The beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, The beginning of every end, and the end of every place.
If That High World
by Lord Byron
If that high world, which lies beyond Our own, surviving Love endears; If there the cherish’d heart be fond, The eye the same, except in tears – How welcome those untrodden spheres! How sweet this very hour to die! To soar from earth and find all fears Lost in thy light – Eternity! It must be so: ’tis not for self That we so tremble on the brink; And striving to o’erleap the gulf, Yet cling to Being’s severing link. Oh! in that future let us think To hold each heart the heart that shares; With them the immortal waters drink, And soul in soul grow deathless theirs!
by Lord Byron
The kiss, dear maid! thy lip has left Shall never part from mine, Till happier hours restore the gift Untainted back to thine. Thy parting glance, which fondly beams, An equal love may see: The tear that from thing eyelid streams Can weep no change in me. I ask no pledge to make me blest In gazing when alone; Nor one memorial for a breast, Whose thoughts are all thine own. Nor need I write to tell the tale My pen were doubly weak: Oh! what can idle words avail, Unless the heart could speak? By day or night, in weal or woe, That heart, no longer free, Must bear the love it cannot show, And silent ache for thee.
The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one.
The Bob Dylan Dream
by Joyce Sutphen
So here is one of the best dreams I’ve ever had: I am in New York City,
and everything is closed tight except for one door that is wide open and seems
inviting, so I go through and up the stairs to a room with wood floors and
a window seat where Bob Dylan is waiting for me, and we have a long talk about
love and poetry, and afterwards we stand up and fly over the Village, which
is quiet until we hear some music a few blocks away so we fly there, and
it’s the Jefferson Airplane Marching Band! Tell me-does it get much better than that?
Dylan and Baez met in New York City in 1961. Their artistic and romantic attraction was instantaneous and blazed brightly for the next 4 years. But emotions that combustible aren’t always sustainable and theirs burned itself out by 1965. By the end, Baez wanted to continue to play a role in the civil rights movement while Dylan wanted to evolve as an artist and not be limited by audience expectations. Each gave the other something before their parting. Baez would continue to perform Dylan’s legacy of political songs, while Baez bestowed a softer side to Dylan’s trajectory. Baez brought political relevance to Dylan’s lyrics and music through her artistry while Dylan absorbed Baez’s artistic and personal expression in ways that would nudge his muse in a new direction, from indignation towards beauty. Baez had absorbed some of his righteous anger while sheltering some of it from Dylan.
Dylan shared his perspective on his relationship with Baez and her influence on his life and music in Poem to Joanie. I have shared an excerpt below, a moving tribute to Baez on his understanding of ‘beauty’ and its significance in his art.
Poem To Joanie (Excerpt)
by Bob Dylan
So, once more it’s winter again An’ that means I’ll wait ’til spring T’ ramble back t’ where I kneeled When I first heard the ore train sing An’ pulled the ground up by its roots But this time I won’t use my strength T’ pass the time yankin’ grass While I’m waitin’ for the train t’ sound No next time’ll be a different day For the train might be there when I come An’ I might wait hours for the cars t’ pass An’ then as the echo fades I’ll bend down an’ count the strands a grass But one thing that’s bound t’ be Is that instead a pullin’ at the earth I’ll jus’ pet it as a friend An’ when that train engine comes near I’ll nod my head t’ the big brass wheels An’ say “howdy” t’ the engineer An’ yell that Joanie says hello An’ watch the train man scratch his head An’ wonder what I meant by that An’ I’ll stand up an’ remember when A rock was flung by a devil child An’ I’ll walk my road somewhere between The unseen green an’ the jet – black train An’ I’ll sing my song like a rebel wild For it’s that I am an’ can’t deny But at least I’ll know not t’ hurt Not t’ push Not t’ ache An’ God knows … not t’ try –
with his words in my head I slept for thirty or forty forevers while the grass shrieked and the trees tremored…
By Deborah Landau
Dazzling emptiness of the black green end of summer no one
running in the yard pulse pulse the absence.
Leave them not to the empty yards.
They resembled a family. Long quiet hours. Sometimes
one was angry sometimes someone called her “wife”
someone’s hair receding.
An uptick in the hormone canopy embodied a restlessness
and oh what to do with it.
(How she arrived in a hush in a looking away and not looking.)
It had been some time since richness intangible
and then they made a whole coat of it.
Meanwhile August moved toward its impervious finale.
