BLOGGER TEMPLATES AND TWITTER BACKGROUNDS »

The Poets

December 27, 2011

Sleep

Sleep

A thousand angels watch'd him sleep
(His slumbers, ah, were ever deep)
And she, with gazing eyes as they
Approaching softly where he lay
Did ever silent keep

She touch’d his cold and pallor’d clay
And wept (her weary tears were gray)
And as she stood there sad and bleak
She bent to kiss his lifeless cheek
And curs’d the light of day

-jwm


Of the Poem (Inspiration):

The inspiration for the poem above came from a short, albeit quite shocking, poem I read some two to three years ago called, Another (Here a Pretty Baby Lies). It was written by a 17th century
Cavalier poet, Robert Herrick (a poet that I hadn’t really studied much until recently).

Here it is in its entirety is as follows:

Here a pretty baby lies
Sung asleep with lullabies:
Pray be silent and not stir
Th' easy earth that covers her.

In the first three lines of his poem one imagines a baby asleep in a crib; but then, shockingly, one comes to realize that the poem speaks of the burial of a child. In my poem 'sleep' as symbolic of death isn’t openly articulated until the second stanza (much like the fourth line in Herrick’s piece).

Anyhow, although Herrick's poem is much more intense, I'm utterly satisfied with the finished work. Hope you are as well ...

December 21, 2011

A Cavalier Poet

The 17th century Cavalier poets were somewhat secular poets who sided with Charles I while England was in civil war, and who were opponents of the Metaphysical poets. These guys- and there are about twelve of them- are pretty kick ass writers, and although the intellectual depth of Metaphysical poets like Donne is much more apparent, I still respect these poets as poets. I can’t wait to share more about these poets with all my Blogspot buddies …

Now, I’ve already read quite a bit by the figurehead of this group, Ben Jonson, and was hooked by this poem below, check out the talent …



His Excuse for Loving

Let it not your wonder move,
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have, my peers.
Poets, though divine, are men;
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face,
Clothes, or fortune gives the grace,
Or the feature, or the youth;
But the language and the truth,
With the ardor and the passion,
Gives the lover weight and fashion.
If you then would hear the story,
First, prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now
Either whom to love or how;
But be glad as soon with me
When you hear that this is she
Of whose beauty it was sung,
She shall make the old man young,
Keep the middle age at stay,
And let nothing hide decay,
Till she be the reason why
All the world for love may die.

December 12, 2011

Καλλιόπη

Calliope

Let not my tongue the Muse defile
Nor let my words ill gotten be
But let the thoughts that I compile
Be worthy both of her and me

-jwm

December 05, 2011

Up-Hill with Rossetti

Christina Rossetti is one of the first female poets I began to read. For the longest time- even prior to a refined interest in poetry- I’ve known her name (her brother established my favorite period in the history of art, the Pre-Raphaelite period). It wasn't until later in life, however, that I began to read her works. In fact, she’s the very first poet I posted on in my blog. I love her works dearly, deeply, a lot …

I just want to acknowledge and thank her for her works … happy birthday, my Victorian poet-friend



*****


Here, check out one of her works- a poem about life as a journy up a tough, tough hill ... but with hope at the end ...



Up-Hill

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labor you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

Props to Rilke

Gotta give props to Rilke- one of the most gifted German poets I’ve come to know (way better, in my opinion, than Hölderlin). His works are bleak, raw, ethereal, and astonishingly simple in their complexity. If ever a poet were to be called existential, it would be him.

Happy belated birthday, brotha ...


*****


There’s a poem of his that I keep with me in my wallet- it’s called the Ninth Elegy. There’s a specific quote in it that I always try to remember while I’m writing a poem:

"Praise this world to the angel, not the unsayable one; you can't impress him with glorious emotion; in the universe where he feels more powerful, you are a novice. Show him something simple which, formed over generations, lives as our own, near our hand and within our gaze."

November 28, 2011

Love's Secret

Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind doth move
Silently, invisibly.

I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart,
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears.
Ah! she did depart!

Soon after she was gone from me,
A traveller came by,
Silently, invisibly:
He took her with a sigh.


Of the Poem:

Love that is desperate is deplorable- it crowds out the emotional rapture that gentle affection evokes. That seems to be the point of Blake's poem here … let me explain.

Advice goes out in the first stanza: Never seek to tell thy love / Love that never told can be. As we’ll see in the following stanza, the ‘telling’ Blake refers to is that unduly adulation that suffocates the beloved; it is that almost servile disposition that begs and begs the for the love of the beloved. Never do this, says Blake’s voice. In modern day terms: desperation is a turn off.

Love, line 2 implores, is made possible where a desperation for it lacks (i.e. love that is not desperate can be). When love is rightly expressed through the silent and invisible speech of affection it is felt much like a “gentle wind” is felt (lines 3 & 4) – indeed, it is itself gentle, and not in the least imposing. But we see the transgression of this made in lines 5 & 6.

“I told!” “I told!” “I told!” … a wearying barrage of proclamations that, as said earlier, suffocates the beloved, and is deplorable. It becomes so unbearable to the young lady that she’s finally reduced to trembling, coldness, and even fear! Invariably he scares her away (line 8).

In the following and final stanza he notices how she’s wooed by a traveler who, following the advice given in the first stanza, expresses his love for her gently- through the silent, invisible speech of affection. (Notice the parallel of words between lines 3 & 4 and lines 11 & 12, and how the ‘sighing’ of line 12 mimics the ‘wind’ of line 3.)

The title of the poem should almost be, The Secret to Attaining Love, or, How Not to Screw It Up. The first stanza is a warning; the second stanza an example of the transgressing the warning; the third, of heeding it and achieving love (all this from the perspective of the transgressor).

Let me know if you guys are digging this poem, or if you have a different take on it (and there are different takes).

Awesome poem, Blake … thanks!

Happy Date of Birth, Blake!

