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The Poets

December 31, 2009

2010

“Another fresh new year is here . . .
Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt, and fear,
To love and laugh and give!

This bright new year is given me
To live each day with zest . . .
To daily grow and try to be
My highest and my best!

I have the opportunity
Once more to right some wrongs,
To pray for peace, to plant a tree,
And sing more joyful songs!”

Old Long Since


Auld Lang Syne is a Scottish dialect poem written by Robert Burns, one of Scotland's finest poets. The literal transliteration of the title (auld lang syne) is "old long since" (which roughly means "days gone by").

The poem was inspired by an old folk song, and possibly influenced by a ballad written by James Watson in 1711. Upon its completion in 1788, Burns submitted it to the Scots Musical Museum with heavy emphasis on its oral and antiquated origin.

The poem, which begins with the question as to whether or not old time should be forgotten, has become a celebratory song in most English speaking countries. In America, for example, it is sung as a New Year comes into existence, and the ‘Old Year’ recedes.


****


Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne

We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pou'd the gowans fine;
we've wander'd mony a weary foot
Sin' auld lang syne

We two hae paidled i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne

And here's a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne


****


Since the publication of Burns’ poem and the selection of music that was to attend it, many versions of the song have since come into being (notwithstanding, the common theme has remained the same). Below is a version- a pretty version- of that old Scottish folk song passed down to us here as we exit a decade, and enter a new one.

Have a happy and safe New Year.



Robert Burns*


Robert Burns (1759 - 1796)

Born in Alloway, Scotland, on January 25, 1759, Robert Burns was the first of William and Agnes Burnes' seven children. His father, a tenant farmer, educated his children at home. Burns also attended one year of mathematics schooling and, between 1765 and 1768, he attended an "adventure" school established by his father and John Murdock. His father died in bankruptcy in 1784, and Burns and his brother Gilbert took over farm. This hard labor later contributed to the heart trouble that Burns' suffered as an adult.

At the age of fifteen, he fell in love and shortly thereafter he wrote his first poem. As a young man, Burns pursued both love and poetry with uncommon zeal. In 1785, he fathered the first of his fourteen children. His biographer, DeLancey Ferguson, had said, "it was not so much that he was conspicuously sinful as that he sinned conspicuously." Between 1784 and 1785, Burns also wrote many of the poems collected in his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which was printed in 1786 and paid for by subscriptions. This collection was an immediate success and Burns was celebrated throughout England and Scotland as a great "peasant-poet."

In 1788, he and his wife, Jean Armour, settled in Ellisland, where Burns was given a commission as an excise officer. He also began to assist James Johnson in collecting folk songs for an anthology entitled The Scots Musical Museum. Burns' spent the final twelve years of his life editing and imitating traditional folk songs for this volume and for Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs. These volumes were essential in preserving parts of Scotland's cultural heritage and include such well-known songs as "My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose" and "Auld Land Syne." Robert Burns died from heart disease at the age of thirty-seven. On the day of his death, Jean Armour gave birth to his last son, Maxwell.

Most of Burns' poems were written in Scots. They document and celebrate traditional Scottish culture, expressions of farm life, and class and religious distinctions. Burns wrote in a variety of forms: epistles to friends, ballads, and songs. His best-known poem is the mock-heroic Tam o' Shanter. He is also well known for the over three hundred songs he wrote which celebrate love, friendship, work, and drink with often hilarious and tender sympathy. Even today, he is often referred to as the National Bard of Scotland.



*Biography from Poets.org

December 24, 2009

A Hymn for Christmas-Day


In the 1793 edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems, under the title Hymn for Christmas Day, there's a poem that contemporary carolers are most likely very familiar with- or should I say almost familiar with. I refer to that delightful Christmas hymn, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.

The song as it’s commonly sung today consists of thirty lines divided into three stanzas. However, when Charles Wesley wrote the poem (and make no mistakes- it's a poem) there were twenty additional lines, and every stanza was a quatrain. The original beginning couplet of the poem, which is now a repeating couplet in our contemporary hymn, was also different:

Hark! how all the welkin rings
“Glory to the King of Kings”

The couplet as it exists in its current form was a change initiated by a friend and coworker of Wesley’s, George Whitefield - I have a feeling it may have had something to do with that funny little word, welkin.

A little over a hundred years later Felix Mendelssohn would dedicate a musical piece to Gutenberg’s achievement of the printing press. Meant to be a purely secular piece, the music behind that dedication would later serve as the melody for Wesley’s poem (a beautiful choice made by William Cummings).

Below is Wesley’s poem as it appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems. I would love to know what others think about the last four stanzas, the ones many hardley know. Enjoy, and have a merry Christmas all.

*******

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconcil’d!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”

Christ, by highest Heaven ador’d,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb!

Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as man with men to appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

December 21, 2009

Keep Me in Thee


Keep me in thee in this day
Grace me that I may not stray
Let what's wrought be wrought by thee
That thy will be willed in me

-jwm

December 20, 2009

A Dark Fog Has Lifted


Years ago- around the late 90s- I found a poem tucked away within the pages of a book of mine, the Dialogues of Plato. It was hand written on yellow notebook paper, and had the name ‘john’ jotted just a little to the upper right hand of it.

Now I owned that book for the longest time, read and reread it more times than I can count. My point- that poem wasn’t in there when I first purchased it used from a coffeehouse in downtown Denver, which leads me to believe that it had been dedicated to me anonymously.

At this point in my life poetry and the study thereof had only been a marginal delight- and this at best! No, deep theological and philosophical studies consumed most of my time, which is what makes the dedication of this poem to me odd?

What’s more- and let me premise this by saying I’ve determined the hand writing to be that of a female- the content doesn’t seem to fit the context of my life as it was then. Had it spoke of love in the sense of romance I might have concluded someone’s secret crush snuck that poem in those pages … but it has nothing of the sort. Sure, there’s the 15th and 16th line, but this is predicated upon the idea of family (line 6) rather than a love-relationship.

Anyhow, I recently reread the poem and, despite a few grammatical glitches, must readily admit that I think it’s a good work. I just wish I knew who wrote it.



*****

A dark fog has lifted from
Confused souls,
We have found ourselves
In a clearing.
Looking around we can 5
Recognise our family
Only arms reach away.
We each have our pain
To hold,
Despair preys so close upon 10
Us all.
But we are no longer blind,
We have the eyes to see
What is held most true.
In seeing it in each other 15
We recognise it in ourselves.
Though we face our histories
Alone,
We survive together
In truth, love, beauty and understanding 20
We live.

December 15, 2009

".. to be just so clear .. "


A poet dares to be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily, like a mariner who is determined not to scrape his bottom on anything solid. A poet's pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.

-E.B. White


December 14, 2009

Elhanan

And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver's beam. ~I Chronicles 20:5


Elhanan
Was a son of Jair’s
Who slew like David
Anak’s heirs-
Titan men
From days of old,
Whose lofty minds
And hearts were cold.