A mood by the river. Gone. One lucid rush carrying them along.
Borderless and open the days go on—
A friend of Ivor Gurney’s described him as being “so sane in his insanity.” Gurney spent the last 15 years of his life in psychiatric hospitals in England, believing himself to actually be Shakespeare for a portion of that time. A self described composer more than poet or playwright, he wrote more than 300 songs in his lifetime. Only a small fraction of his music has been performed or recorded.
Born in the city of Gloucester in 1890, Gurney was fascinated by music. As a boy he studied under the organist, Dr Herbert Brewer at the Gloucester Cathedral. Following his service in WWI, he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study composition with Sir Charles Stanford. But life’s challenges intervened and a nervous breakdown interrupted his studies.
However Gurney is an inspiration of resilience. Despite worsening mental and physical health in his early 30’s, the early years of his commitment were productive creatively. Its unclear how much of his mental illness was attributable to PTSD from the war or the physical impact of being gassed in the trenches but his mental health deteriorated over time until he was unable to continue as an artist the final few years of his life. His cause of death was tuberculosis, which was rampant in the locked wards of mental institutions of the time.
I find it interesting to pair modern poets with counterparts from a 100 years ago. Some similar ideas run through these two poems around the impermanence of permanence and how the external world moves on without us, regardless of the machinations of our inner life.
Sonnet – September 1922
by Ivor Gurney
Fierce indignation is best understood by those Who have time or no fear, or a hope in its real good. One loses it with a filed soul or in sentimental mood. Anger is gone with sunset, or flows as flows The water in easy mill-runs; the earth that ploughs Forgets protestation in its turning, the rood Prepares, considers, fulfils; and the poppy’s blood Makes old the old changing of the headland’s brows.
But the toad under the harrow toadiness Is known to forget, and even the butterfly Has doubts of wisdom when that clanking thing goes by And’s not distressed. A twisted thing keeps still – That thing easier twisted than a grocer’s bill – And no history of November keeps the guy.
The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better.
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
If you have never heard of Michael Oakeshott, you are in good company. He was a British economist, thinker, philosopher who hit his academic zenith in the 1950’s and 1960’s. His dictum was society since the enlightenment had fallen down the rabbit of hole of a misplaced faith in “rationalism.” Oakeshott believed that all of our carefully considered plans of the past 200 years had created an illusion that bureaucrats and governments employing an army of rationalists with the latest “technical knowledge” could solve all our problems, when in reality, no government, regardless of its political disposition can solve the complicated problems our world faces. This dictum supports the concept of a right to privacy as individuals, as the more government gets involved in our personal life the more onerous becomes the intrusion. Government needs to function to create the foundation for a shared public good, build the infrastructure on which we can all conduct business, create some framework of fairness, protect some level or right to privacy and basic liberties to conduct our own lives and a process to implement justice. But what Oakeshott was advocating for is to not ignore “practical knowledge”, i.e. tradition, in favor of radical change, even a radical change to return to a distant past.
Oakeshott refreshingly did not feel government and politicians should be free of ideology or careful thought. In fact he felt poetry had a role to play in constructing the balance between our public and private lives and the positive influence it could have on shaping public discourse. He felt poetry should inspire society in grappling with complex topics that are difficult to frame in written communication, required for the crafting of laws and regulations. Oakeshott admired poetry’s ability to create the illusion of what he called an “eternal presence” between the author and reader, “conveying our most intimate moments, sharing with us their most intimate feelings feelings, whispering in our ears in the most delicate ways.”
Today’s poems are great examples of how words can be incomplete, yet convey complex ideas on sex, pregnancy and reproductive rights. Abortion is a difficult topic and a very difficult personal decision, but one best left to the individual and their loved ones to make. As a society our ability to provide safe and equitable access to women’s health care helps communities across the economic spectrum be healthier than they would be without that access.
Oakeshott advocated for the role of a “conservative” government, not in the sense of how we might define it today, where conservatism only means leaning right. In his definition it could equally apply to both ends of the political spectrum. His vision for a conservative government was a way to control what he called “monomaniacs”, individuals overly focused on single issue politics. Oakeshott wrote; “we tolerate monomaniacs, but why should we be ruled by them?” Oakeshott believed in the concept that the individual had a right to continue their traditions. The problem with a pluralist society of immigrants we barely call a democracy anymore, is there are no widely shared traditions and the monmaniacs have run a muck. We have become a nation of individualists, armed with the portion of the constitution we believe protects our “freedoms” when in fact each side wants nothing to do with the other’s penchant for extremism and want’s the courts to side with their interpretation of the laws. Let’s see where that gets us as a society in another 20 years.
