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The Poets

December 29, 2010

The House on the Hill - A Villanelle

The villanelle is a poetic form that, aside from blank verse, that I consider to be one of the most difficult to handle. They consist of 19 lines that are broken up into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. Villanelles are usually done in iambic pentameter, but I’ve seen them done using several different types of meter (e.g. the poem considered here revolves around a trimeter).

The rhyme scheme is the most trying aspect of the poem: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Seems somewhat simple on the surface, but it becomes exceedingly complicated due to the alternating refrain that weaves itself throughout the entire poem: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Another way to write the structure is this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 (where ‘A’ = the refrain).

As I mentioned in a previous post:

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 ...

Below is a villanelle written by Edwin Arlington Robinson- one of the first villanelles I came across.

It is said that the poem is a bleak reflection on death and the seeming isolation that follows thereafter (apparently Robinson experienced the death of almost every immediate family member very early on). The ‘house’ may represent an actual house he grew up in as he experienced these tragedies, or, ‘house’ may very well be a euphemism for the Oak Grove Cemetery plot purchased for the family. What do you think?

Anyhow, here is that poem- enjoy the structure!



The House ong the Hill

They are all gone away,
The house is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one today
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away.

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

December 24, 2010

Mathew Arnold- Happy Birth Date


Like I said, December is a gorgeous month for poets. Earlier this month we had the 402nd anniversary of John Milton (my favorite poet), and the 180th anniversary of a woman whom I consider the most authentic poet ever, Emily Dickinson.

Today is the 188th anniversary of a great poet who I’ve known for a long time, Mathew Arnold (1822 -... 1888).

I was first inspired by this poet when, roughly three years ago, I read a poem that he scripted as a tribute to his father … the poem is call, Rugby Chapel.

The poem was written in 1857, when Arnold was 35 years old. I won’t lie, the poem’s long, but is well worth the read. If you don’t have the time to read it now (after all, it is Christmas Eve), set it aside and come back to it later- this is good literature, believe me.



****


Rugby Chapel

November, 1857

Coldly, sadly descends
The autumn - evening. The field
Strewn with its dank yellow drifts
Of wither`d leaves, and the elms,
Fade into dimness apace,
Silent; - hardly a shout
From a few boys late at their play!
The lights come out in the street,
In the school - room windows; - but cold,
Solemn, unlighted, austere,
Through the gathering darkness, arise
The chapel - walls, in whose bound
Thou, my father! art laid.

There thou dost lie, in the gloom
Of the autumn evening. But ah!
That word, gloom, to my mind
Brings thee back, in the light
Of thy radiant vigor, again;
In the gloom of November we pass`d
Days not dark at thy side;
Seasons impair`d not the ray
Of thy buoyant cheerfulness clear.
Such thou wast! and I stand
In the autumn evening and think
Of bygone autumns with thee.

Fifteen years have gone round
Since thou arosest to tread,
In the summer - morning, the road
Of death, at a call unforeseen,
Sudden. For fifteen years,
We who till then in thy shade
Rested as under the boughs
Of a mighty oak, have endured
Sunshine and rain as we might,
Bare, unshaded, alone,
Lacking the shelter of thee.

O strong soul, by what shore
Tarriest thou now? For that force,
Surely, has not been left vain!
Somewhere, surely, afar,
In the sounding labor - house vast
Of being, is practised that strength,
Zealous, beneficent, firm!

Yes, in some far - shining sphere,
Conscious or not of the past,
Still thou performest the word
Of the Spirit in whom thou dost live -
Prompt, unwearied, as here!
Still thou upraisest with zeal
The humble good from the ground,
Sternly repressest the bad!
Still, like a trumpet, dost rouse
Those who with half - open eyes
Tread the border - land dim
Twixt vice and virtue; reviv`st,
Succorest! - this was thy work;
This was thy life upon earth.

What is the course of the life
Of mortal men on the earth? -
Most men eddy about
Here and there - eat and drink,
Chatter and love and hate,
Gather and squander, are raised
Aloft, are hurl`d in the dust,
Striving blindly, achieving
Nothing; and then they die -
Perish; - and no one asks
Who or what they have been,
More than he asks what waves,
In the moonlit solitudes mild
Of the midmost Ocean, have swell`d,
Foam`d for a moment, and gone.

And there are some, whom a thirst
Ardent, unquenchable, fires,
Not with the crowd to be spent,
Not without aim to go round
In an eddy of purposeless dust,
Effort unmeaning and vain.
Ah yes! some of us strive
Not without action to die
Fruitless, but something to snatch
From dull oblivion, nor all
Glut the devouring grave!
We we have chosen our path -
Path to a clear - purposed goal,
Path of advance! - but it leads
A long, steep journey, through sunk
Gorges, o`er mountains in snow.
Cheerful, with friends, we set forth -
Then on the height, comes the storm.
Thunder crashes from rock
To rock, the cataracts reply,
Lightnings dazzle our eyes.
Roaring torrents have breach`d
The track, the stream - bed descends
In the place where the wayfarer once
Planted his footstep - the spray
Boils o`er its borders! aloft
The unseen snow - beds dislodge
Their hanging ruin; alas,
Havoc is made in our train!
Friends who set forth at our side,
Falter, are lost in the storm.
We, we only are left!
With frowning foreheads, with lips
Sternly compress`d, we strain on,
On - and at nightfall at last
Come to the end of our way,
To the lonely inn `mid the rocks;
Where the gaunt and taciturn host
Stands on the threshold, the wind
Shaking his thin white hairs -
Holds his lantern to scan
Our storm - beat figures, and asks:
Whom in our party we bring?
Whom we have left in the snow?

Sadly we answer: We bring
Only ourselves! we lost
Sight of the rest in the storm.
Hardly ourselves we fought through,
Stripp`d, without friends, as we are.
Friends, companions, and train,
The avalanche swept from our side.

But thou would`st not alone
Be saved, my father! alone
Conquer and come to thy goal,
Leaving the rest in the wild.
We were weary, and we
Fearful, and we in our march
Fain to drop down and to die.
Still thou turnedst, and still
Beckonedst the trembler, and still
Gavest the weary thy hand.

If, in the paths of the world,
Stones might have wounded thy feet,
Toil or dejection have tried
Thy spirit, of that we saw
Nothing - to us thou wast still
Cheerful, and helpful, and firm!
Therefore to thee it was given
Many to save with thyself;
And, at the end of thy day,
O faithful shepherd! to come,
Bringing thy sheep in thy hand.

