O tears, no tears, but rain from beauty’s skies,
Making those lilies and those roses grow,
Which aye most fair, now more than most fair show,
While graceful pity beauty beautifies:
O honeyed sighs, which from that breast do rise,
Whose pants do make unspilling cream to flow,
Winged with whose breath, so pleasing zephyrs blow,
As can refresh the hell where my soul fries:
O plaints, conserved in such a sugared phrase
That eloquence itself envies your praise,
While sobbed-out words a perfect music give:
Such tears, sighs, plaints, no sorrow is but joy;
Or if such heavenly signs must prove annoy,
All mirth farewell, let me in sorrow live.
Happy 100! This is my one-hundredth blog entry. A milestone of sorts and a thank you to those of you that take the time to read it and find a bit of enjoyment in the ramblings of my poetic journey.
What have I learned in 7 months and 100 blog posts? Nothing particularly profound but a few things that you might find interesting. First, I find it fascinating how I have yet to scratch the surface of the depth of the body of sonnets by poets from around the world spanning centuries. I have no idea how long I can keep this blog fresh and interesting, but so far, my obsession has not waned and the pond is still full of colorful poem-fish yet to bite on my curiosity’s line.
Second, I am always surprised by which posts people find interesting and read both when it’s initially posted and then keep coming back to later on. Among the first 99 postings, the two that were most read are titled; How Many Moments Must (Amazing Each) and Gratefulness. What about each of them is interesting and keeps people coming back to them or finding them on their google searches and reading them for the first time? I suspect that the common thread is both are blog posts dealing with poems of inspiration. They are blog posts that are positive and focus on mindfulness. The blog post Gratefulness is unusual in the depth in which I share my inner thoughts around my goal of the mindset of gratitude and welcoming gratefulness as a force capable of shaping my world view.
If you haven’t read either of the posts, type in Gratefulness or How Many Moments Must into the search bar and they will pop right up and you can check out for yourself why they are the most popular posts of the first 100 I have written.
Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my blog. I welcome your feedback. Has this blog introduced you to a new poet or a new poem that you have found memorable?
by William Shakespeare
Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Rise, restive Muse, my love’s sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
If any, be a satire to decay,
And make Time’s spoils despised every where.
Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
So thou prevent’st his scythe and crooked knife.
Éste que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores,
es cauteloso engaño del sentido;
éste en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y, venciendo del tiempo los rigores
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,
es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado;
es una necia diligencia errada,
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.
What you see here is colorful illusion,
an art boasting of beauty and its skill,
which in false reasoning of color will
pervert the mind in delicate delusion.
Here where the flatteries of paint engage
to vitiate the horrors of the years,
where softening the rust of time appears
to triumph over oblivion and age,
all is vain, careful disguise of clothing,
it is a slender blossom in the gale,
it is a futile port for doom reserved,
it is a foolish labor that can only fail:
it is a wasting zeal and, well observed,
is corpse, is dust, is shadow, and is nothing.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was a self-taught scholar, poet and Hieronymite nun. She was born Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana near Mexico City. She was the illegitimate child of a Spanish Captain, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, and a Criollo woman, Isabel Ramírez. She was raised by her Mother and her Mother’s family, her father not a presence in her life.
