Walt Whitman |
TO think of time—of all that retrospection!
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!
Have you guess’d you yourself would not continue?
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?
Have you fear’d the future would be nothing to you?
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and women were flexible, real, alive!
everything was alive!
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our part!
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an accouchement!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and terrible look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers and sisters are sent for,
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell has long pervaded the rooms,)
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying,
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look upon it,
It is palpable as the living are palpable.
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks curiously on the corpse.
To think the thought of Death, merged in the thought of materials!
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and fruits ripen, and act upon
upon us now—yet not act upon us!
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking great interest in
them—and we taking no interest in them!
To think how eager we are in building our houses!
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent!
(I see one building the house that serves him a few years, or seventy or eighty years at
I see one building the house that serves him longer than that.
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never cease—they are
He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall surely be buried.
A reminiscence of the vulgar fate,
A frequent sample of the life and death of workmen,
Each after his kind:
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in the river, half-frozen mud in
streets, a gray, discouraged sky overhead, the short, last daylight of Twelfth-month,
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the funeral of an old Broadway
stage-driver, the cortege mostly drivers.
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, the gate is pass’d, the
new-dug grave is halted at, the living alight, the hearse uncloses,
The coffin is pass’d out, lower’d and settled, the whip is laid on the coffin,
earth is swiftly shovel’d in,
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,
A minute—no one moves or speaks—it is done,
He is decently put away—is there anything more?
He was a good fellow, free-mouth’d, quick-temper’d, not bad-looking, able to
own part, witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with life or death for a friend, fond of
gambled, ate hearty, drank hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited
the last, sicken’d, was help’d by a contribution, died, aged forty-one
that was his funeral.
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves, strap, wet-weather clothes, whip
carefully chosen, boss, spotter, starter, hostler, somebody loafing on you, you loafing
somebody, headway, man before and man behind, good day’s work, bad day’s work,
stock, mean stock, first out, last out, turning-in at night;
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other drivers—and he there takes no
interest in them!
The markets, the government, the working-man’s wages—to think what account they
through our nights and days!
To think that other working-men will make just as great account of them—yet we make
or no account!
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and what you call goodness—to
wide a difference!
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond the difference.
To think how much pleasure there is!
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you pleasure from poems?
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a nomination and
election? or with your wife and family?
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful maternal cares?
—These also flow onward to others—you and I flow onward,
But in due time, you and I shall take less interest in them.
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engross’d you are!
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for you, of what avail?
What will be, will be well—for what is, is well,
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
The sky continues beautiful,
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated, nor the pleasure of women with men,
the pleasure from poems,
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of houses—these are
phantasms—they have weight, form, location;
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are none of them phantasms,
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the things of his life, are
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and safely around yourself;
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, forever and ever!
It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother and father—it is to
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should be decided;
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form’d in you,
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.
The threads that were spun are gather’d, the weft crosses the warp, the pattern is
The preparations have every one been justified,
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—the baton has given the
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—he is now housed,
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he is one of those that to look upon
with is enough.
The law of the past cannot be eluded,
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one iota thereof can be eluded.
Slow moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and they on the Atlantic side, and
on the Pacific, and they between, and all through the Mississippi country, and all over
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the heroes and good-doers are well,
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners and pious and distinguish’d, may
But there is more account than that—there is strict account of all.
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are not nothing,
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
The common people of Europe are not nothing—the American aborigines are not nothing,
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—the murderer or mean person is
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing as they go,
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of religion is not nothing as he
Of and in all these things,
I have dream’d that we are not to be changed so much, nor the law of us changed,
I have dream’d that heroes and good-doers shall be under the present and past law,
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the present and past law,
For I have dream’d that the law they are under now is enough.
If otherwise, all came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then Alarum! for we are betray’d!
Then indeed suspicion of death.
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I should die now,
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward annihilation?
Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just as perfect,
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable fluids are perfect;
Slowly and surely they have pass’d on to this, and slowly and surely they yet pass
I swear I think now that everything without exception has an eternal Soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have! the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it, and the cohering is
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life and materials are
John Betjeman |
Here among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baize.
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor.
Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun.
All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn's Harvest Festival,
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle's brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste
These items ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes .
it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know
Such goings-on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house,
But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.
Kahlil Gibran |
The power of charity sows deep in my heart, and I reap and gather the wheat in bundles and give them to the hungry.
My soul gives life to the grapevine and I press its bunches and give the juice to the thirsty.
Heaven fills my lamp with oil and I place it at my window to direct the stranger through the dark.
I do all these things because I live in them; and if destiny should tie my hands and prevent me from so doing, then death would be my only desire.
For I am a poet, and if I cannot give, I shall refuse to receive.
Humanity rages like a tempest, but I sigh in silence for I know the storm must pass away while a sigh goes to God.
Human kinds cling to earthly things, but I seek ever to embrace the torch of love so it will purify me by its fire and sear inhumanity from my heart.
Substantial things deaden a man without suffering; love awakens him with enlivening pains.
Humans are divided into different clans and tribes, and belong to countries and towns.
But I find myself a stranger to all communities and belong to no settlement.
The universe is my country and the human family is my tribe.
