Sing A Song of Seasons

Fall Colors in Minnesota

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

October

by William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)

Ay, thou art welcome, heaven’s delicious breath!
When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,
And suns grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
Wind of the sunny south! oh, still delay
In the gay woods and in the golden air,
Like to a good old age released from care,
Journeying, in long serenity, away.
In such a bright, late quiet, would that I
Might wear out life like thee, ‘mid bowers and brooks

And dearer yet, the sunshine of kind looks,
And music of kind voices ever nigh;
And when my last sand twinkled in the glass,
Pass silently from men, as thou dost pass


Autumn Fires

by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

In the other gardens
   And all up in the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
   See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over, 
   And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
   The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
   Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
   Fires in the fall! 

I Do Not Dare Breath

James Wright (1927 – 1980)

It goes without saying that a fine short poem can have the resonance and depth of an entire novel.

James Wright

Beginning

By James Arlington Wright
 
The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.   
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
Now.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.
 

 
 

Among the Rocks

By Robert Browning
 
Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
This autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.
 
That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!

From All Of This

César Vallego (1892-1938)

Absurdity, only you are pure. Absurdity, only before you is this excess sweated out of golden pleasure.

César Vallego

Paris, October 1936

by César Vallejo 

From all of this I am the only one who leaves.
From this bench I go away, from my pants,
from my great situation, from my actions,
from my number split side to side,
from all of this I am the only one who leaves.

From the Champs Elysées or as the strange
alley of the Moon makes a turn,
my death goes away, my cradle leaves,
and, surrounded by people, alone, cut loose,

my human resemblance turns around
and dispatches its shadows one by one.

And I move away from everything, since everything
remains to create my alibi:
my shoe, its eyelet, as well as its mud
and even the bend in the elbow
of my own buttoned shirt.


Cesar Vallejo was quoted as saying; “I was born on a day God was sick.”   A Peruvian poet, novelist, journalist and activist, who struggled throughout his lifetime.   Accused of a crime he didn’t commit in his native homeland, an accusation that was politically motivated because of his socialist politics and writings, he fled to Europe and spent most of his adult life in Spain and France.   Vallejo’s legal troubles in Peru haunted him in his attempts to achieve legal citizenship in both Spain and France and his increasingly communist leanings in his writing made that even more complicated.  Vallejo toiled in dire poverty throughout the 1920s and early 1930’s, but managed to make multiple trips to the Soviet Union which he documented in several books published in the early 1930s. A regular cultural contributor to weeklies in Peru, Vallejo also sent articles to newspapers and magazines in other parts of Latin America, Spain, Italy, and France, but his writing provided a scant income.   In 1930 the Spanish government awarded him a modest author’s grant which helped ease his financial situation.  Vallejo returned to Paris in 1934 and married Georgette Philippart, who became a controversial figure after his death by controlling and limiting the publication of Vallejo’s lifelong work.

Vallejo was plagued by ill health throughout his life time.   In 1938 he became bed ridden by what turned out to be a return of a latent form of Malaria which he had gotten in childhood.   He became extremely ill and died in Paris 1938 at age 46.   Vallejo’s poetry gained recognition after his death as one of the first modernist poet’s in Latin America.   Death was a common theme in his poetry.  I wonder if it rained on the day of his death as he predicted?


Black Stone Lying On A White Stone

by César Vallejo 

    I will die in Paris, on a rainy day,
on some day I can already remember.
I will die in Paris—and I don’t step aside—
perhaps on a Thursday, as today is Thursday, in autumn.

    It will be a Thursday, because today, Thursday, setting down
these lines, I have put my upper arm bones on
wrong, and never so much as today have I found myself
with all the road ahead of me, alone.

    César Vallejo is dead.  Everyone beat him
although he never does anything to them;
they beat him hard with a stick and hard also

    with a rope.  These are the witnesses:
the Thursdays, and the bones of my arms,
the solitude, and the rain, and the roads. . 

 

I’ll Tell You How

Fall Colors in Minnesota October 2021

Come, Little Leaves

by George Cooper (1840 – 1927)

“Come, little leaves,” said the wind one day.
“Come o’er the meadows with me, and play’
Put on your dress of red and gold,—
Summer is gone, and the days grow cold.”

Soon as the leaves heard the wind’s loud call,
Down they came fluttering, one and all;
Over the brown fields they danced and flew,
Singing the soft little songs they knew.

“Cricket, good-by, we’ve been friends so long;
Little brook, sing us your farewell song,—
Say you are sorry to see us go;
Ah! you will miss us, right well we know.”

“Dear little lambs, in your fleecy fold,
Mother will keep you from harm and cold;
Fondly we’ve watched you in vale and glade;
Say, will you dream of our loving shade?”

Dancing and whirling, the little leaves went;
Winter had called them, and they were content.
Soon fast asleep in their earthy beds,
The snow laid a coverlet over their heads.