Her abilities as a savant were evident immediately. She learned how to read and write at the age of three. By age five, she reportedly was accomplished in math and learning biology. At age eight, she composed a poem on the Eucharist. She spent her childhood and adolescence hiding in the chapel to read her grandfather’s books from the adjoining library, something that was forbidden to girls. By 12, she had mastered Greek logic, and at age thirteen she was teaching Latin to young children. During this time she also learned the Aztec language of Nahuatl, and wrote poems in the ancient language.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz wrote about her constant wish as a young woman to be allowed to further her education. In 1664, at age 16, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz went to live in Mexico City. She asked her mother’s permission to disguise herself as a male student so that she could enter the university. Her Mother denied her repeated requests, and not being allowed to do so, she continued her studies privately. She came under the sponsorship of the Vicereine Leonor Carreto, wife of the Viceroy Antonio Sebastián de Toledo. The viceroy, wishing to test the knowledge and intelligence of this 17-year-old, invited several theologians, jurists, philosophers, and poets to a meeting, during which she had to answer, unprepared, many questions on various scientific and literary subjects. Her breadth of knowledge astonished the assembled group and her reputation was made in Mexico City. As her accomplishments grew she garnered fame throughout New Spain. She declined several proposals of marriage and in 1667, she entered a monastery of the Carmelite nuns as a postulant as a way to remain independent and continue learning. She chose not to enter that Order permanently as a result of its strict rules. In 1669, she entered a monastery of the Hieronymite nuns which allowed her more freedom to continue her intellectual pursuits.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was an astonishing intellect and a unique figure for her time. She championed the idea of women’s education taught by women scholars as a path to a more balanced and complete society. Her poetry is notable for its strident intensity on a far range of topics, including erotic lesbian love. Although writing what we would consider same-sex love poems to a benefactor or friend was not uncommon in that period by men or woman, Sor Juana Ines de la cruz made it very clear the depth of her love for the vicereine. Her unconventional nature and intellect became a threat to the male power structure. She conducted a salon from her chambers in the monastery that drew important thinkers of her day in Mexico City in what could be considered equivalent to the intellectual salons of 20th century Paris.
Not surprisingly, she drew critics who felt threatened by her feminist writing. In response, she wrote a letter, in which she defended a woman’s right to education. In response, the Archbishop of Mexico joined other high-ranking officials in condemning Sor Juana’s “waywardness”. By 1693, Sor Juana seemingly ceased writing rather than risk official censure. However, there is no evidence of her renouncing her devotion to working privately, though she agreed to penance. At the end of the her life, she relented from the constant political pressure and sold all her books, an extensive library of over 4,000 volumes, and her musical and scientific instruments as well. She died after ministering to other nuns stricken with plague during an epidemic in April, 1695.
Unfortunately, portions of her writing and poetry was lost, but some was saved in the library of the vicereine. Here are a few snippets of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s brilliance in her own words translated into English.
by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
(Excerpt – final lines of her nearly 1,000 line poem)
Finally, Dusk could see, at last
a vision of the fugitive pass,
and — with her zeal on the mend
from ruin forces a second wind–
and she, in that half globe where the Sun
withdrew the sheltering garrison
rebelling again, makes up her mind
to seize the crown a second time,
while in our hemisphere a skein
of golden Sunlight shines again,
and with its fair judicious light
distributes equally and shares
with all things visible their hues,
and with this restoration makes
the exterior senses operate
more certainly, as daylight breaks
on the illumined World and I – awake.
Translated by Elwin Wirkala
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz response to her critics:
“I do not study in order to write, and even less to teach—which, in me, would be colossal arrogance—but rather only to see if by studying I can be less ignorant. This is my answer and this is what I feel. God graced me with of a gift of an immense love for the truth)—is that since the first light of reason dawned on me my inclination toward letters was so intense and powerful that neither reprimands by others, of which I have had many, nor self-reflection, of which I have done not a little, have been sufficient for me to stop pursuing this natural impulse that God put in me.
God Almighty knows why and for what purpose. And he knows I’ve asked him to snuff out the light of my mind and leave only what’s necessary to keep his commandments. Some would say that any more is too much in a woman, and some even say that it is harmful. The Almighty also knows that, since my request failed, I have tried to bury my intellect along with my name and to sacrifice all this only to the one who gave it to me. For no other reason I entered a religious order even though its duties and fellowship were anathema to the unhindered quietude required by my studious intent…..
