What Good Is Logic When Hearts Yearn For Glory?

The Bather
Downtown Toledo, Ohio on the Maumee River

Peace Lasting

by T. A. Fry

Where do I sail to find a peace lasting?
Before the sunrise, beneath rosy skies.
A calm to break my keen heart’s fasting.
An unexpected surprise, in your arms to lie.

Let’s leave these fierce seas for a safer bastion.
This bed our keep, your kiss a vise.
Enjoy this moment lest it be our last one,
Either awake or asleep, love has its price.

What be the truth with but faith to carry?
Don’t question why, hold fast to grace.
Unfold your heart be it ever so wary.
Our tenderness shy,  only hope to embrace.

What good is logic when hearts yearn for glory?
I’ll dream these dreams, scheme my schemes.
Your hand on my face, the simplest of stories,
As your smile gleams, love’s brightest beams.

Lying side by side we could shelter forever,
A harbor, this union; two bodies entwined.
Let us pray even death is unable to sever
this communion of souls,  together enshrined.

As my warmth enfolds you above the waves beating,
time inches forward, alone I awake.
Your memory sustains me.  Our passion though fleeting,
turned sailor from coward, unmoored fear from its stake.

Serene,  I lay silent, daydreaming your presence,
recalling past loving when we slipped our skin.
I ask of no one, to grant me my essence, or
becalm my peace roving, there you are, once again.


 

I wrote the first stanza of this poem, in my head, while out for a walk on a September day in 2014 before the sun had risen above the horizon along the Maumee River in downtown Toledo, Ohio. I was making my way down the river front and came across the abandoned coal-fired Edison Electric plant that is of some historical importance but not enough to save it from dereliction. A ground hog was having some breakfast in the grass and I stopped to keep him company. It made me look around and take stock of my surroundings. Near the relic is a beautiful life-like bronze statue of a woman, sitting atop a ships mooring. Slightly upstream from her, on that particular morning, was a dock at water level that was covered in sleeping sea gulls. The bronze statue of the naked young woman looked to me to be searching the horizon. Her hand to her face, her knee raised, she was looking out over the river, as a bather, a lover, or an adventurer, day-dreaming and my inspiration.

Either she or the ground hog was my muse that morning, at least for the first 4 lines. I wrote this poem before my obsession with sonnets had begun. It would be many weeks later until a workable draft of this poem would emerge and several months before the finished version would take hold.

I am always fascinated by how some poetry flows when read aloud and some, like much of John Berryman’s or Donald Hall’s is clunky or stilted, the words preferring the silence of an inner reading voice to match the dialogue of the poets mind as it was written.  Peace Lasting is a poem that I recommend reading aloud. I took great care in word-smithing every line to insure it flowed, in meter, in word selection and in rhyme. The idea of word-smithing, like a blacksmith, is something I take very seriously as a writer. I wonder sometimes if readers understand this and see in poetry a glimpse of the writer, writing like they have a piece of red hot iron in tongs, too hot to touch directly with their hands, a writing instrument separating the words from their flesh, heating it, beating on it, re-heating, shaping, forming through fire, as if the words on the paper are being flattened on an anvil at the forge, until its finally ready to be quenched and solidified.  Peace Lasting is about the quiet resonance of past and current relationships in our dream state of waking.


Time Does Not Bring Relief

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!

There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,–so with his memory they brim!
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!


© T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face

untitled-1937-8
Untitled 1937 – Pablo Picasso

Sonnet For September 27

by Jack Prelutsky

How wonderful that you have recognized
That poetry for children has great worth,
And is a part of being civilized,
Of being human on our planet Earth.
Soon after people first began to speak,
They put their thoughts and feeling into rhyme.
In this they were, and we are now, unique,
And may be so until the end of time.
We celebrate, upon this autumn night
That fledgling of the literary arts
Which crafts its words with wonder and delight
To open children’s minds and touch their hearts.
With gratitude, and true humility,

I thank you all for being here with me.