We have had a very summer like fall so far, but that’s about to change.  A little nip in the air makes me feel playful and I am looking forward to temperatures dropping.  I find the process of raking leaves relaxing.  No leaf blowers allowed at my house, I like the quiet rustle of leaves and honestly find a big rake with a tarp faster and more efficient for cleaning up.   Gone are the days when I would look forward to jumping into the leaf pile in the compost bin once the chore of raking was complete, but I remember fondly jumping off the ladder into the mammoth leaf pile that the oak trees in our yard as a kid would create.     

Today’s poems are both from the 19th century, and written for as children’s poems.   Cooper was known more for his song lyrics, but also published a wide range of poetry in his lifetime.    Many of his song lyrics were set to music by Stephen Foster, one of the most influential song writers of his generation.   Here’s an example of one of their less serious collaborations.   


How the Leaves Came Down

by Susan Coolidge (1835 –  1905)

I’ll tell you how the leaves came down.
  The great Tree to his children said,
“You’re getting sleepy, Yellow and Brown,
  Yes, very sleepy, little Red;
  It is quite time you went to bed.”

“Ah!” begged each silly, pouting leaf,
  “Let us a little longer May;
Dear Father Tree, behold our grief,
  ‘Tis such a very pleasant day
We do not want to go away.”

So, just for one more merry day
  To the great Tree the leaflets clung,
Frolicked and danced and had their way,
  Upon the autumn breezes swung,
  Whispering all their sports among,

“Perhaps the great Tree will forget
  And let us stay until the spring
If we all beg and coax and fret.”
  But the great Tree did no such thing;
  He smiled to hear their whispering.

“Come, children all, to bed,” he cried;
  And ere the leaves could urge their prayer
He shook his head, and far and wide,
  Fluttering and rustling everywhere,
  Down sped the leaflets through the air.

I saw them; on the ground they lay,
  Golden and red, a huddled swarm,
Waiting till one from far away,
  White bed-clothes heaped upon her arm,
  Should come to wrap them safe and warm.

The great bare Tree looked down and smiled.
  “Good-night, dear little leaves” he said;
And from below each sleepy child
  Replied “Good-night,” and murmured,
  “It is so nice to go to bed.”

 

Do You Still Remember

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)

I am so glad you are here.  It helps me realize how beautiful my world is.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Weißt du noch: (ohne Titel)

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Weißt du noch: fallende Sterne, die
quer wie Pferde durch die Himmel sprangen
über plötzlich hingehaltne Stangen
unsrer Wünsche– hatten wir so viele?–
denn es sprangen Sterne, ungezählt;
fast ein jeder Aufblick war vermählt
mit dem raschen Wagnis ihrer Spiele,
und das Herz fühlte empfand sich als ein Ganzes
unter diesen Trümmern ihres Glanzes
and war heil, als überstünd es sie!

Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]

by Rainer Maria Rilke – 1875-1926
Translated by Albert Earnest Flemming

Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them


Herbsttag

by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Autumn Day

By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebman

Lord: it is time.
. . The summer was immense.

Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one
anymore.

Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long
time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

.

I Will Not Tell Thee Now

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 – 1542)

I am as I am and so will I be
But how that I am none knoweth truly,
Be it evil be it well, be I bond be I free
I am as I am and so will I be.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

My Galley, Charged With Forgetfulness

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

My galley, charged with forgetfulness,
Thorough sharp seas in winter nights doth pass
‘Tween rock and rock; and eke mine enemy, alas,
That is my lord, steereth with cruelness;
And every oar a thought in readiness,
As though that death were light in such a case.
An endless wind doth tear the sail apace
Of forced sighs and trusty fearfulness.
A rain of tears, a cloud of dark disdain,
Hath done the weared cords great hinderance;
Wreathed with error and eke with ignorance.
The stars be hid that led me to this pain.
Drowned is reason that should me consort,
And I remain despairing of the port


Thomas Wyatt life reads like the next installment of Bridgerton, except with mostly unhappy endings.  His life is so steeped in myth, rumors and innuendo in what has been passed down that generations of academics have yet to completely unravel fact from fiction.  What is chronicled makes for juicy reading.  Wyatt was a large athletic man, who was as comfortable in the jousting ring as in matters of court and the arts.  A successful diplomat and patron of Thomas Cromwell, Wyatt ran in and out of favor with King Henry the VIII, as he pried the Catholic Church’s stranglehold from all matters of court and bloody birthed the Church of England into  being.  Cromwell was not so fortunate and was executed for his largely honorable service to his country.  Despite rumors of romantic connections to Anne Boleyne, or because of it, Wyatt escaped multiple imprisonments and charges of treason with not only his life, but eventually his reputation and standing in court restored. But luck never seemed to run on Wyatt’s side for very long and in 1941 while on a diplomatic mission with Spain he was struck down by a fever. 