Therefore, if the evil lies in verses being used by a woman, we have already seen how many women have used them commendably. Then, what is the problem with me being one? Of course, I confess my baseness and my base, vile nature; but I maintain that no one has ever seen an indecent poem of mine. Moreover, I have never written anything of my own volition, but rather at the request or directive of others. As a result the only thing I recall writing for my own pleasure is a little piece called The Dream.”
Excerpts from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s response to Sor Filotea de la Cruz
You Foolish Men
by Sur Juana Ines de la Cruz
You foolish men who lay
the guilt on women,
not seeing you’re the cause
of the very thing you blame;
if you invite their disdain
with measureless desire
why wish they well behave
if you incite to ill.
You fight their stubbornness,
you say it was their lightness
when it was your guile.
In all your crazy shows
you act like a child
who plays the bogeyman
of which he’s then afraid.
With foolish arrogance
you hope to find a Thais
in her you court, but a Lucretia
when you’ve possessed her.
What kind of mind is odder
than his who mists
a mirror and then complains
that it’s not clear.
Their favour and disdain
you hold in equal state,
if they mistreat, you complain,
you mock if they treat you well.
No woman wins esteem of you:
the most modest is ungrateful
if she refuses to admit you;
yet if she does, she’s loose.
You always are so foolish
your censure is unfair;
one you blame for cruelty
the other for being easy.
What must be her temper
who offends when she’s
ungrateful and wearies
But with the anger and the grief
that your pleasure tells
good luck to her who doesn’t love you
and you go on and complain.
Your lover’s moans give wings
to women’s liberty:
and having made them bad,
you want to find them good.
Who has embraced
the greater blame in passion?
She who, solicited, falls,
or he who, fallen, pleads?
Who is more to blame,
Though either should do wrong?
She who sins for pay
or he who pays to sin?
Why be outraged at the guilt
that is of your own doing?
Have them as you make them
or make them what you will.
Leave off your wooing
and then, with greater cause,
you can blame the passion
of her who comes to court?
Patent is your arrogance
that fights with many weapons
since in promise and insistence
you join world, flesh and devil.
Detente, sombra de mi bien esquivo,
imagen del hechizo que más quiero,
bella ilusión por quien alegre muero,
dulce ficción por quien penosa vivo.
Si al imán de tus gracias, atractivo,
sirve mi pecho de obediente acero,
¿para qué me enamoras lisonjero
si has de burlarme luego fugitivo?
Mas blasonar no puedes, satisfecho,
de que triunfa de mí tu tiranía
que aunque dejas burlado el lazo estrecho
que tu forma fantástica ceñía,
poco importa burlar brazos y pecho
si te labra prisión mi fantasía.
by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651 – 1695)
Stay, shadow of contentment too short-lived,
illusion of enchantment I most prize,
fair image for whom I happily die,
sweet fiction for whom I painfully live.
If to your sweet charms attracted I submit,
obedient, like steel to magnet fly,
by what logic do you flatter and entice,
only to flee, a taunting fugitive?
‘Tis no triumph that you so smugly boast
that I fell victim to your tyranny;
though from encircling bonds that held you fast
your elusive form too readily slipped free,
and though to my arms you are forever lost,
you are a prisoner in my fantasy.
I was in San Miguel de Yendes, Mexico last week on business. I had the good fortune to be traveling and working alongside several local soil scientists discussing the needs for better crop nutrition in Mexico. The diversity of crops and cropping systems in Mexico are remarkable. I was very impressed with the professionalism, deep knowledge and passion of the agronomists, crop consultants and farmers that I met during my trip.
Although my focus for the short trip was business, I hope to return when I have more time to soak up the incredible culture, cuisine and heritage of the two colonial cities I saw briefly. Guanajuato and San Miguel are both UNESCO world heritage sites and amazing places to visit.