Men are weak, and it is sad that they divide amongst themselves.
The world is narrow and it is unwise to cleave it into kingdoms, empires, and provinces.
Human kinds unite themselves one to destroy the temples of the soul, and they join hands to build edifices for earthly bodies.
I stand alone listening to the voice of hope in my deep self saying, "As love enlivens a man's heart with pain, so ignorance teaches him the way of knowledge.
" Pain and ignorance lead to great joy and knowledge because the Supreme Being has created nothing vain under the sun.
I have a yearning for my beautiful country, and I love its people because of their misery.
But if my people rose, stimulated by plunder and motivated by what they call "patriotic spirit" to murder, and invaded my neighbor's country, then upon the committing of any human atrocity I would hate my people and my country.
I sing the praise of my birthplace and long to see the home of my children; but if the people in that home refused to shelter and feed the needy wayfarer, I would convert my praise into anger and my longing to forgetfulness.
My inner voice would say, "The house that does not comfort the need is worthy of naught by destruction.
I love my native village with some of my love for my country; and I love my country with part of my love for the earth, all of which is my country; and I love the earth will all of myself because it is the haven of humanity, the manifest spirit of God.
Humanity is the spirit of the Supreme Being on earth, and that humanity is standing amidst ruins, hiding its nakedness behind tattered rags, shedding tears upon hollow cheeks, and calling for its children with pitiful voice.
But the children are busy singing their clan's anthem; they are busy sharpening the swords and cannot hear the cry of their mothers.
Humanity appeals to its people but they listen not.
Were one to listen, and console a mother by wiping her tears, other would say, "He is weak, affected by sentiment.
Humanity is the spirit of the Supreme Being on earth, and that Supreme Being preaches love and good-will.
But the people ridicule such teachings.
The Nazarene Jesus listened, and crucifixion was his lot; Socrates heard the voice and followed it, and he too fell victim in body.
The followers of The Nazarene and Socrates are the followers of Deity, and since people will not kill them, they deride them, saying, "Ridicule is more bitter than killing.
Jerusalem could not kill The Nazarene, nor Athens Socrates; they are living yet and shall live eternally.
Ridicule cannot triumph over the followers of Deity.
They live and grow forever.
Thou art my brother because you are a human, and we both are sons of one Holy Spirit; we are equal and made of the same earth.
You are here as my companion along the path of life, and my aid in understanding the meaning of hidden Truth.
You are a human, and, that fact sufficing, I love you as a brother.
You may speak of me as you choose, for Tomorrow shall take you away and will use your talk as evidence for his judgment, and you shall receive justice.
You may deprive me of whatever I possess, for my greed instigated the amassing of wealth and you are entitled to my lot if it will satisfy you.
You may do unto me whatever you wish, but you shall not be able to touch my Truth.
You may shed my blood and burn my body, but you cannot kill or hurt my spirit.
You may tie my hands with chains and my feet with shackles, and put me in the dark prison, but who shall not enslave my thinking, for it is free, like the breeze in the spacious sky.
You are my brother and I love you.
I love you worshipping in your church, kneeling in your temple, and praying in your mosque.
You and I and all are children of one religion, for the varied paths of religion are but the fingers of the loving hand of the Supreme Being, extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, anxious to receive all.
I love you for your Truth, derived from your knowledge; that Truth which I cannot see because of my ignorance.
But I respect it as a divine thing, for it is the deed of the spirit.
Your Truth shall meet my Truth in the coming world and blend together like the fragrance of flowers and becoming one whole and eternal Truth, perpetuating and living in the eternity of Love and Beauty.
I love you because you are weak before the strong oppressor, and poor before the greedy rich.
For these reasons I shed tears and comfort you; and from behind my tears I see you embraced in the arms of Justice, smiling and forgiving your persecutors.
You are my brother and I love you.
You are my brother, but why are you quarreling with me? Why do you invade my country and try to subjugate me for the sake of pleasing those who are seeking glory and authority?
Why do you leave your wife and children and follow Death to the distant land for the sake of those who buy glory with your blood, and high honor with your mother's tears?
Is it an honor for a man to kill his brother man? If you deem it an honor, let it be an act of worship, and erect a temple to Cain who slew his brother Abel.
Is self-preservation the first law of Nature? Why, then, does Greed urge you to self-sacrifice in order only to achieve his aim in hurting your brothers? Beware, my brother, of the leader who says, "Love of existence obliges us to deprive the people of their rights!" I say unto you but this: protecting others' rights is the noblest and most beautiful human act; if my existence requires that I kill others, then death is more honorable to me, and if I cannot find someone to kill me for the protection of my honor, I will not hesitate to take my life by my own hands for the sake of Eternity before Eternity comes.
Selfishness, my brother, is the cause of blind superiority, and superiority creates clanship, and clanship creates authority which leads to discord and subjugation.
The soul believes in the power of knowledge and justice over dark ignorance; it denies the authority that supplies the swords to defend and strengthen ignorance and oppression - that authority which destroyed Babylon and shook the foundation of Jerusalem and left Rome in ruins.
It is that which made people call criminals great mean; made writers respect their names; made historians relate the stories of their inhumanity in manner of praise.
