Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.
Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.
Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them.
It is no great mystery to whom Teasdale was dedicating the sonnet below. Teasdale married Ernst Filsinger in 1914 and she would receive the most critical acclaim and publishing success during her 15 year marriage to him. Teasdale was a romantic and at least for a while E was her muse, but in time they drifted apart, her physical and mental health declined and the two of them divorced in 1929. She lived largely as an invalid and a recluse until her death in 1933.
We have been experiencing beautiful summer like days throughout September, with the warmth lingering a bit longer before the seriousness of fall and winter begin. As a young boy I loved this time of year as it seemed like there were a plethora of flying insects making their last dash before the first frost, and endless possibilities to chase and temporarily capture them with a net and empty mayonnaise jar with nail holes in the top so that I might study them a bit before letting them go. Do you have particular memories of warm fall days from your childhood?
by Sara Teasdale 1884-1933
The door was opened and I saw you there And for the first time heard you speak my name. Then like the sun your sweetness overcame My shy and shadowy mood; I was aware That joy was hidden in your happy hair, And that for you love held no hint of shame; My eyes caught light from yours, within whose flame Humor and passion have an equal share.
How many times since then have I not seen Your great eyes widen when you talk of love, And darken slowly with a fair desire; How many times since then your soul has been Clear to my gaze as curving skies above, Wearing like them a raiment made of fire.
In that book which is My memory . . . On the first page That is the chapter when I first met you Appear the words . . . Here begins a new life.
by Dante Alighieri
Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf How the heart feels a languid grief Laid on it for a covering, And how sleep seems a goodly thing In Autumn at the fall of the leaf? And how the swift beat of the brain Falters because it is in vain, In Autumn at the fall of the leaf Knowest thou not? and how the chief Of joys seems–not to suffer pain? Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf How the soul feels like a dried sheaf Bound up at length for harvesting, And how death seems a comely thing In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?
The Divine Comedy continues to entertain readers around the world seven hundred years after the poet’s death. The book was being circulated in manuscripts in 1321, before Dante’s death, but was not published and widely available until nearly a 100 years later. His son Jacopo and other Italian scholars who had access to hand written copies wrote critiques praising the work as early as 1324. Dante named the work his “Comedy”, but it was Boccacio in 1350 who conjoined the word “Divine” to the title, in admiration of Dante’s brilliance. 2021 marks the 700 year anniversary of the Dante’s death and his popularity and influence on the literary world still burns bright. Dante uses precise rhyme and meter in his prose, so it’s no surprise he penned many sonnets in his lifetime. His poetry and his master piece the Divine Comedy, largely focus on one theme; love.
There Is A Gentle Thought
by Dante Alighieri
There is a gentle thought that often springs to life in me, because it speaks of you. Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true, the heart is conquered, and accepts these things. ‘Who is this’ the mind enquires of the heart, ‘who comes here to seduce our intellect? Is his power so great we must reject every other intellectual art?
The heart replies ‘O, meditative mind this is love’s messenger and newly sent to bring me all Love’s words and desires. His life, and all the strength that he can find, from her sweet eyes are mercifully lent, who feels compassion for our inner fires.
Le ciel est noir, Et le soleil se traîne À peine ! De désespoir Ma pauvre âme incertaine Est pleine ! La blonde enfant se rit de mes tendres chansons, Et sur son coeur l’hiver promène ses glaçons !
Ange rêvé, Ton amour qui fait vivre M’enivre, Et j’ai bravé Pour te voir, pour te suivre Le givre. Hélas ! sous mes baisers et leur douce chaleur, Je n’ai pu dissiper les neiges de ton coeur !
Ah ! que demain À ton âme convienne La mienne, Et que ma main Amoureusement tienne La tienne ! Le soleil brillera là-haut dans notre ciel, Et de ton coeur l’amour forcera le dégel !
by Jules Verne Translation by N. D’Anvers
Dark is the sky, The sun sinks wearily; My trembling heart, with sorrow filled, Aches drearily! My sweet child at my songs is smiling still, While at his tender heart the icicles lie chill.
