One Stubborn Remnant of Your Cares

Mark Jarman

“Love make us poets, and the approach of death should make us philosophers.”

George Santayana

Unholy Sonnet

by  Mark Jarman

After the praying, after the hymn-singing,
After the sermon’s trenchant commentary
On the world’s ills, which make ours secondary,
After communion, after the hand wringing,
And after peace descends upon us, bringing
Our eyes up to regard the sanctuary
And how the light swords through it, and how, scary
In their sheer numbers, motes of dust ride, clinging—
There is, as doctors say about some pain,
Discomfort knowing that despite your prayers,
Your listening and rejoicing, your small part
In this communal stab at coming clean,
There is one stubborn remnant of your cares
Intact. There is still murder in your heart.


Sweet Are The Days

by George Santayana

Sweet are the days we wander with no hope
Along life’s labyrinthine trodden way,
With no impatience at the steep’s delay,
Nor sorrow at the swift-descended slope.
Why this inane curiosity to grope
In the dim dust for gems’ unmeaning ray?
Why this proud piety, that dares to pray
For a world wider than the heaven’s cope?

Farewell, my burden! No more will I bear
The foolish load of my fond faith’s despair,
But trip the idle race with careless feet.
The crown of olive let another wear;
It is my crown to mock the runner’s heat
With gentle wonder and with laughter sweet.

Who Will Do It Again?

John Updike (1932 – 2009)

“Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.”

Alistair Reid

Perfection Wasted

by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market-
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.


Poem Without Ends

by Alastair Reid

One cannot take the beginning out of the air
saying ‘It is the time: the hour is here’.
The process is continuous as wind,
the bird observed, not rising, but in flight,
unrealised, in motion of the mind.

The end of everything is similar, never
actually happening, but always over.
The agony, the bent head, only tell
that already in the heart the innocent evening
is thick with the ferment of farewell.

I Think It Mercy

The first flowers of Spring 2021 in our yard.

Spring

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as spring–
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.–Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.


Spring has sprung in Minnesota and with it the smells and sounds and sights of green and growing things.  We had a gentle rain this week and grass overnight turned emerald green.  On most lakes the ice is out and our world is turning phases, from solid to liquid.  I am eager to get some dirt under my finger nails, rake up the detritus of winter and allow the recent rains to soak in and get the spring flowers growing. 

There have been many poets who have used the sonnet form as a spiritual medium, to let their minds wander into the sublime, beyond the boundaries of human love and into the infinite.   Both Donne and Hopkins used their poetry as testaments to God, but in doing so reaffirmed their very human relationship with nature and in their eyes its manifestation God’s love in nurturing all life on earth.   In this way, Christianity and Buddhism share some common themes, in that we are all manifestations of God’s (Buddha’s) consciousness and yet, as Donne reminds us, it is in the forgetting, at least in the forgetting of the worst of ourselves,  that we are best remembered.


If Poisonous Minerals, And If That Tree

by John Donne

If poisonous minerals, and if that tree
Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us,
If lecherous goats, if serpents envious
Cannot be damn’d, alas, why should I be?
Why should intent or reason, born in me,
Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous?
And mercy being easy, and glorious
To God, in his stern wrath why threatens he?
But who am I, that dare dispute with thee,
O God? Oh, of thine only worthy blood
And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,
And drown in it my sins’ black memory.
That thou remember them, some claim as debt;
I think it mercy, if thou wilt forget.

It Sings In Me

Sara Teasdale (1884 – 1933)

I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes.

Sara Teasdale

April

by Sara Teasdale

The roofs are shining from the rain.
The sparrows tritter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.

Yet the back-yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree–
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.


Sara Teasdale was born in St. Louis into a wealthy family.   As a young woman she spent time in Chicago’s literary circles, including a friendship with Harriet Monroe through whom she met and dated the poet Vachel Lindsay.   Teasdale rejected Lindsay’s marriage proposals, an itinerant poet whom may have lacked the income to be a suitable partner in her eyes, but may have been a better match intellectually.  Instead she married Ernst Filsinger in 1914 and moved to New York City.   Teasdale published several collections of  classical poetry and edited several other anthologies.  Though her work is often overlooked today, she was popular with both critics and readers in her day.  Following her divorce in 1929, her health declined rapidly.  Teasdale became an invalid and died following a bout with pneumonia by an overdose of barbiturates.  

There is a sadness that runs through much of Teasdale’s poetry, as if life just didn’t quite measure up to her hopes and dreams.   Its hard to know if it was maniac depression or something darker that had blotted out her joy, but Teasdale seemed to run out of steam as the economic depression of the 1930’s took hold and the life of privilege and wealth that she had enjoyed started to feel out of reach.  In her bob hair cut, and beautiful smile, it would be interesting to know the back story to the last two lines of the sonnet below, but from my perspective the beauty in her words will never be dull.  


 

Sonnet

by Sara Teasdale

I saw a ship sail forth at evening time;
Her prow was gilded by the western fire,
And all her rigging one vast golden lyre,
For winds to play on to the ocean’s rhyme
Of wave on wave forever singing low.
She floated on a web of burnished gold,
And in such light as praying men behold
Cling round a vision, were her sails aglow.
I saw her come again when dawn was grey,
Her wonder faded and her splendor dead — ‘
She whom I loved once had upon her way
A light most like the sunset. Now ’tis sped.
And this is saddest — what seemed wondrous fair
Are now but straight pale lips, and dull gold hair.

We Were All Unconcerned

Thomas Kinsella (b. 1928 –

Free Fall

by Thomas Kinsella

I was falling helpless in a shower of waste,
reaching my arms out toward the others
falling in disorder everywhere around me.

At the last instant,
approaching the surface,
the fall slowed suddenly,

and we were all
unconcerned,
regarding one another in approval.


The Force of Eloquence

by Thomas Kinsella

The brink of living is inhabited.

Unbrooding as an ox, he thrusts a bald
Muscular head out smiling.  Though his tongue
Chains are fastened, radii of gold.
Gently hauled by these, his swayed captives
Yield their wrists in  lithe angles of peace
– A charmed plight, halted in faint relief
Against a line of hills full of quaint promise.

A token of bronze, long out currency, 
Vivifies an impossible worn world,
Of speech constricted into other terms:
An equilibrium of gift and threat
Moulded in external breathless appearance.

Enter, and inhale the living bronze. 


From Strength to Strength Advancing

Matthew Arnold 1822- 1888

“The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.”

Matthew Arnold

Immortality

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.


Shakespeare

 
by Matthew Arnold
 

Shakespeare

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.

 

You Can’t Get Rid Of It

A. E. Stallings

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks.

A. E. Stallings

Glitter

by A. E. Stallings

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

We Look For Communion

Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)

The Argument

by A. E. Stallings

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

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it

As I Desire To Be

This is the 600th post on Fourteenlines

If I Were Loved

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

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!

We Might Work Out

Springtime In Paradise

“There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Bridled Vows

by Ian Duhig

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. 


Vows

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.