Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day Didst make thy triumph over death and sin, And having harrowed hell, didst bring away Captivity thence captive, us to win: This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin, And grant that we, for whom thou diddest die, Being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin, May live forever in felicity: And that thy love we weighing worthily, May likewise love thee for the same again; And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy, May love with one another entertain. So let us love, dear love, like as we ought, Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
Holy Sonnets: Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Poetry is always slightly mysterious, and you wonder what is your relationship to it.
Rite of Spring
by Seamus Heaney
So winter closed its fist
And got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump
In its throat, ice founding itself
Upon iron. The handle
Paralysed at an angle.
Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
Round stem and snout, then a light
That sent the pump up in a flame
It cooled, we lifted her latch,
Her entrance was wet, and she came.
A Drink Of Water
by Seamus Heaney
She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field:
The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter
And slow diminuendo as it filled,
Announced her. I recall
Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel
Of the brimming bucket, and the treble
Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle.
Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable
It fell back through her window and would lie
Into the water set out on the table.
Where I have dipped to drink again, to be
Faithful to the admonishment on her cup, Remember the Giver fading off the lip.
As one who, groping in a narrow stair,
Hath a strong sound of bells upon his ears,
Which, being at a distance off, appears
Quite close to him because of the pent air:
So with this France. She stumbles file and square
Darkling and without space for breath: each one
Who hears the thunder says: “It shall anon
Be in among her ranks to scatter her.”
This may be; and it may be that the storm
Is spent in rain upon the unscathed seas,
Or wasteth other countries ere it die:
Till she,—having climbed always through the swarm
Of darkness and of hurtling sound,—from these
Shall step forth on the light in a still sky.
Paris In Spring
by Sara Teasdale
The city’s all a-shining
Beneath a fickle sun,
A gay young wind’s a-blowing,
The little shower is done.
But the rain-drops still are clinging
And falling one by one —
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time has begun.
I know the Bois is twinkling
In a sort of hazy sheen,
And down the Champs the gray old arch
Stands cold and still between.
But the walk is flecked with sunlight
Where the great acacias lean,
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And the leaves are growing green.
The sun’s gone in, the sparkle’s dead,
There falls a dash of rain,
But who would care when such an air
Comes blowing up the Seine?
And still Ninette sits sewing
Beside her window-pane,
When it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time’s come again.
Star, that looked so long among the stones
And picked from them, half iron and half dirt,
One; and bent and put it to her lips
And breathed upon it till at last it burned
Uncertainly, among the stars its sisters-
Breathe on me still, star, sister.
An evening’s star light show should not be a privileged treat, the scourge of light pollution in our modern existence making something that our forebears took for granted for millenia into something that can still make me awestruck. The Utah sky opened up the heavens last week and shone brightly in silent splendor. We basked in the darkness, having been blessed with several moonless nights, the moon dipping below the horizon shortly after sunset allowing us full access to the dark canvas of the milky way and the night sky.
I know enough about the night sky and stars to find Orion, his belt and sword, swashbuckling brilliance in the Utah darkness and the big dipper and the north star clearly demarcating where we were in relation to an artificial axis should we feel the need to set out on foot. I should learn a little more about astronomy, if for no other reason than to learn a new language in light on those special evenings. The stars are a visible connection to our human history. There are few things in our natural landscape that we can view that are virtually unchanged from ancestors centuries ago, if we can break free of lights narrowing our pupils to blind us to their ancestral twinkle.
One of the joys of travel to remote places is the ability to connect to earth, to water, to animals, to plants and to the sky; the clouds and sun and stars taking on personalities all their own as you enjoy their presence throughout the day and evening. The sky in Utah has a sense of humor, it changes throughout the day, never staying for long in a single mood.
