Awakening to warbling of a wren, Remembering when, the future bade As unending line. The past was nearer then, A shadowland, where tears were unafraid. Afternoon shade slipped by on green grass blades Beneath canvas hammock as my tent. No other purpose than to play was weighed. And orange popsicles were heaven sent. No divine mystery to be unwrapped. It lay before me with simplicity. Choose cool shadows or sunshine for my nap, And snooze without hint of duplicity. Then, a long summer evening to be spent, Devoid of care or thought of where it went.
FALSE though she be to me and love,
I’ll ne’er pursue revenge;
For still the charmer I approve,
Though I deplore her change.
In hours of bliss we oft have met:
They could not always last;
And though the present I regret,
I’m grateful for the past.
by Carol Ann Duffy (1955 – )
I want to call you thou, the sound
of the shape of the start
of a kiss – like this – thou –
and to say, after, I love,
thou, I love, thou I love, not
I love you.
Because I so do ―
as we say now – I want to say
thee, I adore, I adore thee
and to know in my lips
the syntax of love resides,
and to gaze in thine eyes.
Love’s language starts, stops, starts;
the right words flowing or clotting in the heart.
The day is late, later than the sun.
He tastes the dusk of things and eases down,
and feels the shade set in across the yard.
He never thought there’d be so much undone,
so much in need of planing: the haugh unmown
with its fist of bracken, the splinting of the cattle bar,
the half-attended paddock wall
scribbled with blackthorn and broke-wool.
Perhaps he could have turned the plough for one last till,
be sure, or surer, of where the seeding fell.
But then it’s not the ply that counts, but the depth of furrow,
knowing the take was deep and real, knowing the change was made.
And field by field the brown hills harvest yellow.
And few of us will touch the landscape in that way.
I spent the past few days in the company of plant physiology graduate students and their advisor at the University of Illinois in Champaign. It did my heart good to see the genuine eagerness with which the students approach the rather difficult task of their field research, trying to tease apart the management variables that can unlock the potential for higher sustainable yields in corn and soybeans. The number one factor that influences yield on every crop every year is the one which farmers and graduate students have no control; the weather.
I like this poem, because Hollis captures several truths about agriculture; there is never a time when everything is finished and few understand how a good farmer can “touch the landscape in that way. “
To hear Matthew Hollis read this poem, check out the link below to The Poetry Archive. And while you’re there, listen to another fine poem by Hollis titled: And Let Us Say.
The beautiful American word, Sure
As I have come into a room, and touch
The lamp’s button, and the light blooms with such
Certainty where the darkness loomed before,
As I care for what I do not know, and care
Knowing for little she might not have been,
And for how little she would be unseen,
The intercourse of lives miraculous and dear.
Where the light is, and each thing clear,
Separate from all others, standing in its place,
I drink the time and touch whatever’s near,
And hope for day when the whole world has that face:
For what assures her present every year?
In dark accidents the mind’s sufficient grace.
Delmore Schwartz lived and died in New York City. In between were stints as student or adjunct professor in Madison, Wisconsin, Harvard and Syracuse University. New York City and his parents divorce loomed as a character in his stories and poetry, his sonnet 0 City, City a far cry from Wordsworth’s love affair with London. Schwartz seemed to bear New York on his shoulders, filling his mind with literature in its public libraries as a young man, surrounding him with artists and intellectuals and then he spit it out after having chewed on it sufficiently for 40 years. It is said that Schwartz paved the way for Saul Bellows to be Saul Bellows. If true, its damnable praise that his legacy was being an originality that allowed the next Jewish writer to prosper for excelling even further in defining the loneliness of trying to assimilate as an outsider into a nation of immigrants.
Schwartz was a man of brilliant intellect whose professional zenith peaked in his 20’s. He was touted by William Carlos Williams. He was an acquaintance if not friend of Robert Lowell and John Berryman. Lowell penned a tribute or a curse in honor of him. Schwartz suffered the burdens of genius, mental illness, creativity, alcoholism and poverty. He died at the age of 53 of a heart attack. His body unclaimed by family and friends he had grown estranged from years before.
Schwartz writes with a clear voice, an impulse driven by a deep understanding of literature and a willingness to work within the confines of tradition to forge something new. The subjects of his poems were often stark. His sonnets a love song to words and and ideas more than people.
What to make of the first line and his association of the American-ness of the word ‘sure’? Schwartz was a first generation Romanian Jew, who grew up in respectable if not the upper middle class in New York City. That all changed in an instant when his father died suddenly at age 49. Apparently dying young was the one true inheritance his father passed on to his son. The ‘sureness’ of being American may have eluded Schwartz. And yet the freedoms that invention allowed were not lost on his awakening as an artist. For what was possible for him in America would have been impossible in the birth place of his parents.
by Delmore Schwartz
I follow thought and what the world announces
I lean to hear, and leaning too far over,
Fall, and babied by confusion, cover
Myself in drowse, too tired by such bounces.
