Friday, April 29, 2005

Thank you to Harold for this:

A New England poet often referred to as "the American Wordsworth".

"The world in which Bryant was at home is neither the dizzy mountainous terrain of Emerson nor the haunted midnight landscape of Poe. But, though it may never be a dazzling or romantic domain, after turbulent days we are glad for its quiet assurance. It may not be enchanted ground, but it has the comfort of good earth: it is sure haven."

Louis Untermeyer, Editor's Introduction,
The Poems of William Culllen Bryant,
Limited Editions Club, New York, NY, c.1947.

Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood

Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs
No school of long experience, that the world
Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen
Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares,
To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood
And view the haunts of nature. The calm shade
Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm
To thy sick heart. Thou wilt find nothing here
Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men,
And made thee loathe thy life. The primal curse
Fell, it is true, upon the unsinning earth,
But not in vengance. God hath yoked to guilt
Her pale tormentor, Misery. Hence these shades
Are still the abode of gladness; the thick roof
Of green and stirring branches is alive
And musical with birds, that sing and sport
In wantonness of spirit; while below
The squirrel, with raised paws and form erect,
Chirps merrily. Throngs of insects in the shade
Try their thin wings and dance in the warm beam.
That waked them into life. Even the green trees
Partake the deep contentment; as they bend
To the soft winds, the sun from the blue sky
Looks in and sheds a blessing on the scene.
Scarce less the cleft-born wildflower seems to enjoy
Existence, than the winged plunderer
That sucks its sweets. The mossy rocks themselves,
And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees
That lead from knoll to knoll a causeway rude,
Or bridge the sunken brook, and their dark roots,
With all their roots upon them, twisting high,
Breathe fixed tranquility. The rivulet
Sends forth glad sounds, and tripping o'er its bed
Of pebbly sands, or leaping down the rocks
Seems, with continuous laughter, to rejoice
In its own being. Softly tread the marge,
Lest from her midway perch thou scare the wren
That dips her bill in water. The cool wind,
That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee,
Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass
Ungreeted, and shall give its light embrace.

-William Cullen Bryant

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I remember years ago, my friend Pavel reciting this poem to a Russian friend of mine who was a huge fan of poetry and Yevtushenko's work in particular. She was amazed to be talking about a long dormant love in her native tongue in her new home. I remember crying over the swan song of the lost brother. Anyway, let me leave the word to Pavel:

I found it by Googling the remembered refrain “dove-gray brother”. The Cyrillic didn’t appear correctly in my browser – it came out as a lot of funny accented Roman letters – until I fixed that by right-clicking in Windows Explorer and choosing Cyrillic under Encoding.

I heard Yevgeny Yevtushenko recite some of his poems at Princeton, in 1985 or 86 I think (my freshman year). He delivered some in English, others in Russian (these preceded by readings of the translations by a certain literature professor, from Queens College as I recall, who accompanied him on stage.) Yevtushenko was quite charismatic and expressive, even if you didn’t know the language. (It helped to have been told the content first.)


To V. Shchukin

With blood still dripping from its
warm and sticky beak,
its neck dangling over a bucket's edge,
a goose lies rocking in a boat,
like an ingot
of slightly tarnished silver.
There had been two of them flying
above the river Vilyui.
The first had been brought down in flight
while the other,
gliding low,
risking his neck,
hovers over the boat,
cries over the forest:
"My dove-gray brother,
we came into the world
clamorously breaking through our shells,
but every morning
Mother and Father
fed you first,
when it might have been me.
My dove-gray brother,
you had this blue tinge,
teasing the sky with a bold similarity.
I was darker,
and the females desired
you more,
when it might have been me.
My dove-gray brother,
without fear for the return,
you and I flew away, over the seas,
but obnoxious geese from other lands surrounded
you first,
when it might have been me.
My dove-gray brother,
we were beaten and bowed.
Together we were lashed by the tempests,
but for some reason the water slid
more easily off your goose's back
when it might have been mine.
My dove-gray brother,
we frayed out feathers.
People will eat both of us by the fireside -
perhaps because
the struggle to be first
devoured you,
consumed me.
My dove-gray brother,
half our lives was a pecking match,
not treasuring our brotherhood, our wings, and our souls.
Was reliance really impossible -
I on you,
and you on me?
My dove-gray brother,
I beg at least for a pellet,
curbing my envy too late;
but for my punishment people killed
you first,
when it might have been me..."


