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The Poets

June 30, 2009

The Rhyme Renaissance: A Harvard Poet

Take five minutes of your time to view this video. It’s of Harvard student’s poetry reading. The subject, aside from a history of poetry in five minutes, is what role does rap have in relationship to it … you’ll be surprised (perhaps somewhat swayed) by the conclusion that a young Harvard student proposes.

It’s an honest and innocent question I’ve held many a self dialogue about, and personally think worthy of wonder: to what extent is rap to be considered poetry by definition?

Despite the often brutal nature and violent topics propagated by contemporary rap artists, despite its real-world internal and external conflicts, rapacious diminishment of genders , and its misguided exaltation of money and wealth, rap music still adhere (albeit loosely) to a metrical pattern, a rhyme scheme, and other such poetic attributes. Let me put the question clearly: Is rap poetry?

I would love to hear input form anyone- especially anyone who writes or teaches poetry, or anyone who listens to or produces rap lyrics. Lend me arguments for or against the question; give me an example, post a link, whatever …. my ears are open.

To enlarge video click the small box under 'You' where YouTube is posted

June 27, 2009

Der Panther: A Rilke Poem

Imagine the height of happiness and freedom. Imagine living it, being it. Imagine that this blissful autonomy is all you‘ve known all your free and happy life. Then imagine crushing subjugation ending all of it in seconds. Would you not wish for freedom’s return; would you not pine away in melancholy at the loss of those former years? Here’s a question: Is it possible to forget it altogether?

Rilke’s Der Panther is a poem that wants to understand the mesmerizing strength of subjugation and the latent potency of freedom that lies within it. His example is drawn from the captivity of a large panther whose freedom, knowing no limit in a state of nature, is now next to nothing.

His poetic method was to behold things in the "silence of their concentrated reality." I imagine our poet standing before this cage, watching this large cat pace back and forth, back and forth … when suddenly the revelation: His freedom is dying in captivity. Then the poem:


The Panther*

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.





Of the Poem (Side Note):

Rilke, like so many other poets I’ve come to study, was heavily influenced by mysticism. He seems at times particularly existential (strange though that might be).

Sounding much like the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who abhorred ‘existentialism’, Rilke sees the human mind as an opening through which reality is made manifest- indeed, through which reality has its own being! He seems to want to convey what his own poetic mind has known- but to whom? He says:

"Praise this world to the angel, not the unsayable one; you can't impress him with glorious emotion; in the universe where he feels more powerful, you are a novice. Show him something simple which, formed over generations, lives as our own, near our hand and within our gaze."**

In the 1990 movie ‘Awakening,’ Robert De Niro plays a patient suffering from a crippling state of catatonia- it’s so severe that he’s unable to move the smallest part of his body, unable even to speak. The patient, feeling his body a prison from which there was no escape, is likened to Rilke's Panther.

That scene and the superimposed narrative of these words left me in awe- “What an absolutely beautiful description of this patient’s malady,” I thought to myself.

This passage (at the time I didn’t realize it was a poem)- this passage and its powerful and penetrating way of expression has stayed with me to this day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had formally been moved by poetry.

Perhaps this encounter is why Rainer Maria Rilke is one of my favorite poets. Perhaps it's the mystery I find in the man. Who knows for certain ... still, every time I read this poet I cannot but help think that he speaks to us of himself- especially here in this piece.


*View comments area for Der Panther in German
**Quote from Rilke's
Duino Elegies

Rainer Maria Rilke*


Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926)

Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague on December 4, 1875, the only child of an unhappy marriage. Rilke's childhood was also unhappy; his parents placed him in military school with the desire that he become an officer—a position Rilke was not inclined to hold. With the help of his uncle, who realized that Rilke was a highly gifted child, Rilke left the military academy and entered a German preparatory school. By the time he enrolled in Charles University in Prague in 1895, he knew that he would pursue a literary career: he had already published his first volume of poetry, Leben und Lieder, the previous year. At the turn of 1895-96, Rilke published his second collection, Larenopfer (Sacrifice to the Lares). A third collection, Traumgekrönt (Dream-Crowned) followed in 1896. That same year, Rilke decided to leave the university for Munich, Germany, and later made his first trip to Italy.

