Archive - Poetry RSS Feed

Before They Leave…

My baby is going to school next year. My fourteen year old. We have come to the end of home-schooling. Which means, I am mostly done choosing the books he reads.

I’m panicking a little.

Because he shared much of his childhood with teenaged siblings, he and I had fewer long lazy days on the porch pouring through wonderful literature. I realize there are still a few books that we have not read that he simply must know…for the wisdom within, for the whimsy, the magic…for the common language it gives us as a family. So I am playing catch up. He has been a good sport as I drag books along on road trips. As we snatch lazy summer afternoons for a little explore. It has been sweet to see him fall in love with the same characters his brother and sister loved so well. And it has been sweet to hear the excitement in the brother’s voice when he gets to hear the story again.

Certainly we have read books over the years that were specific to a given child and his/her interests. But there are a few books I would have all of them experience before they leave home. I thought I would share some of those with you. I implore you to share yours with me. For the grandbabies, you know. 🙂

In no particular order:

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter Each child had favorites, but we read them all. Over and over. For simple eloquence, for the delicious watercolors, for sprinkling every wild rabbit, squirrel, and duck with tiny grains of magic, this one is a must.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh “Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

And there you have it. A cuddly contemplative with the most delightful turns of phrase, friendly adventures, and loyal pals.

The Chronicles of Narnia Magic, Honor, Courage, Grace, Loyalty, Love…all wrapped up in the most marvelous stories. If there had been fifty, we would have joyfully read them all.

The Phantom Tollbooth We just re-read this one on the way to the beach, all of us laughing out loud. Terribly clever, hysterical at times, yet subtly profound.

A Wrinkle in Time I should admit that I have an inordinate fascination with Madeleine L’Engle, her fiction and non-fiction, but truthfully this is one of my son’s favorite books ever. If your brain has gotten dusty; if you live within rigid confines of thinking; this book will blow the dust off and expand your view. And take you on the adventure of a lifetime.

My Side of the Mountain I read this story of a little boy who lives in the Adirondack Mountains for a year, by himself, providing his own shelter, food, and clothing by his cunning and hard work, and I watch my children’s eyes. I know they want to run away and do the same thing. I might want it a bit myself. I commend to you the entire trilogy.

Julie of the Wolves Another book (and series) by the same author, Jean Craighead George. Survival, again. Choices. And an intimate acquaintance with the natural world and with a way of life that is too quickly vanishing from our earth. Fascinating.

Rascal Small town America. A little boy collects a whole menagerie of animals, including one clever, mischievous and much beloved raccoon. A story about love…and about letting go.

Homer Price An automatic doughnut making machine run amok. Pet skunks who foil bank robberies.  A gigantic ball of string that leads to a marriage. Just a sampling of the good clean fun in this charmingly quirky book. (by Robert McCloskey, author of two more of our favorites, Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings)

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths Brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott winners, Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire, this gorgeous book provides a remarkably thorough introduction to the great legends of Ancient Greece.

The Wheel on the School A Dutch fishing village. School children who dare to dream audacious dreams. Learning that sometimes the way to find something is to look everywhere it could not possibly be. A crusade that galvanizes a community. And storks.

The House of Sixty Fathers Set in China during World War II, this is a world of Sampans, rice paddies, houseboats, hunger, fear, and kindness without bounds. (Meindert Dejong, author of this and  The Wheel on the School, is one of those authors we love so, we have checked out everything he wrote from the library. They are all wonderful.)

Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus Rosemary Sutcliff’s enchanting re-tellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey. I bought the gorgeous hardcovers with Alan Lee’s stunning illustrations for each of my children so that they can share them with their own children some day.

Where the Sidewalk Ends
If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer,
A wisher, a liar,
A hoper, a prayer,
A magic bean buyer.
If You’re a pretender,
Come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!

No child should grow up without the whimsical wordplay of Shel Silverstein.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller Art, a mystery, Michelangelo, and two brave kids running away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What could be better?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Fanciful and fun, to be sure. But also deep and difficult. A book to wrestle with. Together.

This is, of course, only a smattering of the books we have read over the years. If you would like to see a few more favorites, click the Bookshelf tab above. Not all the books in any category show up at any one time, but if you click the category title, it will take you to my LibraryThing page where you can see the rest if you like.

