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The Poets

May 27, 2010

In Reference to the Previous Post

In the name of the Bee—
And of the Butterfly—
And of the Breeze— Amen!

Emily Dickinson

I just read this poem by Dickinson and thought its concluding lines very delightful considering the subject of my previous post. See comments area for the poem in its entirety.

May 25, 2010

A Fourth Grade Memory


Stop killing butterflies, I said,
It's wrong to have these creatures dead.
Then his reply- which had me freeze-
Was well, then you stop killing bees.

-jwm


Of the Poem (Fourth Grade History):

What an unruly creature of destruction I was as a child. I remember- as clear as if it were yesterday- a time when I was a little boy in the fourth grade playing outside during recess. I tore a switch off of a tree and used it to smack the heads off of dandelions. This bored me, so I turned my weapon against some flying insects (dragonflies and bees, mostly).

A friend suddenly showed up and joined me in the onslaught. I noticed very quickly that he was targeting butterflies, and rebuked him for it. Without missing a beat he said: "Well, you're killing bees." My heart sank because at that very moment I realized I was actually harming something. Remorseful still, I haven't targeted a bee since.

Anyhow, hence the above quatrain.

May 24, 2010

An Ode on Solitude by Pope

The fewer our wants, the closer to the gods we are.
Socrates


Ode on Solitude

Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixt, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.




Of the Poem (Brief Thought & Parameters):

I thought these the words of an elderly sage-poet the first time I read them. Turns out Alexander Pope was just twelve years old when he scribed out these beautiful thoughts. Not only am I reminded of Thoreau and his Walden when I read this poem, I'm also reminded of his personal axiom: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

The poem exhibits the same mood of biophilia that's usually associated with pastoral works; and, much like ecclesiastical books or wisdom scriptures, the poem has a certain didactic element to it.

Considering the sharp and angular works produced by the poet in his latter years, works that could have cost our poet his life, this one has a rather tranquil disposition about it. In fact, I would even venture to say that it's almost a still-frame of the poet's psychological state of being as a child.

It's interesting to note that this poem was done in a structure that's almost foreign to the measure Pope would take up as an adult: heroic couplets. This unique status just seems another reason, for me at any rate, to appreciate its presence among his many others works.

Read, reread, meditate ... enjoy.


****

Parameters

Stanza: quatrain (5 total)
Meter: first three lines per stanza, tetrameter; last line per stanza, dimeter
Rhyme Scheme: a.b.a.b. (per stanza)

Appended:

Note that lines 9 & 10 may seem as though they’re a nine syllable count, but this is not the case. In line 9 the word unconcern’dly should not be pronounced un-con-cern-ED-ly (that would definitely render an extra syllable); it should be pronounced un-con-cern-DLY (almost as if the ‘d’ were silent and one were saying the name Lee).

Also, in line 10, the way the mouth moves saying the word hour makes it feel as though there are two syllables- there are. But the diction utilized by Pope, and by those of his day, is slightly different from ours today. Think of it this way, we have the word 'being' which has two syllables; however, when it's spoken today, it sounds like a single syllable. The same may be said with Pope's use of the word 'hour'.


Note: post photo-art done by Michael Cunliffe Thompson

May 21, 2010

Pope's Birthday Quote


"Pleas'd to look forward, pleas'd to look behind,
And count each birthday with a grateful mind."


Alexander Pope



Happy birthday, poet ...

Alexander Pope*


Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)

Alexander Pope was born an only child to Alexander and Edith Pope in the Spring of 1688. The elder Pope, a linen-draper and recent convert to Catholicism, soon moved his family from London to Binfield, Berkshire in the face of repressive, anti-Catholic legislation from Parliament. Described by his biographer, John Spence, as "a child of a particularly sweet temper," and with a voice so melodious as to be nicknamed the "Little Nightingale," the child Pope bears little resemblance to the irascible and outspoken moralist of the later poems. Barred from attending public school or university because of his religion, Pope was largely self-educated. He taught himself French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and read widely, discovering Homer at the age of six.

