The Poets

July 29, 2010

Poetic Folly Redeemed

"Drawing a deadline upon a poem is like forcing a flower's bloom."

Inasmuch as the writing of poetry is concerned there are many things I've come to learn not to do. One of those things would be forcing a poem's completion.

Thankfully this has seldom happened- in fact, I can only think of two poems in particular whose 'publication' seemed a little premature: one I posted on this blog a little over a year ago; the other I dedicated to an artist friend in '08.

This blog concerns the one I posted here on May 22nd of last year. It was meant to be a sonnet whose subject was a series of questions pertaining to the relationship of the artist's disposition to that of his or her work. The idea I had was simple enough, but expressing it adequately and by means of meter and rhyme scheme proved- like any other poem- to be a challenge.

Shortly thereafter an eagerness to have it finished and complete overcame my senses, and before I knew it it was posted. I felt icky about it for the longest time and promised myself never to post a poem or call it complete unless my heart felt it to be ... and so I haven't.

Last week I decided to reengage that poem and make it right. When I completed it (for real, this time) I felt my aesthetic conscience clear and that 'icky feeling' lifted. Moreover, the revised poem is exactly what my mind intended to produce last year.

The prematurely posted poem is in the comments area if you'd like to read that as well, but the revised form of it is below. Let me know what your thoughts are.

Does the Pure Heart a Better Poet Make

Does the pure heart a better poet make,
Whose inner frame is as by God begot-
Swaying, shaping what the writer would take,
And by this inspiration mold the plot?
Or may an impure soul take up the dye
And scribe onto the canvas-page the same-
Be moved, as it were, by the Muses' cry
Though heart be vile, or morally maim?
Are both, scribing their words, Poetry's heir
(So that neither virtue nor vice opposed
Might hard contend for which author is dear;
That, judgeless, she takes in what each composed),
Or is it that her Muse will choose her heirs
And divide, as with sickle, wheat from tares?


July 28, 2010

Gerard Manley Hopkins*

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889)

Born at Stratford, Essex, England, on July 28, 1844, Gerard Manley Hopkins is regarded as one the Victorian era's greatest poets. He was raised in a prosperous and artistic family. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, in 1863, where he studied Classics.

In 1864, Hopkins first read John Henry Newman's Apologia pro via sua, which discussed the author's reasons for converting to Catholicism. Two years later, Newman himself received Hopkins into the Roman Catholic Church. Hopkins soon decided to become a priest himself, and in 1867 he entered a Jesuit novitiate near London. At that time, he vowed to "write no more...unless it were by the wish of my superiors." Hopkins burnt all of the poetry he had written to date and would not write poems again until 1875. He spent nine years in training at various Jesuit houses throughout England. He was ordained in 1877 and for the next seven years carried his duties teaching and preaching in London, Oxford, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Stonyhurst.

In 1875, Hopkins began to write again after a German ship, the Deutschland, was wrecked during a storm at the mouth of the Thames River. Many of the passengers, including five Franciscan nuns, died. Although conventional in theme, Hopkins poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland" introduced what Hopkins called "sprung rhythm." By not limiting the number of "slack" or unaccented syllables, Hopkins allowed for more flexibility in his lines and created new acoustic possibilities. In 1884, he became a professor of Greek at the Royal University College in Dublin. He died five years later from typhoid fever. Although his poems were never published during his lifetime, his friend poet Robert Bridges edited a volume of Hopkins' Poems that first appeared in 1918.

In addition to developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language. He regularly placed familiar words into new and surprising contexts. He also often employed compound and unusual word combinations. As he wrote to in a letter to Burns, "No doubt, my poetry errs on the side of oddness…" Twentieth century poets such as W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and Charles Wright have enthusiastically turned to his work for its inventiveness and rich aural patterning.

*Biography from

July 23, 2010

Mother of Exiles

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Of the Poem (Poetic Parameters and Notes)


Stanza: Sonnet
Meter: Iambic Pentameter (i.e. 10 syllables per line)
Rhyme Scheme: abba abba cdc dcd (in the tradition of an Italian sonnet)


When Emma Lazarus wrote "Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame" she was referring to the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the Greek god Helios that was so massive in size that it's revered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. When she entitled her poem, The New Colossus, she quite blatantly refers to the Statue of Liberty, drawing a nobly audacious comparison of her with that titan statue of old.

