Sylvia Plath |
You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I'm all right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask.
The nauseous vault
Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
They've changed all that.
Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fists my fingers for me.
He makes me feel something precious
Is leaking from the finger-vents.
At the count of two,
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard.
I don't know a thing.
For five days I lie in secret,
Tapped like a cask, the years draining into my pillow.
Even my best friend thinks I'm in the country.
Skin doesn't have roots, it peels away easy as paper.
When I grin, the stitches tauten.
I grow backward.
Broody and in long skirts on my first husband's sofa, my fingers
Buried in the lambswool of the dead poodle;
I hadn't a cat yet.
Now she's done for, the dewlapped lady
I watched settle, line by line, in my mirror—
Old sock-face, sagged on a darning egg.
They've trapped her in some laboratory jar.
Let her die there, or wither incessantly for the next fifty years,
Nodding and rocking and fingering her thin hair.
Mother to myself, I wake swaddled in gauze,
Pink and smooth as a baby.
Robert William Service |
Alphonso Rex who died in Rome
Was quite a fistful as a kid;
For when I visited his home,
That gorgeous palace in Madrid,
The grinning guide-chap showed me where
He rode his bronco up the stair.
That stairway grand of marbled might,
The most majestic in the land,
In statured splendour, flight on flight,
He urged his steed with whip in hand.
No lackey could restrain him for
He gained the gilded corridor.
He burst into the Royal suite,
And like a cowboy whooped with glee;
Dodging the charger's flying feet
The Chamberlain was shocked to see:
Imagine how it must have been a
Grief to Mother Queen Christina!
And so through sheer magnificence
I roamed from stately room to room,
Yet haunted ever by the sense
Of tragical dynastic doom.
The walls were wailing: Kings must die,
Being plain blokes like you and I.
Well, here's the moral to my rhyme:
When memories more worthy fade
We find that whimsically Time
Conserves some crazy escapade.
So as I left I stood to stare
With humorous enjoyment where
Alphonso crashed the Palace stair.
Elizabeth Bishop |
[On my birthday]
At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn't wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize.
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.
Oliver Wendell Holmes |
I WROTE some lines once on a time
In wondrous merry mood,
And thought, as usual, men would say
They were exceeding good.
They were so *****, so very *****,
I laughed as I would die;
Albeit, in the general way,
A sober man am I.
I called my servant, and he came;
How kind it was of him
To mind a slender man like me,
He of the mighty limb.
"These to the printer," I exclaimed,
And, in my humorous way,
I added, (as a trifling jest,)
"There'll be the devil to pay.
He took the paper, and I watched,
And saw him peep within;
At the first line he read, his face
Was all upon the grin.
He read the next; the grin grew broad,
And shot from ear to ear;
He read the third; a chuckling noise
I now began to hear.
The fourth; he broke into a roar;
The fifth; his waistband split;
The sixth; he burst five buttons off,
And tumbled in a fit.
Ten days and nights, with sleepless eye,
I watched that wretched man,
And since, I never dare to write
As funny as I can.
Robert William Service |
Said Jones: "I'm glad my wife's not clever;
Her intellect is second-rate.
If she was witty she would never
Give me a chance to scintillate;
But cap my humorous endeavour
And make me seem as addle-pate.
Said Smith: "I'm glad my wife's no beauty,
For if a siren's charm she had,
And stinted her domestic duty,
I fear that she would drive me mad:
For I am one of those sad fellows
Who are unreasonably jealous.
Said Brown: ""I know my wife's not witty,
Nor is she very long on looks;
She's neither humorous nor pretty,
But oh how she divinely cooks!
You guys must come some night to dinner -
You'll see my little girl's a winner.
So it's important in our lives,
(Exaggerating more or less),
To be content with our wives,
And prize the virtues they possess;
And with dispraise to turn one's back
On all the qualities they lack.
Vachel Lindsay |
(After seeing the reel called "Oil and Water.
Beauty has a throne-room
In our humorous town,
Spoiling its hob-goblins,
Laughing shadows down.
Rank musicians torture
Ragtime ballads vile,
But we walk serenely
Down the odorous aisle.
We forgive the squalor
And the boom and squeal
For the Great Queen flashes
From the moving reel.
Just a prim blonde stranger
In her early day,
Hiding brilliant weapons,
Too averse to play,
Then she burst upon us
Dancing through the night.
Oh, her maiden radiance,
Veils and roses white.
With new powers, yet cautious,
Not too smart or skilled,
That first flash of dancing
Wrought the thing she willed:—
Mobs of us made noble
By her strong desire,
By her white, uplifting,
Though the tin piano
Snarls its tango rude,
Though the chairs are shaky
And the dramas crude,
Solemn are her motions,
Stately are her wiles,
Filling oafs with wisdom,
Saving souls with smiles;
'Mid the restless actors
She is rich and slow.
She will stand like marble,
She will pause and glow,
Though the film is twitching,
Keep a peaceful reign,
Ruler of her passion,
Ruler of our pain!
Conrad Aiken |
Of what she said to me that night—no matter.
The strange thing came next day.
My brain was full of music—something she played me—;
I couldn't remember it all, but phrases of it
Wreathed and wreathed among faint memories,
Seeking for something, trying to tell me something,
Urging to restlessness: verging on grief.
I tried to play the tune, from memory,—
But memory failed: the chords and discords climbed
And found no resolution—only hung there,
And left me morbid .
Where, then, had I heard it? .
What secret dusty chamber was it hinting?
'Dust', it said, 'dust .
and dust .
and sunlight .
A cold clear April evening .
Rain-worn snow, dappling the hideous grass .
And someone walking alone; and someone saying
That all must end, for the time had come to go .