At twelve, Pope composed his earliest extant work, Ode to Solitude; the same year saw the onset of the debilitating bone deformity that would plague Pope until the end of his life. Originally attributed to the severity of his studies, the illness is now commonly accepted as Pott's disease, a form of tuberculosis affecting the spine that stunted his growth—Pope's height never exceeded four and a half feet—and rendered him hunchbacked, asthmatic, frail, and prone to violent headaches. His physical appearance would make him an easy target for his many literary enemies in later years, who would refer to the poet as a "hump-backed toad."

Pope's Pastorals, which he claimed to have written at sixteen, were published in Jacob Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies of 1710 and brought him swift recognition. Essay on Criticism, published anonymously the year after, established the heroic couplet as Pope's principal measure and attracted the attention of Jonathan Swift and John Gay, who would become Pope's lifelong friends and collaborators. Together they formed the Scriblerus Club, a congregation of writers endeavoring to satirize ignorance and poor taste through the invented figure of Martinus Scriblerus, who would serve as a precursor to the dunces in Pope's late masterpiece, the Dunciad.

1712 saw the first appearance of the The Rape of the Lock, Pope's best-known work and the one that secured his fame. Its mundane subject—the true account of a squabble between two prominent Catholic families over the theft of a lock of hair—is transformed by Pope into a mock-heroic send-up of classical epic poetry.

Turning from satire to scholarship, Pope in 1713 began work on his six-volume translation of Homer's Iliad. He arranged for the work to be available by subscription, with a single volume being released each year for six years, a model that garnered Pope enough money to be able to live off his work alone, one of the few English poets in history to have been able to do so.

In 1719, following the death of his father, Pope moved to an estate at Twickenham, where he would live for the remainder of his life. Here he constructed his famous grotto, and went on to translate the Odyssey—which he brought out under the same subscription model as the Iliad—and to compile a heavily-criticized edition of Shakespeare, in which Pope "corrected" the Bard's meter and made several alterations to the text, while leaving corruptions in earlier editions intact.

Critic and scholar Lewis Theobald's repudiation of Pope's Shakespeare provided the catalyst for his Dunciad, a vicious, four-book satire in which Pope lampoons the witless critics and scholars of his day, presenting their "abuses of learning" as a mock-Aeneid, with the dunces in service to the goddess Dulness; Theobald served as its hero.

Though published anonymously, there was little question as to its authorship. Reaction to the Dunciad from its victims and sympathizers was more hostile than that of any of his previous works; Pope reportedly would not leave his house without two loaded pistols in his pocket. "I wonder he is not thrashed," wrote William Broome, Pope's former collaborator on the Odyssey who found himself lambasted in the Dunciad, "but his littleness is his protection; no man shoots a wren."

Pope published Essay on Man in 1734, and the following year a scandal broke out when an apparently unauthorized and heavily sanitized edition of Pope's letters was released by the notoriously reprobate publisher Edmund Curll (collections of correspondence were rare during the period). Unbeknownst to the public, Pope had edited his letters and delivered them to Curll in secret.

Pope's output slowed after 1738 as his health, never good, began to fail. He revised and completed the Dunciad, this time substituting the famously inept Colley Cibber—at that time, the country's poet laureate—for Theobald in the role of chief dunce. He began work on an epic in blank verse entitled Brutus, which he quickly abandoned; only a handful of lines survive. Alexander Pope died at Twickenham, surrounded by friends, on May 25th, 1744.

Since his death, Pope has been in a constant state of reevaluation. His high artifice, strict prosody, and, at times, the sheer cruelty of his satire were an object of derision for the Romantic poets of the nineteenth century, and it was not until the 1930s that his reputation was revived. Pope is now considered the dominant poetic voice of his century, a model of prosodic elegance, biting wit, and an enduring, demanding moral force.