Like Lahmi-
O that foolish foe-
Who mocked the Lord
With words of woe.
His pride-lust
And his scand’lous ways
By Elah’s grounds
Would end his days.

War-prone how
He towered high
As humble lad
And Lord drew nigh …
And just as he
Was weapon clad
A fatal blow
Came from the lad!

And so upon
The desert plain
Dagon’s pride
By God lay slain
Prefiguring
The days to be
When Christ would claim
Like victory.

-jwm



Of the Poem (Parameters):

Meter: Loose; No less than 3 syllables, no more than 5 (per line)
Rhyme Scheme: x.a.x.a.x.b.x.b ('x' represents unrhymed lines)
Stanza: Octet (i.e. 8 lines per stanza)
Note: The meter was inspired by anacreontic verse.

Coming to terms with names:

Elhanan (el-haw-nun) was a warrior and hero who, like David, slew a giant.
Jair (j-air) was the father of Elhanan.
Anak (an-nack) refers to an ancient family of giants, sometimes associated with the Nephilium.
Lahmi (lah-mee) was a giant, and the brother of Goliath.
Elah (ee-lah) is the field where Goliath was put down.
Dagon (day-gun) is the god whom the Philistines worshipped.

Note that in comments area is a brief explication as to the developement of the poem.

December 09, 2009

Happy Birthday Milton


One and four hundred years ago from this day there was born a man who would become one of history's greatest poets ... John Milton.

Anyone who knows me knows that not only does he bare a great influence on my poetic preferences, but that it was by reading his Paradise Lost that I developed an irreversible passion for poetry in the first place.

With that said, here are two poems written by him, poems particularly appropriate for this day's blog as their subjects deal with temporal existence and how we relate to it.

(The first one is about the consuming nature of Time and Eternity's triumph over it; and the second one, written by Milton on his 24th birthday, is about time and how he's aging through it.)


To this thy fete of birth
With joy and godly boast
Thy works and thee in mirth
We celebrate and toast

-jwm

****


On Time

Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets pace;
And glut thy self with what thy womb devours,
Which is no more then what is false and vain,
And meerly mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.
For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb'd,
And last of all, thy greedy self consum'd,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss;
And Joy shall overtake us as a flood,
When every thing that is sincerely good
And perfectly divine,
With Truth, and Peace, and Love shall ever shine
About the supreme Throne
Of him, t'whose happy-making sight alone,
When once our heav'nly-guided soul shall clime,
Then all this Earthy grosnes quit,
Attir'd with Stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee O Time.


****


How Soon Hath Time

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stoln on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on wtih full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great Taskmaster's eye.

December 02, 2009

A Quatrain on May


Some want for Winter when it’s May-
But May is haply of my soul.
Should Winter rise by what they pray,
I pray my May their Winter null.

-jwm
Of the Poem:

A fun, simple (albeit cryptic) quatrain I wrote Nov. 9th ... thought I'd post it here as well.

November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Per Cicero


Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

-Marcus Tullius Cicero

November 24, 2009

Robert Penn Warren


The poet is in the end probably more afraid of the dogmatist who wants to extract the message from the poem and throw the poem away than he is of the sentimentalist who says, "Oh, just let me enjoy the poem."

-Robert Penn Warren

November 23, 2009

Under the Influence of Yeats

A year ago* I placed a journal entry referring to a poem I read by Yeats. The poem is called The Song of Wandering Aengus, and it influenced me so much so that not only would I adopt tetrameter as my own standard meter, but the rhyme scheme and stanza type would be sprinkled throughout my own works.

In fact, A Memory of Delta D.O.C. (a poem of true events) was the very first experimental stanza I wrote after having read Yeats' poem. I immediately felt comfort using these poetic parameters.


*****

A Memory of Delta D.O.C.

I left the buildings for the brink-
For Delta’s wretched grounds below-
To interface with others jailed,
When to delight a sight did show:
The prison sky seemed calm to me
As orange tints embraced her blue;
Then Jesus spoke through every cloud
With love no mortal mouth can do.


*****


I owe Yeats a great debt of thanks as his poem- this particular poem- has contributed a great deal to the poetic style of writing I’ve adopted . I thought it therefore utterly appropriate to post it here today- a sort of commemoration and extension of gratitude to Yeats and his work.


*****


The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.



*The journal entry was actually on 11/23/08 and read:

Read The Song of Wandering Aengus by Yeats; recorded the format of this poem and scripted a stanza after its manner.

November 11, 2009

Rapture (by Richard Garcia)*


Rapture

Born to dwell in darkness, this carrier of light.
Denied rapture with the Holy One, called to stand and fight.

For the sake of the lost sheep The Shepherd does require,
a child to lead them from the Butcher's blade,
sparing them the unquenchable thirst of the everlasting fire.

I look to the heavens in search of lost grace.
Shadows of this world I'm left to comfort,
tears anoint my face.

I'll walk this world of darkness, I'll carry the sword of light
I'll face the Accuser of the brethren.
Fot the Good Shepherd's flock,
I'll lay down my life.



Of the Poem:

So many have taken as their poetic topic noble subjects such as love, beauty, romance, honor, heroism, and a plethora of others. These subjects have been so thoroughly exhausted that it's difficult to produce a written work that doesn't sound like another's. So when I come across a poem that has an original signature to it, an original sound or way about it, that takes on a topic or aspect that is atypical, I get excited.

The poem above, written by aspiring poet Richard Garcia, is one of those that falls in the atypical category. Not often enough- or at least from my perspective and studies- not often enough does one come across eschatology in poetry, especially eschatology pertaining to the Christian idea of the rapture. The poem above is about one left behind after the rapture has happened, and the resolve this person has to maintain the Christian faith as a soldier of Christ in what will ultimately become the darkest of times.

In reading the poem I’m reminded of the eschatological poem of Yeat, The Second Coming. I think this poem is a good read, and give much do accolade to Mr. Garcia for the scripting of it. I’d love love love to know what others think of it.


*****

Poetic Parameters

Meter: Open Meter

Stanza: Mixed
The opening stanza is a closed couplet
The second and third are tercets
The concluding stanza is a quatrain

Rhyme Scheme:
1st stanza: a.a.
2nd & 3rd stanzas a.b.a. (per stanza)
4th stanza: Open (with a possible oblique intended with 'light' and 'life')


*Rapture by Richard Garcia
© 09/12/2008

November 08, 2009

When Last My Heart Gives Way

When last my heart gives way
To a melancholy,
When dim dark steals the day
And grief weeps of folly,
I seek Him and he loves me free
Despite my lack or sin’s degree.

When last my shame has fled
From all this soul contrite,
And sin in me seems dead-
Or dead at least the sight-
I leave Him who had loved me free,
And wish my Lord leave me to be …

… ‘til next my heart gives way.