I was struck by a simple contrast between the culture of Mexico and the culture of the United States when I exchanged some money for the trip after landing in Leon. A 200 peso note is equivalent approximately to a 10 dollar bill in value and common in circulation. The United States bank notes feature a long line of dead presidents; the ten dollar bill specifically Thomas Jefferson. The Mexican 200 peso note has Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz; a poet, nun, feminist, playwright and one of the most iconic writers of colonial Mexico during the Golden Age of Spanish literature in the 1500 and 1600’s.
This simple contrast illustrates one of the differences in our societies. Mexican culture values the arts and uses their 200 peso banknote to honor their rich cultural history, while the United States showcases a racist slave owner on its ten-dollar bill. Thomas Jefferson may have been an abolitionist from the beginning of the republic, but central to his promotion of ending slavery was the idea of emancipation for all blacks back to Africa, as he did not believe whites and blacks could live peacefully together in the newly formed United States.
Why does the United States only feature dead white ex-presidents, most of whom no longer represent the values of our diverse culture? Other countries change their bank notes with great regularity and use that opportunity to stay abreast of the changing norms and attitudes of their current society. The United States should rethink the images on its currency and the messages they convey, when we cling to outdated political leaders as the only people worthy to be printed on our currency. Maybe it is time Americans take a page from many other countries around the world and showcase poets, painters and cultural icons on their national currency, not just dead, narrow-minded, wealthy, white male politicians.
by Rachel Bluwstein (1890 – 1931)
Perhaps it was never so.
I never woke early and went to the fields
To labor in the sweat of my brow
Nor in the long blazing days
On top of the wagon laden with sheaves,
Made my voice ring with song
Nor bathed myself clean in the calm
Of my Kinneret. O, my Kinneret,
Were you there or did I only dream?
“Ultimately the poems you or anyone will write will be the poems you (or anyone) needs. I always think of this as the blind spot in the totality of verse, a place toward which each of us is driven & where we never quite fully arrive.”
Ron Stillman – University of Iowa Press – 2010.
The House Was Just Twinkling In The Moon Light
by Gertrude Stein
The house was just twinkling in the moon light,
And inside it twinkling with delight,
Is my baby bright.
Twinkling with delight in the house twinkling
with the moonlight,
Bless my baby bless my baby bright,
Bless my baby twinkling with delight,
In the house twinkling in the moon light,
Her hubby dear loves to cheer when he thinks
and he always thinks when he knows and he always
knows that his blessed baby wifey is all here and he
is all hers, and sticks to her like burrs, blessed baby.
Gertrude Stein is quoted as saying “Why do something if it can be done, ” implying that taking risks in originality is a far more satisfying. Stein is an inspiration in creativity; a blazing intellect whose circle of friends were the avant garde in poetry, literature and painting. Her New York Times obituary read in part:
Although Gertrude Stein could and did write intelligibly at times, her distinction rested on her use of words apart from their conventional meaning. Her emphasis on sound rather than sense is illustrated by her oft-quoted “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
Devotees of her cult professed to find her restoring a pristine freshness and rhythm to language. Medical authorities compared her effusions to the rantings of the insane. The Hearst press inquired, “Is Gertrude Stein not Gertrude Stein but somebody else living and talking in the same body?” Sinclair Lewis concluded she was conducting a racket.
I think she would have been pleased to have so bold an accusation in print. Personally, I don’t think that Stein’s poetry is very intriguing, and yet her passionate willingness to be different and to support other writers in their pursuit of originality was her real legacy in my opinion.
T. S. Eliot received heaps of praise and recognition during his lifetime among critics and readers, but silently many of his contemporaries, like William Carlos Williams, were discouraged that he dragged the poetry world backwards, for a short time, towards a more formal style, just as new voices were starting to emerge.
Why did Eliot’s poetry receive such widespread acclaim? What about it made such an immediate impression on the public? Very few poets of the past 100 years have achieved the critical and publishing success that Eliot achieved. I wonder what would be the response to Eliot today? Would there be an avenue for him to critical success or would he be lumped into the category of just another privileged Harvard educated pale, stale, male and find a limited audience for his poetry?