Translated by Arthur Boyars and Simon Franklin

This poem struck me particularly. He explained in English, before the English translation and his Russian recitation, that it was inspired by the event that made him gave up hunting. Once he killed a beautiful goose with unusual, striking bluish-grey plumage, and after that another goose flew overhead and cried. His imagination supplied the rest of the sad story of jealousy and regrets, and the poem.

Here is a transliteration, so you can have some sense of the dactylic meter and rhyme of the original. Also “you” and “me,” so often repeated, provide an internal rhyme in many lines. (Or at least have an assonance, “tebya” and “menya”). So I think it would better translate using “thee” and “me,” despite the spurious archaism in English. I suppose you will challenge me to make my own complete rhyming translation.

By the way, the Russian for “goose” happens to be “gus’” transliterated and almost the same pronounced! (Just palatalize the s.)


S krov’yu iz klyuva, tyopel i lipok,

Sheyey motaya po krayu vedra,

V lodke kachayetsya gus’ budto slitok

Chut’ chernovatovo serebra.

Dvoye leteli oni vdol’ Vilyuya.

Pervyy ulozhen byl vlyot, a drugoy,

Nizko letya, golovoyu riskuya,

Kruzhit nad lodkoy, krichit nad taygoy:

“Sizyy moy brat, poyavilis’ my v mire,

Gromko svoyu skorlupu prolomya,

No po utram tebya pervym kormili

Mat’ i otets, a mogli by – menya.

Sizyy moy brat, ty byl chutochku sinii,

Nebo pokhozhest’yu derzkoy draznya,

Ya byl temnei, i lyubili gusyni

Bol’she – tebya, a mogli by – menya.

Sizyy moy brat, vozvrashchat’sya ne trusya,

My uleteli s toboy za morya,

No obstupali zamorskiye gusy

Pervym – tebya, a mogli by – menya.

Sizyy moy brat, my i bity i gnuty,

Vmeste nas livny khlestali klhest’mya,

Tol’ko skhodila voda pochemu-to

Legche s tebya, a mogla by – s menya.

Sizyy moy brat, istrepali my per’ya.

Lyudi s’’yedyat nas dvoikh u ognya.

Ne potomy l’, chto stremleniye byt’ pervym

Yelo tebya, pozhiralo menya?

Sizyy moy brat, my klevalis’ polzhizni,

Bratstva, i kryl’yev, i dush ne tsenya.

Razve nel’zya bylo nam polozhit’sya,

Mne – na tebya, a tebe – na menya?

Sizyy moy brat, ya proshu khot’ drobiny,

Zavist’ moyu zapozdalo klyanya,

No v nakazan’ye mne lyudi ubili

Pervym – tebya, a mogli by – menya.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dale sent me some other works by W H Auden:

I was going to send you a couple of Auden favorites, but I see you've
already put him up, so if this is now only for your private pleasure,
so be it. The Yeats poem is well known. I believe the poem "The
Geography of the House" originally came from a book of the same name
of poems about rooms in a house; the phrase itself is also a British
euphemism, and I suppose few could describe the inelegant so
elegantly, or love so wistfully.

In Memory Of W.B. Yeats

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

W H Auden

The Geography of the House
(for Christopher Isherwood)

Seated after breakfast
In this white-tiled cabin
Arabs call the House where
Everybody goes,
Even melancholics
Raise a cheer to Mrs.
Nature for the primal
Pleasure She bestows.

Sex is but a dream to
But a joy proposed un-
-til we start to shave:
Mouth-delight depends on
Virtue in the cook, but
This She guarantees from
Cradle unto grave.

Lifted off the potty,
Infants from their mothers
Hear their first impartial
Words of worldly praise:
Hence, to start the morning
With a satisfactory
Dump is a good omen
All our adult days.

Revelation came to
Luther in a privy
(Crosswords have been solved there)
Rodin was no fool
When he cast his Thinker,
Cogitating deeply,
Crouched in the position
Of a man at stool.

All the arts derive from
This ur-act of making,
Private to the artist:
Makers' lives are spent
Striving in their chosen
Medium to produce a
De-narcissus-ized en-
During excrement.

Freud did not invent the
Constipated miser:
Banks have letter boxes
Built in their façade
Marked For Night Deposits,
Stocks are firm or liquid,
Currencies of nations
Either soft or hard.

Global Mother, keep our
Bowels of compassion
Open through our lifetime,
Purge our minds as well:
Grant us a king ending,
Not a second childhood,
Petulant, weak-sphinctered,
In a cheap hotel.