-jwm

November 04, 2009

Wyatt’s Rhyme Royal


Sir Thomas Wyatt, along with the Earl of Surrey, is said to have introduced sonnets to the English language. Now I’ve read several of these works- all of which I both enjoyed and learned from- and every one of them were in the form of sonnets. So imagine how surprised and overjoyed I was to discover- this afternoon- that Wyatt had in fact experimented with other forms! I literally just stumbled on the poem below while browsing online.

Anyone who knows Wyatt knows that he was utterly obsessed with Anne Boleyn, a pretty young lady of the court of Henry VIII, who eventually became the Queen of England, and whose death by execution shook England’s world at the time.

The poem is obviously about love divided, and I think the presupposition that it pertains to Wyatt’s infatuation is a safe one.

To those eyes that read it here, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.


*****

What Should I Say

What should I say,
Since faith is dead,
And truth away
From you is fled?
Should I be led
With doubleness?
Nay, nay, mistress!

I promised you,
And you promised me,
To be as true
As I would be.
But since I see
Your double heart,
Farewell my part!

Though for to take
It is not my mind,
But to forsake
[One so unkind]
And as I find,
So will I trust:
Farewell, unjust!

Can ye say nay?
But you said
That I alway
Should be obeyed?
And thus betrayed
Or that I wiste--
Farewell, unkissed.

*****

Of the Poem’s Parameters:

Stanza: Septet (i.e. seven lines per stanza)
Meter: The meter here is primarily a dimeter (a form not widely used; consider Thomas Hardy's poem The Robin)
Rhyme Scheme: Wyatt follows the Rhyme Royal perfectly (i.e. a.b.a.b.b.c.c.)

This poem has excited in me a desire- which in truth I’ve had for a while- to write a poem using Rhyme Royal ... in fact, I’ve already begun, using Wyatt's model.

November 02, 2009

Pontius


Pontius

And know this, my Judean lord
'Tis I that wash the guilted pure
Thy water and thy brazen bowl
They lack the potency to cure

Though earthen silt be washed away
Despite the warning of thy wife
The guilt that stains thy blooded hands
Will 'til Vienne stain all thy life

-jwm

October 31, 2009

The Witch of Aberdeen

I knew a girl who loved the dark,
Whose lonely laughter plagu’d the night:
She flew a broom of riddled bark
Against the pale of crescent light.

One day en masse her village rose
And seized her from her dwelling place-
Entangled violence ripped her clothes,
And all the struggle bruised her face.

They tossed her to the fi’ry hearth-
Condemned she was by town’s decree:
So that it’s known through all this earth,
No witch will ‘mongst us ever be.

But soft reply would softly come
From copper blazes flaming high:
You seize me 'cause your hearts are numb,
That's why I flew the velvet sky.

Now bones beneath a ravenstone
Condemn those callous hearts so mean ...
And if you listen there's the moan
Of her, the witch of Aberdeen.

-jwm


Of the Poem:

Although intended as a fun Halloween poem, there’s actually some tragic historical basis to it. During the late 1500s James VI of Scotland, completely obsessed with witches and their witchcraft, decreed laws and techniques of torture that would expose those involved in the otherworldly art of darkness. The problem- as I see it- is that most of the people accused were tortured into confessions that led to their executions. In fact, and there’s plenty of evidence for this, some were executed despite their enduring torture without confession (Dr. John Fian comes to mind).

The Scottish town of Aberdeen fell victim to this trend. Take as an example the trials that occurred between 1596 and 1597 … 23 women and one male were convicted and executed (execution was usually by hanging and only afterwards a torching of the bodies).

The Witch of Aberdeen is a poem about a hypothetical female thought to be a witch (which the poem neither affirms of denies), about a female who, after having been condemned by arbitrary local laws, is taken forcefully from her home and beaten and burned to death. The subject matter- though a little morbid- was necessary in order to convey the sad and brutal historical reality of witch hunts and their executions.

October 25, 2009

That Amber Sun



I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis



That Amber Sun

Our sun, that shiny orb our Lord,
That star amongst a billion bright,
Authentic outshines all their horde
And is alone Intrinsic Light.

Though Pollux and Arcturus reign-
Whose massive aspect Rigel mocks-
Their heat extends a hellish bane
That captures only lifeless rocks.

But vaulted there’s our amber sun
Amidst those wretched stars in strife;
He’s mighty and His will is one,
And from His being we have our life.

-jwm


Of the Poem:

It’s interesting to look back and see all the contributing factors that brought a poem about- from the initial inspiration and first manifestation of its lines, to the fruition of a work whose many-layered meanings are interposed as perfectly as they can be (I say this of poets in general).

There are poets I’ve studied- Yeats comes to mind- who leave with their works commentaries that not only lend a clarifying context to it, but discloses something of the mental process the poet went through to achieve it. Although I don’t depend on these- as they may diminish a poem’s mystique- I do find them helpful at time (especially as they reveal the creative evolution of the poet’s mind).


*******


The above poem is an offshoot of another poem I was working on. That poem, now in a fragments file, began as a representation of change, the four seasons, and the source of these seasons- namely God.

What spawned the endeavor to work on it was the beautiful introductory to Autumn Colorado just had: with all the golden trees and leaves of burgundy blown about the ground, and that crisp transitional air that called for the Winter, but held fast to the Summer ... I felt so thankful to experience it.

But then a new idea heavily held my attention, and so I stored the one I had been working on away- as I have with other incomplete poems- and pursued the current poem this blog pertains to.

For the sake of what follows, here’s that pervious work (untitled):

From Autumn leaves that auburn wear
The Winter’s dreadful cold in chain,
To Spring’s electric, emerald air
Whom Summer amplifies in train …
What marv’lous sights we humans know,
Who knowing hardly come to see
The transcendental light and glow,
The Source through whom these seasons be.


The last two lines are what planted in me a desire to script out something that would be a more direct attitude of thankfulness and, well, praise. The very first stanza that came to mind, bland though it may be, was this one:

The sun- our sun- though small and frail
Amidst the stars and solar strife
Is mighty as the moon is pale
And from its being we have our life.

Feeling this to be too naturalistic, too earthbound, too devoid of the Giver of life (who most certainly isn’t the physical sun), I immediately began to use other bodies and concepts from astronomy to convey the spiritual ideas I had in mind.

Imagination, concentrated symbolism, and time were my tools for about a week- and then it was complete.

I hope this doesn’t seem self-complacent, my posting how this poem emerged, but I thought it would be fun to share how it came about.

I myself am always left wondering: what amount of time did that poet take; who or what influenced this particular work; what was the context; what was the method of composition … and it goes on and on. And so I thought I’d try to answer at least one of those questions here.

That aside, I hope you liked the poem.

October 15, 2009

Poetic Fragment



Aghast he walked among the stones
In search of iv’ry bricks to keep,
But flinted there were harlotries
Whom Venus raging put to sleep.
Their rosy cheeks and modest hues
Went pale before the Cyprus groves;
For shame they lost their chastity
To stony hearts no longer Jove’s.