Two of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell and Robert Bly, both were captivated by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and translated extensively his work from German to English. Jarrell’s well-rounded academic perspective bringing a generous specificity to Rilke, that makes the translations seem original and natural. I am grateful that more gifted intellects than mine, can open a door into the poetry of great minds in languages I could only superficially explore without their careful word craft. The poem below, The Evening Star, a metaphysical journey of whether the stars we see in the night sky shine from within or from without or both as we blaze energy across the emptiness of space in connection with each other.
The Evening Star
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Randall Jarrell
One star in the dark pass of the houses,
Shines as if it were a sign
Set there to point the way to –
But more beautiful, somehow, than what it points to,
So that no one has ever gone on beyond
Except those who could not see it, and went on
To what it pointed to, and could not see that either.
The star far off separates yet how could I see it
If there were not inside me the same star ?
We wish on the star because the star itself is a wish,
An unwilling halting place, so far and no farther.
Everything is its own sigh at being what it is
And no more, an unanswered yearning
Toward what will be, or was once perhaps,
Or might be, might have been, or – – –
And so soon after the sun goes, and night comes,
The star has set.
“This country will not be a permanent good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836 – 1907)
Sick of myself and all that keeps the light
Of the blue skies away from me and mine,
I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine
Lingering, watch the coming of the night.
‘Tis ever a new wonder to my sight.
Men look to God for some mysterious sign,
For other stars than those that nightly shine,
or some unnatural symbol of His might:
—Would’st see a miracle as grand as those
The prophets wrought of old in Palestine?
Come watch with me the shaft of fire that glows
In yonder West; the fair, frail palaces,
The fading alps and archipelagoes,
And great cloud-continents of sunset-seas.
I have been off the grid for most of the past week. I took a trip west camping in Utah, visiting some of the most spectacular places in the western lands; Arches National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Like Thomas Bailey Aldrich I had gotten sick of myself and needed a big bowl of silence to rejuvenate. The trip was a great reminder of what an amazing country we live in and the wisdom of conservationists long ago to set aside the best of the most beautiful places as National Parks to remain accessible for everyone.
There is no direct evidence that the Outward Bound program took it’s title from Aldrich’s sonnet, but given the tenor of it’s imagery I imagine there is a connection. Aldrich wrote the poem Ungaurded Gates and rewrote it several times in different forms. Given the polarizing debate around immigration today it is interesting to see contradictions in Aldrich’s poetry on the subject over a hundred years ago. The subject of immigration has always aroused strong passions and racist tendencies but what makes America great is eventually we tend to get it righter if not actually right. Some issues like immigration are so complicated they require a nuanced solution or a solution that is in the end the least worst, rather than the best. The version of the poem I find most compelling is the following:
Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
Named of the four winds, North, South, East and West;
Portals that lead to an enchanted land…
Here, it is written, Toil shall have its wage
And Honor honor, and the humblest man
Stand level with the highest in the law.
Of such a land have men in dungeons dreamed
And with the vision brightening in their eyes
Gone smiling to the fagot and the sword.
O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow’s children, soothe the hurts of Fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of Freedom.
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far—
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun:
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!
Sonnets From The Portuguese
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Beloved, my Beloved, when I think
That thou wast in the world a year ago,
What time I sate alone here in the snow
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
No moment at thy voice … but, link by link,
Went counting all my chains, as if that so
They never could fall off at any blow
Struck by thy possible hand … why, thus I drink
Of life’s great cup of wonder! Wonderful,
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull,
Who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the most famous sonnets, a poem written in secret to her husband before their elopement and marriage. Their love story an iconic example of the power of love and poetry to transform lives. It is also a powerful of example of a writer writing for herself and the enjoyment it brought to her life.
