If Thou Catch Thy Hope

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“If you want to fly,

Give up everything that weighs you down….”

Anonymous meme

Hope Is The Thing With Feathers

By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I am fascinated by the culture of memes that exists on social media. I know people for whom memes are an important way that they create a positive mindset each morning. They search out a meme shared by one of their group of friends on Facebook as a way to optimistically start their day. Or find one and proudly post it as a way to inspire themselves and their 586 Facebook friends.

In my opinion, meme’s only have the illusion of being profound. Under the veneer of wisdom is something a little vacuous. Does it make me a bad person that I am a thumbsdowner of memes? I worry that we have lost something when wisdom has to come in a form, so bite size and trivial, that it is completely removed from the context from which it arose.   Oh well, to all the lovers of memes, Meme Out and leave us poor curmudgeons off your DL.

I am, however, not a cynic when it comes to Hope.  Hope is the fuel that drives most of us to work on Monday mornings. Hope is the glue that holds relationships together. Hope is the future that may never arrive but looks good in the distance. Hope is embedded in love that parents have for their children.

I like the contrast between these two poems. Hope is a feathered thing for Emily and for William the feathered thing is the child we chase after.  I think they both got it right.

Sonnet 143

by William Shakespeare
Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe and makes all swift dispatch
In púrsuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent:
So run’st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee afar behind.
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother’s part, kiss me, be kind.
  So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
  If thou turn back and my loud crying still.

El Grito

Father Hildalgo
Miguel Hildago y Costilla – The Father of the Mexican Revolution

Anonymous Sonnet written in honor of Augustin I, the first Consitutional Emperor of Mexico following the revolution.

Por un espacio de trescientos años
este Imperio sufrió duras cadenas,
y en un profundo piélago de penas
sumergido se vió por los extraños.
No puede ya sufrir males tamaños:
no quiere obedecer leyes agenas,
solo las propias le podrán ser buenas
como que ellas de cerca ven los daños.
Produce un hijo lleno de clemencia
que embotando su espada por la Union,
jura asi sostener su independencia
y nuestra augusta santa Religion.
Lo observa todo, y se hace sin violencia
un Héroe superior a Washington.

Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla was a Roman Catholic priest from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico.   Father Hildalgo rallied  the country against the French with a famous speech called El Grito de Dolores, on September 16, 1810. Ordering the church bells to be rung, Hidalgo cried out to the native Mexicans and the lower classes, urging them to stand up and take back the land and their independence.

“My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once. I ask you to join my Reconquísta, to fight at the side of our legitimate ruler, King Ferdinand VII of Spain! I cannot speak longer, for all is being done in great haste and I must go!’ Then, his eyes flashing, he cried, ‘Death to the Gauchupines! Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! Down with bad government! Now let us go and seize the Gauchupines! Long live Mexico!

Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla

There is nothing like a Priest swearing to get everyone’s attention. Hearing Hidalgo’s shocking slang for the Spanish-born ruling class, the crowd took up the cry. Within minutes, the town’s regiment defected en masse to support Captain Allende and the working class mob joined them with torches and machetes. After three centuries of Spanish rule in Mexico, the ruling class had split into a class hierarchy of two levels: the Gachupines (Spanish born aristocrats) at the top and the Criollos (Mexican-born Spaniards) just below.

Before the night of Hidalgo’s cry, a movement of political revolution had already begun when Napoleon conquered Spain. The Criollos, of whom Hidalgo was a member, saw this instability as an opportunity to overthrow the Gachupines. They had planned to begin their push for power in December of 1810; however, the Criollos were betrayed, and Hidalgo was forced to make a quick decision – flee to safety and begin forming a new plot or turn to his parish, hungry for freedom from Spain altogether, and seize the opportunity to spark a true revolution for independence. Choosing to stay and fight, Hidalgo sped to his church, ordered the bells to rung, and delivered the famous cry that is heard round Mexico just before midnight: “Long live México!”

Jose Alfredo Jiminez was born in the city of Dolores Hildago, Guanajuato in 1926.  He became a singer, actor and performer whose songs are part of the core of todays marachi tradition.  He was charismatic,  a great song writer and a tireless performer, he was the Elvis of Mexico in his day, writing and performing songs that defined a generation.

When I visited Guanajuato and San Miguel de Yendes earlier this year, I was riding in a car with a Chilean and a Guatemalan and both burst into this song as we climbed out of the valley and left the town of Dolores Hildago behind.  Long Live Mexico!