In 1897, Rilke went to Russia, a trip that would prove to be a milestone in Rilke's life, and which marked the true beginning of his early serious works. While there the young poet met Tolstoy, whose influence is seen in Das Buch vom lieben Gott und anderes (Stories of God), and Leonid Pasternak, the nine-year-old Boris's father. At Worpswede, where Rilke lived for a time, he met and married Clara Westhoff, who had been a pupil of Rodin. In 1902 he became the friend, and for a time the secretary, of Rodin, and it was during his twelve-year Paris residence that Rilke enjoyed his greatest poetic activity. His first great work, Das Stunden Buch (The Book of Hours), appeared in 1906, followed in 1907 by Neue Gedichte (New Poems) and Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge). Rilke would continue to travel throughout his lifetime; to Italy, Spain and Egypt among many other places, but Paris would serve as the geographic center of his life, where he first began to develop a new style of lyrical poetry, influenced by the visual arts.

When World War I broke out, Rilke was obliged to leave France and during the war he lived in Munich. In 1919 he went to Switzerland where he spent the last years of his life. It was here that he wrote his last two works, the Duino Elegies (1923) and the Sonnets to Orpheus (1923). He died of leukemia on December 29, 1926. At the time of his death his work was intensely admired by many leading European artists, but was almost unknown to the general reading public. His reputation has grown steadily since his death, and he has come to be universally regarded as a master of verse.

*Biography from Poets.org

June 23, 2009

A Birthday Poem: by Nancy

Tomorrow will be my 38th year on this gorgeous planet. I'm very thankful to have had this chance of life- from every element of ill to the highest forms of elation. I thank God for every one of these years, and for seeking me and my well-being in them. I thank Him for my family (especially my little girl), I thank Him for my friends, and thank Him for teaching me about life while living it in the shade of imperfection at times.


*******

A good friend of mine was even so kind as to write a poem in celebration of my 38th year! Actually, as I think about it, of these 38 years here this is the first poem anyone has written to and for me ... thanks Nancy. Below is the poem (untitled for now), and the kind words she attached to it:*


*******

"… a day late and a dollar short?... how about a day early, and no money whatsoever!

To celebrate your day of birth
Cast cares away, seize joy and mirth
Reflect back on blessings great
Look future towards, no dreams abate.

The gift of life is yours today
For many more we truly pray
Forever, always, without end
Best wish go forth to you, my friend.

la'bri-ut yoda sheli



(Sorry for the early delivery. I suppose I should have waited until tomorrow to write something, but once loosed my proverbial horses refused to be reined in) "


*with her consent … תודה רבה שבעה
*******
Side Note:

I've always had this sort of strange curse of 'agelessness' since about the 7th grade: same height, same weight, same facial hair, same everything (minus the immaturity I hope). I jokingly call it a curse, but refuse to deny the 'strangeness' of it.

I wrote a stanza some time ago that refers to this 'anomaly':

It seems to me somewhat a sin
To curse this youthful look of mine.
By cursing am I cursing Him-
The Giver of this youth divine?

June 21, 2009

My Daughter's Voice: A Father's Day Poem

Just wrote this this Father's Day morning. Today fathers and dads like myself are being lifted up and shown adoration; and yet I somehow suspect that for us fathers this day has little to do with ourselves, and everything to do family (especially our children). I’m sure this is a given, and may even sound cliché … but it had to be said.

This poem I dedicate to my daughter, Chelle (aka Chelles-Bells)



My Daughter's Voice

What hund’red times I must have heard
Her look to me and say the word
That erstwhile I would daily count,
And boast to all the day’s amount.
Ah, myriad a day I hear
That word that still provokes a tear-
Amazed how what my daughter voic’d
Could easy many burdens hoist.

But lo, the word is just a sound
That moves like wind above the ground,
That tinkers with my inner ear
So ‘daddy’ is that thing I hear.
Yet when I hear it I rejoice,
Because it’s this: my daughter’s voice.
This sound, this wind that in me whirl
Reminds me she’s my little girl …

-jwm

June 17, 2009

Imagery from the Iliad

One of the things I like about poetry is its ability to use imagery from the natural world to convey a thought, an emotion, a situation, etc. There’s a passage in the Iliad where a truce between the two armies dissolves, and war breaks out. The author uses meteorological imagery to describe the clash between the two. Lines 517 through 523 (the first eight lines here) tell the 'literal' account of the conflict, while the following lines employ beautiful imagery.