The only authority I obey is the knowledge of guarding and acquiescing in the Natural Law of Justice.
What justice does authority display when it kills the killer? When it imprisons the robber? When it descends on a neighborhood country and slays its people? What does justice think of the authority under which a killer punishes the one who kills, and a thief sentences the one who steals?
You are my brother, and I love you; and Love is justice with its full intensity and dignity.
If justice did not support my love for you, regardless of your tribe and community, I would be a deceiver concealing the ugliness of selfishness behind the outer garment of pure love.
My soul is my friend who consoles me in misery and distress of life.
He who does not befriend his soul is an enemy of humanity, and he who does not find human guidance within himself will perish desperately.
Life emerges from within, and derives not from environs.
I came to say a word and I shall say it now.
But if death prevents its uttering, it will be said tomorrow, for tomorrow never leaves a secret in the book of eternity.
I came to live in the glory of love and the light of beauty, which are the reflections of God.
I am here living, and the people are unable to exile me from the domain of life for they know I will live in death.
If they pluck my eyes I will hearken to the murmers of love and the songs of beauty.
If they close my ears I will enjoy the touch of the breeze mixed with the incebse of love and the fragrance of beauty.
If they place me in a vacuum, I will live together with my soul, the child of love and beauty.
I came here to be for all and with all, and what I do today in my solitude will be echoed by tomorrow to the people.
What I say now with one heart will be said tomorrow by many hearts
Philip Larkin |
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare.
Not in remorse
-- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused -- nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always.
Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels.
Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear -- no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink.
Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others.
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept.
One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
Jonathan Swift |
To the Priest, on Observing how most Men mistake their own Talents
When beasts could speak (the learned say,
They still can do so ev'ry day),
It seems, they had religion then,
As much as now we find in men.
It happen'd, when a plague broke out
(Which therefore made them more devout),
The king of brutes (to make it plain,
Of quadrupeds I only mean)
By proclamation gave command,
That ev'ry subject in the land
Should to the priest confess their sins;
And thus the pious wolf begins:
"Good father, I must own with shame,
That often I have been to blame:
I must confess, on Friday last,
Wretch that I was! I broke my fast:
But I defy the basest tongue
To prove I did my neighbour wrong;
Or ever went to seek my food
By rapine, theft, or thirst of blood.
The ass, approaching next, confess'd
That in his heart he lov'd a jest:
A wag he was, he needs must own,
And could not let a dunce alone:
Sometimes his friend he would not spare,
And might perhaps be too severe:
But yet, the worst that could be said,
He was a wit both born and bred;
And, if it be a sin or shame,
Nature alone must bear the blame:
One fault he hath, is sorry for't,
His ears are half a foot too short;
Which could he to the standard bring,
He'd show his face before the King:
Then for his voice, there's none disputes
That he's the nightingale of brutes.
The swine with contrite heart allow'd,
His shape and beauty made him proud:
In diet was perhaps too nice,
But gluttony was ne'er his vice:
In ev'ry turn of life content,
And meekly took what fortune sent:
Inquire through all the parish round,
A better neighbour ne'er was found:
His vigilance might some displease;
'Tis true he hated sloth like peas.
The mimic ape began his chatter,
How evil tongues his life bespatter:
Much of the cens'ring world complain'd,
Who said, his gravity was feign'd:
Indeed, the strictness of his morals
Engag'd him in a hundred quarrels:
He saw, and he was griev'd to see't,
His zeal was sometimes indiscreet:
He found his virtues too severe
For our corrupted times to bear:
Yet, such a lewd licentious age
Might well excuse a Stoic's rage.
The goat advanc'd with decent pace;
And first excus'd his youthful face;
Forgiveness begg'd that he appear'd
('Twas nature's fault) without a beard.
'Tis true, he was not much inclin'd
To fondness for the female kind;
Not, as his enemies object,
From chance, or natural defect;
Not by his frigid constitution,
But through a pious resolution;
For he had made a holy vow
Of chastity as monks do now;
Which he resolv'd to keep for ever hence,
As strictly too, as doth his Reverence.
Apply the tale, and you shall find,
How just it suits with human kind.
Some faults we own: but, can you guess?
Why?--virtues carried to excess,
Wherewith our vanity endows us,
Though neither foe nor friend allows us.
The lawyer swears, you may rely on't,
He never squeez'd a needy client;
And this he makes his constant rule,
For which his brethren call him fool:
His conscience always was so nice,
He freely gave the poor advice;
By which he lost, he may affirm,
A hundred fees last Easter term.
While others of the learned robe
Would break the patience of a Job;
No pleader at the bar could match
His diligence and quick dispatch;
Ne'er kept a cause, he well may boast,
Above a term or two at most.
The cringing knave, who seeks a place
Without success, thus tells his case:
Why should he longer mince the matter?
He fail'd because he could not flatter;
He had not learn'd to turn his coat,
Nor for a party give his vote:
His crime he quickly understood;
Too zealous for the nation's good:
He found the ministers resent it,
Yet could not for his heart repent it.
The chaplain vows he cannot fawn,
Though it would raise him to the lawn:
He pass'd his hours among his books;
You find it in his meagre looks:
He might, if he were worldly wise,
Preferment get and spare his eyes:
But own'd he had a stubborn spirit,
That made him trust alone in merit:
Would rise by merit to promotion;
Alas! a mere chimeric notion.