Initially intended as a dedication to raise funds for the statue's pedestal, the poem found its way to a vault where it lay invisible to the world until shortly after her death in 1887. When it was brought back into the hands of a minute public an endeavor was made to honor her- and the Statue- by inscribing the poem on a commemorative plaque and placing it with Lady Liberty as an invitation to all people around the world who would desire to live in a land that would secure their God-given right to live as free souls (and what a wonderful land it is).

Along with the previous post, this post is a sort of "thank you" to this poet whose birthday it was yesterday, to commemorate her and reflect on the invitation to freedom this particular poem endorses. Thank you for your heart and your life and your poetry, Emma Lazarus- world without end.

July 22, 2010

Emma Lazarus*

Emma Lazarus (1849 - 1887)

Emma Lazarus was an American Jewish poet, born in New York. She is perhaps best known for a single verse from her poem The New Colossus (1883), appearing on Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty in New York City:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

When the Civil War broke out Lazarus was inspired to lyric expression. Her first book (1867) included poems and translations which she wrote between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. As yet her models were classic and romantic. At the age of twenty-one she published Admetus and other Poems (1871). Admetus is inscribed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who greatly influenced her, and with whom she maintained a regular correspondence for several years. She led a retired life, and had a modest conception of her own powers. Much of her next work appeared in Lippincott's Magazine, but in 1874 she published a prose romance (Alide) based on Goethe's autobiography, and received a generous letter of admiration from Ivan Turgenev. Two years later she visited Concord and made the acquaintance of the Emerson circle, and while there read the proof sheets of her tragedy The Spagnoletto. In 1881 she published her excellent translations of Heine's poems. Meanwhile events were occurring which appealed to her Jewish sympathies and gave a new turn to her feeling. The Russian massacres of 1880-81 were a trumpet call to her. So far her Judaism had been latent. She belonged to the oldest Jewish congregation of New York, but she had not for some years taken a personal part in the observances of the synagogue. But from this time she took up the cause of her race, and "her verse rang out as it had never rung before, a clarion note, calling a people to heroic action and unity; to the consciousness and fulfilment of a grand destiny." Her poems, "The Crowing of the Red Cock" and "The Banner of the Jew" (1882) stirred the Jewish consciousness and helped to produce the new Zionism. She now wrote another drama, the Dance to Death, the scene of which is laid in Nordhausen in the 14th century; it is based on the accusation brought against the Jews of poisoning the wells and thus causing the Black Death. The Dance to Death was included (with some translations of medieval Hebrew poems) in Songs of a Semite (1882), which she dedicated to George Eliot. In 1885 she visited Europe. She devoted much of the short remainder of her life to the cause of Jewish nationalism. In 1887 appeared By the Waters of Babylon, which consists of a series of "prose poems", full of prophetic fire. She died in New York on the 19th of November 1887.

*Biography from NNDB

July 20, 2010

Three Robert Frost Quotes

To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.

Robert Frost

July 19, 2010

Poetic Gold, My Friends

Oh my .... I just hit a goldmine: twenty-two lectures on John Milton, his Paradise Lost, and his Paradise Regained!

July 12, 2010

Christmas in July??

The weather last Thursday was gorgeous: dapple-gray skies and intermittent episodes of chilly rain. Am I morbid to call it 'gorgeous'- no ... rather, and I've maintained this thought since before I can remember, there's a mystical element to this kind of weather that's utterly inviting. The ethereal aroma of wet earth and the vision of florescent greenery draped in an almost imperceptible mist is of so high an aesthetic value to me that I'm willing to call it heaven. Believe me, this is no exaggeration.

That particular day also stirred up within me thoughts of Christmas and her snow-clad months; her red and green colors filled my soul with the excitement of a child on her very Eve; and every classic Christmas song ever sung, every hymn ever written, seemed somehow ever present. In short, last Thursday's weather brought about an intense reflective appreciation for Christmas.