 


For most of us, our first introduction to poetry are nursery rhymes and rhyming children’s books. It’s a shame then, we grow up and forget about humor in poetry. I think there is a misconception that poetry is a very serious business. I think that misconception arises from the fact that so many poets write about such gloomy themes and the humor is dark. In the past 5 years, I have gotten a whole new perspective on reading poetry by writing poetry. I have come to realize that humor abounds, but you have to understand that poets often embed the humor as an inside joke and unless you know something about their personal life the joke is often missed.

Let’s take Wallace Stevens as an example. The guy was a lawyer for gosh sake, who worked in the insurance business, about the least humorous of professions, he looks scary in every photograph ever taken of him and his wife didn’t consider him to be funny one bit. But read this poem and tell me how you can’t find the humor in it if you approach it as a poem that is meant to be funny.

The Rabbit As King of The Ghosts

by Wallace Stevens

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When shapless shadows covers the sun
And nothing is left excpet light on your fur –

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of.  It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself.  The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone-
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

In my opinion sonnets by their very nature have a bit of whimsy and humor.  First its the rather strict construction that puts the poet on the defensive right from the start, so a bit of word play and humor is almost inevitable to break the tension of writing the darn thing.  Second, they are rather short in terms of space so they are a bit like writing punch lines. The poet has to get to the joke fast, so it’s generally a little easier to spot. Third, I think people who are really talented at writing sonnets generally see the world from a twisted perspective and they have left little clues hidden all through their writing as to their sense of humor. If you don’t believe me, read all of Shakespeare’s sonnets from a perspective that this is one big joke on his part, not serious English hoity toity literature, and I think you’ll find it a much more enjoyable experience.

If you are still left mystified by poetry and generally bamboozled by where the humor is hiding, then just head to a poet who leads with humor right from the start. You can’t miss the humor in Robert Service, Ogden Nash, Shel Silverstein, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde or Jack Prelutsky poems. But then don’t make the second mistake of thinking that their humorous poetry isn’t deadly serious.

If you have a favorite funny poem that doesn’t start with “There once was a man from Nantucket”, I would love to hear from you.   Drop me a line in the comments section with your recommendation or even better share it in its entirety.


 

Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face

by Jack Prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place—
be glad your nose is on your face!

 

My Thoughts Collapse Before The Hue

 

New Mexico Motel

The William Carlos Williams Motel Sonnet

by Luke Davies

The blue becomes you, mate; the day
becomes your sensibility.

(The motel room in Santa Fe
imagines the immense green sea –

and worse the knotty crodile
that lies and blinks upon the Nile

is resurrected in my head.)
The vase of flowers by my bed.

The light seeps in at dawn; the blue
pervades like shaded maganese.

My thoughts collapse before the hue
shed light upon your bare blue knees.

The ruffled sheet, the sun, your head.
The vase of flowers by the bed.


 

I am always intrigued by the mystery of why a poet intentionally connects his own work to another poet’s work.  The lines, “and worse the knotty crodile/that lies and blinks upon the Nile” are taken from R. L. Stevenson’s poem Travel in A Child’s Garden of Verse. Davies is an Australian, and if some part of his poem originated from a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, then it makes sense as a traveler he may have drawn upon Stevenson’s imaginative verse for inspiration. That Davies choose that line specifically adds a sense of childhood awe to the imagery he creates.

As a child growing up I was fortunate to have parents that took us on long car camp trips.  One of the epic trips was a three-week excursion when I was six years old that took us from Minnesota to Oregon, to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to Arizona, to Durango, Colorado and then back to Minnesota. Along the way we stopped at every National Park, or at least it seemed that way, often pitching our green canvas Coleman tent for the night.

The visit to the Grand Canyon on that trip remains the one and only time I have been there.  But believe it or not that was not the highlight for me of the National Parks in Arizona.  The little known Petrified Forest was to a little boy who still loves to find agates, the most mind-blowing side excursion of that trip. The petrified forest has these amazing specimens of literally entire tree trunks that over time were replaced by a kaleidoscope of minerals, turning them into literally semi precious gigantic stones that whether natural or polished were astonishing. As an adult, I have found a few small pieces of petrified wood in various places in the west, but nothing as colorful or spectacular as what was on display at the National Park.