Maybe we all need to read a bit of Oakeshott in the wake of the insanity of the kinds of laws and jurisprudence dominating the headlines, laws that seriously undermine all of our right to privacy. Texas has decided to deputize its citizens to enforce a law that reaches all the way into the realm of rooting out thought crimes among our families and neighbors, even those we don’t know. The law has been constructed in such a way as to make it difficult to challenge and pits individuals against individuals, the rich against the poor. It is a law that isn’t meant to make sense, it is intended to be confusing and convoluted, to create fear and create the illusion of access to health care. Make no mistake there is big money behind this scheme for reasons I have yet to comprehend other than it is a test case for a minority power grab.
The question through Oakeshott’s lens is what is tradition? I believe tradition in 2021, the tradition the vast majority of Americans believe in and trust, is the right to make our own health care decisions, including reproductive health care decisions. Roe vs Wade has become interwoven into the fabric of our society and stands for more than just reproductive health, it stands for a level of protection to our personal destiny that all of us rely upon in our concept of well being, the idea that we are in control of our own lives.
Oakeshott wrote, “Is it not the task for a government to protect its subjects against the nuisance of those who spend their energy and wealth in the service of some pet indignation?” The problem is we are now locked in a battle in this country, between a dwindling minority of religious zealots who believe they are on the side of their religion on issues like abortion, for which the growing majority of Americans believe abortion rights was decided law two generations ago, who believe that American society protects separation of church and state on personal health care decisions. The vast majority of Americans believe the present American tradition is access to safe and affordable abortion as part of the foundation of a woman’s individual freedoms. Tradition works both ways and what was new 50 years ago, is now established law that the majority will organize to protect. There is a question that the Republicans who think they have been clever should ponder; What is the size of the hornets nest of passionate zealots who believe in the right to privacy as a fundamental underpinning of Roe vs Wade that will be flying forth in the years ahead? And the question everyone who opposes this erosion of our personal liberty should be asking, what are you prepared to do to protect your rights in terms of your time and money to counter this serious attack?
by Patti Smith
yum yum the stars are out. I’ll never forget how you smelled that night. like cheddar cheese melting under fluorescent light. like a day-old rainbow fish. what a dish. gotta lick my lips. gotta dream I day- dream. thorozine brain cloud. rain rain comes com- ing down. all over her. there she is on the hill. pale as a posy. getting soaking wet. hope her petticoats shrink. well little shepherd girl your gonna kingdom come. looking so clean. the guardian of every little lamb. well beep beep sheep I’m moving in. I’m gonna peep in bo’s bodice. lay down darling don’t be modest let me slip my hand in. ohhh that’s soft that’s nice that’s not used up. ohhh don’t cry. wet what’s wet? oh that. heh heh. that’s just the rain lambie pie. now don’t squirm. let me put my rubber on. I’m a wolf in a lamb skin trojan. ohh yeah that’s hard that’s good. now don’t tighten up. open up be- bop. lift that little butt up. ummm open wider be-bop. come on. nothing. can. stop me. now. ohhh ahhh. isn’t that good. my. melancholy be-bop.
Oh don’t cry. come on get up. let’s dance in the grass. let’s cut a rug let’s jitterbug. roll those tiny white stockings down. bobby sock-o let’s flow. come on this is a dance contest. under the stars, let’s alice in the grass. let’s swing betty boop hoop let’s birdland let’s stroll let’s rock let’s roll let’s whalebone let’s go let’s deodorize the night.
“Poetry is a sort of truancy, a dream within the dream of life, a wild flower planted among our wheat.”
— Michael Joseph Oakeshott
Portrait of a Machine
by Louis Untermeyer
What nudity as beautiful as this Obedient monster purring at its toil; These naked iron muscles dripping oil And the sure-fingered rods that never miss. This long and shining flank of metal is Magic that greasy labour cannot spoil; While this vast engine that could rend the soil Conceals its fury with a gentle hiss. It does not vent its loathing, it does not turn Upon its makers with destroying hate. It bears a deeper malice; lives to earn It’s masters bread and laughs to see this great Lord of the earth, who rules but cannot learn, Become the slave of what his slaves create.