Summer Morning

Summer Morning
Charles Simic

I love to stay in bed
All morning,
Covers thrown off, naked,
Eyes closed, listening.

Outside they are opening
Their primers
In the little school
Of the cornfield.

There’s a smell of damp hay,
Of horses, laziness,
Summer sky and eternal life.

I know all the dark places
Where the sun hasn’t reached yet,
Where the last cricket
Has just hushed; anthills
Where it sounds like it’s raining;
Slumbering spiders spinning wedding dresses.

I pass over the farmhouses
Where the little mouths open to suck,
Barnyards where a man, naked to the waist,
Washes his face and shoulders with a hose,
Where the dishes begin to rattle in the kitchen.

The good tree with its voice
Of a mountain stream
Knows my steps.
It, too, hushes.

I stop and listen:
Somewhere close by
A stone cracks a knuckle,
Another turns over in its sleep.

I hear a butterfly stirring
Inside a caterpillar.
I hear the dust talking
Of last night’s storm.

Farther ahead, someone
Even more silent
Passes over the grass
Without bending it.

And all of a sudden
In the midst of the quiet,
It seems possible
To live simply on this earth.

To Paint a Bird

First paint a cage
with an open door
then paint
something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
without speaking
without moving …
Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but he can just as well spend long years
before deciding
Don’t get discouraged
wait
wait years if necessary
the swiftness or slowness of the coming
of the bird having no rapport
with the success of the picture
When the bird comes
if he comes
observe the most profound silence
wait till the bird enters the cage
and when he has entered
gently close the door with a brush
then
paint out all the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the feathers of the bird
Then paint the portrait of the tree
choosing the most beautiful of its branches
for the bird
paint also the green foliage and the wind’s freshness
the dust of the sun
and the noise of insects in the summer heat
and then wait for the bird to decide to sing
If the bird doesn’t sing
it’s a bad sign
a sign that the painting is bad
but if he sings it’s a good sign
a sign that you can sign
so then so gently you pull out
one of the feathers of the bird
and you write your name in a corner of the picture

~Jacques Prevert

I Haiku, Do You?

I was that kid in high school. The one who asked: How many pages? Double or single spaced? One inch margins? I liked knowing my boundaries. Because…inside the safety of those parameters, I could be wildly creative. I still like boundaries. They force me to be succinct. Not my strength. They compel me to choose potent, vibrant language. And even when I choose to flaunt the boundaries, it is purposeful…to achieve force or a desired discombobulation.

Haiku is an ancient Japanese form of poetry favored by Samurai. The original Renaissance men, these formidable warriors also painted, wrote poetry, and tended gardens. Japanese Haiku are usually about nature and adhere to a strict three-line form of 17 on, divided 5, 7, 5. The on has been roughly translated syllable in the English form, though it is more complex than that. English haiku take a great many more liberties, but you can usually expect three lines, with lines 1 and 3 shorter than line 2, and roughly equal to one another in syllables.

During a run last week I was framing a tweet in my head about what appeared to be the waning of the Cicada invasion in Franklin. I suddenly realized it seemed to be framing itself in approximately haiku form. So, I spent the next mile or so eliminating superfluous articles and strengthening vocabulary. It was so much fun that when the local fox crossed my path, I wrote one for her.

I invite you to play with me. Try your hand at haiku. Post yours in the comments, and I will add it to the post. To get you started, I offer here a famous haiku from the old Japanese master Basho. Also, the two mentioned above as well as one I composed on this morning’s run by the sea.

old pond…
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

roar decrescendos
cicada carnage litters
the invasion wanes

fur-clad femme fatale
tiptoes in black stilettos
foxy lady, she

sea of verdigris
white hot shimmers, frothy foam
neath cerulean sky

Your turn. Ready, set, GO!

Thanks, Patsy!

sun-speckled maple
anointed in dawns first light
full of ruffled song

From my cousin’s daughter, Emily (via Facebook)

storms roll into here
lightning strikes all around us
we are scared to death

snow covered mountains
mountains are taller than me
I sink below them

 

Salutation

Salutation

O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.

