The Poets

November 29, 2010

The Clod and the Pebble

The Clod and the Pebble

"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair."

So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

"Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite."

Of the Poem

We human beings appropriate into our behavior the views we take of things. It’s as simple as this: If we have a positive perspective, we usually behave positively; if a negative one, then negatively. The point is, we're governed by the principles we assume.

Of the things that we view, which are countless, there are a limited number that we contemplate that are actually cardinal concepts (e.g. God, Justice, Beauty, Afterlife, etc).

Love, and our idea of love, abides high among these cardinal concepts. In fact, I'd even venture to say that it's how we view 'love' that ultimately determines how we live our lives- all else is merely cursory.

Blake touches on this point in the poem above by contrasting two mutually exclusive perspectives on love.

The one perspective, represented by the Clot, assures us that love- true love- is selfless and always gives of itself (even to the point of self-sacrifice). The other, represented by the Pebble, contends that love is inherently hedonistic, that it seeks ‘only self to please’, and will draw on every means possible to achieve its own particular pleasures at the expense of others.

The contrast becomes exceedingly clear when you look at lines 1 and 9 side by side:

Love seeketh not itself to please / Love seeketh only self to please

The rest of the poem essentially elaborates on the behavioral aspects these contending views produce … here’s few examples from the poem:

Selfless love will selflessly sacrifice its own comforts in order that it might increase the comfort and ease of another- for another gives its ease (line 3).

Self-complacent love is the kind of love that wishes only to please itself; the kind of love that will sacrifice the ease of another in order to achieve its hedonistic inclinations- even to the point that it becomes joyful at another's loss of ease (line 11)!

Selfless love has a minimal amount of self-interest (nor for itself hath any care- line 2), and will endeavor, inasmuch as it is possible, to bestow heaven’s peace wherever it can- even in the dreaded heart of hell itself.

A vile love of self will almost always suppress others, binding others, as it were, to its own crude delights (line 10); and, because this love is almost always in a perpetual state of strife with others, there is war where there would otherwise be peace (or, what’s the same, a Hell in Heaven's despite- line 14).

Why a Clod of Clay and why a Pebble? - I’m afraid I’d need Blake right here to explain that to me. But I’ll say this, the Clod is said to have been trampled by cattle, implying to me that the life of altruistic love is inherently connected with suffering and sacrifice (we see this repeatedly made clear). Self-love, however, in its greed-ridden frenzy, and despite its perpetual state of strife and conflict, seems to abide careless there in that brook, warbling away its metre meet.

It almost reminds me of sacred verse:

Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?

Jeremiah 12:1

Poetic Parameters

Stanza: quatrain (3 total)
Meter: The poem seems to revolve loosely around a tetrameter.
Rhyme Scheme: Stanzas 1 and 3 individually correspond to an abab pattern and, aside from their second lines (‘care and ‘delight’), correspond quite nicely with each other. The middle or second stanza has an xaxa rhyme scheme (where ‘x’ represents unrhymed lines)..

Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading Blake ... thank you for reading poetry.

November 28, 2010

William Blake*

William Blake (1757 - 1827)

William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757, to James, a hosier, and Catherine Blake. Two of his six siblings died in infancy. From early childhood, Blake spoke of having visions—at four he saw God "put his head to the window"; around age nine, while walking dathrough the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels. Although his parents tried to discourage him from "lying," they did observe that he was different from his peers and did not force him to attend conventional school. He learned to read and write at home. At age ten, Blake expressed a wish to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. When he turned fourteen, he apprenticed with an engraver because art school proved too costly. One of Blake's assignments as apprentice was to sketch the tombs at Westminster Abbey, exposing him to a variety of Gothic styles from which he would draw inspiration throughout his career. After his seven-year term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy.