William Blake is one of the more eccentric poets of the Romantic period- indeed, he’s sometimes so unique and so different that it’s hard for me to associate him with Romanticism (and sometimes I just don’t). There’s a strangeness and darkness about his works that I’ve never been able to quite articulate, a sort of eerie mysticism that pervades the inner life of both his poems as well as his art- he’s a sort 18th century version of Baudelaire. Yep- that’s him.

Anyhow, he was born this day in 1757, and I just wanted to thank him for leaving such great works of poetry, and give him props … happy birthday, big guy …

November 09, 2011

Her Kind - A Sexton Poem

Yep, yep … it was on this day in 1928 that the beautiful Anne Sexton was born. Along with her friend Plath, she’s one of the most recognized of the Confessional poets.

Collectively speaking, her poetry is a vivid reflection of her personal struggles internally and externally (she had a very troubled life).

What I learned from Sexton was that poetry doesn’t have to revolve around flowers and bumblebees and golden suns … no, poetry can touch the dark, deep internal recesses of one’s own writhing pains and struggles … but I also learned, after having learned she killed herself, that it can be very, very dangerous to do so.

Anyhow, with that said, I celebrate the poet’s birth, not death.


Now it’s very rare to find poems written by the Confessional generation that are written with a rhyming format. Needless to say, I was shocked, and utterly delighted, to find that Sexton had such a poem- it’s call Her Kind.

In it Sexton expresses, indirectly, of course, three aspects of her life that she seems unhappy with: that some have deemed her to be crazy like a witch (1st stanza); that others have tried to enslave her as a house wife (2nd stanza); and then there’s the life of adultery. Though a tragic reflection of self, it’s a great poem. Check it out.


Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.




Of the Poem (Poetic Parameters)

Stanza: Septet (i.e. 7 lines per stanza)

Meter: Mixed
1st stanza’s syllable count: 8 9 9 9 9 11 5
2nd stanza’s syllable count: 9 9 9 9 10 10 5
3rd stanza’s syllable count: 9 11 9 7 8 11 5

Rhyme Scheme: ababcba (per stanza); and, of course, the refrain I have been her kind.

If you'd like to hear Sexton read this piece, click this link ...

November 07, 2011

End Time

The vultures, circling and soaring,
Marveled at how Gog was warring
Brutal on the sons of man
Whose mortal blood kept pouring, pouring.

That northern king, blood-thirsting, killing-
Drunk from blood he kept on spilling-
Sacked the sacred temple stones …
The sight was something chilling, chilling.

When one third fell by heavy brawling
Blood soaked grounds to God came calling:
Will you turn a deafened ear? …
Jerusalem is falling, falling!

-jwm



Of the Poem (Poetic Parameters)

I totally enjoyed working with this poem. The structure, especially when read aloud, flows gorgeously … almost sing-songy.

The first and forth line of each stanza consists of a nine syllable count; the second line and eight syllable count (i.e. a
tetrameter); and the third line, a seven syllable count.

The rhyme scheme is interesting as well: aaba per stanza (similar to a
Rubaiyat stanza).

And obviously the stanza itself is a
quatrain (i.e. a four lined stanza).

Side Note:
Gog is the name of an ancient northern king whose kingdom, Magog, plays an important, albeit sinister, role in Ezekiel's apocalyptic vision of the last days.

Anyhow, hope you like it- let me know ... peace.

October 24, 2011

Denise Levertov*

Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)

Denise Levertov was born in Ilford, Essex, England, on October 24, 1923. Her father, raised a Hasidic Jew, had converted to Christianity while attending university in Germany. By the time Denise was born he had settled in England and become an Anglican parson. Her mother, who was Welsh, read authors such as Willa Cather, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy aloud to the family. Denise was educated entirely at home, and claimed to have decided to become a writer at the age of five. When she was twelve, she sent some of her poetry to T. S. Eliot, who responded with two pages of "excellent advice," and encouragement to continue writing. At age seventeen she had her first poem published, in Poetry Quarterly.

During World War II, Levertov became a civilian nurse serving in London throughout the bombings. She wrote her first book, The Double Image, while she was between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. The book, released in 1946, brought her recognition as one of a group poets dubbed the "New Romantics."

In 1947 Levertov married Mitchell Goodman, an American writer, and a year later they moved to America. They settled in New York City, spending summers in Maine. Their son Nickolai was born in 1949. She became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 1956.

After her move to the U.S., Levertov was introduced to the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau, the formal experimentation of Ezra Pound, and, in particular, the work of William Carlos Willams. Through her husband's friendship with poet Robert Creeley, she became associated with the Black Mountain group of poets, particularly Creeley, Charles Olson, and Robert Duncan,, who had formed a short-lived but groundbreaking school in 1933 in North Carolina. Some of her work was published in the 1950s in the Black Mountain Review. Levertov acknowledged these influences, but disclaimed membership in any poetic school. She moved away from the fixed forms of English practice, developing an open, experimental style. With the publication of her first American book, Here and Now (1956), she became an important voice in the American avant-garde. Her poems of the fifties and sixties won her immediate and excited recognition, not just from peers like Creeley and Duncan, but also from the avant garde poets of an earlier generation such as Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams.

Her next book, With Eyes at the Back of our Heads (1959), established her as one of the great American poets, and her British origins were soon forgotten. She was poetry editor of The Nation magazine in 1961 and from 1963 to 1965. During the 1960's of the Vietnam War, activism and feminism became prominent in her poetry. During this period she produced one of her most memorable works of rage and sadness, The Sorrow Dance (1967), which encompassed her feelings toward the war and the death of her older sister. From 1975 to 1978, she was poetry editor of Mother Jones magazine.

Levertov went on to publish more than twenty volumes of poetry, including Freeing the Dust (1975), which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She was also the author of four books of prose, most recently Tesserae (1995), and translator of three volumes of poetry, among them Jean Joubert's Black Iris (1989). From 1982 to 1993, she taught at Stanford University. She spent the last decade of her life in Seattle, Washington, during which time she published Poems 1968-1972 (1987), Breathing the Water (1987), A Door in the Hive (1989), Evening Train (1992), and The Sands of the Well (1996). In December 1997, Denise Levertov died from complications of lymphoma. She was seventy-four. This Great Unknowing: Last Poems was published by New Directions in 1999.

