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The Poets

June 28, 2010

The War-God's Deadly Dance



War - I know it well, and the butchery of men
Well I know, shift to the left, shift to the right
My tough tanned shield. That's what the real drill
Defensive fighting means to me. I know it all
How to charge in the rush of plunging horses-
I know how to stand and fight to the finish
Twist and
lunge in the War-god's deadly dance.

From the Iliad- Book 7, lines 275-281



I first read these lines in the early 90s. I remember how impressed I was with Homer's use of language, how beautifully strung together words could be, and how I wondered to myself whether I could achieve that kind of depth of expression in my own (prose) writings.

My desire to know and feel and write poetry emerged from a like consideration- this was when, shortly before May of 2008, I read a short passage* from Milton's Paradise Lost ... I found it so incredible a description of Eden's worth that I almost couldn't read prose anymore (indeed, my philosophical studies diminished terribly since that formal acquaintance with Milton and poetry).

From that time on I began to submerge myself in the world of poetry- anything and everything I could learn about or get my hands on! I wanted to know the poets and their poetry; I wanted to know their history; I wanted to learn poetic forms, meters, poetic devises, and every medium utilized by poets to achieve their works ... and so I pursued these, and have since been just as passionate to know everything I can about poetry and those that have taken her hand.

Now whether or not I'm a poet is of little concern to me ... what does concern me, or rather, what moves me is the humble yet powerful desire to express myself creatively. Poetry seems my means.

Do I want to be a Homer or a Milton ... of course not. I only want to be what God intends me to be. Nevertheless, the passion, the Muse that ran furiously through the blood of those poets ... yeah, I want some of that.


*Paradise Lost, Book IV 268 - 275

Not that fair field
Of Enna, where Proserpine gathering flowers,
Herself a fairer flower by gloomy Dis
Was gathered, which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her through the world; nor that sweet grove
Of Daphne by Orontes, and the inspired
Castalian spring, might with this Paradise
Of Eden strive...

June 27, 2010

I've Seen Things

For those of you who have not seen Blade Runner, I highly suggest you do so (it’s a great movie with deep philosophical concerns that revolve around the question of identity and our need to persist). For those of you who have seen it, do you remember this scene (a scene that, for me at any rate, is very poetic, very profound):



"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain … time to die."

June 19, 2010

Beyond the Rhine


Her blood is blood of Ptolemy-
There's nothing pharaoh in her veins.
Yet she, the queen conscripting me,
Commands I put my own in chains!

What more- forlorn and worn by war-
I weary bore her wretched times.
Audacity decreed: No more!
And so I fled her House of Crimes.

Now seven years have gone and fled-
And I the post that she commands-
And though she seeks my paltry head
She’ll never find it in these lands ...

For I am fled beyond the Rhine,
Beyond her foreign yoke and rod,
Into a wilderness divine
Where freedom is my only god.

And still I feel her brooding skies
Are peering on this smold’ring hearth ...
Her malice and her livid eyes
They curse the Phoenix of my birth.

-jwm

June 15, 2010

Contemplate the Sages- A Virelai Nouveau

Remember God. Invoke him for your aid and protector, as sailors do Castor and Pollux, in a storm. For what storm is greater than that which arises from these perilous semblances, contending to overset our reason? Indeed what is the storm itself, but a semblance? For do but take away the fear of death, and let there be as many thunders and lightnings as you please, you will find that to reason all is serenity and calm

-
Epictetus



Contemplate the Sages


We wouldn’t live in such dismay
If fleeing death were not our way
For oft our wisest sages taught
That we the fear of death obey
That if we overcame this thought
And fought against its cruel display
.... well, we’d be freed of its dismay

Tranquility would calm the fray
If we this fear would wisely weigh
And hardly would we here distraught
Be grieved by semblances of gray
Nor cruelest fate eclipse our lot
Beneath the beauty of this day
Provided fear were not our way

envoi

So contemplate what sages say
And understand what wise ones thought
If fleeing death were not our way
We wouldn’t live in such dismay

-jwm

June 12, 2010

On the Rains of June 11th & 12th, 2010


He Reigns

Like cascades pure in silver stream
The rain is falling like a dream-
It glistens through the street light’s glow,
And blissful flows in single seam.

And here I stand a soul below
Enjoying what may soon be snow-
A watcher of these marvels, see,
A spectator of nature’s show.

I do adore this lifted sea
Whose plenum gray move placidly
Across the sky where rains are poured,
And nebulous hangs over me.

Thank you for their tender chord
And for the peace that it restored-
For all this mist and lovely gleam,
It testifies of you, O Lord.

These cascades pure in silver stream
Are pure arcana- not a dream …

-jwm



Of the Poem (Catalysis and Parameters)

Catalysis:

I stood there under an old carport last night- it was raining and I was utterly mystified by the sparkling amber hues it produced through the streetlight above me. It was past midnight, but an urge to resist sleep and watch rain lead me outside.