Keep us in our station:
When we get pound-notish,
When we seem about to
Take up Higher Thought,
Send us some deflating
Image like the pained ex-
-pression on a Major
Prophet taken short.

(Orthodoxy ought to
Bless our modern plumbing:
Swift and St. Augustine
Lived in centuries
When a stench of sewage
Made a strong debating
Point for Manichees.)

Mind and Body run on
Different timetables:
Not until our morning
Visit here can we
Leave the dead concerns of
Yesterday behind us,
Face with all our courage
What is now to be.

W H Auden

O Tell Me The Truth About Love

Some say love's a little boy,
And some say it's a bird,
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.

Does it look like a pair of pyjamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does its odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
It wasn't over there;
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton's bracing air.
I don't know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn't in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races,
or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

W H Auden

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pablo on his choice:

"Ronald Reagan borrowed phrases from the first and last lines when he eulogized the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle. That must be the unremembered source of the phrase “surly bonds of earth” which was in my head and recurred to me while reading some of the early Lovecraft stories – like the ones with protagonist Randolph Carter -- which are more escapist fantasy than horror, treating of the dream-world travelers escaping from the mundane. But the poem itself is about the very real experience of an airplane pilot."

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,--and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew--
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God

-John Gillespe Magee

Monday, April 25, 2005

Let me leave today's word to Hal - New Englander, Printmaker, fan of J. J. Lankes:


Here are three poems my Maine author Robert P. Tristram Coffin, from
his collection "Saltwater Farm" (illustrated by JJ Lankes
incidentally). The poems have a regionalist or New England
sensibility about them, with references to working the earth, and a
keen perception of nature, much like in Lankes woodcuts.


He knew how Roman legions looked, for he
Had seen the Maine coast fogs march in from the sea
For many years now, in the August days.
They came in mighty columns up the bays,
Tawny and gray and silver in the sun;
They trampled out the seaports one by one,
The islands and the woods, with their high hosts,
And pushed the world back inland from the coasts.

This little house was lost, these hills and dells,
Cows in pasture faded into bells,
The world around a man closed in and in
Till nowhere was ten paces from this chin.
A man drew up and halted with a start
To be so close to his beating heart
And left so to himself and wholly blind
To everything but what was in his mind.

This was the peril and the comfort, too,
A man who lived in such a region knew;
On any Summer's day, within an hour,
He might be blind and naked to a power
So vast, it might have come from stars unmade,
Undreamt of, even, making him afraid,
So mightier than the night that he could guess
How life was but a name for loneliness.


His father had explained it all to him;
How rockweed in November at the rim
Of ebb tide showed a phosphorescent mark
When you stepped upon it in the dark.
That was all the story. Just the same,
The boy still thought the footprints were still a flame,
And he believed their feet must give out light,
Which made them show up plain there in the night.

You could not get around it. There they lay,
Footmarks you could see as plain as day
Coming up from behind as they walked,
The big ones and the little. While they talked
Of things of everyday, the steps came on,
There must be something to them so they shone.
It was simplest to believe 'twas so
And not trust things a small boy could not know.

That was the beginning. But it spread,
Until it got into the small boy's head
That always when his father was along
Something burned inside them that was strong
As sunlight, fierce and hot and clean,
Something very lovely though unseen,
And sometimes he had hard work no to stare
As though a wing had stirred his father's hair.


The best time on a farm is when
Sleep lies on the most of men.

It is when you rise and go
By starlight, through the dew or snow,

With your lantern by your side,
To see that all is right outside.

You take your turn to see all the housed;
The cows with velvet eyeballs drowsed.

The hens grown gentle as the dove,
Bunched all together in their love.

The utter peace of sleeping pigs,
Strange lacework of the maple twigs.

The fairy world that spiders spin
Along the corners of the bin.

The house's gable high with night,
Familiar things made strange by light.

Undulant beauty in a plow,
A pitchfork's shadow on the mow.

Wings out of homely things that soar
When your lanterns on the floor.

The shadow that a staple throws,
Hay chaff like an airy rose.

All is gentle, slow, and sure,
Peace behind each fastened door.

All is quiet, hunger done,
Peace beyond light of the sun.

A J.J. Lankes illustration from Coffin's "Saltwater Farm"
 Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Chandrahas over at The Middle Stage introduced me to a Turkish poet by the name of Orhan Veli Kanik the other day:


Everything happened all of a sudden.
All of a sudden daylight beat down on the earth;
There was the sky all of a sudden;
All of a sudden steam began to rise from the soil.
There were tendrils all of a sudden, buds all of a sudden.
And there were fruits all of a sudden.
All of a sudden,
All of a sudden,
Girls all of a sudden, boys all of a sudden.
Roads, moors, cats, people...
And there was love all of a sudden,
Happiness all of a sudden.