It's pretty neat.

At last the armies clashed at one strategic point,
they slammed their shields together, pike scraped pike,
with the grappling strength of fighters armed in bronze
and their round shields pounded, boss on welded boss,
and the sound of struggle roared and rocked the earth.
Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath,
fighters killing, fighters killed, and the ground streamed blood.
Wildly as two winter torrents raging down from the mountains,
swirling into a valley, hurl their great waters together,
flash floods from the wellsprings plunging down in a gorge
and miles away in the hills a shepherd hears the thunder—
so from the grinding armies broke the cries and clash of war.

Iliad Book IV, Lines 517 – 527*

June 16, 2009

Whoso List to Hunt: A Wyatt Sonnet


She must have been some kind of Helen, this Anne Boleyn. The court of King Henry VIII- at least the men of it- seem to have been entirely enamored by her beauty (a beauty that brought many of them into sharp competition for her hand). Among the would-be suitors was the courtly poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt. The beauty of this Helen produced within him something akin to obsessive desires. Indeed, because the king himself both pursued and ultimately married Boleyn, Wyatt’s obsessive desires were dangerous ones (it’s rumored that he and her were secretly involved).


Whoso List to Hunt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.


Of the Poem:

Coming to terms with Wyatt’s English terms:

-Whoso list: whoever wishes
-hind: female deer
-hélas: alas
-vain travail: futile labor
-deer: playing on the word "dear"
-Sithens: since
-Noli me tangere: "touch me not"


****************

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind

Whoso list to hunt essentially means ‘whoever wishes’ to hunt. The hind, or deer, of the hunt is an obvious reference to Anne Boleyn. The pursuit of her has wearied our poet to the point that he seems to have had enough, and, because so many other suitors seem ahead of him on the chase (particularly Henry himself), he seems to give it up:

But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

and

... as she fleeth afore / Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore ...

Wyatt also seems to warn other suitors of the futility of the hunt:

Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.

However, and most important, was the danger of pursuing her at all. The poet elaborates on a diamond necklace worn by the deer.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.


Inscribed on it was a phase (or rather warning): Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am. Noli me tangere is Latin for “touch me not” (the exact same phrase employed by the Vulgate when a resurrected Christ warned Mary that he had not yet ascended to the father- John 20:17). Clearly Caesar is king Henry VIII, hence the warning: Do Not Touch - Property of the King.

The warning went unheard. Eventually several men (along with our poet and Anne herself) were arrested and charged with adultery- some with treason! Wyatt escaped judgment, but others suffered a grisly execution, as did Queen Anne.

I read this poem a while ago and instantly liked it- especially after having learned a little bit about the poem's background, and more so about the poet himself.

Hope you enjoy it as well.

June 15, 2009

Sir Thomas Wyatt*


Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 - 1542)

Thomas Wyatt was born in 1503 at Allington Castle in Kent, England. His father served as a wealthy privy councilor to both Henry the VII and Henry VIII. Wyatt attended St. John's College, Cambridge, and married Elizabeth Brooke in 1520. Although she bore him two children, they separated shortly after marriage and did not reconcile until 1541.

Wyatt, like his father before him, worked in the court of Henry VIII. Handsome and admired for his skill in music, jousting, and languages, he served first as esquire of the king's body and clerk of the king's jewels in 1524. Though these positions were minor, they helped to establish Wyatt in the king's favor. By 1527, he began a diplomatic career with missions to France and Rome, where he grew acquainted with the French and Italian prosody that would later have profound influence on his literary life.

It was also at this time that Wyatt became acquainted with Anne Boleyn, the king's mistress and soon-to-be wife. Scholars have pointed to suggestions in his poems (particularly "Whoso List to Hunt") and other anecdotal evidence to posit that he was Boleyn's lover. It is difficult, however, to firmly establish their relationship. In 1536 Wyatt was arrested shortly after five men alleged to have been Boleyn's lovers were imprisoned. Boleyn herself was imprisoned and executed for adultery. Wyatt spent only one month in the Tower and shortly thereafter regained Henry's favor. He would serve Henry VIII in various offices in England and abroad for the remainder of his life, and by all accounts was an accomplished diplomat.