I remembered what William Wordsworth once wrote:

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty


It was beautiful, peaceful. The loamy smell that permeated everything earlier in the day was now vaguely tangible- but a deep sense of serenity lingered on in the air, and all I could think about was my daughter and God, and how thankful- wretched as I am- of every wonderful thing I’ve been given.

I reluctantly tore myself away from the bliss of it all-I had to sleep. But once inside and finding my way to the couch, I cracked the window open to hear it rain, turned on the laptop, and began to compose.

Poetic Parameters:

Stanza: four quatrains and a closing couplet
Meter: tetrameter (e.g. four metric feet, or eight syllables per line)
Rhyme Scheme: aaba bbcb ccac aa (using the closing couplet as an oblique refrain for lines 1 and 2)

Note:

The poem’s overall structure was inspired by Robert Frost's poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (a poem whose style was in turn modeled on an even older form known as a Rubaiyat stanza).

I found an incredible similarity of events between Frost’s poem and my experience of the rain last night- a deep desire to behold nature in her beauty, and a reluctance to leave it. The structure of his poem therefore influenced that of mine.

Hope you enjoy it.

June 10, 2010

Solomon's Peace

Like Saul we all must come to death
If there’s to come a warring king
That David of our inner frame
That shames what Philistines would sing

Rebellious is the state of one
Redemptive, yes, the state of two
And if dear Swedenborg is right
The offspring is a creature new

So rise! Bring peace, Lord Solomon
And trump these wretched wars that rage
For weary is this inner frame
That reigns where Philistines engage

-jwm

June 07, 2010

Poetry at its Best


I was reading the Oxford Companion to Philosophy pool-side this weekend and came across this cool, condensed description of poetry ...


Distinctive of poetry at its best is an 'all-in', maximally dense, simultaneous deployment of linguistic recourses­- sound and rhythm as well as sense, the bringing-together of numerous strands of meaning, through metaphors and other figures, through ambiguities (often unresolved), controlled associations and recourses, allusions: all of these contributing to a well-integrated, unified effect.


This companion to philosophy is one of the best books I've read pertaining to that field (the best one of all times, however, and one I adamantly encourage everyone to read, is Bertrand Russell's History Western Philosophy).

June 03, 2010

Poetry and Idealism


Toward the end of 1798 Coleridge, along with his buddy Wordsworth, took a trip that would land him in Germany for two years where he would study its language and its philosophical giants- including Kant and the transcendental idealism he espoused.

From Kant to Fichte to Schleiermacher, German philosophy was dominated by idealism- the doctrine that our cognitive faculties actively impose subjective properties upon the world it perceives, so much so that it can never know reality as it is, but only as it appears. Some have gone as far as to deny objective reality altogether.

Proponents of this philosophical movement swelled in Germany through the 18th and 19th century and heavily influenced that period's well known zeit geist ... romanticism.

That lead me to conclude that Coleridge- a contemporary of Kant- was not only cognizant of German idealism, but also swayed in one form or another by it.

According to transcendental idealism, we can never experience objective reality in its purity (Kant calls this purity of things things in-themselves, or noumenon). In order for a person (like a poet) to experience anything, there must exist, as a pre-condition to that experience, a cognitive aspect capable of organizing the sense-data.

Therefore, one’s never truly influenced by nature’s beauty directly, because nature’s beauty in its purity is only known through pre-existing cognitive filters; and these filters don't just passively receive sense-date, they aggressively mold it to correspond to its own structure. Therefore, by virtue of these filters, we lose reality in its purest form.

This has lead some idealists to concluded that what a person really perceives is not reality at all, but only an idea of it. Others, like the more radical solipsists, have concluded that all we're really perceiving is ourselves, that it is the mind ‘positing’ ideas in such a way that we believe there to be an objective reality, when in fact there's not.

Now try to imagine selling this to a poet- especially a poet of the romantic period! That Coleridge knew of these prevailing philosophies, and that he stood in modest antipathy toward them, is evident to me from a poem he wrote entitled, To Nature.


To Nature

It may indeed be phantasy, when I
Essay to draw from all created things
Deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings ;
And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie
Lessons of love and earnest piety.
So let it be ; and if the wide world rings
In mock of this belief, it brings
Nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity.
So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,
Thee only God ! and thou shalt not despise
Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice



Of the Poem (Parameters and Summary)

Parameters

The poem can be broken up in a couple ways to be better understood. It can be broken up into two quatrain and two tercets (i.e. an octave and a sestet) so that it represents something similar to an Italian sonnet- which seems to be the pattern Coleridge employed here (i.e. abba, clearly an Italian quatrain). Or we can divide the poem up so that its contents are easily seen. In that case the poem would look like this:

It may indeed be phantasy, when I
Essay to draw from all created things
Deep, heartfelt, inward joy that closely clings ;
And trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie
Lessons of love and earnest piety.

So let it be ; and if the wide world rings
In mock of this belief, it brings
Nor fear, nor grief, nor vain perplexity.

