I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream, With a sudden warmth of music, and turn it all To petals of roses …. Why is it that I recall Your two pale hands holding a bowl of roses, Wide open like lotus flowers, floating in water? I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream; To hold the world in my hands and let it fall. We have walked among the hills immortally white, Golden by noon and blue by night. I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream: And hear you singing again by a starlight wall .
White hours like snow, white hours like eternal snow …. Long white streets jewelled with lights …. Our steps are muffled and silent, we scarcely know How swiftly we cross the nights. I would like to touch this snow with the fire of a dream, With the mouth of a dream. And turn it all To petals of roses …. I would like to touch you, too, And change you into the chord of music I knew. Can you not change?…. Run back again to April? Laugh out at me from among young lilac leaves?…. Play with your jewels, and sing! Feeling the earth beneath you float with spring!…. You talk in an even tone, I answer you; And all about us seems to say Peace …. peace …. the hills and streets are cold. You are growing cold.
Bend as the bow bends, and let fly the shaft, the strong cord loose its words as light as flame; speak without cunning, love, as without craft, careless of answer, as of shame or blame: this to be known, that love is love, despite knowledge or ignorance, truth, untruth, despair; careless of all things, if that love be bright, careless of hate and fate, careless of care. Spring the word as it must, the leaf or flower broken or bruised, yet let it, broken, speak of time transcending this too transient hour, and space that finds the beating heart too weak: thus, and thus only, will our tempest come by continents of snow to find a home.
Conrad Aiken, it is reported, avoided military service during World War I by asserting writing poetry was an “essential industry”. I love the idea of that claim but suspect Aiken, like 200,000 other young men during conscription into service in WWI, registered as a conscientious objector.
I am glad that Aiken’s life experience was not distorted by the horrors of war. His poetic voice served our nation better as a gentle soul. His writing earned him the Pulitzer Price, a National Book Award, and he was U.S. Poet Laureate from 1950 to 1952. Although primarily a poet, he published novels, short stories, criticism and children’s stories during his long career. Most of Aiken’s poetry reflects an interest in psychoanalysis and the development of identity. His short story Silent Snow, Secret Snow was widely anthologized and is an example of the theme in his writing about imagination and how it shapes our inner and outer world. The short film based on it, might appear outdated, but its black and white images fit the black and white of the words of Aiken’s page.
I wonder if I am a member of the last generation for which black and white photography and black and white films are nostalgic, comforting and not foreign feeling. It’s not that they were the norm when I was growing up, but it was commonplace. The short reels our parents and grandparents shot on home camera’s that were silent, by and large were black and white, photographs our our parents as children and grandparents were mostly black and white. When it came time to shoot my own wedding photographs, we choose black and white, it just felt right. There is a purity and simplicity to black and white photography that is lost in our ultra stylized, colorized, customized and filtered graphic world. We have become accustomed to high quality video and photography with brilliant colors that anything else feels amateurish. However, I often convert my favorite digital photos into black and white to see what’s really going on in the picture. Do you have a favorite black and white family photograph?
by Conrad Aiken
Broad on the sunburnt hill the bright moon comes, And cuts with silver horn the hurrying cloud; and the cold Pole Star, in the dusk, resumes His last night’s light, which light alone could shroud. And legion other stars, that torch pursuing, Take each their stations in the deepening night, Lifting pale tapers for the Watch, renewing Their glorious foreheads in the Infinite. Never before had night so many eyes! Never was darkness so divinely thronged, As now – my love! bright star! – that you arise, Giving me back that night which I had wronged. Now with your voice sings all that immortal host, That god of myriad stars whom I thought lost.
A wreathèd garland of deservèd praise, Of praise deservèd, unto Thee I give, I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways, My crooked winding ways, wherein I live,— Wherein I die, not live ; for life is straight, Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee, To Thee, who art more far above deceit, Than deceit seems above simplicity. Give me simplicity, that I may live, So live and like, that I may know Thy ways, Know them and practise them: then shall I give For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.
The Christmas Wreath
by Anna de Brémont
Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall, Within thine ivied space I see the years beyond recall, Amid thy leaves I trace The shadows of a happy past, When all the world was bright, And love its magic splendour cast O’er morn and noon and night.
Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall, ’Neath memory’s tender spell A wondrous charm doth o’er thee fall, And round thy beauty dwell. Thine ivy hath the satiny sheen Of tresses I’ve caressed, Thy holly’s crimson gleam I’ve seen On lips I oft have pressed.
Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall, A mist steals o’er my sight. Dear hallow’d wreath, these tears are all The pledge I now can plight To those loved ones whose spirit eyes Shine down the flight of time; Around God’s throne their voices rise To swell the Christmas Chime!
Now the seasons are closing their files on each of us, the heavy drawers full of certificates rolling back into the tree trunks, a few old papers flocking away. Someone we loved has fallen from our thoughts, making a little, glittering splash like a bicycle pushed by a breeze. Otherwise, not much has happened; we fell in love again, finding that one red feather on the wind.
The past few years I have taken the month of January to do a deeper dive into one poet, an attempt to go beyond an understanding of a few poems and to read not only their broader canon of work, but also their circle of influencers. This coming January I have been planning showcasing Robert Lowell, but the closer I get to January and the more I read of Lowell the more ambivalent I become. Lowell is a little too slick, too academic, too privileged. As much as I try to find things I like about Lowell, given the vast amount of sonnets the man wrote, in the end I just don’t like his poetry very much. Poetry is supposed to be enjoyable for the reader, not a beat down drubbing that leaves you bored and mystified.
Kooser, in my mind, is the anti-Lowell as a poet in some ways, but if Lowell hadn’t existed would Kooser as a poet exist? The same could be said of Pound and others. What I like about Kooser is his poems give me energy, whereas too many Lowell’s seems to take energy out. Kooser, for me, embodies the best of mid-western poetry, a relatively straight forward poetic vision that lets the reader inside his world, a world that is recognizable, not mamby-pamby, but not so stark as to scare us off. Kooser, like his poetry, has aged well.
by Karen Volkman
Say sad. Say sun’s a semblance of a bled blanched intransigence, collecting rue in ray-stains. Smirching pages. Takes its cue from sateless stamens, flanging. Florid head
got no worries, waitless. Say you do. Say photosynthesis. Light, water, airy bread. What eats its source, its orbit? Something bad: some plural petal that will not root or ray.
Sow stray. Salt night for saving, dreaming clay for heap, for hefting. Originary ash for stall and stilling. Say it will, it said.
Corolla corona, bliss-bane—delay surge and sediment. Say instrument and gash and ruminant remnant. Rex the ruse. Be dead.
I fear no more the settling of the night Or mind its grey, evaporating shades; Mine ears are deaf to time’s lost serenades, Mine eyes content with thy soul’s loving light.
Thy morning’s halo puts the stars to flight, And warms me in its luminous cascades; And though the fairest luster sometimes fades, No shadow taints thy bloom, O benedight!
When this brief season’s sun shall fail to rise, And cease to gild our interfluent streams, These verses shall emit thy beauty’s glow,
And make some heart, behind some future eyes, To marvel how thy radiance yet gleams, And how I loved thee, more than men could know.
Has it always been the norm from time immemorial that we experience those moments where we feel like we should be given a reprieve from this relentless expectation of earning a living and allowed to focus on what is most important right in front of us. The vast majority of us have bills to pay and not the financial resources to take a break during our working years. Most of us have no one who is in a position to give us that sense of security to take over the finances during a time of crisis to allow ourselves to devout our full consciousness on healing or re-invention. Or if we do, we jeopardize the life lines that job security represents and we either have to be willing to risk it, or feel like you are not putting other’s at risk unnecessarily if you take a break. It’s why the responsibility of being responsible is so pernicious.
In this weird epoch we have entered in 2020, where the sands seem to shift beneath our feet daily on several fronts, I think many of us are starting to question this endless march of productivity for productivity’s sake. It seems a bit pointless. I stumbled across Joseph Coelho, a marvelous poet who is making video’s to help bring poetry into the classroom. He has a whole series of video’s on YouTube around poetry. I loved this video and his suggestion of writing a poem in the sand.
