The Poets

March 29, 2010

Day of the Dead

Dia de los Muertos

Those leaflets
Fell toward Aztec tombs

As Monarchs
Filled the lovely skies-

O marvel!
How my flower blooms

In beauty
As November dies!

Of the Poem (Parameters)

Stanza: Four couplets
Meter: Odd lines have three syllables (second word two); the remaining even lines have five
Rhyme Scheme: xa.xb.xa.xb (where 'x' represents unrhymed lines)

Note: The Day of the Dead is a cherished Mexican holiday celebrated early in November, a holiday where the deceased are remembered and mortality is reflected upon, a time marked by the arrival of Monarch butterflies.

March 26, 2010

On Our Having Lived- Rilke

Everyone once, once only. Just once and no more.
And we also once, Never again. But this having been
once, although only once, to have been of the earth,
seems irrevocable.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

If you haven't read this poem (Duino Elegies) I highly highly suggest doing so- it's an incredibly existential piece.

March 25, 2010

The Night-Mare

She slept, but in a troubled night
She’d toss within her dreams:
For cruelest nightmares rose with might
And ever hellish themes-

A goblin rose from blackest bri'r
Who'd cruelest lies invent,
It mocking hoped it might aspire
To rob her righteous bent.

Then gnashing out with wicked slurs
And accusations grim,
It dragged her through the darkest firs
Where darkness grew more dim.

Then lo! there came a Lunar Light
And starry host a-flame,
Then Judgment put the imp to flight-
Who hobbing felt ashamed.


Now placid dreams alas have come
For fled's the dreaded goblin's drum
Whose wicked accusations teemed
And made a peaceful heart feel numb-
The girl whom lunar lights redeemed.

Of the Poem (Parameters):

Stanza: Four quatrains and an envoi of five line

Meter: Alternating tetrameter and trimeter with the first four quatrains; tetrameter with envoi
Rhyme Scheme: a.b.a.b. with first four stanzas; a.a.b.a.b with last stanza

: line 14 and 16 are not direct rhymes (i.e. a-flame and ashamed), but rather oblique or slanted; and bri'r, of line 5, is the word brier (meant to be pronounced as a single syllable, similar to fire)

March 24, 2010

Emily's Poem- XIII


The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

Of the Poem:

In line 1 Dickinson uses alliteration as a stylistic device, and does so with wonderful efficiency- notice how the ‘c’ of Society takes on an alliterative quality akin to the smooth sounds produced by the other ’s’ words in the same line (just say it aloud and see: The Soul selects her own Society).

Taken as a whole it seems there’s little evidence the poet intended a specific meter, but there are some similarities between the first two stanzas:

- the first lines of each contain ten syllables
- the second and fourth four
- the third line differs only by an extra syllable

The rhyme scheme, which essentially consists of oblique rhymes, is more tangible: a.b.a.b. with each stanza- provided we postulate a rhythmic relation between Gate and its half rhyme Mat of the second stanza.

Dickinson’s poetic style- from her dashes to her highly creative use of oblique rhyme schemes- has shown her to be one of the most ingenious and original writers I’ve come to know.

She employs some of the most awkward imagery I’ve seen in poetry- but in a most fantastic way, and almost never seems to exhibit academic conformity (which I admire).

The fact that she produced nearly 1800 poems before her death without a single soul knowing about them is clear evidence to me that she loved poetry not for the sake of accolade, but for poetry itself.

Like Theodore Roethke , Emily Dickinson’s poetic authenticity is undeniable. I appreciate her works dearly.


Note: Below in the comments area is one of many perspectives I've flirted with concerning this poem. Although I’m still developing my take on this poem, I thought I’d post some of my current thoughts there. I’d love to know what you think of it.

March 23, 2010

Emily Dickinson*

Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, but severe homesickness led her to return home after one year. Throughout her life, she seldom left her house and visitors were scarce. The people with whom she did come in contact, however, had an enormous impact on her thoughts and poetry. She was particularly stirred by the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, whom she met on a trip to Philadelphia. He left for the West Coast shortly after a visit to her home in 1860, and some critics believe his departure gave rise to the heartsick flow of verse from Dickinson in the years that followed. While it is certain that he was an important figure in her life, it is not certain that this was in the capacity of romantic love—she called him "my closest earthly friend." Other possibilities for the unrequited love in Dickinson’s poems include Otis P. Lord, a Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge, and Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican.