Petrified wood
Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

How do we retain our sense of awe in travel that so filled our imagination when we were young?  I think the key is to always take the side trip, slow down and pick up a rock or two.  You never know what you might find.


Travel

By Robert Louis Stevenson

I should like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow;—
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie,
And, watched by cockatoos and goats,
Lonely Crusoes building boats;—
Where in sunshine reaching out
Eastern cities, miles about,
Are with mosque and minaret
Among sandy gardens set,
And the rich goods from near and far
Hang for sale in the bazaar;—
Where the Great Wall round China goes,
And on one side the desert blows,
And with bell and voice and drum,
Cities on the other hum;—
Where are forests, hot as fire,
Wide as England, tall as a spire,
Full of apes and cocoa-nuts

cover

And the negro hunters’ huts;—
Where the knotty crocodile
Lies and blinks in the Nile,
And the red flamingo flies
Hunting fish before his eyes;—
Where in jungles, near and far,
Man-devouring tigers are,
Lying close and giving ear
Lest the hunt be drawing near,
Or a comer-by be seen
Swinging in a palanquin;—
Where among the desert sands
Some deserted city stands,
All its children, sweep and prince,
Grown to manhood ages since,
Not a foot in street or house,
Not a stir of child or mouse,
And when kindly falls the night,
In all the town no spark of light.
There I’ll come when I’m a man
With a camel caravan;
Light a fire in the gloom
Of some dusty dining-room;
See the pictures on the walls,
Heroes, fights, and festivals;
And in a corner find the toys
Of the old Egyptian boys.

If Design Govern In A Thing So Small

SpiderWeb

Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet,
eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider, who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Nursery Rhyme

Design

by Randall Jarrell

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth
And dead wings carried like a paper kite

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height, …
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall? —
If design govern in a thing so small.

 

 

If It Looks None Too Orderly Today

Manifest destiny
American Progress by John Gast (1872)

 “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,”

John F. Kennedy’s Call To Service during 1960 Inauguration

 

The Gift Outright

by Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

 


President Trump’s limited vocabulary and hate mongering is a stark contrast to the eloquence of former Presidents who strove through the power of their bully pulpit to inspire everyday Americans.  In a little over a 1,000 days, John F. Kennedy, delivered some of the most powerful speeches of the 20th Century.  Kennedy used his short time in office to create a vision of change that included everyone, not just in America, but around the world.  His famous line; My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, is recognized by most of us,  but the second part of that quote is less remembered. Kennedy doubled down and asked immediately afterward; My fellow citizens of the World, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man?

Yes, indeed, what together can we do for the freedom of human beings?  A great question during a time when the United States government has authorized taking away children from their parents and putting them in concentration camps and our collective moral outrage has not yet, been enough to sway the course of our political destiny and right this leaky, floundering ship of our democracy.

A little known fact, is that shortly after Kennedy delivered those iconic lines, a first occurred in a Presidential inauguration. President Kennedy had asked a poet, Robert Frost, to deliver a poem that he had specifically written for the occasion called Dedication.  It was a first time a poet was part of the inauguration program. But when Frost stepped to the podium, the sun was so blinding that the 86-year-old couldn’t read his own hand writing. So instead, he delivered his sonnet, The Gift Outright, from memory.

Great speakers understand that their words are only part of the way we communicate. In fact communication experts say that words make up about 10% of the way humans communicate with each other. The remaining 90%, is conferred through tone, inflection, body language, emotion and authenticity (reputation). So what is a poet to do, when words are all they have to work with on the page?  Choose them wisely, is the answer; And on this noon-day’s beginning hour, begin a golden age of poetry and power!


Dedication

By Robert Frost
(The undelivered poem at Kennedy’s Inaguration).

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry’s old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgment I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country’d be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded His approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood–
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison–
So much they knew as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what now appears
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
“New order of the ages” did we say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
‘Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom’s story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an’s and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right divine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

 

If Thou Catch Thy Hope

file-6 (6)

“If you want to fly,

Give up everything that weighs you down….”

