“The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.”
by Matthew Arnold
Foil’d by our fellow-men, depress’d, outworn,
We leave the brutal world to take its way,
And, Patience! in another life, we say
The world shall be thrust down, and we up-borne.
And will not, then, the immortal armies scorn
The world’s poor, routed leavings? or will they,
Who fail’d under the heat of this life’s day,
Support the fervours of the heavenly morn?
No, no! the energy of life may be
Kept on after the grave, but not begun;
And he who flagg’d not in the earthly strife,
From strength to strength advancing—only he,
His soul well-knit, and all his battles won,
Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.
It can be a bit of a head spinner to jump from the language of the mid 19th Century to the 21st Century from one day to the next and then back again, but that’s one of things I find fascinating about the sonnet form. It is a framework that has remained relatively unchanged and relevant for hundreds of years. Although the language has changed, many of the themes Arnold is exploring are universal. Matthew Arnold is not a poet I would ever come across if not for this project and my radar always being up and listening for sonnets. Arnold is not a poet who has remained popular. His language sounds a bit stilted to my ears. Yet if I push through the language and listen to his themes that he is wrestling, it sounds familiar. In the middle of a pandemic, where all of our patience has been tested, his opening to Immortality is dead on to thoughts I have been having. Where should I place my energies? Work doesn’t have the same feeling as it used to, working remotely has lessened the humanness and the fulfillment of working alongside other people so that I question a bit, what am I really doing and does it really matter as much as it once did? I like his language if I let it transport me and embrace its foreign qualities. It raises questions in my mind; what energies of my life will live past me? What will give strength to my children to others? What battles are worth winning other than the one we all can win, enjoying our lives.
by Matthew Arnold
Others abide our question. Thou art free. We ask and ask – Thou smilest and art still, Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill, Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,
Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea, Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place, Spares but the cloudy border of his base To the foil’d searching of mortality;
And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know, Self-school’d, self-scann’d, self-honour’d, self-secure, Didst tread on earth unguess’d at. – Better so!
All pains the immortal spirit must endure, All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow, Find their sole speech in that victorious brow.
All that will remain after an apocalypse is glitter. – British Vogue
You have a daughter now. it’s everywhere, And often in the company of glue. You can’t get rid of it. It’s in her hair: A wink of pink, a glint of silver-blue. It’s catching, like the chicken pox, or lice. Its travels, like a planetary scar. Sometimes its on your face, or you look twice And glimpse, there on your arm, a single star. You know it by a hand’s brushing your neck – You blush – It’s not desire, not anymore – Just someone’s urge to flick away the fleck Of borrowed glamour from your collarbone – The broken mirror Time will not restore, The way your daughter marks you as her own.
The Pull Toy
by A. E. Stallings
You squeezed its leash in your fist, It followed where you led: Tick, tock, tick, tock, Nodding its wooden head.
Wagging a tail on a spring, Its wheels gearing lackety-clack, Dogging your heels the length of the house, Though you seldom glanced back.
It didn’t mind being dragged When it toppled on its side Scraping its coat of primary colors: Love has no pride.
But now that you run and climb And leap, it has no hope Of keeping up, so it sits, hunched At the end of its short rope
And dreams of a rummage sale Where it’s snapped up for a song, And of somebody—somebody just like you— Stringing it along
After the argument, all things were strange. They stood divided by their eloquence Which had surprised them after so much silence. Now there were real things to rearrange. Words betokened deeds, but they were both Lightened briefly, and they were inclined To be kind as sometime strangers can be kind. It was as if, out of the undergrowth, They stepped into a clearing and a sun, Machetes still in hand. Something was done, But how they did not fully realize. Something was beginning. Something would stem And branch from this one moment. Something made Them both look up into each other’s eyes Because they both were suddenly afraid And there was no one now to comfort them.
