Billy Collins |
Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow.
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage.
We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.
The 1790's will never come again.
Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.
I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.
Margaret Atwood |
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.
No, they whisper.
You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
Shel Silverstein |
Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers.
How did it go?
How did it go?
William Wordsworth |
Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses.
Once again I see
These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye;
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.
Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again;
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led—more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads than one
Who sought the thing he loved.
For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.
—I cannot paint
What then I was.
The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion; the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colors and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, not any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.
—That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures.
Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes.
Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.
Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance—
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence—wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service; rather say
With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love.
Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
Henry Kendall |
RIFTED mountains, clad with forests, girded round by gleaming pines,
Where the morning, like an angel, robed in golden splendour shines;
Shimmering mountains, throwing downward on the slopes a mazy glare
Where the noonday glory sails through gulfs of calm and glittering air;
Stately mountains, high and hoary, piled with blocks of amber cloud,
Where the fading twilight lingers, when the winds are wailing loud;
Grand old mountains, overbeetling brawling brooks and deep ravines,
Where the moonshine, pale and mournful, flows on rocks and evergreens.
Underneath these regal ridges - underneath the gnarly trees,
I am sitting, lonely-hearted, listening to a lonely breeze!
Sitting by an ancient casement, casting many a longing look
Out across the hazy gloaming - out beyond the brawling brook!
Over pathways leading skyward - over crag and swelling cone,
Past long hillocks looking like to waves of ocean turned to stone;
Yearning for a bliss unworldly, yearning for a brighter change,
Yearning for the mystic Aidenn, built beyond this mountain range.
Happy years, amongst these valleys, happy years have come and gone,
And my youthful hopes and friendships withered with them one by one;
Days and moments bearing onward many a bright and beauteous dream,
All have passed me like to sunstreaks flying down a distant stream.
Oh, the love returned by loved ones! Oh, the faces that I knew!
Oh, the wrecks of fond affection! Oh, the hearts so warm and true!
But their voices I remember, and a something lingers still,
Like a dying echo roaming sadly round a far off hill.
I would sojourn here contented, tranquil as I was of yore,
And would never wish to clamber, seeking for an unknown shore;
I have dwelt within this cottage twenty summers, and mine eyes
Never wandered erewhile round in search of undiscovered skies;
But a spirit sits beside me, veiled in robes of dazzling white,
And a dear one's whisper wakens with the symphonies of night;
And a low sad music cometh, borne along on windy wings,
Like a strain familiar rising from a maze of slumbering springs.
And the Spirit, by my window, speaketh to my restless soul,
Telling of the clime she came from, where the silent moments roll;
Telling of the bourne mysterious, where the sunny summers flee
Cliffs and coasts, by man untrodden, ridging round a shipless sea.
There the years of yore are blooming - there departed life-dreams dwell,
There the faces beam with gladness that I loved in youth so well;
There the songs of childhood travel, over wave-worn steep and strand -
Over dale and upland stretching out behind this mountain land.
``Lovely Being, can a mortal, weary of this changeless scene,
Cross these cloudy summits to the land where man hath never been?
Can he find a pathway leading through that wildering mass of pines,
So that he shall reach the country where ethereal glory shines;
So that he may glance at waters never dark with coming ships;
Hearing round him gentle language floating from angelic lips;
Casting off his earthly fetters, living there for evermore;
All the blooms of Beauty near him, gleaming on that quiet shore?
``Ere you quit this ancient casement, tell me, is it well to yearn
For the evanescent visions, vanished never to return?
Is it well that I should with to leave this dreary world behind,
Seeking for your fair Utopia, which perchance I may not find?
Passing through a gloomy forest, scaling steeps like prison walls,
Where the scanty sunshine wavers and the moonlight seldom falls?
Oh, the feelings re-awakened! Oh, the hopes of loftier range!
Is it well, thou friendly Being, well to wish for such a change?''
But the Spirit answers nothing! and the dazzling mantle fades;
And a wailing whisper wanders out from dismal seaside shades!
``Lo, the trees are moaning loudly, underneath their hood-like shrouds,
And the arch above us darkens, scarred with ragged thunder clouds!''