And through thee I believe
In the noble and great who are gone;
Pure souls honor`d and blest
By former ages, who else -
Such, so soulless, so poor,
Is the race of men whom I see -
Seem`d but a dream of the heart,
Seem`d but a cry of desire.
Yes! I believe that there lived
Others like thee in the past,
Not like the men of the crowd
Who all round me to - day
Bluster or cringe, and make life
Hideous, and arid, and vile;
But souls temper`d with fire,
Fervent, heroic, and good,
Helpers and friends of mankind.

Servants of God! - or sons
Shall I not call you? because
Not as servants ye knew
Your Father`s innermost mind,
His, who unwillingly sees
One of his little ones lost -
Yours is the praise, if mankind
Hath not as yet in its march
Fainted, and fallen, and died!

See! In the rocks of the world
Marches the host of mankind,
A feeble, wavering line.
Where are they tending? - A God
Marshall`d them, gave them their goal.
Ah, but the way is so long!
Years they have been in the wild!
Sore thirst plagues them, the rocks,
Rising all round, overawe;
Factions divide them, their host
Threatens to break, to dissolve.
- Ah, keep, keep them combined!
Else, of the myriads who fill
That army, not one shall arrive;
Sole they shall stray; in the rocks
Stagger for ever in vain.
Die one by one in the waste.

Then, in such hour of need
Of your fainting, dispirited race
Ye, like angels, appear,
Radiant with ardor divine!
Beacons of hope, ye appear!
Languor is not in your heart,
Weakness is not in your word,
Weariness not on your brow.
Ye alight in our van! at your voice,
Panic, despair, flee away.
Ye move through the ranks, recall
The stragglers, refresh the outworn,
Praise, re - inspire the brave!
Order, courage, return;
Eyes rekindling, and prayers,
Follow your steps as ye go.
Ye fill up the gaps in our files,
Strengthen the wavering line,
Stablish, continue our march,
On, to the bound of the waste,
On, to the City of God.

December 22, 2010

Edwin Arlington Robinson*


Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869 – 1935)

Edwin Arlington Robinson was born on December 22, 1869, in Head Tide, Maine (the same year as W. B. Yeats). His family moved to Gardiner, Maine, in 1870, which renamed "Tilbury Town," became the backdrop for many of Robinson's poems. Robinson described his childhood as stark and unhappy; he once wrote in a letter to Amy Lowell that he remembered wondering why he had been born at the age of six. After high school, Robinson spent two years studying at Harvard University as a special student and his first poems were published in the Harvard Advocate.

Robinson privately printed and released his first volume of poetry, The Torrent and the Night Before, in 1896 at his own expense; this collection was extensively revised and published in 1897 as The Children of the Night. Unable to make a living by writing, he got a job as an inspector for the New York City subway system. In 1902 he published Captain Craig and Other Poems. This work received little attention until President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a magazine article praising it and Robinson. Roosevelt also offered Robinson a sinecure in a U.S. Customs House, a job he held from 1905 to 1910. Robinson dedicated his next work, The Town Down the River (1910), to Roosevelt.

Robinson's first major success was The Man Against the Sky (1916). He also composed a trilogy based on Arthurian legends: Merlin (1917), Lancelot (1920), and Tristram (1927), which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1928. Robinson was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his Collected Poems (1921) in 1922 and The Man Who Died Twice (1924) in 1925. For the last twenty-five years of his life, Robinson spent his summers at the MacDowell Colony of artists and musicians in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Robinson never married and led a notoriously solitary lifestyle. He died in New York City on April 6, 1935.

*Biography from Poets.org

December 16, 2010

Touch the Sky

Touch the Sky

A Poem in Gentle Dedication to Anne Sexton

She wants to walk the clouds aglow
To negate flesh and touch the sky
She thinks- I think- it’s bliss to die
To flee this sleepy earth below

It’s life, not death, she deems the foe
And earthen truths she deems the lie
She therefore towards the heavens ply
And goes where scarce others go

One wonders why she wishes so
Why she would walk where wrens would fly
The truth is that I don’t know why
The truth is … I don’t want to know

-jwm



Poetic Parameters

Stanza: Quatrain
Meter: Tetrameter (i.e. 8 syllables per line)
Rhyme Scheme: abba abba abba (Italian quatrain in repetition)

December 13, 2010

A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day


I read a poem during the summer that was beautiful: A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day. It was written by the English poet John Donne- a poet who I’ve heard of even before I had any interest in poetry.

The language of the poem was very intense- it spoke to me so deeply, so ‘metaphysically’, that I knew I had to share it in a post. Of course, I had to better understand the context within which it emerged before I could do so.


*****

Saint Lucy's Day, initially thought to be the shortest day of the year, is a day that celebrates the courageous sacrifice and martyrdom of a young woman by the hands of the Romans.

Story has it that, after having given herself completely over to God, when she refused to be given in marriage she was persecuted and threatened with prostitution. When these threats failed the Romans ceased her in order that they might throw her in a brothel- however, for a divine reason, they couldn’t move her. So, instead of condemning her to prostitution, they built a hearth around her, but the young lady’s body resisted even the flames. Finally, a Roman soldier took a sword and ran it through her throat.


*****

A nocturne usually refers to music- particularly ‘night music’ or something akin to lullabies. At first glance Donne seems to dedicate this poem to the memory of our martyr, but there are those that believe the poem speaks cryptically about his deceased wife who died at the terribly young age of 33 (childbirth).

Now if this is so, and clearly it may be, there may be aspects of the poem whose cryptic significance is beyond our scope, and symbols that are designed to portray his wife rather than our saint above.

Notwithstanding, even if this is the case, it doesn't do anything to diminish the artistic beauty of the poet's language. See for yourself ...

*****


A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world's whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.


Side Notes

Lucy’s name, which ultimately derives from the Latin word for light (or lux) is said to signify a time when light manifests where darkness is its deepest- symbols I dearly adore.

There’s a tradition where a candle-wreath is worn on one’s head- this is supposed to signify the flames that couldn’t consume the flesh of the young martyr.


John Donne*


John Donne (1572 – 1631)

John Donne was born in 1572 in London, England. He is known as the founder of the Metaphysical Poets, a term created by Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth-century English essayist, poet, and philosopher. The loosely associated group also includes George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and John Cleveland. The Metaphysical Poets are known for their ability to startle the reader and coax new perspective through paradoxical images, subtle argument, inventive syntax, and imagery from art, philosophy, and religion using an extended metaphor known as a conceit. Donne reached beyond the rational and hierarchical structures of the seventeenth century with his exacting and ingenious conceits, advancing the exploratory spirit of his time.