These were the phrases .
but behind, beneath them
A greater shadow moved: and in this shadow
I stood and guessed .
Was it the blue-eyed lady?
The one who always danced in golden slippers—
And had I danced with her,—upon this music?
Or was it further back—the unplumbed twilight
Of childhood?—No—much recenter than that.
You know, without my telling you, how sometimes
A word or name eludes you, and you seek it
Through running ghosts of shadow,—leaping at it,
Lying in wait for it to spring upon it,
Spreading faint snares for it of sense or sound:
Until, of a sudden, as if in a phantom forest,
You hear it, see it flash among the branches,
And scarcely knowing how, suddenly have it—
Well, it was so I followed down this music,
Glimpsing a face in darkness, hearing a cry,
Remembering days forgotten, moods exhausted,
Corners in sunlight, puddles reflecting stars—;
Until, of a sudden, and least of all suspected,
The thing resolved itself: and I remembered
An April afternoon, eight years ago—
Or was it nine?—no matter—call it nine—
A room in which the last of sunlight faded;
A vase of violets, fragrance in white curtains;
And, she who played the same thing later, playing.
She played this tune.
And in the middle of it
Abruptly broke it off, letting her hands
Fall in her lap.
She sat there so a moment,
With shoulders drooped, then lifted up a rose,
One great white rose, wide opened like a lotos,
And pressed it to her cheek, and closed her eyes.
'You know—we've got to end this—Miriam loves you .
If she should ever know, or even guess it,—
What would she do?—Listen!—I'm not absurd .
I'm sure of it.
If you had eyes, for women—
To understand them—which you've never had—
You'd know it too .
' So went this colloquy,
Half humorous, with undertones of pathos,
Half grave, half flippant .
while her fingers, softly,
Felt for this tune, played it and let it fall,
Now note by singing note, now chord by chord,
Repeating phrases with a kind of pleasure .
Was it symbolic of the woman's weakness
That she could neither break it—nor conclude?
It paused .
and wandered .
paused again; while she,
Perplexed and tired, half told me I must go,—
Half asked me if I thought I ought to go .
Well, April passed with many other evenings,
Evenings like this, with later suns and warmer,
With violets always there, and fragrant curtains .
And she was right: and Miriam found it out .
And after that, when eight deep years had passed—
Or nine—we met once more,—by accident .
But was it just by accident, I wonder,
She played this tune?—Or what, then, was intended? .
Barry Tebb |
I want a true history of my city
**** THE DE LACY FAMILY AND DOUBLE
**** JOHN OF GAUNT ESPECIALLY
And all his descendants
With their particular vilenesses -
I met one in the sixties
Who had all the coldness of Himmler
So svelte and adored by the cognoscenti.
I want a history responsive
To the needs of the working-class
One that will minute the back-to-backs
Spread over the city like a seamless robe
SO **** CUTHBERT BRODERICK’S TOWN HALL
BRIDEWELL AND MAGISTRACY.
I want a history of the culture
Of the working class and not
Hoggart’s slimy gone-up-in-the-world
Jabber for the curious bourgeoisie
He was especially maladroit
On working-class sexuality
A voyeur picking humorous moments
To show the ignorance of the class
He sprang from.
“Anything was an occasion” -
Or did he mean ‘excuse’? - “for intercourse,
Even a visit to the chip-shop”.
O for the gentleness
And the quiet intimacy
And joyful spontaneity
Of working-class sexuality
Reading Shelley’s ‘Defence of Poetry’
Sitting on a bus by a girl who, smiling, said,
“I told Jack if he was finished with me
He wasn’t having any but he pulled me
Into the bushes laughing all the way
So what could I say?”
I want a history of the warmth
Of working-class mothers
Explaining the mysteries of periods.
To their adolescent daughters and the
Revelations of working-class brides.
I want a history of family outings
To Temple Newsam where I saw an ***
Eating straw from the steel manger
Edgar Lee Masters |
I, born in Weimar
Of a mother who was French
And German father, a most learned professor,
Orphaned at fourteen years,
Became a dancer, known as Russian Sonia,
All up and down the boulevards of Paris,
Mistress betimes of sundry dukes and counts,
And later of poor artists and of poets.
At forty years, passée, I sought New York
And met old Patrick Hummer on the boat,
Red-faced and hale, though turned his sixtieth year,
Returning after having sold a ship-load
Of cattle in the German city, Hamburg.
He brought me to Spoon River and we lived here
For twenty years -- they thought that we were married!
This oak tree near me is the favorite haunt
Of blue jays chattering, chattering all the day.
And why not? for my very dust is laughing
For thinking of the humorous thing called life.
William Butler Yeats |
Five-and-twenty years have gone
Since old William pollexfen
Laid his strong bones down in death
By his wife Elizabeth
In the grey stone tomb he made.
And after twenty years they laid
In that tomb by him and her
His son George, the astrologer;
And Masons drove from miles away
To scatter the Acacia spray
Upon a melancholy man
Who had ended where his breath began.
Many a son and daughter lies
Far from the customary skies,
The Mall and Eades's grammar school,
In London or in Liverpool;
But where is laid the sailor John
That so many lands had known,
Quiet lands or unquiet seas
Where the Indians trade or Japanese?
He never found his rest ashore,
Moping for one voyage more.
Where have they laid the sailor John?
And yesterday the youngest son,
A humorous, unambitious man,
Was buried near the astrologer,
Yesterday in the tenth year
Since he who had been contented long.
A nobody in a great throng,
Decided he would journey home,
Now that his fiftieth year had come,
Alfred' be again
Upon the lips of common men
Who carried in their memory
His childhood and his family.
At all these death-beds women heard
A visionary white sea-bird
Lamenting that a man should die;
And with that cry I have raised my cry.