By the 1860s, Dickinson lived in almost total physical isolation from the outside world, but actively maintained many correspondences and read widely. She spent a great deal of this time with her family. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was actively involved in state and national politics, serving in Congress for one term. Her brother Austin attended law school and became an attorney, but lived next door once he married Susan Gilbert (one of the speculated—albeit less persuasively—unrequited loves of Emily). Dickinson’s younger sister Lavinia also lived at home for her entire life in similar isolation. Lavinia and Austin were not only family, but intellectual companions during Dickinson’s lifetime.

Dickinson's poetry reflects her loneliness and the speakers of her poems generally live in a state of want, but her poems are also marked by the intimate recollection of inspirational moments which are decidedly life-giving and suggest the possibility of happiness. Her work was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town which encouraged a Calvinist, orthodox, and conservative approach to Christianity.

She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as John Keats. Though she was dissuaded from reading the verse of her contemporary Walt Whitman by rumor of its disgracefulness, the two poets are now connected by the distinguished place they hold as the founders of a uniquely American poetic voice. While Dickinson was extremely prolific as a poet and regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends, she was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890 and the last in 1955. She died in Amherst in 1886.

Upon her death, Dickinson's family discovered 40 handbound volumes of nearly 1800 of her poems, or "fascicles" as they are sometimes called. These booklets were made by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of poems in an order that many critics believe to be more than chronological. The handwritten poems show a variety of dash-like marks of various sizes and directions (some are even vertical). The poems were initially unbound and published according to the aesthetics of her many early editors, removing her unusual and varied dashes and replacing them with traditional punctuation. The current standard version replaces her dashes with a standard "n-dash," which is a closer typographical approximation of her writing. Furthermore, the original order of the works was not restored until 1981, when Ralph W. Franklin used the physical evidence of the paper itself to restore her order, relying on smudge marks, needle punctures and other clues to reassemble the packets. Since then, many critics have argued for thematic unity in these small collections, believing the ordering of the poems to be more than chronological or convenient. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson (Belknap Press, 1981) remains the only volume that keeps the order intact.

*Biography from

March 15, 2010

Poetic Fragment- Cleanthes

Conduct me Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.


Of the Poem (Quote):

This is a quote by Cleanthes that Epictetus employs in one of his works, the Enchiridion.

Despite the fatalistic imports, I love this quote and apply it with Providence in mind. Indeed, despite the pantheistic philosophical perspective endorsed by them, I love the Stoics (especially Epictetus).

Poetic Parameters:

Stanza: Quatrain
Meter: Pentameter
Rhyme Scheme: x.a.a.x. (where 'x' represents unrhymed lines- essentially an
Italian quatrain)

Note: I've studied philosophy for roughly 17 years, and I find it incredible, each day, how closely connected and influenced I was by poetry through my philosophical studies- and this without my complete awareness of the matter.

March 11, 2010

The Song My Paddle Sings

I have this funny little habit of going to NNDB and seeing who was born on a given day, and I'm particularly delighted when I see the names of philosophers or poets I've studied.

I've countless times come across the names of philosophers and poets who I've never heard of much less studied (e.g. Torquato Tasso, who was born this day in 1544, is a poet who I'm unfamiliar with).

It was precisely this that happened yesterday when I came across the name Pauline Johnson, a Native American poet born in Canada. Until then I hadn't heard of her, and when I looked her up and read some of her works I was thoroughly delighted- a truly gifted poet I'd say.

Four poems moved me immediately ...

Dawendine: a poem about a Native American girl averting the destruction of her kin
And He Said Fight On: written in the midst of the poet's fight against breast cancer
A Cry from an Indian Wife: a poem about a Native American mother's reluctance to send her son to war

The forth poem, the poem this post pertains to, is said to be the poet's most popular work: The Song My Paddle Sings. I read through it this morning and was utterly impressed with everything about it (it's popular for a reason) ... its meter, stanza selection, and rhyme scheme fit together so perfectly that the poem flows like a perfect story. It is a perfect story (albeit cryptic and exceedingly mystical in nature).

It is a must read- in fact, I can't wait to read it to my daughter tonight!


The Song My Paddle Sings

WEST wind, blow from your prairie nest,
Blow from the mountains, blow from the west
The sail is idle, the sailor too;
0! wind of the west, we wait for you.
Blow, blow !
I have wooed you so,
But never a favour you bestow.
You rock your cradle the hills between,
But scorn to notice my white lateen.

