For What Is Life?

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

Lift Not the Painted Veil

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,—behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not


A Question by Shelley

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Then what is life?” I cried. From his rent deeps
Of soul the poet cast that burning word;
And it should seem as though his prayer was heard,
For he died soon; and now his rest he keeps
Somewhere with the great spirit who never sleeps!
He had left us to murmur on awhile
And question still most fruitlessly this pile
Of natural shows, What life is? Why man weeps?
Why sins?–and whither when the awful veil
Floats on to him he sinks from earthly sight?
Some are, who never grow a whit more pale
For thinking on the general mystery,
Ground of all being; yet may I rather be
Of those who know and feel that it is night.

The Secret Cold Clear Water

David Wh

Love is the conversation between possible, searing disappointment and a profoundly imagined sense of arrival and fulfillment; how we shape that conversation is the touchstone of our ability to love in the real inhabited world.

David Whyte

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

by John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.


The Well of Grief

by David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

Tribute in Turbulence

Robert Fitzgerald

Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation.

Robert Fitzgerald

Metaphysician

by Robert Fitzgerald (1910 – 1985)

His logic unperturbed, exacting new
Tribute in turbulence, a tithe of motion:

Runners by whose feet daylight is shaken,
Moths, mantles wind-wrought, releases sharply
Against throned columns, shafts closing in air – 

Attend.  Time’s clear device in each man’s eye
Makes shadows what he sees, and streets shadows
Wherein we move, impelled or quieted.

We have been out to see the latest signs
Unbent from heaven, and these who staring walk
Beside us are not blind, and all who see
Through this low draft of shade will be undone.

Thus to lie one night with his back broken
And dream at dawn the idol in the stone. 

 


Lightness in Autumn

By Robert Fitzgerald 
 
The rake is like a wand or fan,
With bamboo springing in a span
To catch the leaves that I amass
In bushels on the evening grass.
 
I reckon how the wind behaves
And rake them lightly into waves
And rake the waves upon a pile,
Then stop my raking for a while.
 
The sun is down, the air is blue,
And soon the fingers will be, too,
But there are children to appease
With ducking in those leafy seas.
 
So loudly rummaging their bed
On the dry billows of the dead,
They are not warned at four and three
Of natural mortality.
 
Before their supper they require
A dragon field of yellow fire
To light and toast them in the gloom.
So much for old earth’s ashen doom.
 

I’m Your Man

Garrison Keillor

Bad News

by Garrison Keillor

A hard year and trouble brewing everywhere,
Insurance companies and banks sliding headfirst
Toward oblivion at 50 cents a share
And heading south.  The bubble has burst
and our mortgaged castle in the air
Will likely crash and burn, but don’t despair,
Though probably our pension fund is cursed.
For still we have this lovely love affair
In which we are so steadily immersed
And if we must go on welfare and wear
Used clothes and live on angel hair and liverwurst,
Still I’ll smile whenever I see you there,
Bathing in the creek behind our shack,
I’ll love you still and hope you love me back.

 


 

Ulysses

by Garrison Keillor

Here by the enormous swimming pool at the Biltmore
Twenty-six young dark-skinned women lie
In tiny bikinis like mermaids on the shore,
And I, bound for Ithaca, just sail on by,
Heading for you, Penelope, to tell the tale,
How that whole Trojan War gave me the willies,
The pointlessness of it, and I set sail,
Having paid off Homer and left Achilles
In his tent, and was lucky to get a favorable wind
And stopped here at the Biltmore to recompute
My course, and found twenty-six dark skinned
Women, their breasts displayed like fresh fruit
         . Thanks but no thanks.  They only want a tan.
        .  You, dear, love a good story.  I’m your man. 

Love’s Tinder In My Breast

Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374)
 

 

Sonnet 90

by Petrarch
translated by Morris Bishop

She used to let her golden hair fly free.
For the wind to toy and tangle and molest;
Her eyes were brighter than the radiant west.
(Seldom they shine so now.) I used to see
Pity look out of those deep eyes on me.
(“It was false pity,” you would now protest.)
I had love’s tinder heaped within my breast;
What wonder that the flame burnt furiously?