*Biography from Poets.org

May 19, 2010

That We Die- Another Virelai Nouveau


That We Die

I always thought it strange we die
That we toward death do constant ply
That many million souls have fled
In dread before the Reaper's eye
And how it lingers just ahead
And is not far, but very nigh
I always thought it strange we die

Though mortal flesh I shall not sigh
Nor weep beneath this lovely sky
No, I shall ever grateful tread
Upon this earth and beauty spy
And never look to life in dread
For this is what I do defy
That we toward death must fearful ply

envoi

Still, these three things I can't deny
That one day we will all be dead
And that we toward this constant ply
And that it's very strange we die

-jwm



Of the Poem (Parameters and Side Note):

The previous post spoke of that antiquated French form of verse called a virelai nouveau. The above poem is another attempt at this form- a form that I must say is a delightful one to work with. I envision myself playing around with this pattern quite often. The parameters were explained there, but here they are again below:

Stanza: two septets and a conluding quatrain called an envoi
Meter: this form is usually done in tetrameter (i.e. four metric feet or eight syllables)
Rhyme Scheme
: below ...

1st stanza: A1.A2.b.a.b.a.A1
2nd stanza: a.a.b.a.b.a.A2
3rd stanza: a.b.A2.A1
Note: the capital letter 'A' in the rhyme scheme represents the poem's refrain

Side Note

I learned about death as a young boy learning to tie his shoes. My aunt, who was showing me how to lace them, advised me then that I should learn how to do this on my own because she "wouldn't be around forever."

Because I thought the statement strange she went on to explain the mortal aspect into which we were born. I certainly heard of death prior to this, but it wasn't until that moment that I understood death. I was terribly distraught, and remember feeling my fate to be unfair ... I thought it was strange that we die.

Now, as an adult, I've come to terms with death. Still, despite the fact that I believe in life after death, our having to die seems quite strange. Then again, from a slightly different perspective, our having lived at all is just as astonishing.

Enjoy the poem.

May 15, 2010

The Killing of a Spider- A Virelai Nouveau

I was over a friends house when suddenly something caught his attention ... it was a spider- a baby spider- crawling rather unaggressively up the wall. With some hesitation he walked over to it and- just as I asked him not to kill it- he killed it. The death of that spider unleashed a debate between us.

In general, I argued that this thing, this spider, as tiny and as creepy as it was, had just as much right to live as any other sentient organism- humans included. His argument: "I don't like spiders, and if I feel like killing 'em- I'll kill 'em."

The truth is I don't like spiders either (as well as flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, or any other dirty, creepy insect). Where I have the opportunity I'll put a spider outside- especially a baby spider ... but the bottom line is this: there are living organisms that I will kill without compunction (and mosquitoes top that list). I just felt bad for the baby spider.

Anyhow, to make a long story longer, it was that event- and the loss of the life of that baby spider- that provoked this poem in me. Enjoy.


The Killing of a Spider

The killing of a spider’s right
If not from fear, then yes, from spite
For be it even ever small
A dot upon a wall of white
It creeps him out the way they crawl
And so he says that in his sight
The killing of a spider’s right

Just think about the spider’s bite
Defenseless that we get at night
That wound upon the flesh so raw
Whose throbbing mass is red and bright
As if this spider meant to maul
The meat of creatures full of might
And not from fear, it seems, but spite

envoi

His guilt is therefore less than slight
For in his mind it’s as a law
If not from fear, then yes, from spite
The killing of a spider’s right

-jwm



Of the Poem (Virelai Nouveau)

One of the more delightful and thrillfully challenging forms of poetry I've done thus far would have to be the virelai nouveau. The form derives itself from medieval fixed forms of French verse, and were used as a the foundation for song and poetry writing. A clear and precise definition of a virelai nouveau's parameters doesn't seem to exist, but there's no question that the poem's refrain is an essential part of its structure.

The poem's alternating refrain is probably its most interesting aspect. The first two lines of the poem constitutes the poem's refrain so that the first line concludes the first stanza, the second line the second stanza; and in the final stanza- called an envoi- both lines serve as the poem's concluding lines- but reversed.

