The Poets

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.


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.

August 13, 2009

A Commentary Delay of The Eagle

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crookèd hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Of My Delay:

There was a delay on this post that has to do with a new perspective I gained pertaining to its poem, The Eagle.

First and foremost, I truly believe Tennyson experienced the perching and predatory flight of the bird his poem refers to. I also believe he thought it to be a beautiful and elating sight.

Something else in me thought that perhaps the poet was reluctant to utilize that particular experience to convey another- cautionary- meaning. But I believe he did. I’ll be back to share that perspective soon …. I just need to think it through.

August 09, 2009

Lord Alfred Tennyson*

Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

Born on August 6, 1809, in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England, Alfred Tennyson is one of the most well-loved Victorian poets. Tennyson, the fourth of twelve children, showed an early talent for writing. At the age of twelve he wrote a 6,000-line epic poem. His father, the Reverend George Tennyson, tutored his sons in classical and modern languages. In the 1820s, however, Tennyson's father began to suffer frequent mental breakdowns that were exacerbated by alcoholism. One of Tennyson's brothers had violent quarrels with his father, a second was later confined to an insane asylum, and another became an opium addict.

Tennyson escaped home in 1827 to attend Trinity College, Cambridge. In that same year, he and his brother Charles published Poems by Two Brothers. Although the poems in the book were mostly juvenilia, they attracted the attention of the "Apostles," an undergraduate literary club led by Arthur Hallam. The "Apostles" provided Tennyson, who was tremendously shy, with much needed friendship and confidence as a poet. Hallam and Tennyson became the best of friends; they toured Europe together in 1830 and again in 1832. Hallam's sudden death in 1833 greatly affected the young poet. The long elegy In Memoriam and many of Tennyson's other poems are tributes to Hallam.

In 1830, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical and in 1832 he published a second volume entitled simply Poems. Some reviewers condemned these books as "affected" and "obscure." Tennyson, stung by the reviews, would not publish another book for nine years. In 1836, he became engaged to Emily Sellwood. When he lost his inheritance on a bad investment in 1840, Sellwood's family called off the engagement. In 1842, however, Tennyson's Poems in two volumes was a tremendous critical and popular success. In 1850, with the publication of In Memoriam, Tennyson became one of Britain's most popular poets. He was selected Poet Laureate in succession to Wordsworth. In that same year, he married Emily Sellwood. They had two sons, Hallam and Lionel.

At the age of 41, Tennyson had established himself as the most popular poet of the Victorian era. The money from his poetry (at times exceeding 10,000 pounds per year) allowed him to purchase a house in the country and to write in relative seclusion. His appearance—a large and bearded man, he regularly wore a cloak and a broad brimmed hat—enhanced his notoriety. He read his poetry with a booming voice, often compared to that of Dylan Thomas. In 1859, Tennyson published the first poems of Idylls of the Kings, which sold more than 10,000 copies in one month. In 1884, he accepted a peerage, becoming Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson died in 1892 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

*Biography from

August 05, 2009

My Tribute to Jackson

The resolution of this video below could be better, but the power behind the lyrics (which are simple repetitions with extreme depth), the choreography and manifest plot of the story, coupled with the idea of heroic vigilantism, all combine to mark the impeccable prowess of an artist whose talent is eternally beyond reproach.

Of particular interest (to me) is what occurs at 5:35 in this video. Clearly riddled with mystical overtones and musical cues from West Side Story, Jackson deliberately invites us into the almost religious passion that permeated the deepest recesses of his soul- then bam!, right back to the story. Utter beauty. Utter talent. Utterly unspeakable.

Please, watch the whole video and see what it is to be an artist, a legend. I’d love to hear your insight on this video.

Click on the box in the inner, lower right corner to enjoy the video in full screen.

August 03, 2009

A Stoic Found

The swing that breaks the dang’ling bag
Sends candy bouncing all around:
They rush and rush and push and fuss,
And knock each other to the ground.
No thoughts of others, only self
Where skewed desires all abound-
It rushes, pushes, and it kicks,
For candy does it punch and pound.

The seeking of it hardly stops
When all the revelry and sound
Diminish by the quiet yard
Where some young kid is candy crown’d;
What festers is a bitter taste-
A blight from loss, a wound profound,
‘Til vengeance from ambition breeds
A stronger greed that knows no bound.

But see how there that candy lay
Beside my foot, that fell inbound,
How that I have but little care,
Just peace that would the gods astound.
‘What is to thee indifferent shun’
These Stoic principles expound.
And so I’m freed from all their greed,
A slave to no one’s candy mound.


Of the Poem:

Yeats' poem, the Song of Wandering Aengus, inspired the general structure behind this poem above. In his poem Yeats uses three stanzas, each containing eight lines (called an octet). Each line is done in a tetrameter (that is, eight syllables), and his rhyme scheme is x.a.x.a.x.b.x.b. for each stanza.

The stanza type in this poem is the same, and I hoped to achieve the same meter; but rather than Yeats' x.a.x.a.x.b.x.b rhyme scheme, I wanted to have an x.a.x.a.x.a.x.a. all the way through (this is what made doing this particular poem enjoyable).

The hardest part was achieving a single idea in each stanza as well as Yeats did. Still, I’m happy with the results.

The subject matter of the poem derives from the Discourses of Epictetus, Book IV, Chapter VII. In it he uses an analogy- children scrambling for figs and nuts- to show how ridiculous our behaviors become when we place intrinsic value in something whose value is at best a matter of indifference. Here's a segment from that chapter:

A man scatters dried figs and nuts: the children seize them and
fight with one another; men do not, for they think them to be a
small matter. But if a man should throw about shells, even the
children do not seize them. Provinces are distributed: let children
look to that. Money is distributed: let children look to that.
Praetorships, consulships are distributed: let children scramble for
them, let them be shut out, beaten, kiss the hands of the giver, of
the slaves: but to me these are only dried figs and nuts. What then?
If you fail to get them, while Caesar is scattering them about, do not
be troubled: if a dried fig come into your lap, take it and eat it;
for so far you may value even a fig. But if I shall stoop down and
turn another over, or be turned over by another, and shall flatter
those who have got into chamber, neither is a dried fig worth the
trouble, nor anything else of the things which are not good, which the
philosophers have persuaded me not to think good.

I imagine a modern day Stoic (perhaps another Epictetus) chiding those who would embrace conflict to achieve an end whose value is less than indifferent, who exchange integrity of soul for so trivial a thing. The fact that they would set up embattlements and wage warfare for these things only serves as testimony to their level of dilapidation. He warns elsewhere: Mischief is a great mystery to those who inflict it, O thief.

The voice concludes with a brief awareness of its placid state in relation to its environment of greed, and considers whence its state of peace.

As of April 9th, 2010