We still need a voice that thinks before it speaks.
I Am Very Bothered
by Simon Armitage
I am very bothered when I think of the bad things I have done in my life. Not least that time in the chemistry lab when I held a pair of scissors by the blades and played the handles in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner; then called your name, and handed them over.
O the unrivalled stench of branded skin as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked, the doctor said, for eternity.
Don’t believe me, please, if I say that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen, of asking you if you would marry me.
Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, Act One, Scene Four
ROMEO [To JULIET]
If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
The beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, The beginning of every end, and the end of every place.
If That High World
by Lord Byron
If that high world, which lies beyond Our own, surviving Love endears; If there the cherish’d heart be fond, The eye the same, except in tears – How welcome those untrodden spheres! How sweet this very hour to die! To soar from earth and find all fears Lost in thy light – Eternity! It must be so: ’tis not for self That we so tremble on the brink; And striving to o’erleap the gulf, Yet cling to Being’s severing link. Oh! in that future let us think To hold each heart the heart that shares; With them the immortal waters drink, And soul in soul grow deathless theirs!
by Lord Byron
The kiss, dear maid! thy lip has left Shall never part from mine, Till happier hours restore the gift Untainted back to thine. Thy parting glance, which fondly beams, An equal love may see: The tear that from thing eyelid streams Can weep no change in me. I ask no pledge to make me blest In gazing when alone; Nor one memorial for a breast, Whose thoughts are all thine own. Nor need I write to tell the tale My pen were doubly weak: Oh! what can idle words avail, Unless the heart could speak? By day or night, in weal or woe, That heart, no longer free, Must bear the love it cannot show, And silent ache for thee.
The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one.
The Bob Dylan Dream
by Joyce Sutphen
So here is one of the best dreams I’ve ever had: I am in New York City,
and everything is closed tight except for one door that is wide open and seems
inviting, so I go through and up the stairs to a room with wood floors and
a window seat where Bob Dylan is waiting for me, and we have a long talk about
love and poetry, and afterwards we stand up and fly over the Village, which
is quiet until we hear some music a few blocks away so we fly there, and
it’s the Jefferson Airplane Marching Band! Tell me-does it get much better than that?
Dylan and Baez met in New York City in 1961. Their artistic and romantic attraction was instantaneous and blazed brightly for the next 4 years. But emotions that combustible aren’t always sustainable and theirs burned itself out by 1965. By the end, Baez wanted to continue to play a role in the civil rights movement while Dylan wanted to evolve as an artist and not be limited by audience expectations. Each gave the other something before their parting. Baez would continue to perform Dylan’s legacy of political songs, while Baez bestowed a softer side to Dylan’s trajectory. Baez brought political relevance to Dylan’s lyrics and music through her artistry while Dylan absorbed Baez’s artistic and personal expression in ways that would nudge his muse in a new direction, from indignation towards beauty. Baez had absorbed some of his righteous anger while sheltering some of it from Dylan.
Dylan shared his perspective on his relationship with Baez and her influence on his life and music in Poem to Joanie. I have shared an excerpt below, a moving tribute to Baez on his understanding of ‘beauty’ and its significance in his art.
Poem To Joanie (Excerpt)
by Bob Dylan
So, once more it’s winter again An’ that means I’ll wait ’til spring T’ ramble back t’ where I kneeled When I first heard the ore train sing An’ pulled the ground up by its roots But this time I won’t use my strength T’ pass the time yankin’ grass While I’m waitin’ for the train t’ sound No next time’ll be a different day For the train might be there when I come An’ I might wait hours for the cars t’ pass An’ then as the echo fades I’ll bend down an’ count the strands a grass But one thing that’s bound t’ be Is that instead a pullin’ at the earth I’ll jus’ pet it as a friend An’ when that train engine comes near I’ll nod my head t’ the big brass wheels An’ say “howdy” t’ the engineer An’ yell that Joanie says hello An’ watch the train man scratch his head An’ wonder what I meant by that An’ I’ll stand up an’ remember when A rock was flung by a devil child An’ I’ll walk my road somewhere between The unseen green an’ the jet – black train An’ I’ll sing my song like a rebel wild For it’s that I am an’ can’t deny But at least I’ll know not t’ hurt Not t’ push Not t’ ache An’ God knows … not t’ try –
with his words in my head I slept for thirty or forty forevers while the grass shrieked and the trees tremored…
By Deborah Landau
Dazzling emptiness of the black green end of summer no one
running in the yard pulse pulse the absence.