In response to a recent post, a friend sent me the first stanza and a link to Philip Larkin’s Aubade. Aubade is a masterful poem, both in its construction and it’s content. A brief comment on its construction. Each stanza is 10 lines, with roughly a rhyming sequence of ABABCCDEED. Each line is 10 or 11 syllables long. The five stanzas provide 50 lines and 500 syllables of canvass with which to work. Each stanza is like a mini sonnet, with one four line ABAB clipped out. I rather like it and will keep that idea open in the future as a writing structure for ideas that lend themselves to 20 or 30 or 40 lines.
I appreciate Larkin’s deft touch with stark subjects. Larkin doesn’t pussy foot around, either about himself or the world about him. He articulates what most of us feel at times, about death and life and love; it can be a bit of a slog at times. But Larkin has a way of weaving in a bit of hope as well, another day will dawn and the light grows stronger. Go walk on the beach and write a poem and leave it for strangers to be inspired and the waves at high tide to wash away.
By Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
Not because beauty is as thin and bright In you as the white outline of a tree In winter, but because I find delight In the curved sadness of your lips. (I see Pleasanter things each day, each day recall Happy faces, laughter that knew a way To spin senses to oblivion.) . . . All Your words are swift upon your lips and grey As swallows, yet I stay to listen, yet I cannot tear myself away from you: For in a little while you may forget Your sadness. O no matter what I do You may forget your sadness — O my dear And even smile, and make the mystery clear
Marion Strobel was an associate editor of Poetry Magazine from 1920 to 1925. She obviously was beloved at that institution, because over her lifetime Poetry Magazine published 137 of her poems. Contrast that with Robert Frost’s mere 57 and it makes you realize how deeply connected she was in the publishing world during her career. Strobel was associated with Poetry Magazine in some way for 45 years, accounting for her impressive achievement. She was a novelist as well as poet and part of the voices that would go on to establish what would be called confessional poetry. Due in part to her editorial duties, Strobel had personal relationships with numerous writers and literary figures, including Sylvia Beach, Louise Bogan, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Carl Sandberg. I have enjoyed diving into Strobel’s poetry and look forward to exploring more.
We cut our Christmas tree at a tree farm that is run by a family for more than 50 years north of Elk River, MN yesterday. Despite several of the usual activities being disrupted by COVID restrictions, like caroling in a horse drawn carriage, it felt like a way of touching traditions of the past. A fresh cut tree brings the smell of a balsam fir into the house like no other. We’ll decorate it properly in the next couple of nights, but for one day, RBG presided over it as a guiding angel from her perch at the top.
by Marion Strobel
How can I offer you the dull, frayed song Of love I know? Each word would stumble on A memory; and I should see a long Blurred line of faces grimacing upon A musty curtain of the past . . . . Ah, no . . . . Let me be silent . . . . Words would only sound A monotone: a toxic, cloying flow Of echoes would sift through, and eddy round My voice, and all the rapture that I feel Would turn into a harlequin and steal Away beneath the vivid, measured hum Of mockery. Ah, dearest, may there come An ecstasy of stillness in each day, That you may sense the thoughts I dare not say!
There may be chaos still around the world, This little world that in my thinking lies; For mine own bosom is the paradise Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled. Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled, Unmindful of the changing outer skies, Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies, Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled. I heed them not; or if the subtle night Haunt me with deities I never saw, I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw To hide their myriad faces from my sight. They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.
by George Santayana
As in the midst of battle there is room For thoughts of love, and in foul sin for mirth; As gossips whisper of a trinket’s worth Spied by the death-bed’s flickering candle-gloom; As in the crevices of Caesar’s tomb The sweet herbs flourish on a little earth: So in this great disaster of our birth We can be happy, and forget our doom. For morning, with a ray of tenderest joy Gilding the iron heaven, hides the truth, And evening gently woos us to employ Our grief in idle catches. Such is youth; Till from that summer’s trance we wake, to find Despair before us, vanity behind.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it our elders obtained a good report.
Bible – King James Version.
by T. A. Fry
Through faith, we understand the worlds were framed By God’s words; that things are not made solely Of which they appear. Without faith, it is Impossible to please or be wholly pleased. Faith is a reward unto itself. And those That state plainly; “we’re earthly strangers, pilgrims, Seeking a country from whence we came,” May have the opportunity to return.
