To Entertain A Company Of Words

One year
It’s Fourteenlines.blog One Year Anniversary

Life is too important to be taken seriously.

Oscar Wilde

Success
(From The Ladder of St. Augustine)

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone
That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen and better known,
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear
Their solid bastions of the skies,
Are crossed by pathways that appear
As we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.


A year ago I sat down and decided to create a blog.  I had been thinking about it for awhile but didn’t know a thing about creating a website or using WordPress. I dove in head first and haven’t looked back. This is my 173 blog post. There have been nearly 6,500 visitors to Fourteenlines this past year. I have shared over 300 poems from 152 different poets with people from over 30 countries around the world.

What have I learned in the past year? Mostly that my appreciation for poetry continues to grow. Writing this blog is a self taught course in English literature. Surprisingly my obsession with sonnets is showing no sign of abating.  A testament to how deep the well of sonnets for exploration. Most importantly, one year into writing this blog I am still having fun!

I have given some thought to my goals with this blog, knowing that my creative pursuits tend to have a beginning, a middle and an end. I am shooting for 1,000 blog posts. At a pace of 3 postings a week this project will carry me onward for another 5 years.

In researching sonnets about writing for this anniversary edition, I came across the fine sonnet by Malcom Guite called Hospitality. I rather like his idea that some words are “shy and rare, unused to company” and must be coaxed out of the darker recesses of writer’s imaginations to take center stage on the starkest of white stages.

To read the entire blog in which the sonnet Hospitality is published click on this link:

https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/entertaining-words-a-sonnet-about-writing/


Hospitality

by Malcom Guite

I turn a certain key within its wards,
Unlock my doors and set them open wide
To entertain a company of words.
Whilst some come early and with eager stride
Others must be enticed and coaxed a little,
The shy and rare, unused to company,
Who’ll need some time to feel at home and settle.
I bid them welcome all, I make them free
Of all that’s mine, and they are good to me,
I set them in the order they like best
And listen for their wisdom, try to learn
As each unfolds the other’s mystery.
And though we know each word is my free guest,
They sometimes leave a poem in return.

Neither Out Far or In Deep

Rober-Frost-Quotes

Neither Out Far Or In Deep

By Robert Frost

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be-
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?


What watch are we keeping these days? It feels like not being able to look out far or in deep is the curse of the collective human condition. Yet, it’s too easy to say that this is more so today than in the past.  Actual facts would say the modern world is continuously improving and our ability to deal with complex problems, like poverty is working and we should be back-slapping each other giving each other credit for the fact things are getting better. We aren’t to the point we can say we are globally great, but we are a darn sight better than we were 40 years ago by nearly every economic and meaningful measure that is vital to the health and well-being of our fellow global citizens. The problem is that optimism doesn’t make headlines. Disasters make headlines, so if you are a consumer of any kind of news, whether that’s on-line, TV, radio or news print, you are bombarded with a daily barrage of murder, mayhem, disaster and stupidity, until you are worn down believing everything is getting worse not better.

The writer Johan Norberg, a Swedish historian, published a book titled Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future in 2016.  In it he makes the case that if we look at statistics like number of people living in extreme poverty, number of people with access to education, number of people who are illiterate, number of active global conflicts, number of countries controlled by repressive regimes and dictators, number of woman with access to health care, etc, etc. that by every measure that we can look at that measures our collective global well-being, the statistic has improved since 40 years ago.  If you are interested in the topic of optimism, check out the link to the Guardian article on Norberg and check out the podcast that is available.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/jul/28/is-the-world-really-better-than-ever-the-new-optimists

On the topic of optimism, I believe that poetry, particularly poetry about love, in which sonnets play a central role in the history of poetry, are at their core optimistic. Poetry is about capturing a tiny sliver of the human condition that is timeless and immortal, and by that very definition the poems that stand the test of time and live on in literature are those that hold up the best of what we can be.  Poetry’s central role in our lives is to keep optimism’s lamp lit, for generations of readers.


 

Amoretti LXXV

By Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’
‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.’

 

 

 

 

Hurled By Hurricanes To A Birdless Place

181010021838-hurricane-michael-wednesday-2a-exlarge-169
Hurricane Michael hours before landfall 10/10/2018

Sonnet III

by Ted Berrigan

Stronger than alcohol, more great than song,
deep in whose reeds great elephants decay,
I, an island, sail, and my shoes toss
on a fragrant evening, fraught with sadness
bristling hate.
It’s true, I weep too much. Dawns break
slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,
what other men sometimes have thought they’ve seen.
And since then I’ve been bathing in the poem
lifting her shadowy flowers up for me,
and hurled by hurricanes to a birdless place
the waving flags, nor pass by prison ships
O let me burst, and I be lost at sea!
and fall on my knees then, womanly.

I was just out of the reach of Hurricane Michael this week in Tampa Florida. A reminder of how local weather is, even extreme weather. Parts of the Florida panhandle were devastated yesterday while downtown Tampa got very little rain, almost no wind and only a small rise in sea levels channel side.

Storm Ending

Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967)

Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .
Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

Ted Berrigan, “Sonnet III” from The Sonnets. Copyright © 2000 by Alice Notley, Literary Executrix of the Estate of Ted Berrigan.  Used by permission of Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

The Perfect Poach

poachedeggs

Francis sang a little song to it (the egg on her plate), she sang it very softly:

I do not like the way you slide,
I do not like your soft inside,
I do not like you lots of ways
I could do for many days,
without eggs.

Bread And Jam For Francis by Russell Hoban

Egg

by Ales Steger

When you kill it at the edge of the pan, you don’t notice
That the egg grows an eye in death.

It is so small, it doesn’t satisfy
Even the most modest morning appetite.

But it already watches, already stares at your world.
What are its horizons, whose glassy eyed perspectives?

Does it see time, which moves carelessly through space?
Eyeballs, eyeballs, cracked shells, chaos or order?

Big questions for such a little eye at such an early hour.
And you – do you really want an answer?

When you sit down, eye to eye, behind a table,
You blind it soon enough with a crust of bread.


As a notoriously picky eater as a child, my Mother wore out our copy of Bread and Jam for Francis hoping its inspirational message about expanding your food horizons would rub off on me. I had a firm dislike of eggs until I was about 10, until I realized, I liked fried eggs a bit on the runny side, and after that pretty much any kind of egg became a part of my regular repertoire in cooking for myself.

The one egg style that generally has Americans and fair to middling chefs stumped are poached eggs.  There are lots of resources to help you master that craft and the tricks are pretty simple: strain your egg in a fine colander to get rid of the really watery yoke, add vinegar and salt to your water and don’t over do it on temperature, a hard boil not the thing for the perfect poached egg.

But my father taught me a much simpler way to perfect the poached egg. Take a very small round sauce pan that has a lid – 6 inches and put into it either fresh salsa or a can of crushed tomatoes in a layer about 1/2 inch deep. Bring it up to heat, add a little fresh basil if you have it on hand, get rid of a little water by boiling it off. Then lower the heat and make four little nests with a spoon. Crack your eggs and drop them into the nests one at a time, poach with lid on for 3 minutes on low heat. Spoon out egg with a little of the tomato sauce and serve with cracked black pepper or a sprinkle of bread crumbs.  Yum!

Here’s a culinary tip for the perfect poached egg using traditional techniques:  https://www.npr.org/2011/11/29/142903042/cracking-the-poached-egg-code

Either way, make sure you serve it with plenty of toast and jam.

frances-cover

Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,
Jam is the thing I like the most.
Jam is sticky, jam is sweet,
Jam is tasty, jam’s a treat,
Raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry
I’m very,

FOND……OF……. JAM!

Bread and Jam For Francis by Russell Hoban

 

 

 

Sometimes, Odor Of A Man

sappho
Fresco unearthed in Pompeii called Sappho.

 

“What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.” …

“You came and I was longing for you”….

Sappho (630 BC – 580 BC)

Poem of Jealousy

by Sappho
Translated by William Carlos Williams

That man is peer of the gods, who
face to face sits listening
to your sweet speech and lovely
laughter.

It is this that rouses a tumult
in my breast. At mere sight of you
my voice falters, my tongue
is broken.

Straightway, a delicate fire runs in
my limbs; my eyes
are blinded and my ears
thunder.

Sweat pours out: a trembling hunts
me down. I grow
paler than grass and lack little
of dying.

 


Very little of Sappho’s writing survives in its entirety, what does remain are broken fragments, like ancient pottery shards, which have to be pieced together with jagged holes remaining to see a glimpse of the form of the original vessel.  Much has been written about how in the blank spaces of Sappho’s poetry is formed her greatness, the reader left to fill in the holes from their own lives, envision their own connections.

Sappho is known as the first great lesbian writer, but to characterize her as strictly a lesbian or feminist does not impart the complexity of her life in my opinion and unfairly pigeon holes her, when she should be just called a great writer. She was likely bi-sexual, having married a wealthy man and raised a daughter.  She came from a large family and was richly involved in the lives of her brothers, their children and her community.   She was not the standard-bearer of the LBGT community in her lifetime.  She was herself, with the courage to love completely, from her heart, the people in her life worthy of her love.

In the Library of Congress is a wonderful 4 page document that has the original translation of this poem by William Carlos Williams, published in 1957 by Grabhorn Press in San Francisco.  I have included an image of the footnote below, in which he writes:

“I’m 73 years old. I’ve gone on living as I could as a doctor and writing poetry on the side. I practiced to get money to live as I please, and what pleases me is to write poetry.

“I don’t speak English, but the American idiom.  I don’t know how to write anything else, and I refuse to learn. I’m writing and planning something all the time. I have nothing to do – a retired doctor who can’t use his right hand anymore.  But my core (my head, you know) goes on spinning and maybe occasionally I work it pretty hard. It goes on day and night. All my life I’ve never stopped thinking. I think all writing is a disease.  You can’t stop it.

“I have worked with two or three friends in making the translation for I am no Greek scholar but have been veritably shocked by the official British translations of a marvelous poem by one of the greatest poets of all time. How their ears could have sanctioned the enormities they produced is more than I can understand. American scholars must have been scared off by the difficulties of the job to not have done better. Their prosy versions were little better – to my taste. It may be that I have also failed but all I can say is that as far as I have been able to do I have been as accurate as the meanings of the words permitted – always with a sense of our own American idioms to instruct me.

download.png

There is so much in both the translation and the footnote that I relate, that it is awe-inspiring to realize how much in common I have with humanity, going back a century, going back millenia.  The human need to be in service to love hasn’t changed.  We are attracted to whom we are attracted, mind, body and scent.  And if we are lucky, we are allowed to love and be loved, by the same.


Sonnet In Search Of An Author

By William Carlos Williams

Nude bodies like peeled logs
sometimes give off a sweetest
odor, man and woman
under the trees in full excess
matching the cushion of
aromatic pine-drift fallen
threaded with trailing woodbine
a sonnet might be made of it
Might be made of it! odor of excess
odor of pine needles, odor of
peeled logs, odor of no odor
other than trailing woodbine that
has no odor, odor of a nude woman
sometimes, odor of a man

And Yours, Must Ransom Me

Judith Lopping off Head
“I haven’t seen your old boyfriend around lately, whatever happened to him?”                                                                                                                                                                            Orazio Gentileschi, c. 1624l,  Judith lopping off Holofornes head.
There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.
–Shel Silverstein –  Every Thing on It

Take Me Home

By T. A. Fry

It came to nothing, nothing less than grief.
A grief of narrows, a prescience lessened,
No – depleted of volition, beneath
Lame-blames of why bright love prescinds.
In the end, you would not let me buy
Even cream.  Nothing too small to be denied,
Each offered comfort for a grievous sigh,
Cups of bitter-black cooling as we cried.
I asked, “what part of it was not belief?”
You said, “All of it”. . . . Apparent you thought
Something could be bent by love into relief
When all alone, that right has to be wrought.
If these truths are not enough to batten,
Then down, down, deep-down, the hatches fasten.


 

I think praying mantis have romance figured out.  There are certain species of mantis and arachnids that the females bewitch their male suitors with enticing pheromones (Chanel #5) and after having wild sex with them, they bite off their heads while the males are still in orgasmic bliss, consuming them for a little post-coital protein snack so that they don’t have to get out of bed to go to the fridge. The only downside is Pfizer’s business model for Viagra would be shot to hell, no repeat customers but at least us miserable sex-smitten suckers would be put out of our misery in one final act of glory, or is that gory…..

EUROPEAN PRAYING MANTIS

I am not suggesting that we legalize patricide or boyfriendicide but in the #metoo moment that we currently live in I do think we might be able to pass a bill that would reinstate the use of public stocks as punishment for a week as part of a rehabilitation program prior to going to prison 5 to 10 years for men like Bill Cosby or  Harvey Weinstein.

But what happens when love ends the good old-fashioned way, it disappears behind a pail of dirty diapers or under a mountain of bills, and the vagaries of life and health overcome romance?  That’s when we are left to wondering, why wasn’t love enough and regretting that we somehow couldn’t make it work.


 

Sonnet 120

by William Shakespeare

That you were once unkind befriends me now,
And for that sorrow, which I then did feel,
Needs must I under my transgression bow,
Unless my nerves were brass or hammered steel.
For if you were by my unkindness shaken,
As I by yours, you’ve passed a hell of time;
And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken
To weigh how once I suffered in your crime.
O! that our night of woe might have remembered
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you, as you to me, then tendered
The humble salve, which wounded bosoms fits!
But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me.


© T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thou In Our Wonder and Astonishment

black robe in Oxford.jpg
Albert Einstein in Academic Robes at Oxford, England

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”

Albert Einstein

A Scholar

Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli

by Don Paterson

The light is dying, and the clock has died;
the page succumbs to the atrocious care
that disinters the things not wholly there
by which your solemn field is justified.
You burnish them until they bear the shine
of common knowledge, knowing one black skill
is yours alone: before the greater will
all text is dream, and takes on the design
of what was sought there.  Thus your word is god.
This grammarie electrifies the gate;
none pass but such as you initiate.
The students hurry by you in the quad
attending to their feet.  What can you say?
You know your Shakespeare would have walked that way.


I could not bear to watch the Kavanaugh hearings.  It didn’t matter the political stripe of the news organization broadcasting the senate chambers, it all was just ugly theater. What little I did see, was like a car wreck – my focus uncontrollably drawn to it before I could avert my eyes. I came away thinking Ford was believable and genuine and Kavanaugh unfit for the Supreme Court in which he is being considered. But I am guessing no one’s mind was swayed that will actually vote on the matter, so ingrained is the political trenches that Republicans and Democrats find themselves today, that actually thinking for oneself no longer occurs in the modern warfare we call democracy.

I instead chose to mostly read about it afterwards, admittedly selecting op-eds that probably leaned towards my liberal bias. I wonder what the great minds of past centuries would think about our modern communication? What would Lincoln have done to deal with the 24/7 news cycle of CNN and Fox news during the civil war? What would Franklin Roosevelt thought about Twitter during the height of the depression? What would Shakespeare have put out on Instagram as a 16 year old that would come back to haunt him professionally? What would John Milton have posted on Facebook? I am guessing the answer in each case is nothing that would have added to their greatness and legacy.


 

On Shakespeare. 1630

by John Milton

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument.
For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving;
And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.