The doctor, if you will believe him,
Confess'd a sin; and God forgive him!
Call'd up at midnight, ran to save
A blind old beggar from the grave:
But see how Satan spreads his snares;
He quite forgot to say his prayers.
He cannot help it for his heart
Sometimes to act the parson's part:
Quotes from the Bible many a sentence,
That moves his patients to repentance:
And, when his med'cines do no good,
Supports their minds with heav'nly food,
At which, however well intended,
He hears the clergy are offended;
And grown so bold behind his back,
To call him hypocrite and quack.
In his own church he keeps a seat;
Says grace before and after meat;
And calls, without affecting airs,
His household twice a day to prayers.
He shuns apothecaries' shops;
And hates to cram the sick with slops:
He scorns to make his art a trade;
Nor bribes my lady's fav'rite maid.
Old nurse-keepers would never hire
To recommend him to the squire;
Which others, whom he will not name,
Have often practis'd to their shame.
The statesman tells you with a sneer,
His fault is to be too sincere;
And, having no sinister ends,
Is apt to disoblige his friends.
The nation's good, his master's glory,
Without regard to Whig or Tory,
Were all the schemes he had in view;
Yet he was seconded by few:
Though some had spread a hundred lies,
'Twas he defeated the Excise.
'Twas known, though he had borne aspersion,
That standing troops were his aversion:
His practice was, in ev'ry station,
To serve the King, and please the nation.
Though hard to find in ev'ry case
The fittest man to fill a place:
His promises he ne'er forgot,
But took memorials on the spot:
His enemies, for want of charity,
Said he affected popularity:
'Tis true, the people understood,
That all he did was for their good;
Their kind affections he has tried;
No love is lost on either side.
He came to Court with fortune clear,
Which now he runs out ev'ry year:
Must, at the rate that he goes on,
Inevitably be undone:
Oh! if his Majesty would please
To give him but a writ of ease,
Would grant him licence to retire,
As it hath long been his desire,
By fair accounts it would be found,
He's poorer by ten thousand pound.
He owns, and hopes it is no sin,
He ne'er was partial to his kin;
He thought it base for men in stations
To crowd the Court with their relations;
His country was his dearest mother,
And ev'ry virtuous man his brother;
Through modesty or awkward shame
(For which he owns himself to blame),
He found the wisest man he could,
Without respect to friends or blood;
Nor ever acts on private views,
When he hath liberty to choose.
The sharper swore he hated play,
Except to pass an hour away:
And well he might; for, to his cost,
By want of skill he always lost;
He heard there was a club of cheats,
Who had contriv'd a thousand feats;
Could change the stock, or cog a die,
And thus deceive the sharpest eye:
Nor wonder how his fortune sunk,
His brothers fleece him when he's drunk.
I own the moral not exact;
Besides, the tale is false in fact;
And so absurd, that could I raise up
From fields Elysian fabling Aesop;
I would accuse him to his face
For libelling the four-foot race.
Creatures of ev'ry kind but ours
Well comprehend their natural pow'rs;
While we, whom reason ought to sway,
Mistake our talents ev'ry day.
The ass was never known so stupid
To act the part of Tray or Cupid;
Nor leaps upon his master's lap,
There to be strok'd, and fed with pap,
As Aesop would the world persuade;
He better understands his trade:
Nor comes, whene'er his lady whistles;
But carries loads, and feeds on thistles.
Our author's meaning, I presume, is
A creature bipes et implumis;
Wherein the moralist design'd
A compliment on human kind:
For here he owns, that now and then
Beasts may degenerate into men.
Philip Levine |
Some days I catch a rhythm, almost a song
in my own breath.
I'm alone here
in Brooklyn Heights, late morning, the sky
above the St.
George Hotel clear, clear
for New York, that is.
The radio playing
"Bird Flight," Parker in his California
tragic voice fifty years ago, his faltering
"Lover Man" just before he crashed into chaos.
I would guess that outside the recording studio
in Burbank the sun was high above the jacarandas,
it was late March, the worst of yesterday's rain
had come and gone, the sky washed blue.
could have seen for miles if he'd looked, but what
he saw was so foreign he clenched his eyes,
shook his head, and barked like a dog--just once--
and then Howard McGhee took his arm and assured him
he'd be OK.
I know this because Howard told me
years later that he thought Bird could
lie down in the hotel room they shared, sleep
for an hour or more, and waken as himself.
The perfect sunlight angles into my little room
above Willow Street.
I listen to my breath
come and go and try to catch its curious taste,
part milk, part iron, part blood, as it passes
from me into the world.
This is not me,
this is automatic, this entering and exiting,
my body's essential occupation without which
I am a thing.
The whole process has a name,
a word I don't know, an elegant word not
in English or Yiddish or Spanish, a word
that means nothing to me.
Howard truly believed
what he said that day when he steered
Parker into a cab and drove the silent miles
beside him while the bright world
unfurled around them: filling stations, stands
of fruits and vegetables, a kiosk selling trinkets
from Mexico and the Philippines.