Camino de Guanajuato

by Jose Alfredo Jiminez

No vale nada la vida,
la vida no vale nada,
comienza siempre llorando
y así llorando se acaba.
Por eso es que en este mundo
¡la vida no vale nada!
Bonito León Guanajuato,
su feria con su jugada,
allí se apuesta la vida
y se respeta al que gana.
Allá en mi León Guanajuato
¡la vida no vale nada!
Camino de Guanajuato
que pasas por tanto pueblo,
no pases por Salamanca
que allí me hiere el recuerdo.
Vete rodeando veredas
¡no pases porque me muero!
El cristo de tu montaña
del Cerro del Cubilete,
consuelo de los que sufren
adoración de la gente.
El Cristo de tu montaña
del Cerro del Cubilete.
Camino de Santa Rosa
la Sierra de Guanajuato,
allí nomás tras Lomita
se ve Dolores Hidalgo.
Yo allí me quedo paisanos
allí es mi pueblo adorado

Guanajuato’s Road

Worthless is life,
Life is absolutely worthless.
It always starts with crying
And, like that, with crying it ends.
That’s why, in this world,
Life is absolutely worthless!
Beautiful León, Guanajuato,
Its fair with its gambling,
There, one’s life is the bet,
And the one who wins, is respected.
There, in my León, Guanajuato,
Life is absolutely worthless!
Road to Guanajuato
That goes through so many villages,
Don’t go through Salamanca
It hurts me with memories.
Go by way of surrounding paths,
I can’t go through, because I’ll die!
The Christ of your mountain
In Cerro del Cubilete,
Is comfort for those who suffer,
Adoration of the people.
The Christ of your mountain
in Cerro del Cubilete.
In the way to Santa Rosa
In the Range of Guanajuato,
Right there, behind the slope
You’ll find Dolores Hidalgo.
There I will stay, friends,
There is my beloved homeland.

Crazy Blood Was Leading Me To You

Anna Ahkmatova (1889 – 1966)

I Dwell In Possibility

by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

For a poet that has a historical reputation of being a celibate, god fearing, old maid, Emily Dickinson brings a sensuality to her writing that few can match.  I hope E. D. had a secret lover, a passion which hid neatly in her small town, beneath everyone’s nose, for it sure seems like she understood all matters and qualities of paradise.

Anna Gorenko, known under her pen name Anna Ahkmatova, was a poet whose sensuality is vital in her poetry, as is her suffering.  Akhmatova’s first husband, Nikolai Gumilev, was arrested and shot during the Stalinist repression of intellectuals in St. Petersburg. Her only son, fathered by Gumilev, was also arrested and died in prison, despite continuous desperate pleas on his behalf by Ahkmatova. Her common law husband, art scholar and life long friend, Nikoli Punin, was arrested repeatedly and eventually died in a Gulag in 1953.

Akhmatova’s poems were suppressed during her lifetime, to the point that it was a dangerous act of sedition to even read them. Her poetry was distributed in an underground network of artists and friends.  Although a surprising amount of her poetry survived, much of her writing was lost. Akhmatova’s close friend, Lydia Chukovskaya described how a small trusted circle would memorize each other’s works and circulate them only by reciting them from memory to each other. Akhmatova would write a poem on a scrap of paper to be read aloud and then destroy the original by burning the paper. “It was like a ritual,” Chukovskaya wrote. “Hands, matches, an ashtray. A ritual beautiful and bitter.”

During World War II, Akhmatova witnessed the 900-day Siege of St. Petersburg. In 1940, Akhmatova started Poem without a Hero, finishing a first draft that year, but continued to work on it for the next two decades, dedicating it to “my friends and fellow citizens who perished.” With a direct order from Stalin, because of her importance in literature, she was evacuated in spring of 1942. Despite that official recognition, authorities continued to monitor and suppress her writing up until her death.  A full text of Requiem was not published in Russia until 1988.

Ahkmatova lived an unconventional life. She remained true to her beliefs, loyal to her friends, loved courageously and found a way to survive and create great art despite the tragic circumstances of the world in which she lived.


by Anna Ahkmatova
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver.

It wasn’t at all that quite mysterious painter,
which has well-pictured Hoffman’s misty dreams, –
From that unknown and far spring, it seems,
I can observe a plantain in its flatter.

And it was greening – our town, plain,
Trimming its steps, like some wings, wide and soaring,
And with a torch of chorals freely rolling,
Psyche was going into my domain.

And near the tree, in deep of the fourth yard,
Were dancing children in their full delight
To the one-legged hand-organ’s strident giggle,

And life was knellling with all bells anew,
And crazy blood was leading me to you
Along the path, so commonplace and single.

I Am Then A Poet, Am I Not?