Child of my dreams! Thy love doth cheer me; The cruel biting frost I brave But to be near thee! Ah me, Ah me, could these hot tears of mine But melt the icicles around that heart of thine!
Could we once more Meet heart to heart, Thy little hands close clasped in mine, No more to part. Then on thy chill heart rays from heaven above Should fall, and softly melt it with the warmth of love!
Giant squid and its even larger counterpart in terms of mass, the colossal squid, inhabit a wide range of north Atlantic oceans and areas around New Zealand, places where deep shelfs form in the ocean. Due to its tendency to live and feed in the deepest parts of the ocean, the number of intact specimens in recorded history still remains under 200, but reports of giant squid sightings have occurred for thousands of years, capturing the imagination of story tellers for centuries. As a child I remember watching the movie 20,000 leagues under the sea multiple times and being fascinated by the scene with the giant squid. I wonder if Verne was inspired by Tennyson’s sonnet?
Jules Verne’s remarkable imagination predicted technologies that didn’t exist during his lifetime. The fictional submarine Nautillus, functions much like a nuclear powered submarine does today, in that it could roam the oceans for vast periods of time, the 20,000 leagues in the title a reference not to the depth reached, but the distance covered without surfacing. Verne became enamored with submarines during the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris, where he was able to examine a model of the French submarine Plongeur which had been commission in 1863. I wonder what Verne would think of the current spat between Australia, the United States and France over submarine technologies?
Verne in many ways invented the science fiction genre, setting his novels in the second half of the 20th Century to account for the technology that didn’t exist at the time he was writing. His novels Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1872) Verne’s novels have remained popular and profitable in many different languages, ranking him as the third most translated author since 1979, only behind Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. Do you have a favorite Jules Verne novel or movie adapted from his fiction?
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Below the thunders of the upper deep; Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea, His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee About his shadowy sides: above him swell Huge sponges of millennial growth and height; And far away into the sickly light, From many a wondrous grot and secret cell Unnumbered and enormous polypi Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green. There hath he lain for ages and will lie Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep, Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; Then once by man and angels to be seen, In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
There is a tragic gap between the dream that was once America and the current migrant crisis. Like so many complex issues facing our society any and all solutions seem to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. How does poetry connect to humanitarian issues like immigration? Is poetry relevant anymore in informing and communicating the human condition? If the Statue of Liberty was being erected in 2021 for the first time, what poem do you think would be selected to commemorate and honor it’s significance today?
The Pink Crosses
by Amanda Auchter Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
In this wild city, we are bones scattered in the valley’s grave. An apron, a white tennis shoe, a face gone missing. A mother leans over the dust
scattered in the valley’s grave. An apron around her waist, on her way to work. The missing. A mother leans over the dust and carves her daughter’s initials. Her name
around her waist, on her way to work. The bones wait to be found; there are always bones. She prays and carves her daughter’s initials. Her name, Veronica, and the others, Esmerelda, Barbara, Brenda; our
bones wait to be found; there are always bones. She prays to the gardens tethered to the field of pink crosses: Veronica, and the others, Esmerelda, Barbara, Brenda, our roses, wild poppies, fragile blooms of morning glories,
We still need a voice that thinks before it speaks.
I Am Very Bothered
by Simon Armitage
I am very bothered when I think of the bad things I have done in my life. Not least that time in the chemistry lab when I held a pair of scissors by the blades and played the handles in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner; then called your name, and handed them over.
O the unrivalled stench of branded skin as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked, the doctor said, for eternity.
Don’t believe me, please, if I say that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen, of asking you if you would marry me.
Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, Act One, Scene Four
ROMEO [To JULIET]
If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
The beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, The beginning of every end, and the end of every place.