Donne entered the world during a period of theological and political unrest for both England and France; a Protestant massacre occurred on Saint Bartholomew's day in France; while in England, the Catholics were the persecuted minority. Born into a Roman Catholic family, Donne's personal relationship with religion was tumultuous and passionate, and at the center of much of his poetry. He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in his early teen years. He did not take a degree at either school, because to do so would have meant subscribing to the Thirty-nine Articles, the doctrine that defined Anglicanism. At age twenty he studied law at Lincoln's Inn. Two years later he succumbed to religious pressure and joined the Anglican Church after his younger brother, convicted for his Catholic loyalties, died in prison. Donne wrote most of his love lyrics, erotic verse, and some sacred poems in the 1590's, creating two major volumes of work: Satires, and Songs and Sonnets.

In 1598, after returning from a two-year naval expedition against Spain, Donne was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton. While sitting in Queen Elizabeth's last Parliament in 1601, Donne secretly married Anne More, the sixteen-year-old niece of Lady Egerton. Donne's father-in-law disapproved of the marriage. As punishment, he did not provide a dowry for the couple and had Donne briefly imprisoned. This left the couple isolated and dependent on friends, relatives, and patrons. Donne suffered social and financial instability in the years following his marriage, exacerbated by the birth of many children. He continued to write and published the Divine Poems in 1607. In Pseudo-Martyr, published in 1610, Donne displayed his extensive knowledge of the laws of the Church and state, arguing that Roman Catholics could support James I without compromising their faith. In 1615, James I pressured him to enter the Anglican Ministry by declaring that Donne could not be employed outside of the Church. He was appointed Royal Chaplain later that year. His wife, aged thirty-three, died in 1617, shortly after giving birth to their twelfth child, a stillborn. The Holy Sonnets are also attributed to this phase of his life.

In 1621 he became dean of Saint Paul's Cathedral. In his later years, Donne's writing reflected his fear of his inevitable death. He wrote his private prayers, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, during a period of severe illness and published them in 1624. His learned, charismatic, and inventive preaching made him a highly influential presence in London. Best known for his vivacious, compelling style and thorough examination of mortal paradox, John Donne died in London in 1631.

*Biography from Poets.org

December 10, 2010

Happy 180th Birthday, Emily Dickinson


What an incredible month for poetry December is … Milton's birthday celebrated yesterday, and today Dickinson (1830)! Awesome, awesome stuff!

Many people don’t know this about Emily Dickinson, but she composed roughly 1800 poems that almost nobody in the world knew about … her poetic life was essentially a secret, one that was lived- literally!- in solitude. This means, for me at any rate, that she loved poetry for poetry’s sake- and not for accolade, not for prestige, nor for honor, nor reputation or any of that! She, above any one I’ve come to know or study thus far, is what a poet ought to be.

Now anyone who knows me knows that Milton is my favorite poet, but I feel the truth of this statement deep, deep in my heart: I know of no other poet who is more authentic and more unique than Emily Dickinson. She is to poetry what Kierkegaard is to existentialism. I really, really love her and her works!

Happy birthday, Dickinson …


****

Poem 214: I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed

I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro' endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue –

When "Landlords" turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove's door –
When Butterflies – renounce their "drams" –
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!

December 09, 2010

Happy 402nd Birthday, John Milton


Today is the 402nd anniversary of my favorite poet’s date of birth, John Milton. What I adore about this poet, apart from the magnitude of his genius, is how incredibly jammed-packed his works are with amazing imagery and details that revolve around the mythologies of several different civilizations. His knowledge of the classics is beyond reproach- not to mention that fact that he was completely blind when he composed his greatest work, Paradise Lost.

If you haven’t read Milton, I promise you you are missing out! Here … here’s a poem that he wrote called Light. The poem’s structure is based on blank verse (i.e. iambic pentameter that follows no rhyme scheme).

Enjoy- and happy birthday, Milton …


Light

HAIL holy light, ofspring of Heav'n first-born,
Or of th' Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam'd? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
Or hear'st thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
Whose Fountain who shall tell? before the Sun,
Before the Heavens thou wert, and at the voice
Of God, as with a Mantle didst invest
The rising world of waters dark and deep,
Won from the void and formless infinite.
Thee I re-visit now with bolder wing,
Escap't the Stygian Pool, though long detain'd
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight
Through utter and through middle darkness borne
With other notes then to th' Orphean Lyre
I sung of Chaos and Eternal Night,
Taught by the heav'nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to reascend,
Though hard and rare: thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit'st not these eyes, that rowle in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs,
Or dim suffusion veild. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Cleer Spring, or shadie Grove, or Sunnie Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred song; but chief
Thee Sion and the flowrie Brooks beneath
That wash thy hallowd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit: nor somtimes forget
Those other two equal'd with me in Fate,
So were I equal'd with them in renown.
Blind Thamyris and blind Maeonides,
And Tiresias and Phineus Prophets old.
Then feed on thoughts, that voluntarie move
Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful Bird
Sings darkling, and in shadiest Covert hid
Tunes her nocturnal Note. Thus with the Year
Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of Ev'n or Morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summers Rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud in stead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the chearful waies of men
Cut off, and for the Book of knowledg fair
Presented with a Universal blanc
Of Natures works to mee expung'd and ras'd,
And wisdome at one entrance quite shut out.
So much the rather thou Celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.

November 29, 2010

The Clod and the Pebble


The Clod and the Pebble

"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair."

So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

"Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite."



Of the Poem

We human beings appropriate into our behavior the views we take of things. It’s as simple as this: If we have a positive perspective, we usually behave positively; if a negative one, then negatively. The point is, we're governed by the principles we assume.

Of the things that we view, which are countless, there are a limited number that we contemplate that are actually cardinal concepts (e.g. God, Justice, Beauty, Afterlife, etc).

Love, and our idea of love, abides high among these cardinal concepts. In fact, I'd even venture to say that it's how we view 'love' that ultimately determines how we live our lives- all else is merely cursory.

Blake touches on this point in the poem above by contrasting two mutually exclusive perspectives on love.

The one perspective, represented by the Clot, assures us that love- true love- is selfless and always gives of itself (even to the point of self-sacrifice). The other, represented by the Pebble, contends that love is inherently hedonistic, that it seeks ‘only self to please’, and will draw on every means possible to achieve its own particular pleasures at the expense of others.

The contrast becomes exceedingly clear when you look at lines 1 and 9 side by side:

Love seeketh not itself to please / Love seeketh only self to please

The rest of the poem essentially elaborates on the behavioral aspects these contending views produce … here’s few examples from the poem:

Selfless love will selflessly sacrifice its own comforts in order that it might increase the comfort and ease of another- for another gives its ease (line 3).