("All of a Sudden" makes me think of Neruda's poem "Spring" from Fully Empowered - the rebirth of everything due of the song of a bird.)


We live free
Air is free, clouds are free
Valleys and hills are free
Rain and mud are free
The outside of cars
The entrances of cinemas
And the shop windows are free
Bread and cheese cost money
But stale water is free
Freedom can cost your head
But prison is free
We live free

(Here is another work in a similar vein.)


How pleasant, oh dear God, how pleasant
To journey on the blue sea
To cast off from shore
Aimless as thought.

I would set sail to the wind
And wander from sea to sea
To find myself one morning
In some deserted bay.

In a harbor large and clean
A harbor in coral isles
Where in the wake of clouds
A golden summer trails.

The languid scent of oleasters
Would fill me there
And the taste of sorrow
Never find that place.

Sparrows would nest in the flowered
Eaves of my dream castle
The evenings would unravel with colors
The days pass in pomengrate gardens.

Here are a few more poems in translation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Racist or the Casualty of Shallow Misinterpretation?

I. Stephen Collins Foster

A northerner and member of the abolitionist movement, Stephen Collins Foster sought to both reform minstrelsy (musical revues that caricatured blacks and mimicked them for comic effect) and, through his music, bring light to the plight of black people after Emancipation. His lyrics were in dialect (as was the fashion of the time), but with strict instructions to perform with sympathy.

Oh Susanna

Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)

Of course, much of this is considered racist nowadays, and his music has been struck off the curricula of many schools (not to mention publishers of his works threatened with boycotts). Judged with current standards, perhaps he was. Viewed in context, however, he is still an important contributor to American popular culture. If we weren't so sensitive about offending others, perhaps there could be constructive dialogue about the nature of his writing, the racial climate of the times, current interpretations.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

And how could we ever leave out this great ode?

Concord Hymn

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Since today is Patriots Day, I think that some Longfellow might be in order:

Paul Revere's Ride

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

-Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The City

You said, "I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found, better than this.
Every effort of mine is condemned by fate;
and my heart is -- like a corpse -- buried.
How long in this wasteland will my mind remain.
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I may look
I see the black ruins of my life here,
where I spent so many years, and ruined and wasted.

"New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
in these same houses you will grow gray.
Always you will arrive in this city. To another land -- do not hope --
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have ruined your life here
in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.

-Constantine Cavafy

In my case, it's not a lover who's spurned me who has turned my territory into a wasteland; it's the city itself.

Chandrahas Choudhury has some great insight and an interesting correspondence to make between this poem and some music that I'd never have known about.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Le Petit Qui Pleure

Un gosse qui n'a pas sept ans
Chiale au sortir du vieux faubourg
Où ça sent la peine et l'amour.
Et je m'arrête là, longtemps
Moi, dont le coeur saigne ce soir
Tout rouge, en un silence atroce.
Je m'arrête sur le trottoir
A regarder chialer ce gosse...

Pleure, pleure mon petit gâs
Dis, pourquoi pleures-tu ? Pour rien !
Mais pleure : ça me fait du bien !
Pleure pour moi qui ne peux pas

Gaston Couté

The crying little boy

A boy of not quite seven
Cries at the limits of the old suburb
Where one feels the pain and the love.
And I stop there for a while
I, whose heart is bleeding tonight
All red, in awful silence.
I stop on the on the sidewalk
To watch this kid crying.

Cry, cry, my little one
Say, Why are you crying? No reason!
But cry: it does me good!
Cry for me, as I cannot.

I can't really do justice to this poem and I'll not make excuses for the translation. The sender tells me that he finds it more hopeful than sad. For me, it's bringing up some hard memories of the numb time of when I couldn't cry, couldn't feel, almost couldn't function properly. Thinking on that's painful now, but that's not so bad. Pain implies feeling and feeling is important to living.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Refused at the inn -
But I took this unkindness
As a gracious act;
Under the hazy evening moon
I slept beneath blossoms.

-Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875)

After a tragic young life, Rengetsu became a Buddhist nun at the age of 32. By the time of her death, she was reknowned as a master poet, calligrapher, painter and potter.