But what if we desire something better? A heavenly country; where God is not Ashamed to be called our God. Is there more? Our elders, having obtained a good report, Through faith, received not the promise; God provided something better;
They, without us, should not be made perfect.
The end of the American experiment, may well come in part, out of the fictional character from which it was partially fashioned; the idea of American independence and rugged individualism. We have fashioned a cloak for ourselves and our politicians out of this idea of American exceptionalism. The idea that as American’s we are innately superior by our very founders declaring independence and then fighting for our freedom. These noble words and ideas may yet fashion the heroic myth that will be our undoing; the idea that you can make it in this country by yourself, if you just apply yourself and work hard and don’t let the government or anyone else get in your way. What that myth ignores, is that the reason that all of us have things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving is because of others’ contributions, small and large, to our successes and our failures. The Plymouth plantation survived, the reason the revolution succeeded, when so many others prior to it did not, was because groups worked together, communally, with the belief that they could build something better together, build it through self sacrifice for the betterment of others, where alone, they would fail.
It is ironic then, the heroic myth of American exceptionalism and independence is partially responsible for bringing us to the brink of fracturing, has created a divide that is growing through a proclamation of self service, when the need to work cooperatively could not be more beneficial for all. This failing should not be a surprise. It is because we suffer as human’s from the same challenges of being human that William Bradford and his fellow colonists on the Mayflower did nearly 400 years ago, our egos get in the way of our better selves.
Bradford penned a journal of his voyage and establishment of the Plymouth colony, that was published by his sons after his death. A devout Christian, a man of faith and also realism, he believed that his faith in God, could help guide the providence of his community and his family if they worked together with the idea of a common good. He observed:
“The settlers, too, began to grow in prosperity, through the influx of many people to the country, especially to the Bay of Massachusetts. Thereby corn and cattle rose to a high price, and many were enriched, and commodities grew plentiful. But in other regards this benefit turned to their harm, and this accession of strength to weakness. For as their stocks increased and became more saleable, there was no longer any holding them together; they must of necessity obtain bigger holdings, otherwise they could not keep their cattle; and having oxen they must have land for ploughing. So in time no one thought he could live unless he had cattle and a great deal of land to keep them, all striving to increase their stocks.”
William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation
Bradford was a poet as well. Most of his poetry is religious in nature or what we would now call patriotic. Bradford wanted for his sons and their families to have something better than what his opportunities had been in England. I found humorous that Bradford wrote poetry complaining about various things he considered sinful, including – Ranters, proving not much has changed in 400 years, only the technology with which the Ranters rant.
On The Various Heresies In Old And New England, With An Appeal To The Presbyterians (Excerpt)
By William Bradford
Nor need you fear sin to commit, For Christ hath satisfied for it. But these doctrines make men profane, And bring dishonor to Christ’s name. Now faith is made, hereby, to be A dead body, as you may see; And these are but a wretched race, That they abuse God’s holy grace.
Ranters Next unto these we may bring in The filthy Ranters, near of kin. Where had they first their rise or name? I know not from the devil they came. The Adamites they are most like, But more against public shame do strike. Cynic-like, as vile as dogs, Carry themselves as filthy hogs, Yea worse than brutes, they know no end; But all their strength in lusts they spend. They shame the nature of mankind, And blot out reason in their mind. Professed atheists some of them are, Who openly revile God dare, And horridly blaspheme His name, And publicly avow the same, Which makes my heart quake and tremble. Nor may I herein dissemble; Methinks such wretches should not live In any land offense to give, Of this high nature, against the most high, And men it hear, and pass it by. I might say more of their vileness, How in contempt they will profess Their fellow creatures to adore, That God’s dishonor may be more. But let them pass; they are too vile My fingers for to defile. I hope the Lord’s help will come in To cleanse the land of such vermin.
I feel compelled to leave a footnote about the poem Through Faith. I thought carefully whether to attach my name to this poem, as it feels a bit like hubris to do so. I recognize that many people take scripture as literal, the literal word of God. I do not. I see it as a creation of many minds over time, written in languages other than my own and passed down. I see the connection between poetry and scripture and the poetry in scripture.
