Like The Ooze of Oil

“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins

  God’s Grandeur

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1899)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
 
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
 
 

Hopkins, for all his precise literary religious fervor, is complicated in his contradictions.   He uses exquisite rhyme and structure to construct his poetic hymns.  His goal was to promote Christianity through his art.   In his own words;
 
“What are works of art for? to educate, to be standards. To produce is of little use unless what we produce is known, is widely known, the wider known the better, for it is by being known that it works, it influences, it does its duty, it does good. We must try, then, to be known, aim at it, take means to it. And this without puffing in the process or pride in the success.”
Well, let’s not go too far Mr. Hopkins in your humbleness.  You also said, “What I do is me, for that I came,” which is a clever way to say, I am what I write or I write because I am, either way there is a certain amount of credit being taken.  I have never met a writer who put their work out into the public eye that didn’t take a little pride in its success.  If Hopkins’ was writing today he would have thousands of likes on his blog.  My point is genius can rarely get out of the way of its own recognition. 
 
It’s okay to not seek recognition, it is another to ignore it.  I am in the camp both approaches are acceptable to an artist, but the latter can get one in bind if they pick and choose what awards they acknowledge during their career.   Writers willing to be adored only by fans worthy of their adoration rarely age well, the vintage goes off as dust settles, something just not quite right as the flavor goes off. 
 
The interesting question is why do some why do poets like Hopkins continue to inspire for hundred’s of years after their deaths, while thousands of other writers, some with equal gifts,  are discarded by and large to obscurity relatively quickly?   I think it may have something to do with luck and inspiration, but in reality I have no idea….
 

Justus quidem tu es, Domine

 
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
 

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

Heroic Happy Dead

A Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.

War is what happens when language fails.

Margaret Atwood

pity this busy monster, manunkind

by e. e. cummings

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
—electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born—pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if—listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go.


Do wars ever come to an end?  One side runs out of ammunition or conscripts or volunteers, or civilians are pummeled into subjugation, to the point they can no longer support the war effort, but is there really ever a victor?   The current war sow’s the seeds for the next war and so on and so on.  Veteran’s day is to honor those that served, but it’s also a reminder on how war is handed down generation after generation.   One’s family’s liberation is another’s subjugation.  One’s person’s defeat is another’s lifelong PTSD for the incalculable cruelty of victory.  We survive them, outlast them and unfortunately repeat them.

The narrative of war is driven by the propaganda used to justify the expense in human lives and human capitol.    Why do we fail to invest in diplomacy, honor carefully crafted accords, when it is more effective and less costly than conflict? Cummings catch-22 clunky use of language fits the inherent contradictions of war.  War rarely make ssense but we all understand its consequence.  Cummings lack of clarity in his word-hash feels like clarity, in the context of the longing left behind by the heroic happy dead….

 


next to of course god america

by e. e. cummings

“next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.

Now Here, Now There

The songs I had are withered Or vanished clean. Yet there are bright tracks Where I have been.

Ivor Gurney

Servitude

By Ivor Gurney (1890 – 1937)
 
If it were not for England, who would bear
This heavy servitude one moment more?
To keep a brothel, sweep and wash the floor
Of filthiest hovels were noble to compare
With this brass-cleaning life. Now here, now there
Harried in foolishness, scanned curiously o’er
By fools made brazen by conceit, and store
Of antique witticisms thin and bare.
 
Only the love of comrades sweetens all,
Whose laughing spirit will not be outdone.
As night-watching men wait for the sun
To hearten them, so wait I on such boys
As neither brass nor Hell-fire may appal,
Nor guns, nor sergeant-major’s bluster and noise.

After-Glow

By Ivor Gurney
(To F. W. Harvey)
 
Out of the smoke and dust of the little room
With tea-talk loud and laughter of happy boys,
I passed into the dusk. Suddenly the noise
Ceased with a shock, left me alone in the gloom,
To wonder at the miracle hanging high
Tangled in twigs, the silver crescent clear.
Time passed from mind. Time died; and then we were
Once more at home together, you and I.
 
The elms with arms of love wrapped us in shade
Who watched the ecstatic west with one desire,
One soul uprapt; and still another fire
Consumed us, and our joy yet greater made:
That Bach should sing for us, mix us in one
The joy of firelight and the sunken sun.

I’m Stone. I’m Flesh

if I had to give up the heavenly
taste of Guinness dark, I couldn’t
live another goddamn day. Darling,
you can chisel that into my headstone.”

Yusef Komunyakaa

We Never Know

By Yusef Komunyakaa

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrelsHe
glowed white-hot.
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.
There’s no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn’t be
kissing the ground.