Anonymous meme

Hope Is The Thing With Feathers

By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.


I am fascinated by the culture of memes that exists on social media. I know people for whom memes are an important way that they create a positive mindset each morning. They search out a meme shared by one of their group of friends on Facebook as a way to optimistically start their day. Or find one and proudly post it as a way to inspire themselves and their 586 Facebook friends.

In my opinion, meme’s only have the illusion of being profound. Under the veneer of wisdom is something a little vacuous. Does it make me a bad person that I am a thumbsdowner of memes? I worry that we have lost something when wisdom has to come in a form, so bite size and trivial, that it is completely removed from the context from which it arose.   Oh well, to all the lovers of memes, Meme Out and leave us poor curmudgeons off your DL.

I am, however, not a cynic when it comes to Hope.  Hope is the fuel that drives most of us to work on Monday mornings. Hope is the glue that holds relationships together. Hope is the future that may never arrive but looks good in the distance. Hope is embedded in love that parents have for their children.

I like the contrast between these two poems. Hope is a feathered thing for Emily and for William the feathered thing is the child we chase after.  I think they both got it right.


Sonnet 143

by William Shakespeare
Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe and makes all swift dispatch
In púrsuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent:
So run’st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee afar behind.
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother’s part, kiss me, be kind.
  So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
  If thou turn back and my loud crying still.

El Grito

Father Hildalgo
Miguel Hildago y Costilla – The Father of the Mexican Revolution

Anonymous Sonnet written in honor of Augustin I, the first Consitutional Emperor of Mexico following the revolution.

Por un espacio de trescientos años
este Imperio sufrió duras cadenas,
y en un profundo piélago de penas
sumergido se vió por los extraños.
No puede ya sufrir males tamaños:
no quiere obedecer leyes agenas,
solo las propias le podrán ser buenas
como que ellas de cerca ven los daños.
Produce un hijo lleno de clemencia
que embotando su espada por la Union,
jura asi sostener su independencia
y nuestra augusta santa Religion.
Lo observa todo, y se hace sin violencia
un Héroe superior a Washington.

Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla was a Roman Catholic priest from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico.   Father Hildalgo rallied  the country against the French with a famous speech called El Grito de Dolores, on September 16, 1810. Ordering the church bells to be rung, Hidalgo cried out to the native Mexicans and the lower classes, urging them to stand up and take back the land and their independence.

“My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once. I ask you to join my Reconquísta, to fight at the side of our legitimate ruler, King Ferdinand VII of Spain! I cannot speak longer, for all is being done in great haste and I must go!’ Then, his eyes flashing, he cried, ‘Death to the Gauchupines! Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! Down with bad government! Now let us go and seize the Gauchupines! Long live Mexico!

Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla

There is nothing like a Priest swearing to get everyone’s attention. Hearing Hidalgo’s shocking slang for the Spanish-born ruling class, the crowd took up the cry. Within minutes, the town’s regiment defected en masse to support Captain Allende and the working class mob joined them with torches and machetes. After three centuries of Spanish rule in Mexico, the ruling class had split into a class hierarchy of two levels: the Gachupines (Spanish born aristocrats) at the top and the Criollos (Mexican-born Spaniards) just below.

Before the night of Hidalgo’s cry, a movement of political revolution had already begun when Napoleon conquered Spain. The Criollos, of whom Hidalgo was a member, saw this instability as an opportunity to overthrow the Gachupines. They had planned to begin their push for power in December of 1810; however, the Criollos were betrayed, and Hidalgo was forced to make a quick decision – flee to safety and begin forming a new plot or turn to his parish, hungry for freedom from Spain altogether, and seize the opportunity to spark a true revolution for independence. Choosing to stay and fight, Hidalgo sped to his church, ordered the bells to rung, and delivered the famous cry that is heard round Mexico just before midnight: “Long live México!”