*Biography from Poets.org

October 12, 2011

Another Arab Spring

THEY REVEL in their auburn Spring
And sing the songs of Summer’s light
With wide-eyed will they oust the king
That brought them pain and Winter’s plight

But will their Summer Sun prevail
Will Winter never shed a flake
I hope so, but I cannot tell
I hope so for their freedom’s sake

For though I watch with joyous eyes
And see their cruelty meet its end
Another Winter could arise
By crude ambitions once again

-jwm

October 10, 2011

Love's End

Love’s End

The end of love is never well
The pain it brings what soul can tell
Still all will know its lovely sting
And for a time will with it dwell

For those of you whose hearts are frail
Delighting now in love’s good spell
Beware of deprivation’s hell
The end of love is never well … (just sayin’)

-jwm



Of the Poem (Parameters):

Stanza: Quatrain (i.e. 4 lines per stanza)
Meter: Tetrameter (i.e. 8 syllables per line)
Rhyme Scheme: aaba aaaa (a scheme I almost never use)

September 26, 2011

Dulce et Decorum Est

I posted earlier this month on Siegfried Sassoon, a war poet who I came to know of and appreciate a long time ago. Since then I’ve been studying the works of an acquaintance of his, another poet who was also in the first world war, Wilfred Owen.

Now I have to say, I still consider Sassoon to be the best and most intense war poet I’ve read thus far, but Owen’s poetry is radically intense, and the imagery he employs in his poems is incredibly, incredibly vivid!

This poet, over a course of a few weeks, has been thrust into the center of my attention. His poetic genius astonishes me. Read this poem for example, just keep in mind that its title comes from a poem written by Horace, a Roman poet, and that the full Latin phrase (Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori) is: How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country …


*****


Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen- War Poet*

Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

On March 18, 1893, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born in Shropshire, England. After the death of his grandfather in 1897, the family moved to Birkenhead, where Owen was educated at the Birkenhead Institute. After another move in 1906, he continued his continued his studies at the Technical School in Shrewsbury. Interested in the arts at a young age, Owen began to experiment with poetry at 17.

After failing to gain entrance into the University of London, Owen spent a year as a lay assistant to Reverend Herbert Wigan in 1911 and went on to teach in France at the Berlitz School of English. By 1915, he became increasingly interested in World War I and enlisted in the Artists' Rifles group. After training in England, Owen was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

He was wounded in combat in 1917 and evacuated to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh after being diagnosed with shell shock. There he met another patient, poet Siegfried Sassoon, who served as a mentor and introduced him to well-known literary figures such as Robert Graves and H. G. Wells.

It was at this time Owen wrote many of his most important poems, including "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "Dulce et Decorum Est". His poetry often graphically illustrated both the horrors of warfare, the physical landscapes which surrounded him, and the human body in relation to those landscapes. His verses stand in stark contrast to the patriotic poems of war written by earlier poets of Great Britain, such as Rupert Brooke.

Owen rejoined his regiment in Scarborough, June 1918, and in August returned to France. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Amiens. He was killed on November 4 of that year while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre canal at Ors. He was 25 years old. The news reached his parents on November 11, the day of the Armistice. The collected Poems of Wilfred Owen appeared in December 1920, with an introduction by Sassoon, and he has since become one of the most admired poets of World War I.

A review of Owen's poems published on December 29th, 1920, just two years after his death, read "Others have shown the disenchantment of war, have unlegended the roselight and romance of it, but none with such compassion for the disenchanted nor such sternly just and justly stern judgment on the idyllisers."

About Owen's post-war audience, the writer Geoff Dyer said, "To a nation stunned by grief the prophetic lag of posthumous publication made it seem that Owen was speaking from the other side of the grave. Memorials were one sign of the shadow cast by the dead over England in the twenties; another was a surge of interest in spiritualism. Owen was the medium through whom the missing spoke."

*Biography from Poets.org

September 08, 2011

Glory of Women


The first war poet I read, Siegfried Loraine Sassoon was one of my earliest influences in the realm of poetry.

His poetry, which emerged from and absorbed events that related to and surrounded the first World War, is exceedingly ontic, intermittently disturbing (though truthful), and tragically profound. His style is very ‘earthly’ and very existential, and he gracefully and nobly touches on topics that are taboo. He’s a good poet.

The first poem of his I read was Death Bed- a poem that depicts the throes of death and the dying away of a soldier in an infirmary (a highly recommended read). The poem below, titled Glory of Women, bares beautiful testimony of the talent and audacity of this poet’s works- check it out …


Glory of Women

You love us when we're heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace.
You make us shells. You listen with delight,
By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.
You crown our distant ardours while we fight,
And mourn our laurelled memories when we're killed.
You can't believe that British troops "retire"
When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses - blind with blood.

O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud.

September 01, 2011

Thus Saith the Lord




Tell the monks where I have gone:

Deep into the world of fools …

I save souls and am the One

Making angels out of ghouls.


-jwm

August 11, 2011

Of an Angel


Of an Angel

I never thought that mortal eyes
Could peer upon an angel’s face
Much less see one from vault’d skies
Descend in splendid grace
But there she was, in pleasant light
Approaching from a heav’nly height
Her beauty, ah, what word can say
I never will forget that day

She hardly bore a seraph wing
Nor were there cherubs harping by
But heaven glowed from her like spring
Like Solis there on high
Her aura was of such a hue
That human eyes could scarce view
But blesséd were my eyes it seem’d
Who looked on her as on a dream

Her movements were as words with me
With tones seductive and sublime
I fell into a swoon, a glee
And lost all sense of time
For she was heaven’s very seat
A flower seldom seen, and sweet
A lovely Naiad by the dell
With titan strength, yet ever frail