Wyatt is credited with introducing the sonnet structure to English verse on whose literary accomplishments Shakespeare would use as a foundation.   Wyatt’s poetry was widely circulated during his lifetime and included in anthologies following his death.   Writing in a style that was personal, at times bitter and venomous, he was also deeply sentimental and romantic.   Wyatt wrote of love from a complex perspective having seen and experienced its many facets.  Wyatt’s poetry can run on the dark side, as betrayal was a common muse, knowing it could still a man’s heart every bit as the executioner’s ax in King Henry’s VIII court.   While in prison in 1936, he wrote following Cromwell’s execution:

Sighs are my food, drink are my tears;
   Clinking of fetters such music would crave.
   Stink and close air away my life wears.
     Innocency is all the hope I have.

Wyatt’s contribution to the sonnet was unique in history.  Wyatt’s sonnets are Petrarchian in their construction but with his own new English twist, he laid the path for Shakespeare to follow. 

 


The Apparition

by John Donne

WHEN by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead,
And that thou thinkst thee free
From all solicitation from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
And thee, feign’d vestal, in worse arms shall see :
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
And he, whose thou art then, being tired before,
Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think
Thou call’st for more,
And, in false sleep, will from thee shrink :
And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou
Bathed in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie,
A verier ghost than I.
What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
Lest that preserve thee ; and since my love is spent,
I’d rather thou shouldst painfully repent,
Than by my threatenings rest still innocent.

 

I Could Not Sleep

Claude McKay (1889 – 1948)

“Nations, like plants and human beings, grow. And if the development is thwarted they are dwarfed and overshadowed.”

Claude McKay

All Yesterday It Poured

by Claude McKay

All yesterday it poured, and all night long
I could not sleep; the rain unceasing beat
Upon the shingled roof like a weird song,
Upon the grass like running children’s feet.
And down the mountains by the dark cloud kissed,
Like a strange shape in filmy veiling dressed,
Slid slowly, silently, the wraith-like mist,
And nestled soft against the earth’s wet breast.
But lo, there was a miracle at dawn!
The still air stirred at touch of the faint breeze,
The sun a sheet of gold bequeathed the lawn,
The songsters twittered in the rustling trees.
And all things were transfigured in the day,
But me whom radiant beauty could not move;
For you, more wonderful, were far away,
And I was blind with hunger for your love.


Used

by Rita Dove

The conspiracy’s to make us thin. Size threes
are all the rage, and skirts ballooning above twinkling knees
are every man-chld’s preadolescent dream.
Tabla rasa. No slate’s that clean–

we’ve earned the navels sunk in grief
when the last child emptied us of their brief
interior light. Our muscles say We have been used.

Have you ever tried silk sheets? I did,
persuaded by postnatal dread
and a Macy’s clerk to bargain for more zip.
We couldn’t hang on, slipped
to the floor and by morning the quilts
had slid off, too. Enough of guilt–
It’s hard work staying cool.

Tell Me If

There is no such thing as happiness. Life bends joy and pain, beauty and ugliness, in such a way that no one may isolate them.

Jean Toomer, Cane

Tell Me

By Jean Toomer  (1894 – 1967)
 
Tell me, dear beauty of the dusk,
   When purple ribbons bind the hill,
    Do dreams your secret wish fulfill,
Do prayers, like kernels from the husk
 
Come from your lips? Tell me if when
    The mountains loom at night, giant shades
    Of softer shadow, swift like blades
Of grass seeds come to flower. Then
 
Tell me if the night winds bend
    Them towards me, if the Shenandoah
    As it ripples past your shore,
Catches the soul of what you send
 

 

Reapers

By Jean Toomer 
 
Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones   
In their hip-pockets as a thing that’s done,   
And start their silent swinging, one by one.   
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,   
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds.   
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,   
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade

Would You Be So Kind

William DeWitt Snodgrass (1926 – 2009)

in darkness and in hedges
I sang my sour tone
and all my love was howling
conspicuously alone

W. D. Snodgrass

Mementos, 1

By W. D. Snodgrass

Sorting out letters and piles of my old
    Canceled checks, old clippings, and yellow note cards   
That meant something once, I happened to find
    Your picture. That picture. I stopped there cold,   
Like a man raking piles of dead leaves in his yard
             Who has turned up a severed hand.

Still, that first second, I was glad: you stand
    Just as you stood—shy, delicate, slender,
In that long gown of green lace netting and daisies
    That you wore to our first dance. The sight of you stunned   
Us all. Well, our needs were different, then,
             And our ideals came easy.

Then through the war and those two long years
    Overseas, the Japanese dead in their shacks   
Among dishes, dolls, and lost shoes; I carried
    This glimpse of you, there, to choke down my fear,   
Prove it had been, that it might come back.
             That was before we got married.