She did not walk in any mortal way,
But with angelic progress; when she spoke,
Unearthly voices sang in unison.

She seemed divine among the dreary folk
Of earth. You say she is not so today?
Well, though the bow’s unbent, the wound bleeds on.


Sonnet 90

by Petrarch
Translated by Anthony Mortimer

Upon the breeze she spread her golden hair
that in a thousand gentle knots was turned,
and the sweet light beyond all measure burned
in eyes where now that radiance is rare;
and in her face there seemed to come an air
of pity, true or false, that I discerned:
I had love’s tinder in my breast unburned,
was it a wonder if it kindled there?

She moved not like a mortal, but as though
she bore an angel’s form, her words had then
a sound that simple human voices lack;
a heavenly spirit, a living sun
was what I saw; now, if it is not so,
the wound’s not healed because the bow grows slack.

All Life Is Built From Song

James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938)

You are young, gifted, and Black. We must begin to tell our young, There’s a world waiting for you, Yours is the quest that’s just begun.

James Weldon Johnson

If-ing

by Langston Hughes (1901 – 1967)

If I had some small change
I’d buy me a mule,
Get on that mule and
Ride like a fool.

If I had some greenbacks
I’d buy me a Packard,
Fill it up with gas and
Drive that baby backward.

If I had a million
I’d get me a plane
And everybody in America’d
Think I was insane.

But I ain’t got a million,
Fact is, ain’t got a dime —
So just by if-ing
I have a good time!


 

Now and Then

by James Weldon Johnson

 

“All life is built from song”
   In youth’s young morn I sang;
And from a top-near hill
   The echo broke and rang.

The years with pinions swift
   To youth’s high noon made flight,
“All life is built from song”
   I sang amid the fight.

To life’s sun-setting years,
   My feet have come—Alas!
And through its hopes and fears
   Again I shall not pass.

The lusty song my youth
   With high-heart ardor sang
Is but a tinkling sound—
   A cymbal’s empty clang.

And now I sing, my Dear,
   With wisdom’s wiser heart,
“All life is built from love,
   And song is but a part.”

Love Will Endure

May Sarton (1912 – 1995)

We have to dare to be ourselves, no matter how frightening or strange that self may prove to be.

May Sarton

Poem in Autumn

by May Sarton

Now over everything the autumn light is thrown
And every line is sharp ad every leaf is clear,
Now without density or weight the airy sun
Sits in the flaming boughs, an innocent fire
That shines but does not burn nor wither.
The leaves, light-penetrated, change their essence,
Take on the gold transparence of the weather,
Are touched by death, then by light’s holy presence.

So we, first touched by death, were changed in essence,
As if grief grew transparent and turned to airy gold
And we were given days of special radiance,
Light-brimmed, light-shaken, and with love so filled
It seemed the heartbeat of the world was in our blood,
And when we stood together, love was everywhere,
And no exchange was needed, if exchange we could
The blessedness of sunlight poised on air.


Autumn Sonnets

by May Sarton

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go

Yours Will I Be

Henry Howard (1517 – 1547)

Thus I alone, where all my freedom grew, In prison pine with bondage and restraint; And with remembrance of the greater grief, To banish the less, I find my chief relief.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Sonnet 8 [Set me where as the sun doth parch the green]

By Henry Howard

Set me where as the sun doth parch the green,
Or where his beams do not dissolve the ice;
In temperate heat where he is felt and seen;
With proud people, in presence sad and wise;
Set me in base, or yet in high degree,
In the long night, or in the shortest day,
In clear weather, or where mists thickest be,
In lost youth, or when my hairs be grey;
Set me in earth, in heaven, or yet in hell,
In hill, in dale, or in the foaming flood;
Thrall, or at large, alive where so I dwell,
Sick, or in health, in ill fame or good:
Yours will I be, and with that only thought
Comfort myself when that my hope is nought.

