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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 30, 2011 7:08 pm

The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt by Nicola Shulman - review

Was Thomas Wyatt in love with Anne Boleyn?

Charles Nicholl The Guardian, Saturday 23 April 2011

Engraving of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Photograph: Bridgeman Art Library

Thomas Wyatt was the finest poet at the court of Henry VIII, but this has not always earned him much respect. The early 16th century is generally accounted one of the lowlands of English literature, a period of mediocrity between the pinnacles of Chaucer and Shakespeare. CS Lewis dubbed it the "Drab Age" and said of Wyatt: "When he is bad he is flat or even null, and when he is good he is hardly one of the irresistible poets." Today his reputation is much higher: we have been alerted to subtleties of mood and meaning beneath his brusque-seeming style, and Nicola Shulman's trenchant new study takes us further down this line, delving with gusto into the political background of the poems and finding in them "secretive messages" which could not have been expressed openly.

Graven with Diamonds by Nicola Shulman

Wyatt was pre-eminently a court poet, writing for a private audience. None of his poems was published in his lifetime – they survived in manuscript collections, one of which (Egerton MS 2711 in the British Library) contains more than 100 lyrics, mostly in his own hand, and some extensively reworked on the page. They are of interest to literary history for their pioneering use of continental forms, particularly the Petrarchan sonnet; but for Shulman they are mostly of interest as a veiled but intimate account of life inside the claustrophobic court of Henry VIII, with its fretful young men and women "fettered with chains of gold", its jockeying for power and prestige, and those sudden and often fatal reversals of political fortune which are hinted at in the opening lines of Wyatt's most famous poem: "They flee from me that sometime did me seek / With naked foot, stalking in my chamber."

Charismatic, charming and clever, Wyatt was always destined for the court. He was born in 1503, at the family seat of Allington Castle in Kent, though the family was of Yorkshire origin, which may be discernible in the unfussy bluntness of his lyrics, their indifference to "the delicacy of saying / And the picked delight of speech". His father, Sir Henry, held political office under Henry VII, a reward for his steadfast support in pre-Tudor years – the family crest proudly featured a "barnacle", an instrument of torture allegedly used on him in the dark days of the Yorkist monarchy. At the age of 13 the young Wyatt could be spotted in the royal entourage at the christening of Princess Mary. Already there is a dark political irony in this, as the baby princess would become "Bloody" Mary, and among the victims of her reign would be Wyatt's son, beheaded for his allegiance to Lady Jane Grey. At 17 Wyatt married Elizabeth Brooke, daughter of Lord Cobham, a classic dynastic match with another powerful Kentish clan, though not apparently a personal success. The couple were soon estranged. Wyatt later lived openly with his mistress, Bess Darrell, with whom he had an illegitimate child. His more notorious liaison with Anne Boleyn is controversial – a cat's cradle of claim and counterclaim – and is one of the key topics of Shulman's book.

By the mid-1520s Wyatt was one of Henry's "Esquires of the Body" – part servant, part playmate, part bodyguard – and a keen participant in the Henrician craze for chivalric games and tourneys, as well as the endless round of amorous banter and titillation which went under the guise of "courtly love". As Shulman shows, this was the breeding ground of the Wyatt lyric – a handwritten poem which "started life on a single folded piece of paper tucked purposefully into Wyatt's doublet, so it could be passed slyly to a friend as he was waiting in a crowded presence chamber, or left somewhere where a girl would find it. It might make its public debut on the programme of pastime amusements for the inner court. But it could also be borrowed, circulated and copied, quoted in part or whole, a line or two murmured into someone's ear while dancing or gambling."

At the centre of this nexus of romance and gossip was the dangerously appealing figure of Anne Boleyn. Beautiful, sharp-witted and no less sharp-tongued, she was 17 when she arrived at court in 1521, after two years soaking up the modish graces and affectations of the French court. She immediately caught the eye of Henry, though it would be 12 years before they were secretly married – the inconveniences of a royal divorce, and its epoch-making repercussions across Europe, accounting for this delay. The extent of Wyatt's intimacy with Anne remains uncertain. According to contemporary sources, when he learned of the king's intention to marry her, Wyatt confessed that he had been her lover. When her star fell in 1536, he was imprisoned in the Tower, though he was never formally accused – as others were – of sexual relations with her. In a powerful poem, discovered by Kenneth Muir in Dublin in 1959, Wyatt records his feelings in prison – "These bloody days have broken my heart" – and perhaps his witnessing of Anne's execution from an upstairs window of the Bell Tower, where he was held: "The bell tower showed me such a sight / That in my head sticks day and night. / There did I learn out of a grate, / For all favour, glory or might, / That yet circa regna tonat [around the throne it thunders]."

An earlier poem about Anne is a sonnet cast in the familiar guise of a hunting metaphor: "Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind, / But as for me, hélas, I may no more." It is not hard to see the weary hunter as the warned-off lover of Anne, and the last lines tend to confirm this:

And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold though I seem tame.

Also piquant is a palindromic riddle in the Egerton MS: "What word is that that changeth not / Though it be turned and made in twain?" The answer to this, he says, is "the causer of my pain". The title of the poem has been added by another hand, "Anna". Such poetic hints are not enough to resolve the perennial prurient question, but for Shulman they suggest that their relationship was "much warmer and more dangerous to Wyatt than the courtly exchange of trinkets".

Wyatt was also a seasoned diplomat. On his first mission, to France in 1526, he was praised as a young man with "much wit to mark and remember everything". The following year he was in Italy, where he was captured and ransomed by imperial troops near Ferrara. His later missions were thankless tasks, negotiating implausible rapprochements with the pope and Emperor Charles V (who happened, inconveniently, to be Catherine of Aragon's nephew). Some of his work might justify the word "spy" in Shulman's subtitle, though "assassin" is surely over-egging it. The elimination of the troublesome Catholic exile Reginald Pole was an idea cooked up by Wyatt and others in 1539; some ciphered letters remain, and some loose talk about the efficacy of quick-acting "Spanish poison", but it was more of a notional chess move than a genuine plot and nothing came of it. Ironically, during a second spell of imprisonment in 1540, Wyatt was accused of treasonable contact with Pole.

Wyatt was a survivor, at least in the sense that he escaped the axe. He died of a fever, at the age of 39, returning from a routine diplomatic meeting in Falmouth. In a letter to his son written in 1537, he looked back on a life of vicissitude; "a thousand dangers and hazards, enmities, hatreds, prisonments, despites and indignations". Around the same time he was sketched by Holbein, the only contemporary likeness of him, very Tudor with his cocked hat and beard, a burly, balding man, and not a little jaundiced in his look. Shulman is not the first to find hidden meanings in his poems (she acknowledges the influence of the Wyatt scholar Susan Brigdon). This lively and sensitive exploration shows us the immense toughness of the poet, writing constantly in a climate of political danger, and anatomising so precisely the "brackish joys" of courtly life.

Charles Nicholl's The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street is published by Penguin.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
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Re: poetry thread

Post  Guest on Sun May 01, 2011 2:00 pm

guacamayo wrote:El mar. La mar.
El mar. ¡Sólo la mar!

¿Por qué me trajiste, padre,
a la ciudad?

¿Por qué me desenterraste
del mar?

En sueños, la marejada
me tira del corazon.
Se lo quisiera llevar.

Padre, ¿por qué me trajiste

The sea. The sea.
The sea. Only the sea!

Why did you bring me, father,
to the city?

Why did you uproot me
from the sea?

In dreams, the rip tide
pulls at my heart.
It wants to take it back.