One hundred years ago it took 40 hours of labor from planting to harvest with the best horse drawn equipment at the time to raise 100 bushels of corn. Today it takes around 2 hours. We have 20X increased productivity and with it 20X increased the cost of production and reduced 20X the workforce needed to produce it. The reason we’ll never go back is no one would want to work that hard ever again for so little wages. We have grown comfortable in the marvels that the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels have created and there is no bridge back to a pastoral rural economy. But as these poems both remind us, there is a cost to our efficiency that goes beyond finances. There is a human cost in our souls being tethered to the very machines that have transformed lives.
Agricultural Implements and Machinery
by James Mcyintre (1828- 1906)
Poor laborers, they did sad bewail, When the machine displaced the flail ; There’s little work, now, with the hoes, Since cultivators weed the rows.
Labor it became more fickle When the scythe took place of sickle ; Labor still it did sink lower By introduction of mower ;
And the work was done much cheaper When they added on the reaper. Another machine to it they join, Mower, reaper, binder, they combine.
Machines now load and stow away Both the barley and the hay, And the farmers do get richer With the loader and the pitcher.
There’s little work now for the hoes, Since cultivators weed the rows ; They sow and rake by the machine- Hand labor’s ‘mong the things have been.
Armed with scythes, the old war chariot Cut down men in the fierce war riot ; Round farmer’s chariot falls the slain, But ’tis the sheaves of golden grain.
This harvest, now, of eighty-four, Will great wealth on farmers pour, For there is abundant yield Of fruitful crops in every field.
“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”
Anne Bronte (1820 – 1849)
by Charlotte Bronte (1816 – 1855)
LIFE, believe, is not a dream So dark as sages say; Oft a little morning rain Foretells a pleasant day. Sometimes there are clouds of gloom, But these are transient all; If the shower will make the roses bloom, O why lament its fall ?
Rapidly, merrily, Life’s sunny hours flit by, Gratefully, cheerily, Enjoy them as they fly !
What though Death at times steps in And calls our Best away ? What though sorrow seems to win, O’er hope, a heavy sway ? Yet hope again elastic springs, Unconquered, though she fell; Still buoyant are her golden wings, Still strong to bear us well. Manfully, fearlessly, The day of trial bear, For gloriously, victoriously, Can courage quell despair !
I Know Not How It Falls on Me
by Emily Bronte (1818 – 1848)
I KNOW not how it falls on me, This summer evening, hushed and lone; Yet the faint wind comes soothingly With something of an olden tone.
Forgive me if I’ve shunned so long Your gentle greeting, earth and air! But sorrow withers e’en the strong, And who can fight against despair?
Poetry is the power of defining the indefinable in terms of the unforgettable.
Prayer For This House
by Louis Untermeyer
MAY nothing evil cross this door, And may ill-fortune never pry About these windows; may the roar And rains go by.
Strengthened by faith, the rafters will Withstand the battering of the storm. This hearth, though all the world grow chill, Will keep you warm.
Peace shall walk softly through these rooms, Touching your lips with holy wine, Till every casual corner blooms Into a shrine.
Laughter shall drown the raucous shout And, though the sheltering walls are thin, May they be strong to keep hate out And hold love in.
Louis Untermeyer was a businessman, poet, translator, educator and editor who followed his passion mid-life to become one of the most influential anthologists of poetry in the early 20th Century. Untermeyer spent his 20’s and early 30’s in the family jewelry business in New York City, but eventually followed his literary passions. He was fond of puns and rhymes and felt that poetry didn’t need to be an elite artistic endevour but was something that should be enjoyed by everyone. He focused on a wide range of poetry, from children’s verse to poetry anthologies used in Universities to introduce countless college students to English literature.
Untermeyer was a liberal all his life and aligned his politics around civil rights and a more just society. Late in life he left New York City and like Frost, retired to the country, preferring the solitude of his gardens and nature over the busy streets of New York City.
Untermeyer is known more for his work as an anthologist and translator, but his own poetry I find playful and inspiring. I was particularly taken with the poem above, but wonder how successful he was in his own right in the affirmation expressed. Married and divorced four times, martial harmony in Untermeyer’s households seemed to have eluded him, now matter how strong the sentiments he successfully put to rhyme.
