The Poets

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”

March 31, 2016

Epictetus, the Moirai, and Control: A Poem


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


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

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.
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.
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ... 

January 31, 2016

Southey & Seinfeld

 Makes me chuckle ...

I'm working on a blog post for one of Robert Southey's poems, and it just occurred to me, doesn't Southey look like a younger version of Kramer from Seinfeld?

December 05, 2015

Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev

I could detect an accent that was deeply Slavic in the very last patient I brought back yesterday- an elderly lady who was confined to a wheelchair. I couldn't resist and asked her if she would mind my asking its origin. Turns out, as I suspected, it was Russian.

I asked her if she knew who
FyodorTyutchev was and she looked at me with a sort of crazed astonishment- how the hell does this 'kid' know who Tyutchev is? I explained that I discovered his works about five years ago through translations rendered by VladimirNabokov, to which she smiled.

She said to me, “Listen”, and without missing a beat recited one of his poems in its entirety, in Russian!

Люблю грозу в начале мая,
Когда весенний, первый гром,
Как бы резвяся и играя,
Грохочет в небе голубом.

Гремят раскаты молодые!
Вот дождик брызнул, пыль летит…
Повисли перлы дождевые,
И солнце нити золотит…

С горы бежит поток проворный,
В лесу не молкнет птичий гам,
И гам лесной, и шум нагорный —
Все вторит весело громам…

Ты скажешь: ветреная Геба,
Кормя Зевесова орла,
Громокипящий кубок с неба,
Смеясь, на землю пролила!

I looked at her with crazed astonishm
ent! I told her how beautiful her delivery of it was, and she told me that in English the poem is called, Spring Storm (ВЕСЕННЯЯ ГРОЗА). I've read it, and Nabokov translation of it is gorgeous- I couldn't imagine how much better it must be in its native language.

With that said, and considering that on this very day in 1803 our poet, Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev, was born, I thought it would be awesome to post this poem as a tribute to his legacy and contribution to Russian literature and the realm of poetry itself. Happy birthday, Tyutchev.

Spring Storm

I love a storm in early May
When springtime's boisterous, firstborn thunder
Over the sky will gaily wander
And growl and roar as though in play.

A peal, another - gleeful, cheering...
Rain, raindust... On the trees, behold!-
The drops hang, each a long pearl earring;
Bright sunshine paints the thin threads gold.

A stream downhill goes rushing reckless,
And in the woods the birds rejoice.
Din. Clamour. Noise. All nature echoes
The thunder's youthful, merry voice.

You'll say: 'Tis laughing, carefree Hebe -
She fed her father's eagle, and
The Storm Cup brimming with a seething
And bubbling wine dropped from her hand. 


November 29, 2015

Endless, Endless Stars


Endless Stars

I dare not tread near blasphemy
But lo! how bold the sun-filled sky
Hangs high and lovely over me
Yet perpetrates a daring lie

For though its blue I view with glee
It seems to hint so tacitly
That none exists but it and I
And therein lies the false decree

For when the sun's descent draws nigh
A twilight hue appears on high
And fills the former canopy
With endless, endless stars to see


Of the Poem

Structure: Three quatrains
Meter: Tetrameter (i.e. eight syllables per line)
Rhyme scheme: Mixed

It's been a while since I posted here- life, as you may well know, has busy peeks that tend to limit the leisure that is so conducive to poetry writing and other outlets of creativity. Anyhow, for now at any rate, I'm back.

That said, the idea for this particular poem came from one that was written by Russian poet, Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev, titled Day and Night.

Usually, when writing poetry, I consciously adhere to a set meter and rhyme scheme. With this one, although I confined myself to eight syllables per line, I decided to allow the rhyme scheme to vary from quatrain to quatrain, so that the reading of it would flow smoothly without being predictable, resulting in this particular alternating scheme: abab aaba bbaa.