Father, why did you bring me

Rafael Alberti.
From Sailor on Land (Marinero en tierra)

This is beautiful guacamayo... Very Happy


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Re: poetry thread

Post  sil on Sun May 01, 2011 5:48 pm

It is a very famous poem here but I thought maybe people outside Spain don't know it
Glad to see you back!

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Re: poetry thread

Post  Doc Watson on Mon May 02, 2011 10:45 am

If I were a refugee
what a nice one I would be;
Noot in need of gilding.
My traumas would be character building.

The wars that overturned my life,
Atrocities and endless strife
And persecution hateful,
Would have taught me to be grateful.

I'd have no breaking point at all.
Lock me up against a wall
And I would sit and wait
And smile and say "no worries mate".
Written by Leunig
Doc Watson
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Re: poetry thread

Post  ISN on Wed May 04, 2011 12:58 am

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps

Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked

Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,

—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet

The company below, then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence

Is ample warrant that no just pretence

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;

Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed

At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

That's a gorgeous poem that makes my pulse race.....

I know it's self-indulgent and narcissistic of me to write my little anecdotes Embarassed

but once I was going on the bus to work as a lifeguard for a pool just outside Madrid (there was a new law where every communal pool had to have a lifeguard)

I asked the bus driver to let me off at the Duke of such and such (can't remember the name of his Duchy) - it was a residential compound named after the Duke of the area......

I got off at the stop and the driver told me to walk down the driveway.....

as I was walking down the tree-lined driveway - bunnies......hehehehe Wink

were jumping and frolicking in the fields on either side of the driveway

I got to the door of the house and knocked

a man opened the door with aristocratic bearing and I saw the portrait of the Duchess on the wall behind him......(hence the relevance)

it turned out he was the real Duke and there was some confusion whether I had been sent to oversee his tiny swimming pool

he realised it was the communal pool in the housing compound that bore his name

he drove me there in his land rover and told me that he'd been educated in England which is why he had such perfect English......

I spent the rest of the day with the noisy yahoos in teh swimming pool and quit the next day......

SJ is there any space button - it seems to be double space right now scratch

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Re: poetry thread

Post  ISN on Wed May 04, 2011 1:38 am

can't get the staff Rolling Eyes

s'ok.....nothing to worry about

I love your sig.......
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Re: poetry thread

Post  ISN on Wed May 04, 2011 1:51 am

it is rather nice.....hehehe

in fact it's sublime......

please keep it up for as long as possible Wink
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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Sun May 15, 2011 6:25 pm

Being Human, edited by Neil Astley – review

This rich and rewarding anthology seems to celebrate the act of noticing

Sarah Crown The Guardian, Saturday 14 May 2011

Photograph by Al Behrman/AP

On 1 January 2000, Arts Council England ushered in the new millennium in rare style with the publication of Rhyme and Reason, a report into the contemporary poetry market. Despite the promisingly frisky title, the report delivered a series of broadly unexceptional conclusions, and would likely have sunk without a ripple had not Neil Astley, editor of independent poetry imprint Bloodaxe Books, happened to read it.

Being Human by Neil Astley

Buried within it were a handful of paragraphs on how modern poetry was viewed by the general public. They made for gloomy reading: "obscure, elitist, difficult, dull, old-fashioned, silly, superficial, pretentious . . . irrelevant and incomprehensible," Astley says, "were just a few of their epithets". To his credit, rather than simply tutting and turning the page, he decided instead to show the public what it was missing.

Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, Astley's anthology of the best modern poetry had to offer, hit the shelves in 2002. Up until that point, the only poetry books that sold in great numbers were nation's-favourite type volumes replete with crowdpleasers (Kipling's "If", Auden's "Funeral Blues") and classroom favourites. Staying Alive, by contrast, was unashamedly contemporary (nothing pre-20th century), and magnificently eclectic. The forgotten and neglected sparkled beside the never-before-seen; well-known poems, where they appeared, were modified and refreshed by their juxtaposition with obscurer verses. To date, the book has sold more than 200,000 copies; its 2004 follow-up, Being Alive, is closing in on 40,000. Being Human, the last in the trilogy, looks set to repeat the performance.

The anthologies' remarkable success is due in large part to the fact that Astley has turned out to be one of the most sensitive and thoughtful curators in the business. He employs the old anthology trick of slicing his books into loosely themed segments ("Living in hope", "Body and soul") but then refines it, arranging the poems in each segment in order to bring out their interconnections and braiding them into urgent, intriguing conversations. A vague-sounding section on "The stuff of life", for example, begins with the stirring call-and-response of Michael Blumenthal's earnest "What I Believe" and "What Do I Really Believe?", Selima Hill's arch reply, before developing unexpectedly into a run of poems on tables ("Table", "Table Laid", "The great tablecloth"), which in turn ripens into a series of verses on bread. Intertwined with the thematic conversations, meanwhile, are linguistic ones. Phrases chime across the poems: when the "burlap sack" in which "two piglets . . . rummaged" in Galway Kinnell's "The Road Between Here and There" re-emerges a few pages later in a Jane Hirshfield poem, in which "A person is full of sorrow / the way a burlap sack is full of stones and sand", sympathetic echoes ring back and forth.

As rich and rewarding as these anthologies are in their own right, Astley also intended them as primers: jumping-off points into contemporary poetry's wide, dark seas. This function is foregrounded in Being Human, in which poetry in translation, a central pillar of each of the books, is given still greater prominence (several of the poems that appear in translation here are being published in English for the first time). Alongside works by Pablo Neruda and Ko Un are poems drawn from Estonian, Hebrew, Catalan, Swedish (Eeva-Liisa Manner's shivery "The trees are bare. . ." in which "Autumn / leads its fog-horses to the river"), all of them unknown, all demanding further investigation. Most arresting of all, for me, were the five spare, piercing poems dictated by the Romanian Marin Sorescu to his wife from his sickbed, documenting the weeks leading up to "the hour" of his death. The reflective dignity with which he chronicles the last available scraps of life – "pure pain, / Essence of scream and despair", "A spider's thread, / Hangs from the ceiling / Directly over my bed" – speaks to his humanity (and plucks at ours) as much as it does to his daunting poetic skill.

That reflectiveness highlights another difference between Being Human and its predecessors. Where Staying Alive and Being Alive were filled with poems that felt exigent, essential (even, in the case of Mary Oliver's subsequently much-quoted "Wild Geese", talismanic), the atmosphere of Being Human, as its title suggests, is more contemplative. Time – its passage and our relationship to it – is the overarching subject, and the section that tackles it specifically, "About time", sits at the heart of the book. Trains and rivers wind their way through the poems, memory is interrogated, and the moments of suspension in which, as Louis MacNeice has it, "Time was away and somewhere else", are rejoiced in.

One of the finest poems in the section is an untitled offering from the Estonian Jaan Kaplinski. It begins with a clipped, airless lament for time's lack ("The washing never gets done. / The furnace never gets heated. / Books never get read. / Life is never completed."), but as it continues the lines relax and spread into a celebration of the infinity contained within each passing moment. "The wonder", he marvels, "is that beside all this one can notice / the spring which is so full of everything / continuing in all directions – into evening clouds, / into the redwing's song and into every / drop of dew on every blade of grass in the meadow, / as far as the eye can see, into the dusk."