It was all
so actual and Western, it was a new creation
coming into being, like the music of Charlie Parker
someone later called "glad," though that day
I would have said silent, "the silent music
of Charlie Parker.
" Howard said nothing.
He paid the driver and helped Bird up two flights
to their room, got his boots off, and went out
to let him sleep as the afternoon entered
the history of darkness.
I'm not judging
Howard, he did better than I could have
now or then.
Then I was 19, working
on the loading docks at Railway Express
coming day by day into the damaged body
of a man while I sang into the filthy air
the Yiddish drinking songs my Zadie taught me
before his breath failed.
Now Howard is gone,
eleven long years gone, the sweet voice silenced.
"The subtle bridge between Eldridge and Navarro,"
they later wrote, all that rising passion
a footnote to others.
I remember in '85
walking the halls of Cass Tech, the high school
where he taught after his performing days,
when suddenly he took my left hand in his
two hands to tell me it all worked out
for the best.
Maybe he'd gotten religion,
maybe he knew how little time was left,
maybe that day he was just worn down
by my questions about Parker.
To him Bird
was truly Charlie Parker, a man, a silent note
going out forever on the breath of genius
which now I hear soaring above my own breath
as this bright morning fades into afternoon.
Music, I'll call it music.
It's what we need
as the sun staggers behind the low gray clouds
blowing relentlessly in from that nameless ocean,
the calm and endless one I've still to cross.
David Lehman |
There comes a time in every man's life
when he thinks: I have never had a single
original thought in my life
including this one & therefore I shall
eliminate all ideas from my poems
which shall consist of cats, rice, rain
baseball cards, fire escapes, hanging plants
red brick houses where I shall give up booze
and organized religion even if it means
despair is a logical possibility that can't
be disproved I shall concentrate on the five
senses and what they half perceive and half
create, the green street signs with white
letters on them the body next to mine
asleep while I think these thoughts
that I want to eliminate like nostalgia
0 was there ever a man who felt as I do
like a pronoun out of step with all the other
floating signifiers no things but in words
an orange T-shirt a lime green awning
Siegfried Sassoon |
I’ve never ceased to curse the day I signed
A seven years’ bargain for the Golden Fleece.
’Twas a bad deal all round; and dear enough
It cost me, what with my daft management,
And the mean folk as owed and never paid me,
And backing losers; and the local bucks
Egging me on with whiskys while I bragged
The man I was when huntsman to the Squire.
I’d have been prosperous if I’d took a farm
Of fifty acres, drove my gig and haggled
At Monday markets; now I’ve squandered all
My savings; nigh three hundred pound I got
As testimonial when I’d grown too stiff
And slow to press a beaten fox.
’Twas the damned Fleece that wore my Emily out,
The wife of thirty years who served me well;
(Not like this beldam clattering in the kitchen,
That never trims a lamp nor sweeps the floor,
And brings me greasy soup in a foul crock.
Blast the old harridan! What’s fetched her now,
Leaving me in the dark, and short of fire?
And where’s my pipe? ’Tis lucky I’ve a turn
For thinking, and remembering all that’s past.
And now’s my hour, before I hobble to bed,
To set the works a-wheezing, wind the clock
That keeps the time of life with feeble tick
Behind my bleared old face that stares and wonders.
It’s ***** how, in the dark, comes back to mind
Some morning of September.
We’ve been digging
In a steep sandy warren, riddled with holes,
And I’ve just pulled the terrier out and left
A sharp-nosed cub-face blinking there and snapping,
Then in a moment seen him mobbed and torn
To strips in the baying hurly of the pack.
I picture it so clear: the dusty sunshine
On bracken, and the men with spades, that wipe
Red faces: one tilts up a mug of ale.
And, having stopped to clean my gory hands,
I whistle the jostling beauties out of the wood.
I’m but a daft old fool! I often wish
The Squire were back again—ah! he was a man!
They don’t breed men like him these days; he’d come
For sure, and sit and talk and suck his briar
Till the old wife brings up a dish of tea.
Ay, those were days, when I was serving Squire!
I never knowed such sport as ’85,
The winter afore the one that snowed us silly.
Once in a way the parson will drop in
And read a bit o’ the Bible, if I’m bad,
And pray the Lord to make my spirit whole
In faith: he leaves some ’baccy on the shelf,
And wonders I don’t keep a dog to cheer me
Because he knows I’m mortal fond of dogs!
I ask you, what’s a gent like that to me
As wouldn’t know Elijah if I saw him,
Nor have the wit to keep him on the talk?
’Tis kind of parson to be troubling still
With such as me; but he’s a town-bred chap,
Full of his college notions and Christmas hymns.
Religion beats me.
I’m amazed at folk
Drinking the gospels in and never scratching
Their heads for questions.
When I was a lad
I learned a bit from mother, and never thought
To educate myself for prayers and psalms.
But now I’m old and bald and serious-minded,
With days to sit and ponder.
I’d no chance
When young and gay to get the hang of all
This Hell and Heaven: and when the clergy hoick
And holloa from their pulpits, I’m asleep,
However hard I listen; and when they pray
It seems we’re all like children sucking sweets
In school, and wondering whether master sees.
