Today’s Fourteenlines is a guest blog by Frank Hudson. Please check out his marvelous website and commentary on Edward Thomas including his creative interpretations in music by clicking on the link below.
“There is a comfort in the strength of love; ‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else would overset the brain, or break the heart.”
Sonnet on Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep At A Tale of Distress
by William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)
SHE wept.–Life’s purple tide began to flow
In languid streams through every thrilling vein;
Dim were my swimming eyes–my pulse beat slow,
And my full heart was swell’d to dear delicious pain.
Life left my loaded heart, and closing eye;
A sigh recall’d the wanderer to my breast;
Dear was the pause of life, and dear the sigh
That call’d the wanderer home, and home to rest.
That tear proclaims–in thee each virtue dwells,
And bright will shine in misery’s midnight hour;
As the soft star of dewy evening tells
What radiant fires were drown’d by day’s malignant pow’r,
That only wait the darkness of the night
To cheer the wand’ring wretch with hospitable light.
Wordsworth penned and published this sonnet when he was 16 years old. It was his first published sonnet. It’s clear he had a bit of a crush on the older more worldly Williams, nine years his senior, the two sharing a common sense of romanticism, evident in Williams poem below.
by Helen Maria Williams
No riches from his scanty store
My lover could impart;
He gave a boon I valued more —
He gave me all his heart!
His soul sincere, his generous worth,
Might well this bosom move;
And when I asked for bliss on earth,
I only meant his love.
But now for me, in search of gain
From shore to shore he flies;
Why wander riches to obtain,
When love is all I prize?
The frugal meal, the lowly cot
If blest my love with thee!
That simple fare, that humble lot,
Were more than wealth to me.
While he the dangerous ocean braves,
My tears but vainly flow:
Is pity in the faithless waves
To which I pour my woe?
The night is dark, the waters deep,
Yet soft the billows roll;
Alas! at every breeze I weep —
The storm is in my soul.
The Night is dark, the waters deep, Yet soft the billows roll; Alas! at every breeze I weep – The storm is in my soul.
Helen Maria Williams
Sonnet On Reading Burns’ To A Mountain Daisy
By Helen Maria Williams (1759 – 1827)
While soon the “garden’s flaunting flowers” decay,
And, scatter’d on the earth, neglected lie,
The “Mountain Daisy,” cherish’d by the ray
A poet drew from heav’n, shall never die.
Ah! like that lovely flower the poet rose!
‘Mid penury’s bare soil and bitter gale;
He felt each storm that on the mountain blows,
Nor ever knew the shelter of the vale.
By Genius in her native vigour nurst,
On Nature with impassion’d look he gazed,
Then through the cloud of adverse fortune burst
Indignant, and in light unborrow’d blaz’d.
Shield from rude sorrow, SCOTIA! shield thy bard:–
His heav’n-taught numbers Fame herself will guard.
Described during her lifetime by her detractors as politically radical and sexually wanton, Helen Maria Williams sounds like my kind of woman, a poet with a mind of her own and the will (and means) to do what she wanted. I find it a bit humorous that part of her sentence during a brief stay in prison in France included the ominous warning that she was only allowed to write sonnets and do translation work while behind bars. The judge apparently feeling that penning sonnets was sufficient punishment for a writer.
Helen’s sonnets were not so magical as to launch a thousand ships, but she has a certain flair and the chops to have lived a bona fide poetic life, such that her writing has managed to avoid the dust bin of history. I find her defense and admiration of Burns’ poem charming.
I read Burns’ poetry aloud much more convincingly if I drink a bit of whiskey before hand. I recommend you try a single malt aged for 10 years or more of anything that costs at least $35/bottle USD and whose brand is difficult to pronounce on the bottle, it will be good practice for Burns. My pro tip, is like all good fake speakers of a foreign language, when you get to a sticky wicket of a word and don’t know how it’s pronounced, don’t slow down, do your best and say it loudly with confidence and with your own version of a fake Scottish accent and you’ll fool most everyone but a real Scot.
To A Mountain Daisy
by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)
On Turning One Down with the Plow, in April, 1786
Wee, modest, crimson-tippèd flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure .Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r, .Thou bonie gem.
