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The Poets

December 05, 2015

Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev



I could detect an accent that was deeply Slavic in the very last patient I brought back yesterday- an elderly lady who was confined to a wheelchair. I couldn't resist and asked her if she would mind my asking its origin. Turns out, as I suspected, it was Russian.

I asked her if she knew who
FyodorTyutchev was and she looked at me with a sort of crazed astonishment- how the hell does this 'kid' know who Tyutchev is? I explained that I discovered his works about five years ago through translations rendered by VladimirNabokov, to which she smiled.

She said to me, “Listen”, and without missing a beat recited one of his poems in its entirety, in Russian!

Люблю грозу в начале мая,
Когда весенний, первый гром,
Как бы резвяся и играя,
Грохочет в небе голубом.


Гремят раскаты молодые!
Вот дождик брызнул, пыль летит…
Повисли перлы дождевые,
И солнце нити золотит…


С горы бежит поток проворный,
В лесу не молкнет птичий гам,
И гам лесной, и шум нагорный —
Все вторит весело громам…


Ты скажешь: ветреная Геба,
Кормя Зевесова орла,
Громокипящий кубок с неба,
Смеясь, на землю пролила!


I looked at her with crazed astonishm
ent! I told her how beautiful her delivery of it was, and she told me that in English the poem is called, Spring Storm (ВЕСЕННЯЯ ГРОЗА). I've read it, and Nabokov translation of it is gorgeous- I couldn't imagine how much better it must be in its native language.

With that said, and considering that on this very day in 1803 our poet, Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev, was born, I thought it would be awesome to post this poem as a tribute to his legacy and contribution to Russian literature and the realm of poetry itself. Happy birthday, Tyutchev.



Spring Storm

I love a storm in early May
When springtime's boisterous, firstborn thunder
Over the sky will gaily wander
And growl and roar as though in play.

A peal, another - gleeful, cheering...
Rain, raindust... On the trees, behold!-
The drops hang, each a long pearl earring;
Bright sunshine paints the thin threads gold.

A stream downhill goes rushing reckless,
And in the woods the birds rejoice.
Din. Clamour. Noise. All nature echoes
The thunder's youthful, merry voice.

You'll say: 'Tis laughing, carefree Hebe -
She fed her father's eagle, and
The Storm Cup brimming with a seething
And bubbling wine dropped from her hand. 


 

November 29, 2015

Endless, Endless Stars

 

Endless Stars

I dare not tread near blasphemy
But lo! how bold the sun-filled sky
Hangs high and lovely over me
Yet perpetrates a daring lie

For though its blue I view with glee
It seems to hint so tacitly
That none exists but it and I
And therein lies the false decree

For when the sun's descent draws nigh
A twilight hue appears on high
And fills the former canopy
With endless, endless stars to see

-jwm


Of the Poem
 

Structure: Three quatrains
Meter: Tetrameter (i.e. eight syllables per line)
Rhyme scheme: Mixed

It's been a while since I posted here- life, as you may well know, has busy peeks that tend to limit the leisure that is so conducive to poetry writing and other outlets of creativity. Anyhow, for now at any rate, I'm back.

That said, the idea for this particular poem came from one that was written by Russian poet, Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev, titled Day and Night.

Usually, when writing poetry, I consciously adhere to a set meter and rhyme scheme. With this one, although I confined myself to eight syllables per line, I decided to allow the rhyme scheme to vary from quatrain to quatrain, so that the reading of it would flow smoothly without being predictable, resulting in this particular alternating scheme: abab aaba bbaa.
 

I've been trying to avoid using archaic language while writing over the last year or so, which is especially hard considering that I'm a big fan of KJV, coupled with the fact that I'm mesmerized by the diction employed by John Milton (my first real influence in poetry). So, with words like lo and nigh, I ask anyone in advance who's reading this poem to forgive their usage.

Thank you for stopping by ... please, let me know what you think of the work. 




August 02, 2015

La Piana & Bei Dao


La Piana: In 1989 you were exiled from China and you have been barred from returning since then. How has the experience of exile changed your relation to China and to the Chinese language?