-jwm




Of the Poem:

This piece of poetry is a fragment of a slightly larger work in progress (it is in fact its opening lines). I posted it here in isolation as it was initially intended to be a single stanza pertaining to the Greek figure Pygmalion.

Without going into too much detail at this time suffice it to say that he was a talented sculptor who, according to the myth, was astonished at the improprieties and harlotries committed by the women of Amathus (Cyprus). This horrified his moral conscience to the point that he made an oath never to marry or come to love a woman. As it turns out, he sculpts a piece of ivory into the most beautiful maiden he had ever laid eyes on, and falls in love with it.

The work in progress will be about that story, but the stanza above, which employs Romanized aspects of the Greek myth, pertains to the women of Amathus who had become so obstinately reprobate that their hearts were like flint, where all signs of innocence- rosy cheeks, modest hues, their chastity- all vanished as a reuslt of this and a curse Venus put on them.

Leaves of Scarlet

Rilke’s Winter’s in my breast
Milton’s happy Summer’s gone
Black’s the bough that’s bare of leaves
Leaves of scarlet on my lawn

-jwm

Autumn Tree


I felt ashamed, O Autumn tree
Your cinders falling to the ground
I thought them falling deathward, see
But now I know they’re heaven bound

-jwm

perdition

that lucid dark
whose light is done
seems all its moons are crescent now

the fallen lark
and hidden sun
their lights are dimmed- and here is how

the Hope that youthful cherubs knew
the gleaming Truth by which they glew
they flew away from his abyss
where bleeding shadows waning hiss

and Love who once with him did dwell
that sacred nymph from yonder dell
she’s gone to live in Eden’s bliss
she’s fled, she’s fled from his abyss

-jwm

October 05, 2009

Lake of Fire (Nirvana)


I love it when I come across song lyrics that clearly have a poetic structure. I’ve said this before, and I’ll reiterate it here: the song writer may or may not have intended it to be so, but to read the lyrics as poetry and to then hear the song performed is almost always interesting (I should just say always).

A few blogs back I focused briefly on some song lyrics written by the artist Sting that I felt carried a poetic import. Listening to these lyrics sung, especially in the acoustic version, was for me an utter delight. Now I can’t be certain he intended these lyrics to take on the form of poetic meter, but his reliance on a metronome seems clear enough.

In the comments area of that blog I posted a brief note pertaining to a song done by Kurt Cobain, the late lead singer of one of my favorite rock groups, Nirvana. The song is called Lake of Fire. An observation was made there by me:

Most of Kurt Cobain’s written lyrics (from my perspective) seem a little more chaotic than free verse poetry, but when he does intend a poetic form it’s usually very visible. Take as an example his song: Lake of Fire.

Lake of Fire

Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly
They go to the lake of fire and fry
Won't see em again 'till the fourth of July

I knew a lady who came from Duluth
She got bit by a dog with a rabid tooth
She went to her grave just a little too soon
And she flew away howling on the yellow moon

Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly
They go down to the lake of fire and fry
Won't see em again 'till the fourth of July

Now the people cry and the people moan
And they look for a dry place to call their home
And try to find some place to rest their bones
While the angels and the devils try to make them their own

Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly
They go down to the lake of fire and fry
Won't see em again 'till the fourth of July

Again, I can’t claim certainty here, but if Cobain didn’t intend a poetic meter in these lyrics (which I personally find hard to believe), then he was consciously or unconsciously dependent upon it for symmetry.

I thought it would be nice (and cool) to post those lyrics here along with his performance of them.

Now I don’t expect everyone to love the song, but I do urge anyone to first read the lyrics and then watch the video (I find it very interesting to compare one’s initial take on the lyrics- as poetry- to the performance of the song itself). Let me know what you think- anybody.

As a side note, as the case was with Sting’s performance, watch Cobain as he sings the song … you might like or dislike this particular piece, but you can’t deny the reflective passion he delivers with it.

October 01, 2009

Ezra Pound (A Modernist Poet)*


Ezra Loomis Pound (1885 - 1972)

Pound founded the imagist movement in American poetry and was an influential poet. He was the first to promote and publish T.S. Eliot's poetry. Recently it was discovered that Pound's suggested revisions for Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) were adopted in the final version of the work, revealing Pound as a sort of invisible "co-author" of one of the 20th century's most influential poems. Unfortunately, Pound's positive role as a teacher and promoter of modernist poets and poetics and as a translator of Oriental and Anglo-Saxon verse has been largely overshadowed by the spectacle of the vehemently reactionary anti-Semite and racist who actively supported the Fascists during World War II, was indicted for treason following the war, and was declared legally insane in 1945.

Ezra Loomis Pound was born on Oct. 30, 1885, in Hailey, Idaho, but spent most of his youth in Pennsylvania. In 1901 he began attending the University of Pennsylvania and then, two years later, transferred to Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, from which he graduated in 1905. He received a master of arts degree from Pennsylvania in 1906, where he taught while engaged in his studies. Among his pupils was poet William Carlos Williams. After teaching French and Spanish at Wabash College, Indiana, Pound left for London in 1908 on a cattle boat, where he lived until 1920.

A Lume Spento (1908), Pound's first published volume, was followed in 1909 by Personae of Ezra Pound and Exultations of Ezra Pound. Most of his early work was late romantic in style, heavily imitative of Robert Browning, and probably influenced as well by his study of Provençal chansons. The "credo" Pound stated in 1917, calling for a new "imagist" poetry of austerity, directness, and emotional freedom, a poetry "nearer the bone, " was realized in the poem Portrait d'une femme, published in Ripostes (1912), which was probably inspired by Henry James' novel Portrait of a Lady and which may have influenced T.S. Eliot's later poem of the same name.

Pound founded and edited the revolutionary literary magazine Blast in 1914 and later became the European editor of Harriet Monroe's Chicago Poetry, using his influence to promote and encourage Eliot. Harriet Monroe later said, "It was due more to Ezra Pound than to any other person that 'the revolution' was on."

Pound effectively preached the gospel of modernism during this period, but his own poetry for the most part did not live up to his teachings. He developed his own voice as a poet much more slowly than did Eliot, who by the time he left Harvard had already developed his mature style. Through his "creative translations" of Chinese poems in Cathay (1915) and his "Homage to Sextus Propertius" (1918 and 1919) Pound's characteristic mature style gradually emerged. By the time Hugh Selwyn Mauberley appeared in 1920, with its echoes of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, " Pound had achieved his artistic maturity.

In 1918 Pound began investigating the causes of World War I, the earliest evidence of his lifelong obsession with economic and political theory, to explain the failures of modern democratic society. From 1920 to 1924 Pound lived in Paris, where he was associated with Gertrude Stein and her brilliant circle of American expatriates. He dominated the avant-garde literary movements of the period. He moved to Italy in 1924, where he spent most of the rest of his life. The first of the Cantos, his magnum opus, appeared in 1925. In the years before World War II he published, in addition to his poetry, books on economics, art, and Oriental literature and lectured at the Bocconi University in Milan on Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren.