That act of noticing is what poetry ought to do, and what many of the superb poems in this anthology achieve. Let's hear it for modern verse.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
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Re: poetry thread

Post  Doc Watson on Mon May 16, 2011 12:46 am

A friend of mine Ken Rookes a part time poet is doing what many of us have urged him to doi for years.
Publishing a book of his own poems . It is self published so it is costing him heaps.
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Re: poetry thread

Post  Doc Watson on Mon May 16, 2011 10:27 am

Strawberry Jam wrote:Vanity, sweet vanity... Which of his friends runs the vanity press?
None of his friends that is why it is costing him a lot of money.
He is doing it because many people have seen his poems on his website and in other places and have been suggesting he do it for many years.
Many people try to self publish at considerable cost to them selves . As a bookshop owner I was offered many of these books , some are very good , some are rubbish , most are inbetween. Often it is hard for people to get their works accepted by main stream publishers .
One of Australia's most popular authors had his first book rejected . He took a gamble , and had it self published . He promoted it a Sydney bookstore and it came to the notice of Macmillan who published his subsequent books and eventually even distributed his first book which had been rejected by them.

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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Tue May 17, 2011 6:13 am

Poem of the week: Sonnets 118 and 119 by Shakespeare

A look at two of the less familiar sonnets shows the poet in something of a Metaphysical mood

'Distilled from limbecks foul ... ' Detail from The Alchymist by Joseph Wright of Derby. Photograph: The Gallery Collection/Corbis

Last week, we discussed the paired sonnets constituting Edmund Bolton's brilliant study in recantation, "A Palinode". The discussion veered at times into those jungles that surround the Elizabethan rose-garden. Could Shakespeare have written the Bolton? Was Boulton a metaphysical poet avant la lettre? Did John Donne and Bolton ever swap poem drafts? When does Elizabethan poetry end and Metaphysical poetry begin?

The discussion proved a fine excuse, if any were needed, to feature a Shakespeare sonnet this week. Posters nominated various favourites: 121, 142, 119, 85, 73, 116, 97, 98, 104, 110. Thanks @ Anytimefrances, JingleheimerFinn, deadgod and Parisa for some fine suggestions. All the sonnets are here:

The sonnet I finally picked was the relatively unfamiliar No 119, one of the three suggested by Anytimefrances, who also advocated featuring two poems by different poets. Although initially I felt that one sonnet by the bard would be ample food for thought, I noticed that sonnet 119 developed themes from 118, and I decided it would be interesting to indulge in two after all.

Shakespeare is thought to have written the sonnets between 1595-99.We don't know their exact order of composition; the usual sequence in which they're printed was not necessarily Shakespeare's. However, 118 and 119 certainly seem a natural pair.

Love as a form of sickness is a favourite trope of courtly love. But Shakespeare in 118 conjures flights of new metaphors and psychological subtleties from the stereotype. The process his sonnet describes is a common one: lovers, bored or in search of extra kicks, challenge the "ne'er-cloying sweetness" of a perfectly good relationship by anticipating "ills that were not", and generally behaving badly. The speaker takes a sanguine view, comparing the self-induced quarrels and infidelities to the purgatives and emetics that promote sickness only to restore health. The analogy is deftly sustained, but then recanted in the fine epigrammatic stroke of the couplet: "But thence I learn and find the lesson true,// Drugs poison him that fell so sick of you". "Him that fell so sick of you" alludes to the speaker, clearly, but is "to fall sick of" someone to fall desperately in love with them, or to become bored with them, "sick of" them, in the modern idiom? I favour the first interpretation, which makes more sense, then, of the moral (lurking all along) – that the love was a state of perfect health, and those metaphorical drugs intended to ginger up the love affair were not cures at all, but poisons.

Shakespeare begins the sonnet with an extended comparison, grammatically similar to that of Bolton's first sonnet. But I still think Bolton's is a very different poem – a cooler and more objective performance altogether.

Sonnet 119 is different in tone again. The speaker seems to admit he has been unfaithful. He thought it was fun at the time ("still losing when I saw myself to win") but he realises now he has been seduced, and self-deceived.

This sonnet has a confessional urgency about it. The tone of the rhetorical question of line seven seems aghast: "How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted?" The verb "fitted" suggests more than "fixed": it reminds us of fits of madness and, for the modern reader, it reverberates with sounds of carpentry and engineering (a horrible thought when connected to vulnerable eyes). In looking elsewhere, the eyes have been displaced. Medicine so extreme is not curative. The limbeck (limbeck being an informal term for alembic, the vessel used by the alchemists for purposes of distillation) is a cauldron not of magical transformation but of corruption.

But, again, Shakespeare pulls in the central idea of 118: that good can come out of wrongdoing. "O benefit of ill!" he exclaims, as if to convince himself. And he pursues his earlier case with vigour, if not a great deal of verbal invention: "…ruined love, when it is built anew/ Grows fairer …" Still the tone seems anxiously assertive, and the technique is less playfully confident than in the previous sonnet. The metaphorical shift – from medicine and alchemy to building – suggests the drive to evoke solidity. The relationship, wilfully ravaged, has had to be rebuilt.

Sonnet 120 will continue the theme, with, this time, the focus on the speaker as the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of betrayal. These are among the less-anthologised, less loved and praised of the sonnets, but one of the reasons they are interesting is that they seem embedded in a dialogue (though we hear only half of it, of course). No love-poem is entirely monologic, perhaps, but some emerge from a resolved and autonomous psychological state. Others are part of a process of exchange with the beloved: they are unresolved, a little raw.

These sonnets remind me of Shakespeare the dramatist. There's a vocal quality to 119 in particular. As for 118, it demonstrates that Shakespeare was adept at the metaphorical flights which were later to be dubbed "metaphysical". Poetic movements do not have clear "start" or "sell-by" dates printed on them. They are often identified retrospectively. It was Samuel Johnson who first used the term Metaphysical, intending to disparage an unnecessary display of learning. In Johnson's sense, Shakespeare hardly qualifies as Metaphysical at all: the learning that provides such a stunning array of vehicles for his metaphors is always a means rather than an end.


Like as, to make our appetite more keen,
With eager compounds we our palate urge;
As, to prevent our maladies unseen,
We sicken to shun sickness when we purge;
Even so, being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding,
And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
To be diseased, ere that there was true needing.
Thus policy in love, t'anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assur'd,
And brought to medicine a healthful state
Which rank of goodness would by ill be cured;
  But thence I learn and find the lesson true,
  Drugs poison him that fell so sick of you.


What potions have I drunk of Siren tears
Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win?
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
While it hath thought itself so blessed never?
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted,
In the distraction of this madding fever?
O benefit of ill! Now I find true
That better is by evil still made better;
And ruined love, when it is built anew,
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater:
  So I return rebuked to my content,
  And gain by ill thrice more than I have spent.

Posted by Carol Rumens Monday 16 May 2011 11.44 BST guardian.co.uk

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
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Re: poetry thread

Post  Doc Watson on Mon May 23, 2011 11:33 am

When love has been neglected
It can only be expected
That in the space love used to fill
A nasty terror cell then will
Take form and soon take hold;
A fearful little mould.

So if you have the wish
Take your Petri dish
And cultivate a cell of love
And by the moon and stars above,In reverence and in duty.
Nourish it with beauty.

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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Tue May 24, 2011 11:51 pm

Poetry puzzles

Who is Ozymandias? Why is Coleridge's Lime-Tree Bower his prison? And what is the proper spelling of The Waste Land? The solving of a poem's puzzles is one poetry's greatest pleasures

John Fuller The Guardian, Saturday 21 May 2011

'Poetry itself requires thinking'

In the late 1990s the indefatigable John Sutherland produced a series of entertaining books about puzzles in fiction (Why is Frankenstein's monster yellow? Where does Fanny Hill keep her contraceptives? Who gets what in Heathcliff's will?). The books were initially linked to reissues of novels in the Oxford World's Classics series, and I was struck at the time how beautifully these little inquisitions of Sutherland's, often on apparently absurd or marginal issues in the text, got readers reading again, with attention and interest. What Sutherland was doing, in effect, was smuggling serious literary criticism into an apparently superficial form of writing. Perhaps, in a sense, he was even re-inventing literary criticism. In this era of academic theorising and the downsizing of many of the broadsheet books pages it seemed a noble move. Could the same be done for poetry?