The poem's structure therefore, written out, looks like this:

1st stanza: A1.A2.b.a.b.a.A1
2nd stanza: a.a.b.a.b.a.A2
3rd stanza: a.b.A2.A1
Note: the capital 'A' represents the poem's refrain

An eight syllable count seems to have been the poem's most commonly adopted meter, called tetrameter- but this is hardly always the case.

The villanelle is another French form that bares semblance, in both difficulty and structure, to the virelai nouveau.

The virelai nouveau usually uses only two rhymes throughout (e.g. right, spite, white, as one; small, crawl, raw, and so on, as the other).

Notice that I took advantage of slant or oblique rhyming patterns throughout the poem ... for example, in the second stanza the words raw and maul are not direct rhymes, but the sonorous articulation of them bare so close a resemblance rhythmically that their use is justified.

For some reason alliteration and assonance were among the poetic devises that seemed easy to employ using this form- examples below:

Alliteration:

If not from fear, then yes, from spite
It creeps him out the way they crawl
And so he says that in his sight

Assonance:

For be it even ever small
A dot upon a wall of white (notice these vowels sound the same)
It creeps him out the way they crawl

The stanzas I selected here for this poem are two septets and a concluding quatrain, called an envoi. From what I've come to learn, the virelai nouveau doesn't require a specific stanza type, but most do seem to have an envoi or some sort of isolated stanza dedicated to its conclusion- as I mentioned, there are no clear cut parameters on this type of poem.

I really enjoyed working with this form so much that I intend to write a few more based on it in the near future. For anyone who wants to take on the challenge of a tricky and rarely seen poetic form, I highly suggest this one (in fact, I'd love to read and post it).

May 10, 2010

Baudelaire's [Bleak] Sky


One of my favorite aspects of existence is the blue sky- the host of clouds and birds; the medium of sun and moon, of planets and stars; the symbol of that which is transcendental. One may think this an exaggeration, but even as I sit here in this room typing this post, I long for that sky- my heart almost wants to burst open from mystical anticipation of its view, seriously.

So when I read Baudelaire's poem, The Sky, you might imagine the internal shock- even grief- I felt when he referred to it as a "strangling cavern wall" that essentially traps and suffocates our miserable human existence.

I've read dark poems, and this one isn't too terribly dark- but poems that ruthlessly target inherently beautiful aspects of nature and life ... well, they seem to approach a certain level of contempt. Now I'm not calling our poet contemptuous- far from it! I happen to think his poetry to be both interesting and well done. What I am saying- or at least trying to convey- is that the shock value I received from reading this particular poem was a mixture of awe and negative repulsion.

If one reads this poem and the collection this poem was published with, one will get an immediate sense of a darker poet. Bleak and oblique are many of the poems that have emerged from the pen of this French writer, and in many ways Baudelaire reminds me of a hip, coffee-drinking existentialist just waiting for a reason to rebel. Make no mistakes, I respect Baudelaire as a man and as a poet, and think much of his poetry cleverly written and interesting ... I'm just saying, he's different- but perhaps that's where his poetic genius lies.

The Sky

Where'er he be, on water or on land,
Under pale suns or climes that flames enfold;
One of Christ's own, or of Cythera's band,
Shadowy beggar or Crœsus rich with gold;

Citizen, peasant, student, tramp; whate'er
His little brain may be, alive or dead;
Man knows the fear of mystery everywhere,
And peeps, with trembling glances, overhead.

The heaven above? A strangling cavern wall;
The lighted ceiling of a music-hall
Where every actor treads a bloody soil--

The hermit's hope; the terror of the sot;
The sky: the black lid of the mighty pot
Where the vast human generations boil!


Of the Poem:

Lines 1 through 6

The poet makes no distinction of persons in this poem- all alike are subject to the conclusion drawn by it; thus, unhesitatingly, does the poet address the world of the living and of the dead- Where'er he be, alive or dead!, he says.

Lines 7 and 8

There's a mystery hidden in the heart of man, something akin to agoraphobia, but more existentially dreadful. We perceive it when we gaze sky-ward, or so our poet contends, and it seems to produce in us wild states of trepidation and awe. It is the sky.