Jose Alfredo Jiminez was born in the city of Dolores Hildago, Guanajuato in 1926.  He became a singer, actor and performer whose songs are part of the core of todays marachi tradition.  He was charismatic,  a great song writer and a tireless performer, he was the Elvis of Mexico in his day, writing and performing songs that defined a generation.

When I visited Guanajuato and San Miguel de Yendes earlier this year, I was riding in a car with a Chilean and a Guatemalan and both burst into this song as we climbed out of the valley and left the town of Dolores Hildago behind.  Long Live Mexico!

Camino de Guanajuato

by Jose Alfredo Jiminez

No vale nada la vida,
la vida no vale nada,
comienza siempre llorando
y así llorando se acaba.
Por eso es que en este mundo
¡la vida no vale nada!
Bonito León Guanajuato,
su feria con su jugada,
allí se apuesta la vida
y se respeta al que gana.
Allá en mi León Guanajuato
¡la vida no vale nada!
Camino de Guanajuato
que pasas por tanto pueblo,
no pases por Salamanca
que allí me hiere el recuerdo.
Vete rodeando veredas
¡no pases porque me muero!
El cristo de tu montaña
del Cerro del Cubilete,
consuelo de los que sufren
adoración de la gente.
El Cristo de tu montaña
del Cerro del Cubilete.
Camino de Santa Rosa
la Sierra de Guanajuato,
allí nomás tras Lomita
se ve Dolores Hidalgo.
Yo allí me quedo paisanos
allí es mi pueblo adorado

Guanajuato’s Road

Worthless is life,
Life is absolutely worthless.
It always starts with crying
And, like that, with crying it ends.
That’s why, in this world,
Life is absolutely worthless!
Beautiful León, Guanajuato,
Its fair with its gambling,
There, one’s life is the bet,
And the one who wins, is respected.
There, in my León, Guanajuato,
Life is absolutely worthless!
Road to Guanajuato
That goes through so many villages,
Don’t go through Salamanca
It hurts me with memories.
Go by way of surrounding paths,
I can’t go through, because I’ll die!
The Christ of your mountain
In Cerro del Cubilete,
Is comfort for those who suffer,
Adoration of the people.
The Christ of your mountain
in Cerro del Cubilete.
In the way to Santa Rosa
In the Range of Guanajuato,
Right there, behind the slope
You’ll find Dolores Hidalgo.
There I will stay, friends,
There is my beloved homeland.

Crazy Blood Was Leading Me To You

Anna-Akhmatova
Anna Ahkmatova (1889 – 1966)

I Dwell In Possibility

by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –


For a poet that has a historical reputation of being a celibate, god fearing, old maid, Emily Dickinson brings a sensuality to her writing that few can match.  I hope E. D. had a secret lover, a passion which hid neatly in her small town, beneath everyone’s nose, for it sure seems like she understood all matters and qualities of paradise.

Anna Gorenko, known under her pen name Anna Ahkmatova, was a poet whose sensuality is vital in her poetry, as is her suffering.  Akhmatova’s first husband, Nikolai Gumilev, was arrested and shot during the Stalinist repression of intellectuals in St. Petersburg. Her only son, fathered by Gumilev, was also arrested and died in prison, despite continuous desperate pleas on his behalf by Ahkmatova. Her common law husband, art scholar and life long friend, Nikoli Punin, was arrested repeatedly and eventually died in a Gulag in 1953.

Akhmatova’s poems were suppressed during her lifetime, to the point that it was a dangerous act of sedition to even read them. Her poetry was distributed in an underground network of artists and friends.  Although a surprising amount of her poetry survived, much of her writing was lost. Akhmatova’s close friend, Lydia Chukovskaya described how a small trusted circle would memorize each other’s works and circulate them only by reciting them from memory to each other. Akhmatova would write a poem on a scrap of paper to be read aloud and then destroy the original by burning the paper. “It was like a ritual,” Chukovskaya wrote. “Hands, matches, an ashtray. A ritual beautiful and bitter.”