In my meanderings around the web to find more information on her, what continually strikes me is a grace, a peacefulness, an amazing fullness of spirit from a person who had so much tragedy befall her.

I wish I could find an image of the scroll on which the Hazy Moon verse is written online, as it is stunning. If you're able to do so, go visit it at the Sackler where it will be on display until the 17th of April.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Just an aside...these words never fail to make me all teary-eyed. Sorry. Can't help it.

Remember The Mountain Bed

Do you still sing of the mountain bed we made of limbs and leaves:
Do you still sigh there near the sky where the holly berry bleeds:
You laughed as I covered you over with leaves, face, breast, hips and thighs.
You smiled when I said the leaves were just the color of your eyes.

Rosin smells and turpentine smells from eucalyptus and pine
Bitter tastes of twigs we chewed where tangled woodvines twine
Trees held us in on all four sides so thick we could not see
I could not see any wrong in you, and you saw none in me.

Your arm was brown against the ground, your cheeks part of the sky.
As your fingers played with grassy moss, and limber you did lie:
Your stomach moved beneath your shirt and your knees were in the air
Your feet played games with mountain roots, as you lay thinking there.

Below us the trees grew clumps of trees, raised families of trees, and they
As proud as we tossed their heads in the wind and flung good seeds away:
The sun was hot and the sun was bright down in the valley below
Where people starved and hungry for life so empty come and go.

There in the shade and hid from the sun we freed our minds and learned.
Our greatest reason for being here, our bodies moved and burned
There on our mountain bed of leaves we learned life’s reason why
The People laugh and love and dream, they fight, they hate to die.

The smell of your hair I know is still there, if most of our leaves are blown,
Our words still ring in the brush and the trees were singing seeds are sown
Your shape and form is dim, but plain, there on our mountain bed
I see my life was brightest where you laughed and laid your head…

I learned the reason why man must work and how to dream big dreams,
To conquer time and space and fight the rivers and the seas
I stand here filled with my emptiness now and look at city and land
And I know why farms and cities are built by hot, warm, nervous hands.

I crossed many states just to stand here now, my face all hot with tears,
I crossed city, and valley, desert, and stream, to bring my body here:
My history and future blaze bright in me and all my joy and pain
Go through my head on our mountain bed where I smell your hair again.

All this day long I linger here and on in through the night
My greeds, desires, my cravings, hopes, my dreams inside me fight:
My loneliness healed my emptiness filled, I walk above all pain
Back to the breast of my woman and child to scatter my seeds again.

-Woody Guthrie
As I Walked Out One Evening

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
'Love has no ending.

'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

'I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

'Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

'O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

-W H Auden

Where to begin on this? I see a bit of Baudelaire here. The river image and the soft rocking feel of the words if you say them aloud brings to mind Apollinaire. I also sense Woody Guthrie's presence somewhat in the ballady feel and beautiful, deceptively simple language. From what I've read of Auden so far, it seems that he had an amazing wealth of resources to draw from. Thank you, Richard, for introducing me to him!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Having a car here just doesn't make sense for me right now. For one thing, it's way too expensive to feed and house the thing, to keep it up and to pay the extortionate insurance premiums that Massachusetts agencies gouge you with. Public transportation or my own two feet get me to just about everywhere I need to go. For more extended distances, I can always rent something.

Nick's rhapsody on the sensual pleasure of driving, however, gave me pause to remember just what I miss by not having a car.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

I was up early this morning scrubbing and mopping, as it was my turn to clean the apartment. While waiting for the mop bucket to fill, I opened my blinds and saw that Raphaella's laundry was already hung up and fluttering away. She'd beaten me yet again.

Oda para planchar

La poesía es blanca:
sale del agua envuelta en gotas,
se arruga y se amontona,
hay que extender la piel de este planeta,

hay que planchar el mar de su blancura
ya van y van las manos,
se alisan las sagradas superficies
y así se hacen las cosas:
las manos hacen cada día el mundo,
se une el fuego al acero,
llegan al lino, el lienzo y el tocuyo
del combate de las lavanderías
y nace de la luz u na paloma:
la castidad regresa de la espuma.

-Pablo Neruda

In Praise of Ironing

Poetry is pure white.
It emerges from water covered with drops,
is wrinkled, all in a heap.
It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet,
has to be ironed out, the sea's whiteness;
and the hands keep moving, moving,
the holy surfaces are smoothed out,
and that is how things are accomplished.
Every day, hands are creating the world,
fire is married to steel,
and canvas, linen, and cotton
come back from the skirmishings of the laundries,
and out of light a dove is born -
pure innocence out of the swirl.