I stow the sail, unship the mast:
I wooed you long but my wooing's past;
My paddle will lull you into rest.
0! drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
Sleep, sleep,
by your mountain steep,
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep I
Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
For soft is the song my paddle sings.

August is laughing across the sky,
Laughing while paddle, canoe and I,
Drift, drift,
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift.

The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead;
Dip, dip,
While the waters flip
In foam as over their breast we slip.

And oh, the river runs swifter now ;
The eddies circle about my bow.
Swirl, swirl !
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!

And forward far the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for everimore.
Dash, dash,
With a mighty crash,
They seethe, and boil, and bound, and splash.

Be strong, 0 paddle! Be brave, canoe !
The reckless waves you must plunge into.
Reel, reel.
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel.

We've raced the rapid, we're far ahead !
The river slips through its silent bed.
Sway, sway,
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Swings, swings,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.



Side Note: Wikisource lists all of the poems Pauline Johnson published under Flint and Feather, I highly recommend checking some of them out.

March 10, 2010

Birth Date of a Native American Poet*

Pauline Johnson (1861-1913)

Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) was the first Native American poet to have her work published in Canada and was one of the few women of her time who succeeded in supporting herself from her writings and recitals. Thousands of Canadian schoolchildren have read her poem "The Song My Paddle Sings."

Johnson was unique in her time because she recited her own work rather than that of others. Her recitals of her own poems, anecdotes, and plays were a refreshing change for American and Canadian audiences whose usual theatrical fare was Shakespeare or Ibsen. Johnson was never able to make much money from her writing, and most of her income came from her speaking tours.

Mixed Heritage

Emily Pauline Johnson was born on March 10, 1861, near Brantford, Ontario. She was one of four children born to George Johnson, a Mohawk chief on the Six Nations Indian Reserve, and Emily Howells, a wealthy white woman originally from Bristol, England. Her paternal grandfather was Mohawk chief Smoke Johnson.

Johnson's mother was living with her family in Ohio when she decided to join her sister, who was living near Brantford. While staying there, she met George Johnson, who had been raised primarily among whites.

George and Emily Johnson were married in 1853 despite opposition from some white citizens of Brantford. Emily Johnson's brother-in-law, a minister, refused to marry the couple. George Johnson's mother was also opposed to the marriage; she was concerned their children would not be considered Mohawks. They had a private wedding but were hounded by curious onlookers after the ceremony.

George Johnson bought two hundred acres on the Indian reserve and built a mansion there that he named Chiefswood. Johnson grew up at Chiefswood. Although she had few playmates, she managed to find companionship in nature. The Grand River flowed alongside her house, and she enjoyed camping and canoeing. Chiefswood frequently played host to important visitors from England. In 1869, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who would later become governor-general of Canada, paid a visit.

Johnson's mother encouraged her daughter to read the classics in English literature, including the works of Sir Walter Scott, John Milton, and William Shakespeare. Johnson attended the Brantford Model School and also had private instruction from her governess. Her formal education ended after seven years and she did not attend college. Her father and grandfather taught her Mohawk legends.

Budding Poet

As soon as she could write, Johnson started creating poems. Her early writings were influenced by her grandfather's Indian tales and by the English poetry she heard from her mother. Canoeing would take on special significance in some of her poems, including "The Song My Paddle Sings." By the time she had reached her late teens, she was a competent poet but not yet published.

George Johnson died in 1884 at the age of 67 following a beating he received while trying to stop whites from illegally taking timber from the Six Nations Reserve. After his death, the family could not afford to remain at Chiefswood, so they rented out the house and moved to Brantford. Johnson expected to marry but found no suitors. She brought in some income by writing poems, which she published in the local newspaper and in an anthology entitled Songs of the Great Dominion.

Poetry Recitations

Johnson initially wanted to take up acting, but her mother objected. In the minds of many Victorian women, acting was not a reputable occupation. Instead, Johnson agreed to give poetry recitations, a highly respectable occupation for women in those days. Over the next seventeen years, Johnson recited her poems in England, New England, and Canada. During much of this period, she lived in trains and hotels. All told, she made nineteen trips across Canada and six forays into the United States. Some of her recitals were accompanied by musicians or comedians.

Although Johnson never married, she was involved with her manager and traveling partner Walter McRaye. Johnson first met McRaye in 1897, when she was 35 and near the peak of her career. McRaye, who was giving recitals of French-Canadian dialect poems throughout Canada and the United States, was 20. In 1899, the two formed a partnership; McRaye took responsibility for arranging their tours, bookings, and transportation. McRaye remained Johnson's constant companion and co-performer until she retired.