During World War II, Akhmatova witnessed the 900-day Siege of St. Petersburg. In 1940, Akhmatova started Poem without a Hero, finishing a first draft that year, but continued to work on it for the next two decades, dedicating it to “my friends and fellow citizens who perished.” With a direct order from Stalin, because of her importance in literature, she was evacuated in spring of 1942. Despite that official recognition, authorities continued to monitor and suppress her writing up until her death.  A full text of Requiem was not published in Russia until 1988.

Ahkmatova lived an unconventional life. She remained true to her beliefs, loyal to her friends, loved courageously and found a way to survive and create great art despite the tragic circumstances of the world in which she lived.


Sonnet

by Anna Ahkmatova
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver.

It wasn’t at all that quite mysterious painter,
which has well-pictured Hoffman’s misty dreams, –
From that unknown and far spring, it seems,
I can observe a plantain in its flatter.

And it was greening – our town, plain,
Trimming its steps, like some wings, wide and soaring,
And with a torch of chorals freely rolling,
Psyche was going into my domain.

And near the tree, in deep of the fourth yard,
Were dancing children in their full delight
To the one-legged hand-organ’s strident giggle,

And life was knellling with all bells anew,
And crazy blood was leading me to you
Along the path, so commonplace and single.

I Am Then A Poet, Am I Not?

Epiciteus
Epictetus – Stoic Philosopher 50 AD to 135 AD

 

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

  • Gospel of Luke 6:34 – 35, Sermon on the Mount

Professor’s Song

by John Berryman

(…rabid or dog-dull.) Let me tell you how
The Eighteenth Century couplet ended. Now
Tell me. Troll me the sources of that Song––
Assigned last week––by Blake. Come, come along.
Gentlemen. (Fidget and huddle: do. Squint soon.)
I want to end these fellows all by noon.
‘That deep romantic chasm’––an early use;
The word is from the French, by your abuse
Fished out a bit. (Red all your eyes. O when?)
‘A poet is a man speaking to men’:
But I am then a poet, am I not?––
Ha ha. The radiator, please. Well, what?
Alive now––no––Blake would have written prose,
But movement following movement crisply flows,
So much the better, better the much so,
As burbleth Mozart. Twelve. The class can go.
Until I meet you then, in Upper Hell
Convulsed, foaming immortal blood: farewell.


I am confident incoming freshman had no idea that they were bound for Berryman’s unique ring of hell when signing up for his English Lit 101 in the 1970’s.  Just kidding JB, I would have loved to sit in your sweat lodge and let you pontificate on Blake.

I could spend weeks and months on Berryman, so deep is the well-spring of his sonnets and so conspicuous his intelligence, nay scholarship, contained within his poetry. But I suspect, dear reader, that you are much like me, and need a little lighter fare to munch on after these past few posts.

Berryman invokes the specter of Epictetus in his poem, Of Suicide, below.  Epictetus was a stoic philosopher, born a slave, whose philosophy preached the spirit of self-determination. Epictetus stated that the foundation of all philosophy is self-knowledge and that the degree of our conviction to our ignorance and gullibility should be the first subject of internal inquiry. Given the state of preposterous political discourse in this country I think all voters should give some thought to the degree of their gullibility, regardless of which way they lean on the political spectrum.

Then again, I have to remind myself, that one of the greatest lies of our current democracy is that it remains within the power of our will. Gerrymandering, unlimited dark money and unbridled ambition to say and do anything to get elected have disfigured our democracy into something that appears for now, to be beyond the electorates control.  Instead, Epictetus would encourage us to focus on more realistic matters.  Fellow citizens, as Berryman says, we must labor and dream!

Only the educated are free.

No man is free who is not the master of himself.

Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of your will.

Epictetus

Of Suicide

by John Berryman

Reflexions on suicide, & on my father, possess me.
I drink too much. My wife threatens separation.
She won’t ‘nurse’ me. She feels ‘inadequate.’
We don’t mix together.

It’s an hour later in the East.
I could call up Mother in Washington, D.C.
But could she help me?
And all this postal adulation & reproach?

A basis rock-like of love & friendship
for all this world-wide madness seems to be needed.
Epicetus is in some ways my favourite philosopher.
Happy men have died earlier.

