Today’s Fourteenlines is a guest blog by Frank Hudson. Please check out his marvelous website and commentary on Edward Thomas including his creative interpretations in music by clicking on the link below.
The Night is dark, the waters deep, Yet soft the billows roll; Alas! at every breeze I weep – The storm is in my soul.
Helen Maria Williams
Sonnet On Reading Burns’ To A Mountain Daisy
By Helen Maria Williams (1759 – 1827)
While soon the “garden’s flaunting flowers” decay,
And, scatter’d on the earth, neglected lie,
The “Mountain Daisy,” cherish’d by the ray
A poet drew from heav’n, shall never die.
Ah! like that lovely flower the poet rose!
‘Mid penury’s bare soil and bitter gale;
He felt each storm that on the mountain blows,
Nor ever knew the shelter of the vale.
By Genius in her native vigour nurst,
On Nature with impassion’d look he gazed,
Then through the cloud of adverse fortune burst
Indignant, and in light unborrow’d blaz’d.
Shield from rude sorrow, SCOTIA! shield thy bard:–
His heav’n-taught numbers Fame herself will guard.
Described during her lifetime by her detractors as politically radical and sexually wanton, Helen Maria Williams sounds like my kind of woman, a poet with a mind of her own and the will (and means) to do what she wanted. I find it a bit humorous that part of her sentence during a brief stay in prison in France included the ominous warning that she was only allowed to write sonnets and do translation work while behind bars. The judge apparently feeling that penning sonnets was sufficient punishment for a writer.
Helen’s sonnets were not so magical as to launch a thousand ships, but she has a certain flair and the chops to have lived a bona fide poetic life, such that her writing has managed to avoid the dust bin of history. I find her defense and admiration of Burns’ poem charming.
I read Burns’ poetry aloud much more convincingly if I drink a bit of whiskey before hand. I recommend you try a single malt aged for 10 years or more of anything that costs at least $35/bottle USD and whose brand is difficult to pronounce on the bottle, it will be good practice for Burns. My pro tip, is like all good fake speakers of a foreign language, when you get to a sticky wicket of a word and don’t know how it’s pronounced, don’t slow down, do your best and say it loudly with confidence and with your own version of a fake Scottish accent and you’ll fool most everyone but a real Scot.
To A Mountain Daisy
by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796)
On Turning One Down with the Plow, in April, 1786
Wee, modest, crimson-tippèd flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure .Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r, .Thou bonie gem.
Alas! it’s no thy neibor sweet,
The bonie lark, companion meet,
Bending thee ‘mang the dewy weet .Wi’ spreck’d breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet .The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth . Amid the storm,
Scarce rear’d above the parent-earth . Thy tender form.
The flaunting flowers our gardens yield
High shelt’ring woods an’ wa’s maun shield:
But thou, beneath the random bield . O’ clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field . Unseen, alane.
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie-bosom sun-ward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head . In humble guise;
But now the share uptears thy bed, . And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,
Sweet flow’ret of the rural shade!
By love’s simplicity betray’d . And guileless trust;
Till she, like thee, all soil’d, is laid . Low i’ the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,
On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d!
Unskilful he to note the card . Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage and gales blow hard, . And whelm him o’er!
Such fate to suffering Worth is giv’n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv’n,
By human pride or cunning driv’n . To mis’ry’s brink;
Till, wrench’d of ev’ry stay but Heav’n, . He ruin’d sink!
Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives elate, . Full on thy bloom,
Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight . Shall be thy doom.
IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Where does inspiration arise? In the case of Shelley’s famous poem, it came from a little gamesmenship between two friends, a modest wager of who could write the better poem after seeing a drawing of Ozymandias pictured above. Smith was a friend of Shelley’s and the two each wrote a sonnet after reading a portion of Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliotheca historica, a history of the known world in the last century BC, much of which survives.
It does not seem such an odd place for poetic inspiration. My parents invested in a complete Encyclopedia Britanica as a child, a very expensive addition to our library, and placed it on the lowest book shelf to give all of us easy access. It served two purposes as a child. It was the perfect building material for adding height and variation to hot wheel tracks, when hot wheels were only powered by gravity, and on rainy days, I would sit by the heater with the cats, and pull out a letter and browse through it, stumbling upon all kinds of interesting things I knew nothing about. In grade school the Encyclopedia was the first place you went to begin a book report or paper on any subject. Today, you see them out for free at yard sales, the owners hoping someone will cart them off.
I will never completely succumb to the lure of the simplicity of the digital era. I don’t want an algorithm dictating what I do and don’t see based on past searches. I want the freedom to stumble across something completely foreign and inviting. I still look at maps, instead of relying on GPS for the same reason. A map gives you context. A map can tell you things about your surroundings that you had no idea existed. A map can help you take the detour that turns out to be your real destination after all. And I still enjoy finding an encyclopedia and pulling out a letter and opening it up randomly to find out what cool thing in Volume W might contain.
The sun rises with no less dazzling sway, And yet, gardens sulk in muted eloquence. Nature’s splendor is colder ever since Quietus bore your gentle hand away. It’s your silence which weighs upon my days. Unexpected things will make me wince. For I miss your voice, your elegance All which hold me still amidst the fray.