But the spirit answers nothing, and I linger all alone,
Gazing through the moony vapours where the lovely Dream has flown;
And my heart is beating sadly, and the music waxeth faint,
Sailing up to holy Heaven, like the anthems of a Saint.
Ben Jonson |
Let it not your wonder move,
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have, my peers.
Poets, though divine, are men;
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face,
Clothes, or fortune gives the grace,
Or the feature, or the youth;
But the language and the truth,
With the ardor and the passion,
Gives the lover weight and fashion.
If you then would hear the story,
First, prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now
Either whom to love or how;
But be glad as soon with me
When you hear that this is she
Of whose beauty it was sung,
She shall make the old man young,
Keep the middle age at stay,
And let nothing hide decay,
Till she be the reason why
All the world for love may die.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge |
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind.
The owlet's cry
Came loud---and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
`Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness.
Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
>From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shall learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Percy Bysshe Shelley |
ARIEL to Miranda:¡ªTake
This slave of music for the sake
Of him who is the slave of thee;
And teach it all the harmony
In which thou canst and only thou 5
Make the delighted spirit glow
Till joy denies itself again
And too intense is turn'd to pain.
For by permission and command
Of thine own Prince Ferdinand 10
Poor Ariel sends this silent token
Of more than ever can be spoken;
Your guardian spirit Ariel who
From life to life must still pursue
Your happiness for thus alone 15
Can Ariel ever find his own.
From Prospero's enchanted cell
As the mighty verses tell
To the throne of Naples he
Lit you o'er the trackless sea 20
Flitting on your prow before
Like a living meteor.
When you die the silent Moon
In her interlunar swoon
Is not sadder in her cell 25
Than deserted Ariel:¡ª
When you live again on earth
Like an unseen Star of birth
Ariel guides you o'er the sea
Of life from your nativity:¡ª 30
Many changes have been run
Since Ferdinand and you begun
Your course of love and Ariel still
Has track'd your steps and served your will.
Now in humbler happier lot 35
This is all remember'd not;
And now alas the poor Sprite is
Imprison'd for some fault of his
In a body like a grave¡ª
From you he only dares to crave 40
For his service and his sorrow
A smile to-day a song to-morrow.
The artist who this viol wrought
To echo all harmonious thought
Fell'd a tree while on the steep 45
The woods were in their winter sleep
Rock'd in that repose divine
On the wind-swept Apennine;
And dreaming some of autumn past
And some of spring approaching fast 50
And some of April buds and showers
And some of songs in July bowers
And all of love; and so this tree ¡ª
Oh that such our death may be!¡ª
Died in sleep and felt no pain 55
To live in happier form again:
From which beneath heaven's fairest star
The artist wrought this loved guitar;
And taught it justly to reply
To all who question skilfully 60
In language gentle as thine own;
Whispering in enamour'd tone
Sweet oracles of woods and dells
And summer winds in sylvan cells.
For it had learnt all harmonies 65
Of the plains and of the skies
Of the forests and the mountains
And the many-voic¨¨d fountains;
The clearest echoes of the hills
The softest notes of falling rills 70
The melodies of birds and bees
The murmuring of summer seas
And pattering rain and breathing dew
And airs of evening; and it knew
That seldom-heard mysterious sound 75
Which driven on its diurnal round
As it floats through boundless day
Our world enkindles on its way:¡ª
All this it knows but will not tell
To those who cannot question well 80
The spirit that inhabits it:
It talks according to the wit
Of its companions; and no more
Is heard than has been felt before
By those who tempt it to betray 85
These secrets of an elder day.
But sweetly as its answers will
Flatter hands of perfect skill
It keeps its highest holiest tone
For one beloved Friend alone.
Sylvia Plath |
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time---
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off the beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been sacred of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You----
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.
If I've killed one man, I've killed two---
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow |
Spake full well, in language quaint and olden,
One who dwelleth by the castled Rhine,
When he called the flowers, so blue and golden,
Stars, that in earth's firmament do shine.
Stars they are, wherein we read our history,
As astrologers and seers of eld;
Yet not wrapped about with awful mystery,
Like the burning stars, which they beheld.