I still plan to go to Mexico this summer.
The Olmec images! Chichèn Itzài!
D. H. Lawrence has a wild dream of it.
Malcolm Lowry’s book when it came out I taught to my precept at Princeton.

I don’t entirely resign. I may teach the Third Gospel
this afternoon. I haven’t made up my mind.
It seems to me sometimes that others have easier jobs
& do them worse.

Well, we must labour & dream. Gogol was impotent,
somebody in Pittsburgh told me.
I said: At what age? They couldn’t answer.
That is a damned serious matter.

Rembrandt was sober. There we differ. Sober.
Terrors came on him. To us too they come.
Of suicide I continually think.
Apparently he didn’t. I’ll teach Luke.

 

 

While My Love Longs And I Pour

John-Berryman.png
John Berryman (1914 – 1972)

Sonnet 96

by John Berryman

It will seem strange, no more this range on range
Of opening hopes and happenings. Strange to be
One’s name no longer. Not caught up, not free.
Strange, not to wish one’s wishes onward. Strange,
The looseness, slopping, time and space estrange.
Strangest, and sad as a blind child, not to see
Ever you, never to hear you, endlessly
Neither you there, nor coming.. Heavy change!—
An instant there is, Sophoclean, true,
When Oedipus must understand: his head—
When Oedipus believes—tilts like a wave,
And will not break, only iov iov
Wells from his dreadful mouth, the love he led:
Prolong to Procyon this. This begins my grave.

 


There was a time this summer when it felt like I was surrounded by death. The death of my uncle, the death of pets, the death of friends, the death of young men. A friend of a friend’s son committed suicide in July by jumping off the same bridge that John Berryman jumped to his death on the University of Minnesota campus. I walked across that bridge countless times as an undergraduate. I am thankful that jumping off it never crossed my mind.

Suicide can be contagious. Berryman’s father shot himself outside his window when Berryman was 12. A cruelty that only the most mentally ill can not fathom. Berryman’s life was never the same.

It’s a bit strange I haven’t shared on this blog a Berryman sonnet sooner, given the body of sonnets that make up a size able portion of his work and the fact that he spent most of his career in Minnesota. It’s not that I don’t like Berryman. I worry I might get lost in him, so I take his writing in measured doses. I can only read sadness for so long, before I need to recharge with something else.

It is curious that the sonnet form often oozes with sadness, regardless of the poet. Is it because the poet and reader both know it will come to an end shortly? A sonnet’s canvas is stark and brief. In brevity there is rarely joy, for joy takes a bit of momentum to get rolling and then it rings like a bell, sustained, thrumming into the future.

I too have played with the difference between fare well and farewell in my writing. It has expanded my understanding of what each means, at least to me. For a writer so caught in the web of his own misery, I am pleased that Berryman choose Fare Well for his title. There is one line in the poem below that gut shots me every time – Where warm will warm be warm enough to part…. Us! 

Fare well  and be well! Don’t sink, like Berryman, keep swimming, even when the warm is warm enough to part.

P. S. – Canorous means melodious and resonant, like joy.


Fare Well

by John Berryman

Motions of waking trouble winter air,
I wonder, and his face as it were forms
Solemn, canorous, under the howled alarms, –
The eyes shadowed and shut.
Certainly for this sort of thing it is very late,
I shudder, while my love longs and I pour
My bright eyes towards the moving shadow .   .  where?
Out, like a plucked gut.

What has been taken away will not return,
I take it, whether on the crouch of night
Or for my mountain’s need to share a morning’s light, –
No, I am alone.
What has been taken away should not have been shown
I complain, torturing, and then withdrawn.
After so long, can I still long so and burn
Imperishable son?

O easy the phoenix in the tree of the heart,
Each in its time, his twigs and spices fixes,
To make a last nest, and marvelously relaxes, –
Out of the fire, weak peep!  .  .
Father, I fought for mother, sleep where you sleep.
I slip into a snowbed with no hurt
Where warm will warm be warm enough to part
Us.  As I sink, I weep.