Epictetus – Stoic Philosopher 50 AD to 135 AD


And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

  • Gospel of Luke 6:34 – 35, Sermon on the Mount

Professor’s Song

by John Berryman

(…rabid or dog-dull.) Let me tell you how
The Eighteenth Century couplet ended. Now
Tell me. Troll me the sources of that Song––
Assigned last week––by Blake. Come, come along.
Gentlemen. (Fidget and huddle: do. Squint soon.)
I want to end these fellows all by noon.
‘That deep romantic chasm’––an early use;
The word is from the French, by your abuse
Fished out a bit. (Red all your eyes. O when?)
‘A poet is a man speaking to men’:
But I am then a poet, am I not?––
Ha ha. The radiator, please. Well, what?
Alive now––no––Blake would have written prose,
But movement following movement crisply flows,
So much the better, better the much so,
As burbleth Mozart. Twelve. The class can go.
Until I meet you then, in Upper Hell
Convulsed, foaming immortal blood: farewell.

I am confident incoming freshman had no idea that they were bound for Berryman’s unique ring of hell when signing up for his English Lit 101 in the 1970’s.  Just kidding JB, I would have loved to sit in your sweat lodge and let you pontificate on Blake.

I could spend weeks and months on Berryman, so deep is the well-spring of his sonnets and so conspicuous his intelligence, nay scholarship, contained within his poetry. But I suspect, dear reader, that you are much like me, and need a little lighter fare to munch on after these past few posts.

Berryman invokes the specter of Epictetus in his poem, Of Suicide, below.  Epictetus was a stoic philosopher, born a slave, whose philosophy preached the spirit of self-determination. Epictetus stated that the foundation of all philosophy is self-knowledge and that the degree of our conviction to our ignorance and gullibility should be the first subject of internal inquiry. Given the state of preposterous political discourse in this country I think all voters should give some thought to the degree of their gullibility, regardless of which way they lean on the political spectrum.

Then again, I have to remind myself, that one of the greatest lies of our current democracy is that it remains within the power of our will. Gerrymandering, unlimited dark money and unbridled ambition to say and do anything to get elected have disfigured our democracy into something that appears for now, to be beyond the electorates control.  Instead, Epictetus would encourage us to focus on more realistic matters.  Fellow citizens, as Berryman says, we must labor and dream!

Only the educated are free.

No man is free who is not the master of himself.

Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of your will.


Of Suicide

by John Berryman

Reflexions on suicide, & on my father, possess me.
I drink too much. My wife threatens separation.
She won’t ‘nurse’ me. She feels ‘inadequate.’
We don’t mix together.

It’s an hour later in the East.
I could call up Mother in Washington, D.C.
But could she help me?
And all this postal adulation & reproach?

A basis rock-like of love & friendship
for all this world-wide madness seems to be needed.
Epicetus is in some ways my favourite philosopher.
Happy men have died earlier.

I still plan to go to Mexico this summer.
The Olmec images! Chichèn Itzài!
D. H. Lawrence has a wild dream of it.
Malcolm Lowry’s book when it came out I taught to my precept at Princeton.

I don’t entirely resign. I may teach the Third Gospel
this afternoon. I haven’t made up my mind.
It seems to me sometimes that others have easier jobs
& do them worse.

Well, we must labour & dream. Gogol was impotent,
somebody in Pittsburgh told me.
I said: At what age? They couldn’t answer.
That is a damned serious matter.

Rembrandt was sober. There we differ. Sober.
Terrors came on him. To us too they come.
Of suicide I continually think.
Apparently he didn’t. I’ll teach Luke.



While My Love Longs And I Pour

John Berryman (1914 – 1972)

Sonnet 96

by John Berryman

It will seem strange, no more this range on range
Of opening hopes and happenings. Strange to be
One’s name no longer. Not caught up, not free.
Strange, not to wish one’s wishes onward. Strange,
The looseness, slopping, time and space estrange.
Strangest, and sad as a blind child, not to see
Ever you, never to hear you, endlessly
Neither you there, nor coming.. Heavy change!—
An instant there is, Sophoclean, true,
When Oedipus must understand: his head—
When Oedipus believes—tilts like a wave,
And will not break, only iov iov
Wells from his dreadful mouth, the love he led:
Prolong to Procyon this. This begins my grave.


There was a time this summer when it felt like I was surrounded by death. The death of my uncle, the death of pets, the death of friends, the death of young men. A friend of a friend’s son committed suicide in July by jumping off the same bridge that John Berryman jumped to his death on the University of Minnesota campus. I walked across that bridge countless times as an undergraduate. I am thankful that jumping off it never crossed my mind.