Line 9

Exactly what produces these "trembling glances" is not clear, but what is clear is that the sky draws it out of us, and all alike are acutely aware of it. Perhaps the poet intends to convey the idea of our being trapped like prisoners beneath this massive dome, or, as he calls it, this "strangling cavern wall."

Lines 10 and 11

To call the sky a "lighted ceiling of a music-hall" seems a little less bleak, indeed, delightful- that is, until our poet describes what this "lighted ceiling" is illuminating: human turmoil and conflict where "every actor treads a bloody soil."

Lines 12 and 14

In short, the poem seems to conclude that all of us- rich or poor, alive or dead, Christ's or Cythera's, hermit or sot- all of us are trapped in a mighty pot, a hideous condition of strife and turmoil where "the vast human generations boil", and that we have a perpetual reminder of this ... that "black lid", that vaulted prison wall we call the sky.

Of the Parameters:

Baudelaire's chosen style for this poem is pretty interesting. He basically took the structure of an Italian sonnet and made a few modifications. The first 8 lines (which are essentially divided into two quatrains) are called an octave. In current Italian sonnets the rhyme scheme would go abba with each quatrain. Baudelaire employs an alternating ryhme scheme with the octave: abab cdcd (this, in truth, is closer to the original structure of the Italian sonnet as it was practiced and endorsed by Giacomo da Lentini, abab abab).

The last 6 lines (which are essentially divided into two tercets) are called a sestet. With the Itailian sonnet the sestet had one of two ryhme schemes: cde cde, or cdc dcd. Baudelaire, cool as he is, switched this up a little, so that in his poem the rhyme followed this pattern: eef ggf.

The meter of the whole poem, like any other typical sonnet, is based on an iambic pentameter.

End Notes:

Cythira- an island by southern Greece (line 3)

Croesus- king of Lydia (line 4)


May 08, 2010

The Flower- by my Daughter

My daughter and I were thinking of a poem we could paste onto a Mother's Day card for her mom. I explained what a haiku consisted of, and she- not me- came up with this beautiful piece:


I love you so much
You're a flower in my mind
Happy Mother's Day



Good stuff, Chelle.

May 07, 2010

Spring's Haiku


In autumn she falls
Through ice-clad winters she sleeps
But I hold Summer

-jwm

May 06, 2010

Charles Baudelaire*



Charles Baudelaire (1821 - 1867)

The son of Joseph-Francois Baudelaire and Caroline Archimbaut Dufays, Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. Baudelaire's father, who was thirty years older than his mother, died when the poet was six. Baudelaire was very close with his mother (much of what is known of his later life comes from the letters he wrote her), but was deeply distressed when she married Major Jacques Aupick. In 1833, the family moved to Lyons where Baudelaire attended a military boarding school. Shortly before graduation, he was kicked out for refusing to give up a note passed to him by a classmate. Baudelaire spent the next two years in Paris' Latin Quarter pursuing a career as a writer and accumulating debt. It is also believed that he contracted syphilis around this time.

In 1841 his parents sent him on ship to India, hoping the experience would help reform his bohemian urges. He left the ship, however, and returned to Paris in 1842. Upon his return, he received a large inheritance, which allowed him to live the life of a Parisian dandy. He developed a love for clothing and spent his days in the art galleries and cafes of Paris. He experimented with drugs such as hashish and opium. He fell in love with Jeanne Duval, who inspired the "Black Venus" section of Les Fleurs du mal. By 1844, he had spent nearly half of his inheritance. His family won a court order that appointed a lawyer to manage Baudelaire's fortune and pay him a small "allowance" for the rest of his life.

To supplement his income, Baudelaire wrote art criticism, essays, and reviews for various journals. His early criticism of contemporary French painters such as Eugene Delacroix and Gustave Courbet earned him a reputation as a discriminating if idiosyncratic critic. In 1847, he published the autobiographical novella La Fanfarlo. His first publications of poetry also began to appear in journals in the mid-1840s. In 1854 and 1855, he published translations of Edgar Allan Poe, whom he called a "twin soul." His translations were widely acclaimed.