Wondrous truths, and manifold as wondrous,
God hath written in those stars above;
But not less in the bright flowerets under us
Stands the revelation of his love.
Bright and glorious is that revelation,
Written all over this great world of ours;
Making evident our own creation,
In these stars of earth, these golden flowers.
And the Poet, faithful and far-seeing,
Sees, alike in stars and flowers, a part
Of the self-same, universal being,
Which is throbbing in his brain and heart.
Gorgeous flowerets in the sunlight shining,
Blossoms flaunting in the eye of day,
Tremulous leaves, with soft and silver lining,
Buds that open only to decay;
Brilliant hopes, all woven in gorgeous tissues,
Flaunting gayly in the golden light;
Large desires, with most uncertain issues,
Tender wishes, blossoming at night!
These in flowers and men are more than seeming;
Workings are they of the self-same powers,
Which the Poet, in no idle dreaming,
Seeth in himself and in the flowers.
Everywhere about us are they glowing,
Some like stars, to tell us Spring is born;
Others, their blue eyes with tears o'er-flowing,
Stand like Ruth amid the golden corn;
Not alone in Spring's armorial bearing,
And in Summer's green-emblazoned field,
But in arms of brave old Autumn's wearing,
In the centre of his brazen shield;
Not alone in meadows and green alleys,
On the mountain-top, and by the brink
Of sequestered pools in woodland valleys,
Where the slaves of nature stoop to drink;
Not alone in her vast dome of glory,
Not on graves of bird and beast alone,
But in old cathedrals, high and hoary,
On the tombs of heroes, carved in stone;
In the cottage of the rudest peasant,
In ancestral homes, whose crumbling towers,
Speaking of the Past unto the Present,
Tell us of the ancient Games of Flowers;
In all places, then, and in all seasons,
Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us, by most persuasive reasons,
How akin they are to human things.
And with childlike, credulous affection
We behold their tender buds expand;
Emblems of our own great resurrection,
Emblems of the bright and better land.
Adrienne Rich |
A conversation begins
with a lie.
speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart
as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature
A poem can being
with a lie.
And be torn up.
A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own
false energy, Cannot be torn
Infiltrates our blood.
Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies.
The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment
the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone
The syllables uttering
the old script over and over
The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie
twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word
The technology of silence
The rituals, etiquette
the blurring of terms
silence not absence
of words or music or even
Silence can be a plan
the blueprint of a life
It is a presence
it has a history a form
Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence
How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me
though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract
without wounding myself or you
there is enough pain here
This is why the classical of the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain?
The silence strips bare:
In Dreyer's Passion of Joan
Falconetti's face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera
If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank space or as words
stretched like skin over meaningsof a night through which two people
have talked till dawn.
of an illegitimate voice
It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself
How do I exist?
This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer
I had answers but you could not use them
The is useless to you and perhaps to others
It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything-
chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums
If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing
a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew
If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn
till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare
Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words
moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child's fingers
or the newborn infant's mouth
violent with hunger
No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method
whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue
If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciation to the eye
the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn
like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a single ear of grain
for the return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing
are these words, these whispers, conversations
from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green.
Robert Seymour Bridges |
'Twas at that hour of beauty when the setting sun
squandereth his cloudy bed with rosy hues, to flood
his lov'd works as in turn he biddeth them Good-night;
and all the towers and temples and mansions of men
face him in bright farewell, ere they creep from their pomp
naked beneath the darkness;- while to mortal eyes
'tis given, ifso they close not of fatigue, nor strain
at lamplit tasks-'tis given, as for a royal boon
to beggarly outcasts in homeless vigil, to watch
where uncurtain's behind the great windows of space
Heav'n's jewel'd company circleth unapproachably-
'Twas at sunset that I, fleeing to hide my soul
in refuge of beauty from a mortal distress,
walk'd alone with the Muse in her garden of thought,
discoursing at liberty with the mazy dreams
that came wavering pertinaciously about me; as when
the small bats, issued from their hangings, flitter o'erhead
thru' the summer twilight, with thin cries to and fro
hunting in muffled flight atween the stars and flowers.