Leave them not to the empty yards.
They resembled a family. Long quiet hours. Sometimes
one was angry sometimes someone called her “wife”
someone’s hair receding.
An uptick in the hormone canopy embodied a restlessness
and oh what to do with it.
(How she arrived in a hush in a looking away and not looking.)
It had been some time since richness intangible
and then they made a whole coat of it.
Meanwhile August moved toward its impervious finale.
A mood by the river. Gone. One lucid rush carrying them along.
Borderless and open the days go on—
A friend of Ivor Gurney’s described him as being “so sane in his insanity.” Gurney spent the last 15 years of his life in psychiatric hospitals in England, believing himself to actually be Shakespeare for a portion of that time. A self described composer more than poet or playwright, he wrote more than 300 songs in his lifetime. Only a small fraction of his music has been performed or recorded.
Born in the city of Gloucester in 1890, Gurney was fascinated by music. As a boy he studied under the organist, Dr Herbert Brewer at the Gloucester Cathedral. Following his service in WWI, he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study composition with Sir Charles Stanford. But life’s challenges intervened and a nervous breakdown interrupted his studies.
However Gurney is an inspiration of resilience. Despite worsening mental and physical health in his early 30’s, the early years of his commitment were productive creatively. Its unclear how much of his mental illness was attributable to PTSD from the war or the physical impact of being gassed in the trenches but his mental health deteriorated over time until he was unable to continue as an artist the final few years of his life. His cause of death was tuberculosis, which was rampant in the locked wards of mental institutions of the time.
I find it interesting to pair modern poets with counterparts from a 100 years ago. Some similar ideas run through these two poems around the impermanence of permanence and how the external world moves on without us, regardless of the machinations of our inner life.
Sonnet – September 1922
by Ivor Gurney
Fierce indignation is best understood by those Who have time or no fear, or a hope in its real good. One loses it with a filed soul or in sentimental mood. Anger is gone with sunset, or flows as flows The water in easy mill-runs; the earth that ploughs Forgets protestation in its turning, the rood Prepares, considers, fulfils; and the poppy’s blood Makes old the old changing of the headland’s brows.
But the toad under the harrow toadiness Is known to forget, and even the butterfly Has doubts of wisdom when that clanking thing goes by And’s not distressed. A twisted thing keeps still – That thing easier twisted than a grocer’s bill – And no history of November keeps the guy.
The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
If you have never heard of Michael Oakeshott, you are in good company. He was a British economist, thinker, philosopher who hit his academic zenith in the 1950’s and 1960’s. His dictum was society since the enlightenment had fallen down the rabbit of hole of a misplaced faith in “rationalism.” Oakeshott believed that all of our carefully considered plans of the past 200 years had created an illusion that bureaucrats and governments employing an army of rationalists with the latest “technical knowledge” could solve all our problems, when in reality, no government, regardless of its political disposition can solve the complicated problems our world faces. This dictum supports the concept of a right to privacy as individuals, as the more government gets involved in our personal life the more onerous becomes the intrusion. Government needs to function to create the foundation for a shared public good, build the infrastructure on which we can all conduct business, create some framework of fairness, protect some level or right to privacy and basic liberties to conduct our own lives and a process to implement justice. But what Oakeshott was advocating for is to not ignore “practical knowledge”, i.e. tradition, in favor of radical change, even a radical change to return to a distant past.
Oakeshott refreshingly did not feel government and politicians should be free of ideology or careful thought. In fact he felt poetry had a role to play in constructing the balance between our public and private lives and the positive influence it could have on shaping public discourse. He felt poetry should inspire society in grappling with complex topics that are difficult to frame in written communication, required for the crafting of laws and regulations. Oakeshott admired poetry’s ability to create the illusion of what he called an “eternal presence” between the author and reader, “conveying our most intimate moments, sharing with us their most intimate feelings feelings, whispering in our ears in the most delicate ways.”
Today’s poems are great examples of how words can be incomplete, yet convey complex ideas on sex, pregnancy and reproductive rights. Abortion is a difficult topic and a very difficult personal decision, but one best left to the individual and their loved ones to make. As a society our ability to provide safe and equitable access to women’s health care helps communities across the economic spectrum be healthier than they would be without that access.