In 1892, using the Mohawk name Tekahionwake, Johnson made her reading debut at a poetry recital held at the Young Liberals Club in Toronto. At the recital, Johnson read her poem "A Cry from an Indian Wife," which argued that Canada had been taken unfairly from its first inhabitants. In "Indian Poet Princess," she asked, "If some great nation came from far away,/Wresting their country from their hapless braves,/Giving what they gave us - but wars and graves." During half the performance, she wore an evening gown, but in the other half, she dressed in buckskin embellished with silver brooches, wampum belts, a blanket, and two scalps.

Johnson toured to help defray the cost of printing her first book of poetry. She read her poetry throughout Canada. Her recitals took place in church halls, schoolhouses, and even saloons. In larger towns she might appear in an opera house.

Traveled to England

Johnson performed throughout Canada before traveling to England, where she hoped to find a publisher for her first book of poems. In England, she was warmly accepted and frequently invited to recite her poetry at private parties held by wealthy socialites.

Her first book of poetry, The White Wampum, appeared in 1895 while she was still in England. It included her famous poem "The Song My Paddle Sings." After her return to Canada, she again began touring while publishing in North American magazines. Besides poetry, Johnson wrote stories about Indian life, travel articles, and family stories for a variety of magazines. Because she covered a wide range of topics, she reached a diverse audience.

Johnson's second book, Canadian Born, appeared in 1903. Critics did not consider the poems in it as strong as those in her first collection, but the book sold well. Focusing on the shared heritage of all Canadians, Johnson emphasized the debt that her themes had to Native American culture. In the book's preface, she wrote, "White race and Red are one if they are but Canadian born." About this time, Johnson began cutting back on her public readings, having begun to feel the toll of constant traveling on her health.

Hoping to retire in England, she made a second trip there in 1906 but found no English journals or magazines willing to publish her work. The "drawing room entertainments" that had included Johnson on her visit to London twelve years earlier were no longer in vogue. She made her stage debut during this second trip in a large concert hall, billed as "E. Pauline Johnson - Tekahionwake, Indian Princess."


Not finding the reception she had hoped for in England, Johnson decided to make her home in Vancouver in 1909. In 1911, she published Legends of Vancouver, based on stories she had heard from Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish tribe of British Columbia. Johnson's novel The Moccasin Maker recounted experiences of Canadian women - white, Indian and mixed-blood.

By 1911, Johnson knew that she had inoperable breast cancer. She nevertheless continued to write through the last years of her life. Many of her readers purchased her fourth book, Flint and Feather, which contained all of her poems in one volume, by subscription at premium rates to help defray her medical expenses. Her poem from this period, "And He Said Fight On," conveyed her determination to defeat the illness that was taking her life: "Time and its ally, Dark Disarmament,/Have compassed me about/Have massed their armies, and on battle bent/My forces put to rout;/But though I fight alone, and fall, and die,/Talk terms of Peace? Not I."

Johnson died on March 7, 1913, in Vancouver, British Columbia, three days before her fifty-second birthday. Her ashes were placed in Vancouver's Stanley Park and later marked by a large stone. Her final book, The Shagganappi, was published posthumously.


In the years immediately following Johnson's death, her work went largely ignored. But in the mid-1920s, there was renewed interest in her poetry. Canadian schoolchildren began studying "The Song My Paddle Sings." In 1961, to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth, the Canadian government issued a Pauline Johnson postage stamp, the first stamp to recognize a Canadian Indian and the first Canadian stamp to recognize a woman who was not a member of the British royal family.

Some critics believed Johnson was Canada's best Native American poet. Some others attributed her success to her theatrical talents or to her successful blending of Indian and English elements in her poetry. For her part, Johnson seemed to care little whether she was remembered as a great poet. "Forget that I was Pauline Johnson, but remember that I was Tekahionwake, the Mohawk that humbly aspired to be the saga singer of her people," she was quoted as saying in Lucie Hartley's biography, Pauline Johnson.

*Biography from Encyclopedia of World Biography

March 08, 2010

Truth and Beauty

… Truth is Beauty’s outer speech
As Light’s the outer speech of Heat-
And truth be told, one cannot teach
The place where Truth and Beauty meet.

For they are One as One is He-
A Singularity Divine-
And if we add Him so there’s Three
A Oneness we would still assign.