She held with her a certain air
A scepter-soul, though hardly mean
Like Nefertiti pure and fair
A true and noble queen
Yet neither crook, nor even flail
Did in her royal hands prevail
No what prevail’d, and this is true
A royalty I never knew

Around her head a laurel loop’d
The fragrance of it- ah, divine
And hair above her right eye droop’d
Beneath the emerald twine
Her gown wav’d gently by a breeze
That rippl’d round her like the seas
And as she pass’d me gently, meek
An oblique smile rais’d her cheek

Her auburn flesh was flesh of youth
Her eyes- viridian and clear
Her manners held a hidden truth
Celestial and dear
I pined inside to touch her frame
To speak with her, to know her name
But I bewitch’d sat stunn’d and daz’d
At all she was, and was amaz’d

Affection for her fill’d my soul
As gracefully she pass’d me by
To joy she mov’d my heart from lull
And she mov’d toward the sky
An angel?– yes, she was indeed
A creature of that heav’nly breed
Whose presence chang’d my every way
I never will forget that day

-jwm


Of the Poem:

Poetic Parameters

Stanza: Octet (i.e. 8 lines per stanza)
Meter: Mixed (all lines except the fourth are in
tetrameter, the fourth consists of six syllables)
Rhyme Scheme: ababccdd

A Brief Note

This poem was inspired by a moment I had last year while sitting poolside … a woman, so beautiful, so delicate, came walking in and completely obliterated my ability to pay attention to anything else- a ballad I wrote last year about her expresses this well:

Their choir filled the maple tree
Their fluting, too, the fir
And though they sang so beautifully
All I could hear was her

Her appearance was incredible, and my heart instantly was drawn to her. She seemed something divine, something angelic- hence the poem’s title, Of an Angel.

August 02, 2011

Bei Dao*

Zhao Zhenkai (1949 to date)

On August 2, 1949 Zhao Zhenkai was in Beijing. His pseudonym Bei Dao literally means "North Island," and was suggested by a friend as a reference to the poet's provenance from Northern China as well as his typical solitude.

Dao was one of the foremost poets of the Misty School, and his early poems were a source of inspiration during the April Fifth Democracy Movement of 1976, a peaceful demonstration in Tiananmen Square. He has been in exile from his native China since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

His books of poetry include The Rose of Time: New and Selected Poems(New Directions, 2010); Unlock (2000); At the Sky's Edge: Poems 1991-1996 (1996), for which David Hinton won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from The Academy of American Poets; Landscape Over Zero (1995); Forms of Distance (1994); Old Snow (1991); and The August Sleepwalker (1990). His work has been translated into over 25 languages.

He is also the author of short stories and essays. In 1978, he and colleague Mang Ke founded the underground literary magazine Jintian (Today), which ceased publication under police order. In 1990, the magazine was revived and Bei Dao serves as the Editor-in-Chief.

In his foreword to At the Sky's Edge, Michael Palmer writes: "Anointed as an icon on the Democracy Wall and as the voice of a generation by the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989, and thereby also fated to exile, Bei Dao has followed a path of resistance that abjures overt political rhetoric while simultaneously keeping faith with his passionate belief in social reform and freedom of the creative imagination."

His awards and honors include the Aragana Poetry Prize from the International Festival of Poetry in Casablanca, Morocco, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has been a candidate several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was elected an honorary member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. At the request of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, he traveled to Palestine as part of a delegation for the International Parliament of Writers.

Bei Dao was a Stanford Presidential lecturer and has taught at the University of California at Davis, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Beloit College in Wisconsin. In 2006, Bei Dao was allowed to move back to China.

*Biography from Poets.org

July 29, 2011

Beneath the Mask

The story behind the poem below is a tragic one, and true. A ‘father’ throws acid on his daughter’s face which leaves her disfigured. In a course of time she develops a deep level of depression from the abuse she suffered at the hand of her own father, and from the notion that she will never be beautiful again. Reeling in disparity, she takes her life. Very sad.

I first heard this piece performed a couple of months ago by one of the most gifted spoken word poets I’ve ever met, Cassidy Belville. I was left in awe at its delivery, and finally got the courage to ask Cassidy if I could post it here. Without skipping a beat she said yes. I was (and am) totally honored that she did so.

About the poem itself, it’s a really good read; but when I heard it performed by Cassidy at the pool I was blown away! The deliverance of it was perfect, the internal rhythm and cadence were astonishingly harmonic, the constant back and forth between ideas (life vs. death) made one feel the existential struggle the poem puts forth, and the subject itself was both breathtaking and tragic at the same time.

Now, I’m a writer of poetry, not a performer or spoken word poet. Cassidy is both. I’ve heard a lot of poets deliver their pieces before- and deliver them well- but I was utterly floored by the gravity of Cassidy’s gift to write and recite a work of art such as this- pure talent. You’ve got to read this poem and let me know what you think …



Beneath the Mask

R.I.P. Katie
Death? Unpreventable. Suicide? Pathetic.
For one who regrets with a life that's less? Death? No.
You are a breath,
Even if it's a mind going crazy on meth, it is not death! It's life. And for

those who give it up with the stroke of a knife, listen Tony plight.
For this girl gave her life for a reason. She had a father of treason.
The liquid of acid threw her porcelain skin to acid,
In a hospital bed she lie, because of the one that said the lie,
The lie, that made her die.
We have life. Does she? Yes, she survived.
However her face she has to hide under a mask that divides, her beauty
from her life. Who wants that life
A mind bent on suicide? Because she died.
An act of breaking of what that mask was making.
Suicide? Some may say so. But for the ones that know,
She is a victim of death because it was her time to go. So next time you
take that knife to your wrist,
Think of the girl that lived the life of a risk.



Thanks, Cassidy ... this is a very touching piece.
















July 28, 2011

The Bookery Nook and Rexroth

I first began to learn about Kenneth Rexroth last year- he’s apparently a sort of prodigy, a sort of Renaissance man who happens to write poetry. He also happens to be associated with key figures of the San Francisco Renaissance and the poets of the Beat generation.