—Before we drained out one another’s force   
    With lies, self-denial, unspoken regret
And the sick eyes that blame; before the divorce
    And the treachery. Say it: before we met. Still,   
I put back your picture. Someday, in due course,
             I will find that it’s still there.


I am afraid W. D. Snodgrass falls into one of voids of 20th Century poets who when I read their name for the first time, I go ….”who?”.   After reading some of his poems,  I can say he would not rank even in my top 200 favorite poets,  but I do admire his sense of humor.   Snodgrass did what average white male poets could do back then, have a long, mediocre successful career and then fade away into obscurity.   In reality he achieved a far bit, or it says so on the internet.  I enjoyed him poking fun at himself and his colleagues in the poem below, while maintaining the style for which he was being ridiculed. I am willing to wager part of the joke is the way he placed the words upon the page.   My assessment in my brief tour of Snodgrass land is that he lived the American dream, what most of us aspire;  Do something we enjoy, get paid enough to live a good life from it and then get out of the way for the next generation and fade into the very obscurity from which we emerged.   


The Poet Ridiculed by Hysterical Academics

by W. D. Snodgrass

…….. ,,,,, . Is it, then, your opinion
                      Women are putty in your hands?
                  Is this the face to launch upon
                      A thousand one night stands?

First, please, would you be so kind
    As to define your contribution
To modern verse, the Western mind
    And human institutions?

                                    Where, where is the long, flowing hair,
                                        The velvet suit, the broad bow tie;
                                    Where is the other-worldly air,
                                        Where the abstracted eye?

Describe the influence on your verse
    Of Oscar Mudwarp’s mighty line,
The theories of Susan Schmersch
    Or the spondee’s decline.

         You’ve labored to present us with
             This mouse-sized volume; shall this equal
         The epic glories of Joe Smith?
             He’s just brought out a sequel.

                  Where are the beard, the bongo drums,
                      Tattered T-shirt and grubby sandals,
                  As who, released from Iowa, comes
                      To tell of wondrous scandals?

Have you subversive, out of date,
    Or controversial ideas?
And can you really pull your weight
    Among such minds as these?

                                    Ah, what avails the tenure race,
                                        Ah, what the Ph.D.,
                                    When all departments have a place
                                        For nincompoops like thee?


Isn’t That Right?

Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

The end of art is peace.

Seamus Heaney

Clearances
(Excerpt 7 and 8)

by Seamus Heaney

 
7
 

In the last minutes he said more to her
Almost than in all their life together.
‘You’ll be in New Row on Monday night
And I’ll come up for you and you’ll be glad
When I walk in the door . . . Isn’t that right?’
His head was bent down to her propped-up head.
She could not hear but we were overjoyed.
He called her good and girl. Then she was dead,
The searching for a pulsebeat was abandoned
And we all knew one thing by being there.
The space we stood around had been emptied
Into us to keep, it penetrated
Clearances that suddenly stood open.
High cries were felled and a pure change happened.


My mother was born in October, Seamus Heaney’s mother died in October.   However, I tend to think of my Mother’s death more in this month than when she actually died in July.  I think it was because her death was so sudden, shocking in some ways, just hours after I had dropped her off at her house after Church on a Sunday afternoon.  I don’t think I truly processed her death until October when we laid her ashes to rest next to her Mother and Father in Lakewood Cemetery.   I have written before that this blog and my involvement with poetry is directly attributable to my relationship with my Mother and the way we shared poetry as a unique language between us.   My poetry wouldn’t exist without my Mother.   And I hate to admit, but my writing, both quality and quantity has steadily decreased in the intervening years, almost as if I feel I don’t need to put things to paper anymore for what was my most avid critic and fan. 

Heaney’s sonnet sequence Clearances; 8 separate sonnets, are about the loss of his mother and their relationship.  I choose to share the ending, not the beginning of the sequence, but if you want to read the entire sequence here’s a link:  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57042/clearances

I wrote many poems for my Mother, about my Mother, both when she was alive and afterwards.  I can relate to his motivations in Clearances.   What’s fascinating about these poems is what they don’t say.   The poems are like reading inside jokes of the Heaney family, a private  language, that only him and his immediate family will understand but at the same time its completely accessible because its about the mundane simplicity of life, which is really what life is about for the most part.  What I enjoy about Heaney’s use of the sonnet structure is the power he wields over it.   He doesn’t try to conform his ideas to an extraneous straight jacket of rhyming expectations, yet understands the structure gives it weight and bearing.  He uses the sonnet structure to simplify, highlight and ultimately elevate his words.  Heaney along with Robert Lowell, John Berryman and others evolved the sonnet in their own unique ways to take it where it belongs in the present, less fettered by expectations and free to wander in their and their readers imaginations. 

 


 

8

I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet’s differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush become a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.