Who Is Ozymandias?: And other Puzzles in Poetry by John Fuller

Poetry is a different case. While a healthy readership for classic and modern fiction has never been wholly lost, readers of poetry have in the last century dropped away like plague victims. There are occasionally revivals that don't seem to matter very much (stand-up poetry, perhaps) and there are still living reputations convalescing upon the history of being an A-level text (though poetry seems to have only a precarious foothold in many schools: I was told recently that there are now undergraduates in Oxford who have never heard of Ted Hughes). There are continuing heroic efforts by small publishers. But the recent defunding of the Poetry Book Society shows what the authorities really think of poetry. They don't seem to think much of it.

And one of the reasons for this is that poetry itself requires thinking. Some of its greatest effects rely on teasing and puzzling the reader. I wanted to get readers interested in some of these fundamentals. How do we know what the poem is about? How do we know what the poet is about? Poetry has designs on us, and it has a design of its own. We have to see the pattern in the carpet.

In our era, deliberate puzzling is a commonplace, almost an obsession. "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles," said James Joyce about his monstrous poetic dream-novel Finnegans Wake, "that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of ensuring one's immortality." Readers can get irritated with both the author and his attendant professors. At one extreme we sometimes wonder how we are meant to know if it means anything at all.

Much of the difficulty of what is still peculiarly called "modern poetry" can be put down to laziness, habit or pretentiousness (wanting to be another Joyce, especially). I needed to get to the root of simple puzzles in famous poems that would generally illuminate the process of reading. The way that we read poetry may be problematical, but it should always be pleasurable. And as Mallarmé put it, three-quarters of the enjoyment of poetry lies in discovering, little by little, what it means. You can throw some light on mere obscurity, but somehow you don't end up feeling enlightened.

I wanted answers to such basic puzzles about the subject as these: who is the "Emperor of Ice-Cream"? (Wallace Stevens was often pestered for clues about this poem, not least by the US Amalgamated Ice Cream Association, but he never admitted that it is something to do with Shakespeare and worms. Who is Ozymandias? Yes, Rameses II, but who was he really to Shelley?). Who is Crazy Jane? (This was not Yeats's first name for her: there is an interesting story here.) Sometimes the answer seems obvious. Tennyson's Mariana, for example, is a character in Shakespeare. But what happens when we try to read too much of her original role in a Renaissance play into her depressed Victorian monologue? There is a puzzle here, too.

The most condensed lyrics can have stories. We naturally look for them, but we have to work things out. Take Browning's "Meeting at Night", a poem which delights in concealing the story:

The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

If you think there is no puzzle here, then ask what happens next? The encounter is clearly furtive. It is impossible not to feel that, like the waves, a woman is going to be startled from her sleep. Startled, moreover, not with reluctance but with a passionate response ("fiery") that is somehow conditioned by the light of the baleful moon reflected in the ringletted waves that represent her. A different sort of anticipation (definitely the speaker's this time) is suggested by the tactile, even sexual description of the boat's arrival ("pushing", "quench", "slushy").

In the second stanza, the matter-of-fact details seem designed to convey a different aspect of this story. A mile of beach and then three fields to the farm? Why therefore come by boat? Surely there must be a direct road to the farm? The tap at the window and the spurt of the match are both signals of the secrecy that must be maintained by making the least noise. Why is this? Why are the lovers conscious of the loudness of their beating hearts (louder than a whisper)? These puzzles are momentary. We realise that the love-making ("joys") can't take place here because of the possibility of discovery ("fears") and that therefore some kind of elopement is taking place. We can imagine the couple retracing the three fields and the mile of beach. Is it likely that after such a journey he will do so alone?

Of course, he might very well be alone. He might be making this journey every night, for all we know, and if so, it would be evidence of an heroic commitment to a forbidden or illicit amour (not unlike Browning himself insistently attendant on Elizabeth at Wimpole Street). If you choose that explanation you are perfectly entitled to do so. But my point is that the poem requires us to be alive to all these speculations: we speculate in order to resolve momentary puzzles.

Poems can also have their eyes on an idea while knowing that they must entertain us with "story". A good example of how we read a puzzling story when it turns out to be a symbolised abstraction (the subject deliberately withheld) is Stevens's "The Plot Against the Giant":

First Girl
When this yokel comes maundering,
Whetting his hacker,
I shall run before him,
Diffusing the civilest odors
Out of geraniums and unsmelled flowers.
It will check him.

Second Girl
I shall run before him,
Arching cloths besprinkled with colors
As small as fish-eggs.
The threads
Will abash him.

Third Girl
Oh, la . . . le pauvre!
I shall run before him,
With a curious puffing.
He will bend his ear then.
I shall whisper
Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals.
It will undo him.

With as much story as this, based on motifs from folk-tales, we are close to allegory. But allegory (where Spenser's Red Cross Knight is the Anglican church, Una is the true religion and her protecting lion is England, and so on) is usually a quite deliberate performance that asks to be decoded. Stevens's giant is an unarguable familiarity, a constant in all human existence. His version of Death as a clumsy murderous peasant somehow to be "checked", "abashed" and finally "undone" by Beauty is so brief and powerfully dramatic, that we barely reflect on the outrageous claims it makes, or the curiously elitist presentation of that familiar triad Nature, Art and Poetry.

This elitism, constituted of an extreme fastidiousness and refinement of taste ("civilest", "unsmelled flowers", "besprinkled with colors") and a dash of salon patronising ("le pauvre!"), doesn't seem likely to us to have any effect whatsoever on the whetted hacker of Death. Indeed, once we have solved the primary riddle-like puzzle of identifying the giant, this ineffectiveness becomes the core of the secondary puzzle: what is Stevens really saying about the power of the aesthetic faculty?

We sense an irony in the Lilliputian heroism of the three girls. Take the phrase "arching cloths besprinkled with colors". It's an odd way to describe a painter's canvas. It's much more like the way you would describe the preparation of a cloth sprinkled with chloroform in an attempt to "anaesthetise" the giant, a hopeless prospect given his size and the fact that she is running ahead of him. It is in fact knowingly hopeless: "arching" is itself arch. There is irony, too, in the final postulated triumph, since in the human language of poetry gutturals (sounds produced in the throat) must obviously be employed as well as labials (sounds produced by the lips). The evident truth of this preference for labials has, incidentally, recently been concisely explained by David Crystal in this newspaper: "You're in a spaceship approaching a planet. You've been told there are two races on it, one beautiful and friendly to humans, the other unfriendly, ugly and mean-spirited. You also know that one of these groups is called the Lamonians; the other is called the Grataks. Which is which? Most people assume that the Lamonians are the nice guys. It's all a matter of sound symbolism."

Stevens's Giant is obviously a Gratak, but this isn't the end of the story. Just as poetry must use worldly gutturals as well as "heavenly" labials, so our sense of the value of human life must also encompass the fact of death. Elsewhere, Stevens unequivocally attributes our sense of beauty precisely to the fact of mortality – "Death is the mother of beauty". And the girls run before him not only because he is in murderous pursuit, but because they could not be aesthetes at all without the sense that death will inevitably catch up with them. In Stevens's philosophy the giant is not only whetting his hacker; he is whetting our transient appreciation of beauty.

