Tag Archive - Poetry

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

Surface and Symbol

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts-such is the duty of the artist. ~Robert Schumann

When God has difficult truth to convey to David, he sends him a storyteller. Because he knows that stories carry truth to the deepest parts of us. The parts of us that most need healing. When He teaches Moses about worship, it is a multi-sensory affair with incense, gold, cedar, silk, candles, bells. Why? Because he would have us breathe him….stand inside him…know Him viscerally.

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. ~T.S. Eliot

Have you ever encountered a piece of music, a poem, a movie, that troubled you though you knew not why? That rankled your heart, your mind, for days? Or, perhaps, that somehow elevated and ennobled you, though you could not say how? Such is the power of art. Deep calling to deep. Soul to soul. In Ian Cron’s new memoir, he speaks of a literature professor known for his keen analytical abilities. He tells how sometimes this professor would read a passage to the students, close the book, and stand in silent reverie. “Sometimes it is wiser to reverence than to parse.”

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. ~Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke

So much of myself is unknown to me. Like a skilled surgeon, art probes these unknown places, revealing what lies within. It is not always pretty. I do not always want to know. And sometimes, it leads only to more questions. But this is how I grow. This is what frees me from disastrous choices made to appease hungers I do not even know I have.

All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

~Oscar Wilde

An encounter with art is not for the faint of heart. It will always ask something of you. It will, if you let it, teach you about yourself. It will, if you let it, make you more than you are. I challenge you to pick up a classic work of literature, spend an afternoon in an art gallery, read a poem–out loud–letting the words wash over you, treat yourself to an artfully made film or an evening at the symphony. And listen….

Suggested Resources:

The American Film Institute’s Top 100 films– All American films, yes, but not a bad place to start.

Invitation to the Classics
or The Joy of Reading– If your education, like mine, was woefully spare on classic literature, these books will help you know what to read. Invitation to the Classics tells you why the work is significant and gives suggested translations/editions. The Joy of Reading has wonderful synopses and includes a ten-year reading plan.

Though my house is full of art books, I believe nothing compares with standing before the work itself. Include visits to great museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or MOMA in New York, The Smithsonian in Washington, or The Getty in Los Angeles as part of your travels. And frequent your local museums and art galleries, however humble.

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry is a beautiful book to share with young ones you love, and not a bad place to begin yourself if poetry is new to you. My copy of Good Poems, compiled by Garrison Keillor, is dog eared and worn from much love. You can also meet some of my own favorite bards in the post Thoughts That Breathe, Words That Burn.

There is nothing like sitting in a live music venue and letting the music wrap itself around you, pound in your chest and seep into your pores. True, here in Nashville we have more than our fair share of options. But wherever you live, it is there to be found if you search it out. If you live near a city of any size, I’ll be willing to wager your symphony will do something out of doors (and maybe free) this summer. Visit a writer’s night at a local cafe. Save your pennies, and take a road trip if necessary, to hear your favorite legendary rock band or Indy artist do their magic in person.

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

Awe and Inexpressible Innocence…

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The first chirps of the waking birds mark the “point vierge
of the dawn.
under a sky as yet without real light,
a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence,
when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes.
They speak to Him, not with fluent song,
but with an awakening question
that is their dawn state,
their state at the point vierge.

Their condition asks if it is time for them to “be“?
He answers “Yes.”

Then they one by one wake up, and become birds.
They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing.
Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.

Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that
when creation in its innocence asks permission
to “be” once again,
as it did on the first morning that ever was.

All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself
at that blind sweet point.
Man’s wisdom does not succeed,
for we have fallen into self mastery and cannot ask
permission of anyone.
We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose.
We know the time and we dictate the terms.
We know what time it is.

For the birds there is not a time that they tell,
but the virgin point between darkness and light,
Between nonbeing and being.

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us
and we do not understand.
It is wide open. The sword is taken away,
but we do not know it:
we are off “one to his farm and another
to his merchandise.”
Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves
cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static.

“Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.

~Thomas Merton

In Deep Nights

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Thirst

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

~Mary Oliver

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