In 1941 Pound began to broadcast propaganda from Rome attacking the American war effort. The broadcasts, which expressed his complete disillusionment with democratic culture, were largely personal diatribes on the proper nature and function of art and the artist in society - thus, his indictment for treason by the American government after the war was condemned by most artists and critics. The Italian government had faithfully observed Pound's request that he not be compelled to say anything contrary to his conscience or to his duties as an American citizen; his broadcasts were misguided attempts to "save" his home-land from what he felt was a debilitating democracy rather than calls for its destruction.

Pound was returned to the United States in 1945 under indictment for treason but never stood trial. After his lawyer successfully entered a plea of insanity, Pound was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. His Pisan Cantos were given the Bollingen Award in 1949, largely through the influence of Eliot, who, along with William Carlos Williams and many other prominent figures in American letters, was instrumental in having Pound's indictment dismissed in 1958. That same year Pound was released from St. Elizabeth's under a storm of controversy and returned immediately to Italy.

When Pound returned to Naples he gave a fascist salute to assembled photographers and claimed he was the greatest living poet. He returned to his home in Merano and began gardening, planting grapes and, of course, writing. This period in his life was cut short by a heart attack in 1962. Afterwards he became very elusive and rarely talked to anyone. He continually worked on one singular project, trying to find a "paradise" to end his Cantos series. He took long walks along the streets of Venice and, as friends said, tried to come to terms with himself and his life.

There seemed to be many others as well who were trying to come to terms with Pound. The year of his death the American Academy of Arts and Sciences had turned down a request by other writers and critics to award Pound their Emerson-Thoreau Medal. By a 13 to nine vote, the Academy voted not to award Pound even though they stated that he was a great writer. They cited Pound's political views and past behavior as the reasoning behind denying him the award.

Pound died on November 1, 1972 in Venice's Civil Hospital from an intestinal blockage after falling ill at his home near St. Mark's Square.

*Biography from Poets.org

September 18, 2009

A Few Single Stanza/Poems


Speaking of single stanza poems, here’s a few that I think are pretty good (poet’s names included):



Infinity

To the ever-rising sun
There is no time, no age-
Tomorrow yesterday are one;
That which was as is to be
Doth with now as one become.
From whence we glean infinity.

Edwin A. Ackerman





Memory

Memory is a fragile thing;
A bee’s honey, and its sting.

Violet Wiggins Newton




Night is so Long

A strip of void fastened to my window frame,
And one assertive star;
Chasing me, purging me in its white flame,
Where all tomorrows are.

Mary Caluori





Friends

Some are true;
Others are not.
They’ll either love you,
Or what you’ve got.

Bea Myers



Stoic True*

Although you’ve read Chrysippus through-
And studied Epictetus too-
This doesn’t make you Stoic true,
Until you do what Stoics do.

John W. May





Hilltop Chapel

Those barless prison walls of Delta camp
Were not as frightening as one would deem.
Indeed, there I received the Spirit’s stamp,
And on hilltop chapel seen angels gleam.

Johm W. May




Bunky

With a crumpled ear and a crooked tail
And a stripped coat, like they wear in jail,
I may not amount to so very much
But still I’d like to make it clear:
I’ve earned my bed and board for life;
I caught a mouse . . . last year!

Billie Marie Crabb

****


It delights me through- this thing that bothered me a little in the past- to know that the idea of a single subject (a subject that could easily fill volumes) can be so beautifully conveyed in so short a poem. Not that I hadn’t known this before, but to see it reinforces the knowledge that it’s so.



* For the pronunciation of Chrysippus and Epictetus

September 15, 2009

Ηχω (Echo)


"That tongue of yours, by which I have been tricked, shall have its power curtailed and enjoy the briefest use of speech." (Hera to Echo. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.365).


Ηχω

What beckons back is not the word
Of her whose voice I deem sublime:
I call, but repetitions heard
Reveal not Echo’s voice, but mine.



Of the Poem (Background):

Zeus was hardly the god of fidelity, an unfortunate fact his wife Hera became increasingly aware of (especially when it came to his attraction to mountain nymphs). Desiring to catch him in the act of infidelity, Hera attempts to secretly follow Zeus, but Echo (another nymph) would distract her with her attractive voice and attractive stories. When Hera realized this she punished the nymph by stripping away her ability to speak freely. The curse only enabled Echo to repeat the last words spoken by another- hence the name.

The quatrain above indirectly embraces an aspect of the story that is seldom thought about: Echo’s isolation. In it is a voice that calls out to Echo and waits in anticipation for a response. What rings back is an exact- albeit fainter- replication of the voice’s voice. It is Echo, but the conclusion is drawn that she is nowhere to be found, and that the returning voice is a mere repetition of the original call.

The unspoken tragedy of the poem is that it is Echo’s voice beckoning back, returning the call in replications she’s unable to break- replications so convincing, so exact, that the voice concludes the non-existence of a respondent. Her voice- once loved, even cherished by the nymph herself- is now the selfsame voice that produces a deception in its hearers, that keeps Echo forever in isolation. It’s the deception placed on the calling voice- repetitions heard / reveal not Echo’s voice, but mine- that magnify the punishment originally bestow by Hera (creating, as it were, a secondary punishment of eternal isolation).

*****

I have so many isolated stanzas (as I call them) that I have a folder specifically dedicated to them. Ηχω, a simple quatrain, is grouped with these. The stanzas range from heroic couplets to tercets to octets. Each of them have been kept because I felt them to be complete, fully finished poems- this despite the fact that they’re simple stand alone stanzas.

This begs a question: How long must a poem be to be considered a poem? Is there a such thing as ‘too short’ a poem? I’m utterly comfortable calling an isolated couplet a complete poem (especially if it was intended as such). Ezra Pound certainly considered his In a Station of the Metro not only a complete poem, but a highly mature one. A haiku is an exceedingly short poem, and yet contains volumes of poetic imagery (some of the best in the world).

It seems impossible that a single word could constitute a poem; but how about two carefully placed words? John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, has a very poetic feel to it ... yet it's only two words.

As for me, I know internally when I can dub a work of mine as a poem (short or not)- but would that hold true by definition? I guess what my curiosity wants to know is this: What’s the shortest poem ever written; and, how short is too short (if there is such a thing)? Feel free to give an opinion on the matter (short or not).

copyright © 2009

September 12, 2009

Blue Moon So Rare: A Nancy Villanelle

With recent posts on the structure and (challenging) nature of the villanelle, I was pleased to see that a good friend of mine took up the task of creating one … and an absolutely beautiful one at that.

Nancy, as I mentioned to you on Facebook (where she posted this poem): you’ve singlehandedly set the bar for writing villanelles … in fact (I dare say), you’ve trumped Dylan’s popular verse … absolutely incredible ...

