“Dickens is dead!” Beneath that grievous cry
London seemed shivering in the summer heat;
Strangers too up the tale like friends that meet:
“Dickens is dead!” said they, and hurried by;
Street children stopped their games – they knew not why,
But some new night seemed darkening down the street.
A girl in rags, staying her wayworn feet,
Cried, “Dickens dead? Will Father Christmas die?”
City he loved, take courage on thy way!
He loves thee still, in all thy joys and fears.
Though he whose smile made bright thine eyes of grey –
Though he whose voice, uttering thy burthened years,
Made laughters bubble through thy sea of tears –
Is gone, Dickens returns on Christmas Day.
by Charles Algernon Swinburne (1837- 1909)
Chief in thy generation born of men,
Whom English praise acclaimed as English-born,
With eyes that matched the worldwide eyes of morn
For gleam of tears or laughter, tenderest then
When thoughts of children warmed their light, or when
Reverence of age with love and labor worn,
Or godlike pity fired with godlike scorn,
Shot through them flame that winged thy swift live pen:
Where stars and suns that we behold not burn,
Higher even than here, though highest was here thy place,
Love sees thy spirit laugh and speak and shine
With Shakespeare and the soft bright soul of Sterne
And Fielding’s kindliest might and Goldsmith’s grace;
Scarce one more loved or worthier love than thine.
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.
Evidence by Mary Oliver. Copyright Beacon Press 2009.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
And lo a star arose in the east
only it was the sun
and three wise guys or goys
spied it and exclaimed
Behold, Great God Sun
creator of light
creator of all life on earth
without which we would live in darkness
forever and ever
Great God Sun
bringer of the only light we know
and the only god we have visual proof really exits
the only god
who’s not an invention of our desperate imaginations
seeking some way out or up
beyond certain death
Great God Sun
creator of night and day on earth
there are no gods before you
a babe was born in a manger
by immaculate conception or spontaneous combustion
and there was great rejoicing
out there in the desert
and the babe arose and spake
in a loud voice
Yeah man it’s a fact
I am born of the God the Father great god Sun
and I am his Holy Ghost on earth
which he in his heavenly wisdom
sent to you in the form of light
and I am that light
which is love on earth forever and ever
How To Paint Sunlight by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright 2001.
Again the native hour lets down the locks
Uncombed and black, but gray the bobbing beard;
Ten years ago His eyes, fierce shuttlecocks,
Pierced the close net of what I failed: I feared
The belly-cold, the grave-clout, that betrayed
Me dithering in the drift of cordial seas;
Ten years are time enough to be dismayed
By mummy Christ, head crammed between his knees.
Suppose I take an arrogant bomber, stroke
By stroke, up to the frazzled sun to hear
Sun-ghostlings whisper: Yes, the capital yoke—
Remove it and there’s not a ghost to fear
This crucial day, whose decapitate joke
Languidly winds into the inner ear.
The day’s at end and there’s nowhere to go,
Draw to the fire, even this fire is dying;
Get up and once again politely lying
Invite the ladies toward the mistletoe
With greedy eyes that stare like an old crow.
How pleasantly the holly wreaths did hang
And how stuffed Santa did his reindeer clang
Above the golden oaken mantel, years ago!
Then hang this picture for a calendar,
As sheep for goat, and pray most fixedly
For the cold martial progress of your star,
With thoughts of commerce and society,
Well-milked Chinese, Negroes who cannot sing,
The Huns gelded and feeding in a ring.
Give me this day a faith not personal
As follows: The American people fully armed
With assurance policies, righteous and harmed,
Battle the world of which they’re not at all.
That lying boy of ten who stood in the hall,
His hat in hand (thus by his father charmed:
“You may be President”), was not alarmed
Nor even left uneasy by his fall.
Nobody said that he could be a plumber,
Carpenter, clerk, bus-driver, bombardier;
Let little boys go into violent slumber,
Aegean squall and squalor where their fear
Is of an enemy in remote oceans
Unstalked by Christ: these are the better notions.
Gay citizen, myself, and thoughtful friend,
Your ghosts are Plato’s Christians in the cave.
Unfix your necks, turn to the door; the nave
Gives back the cheated and light dividend
So long sequestered; now, new-rich, you’ll spend
Flesh for reality inside a stone
Whose light obstruction, like a gossamer bone,
Dead or still living, will not break or bend.
Thus light, your flesh made pale and sinister
And put off like a dog that’s had his day,
You will be Plato’s kept philosopher,
Albino man bleached from the mortal clay,
Mild-mannered, gifted in your master’s ease
While the sun squats upon the waveless seas.
For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme
I am a late bloomer as a writer and am still finding my way playing with words. I have come to appreciate the idea of a muse; having at times, an almost out-of-body experience where it feels like words flow from my fingertips as I type in ways that are separate from my conscious brain. When this happens, I wait anxiously, like an onlooker, to see what my fingertips have to say as the words appear on the screen. Not that my writing hits the page in its final form with a first draft. My writing process consists of trying to get a first draft done fairly quickly; quick being a relative term as it can range from one hour, to one day to one month. From there I tend to tinker endlessly, changing lines, changing words, re-ordering structure, reading the poem out loud over and over again, with literally dozens of edits, until it reads at least to me, without awkwardness. I will sometimes come back to a poem over a year later and make edits, finding the fallow period helps my subconscious smooth out flaws.