I found this text the first time I read it incredibly confusing. I could not wrap my head around it. If you read Hebrews 11 in it’s entirety it is a lengthy list of prophets in the Old Testament and their trials of faith. It feels impersonal and antiquated. But there was an element in it, that the more time that I spent with it felt relevant. And its relevance is in being a father and a son. The process of deconstructing and then reconstructing the text into a poem made it viable as something meaningful to me. And I hope might open the door for others to look at it through their own spiritual or poetic lens.
If the only prayer you ever say in your life is Thank You, it will be enough.
We Eat Out Together
by Bernadette Mayer
My heart is a fancy place Where giant reddish-purple cauliflowers & white ones in French & English are outside Waiting to welcome you to a boat Over the low black river for a big dinner There’s alot of choice among the foods Even a tortured lamb served in pieces En croute on a plate so hot as a rack Of clouds blown over the cold filthy river We are entitled to see anytime while we Use the tablecovers to love each other Publicly dishing out imitative luxuries To show off poetry’s extreme generosity Then home in the heart of a big limousine
Where ever you are in this world, whatever your traditions, or beliefs, we share our humanness through gratitude. So much of poetry is tied to this quality, the ability to express thankfulness, that I don’t think poetry would exist without this innate ability.
I don’t think however it is only a human trait. If you live around animals they often express their gratitude for your touch, for your presence, for feeding them or grooming them, or petting them. Gratitude is a trait that goes beyond our species.
As I celebrate Thanksgiving today, separated because of COVID from the loved ones I would normally get together, I will say the same prayer of Gratefulness that I have said many times over the years. I am maybe more grateful than previous years as strange as it sounds. I am grateful they are healthy and capable of marshalling through these challenging times. I am grateful for their self reliance, their perseverance, their ability to make their own fun, and keep a positive attitude. I am thankful for all my blessings, – the greatest of which is their love.
I feel compelled to be original writing this blog, to have every poem on every post be new, for the first time on Fourteen Lines. But that’s not the way I read poetry. I go back to the same poems over and over. If you are needing a Thanksgiving Prayer, either to read aloud at your table or to say silently, here’s my go to favorite for Thanksgiving. I shared it on the first Thanksgiving of Fourteen Lines in 2017, and it warrants sharing again, as I plan on reading it again, and again.
Thou that has given so much to me Give me one thing more, – a grateful heart, See how Thy beggar works on Thee by art.
Not Thankful when it pleaseth me, – As if they blessings had spare days. But such a heart, whose pulse may be Thy praise.
by Max Ritvo
It is rare that I have to stop eating anything because I have run out of it.
We, in the West, eat until we want to eat something else, or want to stop eating altogether.
The chef of a great kitchen uses only small plates.
He puts a small plate in front of me, knowing I will hunger on for it even as the next plate is being placed in front of me.
But each plate obliterates the last until I no longer mourn the destroyed plate,
but only mewl for the next, my voice flat with comfort and faith.
And the chef is God, whose faithful want only the destruction of His prior miracles to make way for new ones.
Yes, all of this is sorrow. But leave a little love burning always like the small bulb in the room of a sleeping baby that gives him a bit of security and quiet love though he doesn’t know what the light is or where it comes from.
by Yehuda Amichai
My father fought their war four years or so, And did not hate or love his enemies. Already he was forming me, I know, Daily, out of his tranquilities;
Tranquilities, so few, which he had gleaned Between the bombs and smoke, for his son’s sake, And put into his ragged knapsack with The leftovers of my mother’s hardening cake.
He gathered with his eyes the nameless dead, The many dead for my sake unforsaken, So that I should not die like them in dread, But love them, seeing them as once he saw. He filled his eyes with them; he was mistaken, Like them, I must go out to meet my war.
by Yehuda Amichai
Not the peace of a cease-fire, not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb, but rather as in the heart when the excitement is over and you can talk only about a great weariness. I know that I know how to kill, that makes me an adult. And my son plays with a toy gun that knows how to open and close its eyes and say Mama. A peace without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares, without words, without the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be light, floating, like lazy white foam. A little rest for the wounds— who speaks of healing? (And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation to the next, as in a relay race: the baton never falls.)
Let it come like wildflowers, suddenly, because the field must have it: wildpeace