Below the asterisks (with her permission) is the post as laid out by her. Thank you for sharing this, Nancy. Everyone else: Enjoy!


*******

Blue Moon So Rare

The moon above so full so rare so blue
She rises high in a night sky most fair
And leads us home, you to me, me to you

Keeping deep held secrets only she knew
She whisper'd their myst’ry into the air
The moon above so full so rare so blue

A lunar lifetime one fulfill’d, then two
Spawns folklore of veil'd occurrences rare
And leads us home, you to me, me to you

To propose it is said woman sh’ant do
Still on this night with this moon she doth dare
The moon above so full so rare so blue

Hearts echoed refrain may thus engage true
Two souls as one reflect in her mirror
And leads us home, you to me, me to you

She’ll pray that you this day may say “I do”
To life’s magic and love without compare
The moon above so full so rare so blue
That leads us home, you to me, me to you

~ Nancy, 9/10/2009


Regarding the topic:

I love the folklore of the blue moon and have researched it on more than one occasion. Though the phrase “once in a blue moon” can be traced back about 400 years, its present usage only came into being in the mid-1940’s from an article in Sky & Telescope magazine. Still it was not widely known until made popular by the 1986 Genus II edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game. However, the most common understanding, the 2nd full moon in a calendar month, is now considered inaccurate and the “true” meaning said to be the 2nd full moon in a season.

Ironically, by this definition a blue moon is not even that rare – a calendar blue moon occurs 7 times every 19 years - the next of which will occur on 12/31/2009 at 7:14 p.m. MST. A seasonal blue moon is less frequent, but still not especially rare – the next occurring on 11/21/2010.

Of course, having a romantic heart, I like the superstition that under a blue moon a woman can propose to the man, and hence used that for the inspiration of my poem. This notion was born in an article about blue moons published in the long-running, and thereby taken as authoritative, Sydney Morning Herald feature, Column Eight (formerly called Granny's Column). It repeated the previously published theory and added that “under a blue moon a woman is permitted by tradition to propose to her sweetheart.” Perhaps echoing the genuinely ancient custom of women being able to propose marriage in Leap Year (or on Leap Year Day, February 29), which began with Scottish legislation to that effect in 1288.

Also being a fan of things scientific, it is interesting to note that there can be an actual visible blue moon under certain (and yes, rare) atmospheric conditions. This is caused by a concentration of dust or ice or sometimes even clouds in the air. Some recent occasions have been Krakatoa in 1883 which caused green sunsets and moons of blue, a 1927 monsoon in India, and a forest fire in Alberta, Canada in 1951.

Regarding the poem (technical aspects):

This poem was written in the form of the villanelle. A villanelle consists of:

* 19 lines broken up into five tercets (3 lines) and a concluding quatrain (4 lines).

* The meter is iambic pentameter and consists of ten syllables per line.

* The rhyme scheme is aba aba aba aba aba abaa.

* The first refrain (the first line) repeats in lines 6, 12, and 18; the second refrain (the third line) repeats in lines 9, 15, and 19. This causes the last two lines (18 and 19) to form a rhymed couplet.

Very tricky stuff and a fun challenge!

I also intentionally included personification, archetype, person, and recurrent themes (in word choices), as well as several enjoyable poetry techniques which I have only recently learned about such as polysyndeton, assonance, alliteration, oblique rhyme, and metric consolidation. A number of metaphors have been pointed out as well. They are mostly unintended and are merely the result of my natural writing style.

Of Poetry -- Thank you my friend, my yoda, my muse, my inspiration, for opening my eyes and expanding my world.


September 11, 2009

The Beast that Vies

What motivates that crouching soul
Through twine and twig in evil stealth,
Where songs fall silent by its stroll
Amongst the desert’s commonwealth?

What dreadful- no! what wicked strife
Goes pouncing ‘long that barren plain
And seeks the vein of human life-
Rapacious, wond’ring there insane.

The bleeding grounds beneath its tread,
It calls from crimson dust that flies:
“Avenge the souls of all us dead,
And quit the vicious beast that vies.”

So now you tread the riddled steep,
And flee before the prickly air;
The desert floors that tossing sleep …
They praise the hunters by your lair.

-jwm


















Of the Poem:


I had this poem complete prior to this day, September 11th (the eighth anniversary of that tragic morning where nearly 3,000 human souls were lost). I specifically waited so that I might post it here as the poem refers to the perpetrators (murderers) of that sad, sad day.

It would be next to impossible to know the intended subject of this poem without commentary or a context. Without diminishing the subject I indented, I tried to loosen any literal aspects so that, should another mind read it, other possible meanings might manifest.

Evil, wicked, rapacious, insane, vicious … these predicates and more establish the poem’s attitude toward the beast, an attitude of extreme antipathy and condemnation. The beast spoken of here refers to the Taliban (the fundamentalist organization of Sunni Muslims who ruthlessly ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and the source of the tragedies that occurred on 9-11).

Twine, twig, desert, barren plain, grounds, dust that flies, desert floors … these words are obscure allusions to Afghanistan. The riddled steep of line 13 is a reference to the mountain range of the Tora Bora (the place where the Taliban fled in the face of warfare).

The desert’s commonwealth alludes to the Northern Alliance who, although there were initially loose internal conflicts, united and fought against the Taliban.

Bleeding grounds and crimson dust depicts the unfortunate loss of life under Taliban rule- especially the vein of human life (i.e. innocent life). That loss is represented here as calling out for Justice, pleading that this vicious and contentious beast be put down. Those prayers would be answered in the form of a military coalition (the hunters) who would displace and topple the Taliban, forcing them to flee the country through the mountainous range of Tora Bora. Although those mountain heights are cold, prickly air actually was meant to depict the bombing campaign on that mountain range.

And so, with this brief commentary laid out, I hope the poem is enjoyed. Please, I would love to hear any different takes on it.

September 07, 2009

Rage, Rage (A Thomas Villanelle)

The previous post skimmed over the style and structure of the villanelle, a poetic form whose completion doesn’t come easy. The reason for that post was deliberate and planned, as I wished to introduce a popular poem written by Dylan Thomas and one of the most famous villanelles to date:

Do not go gentle into that good night.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



Of the Poem (Notes):

I have no doubt that our poet was writing about and towards his father. Indeed, in words that are hardly cryptic he says: “And you, my father.” Stanzas 1 and 6 are the only direct appeals that the poet makes to his father (these are also the only stanzas that he speaks from the perspective of the second person). The poem can almost therefore be consolidated so that the ‘meaty’ aspects of it are all that’s left:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The remaining sections (stanzas 2 through 4) speak about the wise, the good, the wild, and the grave man’s position in relation to death- all of whom seem to deplore it.

It’s interesting to note the deteriorating scale from the moral stature of the wise man down to the wretched state of the grave man … it is as if our poet would have us aware of the general tendency humans (good or bad) have in relation to death, the tendency of resistance.

