The days that make us happy make us wise.John Masefield
In the period of years from 1930 to 1967, England had one poet laureate, John Masefield, while the United States had 18 different poet laureates, nearly every one of them showcased on this blog. Their names are Joseph Auslander (1937 – 1941) , Allen Tate (1943 – 1944), Robert Penn Warren (1945 – 1945), Louise Bogan (1945 – 1946), Karl Shapiro (1946- 1947), Robert Lowell (1947-1948) Leonie Adams (1948-1949), Elizabeth Bishop (1949-1950), Conrad Aiken (1950-1952), William Carlos Williams (1953 to 1956), Randall Jarrell (1957 – 1958), Robert Frost (1958-1959), Richard Eberhart (1959-1961), Louis Untermeyer (1961 – 1963), Howard Nemerov (1963-1964), Reed Whitemore (1964 – 1965), Stephen Spender (1965 – 1966), James Dickey (1966 – 1968).
In scanning this list, it is remarkable how diverse a group of writers and styles are encapsulated in this group, a bit heavy from a white male perspective, but it reflects the times. None the less, it illustrates the evolution of poetry in the United States. Its why I was shocked that I had never heard of John Masefield until stumbling across some of his sonnets. His sonnets are a bit pedestrian and so I am a bit baffled what so captured the English imagination as to have him serve in the capacity of poet laureate for such a long time? Being named poet laureate is largely a popularity contest and serves little purpose other than in some cases a small stipend and a way of both recognizing a writer and maybe linking the soul of a nation or a state to a poetic voice. Over time, in retrospect, there are questionable appointments, no different than Cooperstown for baseball and there are those that are highly deserving. But there are also a surprising number of names that my reaction is who; never heard of them, names that show how fast writers can fade from the public consciousness.
Many of John Masefield’s sonnets deal with concepts of beauty. It would be interesting to know more about what inspired him? Was it the ugliness of the wars during his prime and the devastation they had on England and Europe that made the epitome of beauty his muse? I enjoyed both these poems, the linking of cosmic dust with nature’s beauty is a surprisingly modern way of thinking how in part our planet was formed. It’s estimated 5,200 tons of space dust falls to earth every year. Not much in the big scheme of things, but multiply it by several billion years and it adds up. The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. The earth weighs roughly 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lbs. Even over its long life span, space dust accounts for only 0.00000036% of earth’s mass. As small as that it is, the mass of all the people on earth is less than a trillionth of the earth’s weight and less than amount of stardust that has fallen, so its very possible that as Joni Mitchell sings, we are stardust…..
If All Be Governed By The Moving Stars
by John Masefield
If all be governed by the moving stars,
If passing planets bring events to be,
Searing the face of Time with bloody scars,
Drawing men’s souls even as the moon the sea;
If as they pass they make a current pass
Across man’s life and heap it to a tide,
We are but pawns, ignobler than the grass
Cropped by the beast and crunched and tossed aside.
Is all this beauty that does inhabit heaven
Trail of a planet’s fire? Is all this lust
A chymic means by warring stars contriven
To bring the violets out of Cæsar’s dust?
Better be grass, or in some hedge unknown
The spilling rose whose beauty is its own.
A galaxy far far away….