There are some poets whose originality and voice are timeless and others whose fame were only possible in the period in which they lived? Eliot was a bridge from the old to the new. T. S. Eliot success was aided by Ezra Pound’s and Gertrude Stein’s influence and generous support. I have read several places that Ezra Pound should be listed as a co-writer on nearly everything that Elliot published, so through was his editing and suggestions. Unlike Whitman, whose brilliance is timeless, Eliot feels to me like a faded newspaper, whose even strongest prose is brittle and yellowing under the modern glare of more polished contemporary writers. But Eliot wrote poems that filled a need at the time and had the good fortune to be recognized generously for that creativity.
Excerpt from The Waste Land
by T. S. Eliot
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
I have a friend who is a self professed crow by nature. I was fortunate to be under the sway of her good nature and inquisitive spirit during the recent snow storm and it reminded me of Robert Frost’s playful poem. We actually experienced the phenomenon of thunder snow on Friday night, complete with lightning as snow flakes came down.
For as powerful a metaphor that snow provides there are surprisingly few sonnets that have snow as a central character. The most famous is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s sonnet The Cross of Snow, written about the tragic death of his wife Fanny. Its a sad poem that doesn’t fit the humor of this April blizzard, so I rejected it as a fit in favor of Claude McKays more optimistic ode. McKay’s wish for winter to stick around a little longer has been granted here in Minnesota, but fair warning any Frosty the Snowman, temperatures are forecast in the mid 40’s the rest of the week, so the snow will disappear quickly and the robins can get back to building nests.
Our snowfall totals for the year are actually about average, it only felt like 15 feet. For a little good clean snow-white fun, check out Nick Cave’s video below.
by Claude McKay
Stay, season of calm love and soulful snows!
There is a subtle sweetness in the sun,
The ripples on the stream’s breast gaily run,
The wind more boisterously by me blows,
And each succeeding day now longer grows.
The birds a gladder music have begun,
The squirrel, full of mischief and of fun,
From maples’ topmost branch the brown twig throws.
no need for geography
now that we’re safe everywhere.
point to whatever you please
& call it church, home, or sweet love.
paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun.
here, if it grows it knows its place
in history. yesterday, a poplar
told me of old forest
heavy with fruits I’d call uncle
bursting red pulp & set afire,
harvest of dark wind chimes.
after I fell from its limb
it kissed sap into my wound.
do you know what it’s like to live
someplace that loves you back?
Yes, 24 inches of snow on April 15 is a bit extreme for even the heartiest of Minnesotans, but sometimes the places that love us most, must show us tough love too. Truth be told, I have had a wonderful weekend. I wish all of you that live in warm places could experience the fun of a spring snowstorm like yesterday and today. Even though it feels like February, I know this snow won’t last long and spring is just a week or two away.
I spent the last two days with a perfect companion for this kind of unexpected weather. My friend’s love of snow is so completely infectious that I had no choice but to join her in celebration. We didn’t let the weather alter our plans. We ventured out Saturday morning and got where we needed to be in the midst of the worst of it and then got home mid afternoon to make a delicious batch of potato, leek, ham soup. As the snow piled up and winds howled last evening, we feasted on soup, had a glass of wine, (well maybe two), and watched a movie while the blizzard raged.
We awoke to a thick blanket of fresh snow, the most of our entire winter! This is a record-setting snow storm in St. Paul and Minneapolis for April and is not normal for this time of year. Today’s high temperature is 30 degrees below normal. However, one of the refreshing things about a snow storm, any time of year, is it gives you an opportunity for a sense of achievement. My friend and I got up early this morning, made a hearty breakfast (apple-bacon-pannenkoeken) and then shoveled her steps, used the snowblower to clear out her drive way and then performed our good deed for the day by assisting an elderly neighbor down the block. By 10 am we felt like we had accomplished something and earned the right to curl up on the couch for a nap this afternoon.