Self-complacent love is the kind of love that wishes only to please itself; the kind of love that will sacrifice the ease of another in order to achieve its hedonistic inclinations- even to the point that it becomes joyful at another's loss of ease (line 11)!

Selfless love has a minimal amount of self-interest (nor for itself hath any care- line 2), and will endeavor, inasmuch as it is possible, to bestow heaven’s peace wherever it can- even in the dreaded heart of hell itself.

A vile love of self will almost always suppress others, binding others, as it were, to its own crude delights (line 10); and, because this love is almost always in a perpetual state of strife with others, there is war where there would otherwise be peace (or, what’s the same, a Hell in Heaven's despite- line 14).

Why a Clod of Clay and why a Pebble? - I’m afraid I’d need Blake right here to explain that to me. But I’ll say this, the Clod is said to have been trampled by cattle, implying to me that the life of altruistic love is inherently connected with suffering and sacrifice (we see this repeatedly made clear). Self-love, however, in its greed-ridden frenzy, and despite its perpetual state of strife and conflict, seems to abide careless there in that brook, warbling away its metre meet.

It almost reminds me of sacred verse:

Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?

Jeremiah 12:1

Poetic Parameters

Stanza: quatrain (3 total)
Meter: The poem seems to revolve loosely around a tetrameter.
Rhyme Scheme: Stanzas 1 and 3 individually correspond to an abab pattern and, aside from their second lines (‘care and ‘delight’), correspond quite nicely with each other. The middle or second stanza has an xaxa rhyme scheme (where ‘x’ represents unrhymed lines)..

Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading Blake ... thank you for reading poetry.

November 28, 2010

William Blake*


William Blake (1757 - 1827)

William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757, to James, a hosier, and Catherine Blake. Two of his six siblings died in infancy. From early childhood, Blake spoke of having visions—at four he saw God "put his head to the window"; around age nine, while walking dathrough the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels. Although his parents tried to discourage him from "lying," they did observe that he was different from his peers and did not force him to attend conventional school. He learned to read and write at home. At age ten, Blake expressed a wish to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. When he turned fourteen, he apprenticed with an engraver because art school proved too costly. One of Blake's assignments as apprentice was to sketch the tombs at Westminster Abbey, exposing him to a variety of Gothic styles from which he would draw inspiration throughout his career. After his seven-year term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy.

In 1782, he married an illiterate woman named Catherine Boucher. Blake taught her to read and to write, and also instructed her in draftsmanship. Later, she helped him print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today; the couple had no children. In 1784 he set up a printshop with a friend and former fellow apprentice, James Parker, but this venture failed after several years. For the remainder of his life, Blake made a meager living as an engraver and illustrator for books and magazines. In addition to his wife, Blake also began training his younger brother Robert in drawing, painting, and engraving. Robert fell ill during the winter of 1787 and succumbed, probably to consumption. As Robert died, Blake saw his brother's spirit rise up through the ceiling, "clapping its hands for joy." He believed that Robert's spirit continued to visit him and later claimed that in a dream Robert taught him the printing method that he used in Songs of Innocence and other "illuminated" works.

Blake's first printed work, Poetical Sketches (1783), is a collection of apprentice verse, mostly imitating classical models. The poems protest against war, tyranny, and King George III's treatment of the American colonies. He published his most popular collection, Songs of Innocence, in 1789 and followed it, in 1794, with Songs of Experience. Some readers interpret Songs of Innocence in a straightforward fashion, considering it primarily a children's book, but others have found hints at parody or critique in its seemingly naive and simple lyrics. Both books of Songs were printed in an illustrated format reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. The text and illustrations were printed from copper plates, and each picture was finished by hand in watercolors.

Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading radical thinkers of his day, such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. In defiance of 18th-century neoclassical conventions, he privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. He declared in one poem, "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." Works such as "The French Revolution" (1791), "America, a Prophecy" (1793), "Visions of the Daughters of Albion" (1793), and "Europe, a Prophecy" (1794) express his opposition to the English monarchy, and to 18th-century political and social tyranny in general. Theological tyranny is the subject of The Book of Urizen (1794). In the prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), he satirized oppressive authority in church and state, as well as the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher whose ideas once attracted his interest.

In 1800 Blake moved to the seacoast town of Felpham, where he lived and worked until 1803 under the patronage of William Hayley. He taught himself Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian, so that he could read classical works in their original language. In Felpham he experienced profound spiritual insights that prepared him for his mature work, the great visionary epics written and etched between about 1804 and 1820. Milton (1804-08), Vala, or The Four Zoas (1797; rewritten after 1800), and Jerusalem (1804-20) have neither traditional plot, characters, rhyme, nor meter. They envision a new and higher kind of innocence, the human spirit triumphant over reason.

Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by common people, but he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to become popular. In 1808 he exhibited some of his watercolors at the Royal Academy, and in May of 1809 he exhibited his works at his brother James's house. Some of those who saw the exhibit praised Blake's artistry, but others thought the paintings "hideous" and more than a few called him insane. Blake's poetry was not well known by the general public, but he was mentioned in A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1816. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who had been lent a copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, considered Blake a "man of Genius," and Wordsworth made his own copies of several songs. Charles Lamb sent a copy of "The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Innocence to James Montgomery for his Chimney-Sweeper's Friend, and Climbing Boys' Album (1824), and Robert Southey (who, like Wordsworth, considered Blake insane) attended Blake's exhibition and included the "Mad Song" from Poetical Sketches in his miscellany, The Doctor (1834-1837).

Blake's final years, spent in great poverty, were cheered by the admiring friendship of a group of younger artists who called themselves "the Ancients." In 1818 he met John Linnell, a young artist who helped him financially and also helped to create new interest in his work. It was Linnell who, in 1825, commissioned him to design illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy, the cycle of drawings that Blake worked on until his death in 1827.


*Biography from Poets.org

November 25, 2010

10 Quatrains of Thankfulness


I'm thankful I have life and breath;
Am thankful death is not the end.
Ah, thanks have I for God Most High
Whose Providence my life does tend.

My dearest daughter, center world,
O sweetest creature that I know-
I'm thankful you're my little girl,
And love you more than life can show.

I'm thankful for my family too
Who both through good and utter ill
Have loved me unconditional ...
They always have, and always will.

And then there are my crazy friends-
I love them from the deepest parts.
I'm thankful God has shown me them
And mended me to all their hearts.

I'm thankful for the human race-
For there's more good in them than not.
But more so am I thankful for
Those of them who've goodness got.