At the time I became aware of Rexroth I was in the middle of studying a few different schools of poetry (especially the Beat and Chinese Misty poets). Because of this I didn’t have a real chance to read his works- but all that changed about two weeks ago.

A few of my friends invited me to a privately owned bookstore that, and I loved heck out of this about that store, served ice cream. It was a cool little place located off of 4280 Tennyson Street in Denver called the Bookery Nook.

It was at this store that I came across an excellent collection of transliterated Chinese poems by, you guessed it, Kenneth Rexroth. (The book is called Songs of Love, Moon, and Wind.)

I was excited because I knew a little bit about the guy, but what really excited me was that I just finished studying the history of the Chinese Misty poets- and had a bunch of them I liked. Unfortunately, the poets in this collection were poets from long ago, and no Misty poet was represented.

Still, the book was a goldmine! So many incredible poems, so many incredible poets … I was utterly pleased with the book and the bookstore (and the bookstore’s ice cream).

Anyhow, since then I’ve read some of Rexroth’s own works, and was also very pleased. I thought I’d post a poem of his here to give you a taste. The poem is called, Gic to Har. Let me know what you think …


Gic to Har
by Kenneth Rexroth

It is late at night, cold and damp
The air is filled with tobacco smoke.
My brain is worried and tired.
I pick up the encyclopedia,
The volume GIC to HAR,
It seems I have read everything in it,
So many other nights like this.
I sit staring empty-headed at the article Grosbeak,
Listening to the long rattle and pound
Of freight cars and switch engines in the distance.
Suddenly I remember
Coming home from swimming
In Ten Mile Creek,
Over the long moraine in the early summer evening,
My hair wet, smelling of waterweeds and mud.
I remember a sycamore in front of a ruined farmhouse,
And instantly and clearly the revelation
Of a song of incredible purity and joy,
My first rose-breasted grosbeak,
Facing the low sun, his body
Suffused with light.
I was motionless and cold in the hot evening
Until he flew away, and I went on knowing
In my twelfth year one of the great things
Of my life had happened.
Thirty factories empty their refuse in the creek.
On the parched lawns are starlings, alien and aggressive.
And I am on the other side of the continent
Ten years in an unfriendly city.

Kenneth Rexroth*

Kenneth Rexroth (1905 - 1982)

On December 22, 1905, Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth was born in South Bend, Indiana. Orphaned at fourteen, Rexroth moved to live with his aunt in Chicago, where he was expelled from high school. He began publishing in magazines at the age of fifteen. As a youth, he supported himself with odd jobs--as a soda jerk, clerk, wrestler, and reporter. He hitchhiked around the country, visited Europe, and backpacked in the wilderness, reading and frequenting literary salons and lecture halls, and teaching himself several languages.

Rexroth and his first wife, the painter Andrée Shafer, moved to San Francisco in 1927. There he published his first poems in a variety of small magazines, while also pursuing an interest in eastern mysticism and leftist politics. He kept company with like-minded left-wing poets such as George Oppen and Louis Zukovsky, and with them aimed to rescue poetry from its supposed downslide into formalist sentimentality. They organized clubs to support struggling writers and artists.

By the early 1930s, through a correspondence with Ezra Pound, Rexroth was introduced to James Laughlin of New Directions press, who included Rexroth’s poems of in the second volume of Laughlin’s pivotal annual, New Directions in Poetry and Prose in 1937. Rexroth’s first collection, In What Hour, which articulated the poet’s ecological sensitivities along with his political convictions, was published by Macmillan in 1940. In 1944 another collection, The Phoenix and the Tortoise, continued his exploration of the natural and the erotic, presented his pacifist stance on World War II, incorporated references to the work of classical poets from the East and the West, and expanded his tonal range with poems touching on world religions and the history of philosophy. A consummate activist, during the war Rexroth aided Japanese-Americans in escaping West Coast internment camps.

By the late 1940s, Rexroth was laying the groundwork for what would become the San Francisco Renaissance. He promoted the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Whalen, Denise Levertov, William Everson, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), and many others on the radio station KPFA. He organized a weekly salon and invited friends and other poets to come and share their philosophical and poetic theories. Among those in attendance were Robert Duncan, Richard Eberhart, and, eventually, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and other Beat poets.

Rexroth organized and emceed the legendary Six Gallery reading on October 7, 1955, at which Ginsberg introduced the world to "Howl." Rexroth’s work was composed with attention to musical traditions and he performed his poems with jazz musicians. Nonetheless, Rexroth was not wholly supportive of the dramatic rise in popularity of the so-called "Beat Generation," and he was distinctly displeased when he became known as the father of the Beats. By 1955, his marriage to his third wife, Marthe Larsen, the mother of his two daughters, was coming to an end.

By the 1960s, Rexroth’s appeal reached far beyond San Francisco. He was devoted to world literature and brought public attention to poetry in translation through his "Classics Revisited" column in the Saturday Review and through his anthologies, One Hundred Poems from the Japanese and One Hundred Poems from the Chinese. In 1964 he was given an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He went on to publish collections of his shorter poems and longer poems in 1967 and 1968, respectively.

Rexroth moved to Santa Barbara in 1968, where he married his assistant, Carol Tinker. From 1968 through 1974 he taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1974, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Japan, and in 1975 he received the Copernicus Award from the Academy of American Poets in recognition of a poet’s lifetime work and contribution to poetry as a cultural force.

A life-long iconoclast, Rexroth railed against the dominance of the east-coast "literary establishment" and bourgeois taste that was corrupting American poetry. While he refused to consider himself a Beat poet, his influence as champion of anti-establishment literature paved the way for others to write poems of social consciousness and passionate political engagement. His greatest contribution to American poetry may have been in opening it to Asian influences through his mystical, erotically charged poetry and superb translations. Kenneth Rexroth died in 1982 and is buried in Santa Barbara on a cliff above the sea.

*Biography from Poets.org

July 18, 2011

Sorrow



I woke to sounds of singing birds
To joyful morning sun and sky
All creation woke in bliss
I woke in sorrow- ah, but why

The mystic thrill of dawn was spent
The feel of summer waxed away
The blue and amber sky was black
My heart … a writhing winter gray

-jwm

July 15, 2011

Helen by H.D.