Although Wyatt's poems circulated among many of the members of Henry's court, they did not appear in print until after his death. In 1557, ninety-six of his songs appeared in Songs and Sonnetts (Tottel's Miscellany). The remainder of Wyatt's poems, satires, and lyrics would remain in manuscript and slowly come into print during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Along with the Earl of Surrey, Wyatt is commonly credited with introducing the sonnet into English. His love lyrics, many based loosely on the Petrarchan sonnet, deal with courtly love and ill treatment at the hands of his lovers. Among his most famous poems are "Whoso List to Hunt," "They Flee From Me," "What No, Perdie," "Lux, My Fair Falcon," and "Blame Not My Lute." Wyatt also wrote three satires, which adopted the Italian terza rima into English, and a number of penitential psalms. He died of a fever in 1542.


*Biography from Poets.org

June 12, 2009

My Lovely Jean

I smell the cold in the rain.
It touches me through the screen
And weeps for my gain:
Its nemesis, my lovely Jean.

I found her beauty in the blue
Beyond the loamy medium,
Far beyond the multi-hue,
And further still from all this tedium.
Through it she pulled me to her heart,
And all that I called ‘I’ repined-
Since now its world was torn apart
By Love that pulled me from its bind.

Now pain sleeps in the silhouettes-
In clouded blues above and bold-
And thunders down on Jean its threats,
While shedding tears that smell of cold.

-jwm



Of the Poem:

The idea was to represent redemptive love mythologically. The story is of a person pulled into the heart of the highest heavens and, leaving the viler aspects of nature behind in the clouds, is made one with heavenly Love.

The darker aspect of the poem is Pain (in many ways one's former love), of which the raining sky and those thunderclouds represent.


I chose only to follow a rhyme scheme (there's no intentional meter).

June 11, 2009

In Search of Eden

In search of Eden, Miltion's fallen feind is approached by Death as he attempts to cross through Death's check point (a gate through whom none are permitted to pass) ... Satan's heroic and brave and war-ready response is awesome (as strange as that sounds):

"Whence and what art thou, execrable Shape,
That dar'st, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated front athwart my way
To yonder gates? Through them I mean to pass,
That be assured, without leave asked of thee.
Retire; or taste thy folly, and learn by proof,
Hell-born, not to contend with Spirits of Heaven."

Book II, 681 - 687

June 07, 2009

Blogging Milton

John Milton* is without qualification my favorite poet. There’s simply not enough room in one blog to articulate the depth and scope of this man and his works. It would be obvious overkill to post entire chapters from his epic writings. With that said, I plan to post sections, fragments, and quotes intermittently (some with commentary, others in free suspension).

*The link above leads to the best online biography of Milton I know of (it was simply too large to post here). Just click the poet's name.

Eve's Reflection (Milton Fragment)

It was the heat of the day that drew Narcissus to a pool of water. As he bent over its silvery gleam for a drink an image appeared before him- it was his self. Narcissus, who hadn’t seen himself before, was so enamored by what he saw he instantly feel in love- wishing, as it were, to become one with the object of his delight, kissing the reflection and trying to pull it out of the water. After having realized that what he had viewed was merely a reflection of himself, he became utterly distraught and grief-stricken as the object of his highest desire became suddenly unattainable ...

Ah wretched me! I now begin too late
To find out all the long-perplex'd deceit;
It is my self I love, my self I see.


His unrequited love killed him beside that body of water.