Both Levertov and Stallings draw inspiration from their families, each with a personal voice and poetic vision, but in very different forms. Stallings has the ability to craft highly structured poems that read smoothly, the rhyme and structure doesn’t feel forced or artificial. This is extremely hard to do and I find the craft of Stallings work remarable. No less skilled though is Levertov’s ability to create emotion through simplicity. Levertov picks her words with care and places them with a deft touch. Each of these poems come at the reality of partnership/marriage that is at once both uncomfortable as it is beautiful. A reminder that love moves along all the spectrums of emotion and not just in one direction.
The Ache Of Marriage
by Denise Levertov
The ache of marriage:
thigh and tongue, beloved, are heavy with it, it throbs in the teeth
We look for communion and are turned away, beloved, each and each
It is leviathan and we in its belly looking for joy, some joy not to be known outside it
If I were loved, as I desire to be, What is there in the great sphere of the earth, And range of evil between death and birth, That I should fear,–if I were loved by thee? All the inner, all the outer world of pain Clear Love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine As I have heard that, somewhere in the main, Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine.
‘T were joy, not fear, claspt hand-in-hand with thee, To wait for death–mute–careless of all ills, Apart upon a mountain, tho’ the surge Of some new deluge from a thousand hills Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge Below us, as far on as eye could see.
The Charge of The Light Brigade
By Alfred Lord Tennyson
I Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
II “Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
III Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.
IV Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air Sabring the gunners there, Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke; Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.
V Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them, Left of six hundred.
VI When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
By Andreas Justinus Kerner Translated by H. W. Dulcken
All their wealth and vast possessions Vaunting high in choicest terms, Sat the German princes feasting In the knightly hall of Worms.
“Might,” cried the Saxon ruler, “Are the wealth and power I wield: In my country’s mountain gorges Sparkling silver lies concealed.”
“See my land with plenty glowing,” Quoth the Palsgrave of the Rhine; “Beauteous harvest in the valleys, On the mountains noble wine.”
“Spacious towns and wealthy convents,” Lewis spake, Bavaria’s lord, “Make my land to yield me treasures Great as those your fields afford.”
Würtemberg’s beloved monarch Eberhard the Bearded, cried: “See my land hath little cities, ‘Mong my hills not metals bide;
“Yet one treasure it hath borne me, – Sleeping in the woodland free, I may lay my head in safety On my lowliest vassal’s knee.”
Then, as with a single utterance, Cried aloud those princes three: “Bearded count, thy land hath jewels! Thou art wealthier far than we!
Der Wanderer in der Sägmühle
by Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862)
Dort unten in der Mühle Saß ich in süßer Ruh’ Und sah dem Räderspiele Und sah den Wassern zu.
Sah zu der blanken Säge, Es war mir wie ein Traum, Die bahnte lange Wege In einen Tannenbaum.
Die Tanne war wie lebend, In Trauermelodie Durch alle Fasern bebend Sang diese Worte sie:
Du kehrst zur rechten Stunde, O Wanderer, hier ein, Du bist’s, für den die Wunde Mir dringt ins Herz hinein!
Du bist’s, für den wird werden, Wenn kurz gewandert du, Dies Holz im Schoß der Erden Ein Schrein zur langen Ruh’.
Vier Bretter sah ich fallen, Mir ward’s ums Herze schwer, Ein Wörtlein wollt’ ich lallen, Da ging das Rad nicht mehr.
Inspired by Kerner’s book, two Americans, Ruth McEnery Stuart and Albert Bigelow Paine, turned his idea into a game and released it in 1896. Like Kerner who saw something mystical in the inkblot process, Stuart and Paine embraced the art form as an act of chaos and imagination or a gobolink; a “ goblin of the ink-bottle.” Like Kerner, they penned short poems to accompany some of their fanciful creations, but unlike him they did not tend to further decorate the inkblots to accentuate certain features. I commend both for the playfulness, encouraging young and old to be creative. I can’t wait to get out the ink bottle and try making a few myself. Will you create a gobolink and see what comes slinking forth from your subconscious?
For the inquisitive who are wondering about the reference to Yeddo in the poem below, there are two references that may apply; Yeddo in Japan, which is the mangled English version of Edo and Yeddo, Indiana, an unincorporated rural town. Your imagination will have to decide which was their inspiration. Jack London wrote a short story set in Yeddo, Japan but it would have been published after Gobolinks came out. It would be curious to know if Jack London had a Gobolinks as a child?
by Justinus Kerner (1786 – 1862) translated by William Cullen Bryant
In yonder mill I rested, And sat me down to look Upon the wheel’s quick glimmer. And on the flowing brook.