-translation by Alastair Reid,

from Fully Empowered
I spent a good bit of yesterday at the Sackler Museum looking at likenesses of all sorts of dead folks of antiquity rendered in just about every material available for sculpture. The common link I saw between them all was that not a single one was whole. Everyone was missing something - perhaps a nose, an ear or at least one limb. This came to mind:


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.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

Saturday, April 09, 2005

On Keeping Up Appearances

I have to admit, I've never been very skilled in social niceties. I have fallen asleep at parties, at dull, long speeches, at church ceremonies. Am very surprised, in fact, that I've not managed to alienate all my friends because of my 'roughness around the edges.'

Norm posts a couple poems by Sophie Hannah dealing with the very real tension that the need to be polite causes over at his site. I particularly enjoy the one on a royal wedding, as I'm kind of weddinged out at the moment, myself.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A girl's got to look out for herself, yes.

Buying Stock

"...The use of condoms offers substantial protection, but does not
guarantee total protection and that while
there is no evidence that deep kissing has resulted in
transfer of the virus, no one can say that such transmission
would be absolutely impossible."

--The Surgeon General, 1987

I know you won't mind if I ask you to put this on.
It's for your protection as well as mine--Wait.
Wait. Here, before we rush into anything
I've bought a condom for each one of your fingers. And here--
just a minute--Open up.
I'll help you put this one on, over your tongue.
I was thinking:
If we leave these two rolled, you can wear them
as patches over your eyes. Partners have been known to cry,
shed tears, bodily fluids, at all this trust, at even the thought
of this closeness.

-Denise Duhamel
Bob from Birmingham sends along this one which he says is not one of his favorites, but is appropriate for the season. Hey, everyone's entitled to their opinions. I do have to say, though, that the structure is making me crazy (not a sestina...what is it?) and the rhythm's a fair challenge:


To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel, Which in your case you have not got. The branches Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures, Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance, Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards, For to-day we have naming of parts.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Pablo sent in some commentary on Frost's poem:

Yesterday’s poem from Robert Frost reminds me of Mark Twain, who thought that the ice storm was a great American phenomenon that was unaccountably overlooked by great poets and painters:

Here in London the other night I was talking with some Scotch and English friends, and I mentioned the ice-storm, using it as a figure - a figure which failed, for none of them had heard of the ice-storm. One gentleman, who was very familiar with American literature, said he had never seen it mentioned in any book. That is strange. And I, myself, was not able to say that I had seen it mentioned in a book; and yet the autumn foliage, with all other American scenery, has received full and competent attention.The oversight is strange, for in America the ice-storm is an event. And it is not an event which one is careless about. When it comes, the news flies from room to room in the house, there are bangings on the doors, and shoutings, "The ice-storm! the ice-storm!" and even the laziest sleepers throw off the covers and join the rush for the windows.”

Mind, in this speech I have been trying merely to do honor to the New England weather -- no language could do it justice. But, after all, there is at least one or two things about that weather (or, if you please, effects produced by it) which we residents would not like to part with. If we hadn't our bewitching autumn foliage, we should still have to credit the weather with one feature which compensates for all its bullying vagaries -- the ice-storm: when a leafless tree is clothed with ice from the bottom to the top -- ice that is as bright and clear as crystal; when every bough and twig is strung with ice-beads, frozen dew-drops, and the whole tree sparkles cold and white, like the Shah of Persia's diamond plume. Then the wind waves the branches and the sun comes out and turns all those myriads of beads and drops to prisms that glow and burn and flash with all manner of colored fires, which change and change again with inconceivable rapidity from blue to red, from red to green, and green to gold -- the tree becomes a spraying fountain, a very explosion of dazzling jewels; and it stands there the acme, the climax, the supremest possibility in art or nature, of bewildering, intoxicating, intolerable magnificence. One cannot make the words too strong.”

As destructive as these storms can be, they create some of the most delicate, detailed winter beauty I've ever laid eyes on. Branches and leaves are enrobed in crystal. Sometimes the ice dangles like the sparkles on a chandelier if there was a thaw, then refreeze. Snow puddles on fir trees in a way that makes it look like it was painstakingly arranged there.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

One Most Definitely Could Do Worse.

From a swinger-of birches, gourmet extraordinaire, Sox fan and bit of hypertext sunshine in my life:

As a boy, I loved Robert Frost because of how well he described the woods and what it was like to walk in them. He described every single thing he saw and he saw it all. Not unlike a botanist would if taking the same walk in the woods, I imagine. Of course, their accounts would be very different but equally accurate.

