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The Poets

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

As of April 9th, 2010