Bei Dao: At first I thought I was being exiled only for a short time. But it got longer and longer. As a writer, the most important thing for me is to continue to write, no matter where I am. The last five years have in some sense been the most difficult of my life, although materially I am okay. But the sense of solitude is very difficult, so I feel that I have to continue to write. Writing is the thing that sustains me and keeps me going. It is a form of self-preservation for me. People have asked about my being cut off from the Chinese language. But writing is always a challenge anyway, whether you are writing in China or outside. The question is how are you going to respond to that challenge.

Of the Misty Poets: Bei Dao


From roughly 1979 to 1989, a group of poets called the Misty Poets (Ménglóng Shi Rén) arose in post-Maoist China.

Disillusioned by the Maoist regime, it's propaganda, and it's political subjugation of both art and ideology, many Chinese poets and writers gathered secretly together to read literature that was condemned by the government, to write and exchange their works, and to promote ideas of freedom and individual expression- for which many were arrested and sentenced to long durations in prison. Others didn't fare so well.

Zhao Zhengkai- better known by his nom de plume, Bei Dao- was one such poet.

It was in 1969, after having served as a member of the paramilitary RedGuard during the Cultural Revolution, that Bei Dao's political views radically changed as he was sent to do labor work in the squalid, impoverished countryside of his homeland. The conditions were so deplorable that he lost all enthusiasm for the revolution. This is when he began, in secret, to study and read and write poetry.

Over a period of time many small underground groups that shared Bei Dao's sentiments, and his artistic means of expressing those sentiments, began to form. By 1978 Bei Dao- along with fellow poet and friend, Mang Ke- founded an underground literary journal called Jintian (Today). After two years of intense surveillance, harassment, and arrests, the Chinese government had the underground journal shut down.

Over the years Bei Dao traveled abroad and connected with literary groups in several countries. He happened to be in Germany when the massacre of Tiananmen Square occurred in 1989. Thought to have had a hand in those protests, or to have influenced them somehow, the Chinese government forced exile on our poet by denying his reentry into the country. Bei Dao, along with several other Misty Poets, have not been allowed back since. 

 

*****

I first learned about these poets in 2010 and immediately fell in love with the works of Bei Dao, Shu Ting, and Gu Cheng. It was on this particular day in 1949 that Bei Dao was born, and so I thought I'd take it upon myself to honor our poet by posting on him briefly. That said, I'd like to share a poem written by him, called The Boundary.


The Boundary

I want to go to the other bank

The river water alters the sky's colour
and alters me
I am in the current
my shadow stands by the river bank
like a tree struck by lightning

I want to go to the other bank

In the trees on the other bank
a solitary startled wood pigeon
flies towards me


Beautiful, right? The poem was published in Bei Dao's TheAugust Sleepwalker (1990), and translated by Bonnie S. McDougall. The poems in that collection are said to be “all of the poems Bei Dao published between 1970 and 1986”, works that were therefore prior to his being exiled. Strangely, though, when I first read the poem the imagery therein lead me to believe that the poem was, in fact, about exile. Allow me to explain, and please let me know what you think.

The 'boundary' is obviously the river water that's dividing two river banks. The poet desires to be on the other river bank, but his desires are painfully thwarted by the river and its current- the river water (or boundary) representing his exile; the other bank the poet's homeland, China.

That the river water alters the colour of the sky, which in turn alters our poet, signifies that this exile is an imposition on our poet's freedom (represented by the sky), and that this imposition deeply pains (or alters) our poet, as we'll soon see.

The narrator desperately desires to reach the other bank, so much so that he stands there at the river's edge and sees his shadow 'like a tree struck by lightning', indicating the poet's depth of pain. He again, and almost mournfully, reiterates his desire: I want to go to the other bank … but the river and its current (his exile) prevents him.

Finally, in the last stanza, the poet sees the trees on the other river bank. Just as the tree struck by lightning (line 6) represented the poet and his depth of pain, so too the trees on the other bank represent people- and because the other bank represents China, the trees represent his countrymen from whom he's exiled.

But what of the wood pigeon? Note that it's startled, indicating a state of trepidation, and that it's in the trees (plural). I take this to indicate a general trepidation that still persists in the heart of his countrymen, just as it did in Tiananmen Square in 1989. That the wood pigeon flies toward our beloved poet can only indicate for me a sympathetic reaching out of his countrymen.

