The sun rises with no less dazzling sway, And yet, gardens sulk in muted eloquence. Nature’s splendor is colder ever since Quietus bore your gentle hand away. It’s your silence which weighs upon my days. Unexpected things will make me wince. For I miss your voice, your elegance All which hold me still amidst the fray.
You draped and shaped us with loving shears. Thin striplings pruned and fed to reach the sun You protected us from winter’s coldest years To bloom again despite what’s done is done. In mourning, I’ll manage through these low tears Ever blessed to be your beloved son.
I don’t look on poetry as closed works. I feel they’re going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.
Sonnet: More of Same
by John Ashbery
Try to avoid the pattern that has been avoided,
the avoidance pattern. It’s not as easy as it looks:
The herringbone is floating eagerly up
from the herring to become parquet. Or whatever suits it.
New fractals clamour to be identical
to their sisters. Half of them succeed. The others
go on to be Provencal floral prints some sleepy but ingenious
weaver created halfway through the eighteenth century,
and they never came to life until now.
It’s like practising a scale: at once different and never the same.
Ask not why we do these things. Ask why we find them meaningful.
Ask the cuckoo transfixed in mid-flight
between the pagoda and the hermit’s rococo cave. He may tell you
And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name
by John Ashbery
You can’t say it that way any more.
Bothered about beauty you have to
Come out into the open, into a clearing.
And rest. Certainly whatever funny happens to you
Is OK. To demand more than this would be strange
Of you, you who have so many lovers.
People who look up to you and are willing
To do things for you, but you think
It’s not right, that if they really knew you . . .
So much for self-analysis. Now,
About what to put in your poem-painting:
Flowers are always nice, particularly delphinium.
Names of boys you once knew and their sleds,
Skyrockets are good—do they still exist?
There are a lot of other things of the same quality
As those I’ve mentioned. Now one must
Find a few important words, and a lot of low-keyed,
Dull-sounding ones. She approached me
About buying her desk. Suddenly the street was
Bananas and the clangor of Japanese instruments.
Humdrum testaments were scattered around. His head
Locked into mine. We were a seesaw. Something
Ought to be written about how this affects
You when you write poetry:
The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.
Let’s thank our mistakes, let’s bless them
for their humanity, their terribly weak chins.
We should offer them our gratitude and admiration
for giving us our clefts and scarring us with
embarrassment, the hot flash of confession.
Thank you, transgressions! for making us so right
in our imperfections. Less flawed, we might have
turned away, feeling too fit, our desires looking
for better directions. Without them, we might have
passed the place where one of us stood, watching
someone else walk away, and followed them,
while our perfect mistake walked straight towards us,
walked right into our cluttered, ordered lives
that could have been closed but were not,
that could have been asleep, but instead
stayed up, all night, forgetting the pill,
the good book, the necessary eight hours,
and lay there – in the middle of the bed –
keeping the heart awake – open and stunned,
stunning. How unhappy perfection must be
over there on the shelf without a crack, without
this critical break – this falling – this sudden, thrilling draft
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Then all the charm
Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth! who scarcely dar’st lift up thine eyes—
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo! he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror.
Kubla Khan – Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment – Coleridge.
Sonnet: To The River Otter
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge
How many various-fated years have passed,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,
Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless child!
We live in paradise even if we lose sight of Xanadu now and again. I have a hard time connecting to the constant drone of bad environmental news that seems to endlessly bombard us from all sides in the media. It’s not that I avert my eyes to the very real threat that rising carbon dioxide levels and global warming poses to reshaping this planet in ways that could forever alter the stability of our society. Nor am I insensitive to the corresponding threat to a million species at risk of extinction or the presence of plastic, pollution and exotic contaminants that degrade even in the most remote places of the world caused by the carelessness and industrialization of our lives. I am keenly aware of this insanity. I am indigent to the destruction that humans are causing our planet and aware of the brokenness of our consumptive lifestyles and unsustainable appetite of economies based on free market capitalism, a false idea that growth is what’s “healthy” and necessary. You have to be willfully blind to think this is going to end well or is sustainable. It’s that I don’t choose to live a daily life focused on that negative reality of the cause and effect of over 7 billion people on this planet as there is no reasonable option to figure out what is a sustainable population or how to implement such a thing. It’s beyond our human ability for collective decision making. So I instead choose to focus on other things. I am admittedly one of the members of the band still playing on the deck of the Titanic, probably the baritone, that will keep on playing their part even as my feet sink below the surface.