Suicide can be contagious. Berryman’s father shot himself outside his window when Berryman was 12. A cruelty that only the most mentally ill can not fathom. Berryman’s life was never the same.

It’s a bit strange I haven’t shared on this blog a Berryman sonnet sooner, given the body of sonnets that make up a size able portion of his work and the fact that he spent most of his career in Minnesota. It’s not that I don’t like Berryman. I worry I might get lost in him, so I take his writing in measured doses. I can only read sadness for so long, before I need to recharge with something else.

It is curious that the sonnet form often oozes with sadness, regardless of the poet. Is it because the poet and reader both know it will come to an end shortly? A sonnet’s canvas is stark and brief. In brevity there is rarely joy, for joy takes a bit of momentum to get rolling and then it rings like a bell, sustained, thrumming into the future.

I too have played with the difference between fare well and farewell in my writing. It has expanded my understanding of what each means, at least to me. For a writer so caught in the web of his own misery, I am pleased that Berryman choose Fare Well for his title. There is one line in the poem below that gut shots me every time – Where warm will warm be warm enough to part…. Us! 

Fare well  and be well! Don’t sink, like Berryman, keep swimming, even when the warm is warm enough to part.

P. S. – Canorous means melodious and resonant, like joy.

Fare Well

by John Berryman

Motions of waking trouble winter air,
I wonder, and his face as it were forms
Solemn, canorous, under the howled alarms, –
The eyes shadowed and shut.
Certainly for this sort of thing it is very late,
I shudder, while my love longs and I pour
My bright eyes towards the moving shadow .   .  where?
Out, like a plucked gut.

What has been taken away will not return,
I take it, whether on the crouch of night
Or for my mountain’s need to share a morning’s light, –
No, I am alone.
What has been taken away should not have been shown
I complain, torturing, and then withdrawn.
After so long, can I still long so and burn
Imperishable son?

O easy the phoenix in the tree of the heart,
Each in its time, his twigs and spices fixes,
To make a last nest, and marvelously relaxes, –
Out of the fire, weak peep!  .  .
Father, I fought for mother, sleep where you sleep.
I slip into a snowbed with no hurt
Where warm will warm be warm enough to part
Us.  As I sink, I weep.



To Speak of Woe

Weight of love

To Speak of Woe That Is In Marriage

by Robert Lowell

The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor’s edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust…
It’s the injustice… he is so unjust’
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick? Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh…
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.’

Don’t ever accuse Robert Lowell of not having a sense of humor.  What are we to make of this sonnet?  In my opinion Lowell intentionally uses the sonnet structure to poke a little fun at the romantics by describing what may be the most selfless act of love by a female protagonist in all of poetry, the willingness to accept her lovers demons, however vile and debasing they may be.

What makes each of us tick? A question that sorely tests every relationship. I don’t believe in true love, as truth and love have little business reuniting in one ignominious lie. I do believe lasting love comes in part from the acceptance of injustice. Rare is the relationship borne of equals.  Most of us live a life with a partner where, for sometimes long periods, one member or the other pulls a greater share of the weight to make it succeed. One person is more committed, one person is more invested and that fact is worn like a yoke around both partners necks. Maybe it is through that sacrifice of accepting the injustice of love, that love abides.


Astrophil and Stella 47

by Sir Phillip Sydney

What, have I thus betrayed my liberty?
Can those black beams such burning marks engrave
In my free side? or am I born a slave,
Whose neck becomes such yoke of tyranny?
Or want I sense to feel my misery?
Or sprite, disdain of such disdain to have?
Who for long faith, though daily help I crave,
May get no alms but scorn of beggary.
Virtue, awake! Beauty but beauty is;
I may, I must, I can, I will, I do
Leave following that which it is gain to miss.
Let her go. Soft, but here she comes. Go to,
Unkind, I love you not! O me, that eye
Doth make my heart give to my tongue the lie!

As In The Flame There Is The Wandering

W. S. Merwin (b. 1927)


To The Sonnet With My Soul

By W. S. Merwin

As in the wing there is the infinite flight
which in the flower is the erring essence,
as in the flame there is the wandering
brilliance, and in the blue the single sky;

 .as the consolation in the melody,
the penetrating coolness in the stream,
the noble opulence in the diamond,
so is my flesh in the total desire.

In you, sonnet, form, this pristine hunger,
imitates as a lingering water,
the multitude of immortal wonders.

.The endless clarity of your beauty is,
as a sky in a fountain, limitless
within the limitation of your borders.

“I needed my mistakes in their order to get me here.”

W. S. Merwin



by W. S. Merwin

I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write