But the tendency, if we grant our poet’s conclusion, is not only futile- it is impossible. Death and dying are inevitable. One may resist the fruition of it, deny its lingering possibility, or even deny it as a possibility altogether … the fact is it will occur. The poem seems to beg resistance towards it: rage against the dying of the light (where light is meant to mean life).

It is precisely because the poet wishes to rouse his father to this impossible tendency that I sense desperation and a denial of reality. This isn’t to chide or diminish the character of the man- far from it. If anything it reveals his humanity, a man who doesn’t want to see his father die (especially passively). And so, by this, the poem is held in a specific light: stanzas 1 and 5 show the poet’s literal (albeit, poetic) plea to his father to actively resist death, whereas the remaining stanzas- all of which speak from the third person- become a sort of subconscious justification or premise for the plea in the first place.

What I love most about the poem is its high complexity- the poet employs so many techniques in a poem whose metric frame and rhyme scheme are already a challenge. The poem type- the
villanelle- has already been treated of in the previous post. In addition to the high and challenging task presented by the villanelle, Thomas uses oxymoron, metaphors, assonance, and alliteration to convey antipathy toward passively perishing beneath death’s crushing inevitability.

His use of oxymoron coveys a sort of defiance and absurdity:

Line 1: good night
Line 13: blinding sight
Line 17: fierce tears

Even the apparent point of the poem- resisting inevitability- is an oxymoron.

It can hardly be said that this is a coincidental byproduct of the poem or poet himself, but the poem is riddled with metaphors. Here’s just a few (and all of them seem quite intentional):

… the poet refers to death as a good night (throughout)
... wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight
… words had forked no lightning
… frail deeds might have danced


In line 2 and 14 Thomas uses the poetic technique of assonance (where one or more words within the line itself share a similar sonorous value, as in line two: age, rave, day).

Another technique, alliteration, is employed beautifully (and a lot) in the poem...

Line 1: go and good.
Line 4: through and their
Line 5: deeds and dance
Line 10: sang and sun
Line 11: learn and late
Line 13: see and sight
Line 13 and 14: blinding, blind, and blaze

Notice, however, that go and gentle of line 1 don’t fit the criteria for alliteration: there’s a ‘guttal’ sound to the first g; whereas the g of gentle almost sounds like a j.

The first time I hear this poem, a time when poetry meant very little to me, was in the movie Dangerous Minds, where a teacher (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) tries to educate wayward kids about symbolism and life through song lyrics and poetry. The above villanelle played an important role in the movie, and in retrospect probably contributed to its overall popularity.

Now that I know the poem (apart from the movie), how hardwired and how difficult a structure it is, I have a greater appreciation for Dylan Thomas as a poet. What impresses me the most is that he took this difficult form and increased its complexity by jamming it full of poetic devices. I might even be tempted to say that this is the only poem (so far) I’ve read that has made me feel the intensity and labor of its production … since I’m not quite certain of that, I won't.


To hear the audio of this poem click on the following link:
Poets.org

September 03, 2009

Poetic Forms: The Villanelle

Of all the poetic forms there are, and of all the types of stanzas and rhyme schemes that exist, I chose long ago- as my first attempt at poetry- to take on the villanelle. It was an arduous task, to say the least. The reason is because villanelles are tough poems to complete.

The poem itself consists of 19 lines broken up into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The meter, which is called an iambic pentameter, consists of ten syllables per line. Its rhyme scheme is aba aba aba aba aba abaa. The difficulty of the composition has to do with the refrains that alternate throughout the poem, so that the poem takes on this structure: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Another way to write the structure is this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 (where ‘A’ = the refrain).

In other words, the first refrain (the first line) is repeated in lines 6, 12, and 18; while the second refrain (the third line) is repeated in lines 9, 15, and 19. Meanwhile, to add to the difficulty, the composer has to maintain 7 rhymed words on the one hand, 6 rhymed words on the other, while puzzling in the refrains so that the poem makes sense as the meaning of the refrains alternate ... again, an arduous task.

But when these poems are complete, and are done well, the results are just beautiful. The Waking, written by Theodore Roethke, is a great example of a villanelle.


The Waking

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.


We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

September 02, 2009

Dylan Thomas: The Welsh Poet*


Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914 - 1953)


The Welsh poet Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953) has been acclaimed as one of the most important poets of the century. His lyrics rank among the most powerful and captivating of modern poetry.

Dylan Thomas was born in the Welsh seaport of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, on Oct. 27, 1914. His father was an English teacher and a would-be poet, from whom Dylan inherited his intellect and literary abilities. From his mother, a simple and religious woman, Dylan inherited his disposition, temperament, and Celtic sentimentality. He attended the Swansea Grammar School, where he received all of his formal education. As a student, he made contributions to the school magazine and was keenly interested in local folklore. He said that as a boy he was "small, thin, indecisively active, quick to get dirty, curly."

After leaving school Thomas supported himself as an actor, reporter, reviewer, and scriptwriter and with various odd jobs. When he was 22 years old, he married Caitlin Macnamara, by whom he had two sons, Llewelyn and Colm, and a daughter, Aeron. After his marriage, Thomas moved to the fishing village of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

The need to support his growing family forced Thomas to write radio scripts for the Ministry of Information and documentaries for the British government. During World War II he served as an antiaircraft gunner. After the war he became a commentator on poetry for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1950 Thomas made the first of three lecture tours through the United States--the others were in 1952 and 1953--in which he gave more than 100 poetry readings. In these recitals he half declaimed, half sang the lines in his "Welsh singing" voice. Many critics have attested to the rolling vigor of his voice, its melodic subtlety, and its almost hypnotic power of incantation.

The English poet Edith Sitwell described Thomas as follows: "He was not tall, but was extremely broad, and gave an impression of extraordinary strength, sturdiness, and superabundant life. (His reddish-amber curls, strong as the curls on the brow of a young bull, his proud, but not despising, bearing, emphasized this.) Mr. Augustus John's portrait of him is beautiful but gives him a cherubic aspect, which though pleasing, does not convey ... Dylan's look of archangelic power. In full face he looked much as William Blake must have looked as a young man. He had full eyes--like those of Blake--giving him at first the impression of being unseeing, but seeing all, looking over immeasurable distances."

Thomas's poetic output was not large. He wrote only six poems in the last 6 years of his life. Dissipation and a grueling lecture schedule hindered his literary output in these years. His conviction that he would die young led him to create "instant Dylan"--the persona of the wild young Welsh bard, damned by drink and women, that he believed his public wanted. When he was 35 years old, he described himself as "old, small, dark, intelligent, and darting-doting-dotting eyed ... balding and toothlessing." He had grown corpulent but retained his grace of movement.