I used to dream of Hell when I was first
Promoted to a huntsman’s job, and scent
Was rotten, and all the foxes disappeared,
And hounds were short of blood; and officers
From barracks over-rode ’em all day long
On weedy, whistling nags that knocked a hole
In every fence; good sportsmen to a man
And brigadiers by now, but dreadful hard
On a young huntsman keen to show some sport.
Ay, Hell was thick with captains, and I rode
The lumbering brute that’s beat in half a mile,
And blunders into every blind old ditch.
Hell was the coldest scenting land I’ve known,
And both my whips were always lost, and hounds
Would never get their heads down; and a man
On a great yawing chestnut trying to cast ’em
While I was in a corner pounded by
The ugliest hog-backed stile you’ve clapped your eyes on.
There was an iron-spiked fence round all the coverts,
And civil-spoken keepers I couldn’t trust,
And the main earth unstopp’d.
The fox I found
Was always a three-legged ’un from a bag,
Who reeked of aniseed and wouldn’t run.
The farmers were all ploughing their old pasture
And bellowing at me when I rode their beans
To cast for beaten fox, or galloped on
With hounds to a lucky view.
I’d lost my voice
Although I shouted fit to burst my guts,
And couldn’t blow my horn.
And when I woke,
Emily snored, and barn-cocks started crowing,
And morn was at the window; and I was glad
To be alive because I heard the cry
Of hounds like church-bells chiming on a Sunday.
Ay, that’s the song I’d wish to hear in Heaven!
The cry of hounds was Heaven for me: I know
Parson would call me crazed and wrong to say it,
But where’s the use of life and being glad
If God’s not in your gladness?
I’ve no brains
For book-learned studies; but I’ve heard men say
There’s much in print that clergy have to wink at:
Though many I’ve met were jolly chaps, and rode
To hounds, and walked me puppies; and could pick
Good legs and loins and necks and shoulders, ay,
And feet—’twas necks and feet I looked at first.
Some hounds I’ve known were wise as half your saints,
And better hunters.
That old dog of the Duke’s,
Harlequin; what a dog he was to draw!
And what a note he had, and what a nose
When foxes ran down wind and scent was catchy!
And that light lemon ***** of the Squire’s, old Dorcas—
She were a marvellous hunter, were old Dorcas!
Ay, oft I’ve thought, ‘If there were hounds in Heaven,
With God as master, taking no subscription;
And all His bless?d country farmed by tenants,
And a straight-necked old fox in every gorse!’
But when I came to work it out, I found
There’d be too many huntsmen wanting places,
Though some I’ve known might get a job with Nick!
I’ve come to think of God as something like
The figure of a man the old Duke was
When I was turning hounds to Nimrod King,
Before his Grace was took so bad with gout
And had to quit the saddle.
Tall and spare,
Clean-shaved and grey, with shrewd, kind eyes, that twinkled,
And easy walk; who, when he gave good words,
Gave them whole-hearted; and would never blame
Without just cause.
Lord God might be like that,
Sitting alone in a great room of books
Some evening after hunting.
Now I’m tired
With hearkening to the tick-tack on the shelf;
And pondering makes me doubtful.
On a moonless night of cloud that feels like frost
Though stars are hidden (hold your feet up, horse!)
And thinking what a task I had to draw
A pack with all those lame ’uns, and the lot
Wanting a rest from all this open weather;
That’s what I’m doing now.
And likely, too,
The frost’ll be a long ’un, and the night
The parsons say we’ll wake to find
A country blinding-white with dazzle of snow.
The naked stars make men feel lonely, wheeling
And glinting on the puddles in the road.
And then you listen to the wind, and wonder
If folk are quite such bucks as they appear
When dressed by London tailors, looking down
Their boots at covert side, and thinking big.
This world’s a funny place to live in.
I’ll need to change my country; but I know
’Tis little enough I’ve understood my life,
And a power of sights I’ve missed, and foreign marvels.
I used to feel it, riding on spring days
In meadows pied with sun and chasing clouds,
And half forget how I was there to catch
The foxes; lose the angry, eager feeling
A huntsman ought to have, that’s out for blood,
And means his hounds to get it!
Now I know
It’s God that speaks to us when we’re bewitched,
Smelling the hay in June and smiling quiet;
Or when there’s been a spell of summer drought,
Lying awake and listening to the rain.
I’d like to be the simpleton I was
In the old days when I was whipping-in
To a little harrier-pack in Worcestershire,
And loved a dairymaid, but never knew it
Until she’d wed another.
So I’ve loved
My life; and when the good years are gone down,
Discover what I’ve lost.
I never broke
Out of my blundering self into the world,
But let it all go past me, like a man
Half asleep in a land that’s full of wars.
What a grand thing ’twould be if I could go
Back to the kennels now and take my hounds
For summer exercise; be riding out
With forty couple when the quiet skies
Are streaked with sunrise, and the silly birds
Grown hoarse with singing; cobwebs on the furze
Up on the hill, and all the country strange,
With no one stirring; and the horses fresh,
Sniffing the air I’ll never breathe again.
You’ve brought the lamp, then, Martha? I’ve no mind
For newspaper to-night, nor bread and cheese.
Give me the candle, and I’ll get to bed.