In 1857, Auguste Poulet-Malassis published the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal. Baudelaire was so concerned with the quality of the printing that he took a room near the press to help supervise the book's production. Six of the poems, which described lesbian love and vampires, were condemned as obscene by the Public Safety section of the Ministry of the Interior. The ban on these poems was not lifted in France until 1949. In 1861, Baudelaire added thirty-five new poems to the collection. Les Fleurs du mal afforded Baudelaire a degree of notoriety; writers such as Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo wrote in praise of the poems. Flaubert wrote to Baudelaire claiming, "You have found a way to inject new life into Romanticism. You are unlike anyone else [which is the most important quality]." Unlike earlier Romantics, Baudelaire looked to the urban life of Paris for inspiration. He argued that art must create beauty from even the most depraved or "non-poetic" situations.

Les Fleurs du mal, with its explicit sexual content and juxtapositions of urban beauty and decay, only added to Baudelaire's reputation as a poéte maudit (cursed poet). Baudelaire enhanced this reputation by flaunting his eccentricities; for instance, he once asked a friend in the middle of a conversation "Wouldn't it be agreeable to take a bath with me?" Because of the abundance of stories about the poet, it is difficult to sort fact from fiction.

In the 1860s Baudelaire continued to write articles and essays on a wide range of subjects and figures. He was also publishing prose poems, which were posthumously collected in 1869 as Petits poémes en prose (Little Poems in Prose). By calling these non-metrical compositions poems, Baudelaire was the first poet to make a radical break with the form of verse.

In 1862, Baudelaire began to suffer nightmares and increasingly bad health. He left Paris for Brussels in 1863 to give a series of lectures, but suffered from several strokes that resulted in partial paralysis. On August 31, 1867, at the age of forty-six, Charles Baudelaire died in Paris. Although doctors at the time didn't mention it, it is likely that syphilis caused his final illness. His reputation as poet at that time was secure; writers such as Stephane Mallarme, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud claimed him as a predecessor. In the 20th century, thinkers and artists as diverse as Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin, Robert Lowell and Seamus Heaney have celebrated his work.

*Biography from Poets.org

May 03, 2010

Nefertiti

click photo to enlarge (incredible detail)

Nefertiti

Beneath the skies of goddess Nuit
There lies my passion's sole pursuit ...
It's her- whose flesh is beauty's claim-
A Nubian of Pharaoh's name:

Beauteous Nefertiti- hail ...
Arise, dear love, leave crook and flail,
And let us from this palace flee
So we in silent love can be.

The moon has known our hidden plight,
And we her sacred silver light-
And all in company as one
Our secret keep from Aten's sun.

How joyful though this hidden pledge
That loving wades the water's edge,
That hand in hand reflects the bliss
Of lovers raptured in a kiss.

But now that crimson light and hue
Disperses all our midnight blue,
And soon that sacred god will rise
And cast his cope upon our skies.

So know, before alas we part,
That you, dear queen, are all my heart;
That even now I pine to see
Tomorrow's moon and you with me.

-jwm



Of the Poem (Parameters and Notes):

Stanza: Quatrain (6 total)
Meter: Tetrameter (i.e. eight syllables per line)
Rhyme Scheme: aabb (per stanza)

Side Notes:

In Egyptian mythology Nuit is the goddess who resides over the evening and the night skies.

Aten, who in Nefertiti's time was worshipped monotheistically, was represented by the sun disc.

A crook and flail were symbols of divine royalty, and the symbolism behind these tools are exceedingly deep and ancient. The digital picture of Nefertiti above has her holding these symbolic items.

And yes, for the record, there's no doubt in my mind that Nefertiti was terribly gorgeous.

Here's a link to a site that did a spectacular digital representation of Nefertiti based on the bust of the queen. Enjoy.

As of April 9th, 2010