Then fell I in strange delusion, illusion strange to tell;
for as a man who lyeth fast asleep in his bed
may dream he waketh, and that he walketh upright
pursuing some endeavour in full conscience-so 'twas
with me; but contrawise; for being in truth awake
methought I slept and dreamt; and in thatt dream methought
I was telling a dream; nor telling was I as one
who, truly awaked from a true sleep, thinketh to tell
his dream to a friend, but for his scant remembrances
findeth no token of speech-it was not so with me;
for my tale was my dream and my dream the telling,
and I remember wondring the while I told it
how I told it so tellingly.
And yet now 'twould seem
that Reason inveighed me with her old orderings;
as once when she took thought to adjust theology,
peopling the inane that vex'd her between God and man
with a hierarchy of angels; like those asteroids
wherewith she later fill'd the gap 'twixt Jove and Mars.
Verily by Beauty it is that we come as WISDOM,
yet not by Reason at Beauty; and now with many words
pleasing myself betimes I am fearing lest in the end
I play the tedious orator who maundereth on
for lack of heart to make an end of his nothings.
Wherefor as when a runner who hath run his round
handeth his staff away, and is glad of his rest,
here break I off, knowing the goal was not for me
the while I ran on telling of what cannot be told.
For not the Muse herself can tell of Goddes love;
which cometh to the child from the Mother's embrace,
an Idea spacious as the starry firmament's
inescapable infinity of radiant gaze,
that fadeth only as it outpasseth mortal sight:
and this direct contact is 't with eternities,
this springtide miracle of the soul's nativity
that oft hath set philosophers adrift in dream;
which thing Christ taught, when he set up a little child
to teach his first Apostles and to accuse their pride,
saying, 'Unless ye shall receive it as a child,
ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So thru'out all his young mental apprenticehood
the child of very simplicity, and in the grace
and beauteous attitude of infantine wonder,
is apt to absorb Ideas in primal purity,
and by the assimilation of thatt immortal food
may build immortal life; but ever with the growth
of understanding, as the sensible images
are more and more corrupt, troubled by questioning thought,
or with vainglory alloy'd, 'tis like enought the boy
in prospect of his manhood wil hav cast to th' winds
his Baptism with his Babyhood; nor might he escape
the fall of Ev'ryman, did not a second call
of nature's Love await him to confirm his Faith
or to revoke him if he is whollylapsed therefrom.
And so mighty is this second vision, which cometh
in puberty of body and adolescence of mind
that, forgetting his Mother, he calleth it 'first Love';
for it mocketh at suasion or stubbornness of heart,
as the oceantide of the omnipotent Pleasur of God,
flushing all avenues of life, and unawares
by thousandfold approach forestalling its full flood
with divination of the secret contacts of Love,--
of faintest ecstasies aslumber in Nature's calm,
like thought in a closed book, where some poet long since
sang his throbbing passion to immortal sleep-with coy
tenderness delicat as the shifting hues
that sanctify the silent dawn with wonder-gleams,
whose evanescence is the seal of their glory,
consumed in self-becoming of eternity;
til every moment as it flyeth, cryeth 'Seize!
Seize me ere I die! I am the Life of Life.
'Tis thus by near approach to an eternal presence
man's heart with divine furor kindled and possess'd
falleth in blind surrender; and finding therewithal
in fullest devotion the full reconcilement
betwixt his animal and spiritual desires,
such welcome hour of bliss standeth for certain pledge
of happiness perdurable: and coud he sustain
this great enthusiasm, then the unbounded promise
would keep fulfilment; since the marriage of true minds
is thatt once fabled garden, amidst of which was set
the single Tree that bore such med'cinable fruit
that if man ate thereof he should liv for ever.
Friendship is in loving rather than in being lov'd,
which is its mutual benediction and recompense;
and tho' this be, and tho' love is from lovers learn'd,
it springeth none the less from the old essence of self.
No friendless man ('twas well said) can be truly himself;
what a man looketh for in his friend and findeth,
and loving self best, loveth better than himself,
is his own better self, his live lovable idea,
flowering by expansion in the loves of his life.