Alas! it’s no thy neibor sweet,
The bonie lark, companion meet,
Bending thee ‘mang the dewy weet .Wi’ spreck’d breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet .The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth . Amid the storm,
Scarce rear’d above the parent-earth . Thy tender form.
The flaunting flowers our gardens yield
High shelt’ring woods an’ wa’s maun shield:
But thou, beneath the random bield . O’ clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field . Unseen, alane.
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie-bosom sun-ward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head . In humble guise;
But now the share uptears thy bed, . And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,
Sweet flow’ret of the rural shade!
By love’s simplicity betray’d . And guileless trust;
Till she, like thee, all soil’d, is laid . Low i’ the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,
On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d!
Unskilful he to note the card . Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage and gales blow hard, . And whelm him o’er!
Such fate to suffering Worth is giv’n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv’n,
By human pride or cunning driv’n . To mis’ry’s brink;
Till, wrench’d of ev’ry stay but Heav’n, . He ruin’d sink!
Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives elate, . Full on thy bloom,
Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight . Shall be thy doom.
So ghostly then the girl came in
I never saw the turnstile twist,
Down where the orchard trees begin
Lost in a revery of mist.
And in that windless hour between
The last of sunset and the night,
When fields give up their ebbing green
And two bats interweave their flight.
I saw the turnstile glimmer pale
Just where the orchard trees begin.
But watching was of no avail,
Invisibly the girl came in.
I took one deep breath of the air
And lifted up my heavy heart;
It was not I who trembled there,
But my immortal counterpart.
I knew that she had come again
Up through the orchard through the stile,
Without a sign to tell me when,
Though I was watching all the while.
I asked my friend, “what’s this I hear about you entering hospice?” She answered, ‘What do you think about it?” I said, “I think I trust you know what’s best.” She replied, “It’s all just part of the process.”
by William Shakespeare
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
The seasons revolve and the years change
With no assistance or supervision.
The moon, without taking thought,
Moves in its cycle, full, crescent, and full.
The white moon enters the heart of the river;
The air is drugged with azalea blossoms;
Deep in the night a pine cone falls;
Our campfire dies out in the empty mountains.
The sharp stars flicker in the tremulous branches;
The lake is black, bottomless in the crystalline night;
High in the sky the Norther Crown
Is cut in half by the dim summit of a snow peak.
O heart, heart, so singularly
Intransigent and corruptible,
Here we lie entranced by the starlit water,
And moments that should each last forever
Slide unconsciously by like water.
There are days we are more attuned to the relentless march of time than others. Sitting through another endless business meeting yesterday, trying to stay interested, I felt like the protagonist of Gary Snyder’s poem below. White collar, blue collar and everything in between, any one of us who works a job long enough starts to wonder where time went.
It’s why Rexroth’s gorgeous poem about connecting with nature and the timeless quality such experiences can create in our life speaks to me. I had my first camp fire of the summer last weekend. Sitting beneath the stars with the embers twinkling I was connected to my past, present and future self in that simplicity of silence. We all feel like there will be another spring, even if we are appreciating the one we have. Nina Simone voiced it honestly. Living in the moment is easier said then done sometimes, but worth the effort. Do you have plans for a campfire this summer? Who will you enjoy its fiery presence with?
Hay For The Horses
by Gary Snyder
He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
“I’m sixty-eight” he said,
“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.
“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The Grace of God is glue.”
A Jar of Buttons
by Ted Kooser
This is from a core sample
from the floor of the Sea of Mending,
a cylinder packed with shells
that over many years
sank through fathoms of shirts—
pearl buttons, blue buttons—
and settled together
beneath waves of perseverance,
an ocean upon which
generations of women set forth,
under the sails of gingham curtains,
and, seated side by side
on decks sometimes salted by tears,
made small but important repairs.