Pre-nap I am reading the Minneapolis Star Tribune Sunday paper and was pleased to see that Minnesota poet Danez Smith won a rather prestigious award for his sequence of poems titled “Summer, somewhere.” The sequence is from Smith’s collection “Don’t Call Us Dead,” published in 2017 by Graywolf Press. I have included one segment of his prize winning poem above. It seems rather fitting given today’s weather. To answer his question in the final stanza of the excerpt I have included; I do know what it is like to live someplace that loves me back. It’s why Minneapolis is my home, the same as Danez Smith.
To read a longer excerpt from his poem, or listen to Smith give a reading, check out the link below to Poetry Magazine.
Here’s the recipe I used to whip up this morning’s breakfast.
Apple Bacon Pannenkoeken
(serves 2, if you are shoveling snow…)
3/4 cup of flour
3/4 cup of milk (or half and half if that is all you have)
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 medium apples (peeled, seeded and diced)
2 tablespoons of butter
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix eggs, flour, milk sugar, salt together. Fold in apples. Pick out large skillet (I used a 12 inch flat bottom with 2 inch sides). Melt butter in skillet and add mixture and put in hot oven. (Bake for 20 to 25 minutes)
While its baking – make your toppings.
5 slices bacon
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon
(mystery season of your choosing – I used a pinch of cloves and a dash of cardamom).
Drizzle of Maple syrup
While the pannenkoeken has started baking, cook your bacon – remove from heat, pat free of excess grease on a paper towel and cut up into desired sized pieces. Mix your seasonings together. Pull out your pan from oven with about 10 minutes left and add your bacon and brown sugar/cinnamon/spice topping. Dollop with a drizzle of maple syrup. Put back in oven and finish baking.
A pannenkoeken has a kind of crepe-like consistency. The bacon and apple give it something for you to chew on and the rest is sheer warm egg fluffy delight. This dish is so good you’ll wish it was snowing outside to ease your conscience for eating the entire thing so that you could go out and work off a few of the calories by shoveling.
The greatest physicists rewrite the rules of our universe to fit not only what is observable but what is possible. Many of their experiments take place solely as thought experiments, our ability to test their theories beyond our scientific capability. They use creativity to expand our understanding. Isn’t that what poets do as well?
Einstein’s theory of relativity says essentially that all motion must be defined relative to a frame of reference, that space and time are relative, rather than absolute concepts. There’s lots of other mumbo-jumbo about speed of light in a vacuum and gravity bending in space near black holes, but the idea that time and space are relative is a concept explored by artists as well and part of what the humanities does in a different way. In reading a sonnet or poem from 300 years ago, a 1,000 years ago, we realize what it is to be human is the same now as it was then, space and time are relative.
Sarah Howe wrote a sonnet for Stephen Hawking and sent it to him. Her inspiration his book A Brief History of Time which came out in 1988. It sounds like she may share my obsession with sonnets if they have a gravitational pull for her….
In formal terms, “Relativity” is a sonnet, a form I started to think of as a sort of black hole exerting its own gravitational pull, compressing an everywhere into its little room. Yet my sonnet starts with light not as it exists in the large-scale world of gravity but at the subatomic level of quantum physics. It is the grail of contemporary physicists to make these two irreconcilable theories speak to one another.
Sarah Howe, Paris Review. October 2015
Try following my advice, the rules of Poetry Night (See my earlier blog post). Read the following sonnet twice. The first time, read it like a scientist, thinking about how the words relate to the rules of physics and specifically the untestable theory of relativity. The second time read it like a lover, thinking about how the words relate to explaining the mystery of love. Then ask yourself; which one makes more sense to you?
Bonus Points: Check out the link for the marvelous reading by Stephen Hawking himself. Its good stuff and a kick in the pants that it was recorded for National Poetry Day. Think Like a Poet!