And in the nobility of our earthly friendships
we hav al grades of attainment, and the best may claim
perfection of kind; and so, since ther be many bonds
other than breed (friendships of lesser motiv, found
even in the brutes) and since our politick is based
on actual association of living men, 'twil come
that the spiritual idea of Friendship, the huge
vastidity of its essence, is fritter'd away
in observation of the usual habits of men;
as happ'd with the great moralist, where his book saith
that ther can be no friendship betwixt God and man
because of their unlimited disparity.
From this dilemma of pagan thought, this poison of faith,
Man-soul made glad escape in the worship of Christ;
for his humanity is God's Personality,
and communion with him is the life of the soul.
Of which living ideas (when in the struggle of thought
harden'd by language they became symbols of faith)
Reason builded her maze, wherefrom none should escape,
wandering intent to map and learn her tortuous clews,
chanting their clerkly creed to the high-echoing stones
of their hand-fashion'd temple: but the Wind of heav'n
bloweth where it listeth, and Christ yet walketh the earth,
and talketh still as with those two disciples once
on the road to Emmaus-where they walk and are sad;
whose vision of him then was his victory over death,
thatt resurrection which all his lovers should share,
who in loving him had learn'd the Ethick of happiness;
whereby they too should come where he was ascended
to reign over men's hearts in the Kingdom of God.
Our happiest earthly comradeships hold a foretaste
of the feast of salvation and by thatt virtue in them
provoke desire beyond them to out-reach and surmount
their humanity in some superhumanity
and ultimat perfection: which, howe'ever 'tis found
or strangeley imagin'd, answereth to the need of each
and pulleth him instinctivly as to a final cause.
Thus unto all who hav found their high ideal in Christ,
Christ is to them the essence discern'd or undeiscern'd
of all their human friendships; and each lover of him
and of his beauty must be as a bud on the Vine
and hav participation in him; for Goddes love
is unescapable as nature's environment,
which if a man ignore or think to thrust it off
he is the ill-natured fool that runneth blindly on death.
This Individualism is man's true Socialism.
This is the rife Idea whose spiritual beauty
multiplieth in communion to transcendant might.
This is thatt excelent way whereon if we wil walk
all things shall be added unto us-thatt Love which inspired
the wayward Visionary in his doctrinal ode
to the three christian Graces, the Church's first hymn
and only deathless athanasian creed,--the which
'except a man believe he cannot be saved.
This is the endearing bond whereby Christ's company
yet holdeth together on the truth of his promise
that he spake of his grat pity and trust in man's love,
'Lo, I am with you always ev'n to the end of the world.
Truly the Soul returneth the body's loving
where it hath won it.
and God so loveth the world.
and in the fellowship of the friendship of Christ
God is seen as the very self-essence of love,
Creator and mover of all as activ Lover of all,
self-express'd in not-self, mind and body, mother and child,
'twixt lover and loved, God and man: but ONE ETERNAL
in the love of Beauty and in the selfhood of Love.
Charlotte Bronte |
ARRANGING long-locked drawers and shelves
Of cabinets, shut up for years,
What a strange task we've set ourselves !
How still the lonely room appears !
How strange this mass of ancient treasures,
Mementos of past pains and pleasures;
These volumes, clasped with costly stone,
With print all faded, gilding gone;
These fans of leaves, from Indian trees
These crimson shells, from Indian seas
These tiny portraits, set in rings
Once, doubtless, deemed such precious things;
Keepsakes bestowed by Love on Faith,
And worn till the receiver's death,
Now stored with cameos, china, shells,
In this old closet's dusty cells.
I scarcely think, for ten long years,
A hand has touched these relics old;
And, coating each, slow-formed, appears,
The growth of green and antique mould.
All in this house is mossing over;
All is unused, and dim, and damp;
Nor light, nor warmth, the rooms discover
Bereft for years of fire and lamp.
The sun, sometimes in summer, enters
The casements, with reviving ray;
But the long rains of many winters
Moulder the very walls away.
And outside all is ivy, clinging
To chimney, lattice, gable grey;
Scarcely one little red rose springing
Through the green moss can force its way.
