
    Who such a fight did win.
But what good came of it at last?—
    Quoth little Peterkin.
Why that I cannot tell, said he,
But 'twas a famous victory.

Of the Poem (A Few Notes)

It's not often that we happen upon human skulls or bones in our lives. In the poem, Kaspar has seen many of these, and is quite aware why- the result of a large battle where many thousand men were slain. His outlook on this, and on the aftermath of the battle, seems one of indifference and a sort of 'these things happen' attitude. He's repeatedly justifying or maybe even ignoring the carnage and loss of human life from the perspective of victory, as if the loss of human life through warfare was a normal condition of human existence:

And many a childing mother then,
    And new-born infant died.
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory

Or again, in stanza IX:

For many thousand bodies here
    Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that you know must be
After a famous victory

Amazingly, Kaspar even glosses over that fact that his own father and mother were directly affected by this war, that as he was a child his parents had to flee for their lives because their home and the town they lived in was set aflame- his parents essentially becoming refugees ... yet still, as Kaspar's refrain declares, "things like that, you know, must be." 

My father lived at Blenheim then,
    Yon little stream hard by,
They burnt his dwelling to the ground
    And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.

Perhaps the poem isn't solely a diatribe against war and our indifference towards it- perhaps it tacitly condemns our affection for vengeance.  I suggest this because it's strange to me that Kaspar knows the finest details of his parent's plight, but claims to know nothing at all about the cause of the conflict, which makes me wonder if his parents might have died as a result of it, and that as a result of deep-seated resentment he praises the routing and slaughter of the French by the English, not caring at all for the reason or 'why' of the war.

To be clear, the battle Southey refers to actually happened historically. In 1704, as the result of a long and drawn out power-struggle with France and Bavaria, Austria and England eventually, and essentially, massacred their enemy. 20 to 40,000 French soldiers lost their lives there by the Danube during this conflict- this compared to a mere (mere?) 5 to 6,000 lives of allied Austrian and English forces (this doesn't include civilian casualties and displacement, by the way, which are almost always higher). 

What I'm saying is that this poem doesn't just center around a story with fictional characters that we can just forget about when we're done reading it- no, real individual humans, thousands upon thousands, actually lost their lives over a conflict that our poet's narrator seems to care nothing about. 

Interestingly, we have the perspective of Kaspar's grandchildren, young Wilhelmine and her brother Peterkin. Horrified would be too strong a word to use, but they were no doubt deeply astonished that events like these occur. Warfare? Young Peterkin didn't even know that what he was playing with was a human skull (he came to ask what he had found, the poem declares). The concept of death itself seemed completely foreign to these children, much less that we inflict this eventuality on each other wholesale! 

Wilhelmine and Peterkin, eager to understand what happened here, and why they were handling a human skull, seemed naturally repulsed by the notion of war. In fact, if Southey's poem directly condemns the idea of war, it's from the perspective of Kaspar's grandchildren. 

The kids didn't care at all about the victory, but rather why such an event could even be possible. Peterkin asks repeatedly in perplexed desperation: Now tell us what 'twas all about ... tell us all about the war / And what they kill'd each other for

Wilhelmine, who seems to be the younger of the grandchildren, without prejudice outright condemns the notion of war, of such tremendous loss of life, and of the suffering of women and children.

Why 'twas a very wicked thing!
    Said little Wilhelmine.

One recalls the phrase: From the mouth of babes ... 

There are so many angles that one can take regarding the anti-war polemics this poem endorses (whether Southey is for or against war), way too many for me to cover here at this time. Still, I'm in scruples. Sometimes some wars seem imperative, and yet, at other times (most times), one of the most despicable evils that we have brought upon ourselves.

You tell me ... 

As of April 9th, 2010