The point of all this will dawn upon us sooner or later, but sometimes the most alert and interested readers of poetry simply don't notice the obvious, even in their favourite poems. This inattention can be part of a rapt reinvention or appropriation of the text. We sometimes want to see a poem in our own terms. We misread it or misremember it. Does this matter?

Misquotation can open up interesting questions that the poet may have thought that he had avoided or disposed of. Take Larkin's celebrated last line of "An Arundel Tomb": "What will survive of us is love." The line is often quoted in any case as a resounding emotional comforter, forgetting that Larkin only introduces it as an "almost-instinct" that is only "almost true". Not much comfort there, then, from the old bachelor, it is commonly said. But what is one to make of Antonia Fraser talking on the radio about her recently published memoir of her marriage to Harold Pinter and quoting the line as "All that remains of us is love"?

These substitutions raise the interesting puzzle of what Larkin might have thought the survival to consist of (and in particular, where). I refer to substitutions in the plural because to begin with Fraser has replaced with an absolute "all" what in Larkin's poem is something like a question tentatively answered: "What will survive of us?" "What will survive of us is love." Her absolute doesn't seem much, though. "All that remains" is close in sense to Shelley's "Nothing beside remains" in his sonnet about Ozymandias. The glum sense of her version of the line is, in fact, "the only thing that remains of us is love". It is depressingly like a puddle where something has melted, whereas the poet's words deliberately and almost triumphantly invoke survival. To survive is (from the late Latin supervivere) to live after death. You might have thought that Fraser, as a divorced Roman Catholic who needed a ceremony to sanctify her union with the Jewish Pinter, would pick up on the word "survive", the resurrection of the body, instead of substituting the dismal "remains". Larkin is writing about a tomb, after all, where the actual remains were laid. Survival is an altogether grander concept.

But her mistake sends us back to the poet's puzzle. Where does love survive, if it does at all? Not in the earl and countess's bodies, clearly. Nor in the tomb itself. Nor in our facile human presumption of it, given that we readers are like the "altered people" who visit the tomb, no longer the "friends" who knew them. But it must, if it survives at all, be something that the poem itself recreates, by adopting and elaborating their intended "blazon". In that case, the actual words of the poem become of sacred importance. Her mistake might be thought forgivable in a broadcast interview, but it turns out to be there in her book as well.

There are puzzles in the very titles of poems. No one really seems to know, for example, why Coleridge calls his lime-tree bower (a sweet-smelling sheltered writing space in his neighbour's garden) a "prison" in his poem "This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison". Or at least, the easy answer isn't the best one. (But puzzles are like that.) Some title puzzles strike at the heart of what giving titles to poems is all about in the first place. What is really going on when a poet calls a poem "Untitled"? Another example: there are multiple titles and macro-titles for Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" that affect the way in which we read it. The poet can change a title and not realise what a profound effect this can have, as Browning did, bequeathing us another puzzle. And there is a further Victorian poem, perhaps the most famous Victorian poem of all, which doesn't really have a title as such, though most readers will not have realised it. However, the fact highlights a puzzle in the poem itself: what is "In Memoriam" actually about?

And why is the title of the most celebrated modernist poem quite frequently misquoted by those who particularly should get it right? I'm not referring to the fact that for much of its early existence in Eliot's mind the poem was to be called "He Do the Police in Different Voices." It was soon enough known as The Waste Land, and The Waste Land is what it assuredly is. Why, then, do so many people call it The Wasteland?

When the error is pointed out, it is often felt to be a venial slip of the pen, as though the two titles were more or less identical. They are not.

It is perhaps worth quantifying the error, or at least giving some idea of its extent not only in common parlance but also in professional and academic contexts. I'm not simply referring to the errors of students in their essays and examinations, although the most abundant examples are found there (I would say from my own experience that perhaps three out of ten students habitually get it wrong). In fact, the poem was so miscalled from very early in its existence, as when Bertrand Russell told Ottoline Morrell in 1923 that he was particularly excited to get hold of "Eliot's Wasteland". The mistitling occurs widely in print, and evidence of it in official contexts could be freely collected, for example in the promotional leaflet for Icon Critical Guides to Literature (distributed by Penguin Books), where in "Forthcoming Titles for 1999" a poem called "The Wasteland" is enthused over by Rachel Bowlby; or in the lively literary periodical the Devil (1999), where Andrew Motion so refers to Eliot's poem (and again, 10 years later, in the Guardian); or in Germaine Greer's lecture "The Name and Nature of Poetry" (Guardian Review, 1 March 2003,); or in a piece about Henry Reed by Adam Phillips in the Observer Review, 28 October 2007.

Of course, these writers are in the hands of interviewers, journalists and copy-editors, and are not to be blamed. Or are they? Probably these interviewers, journalists and copy-editors were themselves only recently students whose orthographical errors were silently passed over by their busy teachers and examiners and therefore continued to be carried, like undefused bombs, into their unsuspecting literary careers.

Finally, if you want to hear Eliot himself reading his poem in The Caedmon Treasury of Modern Poets Reading Their Own Poetry you will find it listed on the record sleeve as . . . "The Wasteland".

It should be possible to end the solecism forever by distinguishing clearly between wasteland (a plot derelict or not yet built on) and waste land (land laid waste, by an army, perhaps, or by a failed harvest). A property developer might have his eye on wasteland, and there is after all a fair amount of it in Eliot's poetry. These are the civic interstices across which newspapers blow or rats scurry. Wasteland is waste as bogland is boggy or grassland grassy: it is an area of a size unspecified because the size is unimportant compared with its condition. "The Wasteland" invokes a specific area as yet unspecified. The implied plural "Wastelands" would have been an interesting alternative title, had Eliot wished to symbolise the dead souls of his city-dwellers. In the singular, "Wasteland", by contrast, might be a section of a report on urban conditions. All these alternatives are quite opposed to the sense of the devastated patria inherent in his use of the singular "Land".

This waste fatherland is at the heart of the poem's final meanings. It involves the crucial role of the central figure of the poem, the blind prophet Tiresias, and much of the poem's Grail myth. But Eliot himself created another puzzle when noting the centrality of Tiresias's consciousness, recounting the reasons given in Ovid for the prophet having been blinded by Juno, but saying nothing about his role in Sophocles. Tiresias's bisexuality is significant in Eliot's scheme of things, but not so important, I think, as his unique understanding of the significance of the blighted harvests of Thebes, and of the guilt of Oedipus. Giving the poem its correct title helps us to see this.

I'm interested in riddles and submerged metaphors, and why we feel that the poetical imagination is sometimes missing in Augustan poetry. There are various ways in which the reader might distrust the poet (can we really believe that a poem arrives in a dream or at the dictation of a spirit over the ouija board?). I'm interested, too, in various examples of involuntary misunderstanding (Milton isn't gushing when he writes that Eternity is "perfectly divine"). Readers who find poetry difficult should be comforted by the knowledge that even the most astute reader, including every critic, can find it difficult. A single word may contain a puzzle whose unwrapping makes plainer the entire design. The pleasure of solving such a puzzle (in Mallarmé's sense) is part of what reading a poem is. Which is why poets on the whole would rather do the Guardian crossword than write lyrics for the latest boyband.

It is in the very nature of poetry to be forever setting up problems of meaning that require an alert solving response in the reader, and that this is one of a poem's greatest pleasures.

