The Poets

December 09, 2012

None with Eden Can Strive

John Milton (1608-1674), a total genius, was the very first poet I began to study deliberately. I often wonder if my interest and dedication to poetry would have been different had I not come across, what I believe to be, one of the most awesome references to the Garden of Eden. It was while reading a book written by Edward O. Wilson titled, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Within just 8 lines of verse Milton captured my attention permanently. Concerning those lines, I wrote in a blog post a few years back that ...

"There were no extravagant words employed, and as far as I can remember, Milton almost never even mentioned the Garden. But within 8 lines, and by means of images taken from mythology, Milton expresses what in other words would simply require pages to attain."

Here are those 8 lines below (what do you think):

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

Paradise Lost, Book IV 268 - 275

If it were not for Milton I sometimes wonder whether I would have ever engaged poetry at all. I'm in utter debt to him.

December 05, 2012

Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev

I first learned of the Russian Symbolist/Romantic poet Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev and of his incredible works this previous June.

The imagery he employs is vivid, intense, full of vitality, and ruthlessly mesmerizing- very much the same way that Hilda Doolittle's works are. I love how he toys with and fills traditional forms (ballads, metronomes, rhyme schemes, etc) with these incredibly powerful and incredibly wooing images. The scope and depth of Tyutchev’s talent as a writer and a poet are remarkable.

If you haven’t read his works, especially if you enjoy poetry and good writing, you seriously don’t know the state of deprivation you’re in.

Along with another awesome poet, Christina Rossetti, Tyutchev was born on this day (Rossetti in 1830, Tyutchev in 1803).

This work of Tyutchev’s, translated by Vladimir Nabokov, is a little dark, but impressive to say the least. Please, let me know what you think of it …


Now the ashen shadows mingle,
tints faded, sounds remote.
Life has dwindled to a single
vague reverberating note.
In the dusk I hear the humming
of a moth I cannot see.
Whence is this oppression coming?
I’m in all, and all’s in me.

Gloom so dreamy, so lulling,
flow into my deepest deep,
flow, ambrosial and dulling,
steeping everything in sleep.
With oblivion’s obscuration
fill my senses to the brim,
make me taste obliteration,
in this dimness let me dim.


Please, for the love of God ... let me know what you think.

December 04, 2012

Rilke's 9th Elegy

Unthinkingly, as I’m leaving for work this morning, I grab a book: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke. What I forgot, until just a few seconds ago, was that he was born on this day (1875).

I’ve known this poet for a long time, and appreciate the sincere depth of his melancholic insight. His works wreak of existential despair, and bare the same oppressive mark of despondency that plagued Confessional poets such as Plath and Sexton and Berryman.

I would warn anyone who would read Rilke’s works to do so in small doses. His poetic darkness isn’t the kind of darkness we see reflected in works such as Bauldelaire's Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). No … Rilke’s darkness is dangerously close to suicidal reflection and flirts with despair’s menacing onslaught (Baudelaire’s darkness is merely that of audacity).

With that said, I will say that I love this poet. In July I composed a list of my top 20 favorite poets, Rilke was my fifth. The poem below (Duino Elegy #9) I carry in my wallet …

Duino Elegy #9

Why, when this span of life might be fleeted away
as laurel, a little darker than all
the surrounding green, with tiny waves on the border
of every leaf (like the smile of a wind): - oh, why
have to be human, and shunning Destiny,
long for Destiny?...
                      Not because happiness really
exists, that precipitate profit of imminent loss.
Not out of curiosity, not just to practise the heart,
that could still be there in laurel...
But because being here is much, and because all this
that's here, so fleeting, seems to require us and strangely
concerns us. Us the most fleeting of all. Just once,
everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too,
once. And never again. But this
having been once on earth - can it ever be cancelled?

And so we keep pressing on and trying to perform it,
trying to contain it within our simple hands,
in the more and more crowded gaze, in the speechless heart.
Trying to become it. To give it to whom? We'd rather
hold on to it all for ever... But into the other relation,
what, alas! do we carry across? Not the beholding we've here
slowly acquired, and no here occurrence. Not one.
Sufferings, then. Above all, the hardness of life,
the long experience of love; in fact,
purely untellable things. But later,
under the stars, what use? the more deeply untellable stars?
Yet the wanderer too doesn't bring from mountain to valley
a handful of earth; of for all untellable earth, but only
a word he has won, pure, the yellow and blue
gentian. Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House,
Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Fruit tree, Window, -
possibly: Pillar, Tower?... but for saying, remember,
oh, for such saying as never the things themselves
hoped so intensely to be. Is not the secret purpose
of this sly Earth, in urging a pair of lovers,
just to make everything leap with ecstasy in them?
Threshold: what does it mean
to a pair of lovers, that they should be wearing their own
worn threshold a little, they too, after the many before,
before the many to come,... as a matter of course!

Here is the time for the Tellable, here is its home.
Speak and proclaim. More than ever
things we can live with are falling away, for that
which is oustingly taking their place is an imageless act.
Act under crusts, that will readily split as soon
as the doing within outgrows them and takes a new outline.
Between the hammers lives on
our heart, as between the teeth
the tongue, which, in spite of all,
still continues to praise.

Praise this world to the Angel, not the untellable: you
can't impress him with the splendour you've felt; in the cosmos
where he more feelingly feels you're only a novice. So show him
some simple thing, refashioned by age after age,
till it lives in our hands and eyes as a part of ourselves.
Tell him things. He'll stand more astonished: as you did
beside the roper in Rome or the potter in Egypt.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how guileless and ours;
how even the moaning of grief purely determines on form,
serves as a thing, or dies into a thing, - to escape
to a bliss beyond the fiddle. These things that live on departure
understand when you praise them: fleeting, they look for
rescue through something in us, the most fleeting of all.
Want us to change them entirely, within our invisible hearts
into - oh, endlessly - into ourselves! Whosoever we are.

Earth, is it not just this that you want: to arise
invisibly in us? Is not your dream
to be one day invisible? Earth! invisible!
What is your urgent command, if not transformation?
Earth, you darling, I will! Oh, believe me, you need
no more of your spring-times to win me over: a single one,
ah, one, is already more than my blood can endure.
Beyond all names I am yours, and have been for ages.
You were always right, and your holiest inspiration
is Death, that friendly Death.
Look, I am living. On what? Neither childhood nor future
are growing less.... Supernumerous existence
wells up in my heart.

As of April 9th, 2010