Stephen Hawking reads Relativity by Sarah Howe
by Sarah Howe
for Stephen Hawking
When we wake up brushed by panic in the dark
our pupils grope for the shape of things we know.
Photons loosed from slits like greyhounds at the track
reveal light’s doubleness in their cast shadows
that stripe a dimmed lab’s wall—particles no more—
and with a wave bid all certainties goodbye.
For what’s sure in a universe that dopplers
away like a siren’s midnight cry? They say
a flash seen from on and off a hurtling train
will explain why time dilates like a perfect
afternoon; predicts black holes where parallel lines
will meet, whose stark horizon even starlight,
bent in its tracks, can’t resist. If we can think
this far, might not our eyes adjust to the dark?
And yet one arrives somehow, finds himself loosening the hooks of her dress in a strange bedroom— feels the autumn dropping its silk and linen leaves about her ankles. The tawdry veined body emerges twisted upon itself like a winter wind . . . !
There is a tradition in poetry which I admire; that being established poets mentoring the next generation of poets who are pushing the current boundaries of poetry. Many of my favorite poets have maintained a wide circle of friendships, and provided encouragement and criticism to new writers, helping them to hone their craft.
William Carlos Williams is an example and maintained correspondence and friendships with many poets, including Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Charles Abbott, James Laughlin, Louis Zukofsky, and Denise Levertov to name a few. Levertov, a disciple of Williams’ Imagist style, wrote him an admiring letter when she was young, and included several of her poems. Williams wrote back, providing validation and the most generous act of all, suggested edits, to help refine her writing technique.
Levertov penned an interesting explanation of why modern poetry evolved in the 20th century beyond the confines of more formal metrical structure like sonnets. In it she wrote:
“.….I do not mean to imply that I consider modern, nonmetrical poetry “better” or “superior” to the great poetry of the past, which I love and honor. That would obviously be absurd. But I do feel that there are few poets today whose sensibility naturally expresses itself in the traditional forms…The closed, contained quality of such forms has less relation to the relativistic sense of life which unavoidably prevails in the late twentieth century than modes that are more exploratory, more open-ended. A sonnet may end with a question; but its essential,underlying structure arrives at conclusion. “Open forms” do not necessarily terminate inconclusively, but their degree of conclusion is–structurally, and thereby expressively–less pronounced, and partakes of the open quality of the whole…The forms more apt to express the sensibility of our age are the exploratory, open ones.”
Excerpt from The Function of The Line, 1979. Yale University Press.
It is an interesting idea, that the poets of the 20th and now 21 century have left structure and rhyme behind because there are no answers to the madness that befalls this world on a daily basis. But there’s always been madness. And in my opinion, if poetry lacks beauty, in some form, it lacks a timeless quality that is the cornerstone of verse that survives its epoch. As readers we toy with darkness and enjoy rolling in the mud from time to time, but’s its the light of poetry that is the bread of life for our souls. Its why, when I ask someone, do you have a favorite poem, the answer if yes, is more often than not, a metrical rhyming poem. A poem where there is a reassurance of an answer. Poems where there is something concrete in meaning or imagery for the reader to find, not words that were by design to be elusive, there is something for the reader to hold on to.
Wallace Stevens’ legacy is primarily his originality of free verse, but he wrote beautifully in traditional forms as well, even if he found “it sounded like the rise, of distant echo from dead melody, soft as a song heard far in Paradise.”
by Wallace Stevens
Lo, even as I passed beside the booth
Of roses, and beheld them brightly twine
To damask heights, taking them as a sign
Of my own self still unconcerned with truth;
Even as I held up in hands uncouth
And drained with joy the golden-bodied wine,
Deeming it half-unworthy, half divine,
From out the sweet-rimmed goblet of my youth.
Even in that pure hour I heard the tone
Of grievous music stir in memory,
Telling me of the time already flown
From my first youth. It sounded like the rise
Of distant echo from dead melody,
Soft as a song heard far in Paradise.