I've been trying to avoid using archaic language while writing over the last year or so, which is especially hard considering that I'm a big fan of KJV, coupled with the fact that I'm mesmerized by the diction employed by John Milton (my first real influence in poetry). So, with words like lo and nigh, I ask anyone in advance who's reading this poem to forgive their usage.

Thank you for stopping by ... please, let me know what you think of the work. 

August 02, 2015

La Piana & Bei Dao

La Piana: In 1989 you were exiled from China and you have been barred from returning since then. How has the experience of exile changed your relation to China and to the Chinese language?

Bei Dao: At first I thought I was being exiled only for a short time. But it got longer and longer. As a writer, the most important thing for me is to continue to write, no matter where I am. The last five years have in some sense been the most difficult of my life, although materially I am okay. But the sense of solitude is very difficult, so I feel that I have to continue to write. Writing is the thing that sustains me and keeps me going. It is a form of self-preservation for me. People have asked about my being cut off from the Chinese language. But writing is always a challenge anyway, whether you are writing in China or outside. The question is how are you going to respond to that challenge.

Of the Misty Poets: Bei Dao

From roughly 1979 to 1989, a group of poets called the Misty Poets (Ménglóng Shi Rén) arose in post-Maoist China.

Disillusioned by the Maoist regime, it's propaganda, and it's political subjugation of both art and ideology, many Chinese poets and writers gathered secretly together to read literature that was condemned by the government, to write and exchange their works, and to promote ideas of freedom and individual expression- for which many were arrested and sentenced to long durations in prison. Others didn't fare so well.

Zhao Zhengkai- better known by his nom de plume, Bei Dao- was one such poet.

It was in 1969, after having served as a member of the paramilitary RedGuard during the Cultural Revolution, that Bei Dao's political views radically changed as he was sent to do labor work in the squalid, impoverished countryside of his homeland. The conditions were so deplorable that he lost all enthusiasm for the revolution. This is when he began, in secret, to study and read and write poetry.

Over a period of time many small underground groups that shared Bei Dao's sentiments, and his artistic means of expressing those sentiments, began to form. By 1978 Bei Dao- along with fellow poet and friend, Mang Ke- founded an underground literary journal called Jintian (Today). After two years of intense surveillance, harassment, and arrests, the Chinese government had the underground journal shut down.

Over the years Bei Dao traveled abroad and connected with literary groups in several countries. He happened to be in Germany when the massacre of Tiananmen Square occurred in 1989. Thought to have had a hand in those protests, or to have influenced them somehow, the Chinese government forced exile on our poet by denying his reentry into the country. Bei Dao, along with several other Misty Poets, have not been allowed back since. 



I first learned about these poets in 2010 and immediately fell in love with the works of Bei Dao, Shu Ting, and Gu Cheng. It was on this particular day in 1949 that Bei Dao was born, and so I thought I'd take it upon myself to honor our poet by posting on him briefly. That said, I'd like to share a poem written by him, called The Boundary.

The Boundary

I want to go to the other bank

The river water alters the sky's colour
and alters me
I am in the current
my shadow stands by the river bank
like a tree struck by lightning

I want to go to the other bank

In the trees on the other bank
a solitary startled wood pigeon
flies towards me

Beautiful, right? The poem was published in Bei Dao's TheAugust Sleepwalker (1990), and translated by Bonnie S. McDougall. The poems in that collection are said to be “all of the poems Bei Dao published between 1970 and 1986”, works that were therefore prior to his being exiled. Strangely, though, when I first read the poem the imagery therein lead me to believe that the poem was, in fact, about exile. Allow me to explain, and please let me know what you think.

The 'boundary' is obviously the river water that's dividing two river banks. The poet desires to be on the other river bank, but his desires are painfully thwarted by the river and its current- the river water (or boundary) representing his exile; the other bank the poet's homeland, China.

That the river water alters the colour of the sky, which in turn alters our poet, signifies that this exile is an imposition on our poet's freedom (represented by the sky), and that this imposition deeply pains (or alters) our poet, as we'll soon see.