I thank those that have gone before,
Upon whose shoulders we reside:
The shifters of our history,
Those noble souls in whom we pride.

I'm thankful I have food to eat,
Have shelter where there's water clean,
That I have heat when weather clads
With snow and sleet and bitter rain.

There's also thanks for things I've learned:
Theology (by far the best),
And poetry, philosophy,
And history, and all the rest.

And look- behold this gorgeous globe:
From mountain lands to vaulted sky;
How glorious her creatures be
From sea to land and birds that fly!

I'm thankful to have known real love,
And seen with mortal eyes the truth.
I'm thankful God has guided me
To wiser days from foolish youth.

-jwm

November 23, 2010

An Anne Sexton Selection

Man of many hearts, you are a fool!
The clover has grown thorns this year
and robbed the cattle of their fruit
and the stones of the river
have sucked men's eyes dry,
season after season,
and every bed has been condemned,
not by morality or law,
but by time.


... very curious imagery from an extremely intense Anne Sexton poem, The Interrogation of the Man of Many Hearts. If you want to read one of Sexton's more intense poems, click on the link and read this one. Let me know what you think, what you feel. I'll leave my opinion in the comments area as soon as I get a moment.


November 17, 2010

Memphis

Memphis

A Childhood Memory of Light and Heat over Snow Prevailing

I walked (eleven-ish or so)
A kid amid blue snow and slush,
When lo! that golden orb aglow
Ascending made the blue-air blush!

A sense of summer lingered there
Where light and heat on snow prevailed,
And in the drainage waters clear
A thousand tiny glaciers sailed.

I walked on water (melted snow),
Seen sunlight shimm'ring at my feet-
A million glinting diamonds glowed
Like Pleiades upon the street.

And high above, beyond my view,
Benevolence was glowing bright-
It bid the winter fair adieu
And clad the world in summer light.

O would that I could there return
And wade those gutter-waters fair,
Tread snow and slush where sunbeams burn
And clear by Love the chilly air.

Until then, ah, and truth be told,
Let cold and winter here descend-
For that young boy, who now is old,
Has in that golden orb a friend.

-jwm



Of the Poem:

Really, I was a young boy just outside playing by myself ... it had just snowed, but the sun came out casting heat everywhere- everything was melting (it was gorgeous). Something that day triggered in me a sort of mystical relation to the experience- I've never forgotten that beautiful day or the details therein.

The title to the poem derives from the cross streets where this memory occurred, the cross streets where I lived as a boy: South Memphis and Colorado Avenue.

Poetic Parameters:

Stanza: Quatrain (6 total)
Meter: Tetrameter (i.e. 8 syllables per line)
Rhyme Scheme: a.b.a.b. (per stanza)

Note:

I especially wanted to interlock the lines in some of these stanzas so that the working rhythm would flow smoother. Here's an example:

I walked (eleven-ish or so)
A kid amid blue snow and slush,
When lo! that golden orb aglow
Ascending made the blue-air blush!


Even within the same line, employing something akin to alliteration, there are interlockings:
-A kid
-
Amid

Again, an example of interlocking:

Until then, ah, and truth be told,
Let cold and winter here descend-
For that young boy, who now is old,
Has in that golden orb a friend.

Or (the same stanza even) ...

Until then, ah, and truth be told,
Let cold and winter here descend-
For that young boy, who now is old,
Has in that golden orb a friend.

The beauty of doing this is that it embellishes the rhythm and flow of the poem- it's a poetic devise that I must say not only contributes to the subtle details of the poem, but is also fun to figure out. Try it sometime.

November 15, 2010

Yonder Ridge


The ram that edges mountain tops
That nary knew a dell
Thinks nothing of the falling rocks
Nor where their falling fell
No, what a ram is thinking of
Is this- and I will tell
His love, his love on yonder ridge
Aside that other male

-jwm

November 11, 2010

Sexton on Plath's Death


Plath and Sexton were friends who shared several things in common: they were both woman; they were both roughly the same age; they were both exceptional poets; and they were both living a tortuous life of mental depression which, as a result of it and an intense obsession with death, caused them to kill themselves.

The women talked often with one another of their ills, particularly of their deep desire to die. It seems, to me at any rate, that, along with their poetry writing, they were somewhat therapeutic for one another ... but not therapeutic enough.

On February 11th, 1963, Plath ended her life. News of her friend's death must have reached Sexton quickly, for just six days later she scripted a poem (a sort of elegy) in memory of her friend. Here's that poem:


Sylvia's Death
for Sylvia Plath

O Sylvia, Sylvia,
with a dead box of stones and spoons,

with two children, two meteors
wandering loose in a tiny playroom,

with your mouth into the sheet,
into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,

(Sylvia, Sylvia
where did you go
after you wrote me
from Devonshire
about rasing potatoes
and keeping bees?)

what did you stand by,
just how did you lie down into?

Thief --
how did you crawl into,

crawl down alone
into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,

the death we said we both outgrew,
the one we wore on our skinny breasts,

the one we talked of so often each time
we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,

the death that talked of analysts and cures,
the death that talked like brides with plots,

the death we drank to,
the motives and the quiet deed?

(In Boston
the dying
ride in cabs,
yes death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)

O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drummer
who beat on our eyes with an old story,

how we wanted to let him come
like a sadist or a New York fairy

to do his job,
a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,

and since that time he waited
under our heart, our cupboard,

and I see now that we store him up
year after year, old suicides

and I know at the news of your death
a terrible taste for it, like salt,

(And me,
me too.
And now, Sylvia,
you again
with death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)

And I say only
with my arms stretched out into that stone place,

what is your death
but an old belonging,

a mole that fell out
of one of your poems?

(O friend,
while the moon's bad,
and the king's gone,
and the queen's at her wit's end
the bar fly ought to sing!)

O tiny mother,
you too!
O funny duchess!
O blonde thing!

February 17, 1963


Tragically, on October 4th, 1974, Sexton, like her friend, ended her life by asphyxiation.

November 09, 2010

Anne Sexton*


Anne Sexton (1928 - 1974)

Anne Gray Harvey was born in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1928. She attended Garland Junior College for one year and married Alfred Muller Sexton II at age nineteen. She enrolled in a modeling course at the Hart Agency and lived in San Francisco and Baltimore. In 1953 she gave birth to a daughter. In 1954 she was diagnosed with postpartum depression, suffered her first mental breakdown, and was admitted to Westwood Lodge, a neuropsychiatric hospital she would repeatedly return to for help. In 1955, following the birth of her second daughter, Sexton suffered another breakdown and was hospitalized again; her children were sent to live with her husband's parents. That same year, on her birthday, she attempted suicide.