I first came to know her name toward the end of 2010, and now am totally drawn in by her … Hilda Doolittle is now my fourth favorite poet (the others being Milton, Dickinson, and Yeats).

She was the soul upon which
Imagism was founded, and, along with Pound and Eliot and a handful of others, was responsible for the rapid emergence of Modernism and Free Verse in poetry.

I love her works primarily because of her intense depth, her incredible use of imagery, and her extensive use of
Greek mythology. If you haven’t read her you’re missing out- way out. Here’s an example of her works, this poem is called, Helen.


Helen

All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.

All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.

Greece sees, unmoved,
God's daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.

Hilda Doolittle*



Hilda Doolittle (1886 – 1961)

On September 10, 1886, Hilda Doolittle was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She attended Bryn Mawr, as a classmate of Marianne Moore, and later the University of Pennsylvania where she befriended Ezra Poundand William Carlos Williams.

She travelled to Europe in 1911, intending to spend only a summer, but remained abroad for the rest of her life.

Through Pound, H. D. grew interested in and quickly became a leader of the Imagist movement. Some of her earliest poems gained recognition when they were published by Harriet Monroe in Poetry.

Her work is characterized by the intense strength of her images, economy of language, and use of classical mythology. Her poems did not receive widespread appreciation and acclaim during her lifetime, in part because her name was associated with the Imagist movement even as her voice had outgrown the movement's boundaries, as evidenced by her book-length works, Trilogy and Helen in Egypt.

As Alicia Ostriker said in American Poetry Review, "H.D. by the end of her career became not only the most gifted woman poet of our century, but one of the most original poets—the more I read her the more I think this—in our language."

Neglect of H. D. can also be attributed to her times, as many of her poems spoke to an audience which was unready to respond to the strong feminist principles articulated in her work. She died in 1961.

*Biography from Poets.org

July 12, 2011

Bless the Rain


The rain was awful yesterday
Or so I heard some lady say
That struck me, and with deep surprise
Since we depend on all that gray

By rain the maple trees arise
Their thick blue roots absorb those skies
And we, as she, are bless as they
To curse that weather ... never wise
 

-jwm




Of the Poem (Parameters and a Brief Note):

Stanza: Quatrain, Rubaiyat
Meter: Tetrameter
Rhyme Scheme: aaba bbcb
 

The poem was done in tetrameter (i.e. eight syllables per line). What I like most about the poem’s s structure is that the stanza employed is a Rubaiyat stanza- the rhyme scheme being aaba bbcb (where the ‘b’ of the first stanza becomes the dominate rhyme of the second). It’s a fun form to play around with.

Hey, thanks
for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed it.

June 30, 2011

When I Depart


What last dear sight will with me leave
What image at my death
What touch, what taste, what sound will cleave
To me with my last breath

Will I smell loam some summer day
Before I take my leave
Or will I lay aside this clay
On some cold winter’s eve

Will twilight cut through autumn skies
When darkness blots my day
Will spring toss blossoms, roses rise
When I am called away

Perhaps the dark will chase the light
Of yonder azure skies
Or mighty hang the sun there bright
When last I close my eyes

Think not that these have weighed on me
These thoughts are ever light
But still, I ask, what will I see
When in the throes of night

-jwm


Of the Poem (Backgound, Parameters, and a Side Note):

Background:

Dreadful though it may seem, the fact is we will all experience dying one day.

Often, even as a kid, I would wonder what exactly I would undergo my last day here- what sounds there would be, what tastes or smells, what I would hear or see. I used to wonder if I’d draw my last breath in the winter or some other season; if it would be day or night; if friends and other loved ones would be around, or if I’d be alone.

For some reason these questions emerged in my mind recently and I thought I’d put them to verse … hence the poem. Please, let me know how you like it.

Parameters:

Stanza: The poem consists of five quatrains structured very much so in the form of a ballad.

Meter: The first and third line of each stanza revolve around a tetrameter (i.e. 8 syllables per line), and the second and fourth are trimeters (i.e. 6 syllables per line).

Rhyme Scheme: The rhyme scheme, per stanza, is abab*

Side Note:

Notice that the end-rhyme of the first line of each stanza constitutes the end-rhyme of the second line of the following stanza (e.g. the word ‘leave’ of line one is repeated in line six). I did this intentionally, just for the heck of it. * So, technically, the rhyme scheme is: abab caca dcdc eded fefe

June 27, 2011

Frank O'Hara

It’s Frank O'Hara's birthday today (1926 - 1966). This guy was initially associated with the Beat poets, but later became one of the prominent figures of the New York School. I’ve read only a hand full of his works, but well pleased with what I read. Here’s a taste along with a link to some of his works …


Song

I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab
which is typical
and not just of modern life

mud clambers up the trellis of my nerves
must lovers of Eros end up with Venus
muss es sein? es muss nicht sein, I tell you

how I hate disease, it's like worrying
that comes true
and it simply must not be able to happen

in a world where you are possible
my love
nothing can go wrong for us, tell me



Link: http://www.frankohara.org/writing.html



June 21, 2011

—Patience—



One morning last week I came across a poem one of my Facebook friends wrote- it was incredible! So short, so seemingly simple, yet so astonishingly deep and detailed. I had to ask her if I could post it here- she thankfully said yes.

The poem is called —Patience—, the poet is Deanna Elaine. Thanks for the gorgeous write, Deanna.


—Patience—

Eagle waits, unseen.
Scurry below, oblivious.
Reaper, Biding time.

June 14, 2011

Yeats- When You are Old




It was recently the birthdate of one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats. Now, I posted a 'happy birthday' to him on Facebook, but nothing here. After this a friend of mine introduced me to a poem of his that I hadn't read yet- and I loved it (he's such a good writer).

So, to make a long story longer, I thought I'd post that work here and say, once again, "happy birthdate Yeats, and thanks for the excellent poetry."