Oakeshott advocated for the role of a “conservative” government, not in the sense of how we might define it today, where conservatism only means leaning right. In his definition it could equally apply to both ends of the political spectrum. His vision for a conservative government was a way to control what he called “monomaniacs”, individuals overly focused on single issue politics. Oakeshott wrote; “we tolerate monomaniacs, but why should we be ruled by them?” Oakeshott believed in the concept that the individual had a right to continue their traditions. The problem with a pluralist society of immigrants we barely call a democracy anymore, is there are no widely shared traditions and the monmaniacs have run a muck. We have become a nation of individualists, armed with the portion of the constitution we believe protects our “freedoms” when in fact each side wants nothing to do with the other’s penchant for extremism and want’s the courts to side with their interpretation of the laws. Let’s see where that gets us as a society in another 20 years.
Maybe we all need to read a bit of Oakeshott in the wake of the insanity of the kinds of laws and jurisprudence dominating the headlines, laws that seriously undermine all of our right to privacy. Texas has decided to deputize its citizens to enforce a law that reaches all the way into the realm of rooting out thought crimes among our families and neighbors, even those we don’t know. The law has been constructed in such a way as to make it difficult to challenge and pits individuals against individuals, the rich against the poor. It is a law that isn’t meant to make sense, it is intended to be confusing and convoluted, to create fear and create the illusion of access to health care. Make no mistake there is big money behind this scheme for reasons I have yet to comprehend other than it is a test case for a minority power grab.
The question through Oakeshott’s lens is what is tradition? I believe tradition in 2021, the tradition the vast majority of Americans believe in and trust, is the right to make our own health care decisions, including reproductive health care decisions. Roe vs Wade has become interwoven into the fabric of our society and stands for more than just reproductive health, it stands for a level of protection to our personal destiny that all of us rely upon in our concept of well being, the idea that we are in control of our own lives.
Oakeshott wrote, “Is it not the task for a government to protect its subjects against the nuisance of those who spend their energy and wealth in the service of some pet indignation?” The problem is we are now locked in a battle in this country, between a dwindling minority of religious zealots who believe they are on the side of their religion on issues like abortion, for which the growing majority of Americans believe abortion rights was decided law two generations ago, who believe that American society protects separation of church and state on personal health care decisions. The vast majority of Americans believe the present American tradition is access to safe and affordable abortion as part of the foundation of a woman’s individual freedoms. Tradition works both ways and what was new 50 years ago, is now established law that the majority will organize to protect. There is a question that the Republicans who think they have been clever should ponder; What is the size of the hornets nest of passionate zealots who believe in the right to privacy as a fundamental underpinning of Roe vs Wade that will be flying forth in the years ahead? And the question everyone who opposes this erosion of our personal liberty should be asking, what are you prepared to do to protect your rights in terms of your time and money to counter this serious attack?
by Patti Smith
yum yum the stars are out. I’ll never forget how you smelled that night. like cheddar cheese melting under fluorescent light. like a day-old rainbow fish. what a dish. gotta lick my lips. gotta dream I day- dream. thorozine brain cloud. rain rain comes com- ing down. all over her. there she is on the hill. pale as a posy. getting soaking wet. hope her petticoats shrink. well little shepherd girl your gonna kingdom come. looking so clean. the guardian of every little lamb. well beep beep sheep I’m moving in. I’m gonna peep in bo’s bodice. lay down darling don’t be modest let me slip my hand in. ohhh that’s soft that’s nice that’s not used up. ohhh don’t cry. wet what’s wet? oh that. heh heh. that’s just the rain lambie pie. now don’t squirm. let me put my rubber on. I’m a wolf in a lamb skin trojan. ohh yeah that’s hard that’s good. now don’t tighten up. open up be- bop. lift that little butt up. ummm open wider be-bop. come on. nothing. can. stop me. now. ohhh ahhh. isn’t that good. my. melancholy be-bop.
Oh don’t cry. come on get up. let’s dance in the grass. let’s cut a rug let’s jitterbug. roll those tiny white stockings down. bobby sock-o let’s flow. come on this is a dance contest. under the stars, let’s alice in the grass. let’s swing betty boop hoop let’s birdland let’s stroll let’s rock let’s roll let’s whalebone let’s go let’s deodorize the night.
“Poetry is a sort of truancy, a dream within the dream of life, a wild flower planted among our wheat.”