I am not a believer that the world is going to come to an end, nor that homo sapiens aren’t part of the very distant future. Life on this planet is nothing if not resilient. But as the painting above illustrates there are plenty of birds of paradise, like the dodo bird and passenger pigeon, that were plentiful not that long ago, that disappeared with little warning and without conservation because of human stupidity. So where’s the middle ground between a life of avid protectionism and environmental activism and living in peaceful, albeit transient ignorance? It’s right here, in my favorite writing chair, listening to the rain outside and smelling the fragrance of crab apple blossoms coming in my open window, enjoying the playfulness of paradise in the hands of a talented poet, while keeping a slumbering eye on this restless and damaged but beautiful world.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
“The profession of book writing makes horse racing look like a stable, solid business.”
Sonnet Xli – Having This Day My Horse
By Sir Philip Sidney
Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance Guided so well that I obtain’d the prize,
Both by the judgment of the English eyes
And of some sent from that sweet enemy France;
Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance,
Town folks my strength; a daintier judge applies
His praise to sleight which from good use doth rise;
Some lucky wits impute it but to chance;
Others, because of both sides I do take
My blood from them who did excel in this,
Think Nature me a man of arms did make.
How far they shot awry! The true cause is,
Stella look’d on, and from her heav’nly face
Sent forth the beams which made so fair my race.
I have recently been schooled in the ways of horse betting by a friend for whom the horses are a passionate hobby. His approach is to use a combination of 25 years of watching horse racing at tracks all over the world, watching trainers, jockey’s and owners success and failure and combining it with a complete sense of folly in betting. It seems to work. His advice, always bet the black horse if wearing a one to win or bet the horse wearing the number of the race on that days card before the 5th, for instance the 4 horse in the 4th, particularly if he likes the jockey.
The only time horse racing even comes into my consciousness is the month during the triple crown, when I follow peripherally the story lines that emerge around long shots, favorites, beautiful thoroughbreds coming up lame, jockeys career’s made or lost in a seconds on a muddy track and the beauty of what a race horse can do in the hands of amazing athletes. It is a beauty to behold.
If you had a team helping you everyday, exercising with you, carefully watching your nutrition, bathing you, encouraging you, asking you to do your best, what race could you run with elegance? What triple crown are you racing in your life and who is your team supporting you, helping you to win, share the journey or consoling you in defeat? Remember, regardless of where you place, stay in the race and feel the pleasure of blood beating in your veins.
by Carl Sandburg
FIRST I would like to write for you a poem to be shouted in the teeth of a strong wind.
Next I would like to write one for you to sit on a hill and read down the river valley on a late summer afternoon, reading it in less than a whisper to Jack on his soft wire legs learning to stand up and preach, Jack-in-the-pulpit.
As many poems as I have written to the moon and the streaming of the moon spinners of light, so many of the summer moon and the winter moon I would like to shoot along to your ears for nothing, for a laugh, a song,
for nothing at all,
for one look from you,
for your face turned away
and your voice in one clutch
half way between a tree wind moan
and a night-bird sob.
Believe nothing of it all, pay me nothing, open your window for the other singers and keep it shut for me.
The road I am on is a long road and I can go hungry again like I have gone hungry before.
What else have I done nearly all my life than go hungry and go on singing?
Leave me with the hoot owl.
I have slept in a blanket listening.
He learned it, he must have learned it
From two moons, the summer moon,
And the winter moon
And the streaming of the moon spinners of light.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
These two poems may appear at first to sit at two ends of love’s spectrum, but look more closely, as it takes more than a minor tempest of the heart to create “wreckage gathered in the gales.” I have been reading a book about a man’s journey in China to the site of ancient poet’s reputed refuge from the world. Part poetry, part myth, part travel log, the book is a reminder that even mystic hermits had dear friends that visited them in their caves. People are not people without other people. The same may be true of elephants, but it doesn’t make it any less true about homo sapiens. And, poetry isn’t poetry unless someone else is there to read the scratching’s on the trees and write it down so that their friends can enjoy their wonderful discovery.
Do you ever find a poem, you can’t wait to share with someone else? Who is that someone? What is the poem? Here’s a gentle reminder to send it off right away….
Pity Me Not Because The Light of Day
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 -1950)
Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
This have I known always; Love is no more
Than the wide blossom on which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.