When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.



Of the Poem (Poetic Parameters):

Stanza: Italian quatrain
Meter: Pentameter
Rhyme Scheme: abba (per stanza)

June 07, 2011

We Real Cool




We Real Cool
THE POOL PLAYERS. SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.



Of the Poem:

I first read this poem about a year ago- it was written by Gwendolyn Brooks in 1959 and published the next year. It’s about the loose and potentially reckless lifestyle of a group of boys that Gwendolyn apparently knew.

The poem speaks of these teens hangin’ late at a pool hall drinkin’ gin and shootin’ stick. They’ve long dropped out of school and are most likely up to no good (‘we sing sin’).

The driving point of the poem is no doubt the last
enjambed line: we die soon … that is, there’s a looming consequence that attends the lifestyle these teens have appropriated. This seems to be a warning from Brooks.

The poem, being deceptively simple, is riddled with amazing structure and poetic devices:


-the stanzas are
couplets
-the end-rhymes fall on the second to the last word
-each stanza is enjambed (i.e. the first line continues into the following line)
-and there are
alliterations everywhere (e.g. lurk late, sing sin, jazz June)

There are other aspects that have me curious- for example: ‘strike straight’ in line 4 could also indicate fighting rather than just playing pool; ‘sing sin’ in line 6 is an excellent metaphor for vulgar language.

Anyhow, thought I’d share. Happy date of birth Mrs. Brooks …

Gwendolyn Brooks*


Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917 and raised in Chicago. She is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991); Blacks (1987); To Disembark (1981); The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986); Riot (1969); In the Mecca (1968); The Bean Eaters (1960); Annie Allen (1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize; and A Street in Bronzeville (1945).

She also wrote numerous other books including a novel, Maud Martha (1953), and Report from Part One: An Autobiography (1972), and edited Jump Bad: A New Chicago Anthology (1971).

In 1968 she was named Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois, and from 1985-86 she was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lived in Chicago until her death on December 3, 2000.

Biography from Poets.org

May 31, 2011

O Captain! my Captain! (e.g. Lincoln)

Abraham Lincoln is the captain to whom Whitman's poem refers. Whitman admired Lincoln dearly, was proud of the closure and success of the Civil war, and was terribly distraught at his assassination. The poem below covers all three of these realities- in fact, it covers the corresponding emotional realities felt by the poet (e.g. the shorter lines correspond to the poet’s deep sadness of Lincoln’s assassination).

Check it out (and, just curious, would you have known it was Lincoln having not had this information):


O Captain my Captain!

O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
...The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.



Of the Poem (Parameters):

Stanza: Octet (i.e. 8 lines per stanza)
Meter: The poem, though structured, lacks a specific meter
Rhyme Scheme: aabb xcxc (where ‘x’ represents unrhymed lines)

Some Notes:

The poem is essentially an extended metaphor
1). The captain represents Lincoln
2). The ship represents the Union
3). The fearful trip represents the Civil War
4). The prize sought is the preservation of the Union

Whitman also takes advantage of some poetic devices, here’s a few below ...

Line 2: The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won (alliteration)
Line 3: The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting (internal rhyme)
Line 5: But O heart! heart! heart! (repetition to convey anguish)
Lines 9 & 10: The end rhymes of these lines are oblique rhythms (bells & trills)
Line 10: … for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills (alliteration)
Lines 17 & 18: The word ‘feel’ of line 18 corresponds to the end rhymes of both 17 & 18 (still & will)
Line 20: From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won (internal rhyme)

… and there are many more.


Now I haven’t studied Whitman to the extent that many others have, but I will say that one of the more admirable aspects that I find in him is his own poetic authenticity. What I mean by this is his style of writing- he lived during a time when meter was the prevalent mode of poetic expression; notwithstanding, he chose to depart from traditional forms of poetry (the poem above is a perfect example) to achieve his own level of creativity.

This is not to say that meter is too constrictive (I personally believe there’s a freedom in meter that free versing is unable achieve); the point, rather, is it take a certain amount of audacity to break away from the norm, and our poet here seems to have done this. I admire that.

Walt Whitman*



Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman was the second son of Walter Whitman, a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor. The family, which consisted of nine children, lived in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1820s and 1830s.

At the age of twelve, Whitman began to learn the printer's trade, and fell in love with the written word. Largely self-taught, he read voraciously, becoming acquainted with the works of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible.

Whitman worked as a printer in New York City until a devastating fire in the printing district demolished the industry. In 1836, at the age of 17, he began his career as teacher in the one-room school houses of Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.

He founded a weekly newspaper, Long-Islander, and later edited a number of Brooklyn and New York papers. In 1848, Whitman left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to become editor of the New Orleans Crescent. It was in New Orleans that he experienced at first hand the viciousness of slavery in the slave markets of that city. On his return to Brooklyn in the fall of 1848, he founded a "free soil" newspaper, the Brooklyn Freeman, and continued to develop the unique style of poetry that later so astonished Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In 1855, Whitman took out a copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface. He published the volume himself, and sent a copy to Emerson in July of 1855. Whitman released a second edition of the book in 1856, containing thirty-three poems, a letter from Emerson praising the first edition, and a long open letter by Whitman in response. During his subsequent career, Whitman continued to refine the volume, publishing several more editions of the book.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman vowed to live a "purged" and "cleansed" life. He wrote freelance journalism and visited the wounded at New York-area hospitals. He then traveled to Washington, D.C. in December 1862 to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war.

Overcome by the suffering of the many wounded in Washington, Whitman decided to stay and work in the hospitals and stayed in the city for eleven years. He took a job as a clerk for the Department of the Interior, which ended when the Secretary of the Interior, James Harlan, discovered that Whitman was the author of Leaves of Grass, which Harlan found offensive. Harlan fired the poet.

Whitman struggled to support himself through most of his life. In Washington, he lived on a clerk's salary and modest royalties, and spent any excess money, including gifts from friends, to buy supplies for the patients he nursed. He had also been sending money to his widowed mother and an invalid brother. From time to time writers both in the states and in England sent him "purses" of money so that he could get by.