So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to Thee,
Thee only God ! and thou shalt not despise
Even me, the priest of this poor sacrifice


Rhyme Scheme: abbacbbcefefgg
Meter: loose (revolves round, but is not, a pentameter)

Summary

Lines 1 though 5:

The poet contends that- despite the possibility of it being untrue- that nature is inherently symbolic and suggestive and beautiful in and of herself, that this beauty is self-contained. He draws "from all created things" the deepest of joys, tracing out lessons and meaning from nature as if he were reading a book.

Lines 6 through 8:

Resolute that this is so, the poet clings to his belief regardless of how the world may mock.

Lines 9 through 14:

In the remaining lines the poet concludes with imagery that depicts nature as God’s temple, and the poet himself as priest. Notice the how he also utilizes- very intentionally- religious terminology and concepts borrowed from theology (especially lines 9 through 14).

created things- line 2
inward joy- line 3
love and piety- line 5
my altar- 9
my fretted dome- 10
incense- line 12
God alone- line 13
priest- line 14
sacrifice- line 14

It’s beautiful. It’s almost as if- and I may be pushing too hard here- as if the poet not only denies the notion that the human mind constructs* reality, but posits audaciously the independent and objective reality of both God and nature in the face of idealism (e.g. line 2, created things).

What say you?


*This is actually what solipsists contend- neither Kant, nor idealism in general, hold this belief.

June 01, 2010

Samuel Taylor Coleridge*



Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a leader of the British Romantic movement, was born on October 21, 1772, in Devonshire, England. His father, a vicar of a parish and master of a grammar school, married twice and had fourteen children. The youngest child in the family, Coleridge was a student at his father's school and an avid reader. After his father died in 1781, Coleridge attended Christ's Hospital School in London, where he met lifelong friend Charles Lamb. While in London, he also befriended a classmate named Tom Evans, who introduced Coleridge to his family. Coleridge fell in love with Tom's older sister Mary.

Coleridge's father had always wanted his son to be a clergyman, so when Coleridge entered Jesus College, University of Cambridge in 1791, he focused on a future in the Church of England. Coleridge's views, however, began to change over the course of his first year at Cambridge. He became a supporter of William Frend, a Fellow at the college whose Unitarian beliefs made him a controversial figure. While at Cambridge, Coleridge also accumulated a large debt, which his brothers eventually had to pay off. Financial problems continued to plague him throughout his life, and he constantly depended on the support of others.

En route to Wales in June 1794, Coleridge met a student named Robert Southy. Striking an instant friendship, Coleridge postponed his trip for several weeks, and the men shared their philosophical ideas. Influenced by Plato's Republic, they constructed a vision of pantisocracy (equal government by all), which involved emigrating to the New World with ten other families to set up a commune on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Coleridge and Southey envisioned the men sharing the workload, a great library, philosophical discussions, and freedom of religious and political beliefs.

After finally visiting Wales, Coleridge returned to England to find that Southey had become engaged to a woman named Edith Fricker. As marriage was an integral part of the plan for communal living in the New World, Coleridge decided to marry another Fricker daughter, Sarah. Coleridge wed in 1795, in spite of the fact that he still loved Mary Evans, who was engaged to another man. Coleridge's marriage was unhappy and he spent much of it apart from his wife. During that period, Coleridge and Southey collaborated on a play titled The Fall of Robespierre (1795). While the pantisocracy was still in the planning stages, Southey abandoned the project to pursue his legacy in law. Left without an alternative plan, Coleridge spent the next few years beginning his career as a writer. He never returned to Cambridge to finish his degree.

In 1795 Coleridge befriended William Wordsworth, who greatly influenced Coleridge's verse. Coleridge, whose early work was celebratory and conventional, began writing in a more natural style. In his "conversation poems," such as "The Eolian Harp" and "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," Coleridge used his intimate friends and their experiences as subjects. The following year, Coleridge published his first volume of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, and began the first of ten issues of a liberal political publication entitled The Watchman. From 1797 to 1798 he lived near Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, in Somersetshire. In 1798 the two men collaborated on a joint volume of poetry entitled Lyrical Ballads. The collection is considered the first great work of the Romantic school of poetry and contains Coleridge's famous poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

That autumn the two poets traveled to the Continent together. Coleridge spent most of the trip in Germany, studying the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Jakob Boehme, and G.E. Lessing. While there he mastered the German language and began translating. When he returned to England in 1800, he settled with family and friends at Keswick. Over the next two decades Coleridge lectured on literature and philosophy, wrote about religious and political theory, spent two years on the island of Malta as a secretary to the governor in an effort to overcome his poor health and his opium addiction, and lived off of financial donations and grants. Still addicted to opium, he moved in with the physician James Gillman in 1816. In 1817, he published Biographia Literaria, which contained his finest literary criticism. He continued to publish poetry and prose, notably Sibylline Leaves (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and Church and State (1830). He died in London on July 25, 1834.


*Biography from Poets.org

As of April 9th, 2010