… Beauty is the heart of Truth-
The Oldest Purity we view-
The Elder, if you will, of Youth,
Yet Age and Truth are hardly two.

For they are One as One is He-
A Singularity Divine-
And if we add Him so there’s Three
A Oneness we would still assign.


Of the Poem:

Related poem fragment:

Who knows but that Truth is she
Who's known as Beauty to the eyes
Or Beauty, whom the arts do prize,
Who's to say that she's not he


The idea conveyed in this quatrain is essentially the same idea presented in this post: Truth and Beauty's immutable unity.

Inspired by Shakespeare's Phoenix and the Turtle and a Dickinson poem, my intention here is to convey the mystical unity I'm convinced exists 'between' the two.

Because Emanual Swedenborg bares an incredible influence on my theological and ontological perspective, it should be of no suprise that the contents of the above poem reflect that influence.

Poetic Parameters:
Meter: Lines 1 and 9 are 7 syllable count, the rest are tetrameters.
Stanza: Quatrain (4 total)
Rhyme Scheme: abab (per quatrain)

March 02, 2010

The Philosopher's Skull- A Latin Poem Disclosed

Parvula Cartesii fuit hæc calvaria magni
exuvias reliquas Gallica busta tegunt
sed laus ingenii toto diffunditur orbe
mixtaque coelicolis mens pia semper ovat.


In September of 1649 René Descartes departed for Sweden to mentor 20-year-old Queen Christina in the field of philosophy. Just six months later, in February of the following year, he would die from a sudden onset of pneumonia.

The French philosopher's body might have remained to this day in a churchyard cemetery near Stockholm, but a French Ambassador by the name of Hugues de Terlon secretly exhumed it, put it in a copper coffin, and brought it back with him to St. Genevieve-du-Mont, Paris.

Unfortunately, this wouldn't be the last trip for the philosopher's remains ... for the next 350 years his bones would be "fought over, stolen, sold, revered as relics, studied by scientists, used in séances, and passed surreptitiously from hand to hand."

Along the way there were inscriptions made on some of the bones, especially the skull. One in particular, and the one this post is most concerned with, is the inscription across the forehead of his skull. It's a single quatrain written in old Latin cursive- apparently a poem that commemorates the high genius of the philosopher.

Although I'm quite familiar with Descartes and his background as a philosopher, my Latin's a little loose; and because I was dying terribly inside to know the contents of this poem, I had to exhaust every means at my exposal to obtain its meaning ... I tried broad spectrum internet searches, online translators, combed through a dozen books or so, I even sought out assistance on Facebook- all to no avail.

And then it happened ... I stumbled on a Google Books page that referred to a book written by Russell Shorto, Descartes Bones. In it, on page 146, was that very Latin poem transliterated into English. Needless to say, I was really excited! Here's both versions:


Parvula Cartesii fuit haec calvaria magni,
exuvias reliquas gallica busta tegunt;
sed laus ingenii too diffunditur orbe,
mistaque coelicolis mens pia semper ovat.

This small skull once belonged to the great Cartesius,
The rest of his remains are hidden far away in the
land of France;
But all around the circle of the globe his genius
is praised,
And his spirit still rejoices in the sphere of heaven.

How cool is that? I just wish I knew the exact history of the person who wrote this poem, the extent of their poetic inclinations, what poetic influences bore sway on them, and- considering they were apparently Swedish- why the choice of Latin.

Now the English version of this poem may not be the most impressive read in the realm of poetry, but you've got to admit, considering the history of Descartes as a philosopher and the 'travels' of his skeletal remains, the poem takes on an aesthetic relevance that makes ignoring it at least unworthy. Hence the post.

As a side note, I feel a certain sense of shame that Descartes' remains were treated this way. This is a man whose philosophical position lends ontological primacy to soul over that of flesh; a man who has argued that the body is merely an extended thing within which we- the mind, or soul- act through, but are not intrinsically a part of.

Yet here we are- I say we as in we humans … yet here we are squabbling, stealing, selling, and superstitiously adoring the bones of a man who would laugh at the very thought of it. At least the author of the above inscription acknowledged that these “once belonged” to Descartes, and that the man- Descartes- occupies a place that is “in the sphere of heaven” (a latent suggestion of the dualism Descartes espoused).


"This 'I' – that is, the soul, by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, and would not fail to be what it is even if the body did not exist."

"Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)."

In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn, than to contemplate.

As of April 9th, 2010