In the early 1870s, Whitman settled in Camden, NJ, where he had come to visit his dying mother at his brother's house. However, after suffering a stroke, Whitman found it impossible to return to Washington. He stayed with his brother until the 1882 publication of Leaves of Grass gave Whitman enough money to buy a home in Camden.

In the simple two-story clapboard house, Whitman spent his declining years working on additions and revisions to a new edition of the book and preparing his final volume of poems and prose, Good-Bye, My Fancy (1891). After his death on March 26, 1892, Whitman was buried in a tomb he designed and had built on a lot in Harleigh Cemetery.

*Biography from Poets.org

May 21, 2011

A Creeley Reading

Robert Creeley, a Beat poet who founded the Black Mountain Poets, was born this day in 1926. He’s a poet that I’ve come to appreciate a great deal. I came across this video just today- pretty interesting, has a sort of Twilight zone feel to it, but shows his creative imagination at work. Happy birthday buddy ...


Robert Creeley*

Robert Creeley (1926 - 2005)

Robert Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, on May 21, 1926. He attended Harvard University from 1943 to 1946, taking time out from 1944 to 1945 to work for the American Field Service in Burma and India. In 1946 he published his first poem, in the Harvard magazine Wake.

In 1949 he began corresponding with William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. The following year he became acquainted with the poet Charles Olson. In 1954, as rector of Black Mountain College (an experimental arts college in North Carolina), Olson invited Creeley to join the faculty and to edit the Black Mountain Review. In 1960 Creeley received a Master's Degree from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Through the Black Mountain Review and his own critical writings, Creeley helped to define an emerging counter-tradition to the literary establishment—a postwar poetry originating with Pound, Williams, and Zukofsky and expanding through the lives and works of Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Edward Dorn, and others.

*Biography from Poets.org

May 13, 2011

Sudden Light


As with certain others (philosophers, scientists, artists, etc), I like acknowledging a poet’s date of birth. There’s a certain kind of ‘thank you’ about it, a certain kind of ‘I remember and appreciate what you left behind for us’ being expressed.

Anyhow, a couple days ago (on the 12th) I posted in Facebook an acknowledgement of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's date of birth some 183 years ago. Rossetti belongs to that period in the history of art known as Pre-Raphaelite (my favorite period). In fact, he’s the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (the rudimentary element of that period of art).

I came to learn that he, along with his sister Christina Rossetti, was also a prolific writer of poetry- incredible poetry! I posted a poem Rossetti wrote that, quite frankly, is one of my favorite of all time: Sudden Light. It’s a great poem about déjà vu and the recollection of love and love’s eternal restoration (at least, that’s my take on it).

Here’s that poem- I’ll try to break down the stanzas individually below, let me know what you think.


Sudden Light

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,--
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turn'd so,
Some veil did fall,--I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?




Of the Poem (Poetic Parameters & Commentary)

Stanza: Quintet (i.e. consisting of five lines)
Meter: Mixed (see side notes)
Rhyme Scheme: ababa (the first, third, and fifth lines being interlinked with the same lines of the following stanzas)


Some Side Notes

The meter of the first stanza, which is mimicked by the ones that follow, is mixed (that is, six syllables in line 1; eight syllables in lines 2 and 3; four in line 4; and ten in line 5). Here’s what it looks like:

I have been here before (trimeter)
But when or how I cannot tell (tetrameter
)
I know the grass beyond the door (tetrameter
)
The sweet keen smell (dimeter
)
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore (pentameter)


I gotta say, I love love love the internal rhymes of the pentameters:

-The sighing sound, the lights around the shore
-Some veil did fall,--I knew it all of yore
-And day and night yield one delight once more


A Brief Commentary

About the Title

Why Sudden Light? Well, when one reads the poem it becomes quite clear that the poet is talking about déjà vu. What’s interesting is that (and I’m relatively certain of this) the French term wasn’t coined until Emile Boirac, a French psychic researcher, published his book in 1883, The Psychology of the Future. It’s highly unlikely that Rossetti, who died the year before, ever came across the technical term or the phrase.

Still, the phenomenon of déjà vu is something that humans have experienced from the get go. For Rossetti to dub it (albeit, poetically) sudden light makes perfect sense to me. (I wonder, however, if the term déjà vu had been in circulation during Rossetti’s time, would he have titled his poem differently?)

Stanza One

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.


The poet immediately immerses us in the world of sensation: the grass beyond the door (sight and perhaps smell), the sweet keen smell (smell with a reference to taste), the sighing sound (hearing), the lights around the shore (sight, and perhaps hearing and smelling the shore as well). All these very tangible elements pull him directly into an experience he knows he had before, but has difficulty articulating.

Stanza Two

You have been mine before,--
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turn'd so,
Some veil did fall,--I knew it all of yore.


This stanza speaks of the catalyst of the déjà vu. The poet knows just (line 8) when it occurred: at the flight of a bird (that swallow's soar) and the look of his lover’s neck (your neck turn'd); a revelation immediately gives way (some veil did fall) and he suddenly realizes that this moment has occurred before (of yore).

Stanza Three

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?


This is the more philosophical of the stanzas. In it the poet marvels that time, despite its transient nature (its eddying flight) and despite the reality of death (line 14)- that time would restore not only life itself, but also the very love of life once lived! Absolutely beautiful. I find it quite amazing that so much expression can be articulated in so little space (not to mention in poetic meter).

It never ceases to amaze me how utterly gifted we humans can be despite our particular dilapidations. Sometimes I’m so ashamed of the things we do that it makes me sick to my stomach. But then there are those moments, those sublime moments, when we excel and achieve what’s best in us. I promise you, I long for the day when that is the norm.

Every time I read a poem like the one Rossetti wrote here, I’m reminded of one of the most beautiful and truest quotes ever:

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering - these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we stay alive for.”

Dead Poet’s Society

As of April 9th, 2010