Milton, whose brilliant mind was highly versed in Greek mythology, drew upon the story of Narcissus as he introduces us to Eve. In Book IV of Paradise Lost (449 – 471), Eve recalls her first memories as a human. In her recollection she gives the following account of the very first human face she sees:


That day I oft remember, when from sleep
I first awaked, and found myself reposed
Under a shade on flowers, much wondering where
And what I was, whence thither brought, and how.
Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a cave, and spread
Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
Pure as the expanse of Heaven; I thither went
With unexperienced thought, and laid me down
On the green bank, to look into the clear
Smooth lake, that to me seemed another sky.
As I bent down to look, just opposite
A shape within the watery gleam appeared,
Bending to look on me: I started back,
It started back; but pleased I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love: There I had fixed
Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,
Had not a voice thus warned me; 'What thou seest,
'What there thou seest, fair Creature, is thyself;
'With thee it came and goes: but follow me,
'And I will bring thee where no shadow stays
'Thy coming…


Of the Poem:

Clearly this is a parallel to Narcissus, and there’s no doubt that Milton intends a warning here: That self-love is inherently idolatrous, leads to creature worship (which is essentially theft from God), and is in the end ultimately self-destructive.

It was by unchecked self-complacency that Narcissus destroys himself. His self-love rose to such a height as to count itself the highest image of contemplation, a clear case of idolatry. But Eve is spared. It’s a voice, God’s to be sure, that both warns and redeems Eve from such a narcissistic fate. "Follow me" it implores.

It's interseting that God’s manifestation to Eve was not that of a corporeal, tangible one; but was rather by an unseen Voice. Milton seems to imply that we ought not be drawn away by things seen, but lead by God who is Spirit. There immediately comes to mind several verses from scripture: John 4:24, II Cor 5:7, Heb 11:3, II Cor 4:18 to name a few.

I find it amazing that the above passage, selected from a larger work, is a poem on its own. Milton has this way of poeticizing that- whether it be line or stanza, chapter or epic- that renders every minute detail scripted by him poetic. His prolific poetic mind is massive. He is to poetry what Socrates is to philosophy. Of Milton, what poet compares?

John Milton*


John Milton (1608-1674)

John Milton was born in London on December 9, 1608, into a middle-class family. He was educated at St. Paul's School, then at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he began to write poetry in Latin, Italian, and English, and prepared to enter the clergy.

After university, however, he abandoned his plans to join the priesthood and spent the next six years in his father's country home in Buckinghamshire following a rigorous course of independent study to prepare for a career as a poet. His extensive reading included both classical and modern works of religion, science, philosophy, history, politics, and literature. In addition, Milton was proficient in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian, and obtained a familiarity with Old English and Dutch as well.

During his period of private study, Milton composed a number of poems, including "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," "On Shakespeare," "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso," and the pastoral elegy "Lycidas." In May of 1638, Milton began a 13-month tour of France and Italy, during which he met many important intellectuals and influential people, including the astronomer Galileo, who appears in Milton's tract against censorship, "Areopagitica."

In 1642, Milton returned from a trip into the countryside with a 16-year-old bride, Mary Powell. Even though they were estranged for most of their marriage, she bore him three daughters and a son before her death in 1652. Milton later married twice more: Katherine Woodcock in 1656, who died giving birth in 1658, and Elizabeth Minshull in 1662.

During the English Civil War, Milton championed the cause of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell, and wrote a series of pamphlets advocating radical political topics including the morality of divorce, the freedom of the press, populism, and sanctioned regicide. Milton served as secretary for foreign languages in Cromwell's government, composing official statements defending the Commonwealth. During this time, Milton steadily lost his eyesight, and was completely blind by 1651. He continued his duties, however, with the aid of Andrew Marvell and other assistants.

After the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, Milton was arrested as a defender of the Commonwealth, fined, and soon released. He lived the rest of his life in seclusion in the country, completing the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost in 1667, as well as its sequel Paradise Regained and the tragedy Samson Agonistes both in 1671. Milton oversaw the printing of a second edition of Paradise Lost in 1674, which included an explanation of "why the poem rhymes not," clarifying his use of blank verse, along with introductory notes by Marvell. He died shortly afterwards, on November 8, 1674, in Buckinghamshire, England.

Paradise Lost, which chronicles Satan's temptation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden, is widely regarded as his masterpiece and one of the greatest epic poems in world literature. Since its first publication, the work has continually elicited debate regarding its theological themes, political commentary, and its depiction of the fallen angel Satan who is often viewed as the protagonist of the work.

The epic has had wide-reaching effect, inspiring other long poems, such as Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, William Wordsworth's The Prelude and John Keats's Endymion, as well as Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, and deeply influencing the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake, who illustrated an edition of the epic.