The poem below pertains to that day and the feelings that that day inspired. Hope you enjoy, and have a holly jolly July!

Composed in July of 2010

I hear her Winter voice abroad,
Her Noël and her songs to God,
Ringing in my ear.
And though July is ever dear,
And humid Summer suns are here,
Christmas fills the quad.

She fills me with a jubilee,
With lovely thoughts of Deity,
All throughout the year.
And when her days of Yule are near
I lift the tankard high in cheer:
Blesséd Lord are thee.


Of the Poem (Parameters):

Stanza: Sestet
Meter: Lines 1,2,4 and 5 have an eight syllable count; while lines 3 and 6 consists of five
Rhyme Scheme: a.a.b.b.b.a (per stanza)

As a side note, and in the middle of July mind you, I played Christmas music on Pandora all day at work ... it was awesome!

July 07, 2010


Tis not of thee, thy gentle light,
That luminates this brooding night,
But undeniably of Him,
Without whom all this world is dim.
And yet with thee, as if ordained,
His sacred light glows uncontained;
And though thou seemest sep'rate sphere,
A oneness with Him bright is there.
O mortal light, eternal sign,
O light that on this darkness shine,
Am I to find in thee a hope,
A hint from this thy blesséd cope,
That I mere mortal flesh might strive
To take on light again and thrive?
For in thee I see symbols said,
And by thy light am inly led
To Him whom I have yet to view-
The source of all thy pearly hue.

O would that I could know thy state
And share with thee, O moon, thy fate-
Be one with that belovéd Sun,
And all this darkness round me shun.


July 03, 2010

The Battle of Trenton - A Soldier's Poem

After the crossing of the Delaware on December 25th, 1776, Washington devised a plan to retake Trenton from the hands of the British and their auxiliary regiments, the Hessians. If this attack failed, the Revolution would have certainly fallen.

After having reached the east bank, Washington would have his soldiers- more than 2,400- march alongside the river and divide into two sections at Birmingham- those led by Sullivan would continue south up River Road, and those led by Greene would break left and flank Trenton from the north.*

The weather was unforgiving, ruthless: a terrible mixture of ice cold snow and heavy sleet that not only took the lives of two soldiers, but soaked the vitally needed gunpowder the Colonial troops needed for the coming conflict. Washington ordered bayonets.

When the troops reached their destination, though exhausted, they utterly crushed the opposing armies. The revolution to independence, thankfully, continued.

Below is a poem written by an anonymous soldier who was there; a soldier who crossed that Delaware with Washington and trudged through the slush and sleet and snow; a soldier who was there to help retake Trenton (possibly under Sullivan's command); a soldier who was directly involved in securing the possibility of American's independence ... a soldier who left an account of these events in the form of a poem.

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Thomas Paine

Battle of Trenton

On Christmas-day in seventy-six,
Our ragged troops with bayonets fixed,
For Trenton marched away.
The Delaware see! the boats below!
The light obscured by hail and snow!
But no signs of dismay.

Our object was the Hessian band,
That dared invade fair freedom's land,
And quarter in that place.
Great Washington he led us on,
Whose streaming flag, in storm or sun,
Had never known disgrace.

In silent march we passed the night,
Each soldier panting for the fight,
Though quite benumbed with frost,
Greene, on the left, at six began,
The right was led by Sullivan,
Who ne’er a moment lost.

The pickets stormed, the alarm was spread,
The rebels risen from the dead
Were marching into town.
Some scampered here, some scampered there,
And some for action did prepare;
But soon their arms laid down.

Twelve hundred servile miscreants,
With all their colors, guns, and tents,
were trophies of the day.
The frolic o'er, the bright canteen
In centre, front, and rear was seen
Driving fatigue away.

Now brothers of the patriot bands,
Let's sing deliverance from the hands
Of arbitrary sway.
And as our life is but a span,
Let's touch the tankard while we can,
In memory of that day.

*click to see map of the crossing and attack plan

As of April 9th, 2010