Both Adams and Untermeyer share the distinction of serving as Poet Laureate when the title was known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Adams poem below took a bit for me to wrap my head around. It is an example of a poem that I have a hard time connecting to the whole of it, but I was taken with these three lines; Thus I lived then, till this air breathed on me. Till this kind are breathed kindness everywhere, There where my times had left me I would stay. For me sometimes a couple of lines is all I take from a poem and the rest takes a while to sink in before the emotion or thoughts expand beyond the portion that I am attracted. Sometimes the entirety of a poem I never understand. Do you have poems like that; where there is only one line that stays with you, inspires you?
So there are no more words and all is ended; The timbrel is stilled, the clarion laid away; And Love with streaming hair goes unattended, Back to the loneliness of yesterday.
I Know It Will Be Quiet When You Come
by Joseph Auslander (1897-1965)
I know it will be quiet when you come: No wind; the water breathing steadily; A light like ghost of silver on the sea; And the surf dreamily fingering his drum. Twilight will drift in large and leave me numb With nearness to the last tranquility; And then the slow and languorous tyranny Of orange moon, pale night, and cricket hum.
And suddenly there will be twist of tide, A rustling as of thin silk on the sand, The tremor of a presence at my side, The tremble of a hand upon my hand: And pulses sharp with pain, and fires fanned, And words that stumble into stars and hide.
In Envy of Cows
by Joseph Auslander (1897-1965)
The cow swings her head in a deep drowsy half-circle to and over Flank and shoulder, lunging At flies; then fragrantly plunging Down at the web-washed grass and the golden clover, Wrenching sideways to get the full tingle; with one warm nudge, One somnolent wide smudge Sacred to kine, Crushing a murmurous of late lush August to wine!
The sky is even water-tone behind suave poplar trees— Color of glass; the cows Occasionally arouse That color, disturb the pellucid cool poplar frieze With beauty of motion slow and succinct like some grave privilege Fulfilled. They taste the edge Of August, they need No more: they have rose vapors, flushed silence, pulpy milkweed
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
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.
Duluth was far across the blue waters of the lake in the hills of Minnesota. A wonderful thing had happened to him there.
Ernest Hemingway, The Torrents of Spring
The Angel of Duluth (An Excerpt)
by Madelon Sprengnether
I lied a little. There are things I don’t want to tell you. How lonely I am today and sick at heart. How the rain falls steadily and cold on a garden grown greener, more lush and even less tame. I haven’t done much, I confess, to contain it. The grapevine, as usual, threatens everything in its path, while the raspberry canes, aggressive and abundant, are clearly out of control. I’m afraid the wildflowers have taken over, being after all the most hardy and tolerant of shade and neglect. This year the violets and lilies of the valley are rampant, while the phlox are about to emit their shocking pink perfume. Oh, my dear, had you been here this spring, you would have seen how the bleeding hearts are thriving.
Awhile back in an earlier blog entry I posed the question of whether there were any known poetic forgeries, where an anonymous writer wrote a poem and attempted to pass it off as the work of another famous writer fraudulently. I came across an example of one this week, a poem that originally was claimed to be in a letter from Walt Whitman that was written to a friend following a visit to Duluth, Minnesota, shortly before Whitman’s death. The poem was picked up in several newspaper articles as part of tributes to Whitman and for a while held some legitimacy as a previously un-published poem by Whitman. But when historians applied a little common sense while investigating the authenticity of the poem, (and the fact the poem is likely the worst thing Whitman ever wrote), they discovered the so-called Whitman letter was signed Mendax, which means liar in latin. All in all, knowing its a forgery actually makes it more entertaining in my book, as it’s not a poem I would include of Whitman’s otherwise, but as a farce, its kind of fun.
Has anyone else come across any examples of poetic forgeries?
by Walt Whitman-ish (Mendax)
The nations hear thy message A fateful word; oh momentous Audition! The murmur of waves Bearing heavy-freighted argosies; the sigh Of gently stirring life in the birth-beds Of not oer-distant grain field; the Solemn plaint of pines whose limbs Quite feel the bite of men’s Omnivorous axe; the roar, like Old Enceladus’s, of furnaces volcanic And Hell-like; the thunderous and Reverberant iteration Of hammers striking the uncomplaining Anvil; These are all in thy voice, To what end? Because thou sing’s Of empire and the great To-Come, General good, Democracy, the Return at length to things primeval And, therefore, real and true And worth returning unto. Then sing, Duluth, thy Song; and listen, Nations! Or it will repent ye When the bridegroom cometh.