But in sleep are dreams across zigzagging snow
Descending quietly and slow, like minutes,
And on this peace the soul again begins its
Rhetoric of desire, older than Jericho,
And rails once more, like birds of early morning
Urchinous on branches and like newsboys,
“Extra, this is the meaning of life,
Here is the real good, beyond all turning,”
Till night goes home, astonished by such cries,
I wake up, and, to feel superior, I laugh.
Down the road someone is practising scales,
The notes like little fishes vanish with a wink of tails,
Man’s heart expands to tinker with his car
For this is Sunday morning, Fate’s great bazaar;
Regard these means as ends, concentrate on this Now,
And you may grow to music or drive beyond Hindhead anyhow,
Take corners on two wheels until you go so fast
That you can clutch a fringe or two of the windy past,
That you can abstract this day and make it to the week of time
A small eternity, a sonnet self-contained in rhyme.
But listen, up the road, something gulps, the church spire
Open its eight bells out, skulls’ mouths which will not tire
To tell how there is no music or movement which secures
Escape from the weekday time. Which deadens and endures.
The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s–he takes the lead
In summer luxury,–he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
August is the peak time in Minnesota for insects of all types. We don’t have many cicadas singing to us (yet) this summer, an off year for their shrill tunes. But the cricket chorus has begun to build in the last week and should take us all the way through fall.
Agronomists, gardeners and good observers will take note around now that the green of the folliage on the trees isn’t as green as just a couple weeks ago. The levels of chlorophyll peaked in the leaves in July and is starting to wane, causing leaves to take take on a slightly darker hue. Insects, fungal and bacterial diseases on leaves are also at their peak, further reducing the amount of green in the canopy. In two short weeks, it will suddenly be September and everything will seemingly change overnight, the lush greens of summer, replaced by a lighter paler and darker green and the start of colors of fall.
I am surprised there aren’t more examples of dueling poems and poets. Two friends, each accomplished writers, who challenge each other to write a poem with the same prompt, the same inspiration. Maybe there are lots of them and I am not literally aware enough to recognize them (pun intended). Dear reader, if you know of more, please share them with me, I would be fascinated to uncover more examples of dueling poems, particularly dueling sonnets.
Do we need to declare a victor? Did Hunt and Keats settle their friendly bet with a round of drinks? Which poem did they privately declare superior? In my opinion Hunt’s is the better sonnet, more imaginative language, clever in its delivery. I particularly like the image Hunt paints of crickets as ‘warm little housekeepers’, a fond way of referring to the inevitable cricket or two who find their way into the basement or wood bin near the fireplace to sing a private serenade as the snows of winter begin.
Hunt’s friendship and writing is often credited in helping Keats become a better poet. Hunt, true to his name, led out and showed Keats the way, and Keats took up the challenge and blossomed as an artist, knowing his time on Earth likely short.
To The Grasshopper and The Cricket
by Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1859)
Green little vaulter in the sunny grass
Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
Sole voice that’s heard amidst the lazy noon,
When ev’n the bees lag at the summoning brass;
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
With those who think the candles come too soon,
Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass;
Oh sweet and tiny cousins, that belong,
One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both though small are strong
At your clear hearts; and both were sent on earth
To sing in thoughtful ears this natural song,–
In doors and out, summer and winter, Mirth.
“At worst, one is in motion: and at best, Reaching no absolute, in which to rest, One is always nearer by not keeping still.”
From On The Move by Thom Gunn
A loose, slack, and not well dressed youth, met Mr. — and myself in a lane near Highgate. — knew him, and spoke. It was Keats. He was introduced to me and stayed a minute or so. After he had left us a little way, he ran back and said: “Let me carry away the memory, Coleridge, of having pressed your hand!” — “There is death in that hand,” I said to —, when Keats was gone; yet this was, I believe, before the consumption showed itself distinctly.
Samuel Coleridge – 1832
Keats At Highgate
By Thom Gunn
A cheerful youth joined Coleridge on his walk
(“Loose,” noted Coleridge, “slack, and not well-dressed”)
Listening respectfully to the talk talk talk
Of First and Second Consciousness, then pressed
The famous hand with warmth and sauntered back
Homeward in his own state of less dispered
More passive consciousness–passive, not slack,
Whether of Secondary type or First.
He made his way toward Hampstead so alert
He hardly passed the small grey ponds below
Or watched a sparrow pecking in the dirt
Without some insight swelling the mind’s flow
That banks made swift. Everything put to use.
Perhaps not well-dressed but oh no not loose.
In a very quick study of Keats entirety of his poetry, sonnets comprise 25 of the 54 poems he shared with the world in his life time, not quite half. No other poetical form is represented in as large a volume in Keats work. So it is fitting that Gunn, who would not be known for his sonnets, would write a tribute to Keats as a sonnet.
What captured Gunn’s imagination to pen this little rebuttal to Coleridge? Coleridge was a formidable critic and poet of his time, of much greater stature than Keats. But time has flipped the tables in a way, at least for those of us who fancy ourselves a bit influenced by the romantics. One has to wonder whether Tuberculosis has robbed humanity of great art by shortening the lives of so many over history, or whether through its premature death, one can see death coming in what should be the flourish of their youth, that many of our most beloved artists stayed on the move long enough to capture the beauty of life in words amidst the juxtaposition of the tragedy of their consumption.