Mending is a fascinating word. For people of my generation, there was no such thing as fast fashion, our mothers by and large sewed significant portions of not only their own wardrobe but also their children’s. I was taught how to mend my clothes, how to repair a frayed seam, how to mend a hole and how even to hand sew a button hole. My parents both grew up during the depression and they knew the importance of making do with hand me downs and making things for yourself. Most nights as a child I would fall asleep to the sound of the distant click, click, click of my Mother’s Montgomery Ward sewing machine, the only sewing machine she would ever own and still works today and is used by my sister. My Mother did not have a jar of buttons, she had a box of buttons, a box that had accumulated over time from extras from umpteen projects and also had grown from acquisitions at garage sales or the mother-load, when someone passed away and their buttons joined the hoard. I spent countless hours while my Mother sewed, looking through her box of buttons, finding my favorites, putting together matching sets, organizing by color or shape or size. It was a satisfying way to be in my Mother’s presence, while not pestering her on a rainy afternoon as a young child.
We would make rubber band racers, which I doubt few children know about today. It required one empty wooden spool from a spool of thread, two large buttons, a rubber binder and a stick of some sort, a spare one from your game of pick up sticks worked fine. You took and split the rubber band and put it through the holes in a button so that it looped half way, then pushed those equal ends through the center of the spool, and then through the holes in the button on the other side and tied the rubber band off. Next take the stick and put it through one side of the button loop, leaving only a short amount protruding. Then wind up the stick so that you are creating lots of lots of twists in the center of the spool on the rubber binder. Then set it down and the stick with hold it down allowing all the force to be expelled by spinning the spool and it will race down your hardwood floor. May sound pretty simple as a toy, but they were fun to make and an awesome way to learn your Mom had some cool tricks up here sleeve.
A Jar of Buttons was one of my Mother’s favorite poems. She read it to me at least 6 or 7 times over the years. She related to many aspects of the poem, its imagery resonating with her experience. The poem is not about sewing in my mind, it is about the role women play in mending so many things in family life, mending relationships, knitting together children’s confidence, allowing time for martial fractures to heal and the actual act of creation with thread, buttons and cloth. The art of sewing is an ancient art, that I worry is being lost to some degree. It is a healing art, providing sustenance to not only the those clothed by the seamstress, but also nurturing the heart of the one who threads the needle.
My Mother taught me how to sew, required me to make a few items, like pajamas, so that I understood how things are made. That knowledge has served me well. When was the last time you sewed or mended something for yourself? For someone else? How did it make you feel? Do you have a sewing machine or a sewing kit? My darning and sewing kit is within reach of where I sit right now, should I be in need to tie down a loose stitch.
by Ted Kooser
Here, on fine long legs springy as steel,
a life rides, sealed in a small brown pill
that skims along over the basement floor
wrapped up in a simple obsession.
Eight legs reach out like the master ribs
of a web in which some thought is caught
dead center in its own small world,
a thought so far from the touch of things
that we can only guess at it. If mine,
it would be the secret dream
of walking alone across the floor of my life
with an easy grace, and with love enough
to live on at the center of myself.
“It is all around us, free, this wonderful life: clear jingle of tire chains, the laughter of ice that breaks under our boots. Each hour’s a gift to those who take it up.”
― Ted Kooser, The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book
The Obligation To Be Happy
by Linda Paston
It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.
And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.
Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
I have the annoying habit of being in a good mood in the morning when I get up, annoying at least to those that enjoy a bit of melancholy and gloom with their first cup of coffee. I realize that there is little difference between the two breakfast visages, each its own armor to the start of the day and separated in humor by less than the width of smile.
The harder acceptance for me is the realization that for some people happiness is a burden they would prefer to not carry around with them. Happiness is something uncomfortable to them, an infrequent, temporary visitor that stays only awkwardly for a quick spot of tea and then makes a tepid excuse for why it needs to hurry off again. Linda Paston’s poem provides genuine insight into something foreign to my nature, not quite full blown depression but melancholy.
I heard this week a perky scientist explaining on NPR they have isolated a hormonal response in mice which prevents them from going into depression under stress. It sounds like a such a wonderful idea, particularly to people like myself that struggle to understand the true nature of depression having never experienced it. But what do we lose as a species if we fail to feel the full range of emotions? Depression that results in suicide is a mental state to be avoided and can be medically addressed, but grief, the blues, sadness and meloncholy are not fatal conditions and a normal spectrum of the human condition. Next time someone is sad in your midst, hesitate before you tell them to “cheer up.” Linda Paston’s poem a potent reminder that we all experience life differently and one person’s blues maybe another person’s way to live fully in their skin.
by Ted Kooser
Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.