Unscared, the daw, and starling nestle,
Where the tall turret rises high,
And winds alone come near to rustle
The thick leaves where their cradles lie.
I sometimes think, when late at even
I climb the stair reluctantly,
Some shape that should be well in heaven,
Or ill elsewhere, will pass by me.
I fear to see the very faces,
Familiar thirty years ago,
Even in the old accustomed places
Which look so cold and gloomy now.
I've come, to close the window, hither,
At twilight, when the sun was down,
And Fear, my very soul would wither,
Lest something should be dimly shown.
Too much the buried form resembling,
Of her who once was mistress here;
Lest doubtful shade, or moonbeam trembling,
Might take her aspect, once so dear.
Hers was this chamber; in her time
It seemed to me a pleasant room,
For then no cloud of grief or crime
Had cursed it with a settled gloom;
I had not seen death's image laid
In shroud and sheet, on yonder bed.
Before she married, she was blest
Blest in her youth, blest in her worth;
Her mind was calm, its sunny rest
Shone in her eyes more clear than mirth.
And when attired in rich array,
Light, lustrous hair about her brow,
She yonder sata kind of day
Lit upwhat seems so gloomy now.
These grim oak walls, even then were grim;
That old carved chair, was then antique;
But what around looked dusk and dim
Served as a foil to her fresh cheek;
Her neck, and arms, of hue so fair,
Eyes of unclouded, smiling, light;
Her soft, and curled, and floating hair,
Gems and attire, as rainbow bright.
Reclined in yonder deep recess,
Ofttimes she would, at evening, lie
Watching the sun; she seemed to bless
With happy glance the glorious sky.
She loved such scenes, and as she gazed,
Her face evinced her spirit's mood;
Beauty or grandeur ever raised
In her, a deep-felt gratitude.
But of all lovely things, she loved
A cloudless moon, on summer night;
Full oft have I impatience proved
To see how long, her still delight
Would find a theme in reverie.
Out on the lawn, or where the trees
Let in the lustre fitfully,
As their boughs parted momently,
To the soft, languid, summer breeze.
Alas ! that she should e'er have flung
Those pure, though lonely joys away
Deceived by false and guileful tongue,
She gave her hand, then suffered wrong;
Oppressed, ill-used, she faded young,
And died of grief by slow decay.
Open that casketlook how bright
Those jewels flash upon the sight;
The brilliants have not lost a ray
Of lustre, since her wedding day.
But seeupon that pearly chain
How dim lies time's discolouring stain !
I've seen that by her daughter worn:
For, e'er she died, a child was born;
A child that ne'er its mother knew,
That lone, and almost friendless grew;
For, ever, when its step drew nigh,
Averted was the father's eye;
And then, a life impure and wild
Made him a stranger to his child;
Absorbed in vice, he little cared
On what she did, or how she fared.
The love withheld, she never sought,
She grew uncherishedlearnt untaught;
To her the inward life of thought
Full soon was open laid.
I know not if her friendlessness
Did sometimes on her spirit press,
But plaint she never made.
The book-shelves were her darling treasure,
She rarely seemed the time to measure
While she could read alone.
And she too loved the twilight wood,
And often, in her mother's mood,
Away to yonder hill would hie,
Like her, to watch the setting sun,
Or see the stars born, one by one,
Out of the darkening sky.
Nor would she leave that hill till night
Trembled from pole to pole with light;
Even then, upon her homeward way,
Longlong her wandering steps delayed
To quit the sombre forest shade,
Through which her eerie pathway lay.
You ask if she had beauty's grace ?
I know notbut a nobler face
My eyes have seldom seen;
A keen and fine intelligence,
And, better still, the truest sense
Were in her speaking mien.
But bloom or lustre was there none,
Only at moments, fitful shone
An ardour in her eye,
That kindled on her cheek a flush,
Warm as a red sky's passing blush
And quick with energy.
Her speech, too, was not common speech,
No wish to shine, or aim to teach,
Was in her words displayed:
She still began with quiet sense,
But oft the force of eloquence
Came to her lips in aid;
Language and voice unconscious changed,
And thoughts, in other words arranged,
Her fervid soul transfused
Into the hearts of those who heard,
And transient strength and ardour stirred,
In minds to strength unused.
