Closing the book, I find I have left my head
inside. It is dark in here, but the chapters open
their beautiful spaces and give a rustling sound,
words adjusting themselves to their meaning.
Long passages open at successive pages. An echo,
continuous from the title onward, hums
behind me. From in here, the world looms,
a jungle redeemed by these linked sentences
carved out when an author traveled and a reader
kept the way open. When this book ends
I will pull it inside-out like a sock
and throw it back in the library. But the rumor
of it will haunt all that follows in my life.
A candleflame in Tibet leans when I move.
by Mary Oliver
Oh do you have time
for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles
for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air
as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine
and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,
do not walk by
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.
Never be a cynic, even a gentle one. Never help out a sneer, not even at the Devil.
To the God of Opportunity
by Susie Frances Harrison (1859 – 1935)
Strange, that no idol hath been roughly wrought,
Or fairly carven, bearing on its base
A name so potent! Strange, no ancient race,
Workers in whitest Parian, ever sought
To reproduce thy beauty, slyly fraught
With vast suggestion! Strange, thou couldst not brace
The dull Assyrian, didst not tempt from chase,
Trophy and battle, the sons of literal thought.
We who are tired of gods must yet to thee
Render allegiance. Chance and Love are blind,
And Cause is soulless, Art is deaf and vain,
All unavailing looms the God of Pain
Disclaiming these, we choose with prescient mind
The unknown God of Opportunity.
Abraham Lincoln Walks At Midnight
by Vachel Lindsay (1879 – 1931)
(In Springfield, Illinois)
It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down,
Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.
A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.
He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long,
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.
His head is bowed. He thinks of men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why;
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.
The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.
He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free:
A league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.
It breaks his heart that things must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?
Holy, as I suppose I dare to call you
without pretending to know anything about you
but infinite capacity everywhere & always
& in particular certain goodness to me.
Yours is the crumpling, to my sister-in-law terrifying thunder,
yours the candelabra buds sticky in Spring,
the gloomy wisdom of godless Freud:
yours the lost souls in ill-attended wards,
those agonized thro’ the world
It this instant of time, all evil men,
Belsen, Omaha Beach,—
incomprehensible to man your ways.
May be the Devil after all exists.
‘I don’t try to reconcile anything’ said the poet at eighty,
‘This is a damned strange world.’
Man is ruining the pleasant earth & man.
What at last, my Lord, will you allow?
Postpone till after my children’s deaths your doom
if it be thy ineffable, inevitable will.
I say ‘Thy kingdom come’, it means nothing to me.
Hast Thou prepared astonishments for man?
One sudden Coming? Many so believe.
So not, without knowing anything, do I.
I wonder what Berryman would make of the current state of affairs in the world? The problem with our current dilemma we find ourselves in our post modern dystopian populist enviro-mess fake news 24/7 news-cycle of a world, is that for those individuals with a penchant for self indulgent worry, there is almost no place to start and no end to the problems to worry about. I talked to a friend yesterday who was sending his 2 fourteen year old daughters off to a camp for four weeks where no technology is allowed, a cell phone, video game, Instagram detox. Sign me up.
I have been wrestling with the end of my own addresses to the universe. It is slowly, slowly congealing into something that is looking close to final, but the challenge with writing poetry about things that are unknowable, there is always something more to say on the subject.
Berryman’s brilliant Eleven Addresses to The Lord feel to me less like a confession or proclamation and more like an introduction, hopeful that despite all of Berryman’s excesses in life, there might still be an invitation to have a drink at the bar with God on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.
Eleven Addresses To The Lord
If I say Thy name, art Thou there? It may be so.
Thou art not absent-minded, as I am.
I am so much so I had to give up driving.
You attend, I feel, to the matters of man.
Across the ages certain blessings swarm,
horrors accumulate, the best men fail:
Socrates, Lincoln, Christ mysterious.
Who can search Thee out?
except Isaiah & Pascal, who saw.
I dare not ask that vision, though a piece of it
at last in crisis was vouchsafèd me.
I altered then for good, to become yours.
Caretaker! take care, for we run in straits.
Daily, by night, we walk naked to storm,
some threat of wholesale loss, to ruinous fear.
Gift us with long cloaks & adrenalin.
Who haunt the avenues of Angkor Wat
recalling all that prayer, that glory dispersed,
haunt me at the corner of Fifth & Hennepin.
Shield & fresh fountain! Manifester! Even mine.
Today’s Fourteenlines is a guest blog by Frank Hudson. Please check out his marvelous website and commentary on Edward Thomas including his creative interpretations in music by clicking on the link below.
“There is a comfort in the strength of love; ‘Twill make a thing endurable, which else would overset the brain, or break the heart.”
Sonnet on Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep At A Tale of Distress
by William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)
SHE wept.–Life’s purple tide began to flow
In languid streams through every thrilling vein;
Dim were my swimming eyes–my pulse beat slow,
And my full heart was swell’d to dear delicious pain.
Life left my loaded heart, and closing eye;
A sigh recall’d the wanderer to my breast;
Dear was the pause of life, and dear the sigh
That call’d the wanderer home, and home to rest.