In 1782, he married an illiterate woman named Catherine Boucher. Blake taught her to read and to write, and also instructed her in draftsmanship. Later, she helped him print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today; the couple had no children. In 1784 he set up a printshop with a friend and former fellow apprentice, James Parker, but this venture failed after several years. For the remainder of his life, Blake made a meager living as an engraver and illustrator for books and magazines. In addition to his wife, Blake also began training his younger brother Robert in drawing, painting, and engraving. Robert fell ill during the winter of 1787 and succumbed, probably to consumption. As Robert died, Blake saw his brother's spirit rise up through the ceiling, "clapping its hands for joy." He believed that Robert's spirit continued to visit him and later claimed that in a dream Robert taught him the printing method that he used in Songs of Innocence and other "illuminated" works.

Blake's first printed work, Poetical Sketches (1783), is a collection of apprentice verse, mostly imitating classical models. The poems protest against war, tyranny, and King George III's treatment of the American colonies. He published his most popular collection, Songs of Innocence, in 1789 and followed it, in 1794, with Songs of Experience. Some readers interpret Songs of Innocence in a straightforward fashion, considering it primarily a children's book, but others have found hints at parody or critique in its seemingly naive and simple lyrics. Both books of Songs were printed in an illustrated format reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. The text and illustrations were printed from copper plates, and each picture was finished by hand in watercolors.

Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading radical thinkers of his day, such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. In defiance of 18th-century neoclassical conventions, he privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. He declared in one poem, "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." Works such as "The French Revolution" (1791), "America, a Prophecy" (1793), "Visions of the Daughters of Albion" (1793), and "Europe, a Prophecy" (1794) express his opposition to the English monarchy, and to 18th-century political and social tyranny in general. Theological tyranny is the subject of The Book of Urizen (1794). In the prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), he satirized oppressive authority in church and state, as well as the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher whose ideas once attracted his interest.

In 1800 Blake moved to the seacoast town of Felpham, where he lived and worked until 1803 under the patronage of William Hayley. He taught himself Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian, so that he could read classical works in their original language. In Felpham he experienced profound spiritual insights that prepared him for his mature work, the great visionary epics written and etched between about 1804 and 1820. Milton (1804-08), Vala, or The Four Zoas (1797; rewritten after 1800), and Jerusalem (1804-20) have neither traditional plot, characters, rhyme, nor meter. They envision a new and higher kind of innocence, the human spirit triumphant over reason.

Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by common people, but he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to become popular. In 1808 he exhibited some of his watercolors at the Royal Academy, and in May of 1809 he exhibited his works at his brother James's house. Some of those who saw the exhibit praised Blake's artistry, but others thought the paintings "hideous" and more than a few called him insane. Blake's poetry was not well known by the general public, but he was mentioned in A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1816. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who had been lent a copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, considered Blake a "man of Genius," and Wordsworth made his own copies of several songs. Charles Lamb sent a copy of "The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Innocence to James Montgomery for his Chimney-Sweeper's Friend, and Climbing Boys' Album (1824), and Robert Southey (who, like Wordsworth, considered Blake insane) attended Blake's exhibition and included the "Mad Song" from Poetical Sketches in his miscellany, The Doctor (1834-1837).

Blake's final years, spent in great poverty, were cheered by the admiring friendship of a group of younger artists who called themselves "the Ancients." In 1818 he met John Linnell, a young artist who helped him financially and also helped to create new interest in his work. It was Linnell who, in 1825, commissioned him to design illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy, the cycle of drawings that Blake worked on until his death in 1827.

*Biography from

November 25, 2010

10 Quatrains of Thankfulness

I'm thankful I have life and breath;
Am thankful death is not the end.
Ah, thanks have I for God Most High
Whose Providence my life does tend.

My dearest daughter, center world,
O sweetest creature that I know-
I'm thankful you're my little girl,
And love you more than life can show.

I'm thankful for my family too
Who both through good and utter ill
Have loved me unconditional ...
They always have, and always will.

And then there are my crazy friends-
I love them from the deepest parts.
I'm thankful God has shown me them
And mended me to all their hearts.

I'm thankful for the human race-
For there's more good in them than not.
But more so am I thankful for
Those of them who've goodness got.

I thank those that have gone before,
Upon whose shoulders we reside:
The shifters of our history,
Those noble souls in whom we pride.