And there you have it, my interpretation of Bei Dao's poem,
The Boundary. That this is what the poet intend I am highly doubtful- as I mentioned, the poem is said to have been written between 1970 and 1986, prior to him being exiled in '89. Nevertheless, this was the first impression I derived from it, and so I remain faithful to it. I would so love to know your interpretation of it.

Thank you for stopping by. And Bei Dao, happy birthday, my friend ...

July 10, 2015

Japan's Poetic Anthem


My daughter and I enjoyed an awesome game of football this past weekend as we watched the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup- it was the States verses Japan, and though Japan played really well, the U.S. team won.

Before the game was underway the national anthem of both countries were sung- a tradition that I've always thought was cool, showing respect to each teams homeland. Anyhow, my daughter and I wondered in interest toward each other what the words were to Japan's national anthem. I made a mental note to myself to look it up later.

It turns out that Japan's national anthem- the Kimigayo, as it's called- is a poem whose written lyrics constitute the oldest national anthem (written during the Heian period, 794 - 1185), and whose length by text is also ranked the shortest.


This national anthem is written in the form of Japanese poetry called waka, and was written in the 10th century into a collection of works known as the Kokin Wakashū (Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times), works that were compiled under the Imperial order of Emperor Diago. The author of the poem is said to be Ki no Tsurayuki, a renown Japanese poet.

The poem mimics the structure of what in Japan is called a tanka
, i.e. a poem whose meter and structure is: 5-7-5-7-7. Apart from the haiku tradition in Japanese poetry, the tanka is without a question the next most popular form employed in Japan's history.

The imagery these poems employ totally reminds me of the works of Hilda Doolittle and the Misty Poets of China, and typically evoke vivid mental pictures that are at times exceedingly mesmerizing, irresistible, and increadible- especially considering their brevity.


That said, below is the poem that has become Japan's national anthem (the photo above is the poem written in Japanese). 



 Kimigayo

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss



Read aloud this poem is gorgeous, right? And that's in English! I can imagine that the Japanese have a greater appreciation for it in their own language, and that the imagery is most certainly more vivid than any translation of it could render. Again, translated or not, the imagery employed is splendid.

There's also a poeticized English translation of it by Basil Hall Chamberlain, an British professor of Japanese at Tokyo Imperial University.

Thousands of years of happy reign be thine;
Rule on, my lord, until what are pebbles now
By ages united to mighty rocks shall grow
Whose venerable sides the moss doth line.


I do like it, but I think the first translation above was a little better because of its rawness, and I imagine that it sticks closer to the original Japanese version as it has less stringent parameters.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Below is a video of this
10th century poem, now the national anthem of one of my favorite countries, being sung (different English translations than those above) ... enjoy.



June 03, 2015

An Allan Wolf Joke


Question: What did the poet say to Luke Skywalker?
Answer: “Metaphors be with you.”



 

Forgive me ... I came across this Allan Wolf joke and had to post it. In fact, he has a ton that pertain to poetry and are similar. Click the link if you'd like to check 'em out ...
 

May 25, 2015

For the Fallen


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

-Robert Laurence Binyon

April 28, 2015

Of Scottish Literature


Braveheart was an excellent movie, and for the most part was well directed by Mel Gibson. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it's about the Scottish hero and warrior William Wallace and the struggle he and his people underwent while at war with England in the 14th century. Though the movie itself was one of the best that I've seen, being one of my favorites, some of the historical claims that it made were modestly inaccurate.

One such claim was that prior to Wallace the Scots had no country of their own, hence the conflict with England and their struggle for independence. Wallace proclaims in Braveheart that (referring to the conflicts the Scots were undergoing with the English), "Now is our chance. Now. If we join we can win. If we win, well then we'll have what none of us has ever had before: a country of our own."

In fact, Scotland had been a country of their own since 843 AD- 427 years prior to Wallace. What the movie failed to mention was that prior to the
Scottish Wars of Independence there had been a long succession of kings; and that it wasn't until 1286, when Alexander III died without a rightful heir to take the throne (his 3-year-old granddaughter, Margaret the Maid of Norway, died before she could take it up), that Scotland slipped into a dire state of internal chaos which the English took aggressive advantage of.

That said, it was through the course of studying the events that led up to the Scottish Wars of Independence that I came across a poem that is considered "the oldest fragment of Scottish literature" that has survived to date. The poem is a lament over Alexander's death and a plea to Christ to prevent the motherland from succumbing to her troubled state without a king. Not only is it beautifully written, it was also written in dialect.