*Biography from Poets.org

June 03, 2009

Oscar Brown Jr.: This Beach

I would rather not ruin what Oscar Brown Jr. intends to transmit here by a pre-commentary narrative. Suffice it to say that this is to-date my favorite oration by a poet.

Aside from the obvious, I’ll forego any ‘tags’ that might clue any listener on to the meaning behind his awesome poem: This Beach.

Click the box for better full-screen veiw.



My question to any viewer is this: What's this poem about?

BTW: It has nothing whatsoever to do about race or ethnicity.

June 01, 2009

A Far Cry from Africa

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
"Waste no compassion on these separate dead!"
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?

Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilization's dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?



Of the Poem:

Behind this poem lies the tragedy of both external and internal conflict. The historical backdrop of the poem is the civil uprising of the Mau Mau against British colonialists in Kenya. In the late 1800s British colonies began to settle throughout a territory that native Kikuyu called home. As British colonies began to spread so did the injustices: natives were thrown off of their own land and impoverished by poor work and poor wages.

The subjugation and mistreatment of the Kikuyu only got brutally worse as time progressed. Finally enough was enough. In the 1950s he Muingi (also called Mau Mau) could no longer hold on to empty promises of reparation and economic equality, nor could they tolerate anymore passive complaints- they rebelled violently. As a result, British military forces rapidly expanded and, along with African loyalists, pursued and eventually put to death 11,000 of the rebel force.

Although it served as the catalysis for the independence of the Kikuyu and greater Kenya, the conflicts of the Mau Mau Uprising were savage, bloody, and cruel (both ways). Bitter memories and no doubt latent hostilities followed the bloodshed.

Which leads us to our poet.

Derek Walcott was of mixed heritage: both of (white) English and African decent. He was openly against the colonial subjugation of the people of Kenya (with whom he felt a deep connection). At the same time, and as a result of his direct connection to his English heritage, it grieved him to see them being killed during the Mau Mau Uprising. Thus an internal conflict of loyalty emerged within the poet. His poem ask a solitary question: “With whom do I side?”

The poem is essentially divided (in thought, anyhow) between a poetic narrative of the conflict (lines 1 through 21) and the conflict as it exists with the poet internally.

As one of mixed heritage, and as one knowing personally the challenges of 'ethinic loyalties", the poem really struck a cord with me. I understand it.

Poet: Derek Alton Walcott*


Derek Alton Walcott (1930 - to date)

The recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, Derek Walcott was born in Castries, Saint Lucia, the West Indies, on January 23, 1930. His first published poem, "1944" appeared in The Voice of St. Lucia when he was fourteen years old, and consisted of 44 lines of blank verse. By the age of nineteen, Walcott had self published two volumes, 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (1949), exhibiting a wide range of influences, including William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

He later attended the University of the West Indies, having received a Colonial Development and Welfare scholarship, and in 1951 published the volume Poems.

In 1957, he was awarded a fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation to study the American theater. Since then, he has published numerous collections of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007), The Prodigal: A Poem (2004), and Tiepolo's Hound (2000).

The founder of the Trinidad Theater Workshop, Walcott has also written several plays produced throughout the United States, The Odyssey: A Stage Version (1992); The Isle is Full of Noises (1982); Remembrance and Pantomime (1980); The Joker of Seville and O Babylon! (1978); Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970); Three Plays: The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; and A Branch of the Blue Nile (1969). His play Dream on Monkey Mountain won the Obie Award for distinguished foreign play of 1971. He founded Boston Playwrights' Theatre at Boston University in 1981.

His first collection of essays, What the Twilight Says (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), was published in 1998.

About his work, the poet Joseph Brodsky said, "For almost forty years his throbbing and relentless lines kept arriving in the English language like tidal waves, coagulating into an archipelago of poems without which the map of modern literature would effectively match wallpaper. He gives us more than himself or 'a world'; he gives us a sense of infinity embodied in the language."

Walcott's honors include a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, and, in 1988, the Queen's Medal for Poetry. He is an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

He currently divides his time between his home in St. Lucia and New York City.


*Biography from Poets.org

As of April 9th, 2010