And Now My Heart Is Sore

trumpeter_swans
Trumpeter Swans

Wild Swans Near Gladstone

by James P. Lenfestey

A pair of swans lingers in the bay
opposite the freeway in upper Michigan in summer.
“Mated for life,” I point out to my wife,
“Mute swans,” she says, not looking,
“no need to talk.” I note the graceful mute life,
she driving her quiet Prius, me a quiet guest.
When her eyes, weary, reluctantly offer me
the wheel, it is like relinquishing a broken
sword into tall grass after a day of battle.
Now my turn to drive, and my mind wanders
over the pair of elegant swans seen every time
we pass the curve of the bay together, or alone.


I don’t think the titles of these two poems are a coincidence.  So how does that connection add greater complexity to Lefenstey’s poem? And does it equally impart a different layer of meaning to Yeats’ poem?  In my opinion, time is not linear in literature, time is only relevant to the reader.  Does Homer change with time, with every new novel and poem written does Odysseus become a new man?  Or are we the only ones who become renewed and the love of wild swans remains eternal?


Wild Swans at Coole

by W. B. Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

The Wide Blossom On Which The Wind Assails

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When You Are Old

by W. B. Yeats

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.

A Rapture Of Distress

auden new york
W. H. Auden

 

In Memory of W. B. Yeats

by W. H. Auden

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.


 

Poetry, even love poetry is a rapture of distress. Auden never rejected anxiety as something to be cured or admonished. He embraced it, letting it become the thing that made his writing accessable and understandable. Some writers words are so perfect that it’s hard for us to see our own lives contained within the lines. Auden was a perfectionist in the selection of his words and the construction of his poems, but he didn’t talk over our heads in some academic lexicon, foreign to our English ears. No, Auden paints in a pallete of plain language that enriches our experience of reading him.

Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming, is one of the most appropriated poems of the last 100 years. There have been countless artists who incorporated into their work or title some element of Yeats’ brilliance, hoping by creating that connection, their work will have greater significance and depth of meaning.  In some cases, like Joan Didion, it worked.  In most, it seems trite and a failed attempt at being cerebral. Best to let the grand master stand on his own.

I keep coming back to Yeats and in particular to this poem. The opening creates movement that carries me to the end, the swirl of insanity just as relevent today. Yeats wrote this amidst the spectre of WWI and the forces of war carrying evil to every corner of the earth. Yeats shines a spot light on the rough beast that continues to slouch in the deserts of our worst existence, where passionate intensity has replaced compassionate calm. The grotesque theater played out on our Nation’s monuments last week and the blood thirsty rush to judgement to condemn “the other” side without any wisdom of stepping back from the madness that is social media and realizing that wihout the invention of a cell phone, none of it would be news.

Yeats’ nor Auden would be surprised that we haven’t overcome the human tendency towards destruction.  For only nature makes entropy look beautiful, material creations of man, other than art, tend to become uglier in its inevitable wasting away and depreciation. Literature doesn’t depreciate, if anything it becomes more heroic and timeless in our ability to reach across centuries and discover how much in common we have with the greatest minds that have ever lived.


 

The Second Coming

by W. B. Yeats

Tuning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

 

Lean Over, Greedy

lean over greedy

A Drinking Song
by W. B. Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

After Sex

by Chana Bloch

A man after sex
has that squishy thing in the nest of his lap.
A bashful appendage
like a Claes Oldenburg vinyl drainpipe,
a soft saxophone that won’t toot a note.

A man’s got to wear his susceptibility
out in plain sight.
No wonder he’s keeping his soul
zippered up.

A woman’s got that rock of a belly,
that baby cave,
breasts swaggering erect
when they swell with milk.
Oh she knows what it’s like to sing
the stand-up song of a man.

Now you and I soften in the wash,
the body-elastic goes slack.
We see ourselves in each other,
we grow alike.
We want to curl up in a sunny corner
and doze like the cat.

Come, flick a whisker,
make me remember.


It’s nearly Thanksgiving here in the United States,  time for some serious training to help us through a day of feasting.  Fourteenlines has been doing its part in helping you prepare, with poems about eating.  First we had Eating Poetry by Mary Strand and now Eating Babies by Chana Bloch.

Every once in a while as I prepare a blog entry my searching around on the web results in me stumbling across a poet I have never heard of before and that poet proceeds to completely blow me away. Chana Bloch is one such poet. I need to order on Alibris several of her books, including her translation of The Song of Songs.

I had a hard time picking out which two poems to share of hers, there are so many good ones. Eating Babies brilliance floated it to the top. This poem brought back such wonderful memories and even smells of my children as babies from long ago. So eat up, give yourself a second helping of poetry and take home some leftovers. I promise it will be most satisfying and low calorie at the same time.

Click on the link below to hear Chana Bloch read her poem Eating Babies:

 


Eating Babies

by Chana Bloch

1

FAT
is the soul of this flesh.
Eat with your hands, slow, you will understand
breasts, why everyone
adores them—Rubens’ great custard nudes—why
we can’t help sleeping with
pillows.

The old woman in the park pointed,
Is it yours?
Her gold eye-teeth gleamed.

I bend down, taste the fluted
nipples, the elbows, the pads
of the feet. Nibble earlobes, dip
my tongue in the salt fold
of shoulder and throat.

Even now he is changing,
as if I were
licking him thin.

2

HE SQUEEZES his eyes tight
to hide
and blink! he’s still here.
It’s always a surprise.

Safety-fat,
angel-fat,

steal it in mouthfuls,
store it away
where you save

the face that you touched
for the last time
over and over,
your eyes closed

so it wouldn’t go away.

3

WATCH HIM sleeping. Touch
the pulse where
the bones haven’t locked
in his damp hair:
the navel of dreams.
His eyes open for a moment, underwater.

His arms drift in the dark
as your breath
washes over him.

Bite one cheek. Again.
It’s your own
life you lean over, greedy,
going back for more.