She was encouraged by her doctor to pursue an interest in writing poetry she had developed in high school, and in the fall of 1957 she enrolled in a poetry workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education. In her introduction to Anne Sexton's Complete Poems, the poet Maxine Kumin, who was enrolled with Sexton in the 1957 workshop and became her close friend, describes her belief that it was the writing of poetry that gave Sexton something to work towards and develop and thus enabled her to endure life for as long as she did. In 1974 at the age of 46, despite a successful writing career--she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for Live or Die--she lost her battle with mental illness and committed suicide.

Like Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, W. D. Snodgrass (who exerted a great influence on her work), and other "confessional" poets, Sexton offers the reader an intimate view of the emotional anguish that characterized her life. She made the experience of being a woman a central issue in her poetry, and though she endured criticism for bringing subjects such as menstruation, abortion, and drug addiction into her work, her skill as a poet transcended the controversy over her subject matter.

*Biography from Poets.org

November 01, 2010

Love Unrequited


I write, and yet I've never wrote
Of heart-felt pain that love has smote,
Or love undying skirting death
Whose deep-blue heart holds heavy breath.
I've never woeful had to write
Of love's dark unrequiting night,
Nor could I fathom this the day
That she would have me so dismayed ..

O my- alas! my heart in throes ..
My soul abandoned to its woes ..
For love long sought seems sought in vain,
And now I'm reeling here in pain.

envoi

Still, even in this pain I pine
To bind with her (her heart to know) ..
And this despite the dismal signs
That warn me she increases woe.

-jwm

October 29, 2010

Of Solipsism- A Plath Poem



What an awesome read! Not only does Plath construct a poem containing wonderfully employed imagery within a gorgeous structure, but on top of this takes on a philosophical concept that many people are unaware of: solipsism.

Solipsism is the philosophical position that contends that a given individual’s mind is the only knowable reality there is (a concept that’s intimately connected to idealism). Some have gone as far as to state that there is in fact no independent, external reality; that that which we perceive to be ‘the external world’ is really nothing more than the conjecturing of ideas that exist with the individual’s mind alone … in its extreme from it asserts that the individual (whoever that may be) is not only the basis of reality, but the creator and destroyer of it.

The illusion of an objective reality is so utterly persuasive that, according to this philosophical position, we cannot but help to live as if this were so. If the illusion were to give way and I were to see clearly that reality is nothing more than the conglomerate of ideas I have pertaining to it, well, I’d be able to make things disappear or come into being at will.

Plath takes this strange philosophy and skillfully utilizes it in the poem this post pertains to. I was taken back- I had no idea that Plath was in the least familiar with philosophy (let alone solipsism). To my mind Coleridge is one of the more philosophical of the poets, and has written several with topics that are very philosophical. But Plath’s poem here … incredible. She may not be one of the more philosophical of the poets, but this poem is by far one of the most philosophical ones in circulation. Check it out.



Soliloquy of the Solipsist

I?
I walk alone;
The midnight street
Spins itself from under my feet;
When my eyes shut
These dreaming houses all snuff out;
Through a whim of mine
Over gables the moon's celestial onion
Hangs high.


I
Make houses shrink
And trees diminish
By going far; my look's leash
Dangles the puppet-people
Who, unaware how they dwindle,
Laugh, kiss, get drunk,
Nor guess that if I choose to blink
They die.

I
When in good humor,
Give grass its green
Blazon sky blue, and endow the sun
With gold;
Yet, in my wintriest moods, I hold
Absolute power
To boycott any color and forbid any flower
To be.

I
Know you appear
Vivid at my side,
Denying you sprang out of my head,
Claiming you feel
Love fiery enough to prove flesh real,
Though it's quite clear
All your beauty, all your wit, is a gift, my dear,
From me.



Of the Poem (Notes):

I walk alone

For solipsism to be true there could only exist one individual who has the capacity to generate or dissolve reality.

The midnight street / Spins itself from under my feet

Wonderful imagery. The poet (our solipsist) is quite aware that reality is being generated by the ideas she projects (hence, with every step, the very street beneath her feet emerges).

When my eyes shut / These dreaming houses all snuff out

For the solipsist, things exist because they’re perceived to exist. If these things fell out of the range of perception they would cease to have being (they would be snuffed out, so to speak). Should the solipsist grant attention to this or that given idea, this or that given idea would manifest as an existing entity (through a whim of mine the moon hangs high).

I / Make houses shrink / And trees diminish / By going far

Again, it’s in relation to the poet’s perspective that things diminish or increase, have being or non-being … even people (lines 14 - 19).

And it’s not just perception that can affect what is and is not, but even moods can alter reality’s contents (the third stanza).

The final stanza does it for me! Just when you think the poem was constructed to specifically convey a philosophical position (which it does), and just when you think a philosophical truth is on the verge of emerging, the poet alters the voice of her pen and directs her verse to the one she, albeit chidingly, loves.


I
Know you appear
Vivid at my side,
Denying you sprang out of my head,
Claiming you feel
Love fiery enough to prove flesh real,
Though it's quite clear
All your beauty, all your wit, is a gift, my dear,
From me.

October 27, 2010

Sylvia Plath*

Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)

Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 27, 1932. Her mother, Aurelia Schober, was a master’s student at Boston University when she met Plath’s father, Otto Plath, who was her professor. They were married in January of 1932. Otto taught both German and biology, with a focus on apiology, the study of bees.

In 1940, when Sylvia was eight years old, her father died as a result of complications from diabetes. He had been a strict father, and both his authoritarian attitudes and his death drastically defined her relationships and her poems—most notably in her elegaic and infamous poem, "Daddy."

Even in her youth, Plath was ambitiously driven to succeed. She kept a journal from the age of 11 and published her poems in regional magazines and newspapers. Her first national publication was in the Christian Science Monitor in 1950, just after graduating from high school.

In 1950, Plath matriculated at Smith College. She was an exceptional student, and despite a deep depression she went through in 1953 and a subsequent suicide attempt, she managed to graduate summa cum laude in 1955.

After graduation, Plath moved to Cambridge, England, on a Fulbright Scholarship. In early 1956, she attended a party and met the English poet, Ted Hughes. Shortly thereafter, Plath and Hughes were married, on June 16, 1956.

Plath returned to Massachusetts in 1957, and began studying with Robert Lowell. Her first collection of poems, Colossus, was published in 1960 in England, and two years later in the United States. She returned to England where she gave birth to the couple's two children, Freida and Nicholas Hughes, in 1960 and 1962, respectively.

In 1962, Ted Hughes left Plath for Assia Gutmann Wevill. That winter, in a deep depression, Plath wrote most of the poems that would comprise her most famous book, Ariel.

In 1963, Plath published a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Then, on February 11, 1963, during one of the worst English winters on record, Plath wrote a note to her downstairs neighbor instructing him to call the doctor, then she committed suicide using her gas oven.

Plath’s poetry is often associated with the Confessional movement, and compared to poets such as her teacher, Robert Lowell, and fellow student Anne Sexton. Often, her work is singled out for the intense coupling of its violent or disturbed imagery and its playful use of alliteration and rhyme.

Although only Colossus was published while she was alive, Plath was a prolific poet, and in addition to Ariel, Hughes published three other volumes of her work posthumously, including The Collected Poems, which was the recipient of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize. She was the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize after death.


*Biography from Poets.org

October 21, 2010

Abou Ben Adhem


Last week on the 20th I posted a bio from Spartacus Educational on the poet James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784 - 1859). The 19th was this poet's birthday, and so I decided to read a few of his poems.

I was exceedingly delighted with what is by far his most known work, Abou Ben Adhem. This poem, written in iambic pentameter, is about Ibrahim Bin Adham, a Sufi mystic who experiences an encounter with the divine.

Without a question, what delighted me was the poem's point: we must love our neighbors, our fellow human beings (for it is by virtue of doing so that we partake in the divine).

Hence the previous post ... Love Thy Neighbor.

With that said, here's Hunt's poem without commentary (the poem speaks for itself):



Abou Ben Adhem

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold: -
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
"What writest thou?" -The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.
click to enlarge


October 20, 2010

James Henry Leigh Hunt*


James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784 - 1859)

James Leigh Hunt was born on 19th October, 1784 in Southgate, Middlesex. His father, a clergyman, got into financial difficulties and ended up in a debtor's prison. As a young man, Hunt developed an interest in politics and poetry. Leigh Hunt became friends with other young writers who favoured political reform including Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Hazlitt, Henry Brougham, Lord Byron,Thomas Barnes and Charles Lamb.

As well as writing poetry and articles on politics, Leigh Hunt worked as a drama critic for the News. In 1808 Leigh Hunt helped his brother, John Hunt, to start a political journal called the Examiner. The journal gave support to radicals in Parliament such as Henry Brougham and Sir Francis Burdett and the political ideas of people like Robert Owen and Jeremy Bentham.

Leigh Hunt upset the authorities by pointing out on the front page of every edition of the Examiner that half the cost of the price was the result of the government's "tax on knowledge". In 1812 Leigh and John Hunt were arrested and charged with libel after publishing an article criticizing the Prince Regent. The brothers were found guilty and sentenced to two years' imprisonment and a £500 fine. In prison Leigh Hunt continued to edit the Examiner.

After his release from prison, Leigh Hunt continued to edit the Examiner until 1821. The following year Leigh Hunt traveled to Italy with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The three men published a radical political journal called The Liberal. By publishing the journal in Italy they remained free from the fear of being prosecuted by the British authorities. The first edition was mainly written by Leigh Hunt but also included work by William Hazlitt, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron's Vision of Judgement and sold 4,000 copies. The venture was abandoned after four editions and in 1823 Leigh Hunt returned to Britain.

In later life Leigh Hunt's books included Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1828), Christianism (1832), Poetical Works (1844), Autobiography (1850) and Table Talk (1851). James Leigh Hunt died in 1859. His son, Thornton Leigh Hunt (1810-1873), also became a successful journalist.


*The biography of this poet, whose birthday it was yesterday, was drawn from Spartacus Educational

October 15, 2010

Carl Orff's In Trutina


On my way home from work Wednesday I was listening to classical music on Colorado Public Radio (they were having a fundraiser) and to my delight they played a song from among Carl Orff's collection, Carmina Burana ... the piece they played was In Trutina.

Now I've heard this piece plenty of times, but it wasn't until then that I first learned of the song's poetic value.

Turns out that 'Carmina Burana' is a name that Orff borrowed from an early medieval manuscript that consisted of roughly 254 poems and satirical stories. The name itself means "Songs from Benediktbeuern".

The collection of poems, almost all of which were written in Medieval Latin, was discovered in a Benedictine monastery in 1803 and was dated back to as early as the 11th century.

It was from this collection that Orff selected 24 poems that would eventually come to constitute his Carmina Burana.

Among these poems is the one I mentioned hearing two days ago, In Trutina. Here's the Latin version followed by an English transliteration. Short but gorgeous.


In Trutina

In trutina mentis dubia
fluctuant contraria
lascivus amor et pudicitia.
Sed eligo quod video,
collum iugo prebeo:
ad iugum tamen suave transeo.

In Trutina

I am suspended
between love
and chastity,
but I choose
what is before me
and take upon myself the sweet yoke.


Of the Poem (More Ambiguity)

Some say it's a poem about a young girl's decision to fall in love rather than to become a nun. She says she's trapped between love and chastity; that is, between marriage and sisterhood.

That she chose marriage is said to be clear from the last line where she apparently refers to it as "the sweet yoke". I contend that this isn't necessarily the case ... "the sweet yoke" could just as easily refer to her commitment as a nun and a lover of God alone (Matthew 11:30).

Funny. Seems the key to interpreting the poem adequately rests on a single word found in line 5: "what". If we knew "what" was there before her we'd know "what" it was she chose.

And so here we are, forced by the presence of ambiguity to arbitrarily choose what the poem means to us subjectively.

Truth be told ... I like that kind of freedom.


If you’d like to hear the song (in Latin) click here … it’s only a few minutes long, and I promise you’ll enjoy it. Notice the different rendering of it in English.

Also, I've come across a slightly different Latin spelling for Trutina- Truitina. Just thought I'd have you know.

October 09, 2010

An Elegy to Heather Tripler

Emerson Park
An Elegy on the Passing of Heather Tripler

There’s snow there now where once she lay
Alone that Autumn eve
And though that day seems far away
I still lamenting grieve

For she- a daughter, mother, friend
She pined, I’m sure, in grief
For hard distraught there came her end
By Death, that surly thief

She roamed, she roamed through deepest dark
Alone, no friend to guide
And when she came upon that park
There on a bench she died

No tear went forth, nor word was said
To her who lay asleep
Til angels by her bed were led
In solace ever deep

“Awake, dear child, slumber’s past”
They said in one accord
“Come to the warmth and light at last
For therein is the Lord”

-jwm



Of the Poem

It was 2008, October 10th, when I was home from work and the news was on. A young lady, it was reported, was found dead on a park bench in Grand Junction. She was 34 years old, homeless, and apparently died there as a result of alcohol poisoning. I was utterly grieved by the news of this.