If That High World
by Lord Byron
If that high world, which lies beyond Our own, surviving Love endears; If there the cherish’d heart be fond, The eye the same, except in tears – How welcome those untrodden spheres! How sweet this very hour to die! To soar from earth and find all fears Lost in thy light – Eternity! It must be so: ’tis not for self That we so tremble on the brink; And striving to o’erleap the gulf, Yet cling to Being’s severing link. Oh! in that future let us think To hold each heart the heart that shares; With them the immortal waters drink, And soul in soul grow deathless theirs!
by Lord Byron
The kiss, dear maid! thy lip has left Shall never part from mine, Till happier hours restore the gift Untainted back to thine. Thy parting glance, which fondly beams, An equal love may see: The tear that from thing eyelid streams Can weep no change in me. I ask no pledge to make me blest In gazing when alone; Nor one memorial for a breast, Whose thoughts are all thine own. Nor need I write to tell the tale My pen were doubly weak: Oh! what can idle words avail, Unless the heart could speak? By day or night, in weal or woe, That heart, no longer free, Must bear the love it cannot show, And silent ache for thee.
The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one.
The Bob Dylan Dream
by Joyce Sutphen
So here is one of the best dreams I’ve ever had: I am in New York City,
and everything is closed tight except for one door that is wide open and seems
inviting, so I go through and up the stairs to a room with wood floors and
a window seat where Bob Dylan is waiting for me, and we have a long talk about
love and poetry, and afterwards we stand up and fly over the Village, which
is quiet until we hear some music a few blocks away so we fly there, and
it’s the Jefferson Airplane Marching Band! Tell me-does it get much better than that?
Dylan and Baez met in New York City in 1961. Their artistic and romantic attraction was instantaneous and blazed brightly for the next 4 years. But emotions that combustible aren’t always sustainable and theirs burned itself out by 1965. By the end, Baez wanted to continue to play a role in the civil rights movement while Dylan wanted to evolve as an artist and not be limited by audience expectations. Each gave the other something before their parting. Baez would continue to perform Dylan’s legacy of political songs, while Baez bestowed a softer side to Dylan’s trajectory. Baez brought political relevance to Dylan’s lyrics and music through her artistry while Dylan absorbed Baez’s artistic and personal expression in ways that would nudge his muse in a new direction, from indignation towards beauty. Baez had absorbed some of his righteous anger while sheltering some of it from Dylan.
Dylan shared his perspective on his relationship with Baez and her influence on his life and music in Poem to Joanie. I have shared an excerpt below, a moving tribute to Baez on his understanding of ‘beauty’ and its significance in his art.
Poem To Joanie (Excerpt)
by Bob Dylan
So, once more it’s winter again An’ that means I’ll wait ’til spring T’ ramble back t’ where I kneeled When I first heard the ore train sing An’ pulled the ground up by its roots But this time I won’t use my strength T’ pass the time yankin’ grass While I’m waitin’ for the train t’ sound No next time’ll be a different day For the train might be there when I come An’ I might wait hours for the cars t’ pass An’ then as the echo fades I’ll bend down an’ count the strands a grass But one thing that’s bound t’ be Is that instead a pullin’ at the earth I’ll jus’ pet it as a friend An’ when that train engine comes near I’ll nod my head t’ the big brass wheels An’ say “howdy” t’ the engineer An’ yell that Joanie says hello An’ watch the train man scratch his head An’ wonder what I meant by that An’ I’ll stand up an’ remember when A rock was flung by a devil child An’ I’ll walk my road somewhere between The unseen green an’ the jet – black train An’ I’ll sing my song like a rebel wild For it’s that I am an’ can’t deny But at least I’ll know not t’ hurt Not t’ push Not t’ ache An’ God knows … not t’ try –
with his words in my head I slept for thirty or forty forevers while the grass shrieked and the trees tremored…
By Deborah Landau
Dazzling emptiness of the black green end of summer no one
running in the yard pulse pulse the absence.
Leave them not to the empty yards.
They resembled a family. Long quiet hours. Sometimes
one was angry sometimes someone called her “wife”
someone’s hair receding.
An uptick in the hormone canopy embodied a restlessness
and oh what to do with it.
(How she arrived in a hush in a looking away and not looking.)
It had been some time since richness intangible
and then they made a whole coat of it.
Meanwhile August moved toward its impervious finale.