~Ezra Pound

Only He Who Sees…

Truth, so far, in my book;–the truth which draws
Through all things upwards; that a twofold world
Must go to a perfect cosmos.  Natural things
And spiritual
,–who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
Is wrong, in short, at all points.  We divide
This apple of life, and cut it through the pips,–
The perfect round which fitted Venus’ hand
Has perished utterly as if we ate
Both halves.  Without the spiritual, observe,
The natural’s impossible;–no form,
No motion!  Without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable;–no beauty or power!

And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
(And still the artist is intensely a man)
Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
The spiritual beyond it,–fixes still
The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
With eyes immortal
, to the antetype
Some call the ideal,–better called the real,
And certain to be called so presently,
When things shall have their names.  Look long enough
On any peasant’s face here, coarse and lined.
You’ll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,
As perfect-featured as he yearns at Rome
From marble pale with beauty; then persist,
And, if your apprehension’s competent,
You’ll find some fairer angel at his back,
As much exceeding him, as he the boor,
And pushing him with empyreal disdain
For ever out of sight.  Ay, Carrington
Is glad of such a creed! an artist must,
Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone
With just his hand, and finds it suddenly
A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.
Why else do these things move him, leaf or stone?
The bird’s not moved, that pecks at a spring-shoot;
Nor yet the horse, before a quarry, a-graze:
But man, the two-fold creature, apprehends
The two-fold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him.
A mere itself,–cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And build up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God.  ‘There’s nothing great
Nor small,’ has said a poet of our day,
(Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell)
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct.  Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes
,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnet 86 from “Aurora Leigh”

Theme and Variations…

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it ware ten thousand mile.

~Robert Burns

I sometimes wonder who that first poet was who, compelled by heart pangs of delicious agony, rested upon the rose as symbol. Symbol for the inscrutable, the mystical, the delirium and fascination…of love. Fragile, complex, fragrant, sweet, dangerous; roses have an ineffable quality that makes them seem like spill-over from a world beyond.

Mine have held me spellbound all week. Joshua and I have cut arm-fulls to bring inside. I can’t walk across the porch without stopping to inhale their scent. I have taken dozens of photographs. The delicate, almost translucent petals, when seen against the sunlight display whole prisms of color. The intensity of their beauty is so precise, so sharp, it pains me. Glorious pain! I can’t stop looking at them.

As I find myself carving moments out of my day to simply sit and ponder them…completely captivated by their extraordinary loveliness…my heart beats with that poet. The one who, completely at a loss for words, said to himself, “I will lead them into the rose garden. I will show them this. Then they will know…”

*Unlike Robert Burns’ Scotland, here in the southern U.S. our “newly sprung” roses enjoy their first flush in May, not June. All roses in the post are David Austin English Roses, a delightful combination of old rose form and fragrance with hardiness and liberal re-bloom.  Of the seven varieties I grow, five are featured. Top of the post: L.D. Braithwaite, Numbers 2 and 7: Mary Magdalene, 3, 5 and 8: Lillian Austin, 4: Mortimer Sackler, 5: Othello

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, not seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Leap incandescent

Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel.
For that rare, random descent.

~Sylvia Plath

The Raggedy Man

My mom recited this poem to us from memory when I was a little girl. How I wish you could hear it in her voice! It must be read aloud. It really doesn’t make sense otherwise. Go ahead. I double dog dare you. Render it in the wide-eyed whisper of a little boy. Flavor it with an admiration and wonderment closely akin to worship. Not every Achilles is clad in gold.

The Raggedy Man

O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;
An’ he’s the goodest man ever you saw!
He comes to our house every day,
An’ waters the horses, an’ feeds ’em hay;
An’ he opens the shed — an’ we all ist laugh
When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;
An’ nen — ef our hired girl says he can —
He milks the cow fer ‘Lizabuth Ann. —
Ain’t he a’ awful good Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

W’y, The Raggedy Man — he’s ist so good,
He splits the kindlin’ an’ chops the wood;
An’ nen he spades in our garden, too,
An’ does most things ‘at boys can’t do. —
He clumbed clean up in our big tree
An’ shooked a’ apple down fer me —
An’ ‘nother ‘n’, too, fer ‘Lizabuth Ann —
An’ ‘nother ‘n’, too, fer The Raggedy Man. —
Ain’t he a’ awful kind Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An’ The Raggedy Man, he knows most rhymes,
An’ tells ’em, ef I be good, sometimes:
Knows ’bout Giunts, an’ Griffuns, an’ Elves,
An’ the Squidgicum-Squees ‘at swallers the’rselves:
An’, wite by the pump in our pasture-lot,
He showed me the hole ‘at the Wunks is got,
‘At lives ‘way deep in the ground, an’ can
Turn into me, er ‘Lizabuth Ann!
Er Ma, er Pa, er The Raggedy Man!
Ain’t he a funny old Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