It was on the night of March 19th, 1286, that Alexander III, traveling horseback along the coast of Fife, near Kinghorn, was tossed from his steed and died there from wounds that he sustained. Scotland, without her righteous king and a rightful heir, would soon find herself plunged into some dark days to come ... hence the poem below (followed by one of many modern rendering of the old dialect).



The Original Fragment

Quhen Alysandyr oure Kyng wes dede,
That Scotland led in luwe and le,
Away wes sons off ale and brede,
Off wyne and wax, off gamyn, and gle:
Oure gold wes changyd in to lede.
Cryst, borne into Vyrgynte,
Succoure Scotland and Remede
That stad perplexyte.


Modern Translation

When Alexander our King was dead
That Scotland led in love and loyalty
Away were son[g]s of ale and bread
Of wine and success(?), of gaming and glee
Our gold was changed into lead.
Christ, born into Virginity,
Succor Scotland and remedy
That state['s] perplexity.
 
 
Lamentfully beautiful, right? Moreover, interesting both because of the dialect infused into it (led in luwe and le) and also because of the choice spelling of words (Vyrgynte). Anyhow, I hope you liked the poem and the brief story behind it. And about the movie, Braveheart, I highly recommend checking it out- it's an intense movie riddled with war and struggle and infused with romance and notions of freedom. Good flick ...

April 27, 2015

Sweet Disdain


Diogenes

Diogenes was quite himself
When Alexander came-
In fact, the Cynic hardly cared
For Alexander's fame.

When Alexander asked the rogue
How he might help his plight,
The Cynic said with sweet disdain:
Depart, you're in my light.

-jwm


Of the Poem

The poem is based on an encounter that occurred between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope. There are a few varying accounts that elaborate on that meeting, and all of them are quite amusing. According to Plutarch's rendering, on a visit to Corinth, Alexander found himself thronged the entire time by its philosophers and statesmen. To his curiosity, all but one sought his presence, the philosopher who he had heard so much about ... Diogenes of Sinope. The story goes as follows:

"Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, "Yes," said Diogenes, "stand a little out of my sun."It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, "But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

 
I had been recently reflecting on this encounter and thought it would be fun to put it into verse ... hence the poem. Let me know what you think ...

April 23, 2015

Final Jeopardy!

Last night's Final Jeopardy question was: American Poetry. I blogged on this in July of 2010. Do you know the answer?

April 09, 2015

I Walk Alone


"I walk alone, absorbed in my fantastic play, —
Fencing with rhymes, which, parrying nimbly, back away;
Tripping on words, as on rough paving in the street,
Or bumping into verses I long had dreamed to meet."
 

April 07, 2015

Daffodils



William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (my favorite of the two) ushered in the English period of the Romantic movement in poetry and literature with their publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798.

The simplicity of their poetic diction, the enduring imagery and vividness that permeates their works, along with the mystical and sometimes ominous subjects their musings revolve around, has made their poetry both incredible and incredibly accessible and relatable to the layperson. These two poets have produced works that are not only beautiful and mesmerizing, but also honest and bold enough so as to reach out and touched gently on the Woeful and Dreadful in ways that are, in literary terms, beyond reproach. These poets are, in short, Homeric monuments.

Wordsworth, who was born on this day in 1770, was the first poet of the Romantic period in England that I read, and I was drawn to him immediately! His Lucy poems are eerily intriguing, steeped in total mystery and riddled with an acute sense of melancholy and lament (far from the mere pastoral musings of a naturalist poet that many have predicated upon him). His poem, Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, which describes the beauty of a serene London morning from the quite perspective of the Westminster Bridge, is one of my favorite poems of all time- and probably one of his more popular ones.

Of his more popular works, I find it remarkable (and very embarrassing the more I contemplate it) that though I'm a fan of the works of Wordsworth, I only recently became acquainted with what's deemed one of his finest poems, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, also simply known as Daffodils.

To commemorate his date of birth, I'd like to share that poem with you. The rhyme scheme is simple: ababcc per stanza; the meter, a smooth eight syllables per line (iambic tetrameter); and the imagery, sublime. Trust me, you'll dig it. Let me know what you think.



Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed---and gazed---but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:


For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

March 31, 2015

25 Fun Poetry Puns


25 Puns That Will Satisfy All Poetry Nerds

Time and Memory



If Only ...

If only we could meet again
And curse the days of yore
Forget them and anew begin
And love, and love restore
 
If only we could change the past
And meet again in love
And shun our former ills at last
And all the pain thereof

Our hearts renewed could reunite
And one, and one could be
And we could live in love's dear light
Through all eternity

But time will not assuage the pain
That memory holds dear
And though reunion I might fain
I fain it false, I fear

-jwm


March 20, 2015

Publius Ovidius Naso


“When he, whoever of the gods it was, had thus arranged in order and resolved that chaotic mass, and reduced it, thus resolved, to cosmic parts, he first moulded the Earth into the form of a mighty ball so that it might be of like form on every side … And, that no region might be without its own forms of animate life, the stars and divine forms occupied the floor of heaven, the sea fell to the shining fishes for their home, Earth received the beasts, and the mobile air the birds … Then Man was born:… though all other animals are prone, and fix their gaze upon the earth, he gave to Man an uplifted face and bade him stand erect and turn his eyes to heaven.”

Ovid, born this day in 43 BC

February 13, 2015

Happy Friday the 13th!


Fairmount

How calm the sound of snow that's falling

Soft upon these lonely stones
As if the north winds now were calling
Sleeping ghosts from restless bones

Some think this yard of graves as eerie

Filled with silence and with woes
Where souls departed wander weary
Chained to earth and seen by crows

I've seen some come with flowers weeping

Doubting God as they lament
While others deemed the dead as sleeping
Waiting for the Lord's advent

And some would do the most appalling

Cracking headstones, tagging hate
Yet still the snow would be there falling
Falling calmly on our fate

-jwm




A Brief Side Note:

I don't know what others think, but for me it's one of the most weirdest reversals that I personally experience in life … attempting to create something that, when brought into being, immediately begins to recreate you! I swear it's astonishing, amazing, and really surprisingly scary-cool.

I'm referring here to writing in general, and poetry writing in particular. Almost every time I begin a poem it takes on a life of its own. I'll even catch myself stuck on a single word that I'm trying to 'force' into the poem, and the poem sits there flintingly resisting me until- and this happens more than not- I give in and go with the poem's momentum.

Anyhow, I had ideas for this poem that went entirely unfulfilled due to the poem's own life, and just thought I'd share that with you. Hope everyone has an awesome Valentine's Day and a great weekend ... happy Friday the 13th.

January 09, 2015

A Diatribe of Versailles


Obviously war is a terrible enterprise, and the aftermath and repercussions after war are sometimes just as worse. After World War I, in June of 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by the Allied forces who fought against the Central powers. The demands of the treaty were nearly impossible and would reduced Germany to utter ruin, severe poverty and starvation, and bring her reeling society to the brink of civil war. Even among the signers of the treaty there were contentions: Japan felt completely alienated, and promises made to Italy went unfulfilled.

In the end, the Paris Peace Conferences would inspire bitterness and deep resentment from both Japan and Italy (both of whom made terrible sacrifices to the Allied cause), and would fuel the shame and ultimately the anger of a nation, namely Germany, that would come back with a vengeance that the world has never witnessed: Hitler and World War II.

The poem isn't as much about the Treaty of Versailles as it is about the arrogance, the racism, and the harshness of those who were behind it. Indeed, there's little doubt that those countries who would eventually become the Axis Powers in World War II remembered with deep and great contempt the Allied notion of peace when that treaty was being signed.

With regard to the last few lines of the poem, I find it interesting that, historically, those who were affected negatively by the Treaty of Versailles (Germany, Japan, and Italy) joined their forces to wage yet another war on those Western Powers who were responsible for it. 



From the Halls of Versailles

In Paris we will make no plea
Nor talk of peace as Wilson would
But crush our ailing enemy
And break their iron will for good

We'll deem the East inferior
Whose Asian blood with ours was lent
And feign ourselves superior
To Rome where lives were also spent

We'll draft and sign a cruel decree
And seek our reparations dear
Ignore the needs of Italy
And slight Japan without a care

And should Berlin reach deep despair
Remind them of their lavish sin
That they chose war, and that warfare
Will never touch our land again

-jwm



 


 

As of April 9th, 2010