As a kid, I didn't think about it nearly as deeply. I identified because I felt like he was describing things that I had seen before, places where I had been. And he was, but the important thing is how he told the story. He spoke my language, as a New Englander and as someone who pays attention.

For a while I lived in Salem, NH and my best friend of all time lived in Derry. The ride to his house was a quick half hour that passed right by Robert Frost's farm. I swear, I could see these trees and I knew the boy who swung on them:


When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when
Truth broke inWith all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm,
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Since moving into the world of cubicles and bureacracy, I've heard a lot of new and creative word usage. One of my coworkers likes to verbalize adjectives that derive from perfectly good other verbs ("We must resolute this problem!"..."Why did you nomenclate that account as you did?"). Another is fond of redundancies ("But that department's got no income coming in!") . Still another just makes things up as she goes along ("Maybe we should re examine the pee-ohh lization process in that department. " - pee ohh lization being the process of writing up purchase orders, I believe. Mind you, I'm not certain. This is the first time I've heard it and I can't find it in the dictionary.)

One day, my boss and I were making fun of someone's infliction of the term irregardless on us. Another coworker, remembering how grating this made up term was to us, found this:

2 entries found for irregardless.

adv. Nonstandard
[Probably blend of irrespective, and regardless.]
Usage Note: Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.

adv : regardless; a combination of irrespective and regardless sometimes used humorously


I'm no policewoman of the English language; far from it. I just prefer that made-up words be left for humorous purposes and Standard English be used for the workaday world. That's all. To show my good faith, here's one of my favorites:


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wade;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree.
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came wiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

-Lewis Carroll

Monday, April 04, 2005

Adele sent this wonderful lyric by a "a very British poet who is not all that fashionable these days." She mentioned that it comes to mind every time she sees a tree in bloom:

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

A. E. Houseman from "A Shropshire Lad." (Hey, didn't Vaughn-Williams set this to music? Why, yes he did...and what do I see but a recording by (sigh) Bryn Terfel. Stop it, B, you're going off on a tangent...)

I appreciate the need to take time out for what is important - and getting out to note the things in bloom is a very high priority for me. It takes some doing in the city, but I manage. It's part of replenishing what's alive, what's human in me.

In thinking on this (to me) idyllic poem, I got to remembering a lyric to a song by Silvio Rodriguez , vanguard of the nueva trova movement, and, to me anyway, a powerful voice in Cuba:

Días y Flores

Si me levanto temprano,
fresco y curado,
claro y feliz,
y te digo: voy al bosque
para aliviarme de tí,
sabe que dentro tengo un tesoro
que me llega a la raíz.
Si luego vuelvo cargado
con muchas flores
(mucho color)
y te las pongo en la risa,
en la ternura, en la voz,
es que he mojado en flor mi camisa para
teñir su sudor.
Pero si un día me demoro, no te impacientes,
yo volveré más tarde.
Será que a la más profunda alegría
me habrá seguido la rabia ese día:

la rabia simple del hombre silvestre,
la rabia bomba —la rabia de muerte—,
la rabia imperio asesino de niños,
la rabia se me ha podrido el cariño,
la rabia madre por dios tengo frío,
la rabia es mío —eso es mío, sólo mío—,
la rabia bebo pero no me mojo,
la rabia miedo a perder el manojo,
la rabia hijo zapato de tierra,
la rabia dame o te hago la guerra,
la rabia todo tiene su momento,
la rabia el grito se lo lleva el viento,
la rabia el oro sobre la conciencia,
la rabia —coño— paciencia paciencia.

La rabia es mi vocación.

Si hay días que vuelvo cansado,
sucio de tiempo,
sin para amor,
es que regreso del mundo,
no del bosque, no del sol.
En esos días,
ponte alma nueva
para mi más bella flor

(Don't worry, I'm working on a translation of this - will have it up very soon. The gist of it is that he's telling his love that when he goes to the woods to get away from the world, to get away from her, to be among the flowers (and to return with some for her) it is because of his need to rage, rage against injustice, rage against rage, rage to cleanse his soul, as rage is his vocation. He may come back filthy from the world, time, whatever, but he asks her to be patient, for he wishes to come back with the most beautiful flower of all: a cleansed and rejeuvenated soul.)