______________________________________________

Facing It 

By Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,   
hiding inside the black granite.   
I said I wouldn’t  
dammit: No tears.   
I’m stone. I’m flesh.   
My clouded reflection eyes me   
like a bird of prey, the profile of night   
slanted against morning. I turn   
this way—the stone lets me go.   
I turn that way—I’m inside   
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light   
to make a difference.   
I go down the 58,022 names,   
half-expecting to find   
my own in letters like smoke.   
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   
I see the booby trap’s white flash.   
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse   
but when she walks away   
the names stay on the wall.   
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s   
wings cutting across my stare.   
The sky. A plane in the sky.   
A white vet’s image floats   
closer to me, then his pale eyes   
look through mine. I’m a window.   
He’s lost his right arm   
inside the stone. In the black mirror   
a woman’s trying to erase names:   
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

Love Drove Me To Rebel

The dead are more real than the living because they are complete.

Siegfried Sassoon

Banishment 

By Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)

I am banished from the patient men who fight.
They smote my heart to pity, built my pride.
Shoulder to aching shoulder, side by side,
They trudged away from life’s broad wealds of light.
Their wrongs were mine; and ever in my sight
They went arrayed in honour. But they died,–
Not one by one: and mutinous I cried
To those who sent them out into the night.

The darkness tells how vainly I have striven
To free them from the pit where they must dwell
In outcast gloom convulsed and jagged and riven
By grappling guns. Love drove me to rebel.
Love drives me back to grope with them through hell;
And in their tortured eyes I stand forgiven.


 

Thanatopsis (Excerpt)

By William Cullen Bryant  (1794-1878)

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumberable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Though go not, like the quarry-slave at night
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach they grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams…

And Nobody, But Nobody

We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now, we’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them.

Attributed to Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller during the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea, November 1950.

Sonnet for 1950

By Jack Agueros 
 
All the kids came rumbling down the wood tenement
Shaky stairs, sneakers slapping against the worn
Tin tread edges, downhall came Pepo, Chino, Cojo,
Curly bursting from the door like shells exploding
Singing “I’m a Rican Doodle Dandy” and “What shall
We be today, Doctors or Junkies, Soldiers or Winos?”
 
Pepo put a milk crate on a Spanish Harlem johnny pump
And drops opened like paratroopers carrying war news.
 
Then Urban Renewal attacked the pump, cleared the slums
Blamed Puerto Rico and dispersed the Spies, blasting
Them into the Army or Anywhere Avenue in the Bronx.
 
And nobody, but nobody, came back from that summer.
 
Just as Korea was death in service to the warring Nation
The Bronx was death in service to the negligent Nation
 

Sonnet

by John Buxton

I saw men’s homes burst into sudden flower
. . Of crimson petals round each golden shell.
. . I listened to the whining bombs that fell
And felt the hard earth tremble at their power. 
I saw bewildered eyes that hour by hour
. . Had peered through the rifle sights. I heard men tell
. . How many rounds they fired.  I learned the smell
Of cattle burning in the byres is sour.
So much war taught me.  And, when I return,
. . Because I did not cower nor shirk the fight,
. . But took a little part in this mad play,
Because I too have helped to kill, wreak, burn —
“You did your duty, helped defend the right,
. . You too were brave,” some poor, blind fool will say.

A Hero For All Times

falun-gong

A Hero

by Evan Mantyk

These are the weathered shoes worn by the Jew,
So cracked from all the miles walked since he fled.
These are the slave’s strong legs like trunks that grew
And worked so hard until he’s beaten dead.
This is the heart of Christians who’re hemmed in
by beasts, while Romans laugh at them and yell.
These poisoned lips of Socrates destined
To die, and yet in virtue ever dwell.
This banner is the shield of Spartan men
Outnumbered by a thousand foes to one;
Its moral words in Chinese, Zhen-Shan-Ren,
Are spears of truth that no one can outrun.
The Falun Gong man now before you stands,
A hero for all times and for all lands.

__________________________________

Once again, I am going to explore the poetry of war during November.   This year I will be highlighting poetry from conflicts from around the world and across time.  If you are in the camp that you only partake of positive poetry as defense to the insanity of the current state of things, then you may want to just take November off from Fourteenlines and come back in December.  Part of me is tempted to do the same….

I have often contemplated whether the gravity of a war poets words are weighted by whether they died in the conflict?   If you revisit prior November posts, there are many examples where the tragedy of the poetry is heightened because it is underpinned by the tragedy of the poet’s senseless death.  However, there is hope hidden in many of those words as well.  Poetry can be as effective in creating political change as guns, even when it is at its most raw.  Poetry is an instrument of change that endures if enough people take the time to be challenged by words meant to inflame peace with as much conviction as the cacophony of the clever profiteers of war.