Yet in gay crowd or festal glare,
Grave and retiring was her air;
'Twas seldom, save with me alone,
That fire of feeling freely shone;
She loved not awe's nor wonder's gaze,
Nor even exaggerated praise,
Nor even notice, if too keen
The curious gazer searched her mien.
Nature's own green expanse revealed
The world, the pleasures, she could prize;
On free hill-side, in sunny field,
In quiet spots by woods concealed,
Grew wild and fresh her chosen joys,
Yet Nature's feelings deeply lay
In that endowed and youthful frame;
Shrined in her heart and hid from day,
They burned unseen with silent flame;
In youth's first search for mental light,
She lived but to reflect and learn,
But soon her mind's maturer might
For stronger task did pant and yearn;
And stronger task did fate assign,
Task that a giant's strength might strain;
To suffer long and ne'er repine,
Be calm in frenzy, smile at pain.
Pale with the secret war of feeling,
Sustained with courage, mute, yet high;
The wounds at which she bled, revealing
Only by altered cheek and eye;
She bore in silencebut when passion
Surged in her soul with ceaseless foam,
The storm at last brought desolation,
And drove her exiled from her home.
And silent still, she straight assembled
The wrecks of strength her soul retained;
For though the wasted body trembled,
The unconquered mind, to quail, disdained.
She crossed the seanow lone she wanders
By Seine's, or Rhine's, or Arno's flow;
Fain would I know if distance renders
Relief or comfort to her woe.
Fain would I know if, henceforth, ever,
These eyes shall read in hers again,
That light of love which faded never,
Though dimmed so long with secret pain.
She will return, but cold and altered,
Like all whose hopes too soon depart;
Like all on whom have beat, unsheltered,
The bitter blasts that blight the heart.
No more shall I behold her lying
Calm on a pillow, smoothed by me;
No more that spirit, worn with sighing,
Will know the rest of infancy.
If still the paths of lore she follow,
'Twill be with tired and goaded will;
She'll only toil, the aching hollow,
The joyless blank of life to fill.
And oh ! full oft, quite spent and weary,
Her hand will pause, her head decline;
That labour seems so hard and dreary,
On which no ray of hope may shine.
Thus the pale blight of time and sorrow
Will shade with grey her soft, dark hair
Then comes the day that knows no morrow,
And death succeeds to long despair.
So speaks experience, sage and hoary;
I see it plainly, know it well,
Like one who, having read a story,
Each incident therein can tell.
Touch not that ring, 'twas his, the sire
Of that forsaken child;
And nought his relics can inspire
Save memories, sin-defiled.
I, who sat by his wife's death-bed,
I, who his daughter loved,
Could almost curse the guilty dead,
For woes, the guiltless proved.
And heaven did cursethey found him laid,
When crime for wrath was rife,
Coldwith the suicidal blade
Clutched in his desperate gripe.
'Twas near that long deserted hut,
Which in the wood decays,
Death's axe, self-wielded, struck his root,
And lopped his desperate days.
You know the spot, where three black trees,
Lift up their branches fell,
And moaning, ceaseless as the seas,
Still seem, in every passing breeze,
The deed of blood to tell.
They named him mad, and laid his bones
Where holier ashes lie;
Yet doubt not that his spirit groans,
In hell's eternity.
But, lo ! night, closing o'er the earth,
Infects our thoughts with gloom;
Come, let us strive to rally mirth,
Where glows a clear and tranquil hearth
In some more cheerful room.
Duncan Campbell Scott |
Sun on the mountain,
Shade in the valley,
Ripple and lightness
Leaping along the world,
Sun, like a gold sword
Plucked from the scabbard,
Striking the wheat-fields,
Splendid and lusty,
Toppling with plenty;
Shade, like a buckler
Kindly and ample,
Sweeping the wheat-fields
Darkening and tossing;
There on the world-rim
Winds break and gather
Heaping the mist
For the pyre of the sunset;
And still as a shadow,
In the dim westward,
A cloud sloop of amethyst
Moored to the world
With cables of rain.