— Michael Joseph Oakeshott
Portrait of a Machine
by Louis Untermeyer
What nudity as beautiful as this Obedient monster purring at its toil; These naked iron muscles dripping oil And the sure-fingered rods that never miss. This long and shining flank of metal is Magic that greasy labour cannot spoil; While this vast engine that could rend the soil Conceals its fury with a gentle hiss. It does not vent its loathing, it does not turn Upon its makers with destroying hate. It bears a deeper malice; lives to earn It’s masters bread and laughs to see this great Lord of the earth, who rules but cannot learn, Become the slave of what his slaves create.
One hundred years ago it took 40 hours of labor from planting to harvest with the best horse drawn equipment at the time to raise 100 bushels of corn. Today it takes around 2 hours. We have 20X increased productivity and with it 20X increased the cost of production and reduced 20X the workforce needed to produce it. The reason we’ll never go back is no one would want to work that hard ever again for so little wages. We have grown comfortable in the marvels that the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels have created and there is no bridge back to a pastoral rural economy. But as these poems both remind us, there is a cost to our efficiency that goes beyond finances. There is a human cost in our souls being tethered to the very machines that have transformed lives.
Agricultural Implements and Machinery
by James Mcyintre (1828- 1906)
Poor laborers, they did sad bewail, When the machine displaced the flail ; There’s little work, now, with the hoes, Since cultivators weed the rows.
Labor it became more fickle When the scythe took place of sickle ; Labor still it did sink lower By introduction of mower ;
And the work was done much cheaper When they added on the reaper. Another machine to it they join, Mower, reaper, binder, they combine.
Machines now load and stow away Both the barley and the hay, And the farmers do get richer With the loader and the pitcher.
There’s little work now for the hoes, Since cultivators weed the rows ; They sow and rake by the machine- Hand labor’s ‘mong the things have been.
Armed with scythes, the old war chariot Cut down men in the fierce war riot ; Round farmer’s chariot falls the slain, But ’tis the sheaves of golden grain.
This harvest, now, of eighty-four, Will great wealth on farmers pour, For there is abundant yield Of fruitful crops in every field.
“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”
Anne Bronte (1820 – 1849)
by Charlotte Bronte (1816 – 1855)
LIFE, believe, is not a dream So dark as sages say; Oft a little morning rain Foretells a pleasant day. Sometimes there are clouds of gloom, But these are transient all; If the shower will make the roses bloom, O why lament its fall ?
Rapidly, merrily, Life’s sunny hours flit by, Gratefully, cheerily, Enjoy them as they fly !
What though Death at times steps in And calls our Best away ? What though sorrow seems to win, O’er hope, a heavy sway ? Yet hope again elastic springs, Unconquered, though she fell; Still buoyant are her golden wings, Still strong to bear us well. Manfully, fearlessly, The day of trial bear, For gloriously, victoriously, Can courage quell despair !
I Know Not How It Falls on Me
by Emily Bronte (1818 – 1848)
I KNOW not how it falls on me, This summer evening, hushed and lone; Yet the faint wind comes soothingly With something of an olden tone.
Forgive me if I’ve shunned so long Your gentle greeting, earth and air! But sorrow withers e’en the strong, And who can fight against despair?
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error, and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
A reader shared a link on an article on the most successful and likely profitable forgeries of written materials in history, scoundrels trying to make money from Shakespeare’s legacy. There is very little material that survived that has been authenticated to have been written in Shakespeare’s own hand and that dearth opened the door to forgers to try and take advantage. The most enterprising and successful Shakespeare forger was William Ireland who in the 1790’s began forging manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays. His father became his unwitting accomplice when Ireland showed him his “findings” and because of his father’s standing in society and his absolute conviction the forgeries were authentic many Shakespeare scholars and collectors of the day were initially taken in by the scheme. However, Ireland went too far when he attempted to create a “lost” unpublished Shakespeare play titled Vortigern and Rowena. The play was so poorly written that his forgery was completed unmasked when he foolishly attempted to stage a production and it bombed after one performance. However, in an odd twist, after admitting his foolishness he continued to profit from by his scheme by making “authentic fakes”.