Unlike in years past, I will not be adding commentary this year to the poems I post.  I am having a hard time finding much meaningful to say at the present.  I choose instead to do what I can do, keep showing up, keep sharing poems I find interesting, hoping that some of the poems resonate with readers in ways that spark an interest in some shape or fashion.   I wish you well this month of November.  In the modest intent of zen tradition, may each of us find a future that is workable.   May we all find a path that we can walk this November, even among the bomb craters, to come out the other side, into a more peaceful December.

Painful Condition

by Yacheslav Konoval

Once on Thursday, I woke up weak,
having been covered with a warm quilt,
with a merciless temperature,
I am dying, and I am bleak.
Like a pendulum,
hearing the run of strikes in the clock’s click.
Laying in bed, I had exhausted from the undead,
I am similar to a sickly chick.
Contemplate on the white pills,
that had become the color of capitulation.
Please, God, stop all human ills,
overcome the pains, and be a healthy nation.

This Is The Barrenness

Louise Gluck

From the beginning of time, in childhood, I thought that pain meant I was not loved. It meant I loved.

Louis Gluck

All Hallows

By Louise Gluck 
 
Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:
 
This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one
 
And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Sonnet 100

by Lord Brooke Fulke Greville (1554 – 1628)

In night when colors all to black are cast,
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light;
The eye a watch to inward senses placed,
Not seeing, yet still having powers of sight,

Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
Where fear stirred up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offense,
Doth forge and raise impossibility:

Such as in thick depriving darknesses,
Proper reflections of the error be,
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see;

And from this nothing seen, tells news of devils,
Which but expressions be of inward evils

How Huge The World Must Be

David Baker

Poems happen for me–when they happen–not in the writing but in the rewriting. They emerge.

David Baker

Dust To Dust (An Excerpt)

by David Baker
 
2.
 
All night, so far, I have waited for the train to come
calling through a cotton curtain on its breeze.
 
It always does—low as a mourning dove long minutes
over the far, darkening fields and many trees.
 
How huge the world must be to hear so far
beyond the shade, beyond the grasp of night.
 
There are apple boughs brushing my fine screen lightly.
And a dozen stars, I know, like pinpricks on an arm.
 
Before it stops, a train will hiss, grind, clatter
all the way back while its car-locks bang.
 
Then the engine at idle—hubbub, wood smoke,
and trouble in the hobo camp below the trestle.
 
How sad the world is to hear nothing for so long.
It always comes. Sweet night wind like cider.
 

5.
 
Hanging primrose breeze. Haze of barbeque.
The many children quieted by baths, put to bed—
 
they wait for the locusts’ buzz and homing trains.
One lone bat recurrent in the streetlamp glow.
 
Four blocks down the road gives way to asphalt blacktop.
But here the block stamp macon brick hasn’t rubbed off
 
the red clay bars the many fathers wrecked
their knees to pack tightly back into earth.
 
How small a world it is to want such work.
I will come here only once more to lie down too,
 
having lived to praise one thing made so well
it sings with each slow passage, rimmed
 
with sleepers safe in all their loved and many beds.
Flowers line every sidewalk down the breathing road.

I Know The World

Philip Whalen (1923 – 2002)

My writing is a picture of the mind moving.

Philip Whalen

Vermont

by Phillip Widden

A white wood house defines the slope. The trees
Have gone to red and flame. A field beyond
Is spread with grass and granite rocks at ease.
This stonewall pattern thinks it holds a pond.
But it is free beneath October’s sun,
At least as free as anything can be
In fever such as we all know when, done
With heavy summer, eyes begin to see
The chill of air and glaze themselves with dreams.
Restrained. The farmhouse windows have their fire
Inside as well. Twilight is more it seems,
And maple facts can mesmerize desire.
A white wood house defines the slope of hill
Where people keep another autumn, still.

A Vision of the Bodhisattvas

By Philip Whalen
 
They pass before me one by one riding on animals
“What are you waiting for,” they want to know
 
Z—, young as he is (& mad into the bargain) tells me
“Some day you’ll drop everything & become a rishi, you know.”
 
I know
The forest is there, I’ve lived in it
    More certainly than this town? Irrelevant—
 
    What am I waiting for?
A change in customs that will take 1000 years to come about?
Who’s to make the change but me?
 
    “Returning again and again,” Amida says
 
Why’s that dream so necessary? walking out of whatever house alone
Nothing but the clothes on my back, money or no
Down the road to the next place the highway leading to the   
mountains
From which I absolutely must come back
 
What business have I to do that?
I know the world and I love it too much and it
Is not the one I’d find outside this door.