That tear proclaims–in thee each virtue dwells,
And bright will shine in misery’s midnight hour;
As the soft star of dewy evening tells
What radiant fires were drown’d by day’s malignant pow’r,
That only wait the darkness of the night
To cheer the wand’ring wretch with hospitable light.
Wordsworth penned and published this sonnet when he was 16 years old. It was his first published sonnet. It’s clear he had a bit of a crush on the older more worldly Williams, nine years his senior, the two sharing a common sense of romanticism, evident in Williams poem below.
by Helen Maria Williams
No riches from his scanty store
My lover could impart;
He gave a boon I valued more —
He gave me all his heart!
His soul sincere, his generous worth,
Might well this bosom move;
And when I asked for bliss on earth,
I only meant his love.
But now for me, in search of gain
From shore to shore he flies;
Why wander riches to obtain,
When love is all I prize?
The frugal meal, the lowly cot
If blest my love with thee!
That simple fare, that humble lot,
Were more than wealth to me.
While he the dangerous ocean braves,
My tears but vainly flow:
Is pity in the faithless waves
To which I pour my woe?
The night is dark, the waters deep,
Yet soft the billows roll;
Alas! at every breeze I weep —
The storm is in my soul.
The Night is dark, the waters deep, Yet soft the billows roll; Alas! at every breeze I weep – The storm is in my soul.
Helen Maria Williams
Sonnet On Reading Burns’ To A Mountain Daisy
By Helen Maria Williams (1759 – 1827)
While soon the “garden’s flaunting flowers” decay,
And, scatter’d on the earth, neglected lie,
The “Mountain Daisy,” cherish’d by the ray
A poet drew from heav’n, shall never die.
Ah! like that lovely flower the poet rose!
‘Mid penury’s bare soil and bitter gale;
He felt each storm that on the mountain blows,
Nor ever knew the shelter of the vale.
By Genius in her native vigour nurst,
On Nature with impassion’d look he gazed,
Then through the cloud of adverse fortune burst
Indignant, and in light unborrow’d blaz’d.
Shield from rude sorrow, SCOTIA! shield thy bard:–
His heav’n-taught numbers Fame herself will guard.
Described during her lifetime by her detractors as politically radical and sexually wanton, Helen Maria Williams sounds like my kind of woman, a poet with a mind of her own and the will (and means) to do what she wanted. I find it a bit humorous that part of her sentence during a brief stay in prison in France included the ominous warning that she was only allowed to write sonnets and do translation work while behind bars. The judge apparently feeling that penning sonnets was sufficient punishment for a writer.
Helen’s sonnets were not so magical as to launch a thousand ships, but she has a certain flair and the chops to have lived a bona fide poetic life, such that her writing has managed to avoid the dust bin of history. I find her defense and admiration of Burns’ poem charming.
I read Burns’ poetry aloud much more convincingly if I drink a bit of whiskey before hand. I recommend you try a single malt aged for 10 years or more of anything that costs at least $35/bottle USD and whose brand is difficult to pronounce on the bottle, it will be good practice for Burns. My pro tip, is like all good fake speakers of a foreign language, when you get to a sticky wicket of a word and don’t know how it’s pronounced, don’t slow down, do your best and say it loudly with confidence and with your own version of a fake Scottish accent and you’ll fool most everyone but a real Scot.
To A Mountain Daisy
by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)
On Turning One Down with the Plow, in April, 1786
Wee, modest, crimson-tippèd flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure .Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r, .Thou bonie gem.
Alas! it’s no thy neibor sweet,
The bonie lark, companion meet,
Bending thee ‘mang the dewy weet .Wi’ spreck’d breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet .The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth . Amid the storm,
Scarce rear’d above the parent-earth . Thy tender form.
The flaunting flowers our gardens yield
High shelt’ring woods an’ wa’s maun shield:
But thou, beneath the random bield . O’ clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field . Unseen, alane.
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie-bosom sun-ward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head . In humble guise;
But now the share uptears thy bed, . And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,
Sweet flow’ret of the rural shade!
By love’s simplicity betray’d . And guileless trust;
Till she, like thee, all soil’d, is laid . Low i’ the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,
On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d!
Unskilful he to note the card . Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage and gales blow hard, . And whelm him o’er!
Such fate to suffering Worth is giv’n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv’n,
By human pride or cunning driv’n . To mis’ry’s brink;
Till, wrench’d of ev’ry stay but Heav’n, . He ruin’d sink!
Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives elate, . Full on thy bloom,
Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight . Shall be thy doom.
So ghostly then the girl came in
I never saw the turnstile twist,
Down where the orchard trees begin
Lost in a revery of mist.
And in that windless hour between
The last of sunset and the night,
When fields give up their ebbing green
And two bats interweave their flight.
I saw the turnstile glimmer pale
Just where the orchard trees begin.
But watching was of no avail,
Invisibly the girl came in.
I took one deep breath of the air
And lifted up my heavy heart;
It was not I who trembled there,
But my immortal counterpart.
I knew that she had come again
Up through the orchard through the stile,
Without a sign to tell me when,
Though I was watching all the while.
I asked my friend, “what’s this I hear about you entering hospice?” She answered, ‘What do you think about it?” I said, “I think I trust you know what’s best.” She replied, “It’s all just part of the process.”
by William Shakespeare
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.