Although during her lifetime and well into the 20th Century her husband’s work overshadowed Elizabeth’s in literary circles, if you were to ask someone to quote a Robert Browning poem from memory all but the most astute literary minds would likely come up blank. However, I would fancy a modest bet that almost everyone can complete the first line of one of Elizabeth’s Sonnet’s From The Portuguese, if they hear the title; “How Do I Love Thee.” Elizabeth and Robert met on the basis of her courage to write and publish despite the lack of acceptance of such pursuits by her controlling father. Elizabeth wrote a poem in which she praised work of Robert’s. He returned the favor, sending her a fan letter, telling of his admiration for her work in both poetry and her unique translation of Prometheus Bound. The two proceeded to fall in love through correspondence of a combined more than 500 letters over 2 years, in which Robert slowly helped Elizabeth overcome her reluctance to wed, stemming from her emotional devastation caused by her brother’s tragic death from drowning during a period of Elizabeth’s convalescence seaside to help alleviate the symptoms of lung disease which effected her throughout her life. She blamed herself for her brother’s death through what she felt was her own selfish need for him to be by her side while she was away recuperating and worried what giving her heart to Robert might bring in terms of sorrows as well as joys. Fortunately for both, love prevailed and their marriage proved successful in all facets of their partnership.
As both Elizabeth’s and Robert’s body of work grew and their stature in the literary world became established, she steadfastly maintained her independence. Elizabeth wrote: “I never wrote to please any of you, not even to please my own husband”. Good advice for all writers. Write what pleases you, regardless of whether it is met with ignorance, admonishment or acclaim. Sometimes the best work is written for an audience of one.
by Robert Browning
At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,
When you set your fancies free,
Will they pass to where—by death, fools think, imprisoned—
Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken!
What had I on earth to do
With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?
Like the aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I drivel
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.
No, at noonday in the bustle of man’s work-time
Greet the unseen with a cheer!
Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
“Strive and thrive!” cry “Speed,—fight on, fare ever
There as here!”
“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” – Babe Ruth
by Marjorie Maddox
Dreams brimming over,
childhood stretched out in legs,
this is the moment replayed on winter days
when frost covers the field,
when age steals away wishes.
Glorious sleep that seeps back there
to the glory of our baseball days.
All is right with the world, the opening of the baseball season has begun. I had the good fortune to watch the Minnesota Twins on opening day on Thursday with one of my best friends, the Twins kicking off the season with a tidy win in 2 hours 18 minutes, Jose Berrios pitching like an ace and Marwin Gonzalez knocked in the only two runs the Twins would need. After the long winter in Minnesota, the green grass of Target Field was a pleasure to behold.
There is a long history of writing and baseball but it is dominated by the prose of sports writers and not poetry. Poetry and baseball feels like it should be a good fit, but somehow the two aren’t a natural double play. I had to look a while to find two poems that I think have the right feel about a game I continue to love.
It’s hard to explain why I like baseball, there is much about the game that is excruciatingly slow, but that is part of its charm. A baseball game is an invitation to a 3 hour conversation with a friend with spurts of drama thrown in around a hot dog and a beer. It doesn’t require 100 percent of your concentration, it allows for a connection with the person(s) you came with and your fellow fans sitting near. A season is not made or lost on the outcome of one game, no matter how well or poorly your team plays. Baseball is a game of sustained excellence, mediocrity and poor play all on the same team in the same year. It’s hard to predict how a team will be coming out of spring training, but I’m optimistic that the Twins are poised to have a better year in 2019 than 2018.
Regardless if you’re a Yankee’s fan, a Dodger fan, a Cubs fan, a Brewer’s fan, a Twin’s fan or any other team’s fan, I hope you find yourself in the seats on a sunny day of your favorite team, take a friend and enjoy the start of a new season.
A Late Elegy For A Baseball Player
By Felix N. Stefanile
He was all back,
his stance was clumsy,
ran like a horse,
smiled with a dimple,
but Time cut him,
as easy as that,
bowled him right over,
muscle and all, for
a crick in his honest back-
the well wrought stallion,
cleats on his shoes,
and a hometown shoulder,
full of country bumps.
We read about Herakles,
and the hairy Samson,
and fake Olympic games;
the whole world boos;
but here’s Big Lou
whom Death bowled over
as the sun rose,
a lazy foul ball,
and a whole generation
of the running boys
pull up, cry loud,
At what Death caught.