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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 07, 2011 11:43 am

Poem of the week: Under the Waterfall by Thomas Hardy

To mark the great man's anniversary, a love poem that combines his lyric gifts and his novelist's feel for character and realism

Detail from portrait of Thomas Hardy by EO Hoppe (1914). Photograph: EO Hoppe/Corbis

The Thomas Hardy Society has just celebrated Hardy's "birthday weekend" (this year including the 120th anniversary of the publication of Tess of the D'Urbervilles). Poem of the week picks up its fiddle and continues the theme, to celebrate Hardy the poet.

"Under the Waterfall", written in 1914, is one of the less familiar love poems. It's not an overtly personal lyric, and the strong emotion is channelled by skippy tetrameter rhythms and simple paired rhymes. In fact, while Hardy doesn't proclaim it as such, "Under the Waterfall" is an eclogue. From the opening speech-marks, and casually demonstrative "like this", we understand there's a second presence in the room, listening eagerly to the teller of the tale.

If the classical pastoral tradition is echoed, the poem is no less informed by the 19th-century novel, the genre that Hardy so abundantly enriched before he turned back to poetry, his first love. Many of the details about the natural world have the subtlety and precision of good prose description, while displaying the shifts of register that occur naturally in speech, particularly in the speech of those who move between countryside and city, or cross social boundaries through their education, like Hardy himself. The narrator combines the unlettered fancy of a "real love-rhyme" with the geologically-informed reference to "turfless peaks." With a wonderful touch of realism (like Hardy, the speaker notices such things), the waterfall's measurements are estimated at "About three spans wide and two spans tall". The curious plural, "peaces", in "wars and peaces" suggests the kind of mistake an uneducated person might make, but then, in a more learned register, the lost wine-glass is described as "opalised" by its long immersion in the water. The lexicon of this speaker is truly archaeological in its layering.

Folk-song is present, too, especially in those little sets of dimeter lines, with their firm but tripping rhythm and emotional boldness. This is a multi-dimensional poem, for all the intense and single-minded focus on the story it tells: it's conversation and song, lyric and narrative, literary and plain-speaking. Hardy fuses these elements with wonderful sureness, and even creates a character in the process.

Although we don't learn the main speaker's gender until the end, I think most readers would associate the plunging of an arm into a basin of water with feminine domestic activities or personal ablutions. We might think ahead to Elizabeth Bishop's beautiful love poem, "The Shampoo", or to Paul Muldoon's "The Right Arm" where a little boy also "plunged" his arm – into a jar of sweets. There must be a thesis to be written on the literary symbolism of the human arm. Wyatt perhaps began it, with that dream-like visitant in "They Flee from Me", who catches him up in "arms long and small". Perhaps, in the image of "long bared arms", Hardy is remembering Wyatt.

His speaker loves her love story, and needs only a little prompt when her auditor finally gets to say a few lines: "And who gives this the only prime / Idea to you of a real love-rhyme …?" So she's off again, warming to her theme. After that brief, conversational "Well …" the imagery brightens, the syntax flows faster. Now the poem acquires its memory-branding descriptive richness: we're shown the tracery of leaves on a hot blue August sky, the oaks shading the picnicking lovers, the fruit and wine cooling beside the "runlet," the "hard, smooth" rock-face, and, of course, the "inciting incident" – the accidental dropping of the wine-glass. This central event is tellingly underplayed: the vessel simply "slipped and sank and was past recall".

There are no regrets – or a pretty convincing pretence of no regrets. The notion that the "chalice" remains intact, and that no lips but the lovers' have since touched the rim is a slightly fantastical but potent consolation. The glass, the pool, the basin are repositories of memory – the photographic memory of a speaker, who, roused by an everyday event and a friendly listener, can recall each detail of the long-ago epiphany. She can even see the scene in miniature in the floral decorations on the basin. I wonder if we are meant to suspect that, in her "thickening shroud of grey", she has become a little deranged.

Remembrance brings immeasurably bitter sorrow to the speaker in many of Hardy's great love poems. Here, on the other side of the coin, it is treasured. The memory is seen as vividly as if were fixed in a cleft in the rocks, and belonged to the present. This ordinary woman isn't interested in posterity, but in preserving the most significant event of her life, for herself, in defiance of time. For writers, too, this is surely the origin of that strange compulsion to turn away from experience, so as to change another experience into words.

Under the Waterfall

"Whenever I plunge my arm, like this,
In a basin of water, I never miss
The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day
Fetched back from the thickening shroud of grey.
    Hence the only prime
    And real love-rhyme
    That I know by heart
    And that leaves no smart,
Is the purl of a little valley fall
About three spans wide and two spans tall
Over a table of solid rock
And into a scoop of the self-same block;
The purl of a runlet that never ceases
In stir of kingdoms, in wars, in peaces;
With a hollow, boiling voice it speaks
And has spoken since hills were turfless peaks."

"And why gives this the only prime
Idea to you of a real love-rhyme?
And why does plunging your arm in a bowl
Full of spring water, bring throbs to your soul?"
"Well, under the fall, in a crease of the stone,
Though where precisely none ever has known,
Jammed darkly, nothing to show how prized,
And by now with its smoothness opalised,
    Is a drinking-glass:
    For, down that pass,
    My love and I
    Walked under a sky
Of blue with a leaf-wove awning of green,
In the burn of August, to paint the scene,
And we placed our basket of fruit and wine
By the runlet's rim, where we sat to dine;
And when we had drunk from the glass together,
Arched by the oak-copse from the weather,
I held the vessel to rinse in the fall,
Where it slipped, and sank, and was past recall,
Though we stooped and plumbed the little abyss
With long bared arms. There the glass still is.
And, as said, if I thrust my arm below
Cold water in basin or bowl, a throe
From the past awakens a sense of that time,
And the glass we used, and the cascade's rhyme.
The basin seems the pool, and its edge
The hard smooth face of the brook-side ledge,
And the leafy pattern of china-ware
The hanging plants that were bathing there.

"By night, by day, when it shines or lours,
There lies intact that chalice of ours,
And its presence adds to the rhyme of love
Persistently sung by the fall above.
No lip has touched it since his and mine
In turn therefrom sipped lovers' wine.

Posted by Carol Rumens Monday 6 June 2011 10.23 BST guardian.co.uk

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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 21, 2011 11:56 pm

Poem of the week: Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe

A psychologically intense retelling of Byzantine myth left tantalisingly incomplete

Detail from print of the drowned Leander in the arms of Hero

This week's "poem" is an excerpt from Christopher Marlowe's epyllion, Hero and Leander, a splendid piece of narrative verse that was never completed – or not by Marlowe. It was entered into the Stationer's Register in 1593, a few months after the dramatist's alleged murder in a tavern brawl, and, at that stage, consisted of only two cantos. In 1598, George Chapman completed the poem with four more cantos, one of them an extensive digression, "The Tale of Teras", and additional "arguments" to all six. It was Chapman who called the cantos "Sestyads", on the principle of the Iliad, so named because it focused on events in Ilium. The tale of Hero and Leander is set largely in Hero's birthplace, Sestos.

Both Ovid and the grammarian-poet Musaeus are sources for Marlowe's story. Leander and Hero are lovers separated by the ill-famed Hellespont (now the Dardanelles). "Abydus and Sestos were two ancient towns," Chapman explains, "one in Europe, another in Asia, opposite …" Hero is a priestess of Venus, sworn to life-long chastity. The beautiful young man, Leander, visits Sestos for the Feast of Adonis, and thus the tragedy is set in motion.