Ralph Waldo Emerson |
Man was made of social earth,
Child and brother from his birth;
Tethered by a liquid cord
Of blood through veins of kindred poured,
Next his heart the fireside band
Of mother, father, sister, stand;
Names from awful childhood heard,
Throbs of a wild religion stirred,
Their good was heaven, their harm was vice,
Till Beauty came to snap all ties,
The maid, abolishing the past,
With lotus-wine obliterates
Dear memory's stone-incarved traits,
And by herself supplants alone
Friends year by year more inly known.
When her calm eyes opened bright,
All were foreign in their light.
It was ever the self-same tale,
The old experience will not fail,—
Only two in the garden walked,
And with snake and seraph talked.
But God said;
I will have a purer gift,
There is smoke in the flame;
New flowerets bring, new prayers uplift,
And love without a name.
Fond children, ye desire
To please each other well;
Another round, a higher,
Ye shall climb on the heavenly stair,
And selfish preference forbear;
And in right deserving,
And without a swerving
Each from your proper state,
Weave roses for your mate.
Deep, deep are loving eyes,
Flowed with naphtha fiery sweet,
And the point is Paradise
Where their glances meet:
Their reach shall yet be more profound,
And a vision without bound:
The axis of those eyes sun-clear
Be the axis of the sphere;
Then shall the lights ye pour amain
Go without check or intervals,
Through from the empyrean walls,
Unto the same again.
Close, close to men,
Like undulating layer of air,
Right above their heads,
The potent plain of Dæmons spreads.
Stands to each human soul its own,
For watch, and ward, and furtherance
In the snares of nature's dance;
And the lustre and the grace
Which fascinate each human heart,
Beaming from another part,
Translucent through the mortal covers,
Is the Dæmon's form and face.
To and fro the Genius hies,
A gleam which plays and hovers
Over the maiden's head,
And dips sometimes as low as to her eyes.
Unknown, — albeit lying near, —
To men the path to the Dæmon sphere,
And they that swiftly come and go,
Leave no track on the heavenly snow.
Sometimes the airy synod bends,
And the mighty choir descends,
And the brains of men thenceforth,
In crowded and in still resorts,
Teem with unwonted thoughts.
As when a shower of meteors
Cross the orbit of the earth,
And, lit by fringent air,
Blaze near and far.
Mortals deem the planets bright
Have slipped their sacred bars,
And the lone seaman all the night
Sails astonished amid stars.
Beauty of a richer vein,
Graces of a subtler strain,
Unto men these moon-men lend,
And our shrinking sky extend.
So is man's narrow path
By strength and terror skirted,
Also (from the song the wrath
Of the Genii be averted!
The Muse the truth uncolored speaking),
The Dæmons are self-seeking;
Their fierce and limitary will
Draws men to their likeness still.
The erring painter made Love blind,
Highest Love who shines on all;
Him radiant, sharpest-sighted god
None can bewilder;
Whose eyes pierce
Mediator, royal giver,
Of joyful and transparent mien.
'Tis a sparkle passing
From each to each, from me to thee,
Sharing all, daring all,
Each obstruction, it unites
Equals remote, and seeming opposites.
And ever and forever Love
Delights to build a road;
Unheeded Danger near him strides,
Love laughs, and on a lion rides.
But Cupid wears another face
Born into Dæmons less divine,
His roses bleach apace,
His nectar smacks of wine.
The Dæmon ever builds a wall,
Himself incloses and includes,
Solitude in solitudes:
In like sort his love doth fall.
He is an oligarch,
He prizes wonder, fame, and mark,
He loveth crowns,
He scorneth drones;
He doth elect
The beautiful and fortunate,
And the sons of intellect,
And the souls of ample fate,
Who the Future's gates unbar,
Minions of the Morning Star.
In his prowess he exults,
And the multitude insults.
His impatient looks devour
Oft the humble and the poor,
And, seeing his eye glare,
They drop their few pale flowers
Gathered with hope to please
Along the mountain towers,
Lose courage, and despair.
He will never be gainsaid,
Pitiless, will not be stayed.
His hot tyranny
Burns up every other tie;
Therefore comes an hour from Jove
Which his ruthless will defies,
And the dogs of Fate unties.
Shiver the palaces of glass,
Shrivel the rainbow-colored walls
Where in bright art each god and sibyl dwelt
Secure as in the Zodiack's belt;
And the galleries and halls
Wherein every Siren sung,
Like a meteor pass.
For this fortune wanted root
In the core of God's abysm,
Was a weed of self and schism:
And ever the Dæmonic Love
Is the ancestor of wars,
And the parent of remorse.
Walt Whitman |
EARTH, round, rolling, compact—suns, moons, animals—all these are words to be
Watery, vegetable, sauroid advances—beings, premonitions, lispings of the future,
Behold! these are vast words to be said.
Were you thinking that those were the words—those upright lines? those curves,
No, those are not the words—the substantial words are in the ground and sea,
They are in the air—they are in you.
Were you thinking that those were the words—those delicious sounds out of your
No, the real words are more delicious than they.
Human bodies are words, myriads of words;
In the best poems re-appears the body, man’s or woman’s, well-shaped, natural,
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the need of shame.
