Bid Them Be Patient, No More

Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen

Anthem For Doomed Youth

by Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
–The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

It’s Veteran’s Day, November 12, a day of red-orange poppies on lapels.  My Grandfather served in both World War I and World War II, his skills as a civil engineer well regarded in wartime.   There is an obvious ridiculous irony in that fact.

What did we learn from the war to end all wars?  How do we honor our veterans, those that fought and those that sacrificed their lives?  Do we honor them by making it legal to own in peace time the very munitions used to kill their enemies on the field of battle?  Is gun ownership the hope of soldiers who come home?  Or do they wish for the guns of war to fall silent?

We celebrate this Veteran’s Day in the shadow of another senseless mass shooting with 26 lost lives in Texas.  Some politicians say it is not time to talk of gun control after Las Vegas, after Sutherland Springs.  Instead, these politicians choose to serve the interests of weapons manufacturers and the shrinking minority that want assault rifles to remain legal.  When will it be time to talk of sensible gun laws? Are we at an impasse where meaningful change in our gun culture is impossible? I don’t believe anything is impossible.  I believe that honoring our veterans can co-exist with laws that make the guns of war illegal and inaccessible in our communities of peace.  I say it’s possible to keep bolt action hunting rifles legal and make semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifles illegal, along with the extended clips and bump stocks that can easily modify them into machine guns. I say that bringing home a war mongering culture of death after the armistice is not the cause for which soldiers fought and died.  I say, bid them be patient, no more.

The poppy as a symbol of remembrance comes from the poem In Flanders Fields,  by John McCrae.  McCrae was a battlefield doctor who did not see the end of the World War I.  The Anxious Dead was the last poem he wrote before he died from a severe asthma attack.

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John McCrae

The Anxious Dead

by John McCrae (1872-1918)

O guns, fall silent till the dead men hear
Above their heads the legions pressing on:
(These fought their fight in time of bitter fear,
And died not knowing how the day had gone.)

O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see
The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar;
Then let your mighty chorus witness be
To them, and Caesar, that we still make war.

Tell them, O guns, that we have heard their call,
That we have sworn, and will not turn aside,
That we will onward till we win or fall,
That we will keep the faith for which they died.

Bid them be patient, and some day, anon,
They shall feel earth enwrapt in silence deep;
Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn,
And in content may turn them to their sleep.

A Rich Unplanned Life

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Hope Is Not For The Wise

By Robinson Jeffers

Hope is not for the wise, fear is for fools;
Change and the world, we think, are racing to a fall,
Open-eyed and helpless, in every newcast that is the news;
The time’s events would seem mere chaos but all
Drift the one deadly direction. But this is only
The August thunder of the age, not the November.
Wise men hope nothing, the wise are naturally lonely
And think November as good as April, the wise remember
That Caesar and even final Augustulus had heir,
And men lived on; rich unplanned life on earth
After the foreign war and the civil wars, the border wars
And the barbarians: music and religion, honor and mirth
Renewed life’s lost enchantments.  But if life even
Had perished utterly, Oh perfect loveliness of earth and heaven.

 

Poetry often reminds me how little has changed in 100 years.   The issues that Jeffers was writing about in the 1920’s and 1930’s could be lifted from today’s headlines.

I honestly don’t know what to think of Robinson Jeffers.  Sonnets make up a small part of the larger body of his work and unfortunately, Jeffer’s style in most of his poems is not one that I am overly attracted.  However he has several poems that I am fond. In the poem Song of Quietness, he brings the California coast of Carmel where he lived come alive in the way that only the rumbling Pacific ocean can bring solitude on its rocky beaches with the opening lines:

“Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
And on the margins of the sea…”

Robinson was a man of passion and he focused on a creating a poetic vision in which nature is beyond the indentured servitude of man’s unquenchable thirst for exploitation and destruction.  He inspired writers, preservationists, ecologists and the reading public to think of nature as not only natural resources but also to see the beauty in the existence of wild spaces that can be untouched by man, whether that is in our hearts or in a redwood forest.

The Female Right To Literature

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Autumn Leaves

by Anna Seward

Behold that tree in autumn’s dim decay,
Stripped by the frequent chill and eddying wind;
Where yet some yellow lonely leaves we find
Lingering and trembling on the naked spray,
Twenty, perchance, for millions whirled away!
Emblem–alas too just!–of human kind:
Vain man expects longevity, designed
For few indeed; and their protracted day
–What is it worth that wisdom does not scorn?
The blasts of sickness, care, and grief appal,
That laid the friends in dust, whose natal morn
Rose near their own!–and solemn is the call;
Yet, like those weak, deserted leaves forlorn,
Shivering they cling to life and fear to fall.

Anna Seward had the good fortune to have a “room of one’s own” in every fashion that Virginia Wolf articulated brilliantly 150 years later. Anna was born into a liberal, relatively wealthy educated family and remained resolutely single her entire life.  Her father Thomas Seward, was a clergyman who wrote the poem “The Female Right To Literature” in which he penned:

Come then, Athenia, freely let us scan
The coward insults of that tyrant, man.
Self-prais’d, and grasping at despotick pow’r,
He looks on slav’ry as the female dow’r;

Go Thomas!   She inherited an income of 400 pounds a year after her father’s death and had the good sense to spend it on herself.   She traveled in eclectic circles with Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin,  and Sir Walter Scott both close friends.  Sir Walter Scott edited the complete anthology of her poetry in three volumes and oversaw it’s publishing following her death. Seward’s sonnets mix religious themes with the natural world or observations of everyday life. I have a feeling her Father and Sir Walter Scott would both be quite pleased that her poetry is still being read and enjoyed 200 years after her death.