The narrator desperately desires to reach the other bank, so much so that he stands there at the river's edge and sees his shadow 'like a tree struck by lightning', indicating the poet's depth of pain. He again, and almost mournfully, reiterates his desire: I want to go to the other bank … but the river and its current (his exile) prevents him.

Finally, in the last stanza, the poet sees the trees on the other river bank. Just as the tree struck by lightning (line 6) represented the poet and his depth of pain, so too the trees on the other bank represent people- and because the other bank represents China, the trees represent his countrymen from whom he's exiled.

But what of the wood pigeon? Note that it's startled, indicating a state of trepidation, and that it's in the trees (plural). I take this to indicate a general trepidation that still persists in the heart of his countrymen, just as it did in Tiananmen Square in 1989. That the wood pigeon flies toward our beloved poet can only indicate for me a sympathetic reaching out of his countrymen.

And there you have it, my interpretation of Bei Dao's poem,
The Boundary. That this is what the poet intend I am highly doubtful- as I mentioned, the poem is said to have been written between 1970 and 1986, prior to him being exiled in '89. Nevertheless, this was the first impression I derived from it, and so I remain faithful to it. I would so love to know your interpretation of it.

Thank you for stopping by. And Bei Dao, happy birthday, my friend ...

July 10, 2015

Japan's Poetic Anthem

My daughter and I enjoyed an awesome game of football this past weekend as we watched the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup- it was the States verses Japan, and though Japan played really well, the U.S. team won.

Before the game was underway the national anthem of both countries were sung- a tradition that I've always thought was cool, showing respect to each teams homeland. Anyhow, my daughter and I wondered in interest toward each other what the words were to Japan's national anthem. I made a mental note to myself to look it up later.

It turns out that Japan's national anthem- the Kimigayo, as it's called- is a poem whose written lyrics constitute the oldest national anthem (written during the Heian period, 794 - 1185), and whose length by text is also ranked the shortest.

This national anthem is written in the form of Japanese poetry called waka, and was written in the 10th century into a collection of works known as the Kokin Wakashū (Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times), works that were compiled under the Imperial order of Emperor Diago. The author of the poem is said to be Ki no Tsurayuki, a renown Japanese poet.

The poem mimics the structure of what in Japan is called a tanka
, i.e. a poem whose meter and structure is: 5-7-5-7-7. Apart from the haiku tradition in Japanese poetry, the tanka is without a question the next most popular form employed in Japan's history.

The imagery these poems employ totally reminds me of the works of Hilda Doolittle and the Misty Poets of China, and typically evoke vivid mental pictures that are at times exceedingly mesmerizing, irresistible, and increadible- especially considering their brevity.

That said, below is the poem that has become Japan's national anthem (the photo above is the poem written in Japanese). 


May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss

Read aloud this poem is gorgeous, right? And that's in English! I can imagine that the Japanese have a greater appreciation for it in their own language, and that the imagery is most certainly more vivid than any translation of it could render. Again, translated or not, the imagery employed is splendid.

There's also a poeticized English translation of it by Basil Hall Chamberlain, an British professor of Japanese at Tokyo Imperial University.

Thousands of years of happy reign be thine;
Rule on, my lord, until what are pebbles now
By ages united to mighty rocks shall grow
Whose venerable sides the moss doth line.

I do like it, but I think the first translation above was a little better because of its rawness, and I imagine that it sticks closer to the original Japanese version as it has less stringent parameters.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Below is a video of this
10th century poem, now the national anthem of one of my favorite countries, being sung (different English translations than those above) ... enjoy.

June 03, 2015

An Allan Wolf Joke

Question: What did the poet say to Luke Skywalker?
Answer: “Metaphors be with you.”


Forgive me ... I came across this Allan Wolf joke and had to post it. In fact, he has a ton that pertain to poetry and are similar. Click the link if you'd like to check 'em out ...

As of April 9th, 2010