Two strong voices for "national" movements (English Pastoralism I'm thinking with Houseman, Nueva Trova for Rodriguez) going back to nature to rejeuvenate themselves. To remind themselves that they live by surrounding themselves with the spring blooms - how interesting to find similar words spoken with different accents on such a universal theme.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Psalm of Life

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act to each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Happy Birthday to Pablo, who is a very young 37 today and who has many more years ahead of him to pursue whatever greatness he hasn't yet defined for himself.

Happy Birthday as well to Vince, my Grandpa, who is a very young 91 today, and who I think realizes that all his grandchildren may love him even though some of us live far away and may well not be Yankees fans.

Love, Bev

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Bede's Death Song

Fore there neidfaerae naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae.

Before the unavoidable journey there, no one becomes
wiser in thought than him who, by need,
ponders, before his going hence,
what good and evil within his soul,
after his day of death, will be judged.

-the Venerable Bede


In my own meditations and prayers for the pope, I got to thinking about Bede, a monastic scholar who provided us with some of the best documentation of Anglo Saxon history, a new edition of the Bible, and a translation into vernacular of the Gospel of St John. He also had his share of controversy, and I'm willing to bet did not fear it so much, though, back then the stakes were pretty high for those who opposed the Church. I see parallels to John Paul II who, as a young man, understood the importance of language and culture in his participation in underground theater devoted to banned Polish works under first the Nazis and then the Soviets. I also note his "speaking truth to power" in his returning to Communist Poland to say mass, as well as his longtime stance of inclusion/respect/embrasure of all members of society that embodies the "culture of life."

I had asked Pablo last night if he thought that the Pope may fear death. He answered that he thought that John Paul II had powerful faith, which gives many people great strength, both in living and dying. In that he's human, though, it would be natural to have some fear of the transition to the unknown.

Cuthbert, a student of Bede and reknowned wordsmith himself, recounted Bedes description of death: a very straightforward combination of worry about the unknown and hope in the unseen. A last accounting of one's good deeds vs one's sins, and the hope that they do balance out in the end.

I guess I find the matter of factness of Bede's account and the fashion in which Pope is choosing to die to be comforting somehow. Perhaps it is the humanity of their transcendency that is resonating with me so right now.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Andrew starts off this Poetry Month with a work by John Donne that ties together two polar events (one of which could also be considered a Purim of sorts; that also fell on March 25th this year.):

Thanks for the posting!  In reply, I'm sending along the following, which was sent to me by a friend last week.  Donne wrote this poem in 1608 when the Feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday fell on the same day...March 25th, as they did this year.  March 25 was also the traditional beginning of the new year in early modern England, so happy 2005!

by John Donne

TAMELY, frail body, abstain to-day ; to-day
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur ; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away ;
She sees Him nothing, twice at once, who's all ;
She sees a cedar plant itself, and fall ;
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive, yet dead ;
She sees at once the Virgin Mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha ;
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty, and at scarce fifteen ;
At once a son is promised her, and gone ;
Gabriell gives Christ to her, He her to John ;
Not fully a mother, she's in orbity ;
At once receiver and the legacy.
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
Th' abridgement of Christ's story, which makes one-
As in plain maps, the furthest west is east-
Of th' angels Ave, and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God's Court of Faculties,
Deals, in sometimes, and seldom joining these.
As by the self-fix'd Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where th'other is, and which we say
-Because it strays not far-doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to him, we know,
And stand firm, if we by her motion go.
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar, doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud ; to one end both.
This Church by letting those days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one ;
Or 'twas in Him the same humility,
That He would be a man, and leave to be ;
Or as creation He hath made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating spouse would join in one
Manhood's extremes ; He shall come, He is gone ;
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, He yet shed all,
So though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords.
This treasure then, in gross, my soul, uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.


Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, ed.
London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 170-171.


I took this one home with me tonight to read aloud; the language really needs to be heard in order to be fully appreciated.

Happy start to Poetry Month and a Happy New Year to my English friends...Andrew, a thanks and a bon voyage to you. When you return, perhaps we could discuss terms under which you might favor us with a recitation.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Funny how time flies-

It looks as though April's just about here again, bringing with it springtime (hopefully for keeps) and National Poetry Month.

Although I'm just posting what moves me at the time, I do take requests and would love to hear about what moves you. If there is a poem that is particularly near and dear to your heart, why not talk about it? Send me a link to your website if you post your thoughts there, or just email me your submission and I'll post it on my site. (I'll keep things anonymous, too, if that is an incitement to write.)

I look forward to hearing from you!