You draped and shaped us with loving shears. Thin striplings pruned and fed to reach the sun You protected us from winter’s coldest years To bloom again despite what’s done is done. In mourning, I’ll manage through these low tears Ever blessed to be your beloved son.
Then all the charm
Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth! who scarcely dar’st lift up thine eyes—
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo! he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror.
Kubla Khan – Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment – Coleridge.
Sonnet: To The River Otter
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge
How many various-fated years have passed,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,
Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless child!
We live in paradise even if we lose sight of Xanadu now and again. I have a hard time connecting to the constant drone of bad environmental news that seems to endlessly bombard us from all sides in the media. It’s not that I avert my eyes to the very real threat that rising carbon dioxide levels and global warming poses to reshaping this planet in ways that could forever alter the stability of our society. Nor am I insensitive to the corresponding threat to a million species at risk of extinction or the presence of plastic, pollution and exotic contaminants that degrade even in the most remote places of the world caused by the carelessness and industrialization of our lives. I am keenly aware of this insanity. I am indigent to the destruction that humans are causing our planet and aware of the brokenness of our consumptive lifestyles and unsustainable appetite of economies based on free market capitalism, a false idea that growth is what’s “healthy” and necessary. You have to be willfully blind to think this is going to end well or is sustainable. It’s that I don’t choose to live a daily life focused on that negative reality of the cause and effect of over 7 billion people on this planet as there is no reasonable option to figure out what is a sustainable population or how to implement such a thing. It’s beyond our human ability for collective decision making. So I instead choose to focus on other things. I am admittedly one of the members of the band still playing on the deck of the Titanic, probably the baritone, that will keep on playing their part even as my feet sink below the surface.
I am not a believer that the world is going to come to an end, nor that homo sapiens aren’t part of the very distant future. Life on this planet is nothing if not resilient. But as the painting above illustrates there are plenty of birds of paradise, like the dodo bird and passenger pigeon, that were plentiful not that long ago, that disappeared with little warning and without conservation because of human stupidity. So where’s the middle ground between a life of avid protectionism and environmental activism and living in peaceful, albeit transient ignorance? It’s right here, in my favorite writing chair, listening to the rain outside and smelling the fragrance of crab apple blossoms coming in my open window, enjoying the playfulness of paradise in the hands of a talented poet, while keeping a slumbering eye on this restless and damaged but beautiful world.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
“The profession of book writing makes horse racing look like a stable, solid business.”
Sonnet Xli – Having This Day My Horse
By Sir Philip Sidney
Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance Guided so well that I obtain’d the prize,
Both by the judgment of the English eyes
And of some sent from that sweet enemy France;
Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance,
Town folks my strength; a daintier judge applies
His praise to sleight which from good use doth rise;
Some lucky wits impute it but to chance;
Others, because of both sides I do take
My blood from them who did excel in this,
Think Nature me a man of arms did make.
How far they shot awry! The true cause is,
Stella look’d on, and from her heav’nly face
Sent forth the beams which made so fair my race.
I have recently been schooled in the ways of horse betting by a friend for whom the horses are a passionate hobby. His approach is to use a combination of 25 years of watching horse racing at tracks all over the world, watching trainers, jockey’s and owners success and failure and combining it with a complete sense of folly in betting. It seems to work. His advice, always bet the black horse if wearing a one to win or bet the horse wearing the number of the race on that days card before the 5th, for instance the 4 horse in the 4th, particularly if he likes the jockey.
The only time horse racing even comes into my consciousness is the month during the triple crown, when I follow peripherally the story lines that emerge around long shots, favorites, beautiful thoroughbreds coming up lame, jockeys career’s made or lost in a seconds on a muddy track and the beauty of what a race horse can do in the hands of amazing athletes. It is a beauty to behold.
If you had a team helping you everyday, exercising with you, carefully watching your nutrition, bathing you, encouraging you, asking you to do your best, what race could you run with elegance? What triple crown are you racing in your life and who is your team supporting you, helping you to win, share the journey or consoling you in defeat? Remember, regardless of where you place, stay in the race and feel the pleasure of blood beating in your veins.
by Carl Sandburg
FIRST I would like to write for you a poem to be shouted in the teeth of a strong wind.
Next I would like to write one for you to sit on a hill and read down the river valley on a late summer afternoon, reading it in less than a whisper to Jack on his soft wire legs learning to stand up and preach, Jack-in-the-pulpit.
As many poems as I have written to the moon and the streaming of the moon spinners of light, so many of the summer moon and the winter moon I would like to shoot along to your ears for nothing, for a laugh, a song,
for nothing at all,
for one look from you,
for your face turned away
and your voice in one clutch
half way between a tree wind moan
and a night-bird sob.
Believe nothing of it all, pay me nothing, open your window for the other singers and keep it shut for me.
The road I am on is a long road and I can go hungry again like I have gone hungry before.
What else have I done nearly all my life than go hungry and go on singing?
Leave me with the hoot owl.
I have slept in a blanket listening.
He learned it, he must have learned it
From two moons, the summer moon,
And the winter moon
And the streaming of the moon spinners of light.