I am still amazed by the well of experience from which inspiration arises. Sometimes it starts with one word. An example is the sonnet Simple Praise. It came about while reading Lila by Marilynne Robinson. In it is there is a bible passage that re-occurs throughout the book. The passage is from Ezekiel and is relayed by Robinson as:
And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was cut, neither was thou washed in water to cleanse thee; thou was not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. No eye pitied thee, to do any of these things unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou was cast out in the open field, for that thy person was abhorred, in the day thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee weltering in thy blood, I said unto thee, Though thy art in thy blood, live; yea, I said unto thee, Though thou art in thy blood, live!.
A powerful metaphor for a middle-aged man in the midst of his mid-life crisis; get up, stop wallowing, take responsibility for your true skin, taste your blood and live.
The first time I read it, a word jumped out at me – weltering. It’s one of those words, that I thought I knew the definition, but on it coming into my consciousness more deeply, I doubted whether I fully comprehended its meaning. So it sent me to the dictionary.
towelterinconfusion or despair.
a confusedmass;ajumbleormuddle: a welterofanxiousfaces.
arolling,tossing,ortumblingabout,asorasifbythesea,waves, or wind.
Definition from Dictionary.com
Several of the definitions held portent to what was happening in my life, in particular the concept of being deeply entangled and in a state of commotion and turmoil. At the time, I was attempting to use poetry as a vehicle to imperfectly capture portions of my spirituality and this one word, weltering, began swirling in my mind and from it a sonnet emerged.
The sonnet Simple Praise intentionally has connections to Reinhold Neibor and his focus on realism. On this week before Christmas, as I prepare to celebrate with family and friends, I feel more strongly the passage of time. Christmas is my yearly reminder on the possibilities of rebirth and renewal. It is a time I try to strengthen my internal connections to hope and celebration. It is a time to be thankful. And to remind myself to live, truly live, in the coming new year!
by T.A. Fry
Weltering in the grace of love’s remand, What brokenness have I put right today? God is unknowable. Yet I pray To avoid the trap of greed’s quicksand. Cold foot in mouth, hot tongue in hand, I offer restitution my own to pay. To lessen debt’s cycle of dismay, And honor my debtors, if not their demands.
In silence I ask what’s to be done? Make the best of all things in my power. And accept the rest as it plainly comes? Bless me with useful work to inherit. I’ll not worship thee with obscure merit. Only simple praise for the setting sun.
Go get water, it is good to drink
Water will drown better than wine will drown
Certain sorrows that will not go down.
Water has sunk more grievances than wine
And will continue. Turn the water on
Stick your hand in the stream; water will run
And kiss it like a dog or it will shake
It like a friend or it will tremble there
Like a woman sobbing with her hair
Falling in her face and do not think.
That water has been everything, it has
But now it is only water, that will make
You whole as it is whole, clear as it is,
Immune against fate and her traitories.
Merrill Moore was a prolific, taciturn sonneteer, who it is estimated, wrote 50,000 sonnets. That averages out to four sonnets a day, every day for 34 years from age 20 unti lhis death. I may have to rethink my self titled claim to being obsessive, as by comparison, I am apathetic compared to Moore. The question is, I wonder, how many of them did he consider noteworthy?
Moore was a member of the The Fugitives, a group of poets and literary scholars that met at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in 1920. It was a remarkable group of creative talents, producing two poet laureates out of their ranks, Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren. The group got its name from the literary magazine they founded and published for three years, The Fugitive from 1922 – 1925.
Moore was a clinical psychologist. He treated the poet Robert Lowell for manic depression and had a large influence on Lowell’s life. Moore was a friend of Robert Frost who described him as a “serious physician and serious artist [who] had no notion of being taken lightly…” At 50,000 pages, how could we see as him as anything but serious..
Now for something completely silly, check out the other Merrill Moore (no relation) singing Cow Cow Boogie..
The Book of How
by Merrill Moore
After the stars were all hung separately out
For mortal eyes to see that care to look,
The one who did it sat down and wrote a book
On how he did it. It took him about
As long to write the book as to do the deed,
But he said, “It’s things like this we mostly need.”
And the angels approved but the devils screamed with laughter,
For they knew exactly what would follow after.
For somehow he managed entirely to omit
The most important facts in accomplishing it:
Where he got the ladder to reach the stars;
And how he lighted them, especially Mars;
And what he hung them on when he got them there,
Eternally distant and luminous in the air.
I will not make a sonnet from
Each little private martyrdom:
Nor out of love left dead with time
Construe a stanza or a rime.
We do not suffer to afford
The searched for and the subtle word:
There is too much that may not be
At the caprice of prosody.