 


The Canonization

(An Excerpt)

By John Donne (1572 – 1631)
 
 
Alas, alas, who’s injur’d by my love?
      What merchant’s ships have my sighs drown’d?
      Who says my tears have overflow’d his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
           When did the heats which my veins fill
           Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
      Litigious men, which quarrels move,
      Though she and I do love.
 
Call us what you will, we are made such by love;
      Call her one, me another fly,
      We’are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the’eagle and the dove.
           The phœnix riddle hath more wit
           By us; we two being one, are it.
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit,
      We die and rise the same, and prove
      Mysterious by this love.
 
We can die by it, if not live by love,
      And if unfit for tombs and hearse
      Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
           We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
           As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
      And by these hymns all shall approve
      Us canoniz’d for love;
 

The Smooth Hour

Archibald Lampman (1861 – 1899)

Summer, you old Indian summer. You’re the tear that comes after June-times laughter. You see so many dreams that don’t come true. Dreams we fashioned when summertime was new.

Tony Bennett

Among The Orchards

by Archibald Lampman
 
Already in the dew-wrapped vineyards dry
Dense weights of heat press down. The large bright drops
Shrink in the leaves. From dark acacia tops
The nuthatch flings his short reiterate cry;
And ever as the sun mounts hot and high
Thin voices crowd the grass. In soft long strokes
The wind goes murmuring through the mountain oaks.
Faint wefts creep out along the blue and die.
I hear far in among the motionless trees–
Shadows that sleep upon the shaven sod–
The thud of dropping apples. Reach on reach
Stretch plots of perfumed orchard, where the bees
Murmur among the full-fringed golden-rod,
Or cling half-drunken to the rotting peach.
 
 

Indian Summer

by Archibald Lampman

The old grey year is near his term in sooth,
And now with backward eye and soft-laid palm
Awakens to a golden dream of youth,
A second childhood lovely and most calm,
And the smooth hour about his misty head
An awning of enchanted splendour weaves,
Of maples, amber, purple and rose-red,
And droop-limbed elms down-dropping golden leaves.
With still half-fallen lids he sits and dreams
Far in a hollow of the sunlit wood,
Lulled by the murmur of thin-threading streams,
Nor sees the polar armies overflood
The darkening barriers of the hills, nor hears
The north-wind ringing with a thousand spears.

I Pray You Ne’er Give Heed

Mary Howitt (1799 – 1888)

Words are like the spiders web: a shelter for the clever ones and a trap for the not so clever.

Proverb

Spider Sonnet

by John Whitworth (1945-2019)

The solution to pollution is not eating spiders’: Newspaper headline

The solution to pollution is to stop ingesting spiders,
Just say no to the arachnida that copulate inside us,
How they pullulate and ovulate, the octopod articulate,
Auriculate, testiculate and oft times unguiculate,
The narrative of nightmare and the stuff of holy terror,
They’re the creatures that convince you all your life has been an error.
So you’re sicker than a parrot and you wish that you were dead?
Just you wait till they migrate and drill themselves into your head.
Creepy-crawly, creepy-crawly with a subtle sideways motion,
Some detestable detritus from the bottom of the ocean,
Something feral, fanged and furry with a flush of nasty habits,
Now they’re ferreting like ferrets, now they’re rabbitting like rabbits,
Now they’re occupying occiputs and populating dreams…
Eating spiders isn’t nearly as attractive as it seems.


The Spider to The Fly

A Fable

by Mary Howitt

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly;
“’Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many pretty things to show when you are there.”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”

“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the spider to the fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around, the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in.”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed.”

Said the cunning spider to the fly, “Dear friend, what shall I do,
To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
I have within my pantry good store of all that’s nice;
I’m sure you’re very welcome; will you please to take a slice?”
“O no, no,” said the little fly, “kind sir, that cannot be;
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see.”

“Sweet creature!” said the spider, “You’re witty and you’re wise!
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”
“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you’re pleased to say,
And bidding you good-morning now, I’ll call another day.”

The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly would soon be back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing
“Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with the pearl and silver wing:
Your robes are green and purple; there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead.”

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little fly,
Hearing his wily flattering words, came slowly flitting by.
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue;
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlor; but she ne’er came out again!

And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly.