Tend Our Agonizing Seeds

“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.” 

W. E. B. Du Bois

Countee Cullen
Countee Cullen (1903 – 1946)

From The Dark Tower

by Countee Cullen

We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made eternally to weep.

The night whose sable breast relieves the stark
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds


Countee Cullen was a poet, a playwright, a translator, an essayist, a critic, a children’s author and scholar.  He managed all that creativity during an intense 25 year career.  Countee was part of the Harlem social elite, marrying W. E. B Du Bois’ daughter, with some pomp and circumstance only to have the marriage fail in less than three years under the weight of great expectations. Countee was highly influenced by Yeats, Shelley and A. E. Housman, choosing a classical style of poetry at a time other Harlem Renaissance writers were branching off into more uncharted waters.  Countee was unfairly criticized during his career for writing in a style that would appeal to a cross over of white readers and be more publishable.  I think his poetry sings with a genuine voice that was of his choosing alone.  Countee said it best; “My poetry, I think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me.” Countee dealt with a wide range of themes in his poetry, but always came back to love.


Song In Spite of Myself

by Countee Cullen

Never love with all your heart,
It only ends in aching;
And bit by bit to the smallest part
That organ will be breaking.

Never love with all your mind,
It only ends in fretting;
In musing on sweet joys behind,
too poignant for forgetting.

Never love with all your soul,
for such there is no ending;
though a mind that frets may find control,
and a shattered heart find mending.

Give but a grain of the heart’s rich seed,
Confine some undercover,
And when love goes, bid him God-speed,
and find another lover.

Yet Do I Marvel

Langston Hughes and Countee Culleen
Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen – Oil on Canvas by Ealy Mays 2011

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King

Yet Do I Marvel

By Countee Cullen (1903 – 1946)

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!


Georgia Dusk

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

Sometimes there’s a wind in the Georgia dusk
That cries and cries and cries
Its lonely pity through the Georgia dusk
Veiling what the darkness hides

Sometimes there’s blood in the Georgia dusk
Left by a streak of sun
A crimson trickle in the Georgia dusk
Whose Blood? …Everyone’s

Sometimes a wind in the Georgia dusk
Scatters hate like seed
To sprout its bitter barriers
Where the sunsets bleed

Ask Me Whether What I Have Done Is My Life


file (3)
Mississippi River Frozen Solid in January in St. Paul, Minnesota

Ask Me

by William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.  Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait.  We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.


There are certain poems which stand out because of one line.  Not to say the entire poem doesn’t have meaning, but there are lines in poems that are like thunderbolts in my brain, electric in the resonance from the shared understanding with the poet. A line or even a few words, which are a whispered secret between us, a secret I am surprised to see on paper more elegantly than I could ever express.

Ask Me by William Stafford is one of those poems.  It is a poem I read and re-read more than any other single poem because of one line; “Ask me whether what I have done is my life.”  I enjoy my life.  I am proud of what I have accomplished, but there is this voice that has arisen in middle age that nags:  “I am more than an amalgam of what I have done. I am more than the vector of days, months, and years of experience, more than my successes and failures.  My inner life is bigger than what I have accomplished and ever will accomplish.”

Ask Me is as close to a sonnet hiding in plain sight that Stafford published in his life time.  It is 14 lines, nearly 10 syllables per line.  I have no idea whether Stafford had any conscious associations to a sonnet structure when he wrote this poem, for its power lays not in its structure but in its open-ended questions and images it creates in my mind.  Stafford allows me to take solace or vitriol, depending on my mood, from the linkages of the frozen rivers of my life that are at once unmoving and flowing ever faster downstream.  Stafford was a pacifist, whose poetry resonates with an acceptance of the human condition and a gentle push to enjoy yourself, even if things are going to hell all around you, with a reminder that this life we live is pretty amazing.


Faithless When I Most Am True

the love letter
The Love Letter by Petrus van Schendel (1806 – 1870)

Four Sonnets

by Edna St. Vincent Millay


Oh, think not I am faithful to a vow!
Faithless am I save to love’s self alone.
Were you not lovely I would leave you now:
After the feet of beauty fly my own.
Were you not still my hunger’s rarest food,
And water ever to my wildest thirst,
I would desert you — think not but I would! —
And seek another as I sought you first.
But you are mobile as the veering air,
And all your charms more changeful than the tide,
Wherefore to be inconstant is no care:
I have but to continue at your side.
So wanton, light and false, my love, are you,
I am most faithless when I most am true.

And Life Is Warm

George Meredith
George Meredith

Modern Love XXX

by George Meredith

What are we first? First, animals; and next
Intelligences at a leap; on whom
Pale lies the distant shadow of the tomb,
And all that draweth on the tomb for text.
Into which state comes Love, the crowning sun:
Beneath whose light the shadow loses form.
We are the lords of life, and life is warm.
Intelligence and instinct now are one.
But nature says: “My children most they seem
When they least know me: therefore I decree
That they shall suffer.” Swift doth young Love flee,
And we stand wakened, shivering from our dream.
Then if we study Nature we are wise.
Thus do the few who live but with the day:
The scientific animals are they—
Lady, this is my sonnet to your eyes.

She Walks In Beauty

by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!


On Bended Knee


On Bended Knee

by T. A. Fry

Were I on bended knee,
And you upon a throne?
What would you decree?
What would I bemoan?

Have we any choice?
Is there any sense?
Not by human voice.
Nor by recompense.

Sonnet 58

by William Shakespeare

That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand th’ account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.
O let me suffer, being at your beck,
Th’ imprisoned absence of your liberty;
And patience tame to sufferance bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well

Happy Twelfth Night!  Depending on how you start counting the 12 days of Christmas, it was either yesterday or today and marks the end of the holidays and the beginning of Epiphany.  It’s time to take down festive decorations and settle in to the pleasant gloom of January. Twelfth Night has lost some of its relevance, but my Mother honored the tradition of taking down her Christmas tree on twelfth night.

Historically Twelfth night was an excuse for a party.  Few of us are waking up to bake a cake with a pea and bean inside and invite friends over to drink wassail, but it sounds like the kind of silliness we need right now as a distraction from Trumpism. Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night with the intention of it being performed on Twelfth Night. A comedy with serious themes on love and service.  Sounds like life….

In case you are inspired to throw a Twelfth Night shindig this evening, here’s a delicious wassail recipe.  Serve it hot with a slice of cake.


Wassail at Rittenhouse Inn, Bayfield WI

Twelfth Night

By Robert Herrick

NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg’d will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb’s wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

© T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines, 2017. 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.

Wait For The Wisest Of All Counselors

file (2)

“Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time.”


New Love, New Life

by Johann Goethe
Translated by A. S. Kline

Heart, my heart, what can it mean?
What could trouble you so?
What a strange new life, it seems!
You, I no longer know.
Everything you loved is done,
Everything that grieved you,
All your work and peace is gone –
How could this overtake you!

Are you caught by lovely youth
By that beloved form,
By those eyes so good and true,
By that all-powerful force?
When I try to run away,
Collect myself and flee,
In a moment my path strays
Back to her you see.

By that magic thread, so
That cannot be untied,
The dear wanton girl, oh
She holds me fast: and I
Must lie within her magic spell
And live where she may go.
How great the change, I tell!
Love! Love! Let me go!


How often is what is perceived by other’s as being delusional the product of vacuity? I would like to think that I can avoid using this blog as a private confessional.  However, writing a blog and sending it out into the world is like speaking to an audience behind a veiled curtain. Readers are silent jurors who enter and exit through a different door than the one I use, with never more than a glimpse of their coming and going.  I never know who reads these words unless they choose to make their presence felt with a “like” or a comment.  I can see the footprints of readers from around the world as a count from a specific country on a specific page,  but I have no idea what they think or felt in reading the poems I select for my own enjoyment.  The greatest gift a reader can bestow is to take time to provide feedback, regardless if that feedback is positive or negative.  

Recognizing parts of my subconscious and conscious mind are laid bare on these pages, I attempt to at least not stray into self-absorbed prattle, worried that I will start sounding like a penitent looking for absolution.  Yet, if I write without admitting my human foibles, I risk sounding one-dimensional and even worse, the sin of all sins as a writer, sounding dull.  No one wants to read well-behaved words.  The magic of poetry is that I can let it speak for itself, let the poetry delve into the recesses of our minds, where the real adventures begin. The reader can decide if the postcards in words I have selected, either written by my hand or someone else’s, is an experience real or imagined. Regardless of where the words originated, each reader will take from it what they choose.

I was reminded over Christmas holidays, how others impose their own impulses, dreams, doubts, fears and motivations over the top of another’s creativity.  We each mix liberally analysis with anxiety to produce our own conclusions. Creative expression naturally welcomes criticism that, upon retrospect, seems perfectly logical, but may have nothing to do with the writer’s or artist’s intent.   It is most unsatisfying to dispel the myth of genius and admit simple-mindedness, offering up a boring explanation that I wasn’t bright enough to have intentionally created the connection they now so clearly see, which although should have been obvious to me at the time, was in reality, the product of complete ignorance or completely different motivation.  Isn’t this what makes being human so interesting?  We walk around contemplating the mundane and the magnificent with no comprehension of what anyone else is thinking at any given moment about a darn thing we are up to. Thank goodness!

Lucky Penny Lover

By T. A. Fry

Lucky Penny Lover
Brimming in my brain
What did you discover
Swimming in the rain

Golden locks aplenty
Porridge to your taste?
Love me only gently
Don’t let us go to waste

Serene within your socket
Graceful in mid-flight
Put me in your pocket
Beauty fills my sight

Lovin’s in the air
Skin’s upon my mind
A smell inside your hair
Our poetry aligns

Does fingering or bowin’
Lift you to first chair
Does knitting or the sewin’
Make a King so rare

Circle round our souls
Lay me on your breast
Let’s just rock and roll
The hell with all the rest

Who’s the super hero
Complete with tights and cape
Slow from ten to zero
Nuzzle at my nape

Smudging with my poems
Words got in your eye
Budging, tho’ tend to roam
Please keep it a surprise

Torrid is our passion
Scalding is our heat
Florid in its fashion
Bawdy in its beat.

Turgid with desire
Lurid with our fate
Afresh in love’s attire
Despite its sprawling weight

Let’s wake up each day smitten
Let’s wake up each day stunned
Queen Mary – What’s to be written?
King Arthur – What’s simply done?

© T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines, 2017. 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.