Lucy Ashton’s Song

By Sir Walter Scott

Look not thou on beauty’s charming;
Sit thou still when kings are arming;
Taste not when the wine-cup glistens;
Speak not when the people listens;
Stop thine ear against the singer;
From the red gold keep thy finger;
Vacant heart and hand and eye,
Easy live and quiet die.

More Worth Than Gold

Anna Seward

December Morning

by Anna Seward

1742-1809

I love to rise ere gleams the tardy light,
Winter’s pale dawn; and as warm fires illume,
And cheerful tapers shine around the room,
Through misty windows bend the musing sight
Where, round the dusky lawn, the mansions white,
With shutters closed, peer faintly through the gloom,
That slow recedes; while yon gray spires assume,
Rising from their dark pile, an added height
By indistinctness given. Then to decree
The grateful thoughts to God, ere they unfold
To friendship or the Muse, or seek with glee
Wisdom’s rich page. Oh, hours more worth than gold
By whose blest use we lengthen life, and, free
From drear decays of age, outlive the old.

 

William Walond (1719 – 1768)  Voluntary V in G Major Op. 1 (1752)

There is an advantage to being an amateur and not having a degree in English; literature remains a source of constant surprise. I don’t have the baggage of thinking I know very much and since my interest in sonnets is pure entertainment, I have no ponderous academic credentials weighing me down in my free time.  The internet makes it possible for me to uncover sonnets from throughout history with only a dogged curiosity required.

I discovered Anna Seward long before I wrote Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted. In the drafts of my sonnet I was careful to avoid any connection to December Morning.  As time went on I kept coming back to both poems. Originally I concluded mine with a different couplet at the end.  It was forced and wasn’t what I wanted to say.  I felt like I was creating an unnecessary barrier. Literature is filled with conscious and unconscious connections to writers work that have come before. The idea of originality can be debated endlessly with someone always able to point to the step in history upon which the avant-garde have risen.

I finally relented and consciously created a connection between the sonnets with the ending and the word illumine.  An old garret in England the perfect fictional setting for thinking back upon the end of a love affair within a modern sonnet.

Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted

by T. A. Fry

I think of you, writing late in the nightfall
Revering your muse, as no other may place
Claims to a heart.  Forever a rightful
Palace of dreams,  once my saving grace.
What’s mine is yours,  our auspices blessed
By memories of loving which illumine my soul.
On Darkest Night(s) as you slowly undress,
recall my touch, though its loss be a toll.

Come gallant ghosts, lay down by my side
Undaunted: whisper poems long written for me.
Their haunting passion shall always reside
Deep in bruised hearts, a grand larceny.
Timeless this beauty, in mind’s eye I hold,  
The feel of your lips and outlive the old.

Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted

IMG_1557I have ghosts on my mind this week,  with Halloween, The Day of the Dead and All Saints Day all swirling beneath the surface.  A good yarn, which is all any poem should aspire, at least the ones that keep my attention, require some truth,  a truth worth tending.   The question is always how much truth comes from a writer’s imagination and how much from their experience?  Truth in literature may be fabricated entirely.   An empathetic phrase by which we catch a collective breath of understanding.

I write primarily in first person.   I realize that this may create confusion for anyone who knows me personally and chooses to view the narrative as literal.   What is real and what is not real?  Isn’t that the cloak behind which all writers hide and invent a reality worthy of putting to paper.

We don’t have Shakespeare’s blog or twitter feed to gain further insights into his poetry.  He left the interpretation of his writing to the reader.   But make no mistake,  Love plays a role in all this business. A most generous Love, a Love that both clasps hearts in irons and springs the lock of freedom.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, in my view, is a mirror in which to view myself.   Yes, it is hubris to put one of my sonnets alongside Shakespeare’s and pretend they belong in the same space.  But then isn’t it hubris that drives any of us to write in the first place?   My sonnet, Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted, was written during the tail spin of a relationship. It is a fictional Polaroid of a future yet to be experienced, but hoped for with an optimism of forgiveness.  I was delusional.  Hell hath no fury…..

It is a connection to a beginning and an homage to the role that poetry played throughout our relationship.  I am fully aware that the last few words are identical to a sonnet from the 1700s.   I will share the story behind that fact in the next blog.

Sonnet 29

By William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 

 

Gallant Ghosts, Undaunted

by T. A. Fry

I think of you, writing late in the nightfall
Revering your muse, as no other may place
Claims to a heart, forever a rightful
Palace of dreams,  once my saving grace.
What’s mine is yours,  our auspices blessed
By memories of loving which illumine my soul.
On Darkest Night(s) as you slowly undress,
Recall my touch, though its loss be a toll.

Come gallant ghosts, lay down by my side
Undaunted: whisper poems long written for me.
Their haunting passion shall always reside
Deep in bruised hearts, a grand larceny.
Timeless this beauty, in mind’s eye I hold,  
The feel of your lips and outlive the old.

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She, To Him

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She, To Him

by Thomas Hardy

When you shall see me in the toils of Time,
My lauded beauties carried off from me,
My eyes no longer stars as in their prime,
My name forgot of Maiden Fair and Free;
When, in your being, heart concedes to mind,
And judgment, though you scarce its process know,
Recalls the excellencies I once enshrined,
And you are irked that they have withered so;
Remembering mine the loss is, not the blame,
That Sportsman Time but rears his brood to kill,
Knowing me in my soul the very same
One who would die to spare you touch of ill!
Will you not grant to old affection’s claim
The hand of friendship down Life’s sunless hill?