As in a dream, before me, The saw, with restless play, Was cleaving through a fir-tree Its long and steady way.
The tree through all its fibres With living motion stirred, And, in a dirge-like murmur, These solemn words I heard—
Oh, thou, who wanderest hither, A timely guest thou art! For thee this cruel engine Is passing through my heart.
When soon, in earth’s still bosom, Thy hours of rest begin, This wood shall form the chamber Whose walls shall close thee in.
Four planks—I saw and shuddered— Dropped in that busy mill; Then, as I tried to answer, At once the wheel was still.
Justinus Kerner was a complex man, a poet, a physician, a mystic, he was fascinated by the manifestations of the natural world and the supernatural. He took an interest in exorcism as well as the scientific study of disease, while being an accomplished writer, poet and artist. His methods and breadth of talents were not considered eccentric for his time as an interest in spirits and the occult were common place in Europe and the United States during the latter stages of his career.
Kerner moved in wide circles with friendships of other renown scientists, nobility and poets, often attracting other eccentric and bold personalities among his circle of friends. Kerner built a large home that served as sanctuary for some of his patients as well as family and friends and was supported in part through the largess of friends in high places within German aristocracy.
Although Kerner published several volumes of poetry late in his life including, Die letzte Blütenstrauss (The Last Flowers to Blossom, 1852) and Winterblüten (Winter Blossoms, 1859), he is best known for his klecksographs, Kerner’s term for ink blots. Die Klecksographien. This charming combination of inkblots and short poems were first published after his death in 1890 by his son Theobald Kerner. Theobald published in the introduction of this book his father’s words on how his process of creating his art began:
“The worsening of my partial blindness was the reason for my resuming this youthful play since drops of ink very often fell on the paper as I wrote. Sometimes I didn’t notice them and folded the paper without allowing it to dry. When I separated them again I saw the blots, especially if they had landed near a fold of the paper and formed symmetrical drawings, namely arabesques, animal and human shapes, and so on This also gave me the idea of developing this phenomenon to a somewhat greater level through practice.” This “practice” included the addition of small embellishments by Kerner himself that turn the inkblots into a kind of folk art and the black and white sinister quality of them lend itself to his favorite subjects; death, spirits, ghosts and the macabre. “
The idea of play as adults, with art and words is something to be admired. As a child there was in our kitchen a small book case, that had an unending supply of paper, brushes and water color paint, that could be used at any time, as long as we put some newspaper down over the kitchen table. I remember on rainy afternoons, getting out the paint and being as fascinated by the turning shades of colors in the small bowls of water used to clean the brushes as what happened on the paper. The magic of ink blots and water colors, where the pigments flow in unexpected patterns with the grain of the paper help enrich the mind’s eye in taking us on a journey.
I am in awe of poets that can combine visual art with words. Kerner is an inspiration that creativity is more than an ability to control the outcome of an image, it is the ability to embrace the unexpected and let it flow into new creations. Kerner investigated ideas as a physician that would go on to be known as hypnosis and psychotherapy but in his time was called mesmerism. I think of mesmerism as a concept of being overcome by beauty. In the swirling kinetics of Kerner’s inkblots, it is easy to be mesmerized, even in their darker qualities. When was the last time you played with ink blots or water colors? Do you have a water color set sitting in a drawer somewhere waiting for you to remember how fun it is to paint on a rainy afternoon?
A Poet’s Solace
By Justinus Kerner
When I am dead, no eye of love May drop a tear upon my grave; Yet weeping flowers shall bloom above, And sighing branches o’er me wave.
Though near the place where I shall lie The passing traveler linger not, Yet shall the quiet moon on high Look, mighty down up on the spot.
In these green meadows, where I rove, By man I may forgotten be; Yet the blue sky and silent grove Forever shall remember me.