I'm thankful I have food to eat,
Have shelter where there's water clean,
That I have heat when weather clads
With snow and sleet and bitter rain.

There's also thanks for things I've learned:
Theology (by far the best),
And poetry, philosophy,
And history, and all the rest.

And look- behold this gorgeous globe:
From mountain lands to vaulted sky;
How glorious her creatures be
From sea to land and birds that fly!

I'm thankful to have known real love,
And seen with mortal eyes the truth.
I'm thankful God has guided me
To wiser days from foolish youth.


November 23, 2010

An Anne Sexton Selection

Man of many hearts, you are a fool!
The clover has grown thorns this year
and robbed the cattle of their fruit
and the stones of the river
have sucked men's eyes dry,
season after season,
and every bed has been condemned,
not by morality or law,
but by time.

... very curious imagery from an extremely intense Anne Sexton poem, The Interrogation of the Man of Many Hearts. If you want to read one of Sexton's more intense poems, click on the link and read this one. Let me know what you think, what you feel. I'll leave my opinion in the comments area as soon as I get a moment.

November 17, 2010



A Childhood Memory of Light and Heat over Snow Prevailing

I walked (eleven-ish or so)
A kid amid blue snow and slush,
When lo! that golden orb aglow
Ascending made the blue-air blush!

A sense of summer lingered there
Where light and heat on snow prevailed,
And in the drainage waters clear
A thousand tiny glaciers sailed.

I walked on water (melted snow),
Seen sunlight shimm'ring at my feet-
A million glinting diamonds glowed
Like Pleiades upon the street.

And high above, beyond my view,
Benevolence was glowing bright-
It bid the winter fair adieu
And clad the world in summer light.

O would that I could there return
And wade those gutter-waters fair,
Tread snow and slush where sunbeams burn
And clear by Love the chilly air.

Until then, ah, and truth be told,
Let cold and winter here descend-
For that young boy, who now is old,
Has in that golden orb a friend.


Of the Poem:

Really, I was a young boy just outside playing by myself ... it had just snowed, but the sun came out casting heat everywhere- everything was melting (it was gorgeous). Something that day triggered in me a sort of mystical relation to the experience- I've never forgotten that beautiful day or the details therein.

The title to the poem derives from the cross streets where this memory occurred, the cross streets where I lived as a boy: South Memphis and Colorado Avenue.

Poetic Parameters:

Stanza: Quatrain (6 total)
Meter: Tetrameter (i.e. 8 syllables per line)
Rhyme Scheme: a.b.a.b. (per stanza)


I especially wanted to interlock the lines in some of these stanzas so that the working rhythm would flow smoother. Here's an example:

I walked (eleven-ish or so)
A kid amid blue snow and slush,
When lo! that golden orb aglow
Ascending made the blue-air blush!

Even within the same line, employing something akin to alliteration, there are interlockings:
-A kid

Again, an example of interlocking:

Until then, ah, and truth be told,
Let cold and winter here descend-
For that young boy, who now is old,
Has in that golden orb a friend.

Or (the same stanza even) ...

Until then, ah, and truth be told,
Let cold and winter here descend-
For that young boy, who now is old,
Has in that golden orb a friend.

The beauty of doing this is that it embellishes the rhythm and flow of the poem- it's a poetic devise that I must say not only contributes to the subtle details of the poem, but is also fun to figure out. Try it sometime.

November 15, 2010

Yonder Ridge

The ram that edges mountain tops
That nary knew a dell
Thinks nothing of the falling rocks
Nor where their falling fell
No, what a ram is thinking of
Is this- and I will tell
His love, his love on yonder ridge
Aside that other male


November 11, 2010

Sexton on Plath's Death

Plath and Sexton were friends who shared several things in common: they were both woman; they were both roughly the same age; they were both exceptional poets; and they were both living a tortuous life of mental depression which, as a result of it and an intense obsession with death, caused them to kill themselves.

The women talked often with one another of their ills, particularly of their deep desire to die. It seems, to me at any rate, that, along with their poetry writing, they were somewhat therapeutic for one another ... but not therapeutic enough.