The Raggedy Man — one time, when he
Wuz makin’ a little bow-‘n’-orry fer me,
Says “When you’re big like your Pa is,
Air you go’ to keep a fine store like his —
An’ be a rich merchunt — an’ wear fine clothes? —
Er what air you go’ to be, goodness knows?”
An’ nen he laughed at ‘Lizabuth Ann,
An’ I says “‘M go’ to be a Raggedy Man! —
I’m ist go’ to be a nice Raggedy Man!”
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

*I have only included the stanzas I remember. You can see the whole of the poem HERE if you like.

Thoughts That Breathe, Words That Burn

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep. ~Salman Rushdie

My mother fed me poetry as a little girl. I vividly recall the illustrations of The Sugarplum Tree, The Purple Cow, and The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat. There were some she recited by heart. These were my favorites. Especially The Raggedy Man. I hear it even now in her voice. She opened a space in me for words that sing. Words with rhythm. Words that conjure vivid images. Words that capture longing.

As I have grown older, I have found poetry to be nourishing, healing, troubling, provocative, stimulating, and delightful in turns. Charles Baudelaire contended that a healthy man might go several days without food, but not without poetry. I rather think he might be right. In honor of National Poetry Month, I will be sharing, in the coming days, favorite poems. Today, I would like to introduce you to a few much beloved poetic voices. I invite you, yay verily I implore you, to share your favorites with me.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. ~Robert Frost

I have only come to know the work of Mary Oliver over the past year. My, what a gift she has been to me! Her keen observations of the world around her and her fascination with all things living are a delight. And her raw explorations of the inner world have caused me to feel less alone…more understood.

Poetry… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance. ~John Keats

When I read the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, I sometimes feel like he has been inside my head, inside my heart. Unspoken anguishes, cries, longings in me find a voice in his words. Some have become prayer for me.

Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own. ~Salvatore Quasimodo

Thomas Merton wrote a number of poems. But his was such a poetic soul that even his prose often sings like poetry. His chasing after God, his desire to be wholly devoted, and his frustration with his failings all resonate with me. It is my own story. He too is a lover of God’s glorious creation. His evocative descriptions carry me into the scene. I hear the drops of water, I feel the breeze, I smell the sea.

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau

Billy Collins writes poems that are whimsical and engaging. He writes about the most ordinary things, but he looks at them askance. And I see them as if for the first time. And sometimes, just when I think I am simply having a rollicking good time, he plants a bit of truth inside me that I was not expecting.

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. ~Plato

The first Taylor Mali poem I encountered was a piece called “What Teachers Make”. It was enough. I became a devoted fan. Mali is a lover of language, and he wields it like a rapier. He will make you laugh. He might make you uncomfortable. He will definitely make you THINK. Mali is writing a poem a day for the month of April. You can read them here. You simply must visit his Youtube channel and allow him to deliver his poetry to you in his own voice. It is a remarkable experience.

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman. ~Wallace Stevens

For John Keats, beauty and truth are indistinguishable. His words pierce me with their loveliness and yearning, and make me glad of the wound. If you are also a lover of Keats, you might enjoy the artful film, Bright Star, which treats of his enigmatic relationship with Fanny Brawn.
A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. ~W. H. Auden
The phrase “word play” takes on new meaning when you read the works of Shel Silverstein. My children and I have spent many delightful hours with his poetry. It is at once whimsical, ironic, and just when you least expect it, poignant. I especially commend to you The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup. ~Wendell Berry
Perhaps it is Wendell Berry‘s southern sensibilities that appeal to me. He sings of the agrarian culture I grew up in with much the same sense of wonder in which I perceived it myself. The images he conjures up might seem romanticized, unless you have known cool southern nights with dew on the grass or warm, freshly tilled earth. Then you know that no words will ever be romantic enough.
Poetry is thoughts that breathe and words that burn. ~Thomas Gray

Page 3 of4«1234»