Words elude me. What can I say that might articulate the emotions that are stirred up in me even at this moment? How can I articulate the content of so tragic an event as Heather’s?

Perhaps these words, written to Heather’s mother, might express them the best …

As I mentioned to your sister and your daughter, I’m so sorry for your loss. My daughter is 9 years old, and it would wreck my world if I lost her. This is honestly the closest to empathy that I can reach with regard to the emotional pain I’m certain you feel. I’m truly sorry that you and your family are without Heather. Any attempt to console you I imagine is fruitless, yet I have no doubt that you’ll see Heather again in the hereafter.

I don’t know Heather, but the first time I heard of her plight it grieved me so heavily that I still have difficulty articulating it. It was shortly after she died that the first snowfall of the year occurred, and as I was standing at my doorway looking at this beautiful sight I couldn’t stop thinking about her and that dreadful event. It was then that I felt, deep in the inner reaches of my heart, that I had to memorialize her in the form of a poem; that I had to say ‘something’ in honor of her.

I didn’t know what I would write, but there were two simple rules that I knew I had to follow … first, let the poem come to me rather than forcing too many ideas onto it; and second- and perhaps most importantly- to write it as if Heather were standing right there watching me write it (so as to get a sense of her approval, I think).

Those were the hardest 20 lines that I’ve ever written in a poem, but when I completed them I felt a beautiful sense of connection with Heather.

In the end I feel my point was to express (in the first stanza) the anguish I felt when I first heard of her death; to express (in the second and third stanza) her humanity in the midst of that lonely night- which the media seemed to entirely ignore; and to express (in the last two stanzas), the best way I knew how, her reception into the arms of the Lord.

The truth is, I wanted to express to Heather herself that I was listening. My original intention was to keep the poem to myself, but the second I finished it my conscience compelled me to try and contact her family and share it with them- and I did.

I’ve thought about Heather so much over the last two years. And though I’ve never met her, I’ll never be able to forget her.

October 04, 2010

The Cold


I've never shunned a winter day
And feel I never will
But last year when I rode a sleigh
There came a bitter chill

An apparition cold as hell
Crept quick into my vein
And just as I thought all was well
My freezing soul was slain

-jwm

September 28, 2010

Chicken Poetry School


Seriously though ... it's almost as if it were through 'poetic-rule' that I died to 'poetic-rule' in order that I might live in poetry.


For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
-Galatians 2:19


Truth be told, I definitely had this verse in mind to confirm what I’ve always (silently) believed- that, after having best understood the rules and patterns of this or that given discipline, freedom resides in our ability to utilize its circumvention fluently and creatively.

I learned how a rook moves; how a knight jumps; how a bishop slices; I learned how the game of chess functions beneath exceedingly specific parameters … but it was the highly fluid aspect of creativity that taught me how to skewer an opponent’s piece!

In other words, after having first learned the rules, I learned how to die to them in order to achieve freedom's possibility …

Perfect example ... the comments area Of an Uncommon Measure

September 21, 2010

There's ...

I

An angel on my right, my girl
A maple’s airy symphony
The scram’bling of a nervous squirrel
And breezes blushing quietly

II

A solitary Aspen tree
Whose leaves suspect that fall is near
A cloudless sky (a lifted sea)
And semi-silence everywhere

III

The coming end of summer fair
The distant call of lonely crows
The rocking of this metal chair
As stanzas three come to a close

-jwm



Of the Poem:

I wrote this while with my daughter on the afternoon of September 19th, 2010. It was a beautiful, quiet afternoon ...

... I had to capture some of the detail in a poem.

Stanza:
quatrain (3 total)
Meter:
tetrameter
Rhyme Scheme: abab bcbc cdcd (note how the stanzas are interlocked, 'b/b' 'c/c')

September 17, 2010

William Carlos Williams- Quotes


William Carlos Williams

"Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels."

"It is not what you say that matters but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages."

"If they give you lined paper, write the other way."

William Carlos Williams*


William Carlos William (1883 -1963)

William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883. He began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, at which time he made the decision to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended Ezra Pound. Pound became a great influence in Williams' writing, and in 1913 arranged for the London publication of Williams's second collection, The Tempers. Returning to Rutherford, where he sustained his medical practice throughout his life, Williams began publishing in small magazines and embarked on a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright. Following Pound, he was one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement, though as time went on, he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially Eliot, who he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people. His influence as a poet spread slowly during the twenties and thirties, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot's "The Waste Land"; however, his work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. His major works include Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992), and Imaginations (1970). Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey in 1963.

*Biography from Poets.org

September 14, 2010

Our Lives are Swiss



It's by virtue of our finitude that we find it difficult to envision things beyond a limited perspective- we have our prejudices, our pre-conceptions, our predilections, and so on.

There are times, however, when these biases give way and a broader perception of things is made manifest- as if we're seeing reality from the perspective of eternity.

These are the visions that the mystic seeks- but not just the mystic. Every human has at some point in their existence experienced that which is transcendental, that overwhelming flood of beauty and truth that everyday existence seems to lack ... and even though they may not be able to articulate that experience, they know with certainty that they've tasted the divine.

Myself? - I'm not unfamiliar with these experiences; I've even tried to articulate a few of them in verse (e.g. A Memory of Delta D.O.C.).

One thing I've noticed is that when these did occur with me they were sudden, unexpected, unrelenting, and usually carried with them an intensity that was so aesthetically pleasing that I almost aways fell into a crippling swoon- no exaggeration here.

There's a poem by Emily Dickinson, Our Lives are Swiss, that expresses beautifully experiences such as these.

In it- and this is by no means the only interpretation one can render- in it the life of the Swiss, surrounded by those towering Alps, signifies our limited state of existence as humans. There are times (odd afternoons) that these limitations give way ('The Alps neglect their Curtains') and we see clearly a broader scope of reality; we 'look further on' and behold that which is transcendental ('the other side').

The point of the poem, or at least one of the points I derive, is that there's a broader reality out there; that we ought, insofar as this is possible, to cast aside our prejudices, pre-conceptions, and predilections, so that we might better broaden our perspective of reality and peer, like the mystic, on life from the perspective of eternity.



Our lives are Swiss --
So still -- so Cool --
Till some odd afternoon
The Alps neglect their Curtains
And we look farther on!

Italy stands the other side!
While like a guard between --
The solemn Alps --
The siren Alps
Forever intervene!




As of April 9th, 2010