From Cyclops’ Eye. Harper & Brothers, 1926
by Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374)
Translated by Joseph Auslander
Blest be the day, and blest be the month and year,
Season and hour and very moment blest,
The lovely land and place where first possessed
By two pure eyes I found me prisoner;
And blest the first sweet pain, the first most dear,
Which burnt my heart when Love came in as guest;
And blest the bow, the shafts which shook my breast,
And even the wounds which Love delivered there.
Blest be the words and voices which filled grove
And glen with echoes of my lady’s name;
The sighs, the tears, the fierce despair of love;
And blest the sonnet-sources of my fame;
And blest that thought of thoughts which is her own,
Of her, her only, of herself alone!
Can you name the current Poet Laureate of the United States?
Does your state or province have a poet laureate? If yes, who is it?
Tracy K. Smith (September 2017)
Yes – Minnesota’s poet laureate is Joyce Sutphen.
The concept of a poet laureate as a function of recognition and civic artistic contribution to society goes all the way back to the 14th Century. Petrarch was crowned Rome’s first poet laureate in 1341 and is the god-father of sonnets. So it is only slightly ironic, or a planned coincidence, that the United States first poet laureate, was Joseph Auslander. One of Auslander’s many accomplishments as a writer was an English translation of Petrarch’s sonnets.
In upcoming blog posts I’ll share poems from current and former poet laureates. Here’s a poem from the current Poet Laureate.
by Tracy K. Smith
There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.
History, with its hard spine and dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,
Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.
Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,
Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.
For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.
The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned.
To the Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.
And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,
Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once
“A poem is good if it contains a new analogy and startles the reader out of the habit of treating words as counters.”
T. E. Hulme
By Ezra Pound
The light became her grace and dwelt among
Blind eyes and shadows that are formed as men;
Lo, how the light doth melt us into song:
The broken sunlight for a healm she beareth
Who hath my heart in jurisdiction.
In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth
So silent light; no gossamer is spun
So delicate as she is, when the sun
Drives the clear emeralds from the bended grasses
Lest they should parch too swiftly, where she passes.
“Who hath my heart in jurisdiction. In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth.” A wonderful line, yet its an example that Pound had yet to completely break free of the ties to classical poetry. In Balatetta he was starting to bend them. I have no idea how this poem came to be, but as someone who is fascinated by writing sonnets, I have a theory that this started out as a sonnet or he was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the sonnet structure. It’s lines are constructed mostly of ten syllables. The rhyming scheme further supports the theory, but what to make of the fact it has ten lines not fourteen? Sometimes when I write I find I have said all I really want to say in fewer lines than fourteen or I edit out the fluff and lines get cut. It would be fun to know what the real story behind the creative process on this poem.
One of the criticisms of Pound was that he was an “imitator”. He borrowed liberally from the genius of others and found a broader audience for that creativity. I do not find that a fault, as I think Pound furthered the discussion and built on the ideas. Pound was a net-worker, a mentor, a connector of people, who inserted himself into the discussion among modernist thinkers and artists because he had something interesting to contribute. Where he can be faulted is trying to take more credit than he deserves for his “originality.”
One of the proof points those critics point to is that Pound’s ideas around image and his concepts of poetry were first formulated by T. E. Hulme, who died young in 1917 during WWI. I admire Pound for building on Hulme’s work and insuring that it continued to influence his own and other’s writing after Hulme’s death. Pound included five poems of Hulme’s in his book Ripostes and all five are striking examples of a poetic form that the Imagists would expand upon in years to come. Hulme wrote very little poetry that survives, but he was instrumental in the Imagist movement. Hulme defined image as the constant bombardment of sensory information before analysis. Image is the base of human experience. Intellectualizing raw images, he argued, was constrained because language over-simplifies the nuanced complexity of what our eyes, ears, touch and taste experience and is therefore inadequate of our unfiltered reality.
I find it fascinating that Hulme’s ideas on poetry and image were profoundly impacted by his interactions with the philosopher Henri Bergson. Hulme sought out Bergson in France in the 1890’s to talk about Bergson’s writing. Bergson believed there are two forms of awareness: one based on intellect, the other based intuition. Bergson declared that intellect serves knowledge, whereas intuition serves to increase the enjoyment of life’s experience through the senses. The idea of intuitive writing fueled the concepts that Hulme and Pound furthered in their poetry.
The decade before the start of the 20th Century was a time when science, physics, philosophy and art were still connected in creative thought. Knowledge had yet to be partitioned into intense specialization that the great walls of minutiae had not yet been built. Bergson’s philosophy emphasizes the unexpected in novel thinking, the creative process and freedom. Bergson won the Nobel Peace prize for Literature in 1927 for his contributions on his theories around time, identity, free will, perception, change, memory, consciousness, language, and the limits of reason.
The concept that the totality of experience can not be put into words, spurred Hulme to reject the flowery, stilted language of classical poetry and experiment with a more visceral approach to verse. He advocated for a poetic form stripped of unnecessary adjectives to allow the reader’s mind to free associate in creating their own image. Hulme felt that poetry could be a vessel for a wider array of the experiences of life if it were freed from convention.
“The artist tries to see what there is to be interested in… He has not created something, he has seen something.”
For a longer more complete overview of Hulme’s contributions to poetry check out the biography of Hulme in Poetry Foundation.