Musaeus locates the antagonistic force in Hero's parents: Marlowe substitutes Leander's father. Leander's courtship begins with argument – how can an acolyte of Venus be expected to be chaste? Hero is swayed, eventually, but, since the two must meet in secret, Leander swims the Hellespont each night to be with her, while Hero lights his way from the top of her tower with a flaming torch. The plan works until winter sets in, Hero's light is extinguished by the wind, and Leander comes to grief in angry seas.

Marlowe must have intended to write the whole story; nevertheless, he crams his opening "sestyads" with such colour and event that, in a way, the project seems complete. There are gorgeous descriptive passages. We see Hero's exotic garments, her ground-length veil and buskins of silvered shells; we visit the Temple of Venus, underneath whose glass floor there are foreshadowing depictions of the gods-in-love, "committing heady riots, incests, rapes". Marlowe plunges Leander into the Hellespont as soon as is feasible, and gives sinewy play to a homoerotic sub-plot: the "sapphire-visaged" Neptune falls for Leander, and Leander almost reciprocates.

Marlowe's narrative ends with the erotic triumphs depicted below. It's not the most rich figuratively, but the passage fascinatingly reflects the ambiguity with which Hero receives her suitor, and the equally mixed feelings the Jacobean writer-reader must have felt towards women's perceived duplicity. Marlowe is under some euphemistic constraint, but it appears, from previous references to a "truce", that Leander ejaculates before he penetrates Hero, and that Hero "consents" to further intercourse without being entirely clear about what's going on. Notice the war imagery of their love-making. Marlowe finds little tenderness in sex, and proclaims the fact: "Love is not full of pity, as men say …" In other words, both men and women are ruthlessly hard-driven by their instincts.

The whole escapade churns with restless emotional and physical undercurrents. There's a psychologically astute, and visually arresting, moment when Hero, remembering how the adultery of Mars and Venus was exposed when Vulcan trapped them in an iron net, tries to flee the bed. But "as her naked feet were whipping out," Leander grabs her, and she falls to the floor, her body half-exposed like that of a mermaid. After this tussle, she stands up at her full height, naked, blushing but, surely, magnificently composed. The self-satisfied Leander is unromantically perceived as Dis, god of the Underworld, greedily contemplating his gold.

Marlowe speaks of the strange twilight on Hero's face, and, painting the larger scene, he shows us, instead of the morning star, the evening star, Hesperus. This "false morn" casts eerie shadows across the moment of glory. Night drives off in a fury, as if channelling some of Hero's emotional turmoil. For now, though, both lovers are satisfied.

Chapman takes up the story in a way typical of the gifted scholar and translator. He is too lavish with brilliant ideas. He can't tell us about Hero's torch without building an elaborate moral analogy from the fact that "when bees make wax, Nature does not intend/ It shall be made a torch …" Not that he's a bad poet, but he doesn't get to the point with Marlowe's purposefuless, nor tease out those psychological strands which, to Marlowe's deep-sea-diving imagination, are at least as dramatic as external action.

From the Second Sestyad of Hero and Leander

Even as a bird, which in our hands we wring,
Forth plungeth, and oft flutters with her wing,
She trembling strove; this strife of hers, like that
Which made the world, another world begat
Of unknown joy. Treason was in her thought,
And cunningly to yield herself she sought.
Seeming not won, yet won she was at length;
In such wars women use but half their strength.
Leander now, like Theban Hercules,
Entered the orchard of th'Hesperides;
Whose fruit none rightly can describe, but he
That pulls or shakes it from the golden tree.
Wherein Leander on her quivering breast,
Breathless spoke something, and sighed out the rest;
Which so prevailed, as he, with small ado,
Enclosed her in his arms and kissed her too;
And every kiss to her was as a charm,
And to Leander as a fresh alarm:
So that the truce was broke, and she, alas,
Poor silly maiden, at his mercy was!
Love is not full of pity, as men say,
But deaf and cruel where he means to prey.
And now she wished this night were never done,
And sighed to think upon th'approaching sun;
For much it grieved her that the bright day-light
Should know the pleasure of this blessed night,
And them, like Mars and Ericyne, display,
Both in each other's arms chained as they lay.
Again, she knew not how to frame her look,
Or speak to him, who in a moment took
That which so long, so charily she kept;
And fain by stealth away she would have crept,
And to some corner secretly have gone,
Leaving Leander in the bed alone.
But as her naked feet were whipping out,
He on the sudden clinged her so about,
That mermaid-like, unto the floor she slid;
One half appeared, the other half was hid.
Thus near the bed she blushing stood upright,
And from her countenance behold ye might
A kind of twilight break, which through the hair
As from an orient cloud, glimpsed here and there;
And round about the chamber this false morn
Brought forth the day before the day was born.
So Hero's ruddy cheek Hero betrayed,
And her all naked to his sight displayed:
Whence his admiring eyes more pleasure took
Than Dis, on heaps of gold fixing his look.
By this, Apollo's golden harp began
To sound forth music to the ocean;
Which watchful Hesperus no sooner heard,
But he the bright Day-bearing car prepared,
And ran before, as harbinger of light,
And with his flaring beams mocked ugly Night,
Till she, o'ercome with anguish, shame, and rage,
Danged down to hell her loathsome carriage.

Posted by Carol Rumens Monday 20 June 2011

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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Wed Jun 22, 2011 12:12 am

Poem of the week: The Rolling English Road by GK Chesterton

This genial defence of a drink or two rattles along with inimitable panache

Rolling home .. The Drunken Reveller by Thomas Bewick, a vignette exhibited at the IKON gallery in 2009.

This week's choice may be the best-loved of GK Chesterton's poems, but perhaps not many readers know that "The Rolling English Road", first published in a political weekly in 1913, was originally titled "A Song of Temperance Reform".

I think it was TS Eliot who described Chesterton's verse as "first-rate journalistic balladry" and there's no doubt that much of it, like much of his writing in general, has a mission to persuade. Not for Chesterton the then-fashionable dictum of "art for art's sake". Behind "The Rolling English Road" lies its author's powerfully-felt opposition to the threatened introduction of Prohibition into Britain: the law had already been passed in the US, and Chesterton saw it as an abuse of the ordinary man's right to ordinary pleasures. But, if moral indignation was the impulse, the resulting poem is miles away from one-sided polemic.

Form and content blend as harmoniously as – well – hops and fresh water. Heptameters, informally known as "fourteeners" because the line usually has 14 syllables, are potentially cumbersome in English, but Chesterton's lines flow effortlessly, without a stumble. They roll like the roads themselves, whose meanderings, the poet ingeniously imagines, were shaped by drunken natives aeons before the Romans introduced more logical and direct (and therefore deeply un-English) routes from A to B.

A clever narrative twist occurs in line five: "A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread ... " The shift into anecdotal mode and first-person immediately engages the reader's sympathy. This is not a hymn to drink, it signals, but middle-age looking back with a forgiving, companionable eye on the escapades of youth.

Chesterton, it almost goes without saying, takes advantage of every opportunity for alliteration. It lubricates the heptameters: it licks its lips and heightens the mood of sensuousness and oral indulgence. Perhaps a respectful nod to the Anglo-Saxon poets is also intended. Alliteration is a particularly useful device in the last line of each stanza, playfully yoking the far-flung places together (Birmingham/Beachy Head, etc) and reminding us that, like a pub comic, our narrator is, supposedly, improvising his tall story. When he drops the alliterative yoke in the last stanza ("Paradise ... Kensal Green") you know he's being serious.

