The Poets

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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”


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


As of April 9th, 2010