By Kahlil Gibran
Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master? . . And he answered saying: . . You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. . . You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. . . Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. . . But let there be spaces in your togetherness, . . And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
. . Love one another, but make not a bond of love: . . Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. . .Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. . . Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. . . Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, . .Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
. .Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. . . For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. . .And stand together yet not too near together: . .For the pillars of the temple stand apart, . .And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Because I had this faint memory of the thought of a taste in my mouth and could not name it
I went through school sad I could not say it if I had swallowed it or was it even edible
maybe I was too young when I first had it I did not know the word yet though the taste stayed
as I grew older some nights I could nearly describe it and would put my tongue to chalk
and paraffin and iodine and go into grocery stores sniffing along every aisle thinking I would find it
but I did not find it until one day when I was not looking there it was for an instant
it came to me I said it so I would remember though in time I forgot that is why now I write
I think the official answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write is 154, but I object! History confirms there were two separate volumes of Shakespeare’s sonnets published, one in 1609 and one in 1640, both contain 154 sonnets so its easy to explain that answer. I have two issues with the proclamation that 154 is correct. First – the sonnet structure is deployed throughout his plays, either in full or in part, time and again. If we include the sonnets contained within the 38 plays that Shakespeare wrote, it would add extensively to that list. And second, why do we believe that the 154 sonnets that were published are the only ones he wrote? Unlike his plays, in which many copies were published, edited and made public so they could be performed, there is evidence that the publishing of his sonnets in 1609 was done without his consent. The first edition was littered with errors, some of which have remained, which suggest he was not directly involved in oversight of its publishing. The sonnets content and in some cases the casual nature of the writing, although brilliant but not polished suggest these were private poems intended for his lover, lovers or friends. And because some of the content suggests he may have been bi-sexual and that if proven, could have landed him in prison adds further evidence that he may not have intended for the sonnets to have been made public.
But do we honestly believe that the 154 that were published are all the sonnets that Shakespeare wrote if these were private missives not intended for the public’s eyes and ears? Maybe these poems were his way of satisfying his fantasies privately and he never wanted them to be shared. Or, as prolific a writer as Shakespeare, maybe there were far more than 154 sonnets hidden about under pillows some place in England over his lifetime.
Anyone who writes sonnets can tell you part of the reason they write them is they are ONLY 14 lines. Sonnets still require a fair amount of work, but you aren’t writing Hamlet. I write sonnets as play, in part because I know if I get sick of the poem I am working on, I can quit, discard it and it isn’t like I have wasted six months on a draft of a screenplay I now hate. I have a feeling that Shakespeare wrote sonnets as a way to relax and possibly as a way to not discard some ideas that maybe didn’t fit into the play he was writing at the time. I think he wrote sonnets because he knew those he shared them with would enjoy them. He may have written them to get laid. And because poetry can have that desired effect on romance, my guess is its entirely possible that some of his best poetry died with the lucky lover who received it and no copy was left lying around to be discovered by whatever means the publisher acquired them. Regardless of what you believe about the conspiracy theories regarding the work attributed to Shakespeare possibly being penned by himself and others, despite no direct evidence that Shakespeare did not author everything attributed to him, it feels like the true answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare(s) write – is a lot.
One of the reasons that Shakespeare included the rhyme and meter of sonnets in portions of his plays are that 10 syllables is about what most people can say comfortably and project loudly in a theater on stage without taking a breath and second rhyme helps actors remember their lines. The lines from this section of Romeo and Juliet below are 14 lines, with a rhyming convention of ababcdcdeef(e like)fg. Is it a sonnet? I think so but I am one to bend the rules a bit on what is and isn’t a sonnet.
How would you classify the poem above by Rodney Jones? All the lines have 10, 11 or 12 syllables, its fourteen lines long, but is it a sonnet? There is no rhyme at all, its certainly not a traditional sonnet, but how you interpret its construction depends on how you think about the influence of sonnets on poetry over time. I offer these two poems up as evidence to the question as to how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in his lifetime? You decide…. Have you ever sat down and read all 154 in a row in one sitting? If you have, what jumped out at you as you progressed through the most famous sonnets of all time?
Romeo and Juliet (Act 1, Scene 5, line 104)
by William Shakespeare
Juliet Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this: For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss. Romeo Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too? Juliet Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in pray’r. Romeo O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do, They pray—grant thou, lest faith turn to despair. Juliet Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake. Romeo Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take. (Kisses her) Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purg’d. Juliet Then have my lips the sin that they have took. Romeo Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urg’d! Give me my sin again.