Air, soil, water, fire—these are words;
I myself am a word with them—my qualities interpenetrate with theirs—my name is
Though it were told in the three thousand languages, what would air, soil, water, fire,
A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture, are words, sayings, meanings;
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and women, are sayings and meanings
The workmanship of souls is by the inaudible words of the earth;
The great masters know the earth’s words, and use them more than the audible words.
Amelioration is one of the earth’s words;
The earth neither lags nor hastens;
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from the jump;
It is not half beautiful only—defects and excrescences show just as much as
The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough;
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal’d either;
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print;
They are imbued through all things, conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation of the earth—I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not, of what avail am I to you?
To bear—to better—lacking these, of what avail am I?
Will you rot your own fruit in yourself there?
Will you squat and stifle there?
The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,
Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out,
Of all the powers, objects, states, it notifies, shuts none out.
The earth does not exhibit itself, nor refuse to exhibit itself—possesses still
Underneath the ostensible sounds, the august chorus of heroes, the wail of slaves,
Persuasions of lovers, curses, gasps of the dying, laughter of young people, accents of
Underneath these, possessing the words that never fail.
To her children, the words of the eloquent dumb great mother never fail;
The true words do not fail, for motion does not fail, and reflection does not fail;
Also the day and night do not fail, and the voyage we pursue does not fail.
Of the interminable sisters,
Of the ceaseless cotillions of sisters,
Of the centripetal and centrifugal sisters, the elder and younger sisters,
The beautiful sister we know dances on with the rest.
With her ample back towards every beholder,
With the fascinations of youth, and the equal fascinations of age,
Sits she whom I too love like the rest—sits undisturb’d,
Holding up in her hand what has the character of a mirror, while her eyes glance back from
Glance as she sits, inviting none, denying none,
Holding a mirror day and night tirelessly before her own face.
Seen at hand, or seen at a distance,
Duly the twenty-four appear in public every day,
Duly approach and pass with their companions, or a companion,
Looking from no countenances of their own, but from the countenances of those who are with
From the countenances of children or women, or the manly countenance,
From the open countenances of animals, or from inanimate things,
From the landscape or waters, or from the exquisite apparition of the sky,
From our countenances, mine and yours, faithfully returning them,
Every day in public appearing without fail, but never twice with the same companions.
Embracing man, embracing all, proceed the three hundred and sixty-five resistlessly round
Embracing all, soothing, supporting, follow close three hundred and sixty-five offsets of
sure and necessary as they.
Tumbling on steadily, nothing dreading,
Sunshine, storm, cold, heat, forever withstanding, passing, carrying,
The Soul’s realization and determination still inheriting,
The fluid vacuum around and ahead still entering and dividing,
No balk retarding, no anchor anchoring, on no rock striking,
Swift, glad, content, unbereav’d, nothing losing,
Of all able and ready at any time to give strict account,
The divine ship sails the divine sea.
Whoever you are! motion and reflection are especially for you;
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.
Each man to himself, and each woman to herself, such is the word of the past and present,
word of immortality;
No one can acquire for another—not one!
Not one can grow for another—not one!
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him;
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him;
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him;
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him;
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him;
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him—it cannot fail;
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor and actress, not to the audience;
And no man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indication of his
I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete!
I swear the earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and
I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those of the earth!
I swear there can be no theory of any account, unless it corroborate the theory of the
No politics, art, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account, unless it compare with
amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of the earth.
I swear I begin to see love with sweeter spasms than that which responds love!
It is that which contains itself—which never invites, and never refuses.
I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible words!
I swear I think all merges toward the presentation of the unspoken meanings of the earth!
Toward him who sings the songs of the Body, and of the truths of the earth;
Toward him who makes the dictionaries of words that print cannot touch.
I swear I see what is better than to tell the best;
It is always to leave the best untold.
When I undertake to tell the best, I find I cannot,
My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots,
My breath will not be obedient to its organs,
I become a dumb man.
The best of the earth cannot be told anyhow—all or any is best;
It is not what you anticipated—it is cheaper, easier, nearer;
Things are not dismiss’d from the places they held before;
The earth is just as positive and direct as it was before;
Facts, religions, improvements, politics, trades, are as real as before;
But the Soul is also real,—it too is positive and direct;
No reasoning, no proof has establish’d it,
Undeniable growth has establish’d it.
This is a poem—a carol of words—these are hints of meanings,
These are to echo the tones of Souls, and the phrases of Souls;
If they did not echo the phrases of Souls, what were they then?
If they had not reference to you in especial, what were they then?
I swear I will never henceforth have to do with the faith that tells the best!
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the best untold.
Say on, sayers!
Delve! mould! pile the words of the earth!
Work on—(it is materials you must bring, not breaths;)
Work on, age after age! nothing is to be lost;
It may have to wait long, but it will certainly come in use;
When the materials are all prepared, the architects shall appear.
I swear to you the architects shall appear without fail! I announce them and lead them;
I swear to you they will understand you, and justify you;
I swear to you the greatest among them shall be he who best knows you, and encloses all,
faithful to all;
I swear to you, he and the rest shall not forget you—they shall perceive that you are
iota less than they;
I swear to you, you shall be glorified in them.