On February 11th, 1963, Plath ended her life. News of her friend's death must have reached Sexton quickly, for just six days later she scripted a poem (a sort of elegy) in memory of her friend. Here's that poem:

Sylvia's Death
for Sylvia Plath

O Sylvia, Sylvia,
with a dead box of stones and spoons,

with two children, two meteors
wandering loose in a tiny playroom,

with your mouth into the sheet,
into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,

(Sylvia, Sylvia
where did you go
after you wrote me
from Devonshire
about rasing potatoes
and keeping bees?)

what did you stand by,
just how did you lie down into?

Thief --
how did you crawl into,

crawl down alone
into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,

the death we said we both outgrew,
the one we wore on our skinny breasts,

the one we talked of so often each time
we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,

the death that talked of analysts and cures,
the death that talked like brides with plots,

the death we drank to,
the motives and the quiet deed?

(In Boston
the dying
ride in cabs,
yes death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)

O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drummer
who beat on our eyes with an old story,

how we wanted to let him come
like a sadist or a New York fairy

to do his job,
a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,

and since that time he waited
under our heart, our cupboard,

and I see now that we store him up
year after year, old suicides

and I know at the news of your death
a terrible taste for it, like salt,

(And me,
me too.
And now, Sylvia,
you again
with death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)

And I say only
with my arms stretched out into that stone place,

what is your death
but an old belonging,

a mole that fell out
of one of your poems?

(O friend,
while the moon's bad,
and the king's gone,
and the queen's at her wit's end
the bar fly ought to sing!)

O tiny mother,
you too!
O funny duchess!
O blonde thing!

February 17, 1963

Tragically, on October 4th, 1974, Sexton, like her friend, ended her life by asphyxiation.

November 09, 2010

Anne Sexton*

Anne Sexton (1928 - 1974)

Anne Gray Harvey was born in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1928. She attended Garland Junior College for one year and married Alfred Muller Sexton II at age nineteen. She enrolled in a modeling course at the Hart Agency and lived in San Francisco and Baltimore. In 1953 she gave birth to a daughter. In 1954 she was diagnosed with postpartum depression, suffered her first mental breakdown, and was admitted to Westwood Lodge, a neuropsychiatric hospital she would repeatedly return to for help. In 1955, following the birth of her second daughter, Sexton suffered another breakdown and was hospitalized again; her children were sent to live with her husband's parents. That same year, on her birthday, she attempted suicide.

She was encouraged by her doctor to pursue an interest in writing poetry she had developed in high school, and in the fall of 1957 she enrolled in a poetry workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education. In her introduction to Anne Sexton's Complete Poems, the poet Maxine Kumin, who was enrolled with Sexton in the 1957 workshop and became her close friend, describes her belief that it was the writing of poetry that gave Sexton something to work towards and develop and thus enabled her to endure life for as long as she did. In 1974 at the age of 46, despite a successful writing career--she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for Live or Die--she lost her battle with mental illness and committed suicide.

Like Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, W. D. Snodgrass (who exerted a great influence on her work), and other "confessional" poets, Sexton offers the reader an intimate view of the emotional anguish that characterized her life. She made the experience of being a woman a central issue in her poetry, and though she endured criticism for bringing subjects such as menstruation, abortion, and drug addiction into her work, her skill as a poet transcended the controversy over her subject matter.

*Biography from

November 01, 2010

Love Unrequited

I write, and yet I've never wrote
Of heart-felt pain that love has smote,
Or love undying skirting death
Whose deep-blue heart holds heavy breath.
I've never woeful had to write
Of love's dark unrequiting night,
Nor could I fathom this the day
That she would have me so dismayed ..

O my- alas! my heart in throes ..
My soul abandoned to its woes ..
For love long sought seems sought in vain,
And now I'm reeling here in pain.


Still, even in this pain I pine
To bind with her (her heart to know) ..
And this despite the dismal signs
That warn me she increases woe.


As of April 9th, 2010