Participation relegated to sleeping near the open window. My great failure
has always been not imagining the future but in managing myself. Your thumbprint, please,
before we launch the new rhetoric. I know when I grovel I am plain. I’ve actually had a dream
about this building, and it feels soon enough to me now. For all the reasons we are short of breath, approximate.
Passion clusters as though circumstance. A terrible child, I grow apart. According to the original
rules, burn everything. Who could have anticipated what we are becoming—in constraint, in circumspection.
I’ll think of some experiment to move us, focusing on the lenses learned.
So Torn by My Tides
by Stefania Heim
So torn by my tides, I do not I can read them.
Hour book, our book. “H” in Italian is a tool, not a sound. My mother slips the “h” in only where it doesn’t belong. Our book, our book. How events just accumulate in time. Who will we lose in the duration of this writing. The promise of future children names for our beloved dead. Whispered at caskets. An hour dead. How many hours.
In our village the streets empty at appointed times. If life were a time-lapse video, lingering would be more visible than slipping away. Invisible motions the more pronounced. Once I stood akimbo, 8PM mid-street, waiting for everyone to go. I am astonished, in memory, by the boldness of it. Did everyone go?
I will be faithful to you, I do vow but not until the seas have all run dry et cetera: although I mean it now, I’m not a prophet and I will not lie.
To be your perfect wife, I could not swear; I’ll love, yes; honor (maybe); won’t obey, but will co-operate if you will care as much as you are seeming to today.
I’ll do my best to be your better half, but I don’t have the patience of a saint; not with you, at you I may sometimes laugh, and snap too, though I’ll try to learn restraint.
We might work out: no blame if we do not. With all my heart, I think it’s worth a shot.
The longer the pandemic goes, the more I hear about older couples retreating to one of two extremes in their marriages or partnerships; either the past year of social isolation has strengthened their commitment to each other and they have grown closer being cooped up together or they are in process of filing for divorce. There are sure to be the vast majority that are somewhere in the middle, but they don’t make the headlines in the rumor mill.
If you are considering first time nuptials, late March or first week in April is a good time to get married in Minnesota, it doesn’t cut into your summer plans and it is warm enough the bride doesn’t freeze in her dress on the way from the ceremony to the reception. It doesn’t tend to be terribly in demand so chapels and reception halls are generally a little more available than the summer months. Obviously I speak from experience.
I think we make too much of marriage as an event and not enough of it as a process of ongoing commitment ceremonies. I have often felt marriage should be like the military. You sign up for a 4 year tour of duty and at the end of four years, you either re-up for another 4 or give each other an honorable discharge and a bus ticket to a destination of your own choosing.
If you’re looking to re-up, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to invite guests or spend money on a spectacle; write out some vows that seem genuine or use one of these poems. Try saying it over breakfast some Sunday morning. Look each other in the eye and step over the broom lying on the kitchen floor; the first step towards another year of partnership. Then pick up the broom and the dust pan and help each other sweep up the mess and move on with your day.
Carol Rumens To be said by senior couples renewing their vows
1. (He and She, together) Partner, partner, on the wall, Nailed there so you’d never fall, Hope you like this shade of blue I’ve lightly painted over you.
2. (He and He, together) Randy, dandy, twist and shout – B-and-Bs once threw us out. Now we’re poor old Zimmer-geezers, Folk think we’re twin-brothers. Jesus!
3. (He) When I’m toothless, bald and grumpy, Dump me gently as you dump me. (She) Dumping you would be invidious: You’re already old and hideous.
Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally brings us once more to the wellspring of poetry.
Women We Never See Again
by Robert Bly
There are women we love whom we never see again.
They are chestnuts shining in the rain.
Moths hatched in winter disappear behind books.
Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree
you touch the dark places between the stars.
Human war has parted messengers from another planet,
who cross back to each other at night,
going through slippery valleys, farmyards where the rain
has washed out all the tracks,
and when we walk there, with no guide, saddened, in the dark
we see above us glowing the fortress made of ecstatic blue stone.
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.
So, in the like name of that love of ours,
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
Here’s ivy!–take them, as I used to do
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.