A mood by the river. Gone. One lucid rush carrying them along.
Borderless and open the days go on—
A friend of Ivor Gurney’s described him as being “so sane in his insanity.” Gurney spent the last 15 years of his life in psychiatric hospitals in England, believing himself to actually be Shakespeare for a portion of that time. A self described composer more than poet or playwright, he wrote more than 300 songs in his lifetime. Only a small fraction of his music has been performed or recorded.
Born in the city of Gloucester in 1890, Gurney was fascinated by music. As a boy he studied under the organist, Dr Herbert Brewer at the Gloucester Cathedral. Following his service in WWI, he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study composition with Sir Charles Stanford. But life’s challenges intervened and a nervous breakdown interrupted his studies.
However Gurney is an inspiration of resilience. Despite worsening mental and physical health in his early 30’s, the early years of his commitment were productive creatively. Its unclear how much of his mental illness was attributable to PTSD from the war or the physical impact of being gassed in the trenches but his mental health deteriorated over time until he was unable to continue as an artist the final few years of his life. His cause of death was tuberculosis, which was rampant in the locked wards of mental institutions of the time.
I find it interesting to pair modern poets with counterparts from a 100 years ago. Some similar ideas run through these two poems around the impermanence of permanence and how the external world moves on without us, regardless of the machinations of our inner life.
Sonnet – September 1922
by Ivor Gurney
Fierce indignation is best understood by those Who have time or no fear, or a hope in its real good. One loses it with a filed soul or in sentimental mood. Anger is gone with sunset, or flows as flows The water in easy mill-runs; the earth that ploughs Forgets protestation in its turning, the rood Prepares, considers, fulfils; and the poppy’s blood Makes old the old changing of the headland’s brows.
But the toad under the harrow toadiness Is known to forget, and even the butterfly Has doubts of wisdom when that clanking thing goes by And’s not distressed. A twisted thing keeps still – That thing easier twisted than a grocer’s bill – And no history of November keeps the guy.
The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
If you have never heard of Michael Oakeshott, you are in good company. He was a British economist, thinker, philosopher who hit his academic zenith in the 1950’s and 1960’s. His dictum was society since the enlightenment had fallen down the rabbit of hole of a misplaced faith in “rationalism.” Oakeshott believed that all of our carefully considered plans of the past 200 years had created an illusion that bureaucrats and governments employing an army of rationalists with the latest “technical knowledge” could solve all our problems, when in reality, no government, regardless of its political disposition can solve the complicated problems our world faces. This dictum supports the concept of a right to privacy as individuals, as the more government gets involved in our personal life the more onerous becomes the intrusion. Government needs to function to create the foundation for a shared public good, build the infrastructure on which we can all conduct business, create some framework of fairness, protect some level or right to privacy and basic liberties to conduct our own lives and a process to implement justice. But what Oakeshott was advocating for is to not ignore “practical knowledge”, i.e. tradition, in favor of radical change, even a radical change to return to a distant past.
Oakeshott refreshingly did not feel government and politicians should be free of ideology or careful thought. In fact he felt poetry had a role to play in constructing the balance between our public and private lives and the positive influence it could have on shaping public discourse. He felt poetry should inspire society in grappling with complex topics that are difficult to frame in written communication, required for the crafting of laws and regulations. Oakeshott admired poetry’s ability to create the illusion of what he called an “eternal presence” between the author and reader, “conveying our most intimate moments, sharing with us their most intimate feelings feelings, whispering in our ears in the most delicate ways.”
Today’s poems are great examples of how words can be incomplete, yet convey complex ideas on sex, pregnancy and reproductive rights. Abortion is a difficult topic and a very difficult personal decision, but one best left to the individual and their loved ones to make. As a society our ability to provide safe and equitable access to women’s health care helps communities across the economic spectrum be healthier than they would be without that access.