Acres of gold wheat
Stir in the sunshine,
Rounding the hill-top,
Crested with plenty,
Filling the valley,
Brimmed with abundance,
Wind in the wheat-field
Eddying and settling,
Swaying it, sweeping it,
Lifting the rich heads,
Tossing them soothingly
Twinkle and shimmer
The lights and the shadowings,
Nimble as moonlight
Astir in the mere.
Laden with odors
Of peace and of plenty,
Soft comes the wind
From the ranks of the wheat-field,
Bearing a promise
Of harvest and sickle-time,
Dusty and dim
With the whirl of the flail,
And wagons of bread,
Sown-laden and lumbering
Through the gateways of cities.
When will the reapers
Strike in their sickles,
Bending and grasping,
Shearing and spreading;
When will the gleaners
Searching the stubble
Take the last wheat-heads
Home in their arms ?
Ask not the question! -
Moves to the answer.
Hunger and poverty
Heaped like the ocean
Welters and mutters,
Hold back the sickles!
Millions of children
Born to their mothers' womb,
Starved at the nipple, cry,--
Ours is the harvest!
Millions of women
Learned in the tragical
Secrets of poverty,
Sweated and beaten, cry,--
Hold back the sickles!
Millions of men
With a vestige of manhood,
Wild-eyed and gaunt-throated,
Shout with a leonine
Accent of anger,
Leaves us the wheat-fields!
When will the reapers
Strike in their sickles?
Ask not the question;
Moves to the answer.
Long have they sharpened
Their fiery, impetuous
Sickles of carnage,
Welded them aeons
Ago in the mountains
Of suffering and anguish;
Hearts were their hammers
Blood was their fire,
Sorrow their anvil,
(Trusty the sickle
Tempered with tears;)
Time they had plenty-
Harvests and harvests
Passed them in agony,
Only a half-filled
Ear for their lot;
Man that has taken
God for a master
Made him a law,
Mocked him and cursed him,
Set up this hunger,
Called it necessity,
Put in the blameless mouth
The poor ye have with you
But up from the impotent
Anguish of children,
Up from the labor
Of millions of mothers,
Grew by a just law
Stern and implacable,
Art born of poverty,
The making of sickles
Meet for the harvest.
And now to the wheat-fields
Come the weird reapers
Armed with their sickles,
Whipping them keenly
In the fresh-air fields,
Wild with the joy of them,
Finding them trusty,
Hilted with teen.
Swarming like ants,
The Idea for captain,
No banners, no bugles,
Only a terrible
Ground-bass of gathering
Tempest and fury,
Only a tossing
Of arms and of garments;
Sexless and featureless,
(Only the children
Different among them,
Crawling between their feet,
Borne on their shoulders;)
Rolling their shaggy heads
Wild with the unheard-of
Drug of the sunshine;
Tears that had eaten
The half of their eyelids
Dry on their cheeks;
Blood in their stiffened hair
Clouted and darkened;
Down in their cavern hearts
Hunger the tiger,
Sighs that had choked them
Burst into triumphing;
On they come, Victory!
Up to the wheat-fields,
Dreamed of in visions
Bred by the hunger,
Seen for the first time
Splendid and golden;
On they come fluctuant,
Seething and breaking,
Weltering like fire
In the pit of the earthquake,
Bursting in heaps
With the sudden intractable
Lust of the hunger:
Then when they see them-
The miles of the harvest
White in the sunshine,
Rushing and stumbling,
With the mighty and clamorous
Cry of a people
Starved from creation,
Hurl themselves onward,
Deep in the wheat-fields,
Weeping like children,
After ages and ages,
Back at the mother the earth.
Night in the valley,
Gloom on the mountain,
Wind in the wheat,
Far to the southward
The flutter of lightning,
The shudder of thunder;
But high at the zenith,
A cluster of stars
Glimmers and throbs
In the gasp of the midnight,
Steady and absolute,
Ancient and sure
Margaret Atwood |
My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
how to make spells.
I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.
A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
There is no either / or.
I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.
Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.
A word after a word
after a word is power.
At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.
This is a metaphor.
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.