During his visit to the United States in 1953, Thomas was scheduled to read his own and other poetry in some 40 university towns throughout the country. He also intended to work on the libretto of an opera for Igor Stravinsky in the latter's California home. Thomas celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday in New York City in a mood of gay exhilaration following the phenomenal success of his just-published Collected Poems. The festivities ended in collapse and illness, and on Nov. 9, 1953, he died in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. Some reports attribute his death to pneumonia induced by acute alcoholism, others to encephalopathy, a virulent brain disease. His body was returned to Laugharne, Wales, for burial.

Literary Works

Thomas published his first book of poetry, Eighteen Poems (1934), when he was not yet 20 years old. "The reeling excitement of a poetry-intoxicated schoolboy smote the Philistine as hard a blow with one small book as Swinburne had with Poems and Ballads," wrote Kenneth Rexroth. Thomas' second and third volumes were Twenty-five Poems (1936) and The Map of Love (1939). The poems of his first three volumes were collected in The World I Breathe (1939).

By this time, Thomas was being hailed as the most spectacular of the surrealist poets. He acknowledged his debt to James Joyce and strewed his pages with invented words and fused puns. Thomas also acknowledged his debt to Sigmund Freud, stating: "Poetry is the rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an overclothed blindness to a naked vision.... Poetry must drag further into the clear nakedness of light more even of the hidden causes than Freud could realize."

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940) is a collection of humorous autobiographical sketches. Thomas loved the wild landscape of Wales, and he put much of his childhood and youth into these stories. He published two more new collections of poetry, both of which contained some of his finest work: Deaths and Entrances (1946) and In Country Sleep (1951). Collected Poems, 1934-1953 (1953) contains all of his poetry that he wished to preserve.

Themes and Style

Thomas claimed that his poetry was "the record of my individual struggle from darkness toward some measure of light.... To be stripped of darkness is to be clean, to strip of darkness is to make clean." He also wrote that his poems "with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damned fool if they weren't." Passionate and intense, vivid and violent, Thomas wrote that he became a poet because "I had fallen in love with words." His sense of the richness and variety and flexibility of the English language shines through all of his work.

The theme of all of Thomas's poetry is the celebration of the divine purpose that he saw in all human and natural processes. The cycle of birth and flowering and death, of love and death, suffuses his poems. He celebrated life in the seas and fields and hills and towns of his native Wales. In some of his shorter poems, he sought to recapture a child's innocent vision of the world.

Thomas was passionately dedicated to his "sullen art," and he was a competent, finished, and occasionally intricate craftsman. He made, for example, more than 200 versions of "Fern Hill" before he was satisfied with it. His early poems are relatively obscure and complex in sense and simple and obvious in auditory patterns. His later poems, on the other hand, are simple in sense but complex in sounds.

Under Milk Wood, a radio play commissioned by the BBC (published 1954), was Thomas's last completed work. This poem-play is not a drama but a pageant of eccentric, outrageous, and charming Welsh villagers. During the 24 hours presented in the play, the characters reminisce about the casual and crucial moments of their lives. Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories (1955) contains all the uncollected stories and shows the wit and humor that made Thomas an enchanting companion.

*Biography from Encyclopedia of World Biography

August 31, 2009

Shape of My Heart (by Gordon Sumner)


In many cases lyrical expression accompanied by music is poetry spoken. The beauty of it- when one perceives the piece as poetically intended- is that the song ceases to be a song, that the musical aspect recedes into an oblivion that’s divine, and that what was initially set out in the form of stanzas matures into something that almost transcends what we typically deem to be poetry in its written form.

Not all musicians do this, or intend this: but when it is intended, when it is done, the results are astounding. I always feel a blatant sense of privilege when I happen upon a song whose original birthplace was in the heart of poetry as we know it: it reveals a maturity of poetry that a great deal of people have often failed to recognize (if not downright dismiss).

There’s a song preformed by the artist Sting that reminds me of this point. Its technical structure is free verse (of which- admittedly- I’m not entirely a fan); but the beauty it imbibes, the beauty it wants to express, is clearly done so along poetic parameters. The song, whose lyrics are below, is called Shape of My Heart. Below is an acoustic rendition of it performed by Sting in the form of a video. You should check it out, and check out the lyrics as well. I would love to hear what you think they mean.






Shape of My Heart

He deals the cards as a meditation
And those he plays never suspect
He doesn't play for the money he wins
He doesn't play for respect
He deals the crads to find the answer
The sacred geometry of chance
The hidden loaw of a probable outcome
The numbers lead a dance

I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

He may play the jack of diamonds
He may lay the queen of spades
He may conceal a king in his hand
While the memory of it fades

I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

And if I told you that I loved you
You'd maybe think there's something wrong
I'm not a man of too many faces
The mask I wear is one
Those who speak know nothing
And find out to their cost
Like those who curse their luck in too many places
And those who fear are lost

I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

August 26, 2009

My Daughter's First Poem


This poem below was written by my daughter about a year ago (in fact, it is the unedited version of her very first poem).

Apart from the fact this is my little girl’s first poem, I like it because it reflects an innocence and a joy of the earth that adult life seldom remembers; it is pure, and its simplicity is so powerful that intellectual critique is not only powerless, but offensive.

I posted this poem on Facebook on April 20th, the 10 year anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine. I thought to myself there:

Remembering the tragedy of Columbine on this day 10 years ago had me remember this poem. I post it only to show how simple, how beautiful the mind of a child is. I'm certain God wouldn't mind my saying that it's almost scripture. It's certainly divine.

This truly is my favorite poem. Thank you Chells-Bells.


Today it’s going to be a wonderful day
Nature is pretty in all ways
Clouds are puffy and trees are greenish
The grass is green
The sun is really bright
And our families protect us in every single way

August 25, 2009

Blame Her Not


She was mortal and was loved, but fell victim to a darkness she had never known. Seduced away from her first love and enraptured by the force of the vampire’s gaze, she was bitten, and dying, came into the life of the immortal undead- and she knew it.

Her first love, from whom she fled, loved her nonetheless; and although he knew of her murderous and irrevocable desire for human blood, and although he knew the hideous secret of her new nature, his blame fell upon the thief who stole his mortal love away.



Blame Her Not

Can I cast blame for what she eats,
Or that she strolls where sunlight sleeps;
Or blame her that her skin is pale,
Whose lips are glist’ning red as ale?
Am I to cast accusing stares
And judge her not of wheat, but tares;
Or shun her for her blood-lust bent,
The girl whose ghostly heart is rent?

I saw her wand’ring in the chill
Amidst the fog and murky rill;
And starving- writhing there in pain-
She slipp’d into the town again.
Who knows where all that hunger led,
But townsfolk found another dead:
A victim’s corpse lay by the mill-
And yet I cannot blame her still.

-jwm

August 16, 2009

Lady of Shalott (Audio): A Tennyson Poem




The Lady of Shalott

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armor rung
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, burning bright,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right --
The leaves upon her falling light --
Thro' the noises of the night,
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And around the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.





As of April 9th, 2010