Oakeshott advocated for the role of a “conservative” government, not in the sense of how we might define it today, where conservatism only means leaning right. In his definition it could equally apply to both ends of the political spectrum. His vision for a conservative government was a way to control what he called “monomaniacs”, individuals overly focused on single issue politics. Oakeshott wrote; “we tolerate monomaniacs, but why should we be ruled by them?” Oakeshott believed in the concept that the individual had a right to continue their traditions. The problem with a pluralist society of immigrants we barely call a democracy anymore, is there are no widely shared traditions and the monmaniacs have run a muck. We have become a nation of individualists, armed with the portion of the constitution we believe protects our “freedoms” when in fact each side wants nothing to do with the other’s penchant for extremism and want’s the courts to side with their interpretation of the laws. Let’s see where that gets us as a society in another 20 years.
Maybe we all need to read a bit of Oakeshott in the wake of the insanity of the kinds of laws and jurisprudence dominating the headlines, laws that seriously undermine all of our right to privacy. Texas has decided to deputize its citizens to enforce a law that reaches all the way into the realm of rooting out thought crimes among our families and neighbors, even those we don’t know. The law has been constructed in such a way as to make it difficult to challenge and pits individuals against individuals, the rich against the poor. It is a law that isn’t meant to make sense, it is intended to be confusing and convoluted, to create fear and create the illusion of access to health care. Make no mistake there is big money behind this scheme for reasons I have yet to comprehend other than it is a test case for a minority power grab.
The question through Oakeshott’s lens is what is tradition? I believe tradition in 2021, the tradition the vast majority of Americans believe in and trust, is the right to make our own health care decisions, including reproductive health care decisions. Roe vs Wade has become interwoven into the fabric of our society and stands for more than just reproductive health, it stands for a level of protection to our personal destiny that all of us rely upon in our concept of well being, the idea that we are in control of our own lives.
Oakeshott wrote, “Is it not the task for a government to protect its subjects against the nuisance of those who spend their energy and wealth in the service of some pet indignation?” The problem is we are now locked in a battle in this country, between a dwindling minority of religious zealots who believe they are on the side of their religion on issues like abortion, for which the growing majority of Americans believe abortion rights was decided law two generations ago, who believe that American society protects separation of church and state on personal health care decisions. The vast majority of Americans believe the present American tradition is access to safe and affordable abortion as part of the foundation of a woman’s individual freedoms. Tradition works both ways and what was new 50 years ago, is now established law that the majority will organize to protect. There is a question that the Republicans who think they have been clever should ponder; What is the size of the hornets nest of passionate zealots who believe in the right to privacy as a fundamental underpinning of Roe vs Wade that will be flying forth in the years ahead? And the question everyone who opposes this erosion of our personal liberty should be asking, what are you prepared to do to protect your rights in terms of your time and money to counter this serious attack?
by Patti Smith
yum yum the stars are out. I’ll never forget how you smelled that night. like cheddar cheese melting under fluorescent light. like a day-old rainbow fish. what a dish. gotta lick my lips. gotta dream I day- dream. thorozine brain cloud. rain rain comes com- ing down. all over her. there she is on the hill. pale as a posy. getting soaking wet. hope her petticoats shrink. well little shepherd girl your gonna kingdom come. looking so clean. the guardian of every little lamb. well beep beep sheep I’m moving in. I’m gonna peep in bo’s bodice. lay down darling don’t be modest let me slip my hand in. ohhh that’s soft that’s nice that’s not used up. ohhh don’t cry. wet what’s wet? oh that. heh heh. that’s just the rain lambie pie. now don’t squirm. let me put my rubber on. I’m a wolf in a lamb skin trojan. ohh yeah that’s hard that’s good. now don’t tighten up. open up be- bop. lift that little butt up. ummm open wider be-bop. come on. nothing. can. stop me. now. ohhh ahhh. isn’t that good. my. melancholy be-bop.
Oh don’t cry. come on get up. let’s dance in the grass. let’s cut a rug let’s jitterbug. roll those tiny white stockings down. bobby sock-o let’s flow. come on this is a dance contest. under the stars, let’s alice in the grass. let’s swing betty boop hoop let’s birdland let’s stroll let’s rock let’s roll let’s whalebone let’s go let’s deodorize the night.