The joke about setting off to a place by way of another place that's situated at the opposite end of the country (beginning from some hostelry in a town unspecified, but probably London) could have been overplayed. Chesterton could surely have gone on for several more stanzas, and it's to his temperate credit that he resists. The itinerary seems more bizarre with each stanza: my favourite, though, is the surreal idea in the second, of heading to Glastonbury, Somerset, via the Goodwin Sands, the hazardous sandbank off the coast of Deal, in Kent. I don't think the term, "getting wrecked," was one the Edwardians used, but it adds a dimension for the contemporary reader.

Of course, there's sentimentality as well as humour, piety as well as broad-mindedness. No doubt the speaker is seeing "the rolling English drunkard" through a generous lens. It's the same lens he turns on England itself, when the wild rose, England's symbol, somehow watches over the "wild thing", sleeping it off, we hope, rather than dead, in the ditch.

Finally, the poet seems at pains to emphasise that, anti-Prohibition he may be, but, in maturity, he favours rectitude over wrecktitude. Still, he keeps a trace of the fun and fantasy going with his reference to "the decent inn of death", an image that satisfyingly suggests moderate pleasures and eternal rest may not be incompatible.

Chesterton's was an extraordinary talent. He wrote copiously, and often brilliantly, at home in almost every literary genre of his period, from detective fiction to fantasy, literary criticism to hagiography. As a political thinker, he formulated, with Hilaire Belloc, a radical economic philosophy, Distributism, which might be worth a closer look today, if any politician seriously wanted to re-shape and humanise economic policy. As for Chesterton's poems, they are simply unlike anyone else's. And the best of them are completely unlike each other.

The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Posted by Carol Rumens Monday 13 June 2011 14.59 BST guardian.co.uk

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
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Re: poetry thread

Post  Guest on Thu Jun 23, 2011 7:59 pm

The Three Palms, an Eastern Legend 

In the sandy desert of Araby,
Three palms grew proud and tall,
And under them, out of the earth set free,
A cool spring murmured small;
Guarded beneath the leafy strands
From burning rays and flying sands.

And silent seasons came and went,
And yet no traveller wayfaring,
Rested beneath the palms’ green tent,
Or cooled his breast beside the spring;
And withering under the sun’s hot beam
Were the beautiful leaves and the sounding stream.

 And the three palms murmured against their God:
— Why were we born, to wither here?
Useless we bloomed on the desert sod,
Shaken by storms and sun-rays sere.
To no kind eye have we given joy.
Shall nought, O Heaven, our years employ? —
Even as they ceased, far in the blue,
Dense clouds of golden sands made play,
and bells’ discordant jinglings flew
From packs with coloured carpets gay,
Where, tossed like shallops on the main,
Long rows of camels ploughed the plain.

And up between the hard humps swaying,
Dark hands moved softly out and in,
On patterned travelling tent-flaps straying,
While dark eyes glistened from within;
And crouched above his saddle high,
A slender Arab spurred nearby.

Rearing and prancing, the steed out-broke
Like a panther leaping, arrow-stung;
And the beautiful folds of his long white cloak
Flapped, on the horseman’s shoulder hung,
As he crossed with a whistle the sand-drift sheer,
And galloping, threw and caught his spear.

Noisily up to the palms they rode,
And there in the shade their gay camp spread;
Pitchers gurgled as water flowed
And, proudly nodding each two-crowned head,
The palms made welcome their sudden guests,
While the spring flowed free to all behests.

But as twilight over the desert spread,
An axe rang loud on pliant roots,
And the nurslings of silent years fell dead…
Small children tore their brown bark suits,
And their bodies to little logs were sawn,
And burned in the Bedouins’ fire till dawn.

When the morning mists had fled to the west,
The caravan moved on its hourly way;
And there on the ground, a sad bequest,
A heap of cold grey ashes lay;
And what remained the hot sun battered,
And the wind on the open desert scattered.

Now all round was desert made,
And no leaves whispered by the spring;
in vain to the Prophet it prayed for shade —
Only the hot sand came to sting;
And the desert hermit, the crested kite,
Over it, clutched his prey in flight.

Mikhail Lermontov: (1814 – 1841)


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Re: poetry thread

Post  eddie on Thu Jun 23, 2011 8:57 pm


For the full significance of the last line of GK Chesterton's "The Rolling English Road" (^ above), see the "Victorian London's Magnificent Seven" thread in the Paintings and Photography section.
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Re: poetry thread

Post  Guest on Thu Jun 23, 2011 11:54 pm

Sweeney's Lament on Ailsa Craig

Without bed or board
I face dark days
in frozen lairs
and wind-driven snow.

Ice scoured by winds.
Watery shadows from weak sun.
Shelter from the one tree
on a plateau.

Haunting deer-paths,
enduring rain,
first-footing the grey
frosted grass.

I climb towards the pass
and the stag's belling
rings off the wood,
surf -noise rises

where I go, heartbroken
and worn out,
sharp-haunched Sweeney,
raving and moaning.

The sough of the winter night,
my feet packing the hailstones
as I pad the dappled
banks of Mourne

or lie, unslept, in a wet bed
on the hills by Lough Erne,
tensed for first light
and an early start.

Skimming the waves
at Dunseverick,
listening to billows
at Dun Rodairce,

hurtling from that great wave
to the wave running
in tidal Barrow,
one night in hard Dun Cernan,

the next among the wild flowers
of Benn Boirne;
and then a stone piIlow
on the screes of Croagh Patrick.

But to have ended up
lamenting here
on Ailsa Craig.
A hard station!

Aifsa Craig,
the seagulls’ home,
God knows it is
hard lodgings.

Ailsa Craig,
bell-shaped rock,
reaching sky-high,
snout in the sea –
it hard-beaked,
me seasoned and scraggy:
we mated like a couple
of hard-shanked cranes.

by Seamus Heaney


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Re: poetry thread

Post  sil on Sat Jun 25, 2011 2:29 am

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Re: poetry thread

Post  sil on Sat Jun 25, 2011 5:49 am


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Re: poetry thread

Post  Guest on Sun Jun 26, 2011 11:59 pm

Last Night As I Was Sleeping
by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.


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Re: poetry thread

Post  Guest on Mon Jun 27, 2011 8:56 am

Antonio Machado -El crimen fue en Granada-

El crimen fue en Granada

A Federico García Lorca

1. El crimen

Se le vio, caminando entre fusiles,
por una calle larga,
salir al campo frío,
aún con estrellas de la madrugada.
Mataron a Federico
cuando la luz asomaba.
El pelotón de verdugos
no osó mirarle la cara.
Todos cerraron los ojos;
rezaron: ¡ni Dios te salva!
Muerto cayó Federico
—sangre en la frente y plomo en las entrañas—
... Que fue en Granada el crimen
sabed —¡pobre Granada!—, en su Granada.

2. El poeta y la muerte

Se le vio caminar solo con Ella,
sin miedo a su guadaña.
—Ya el sol en torre y torre, los martillos
en yunque— yunque y yunque de las fraguas.
Hablaba Federico,
requebrando a la muerte. Ella escuchaba.
«Porque ayer en mi verso, compañera,
sonaba el golpe de tus secas palmas,
y diste el hielo a mi cantar, y el filo
a mi tragedia de tu hoz de plata,
te cantaré la carne que no tienes,
los ojos que te faltan,
tus cabellos que el viento sacudía,
los rojos labios donde te besaban...
Hoy como ayer, gitana, muerte mía,
qué bien contigo a solas,
por estos aires de Granada, ¡mi Granada!

3. Se le vio caminar...

Labrad, amigos,
de piedra y sueño en el Alhambra,
un túmulo al poeta,
sobre una fuente donde llore el agua,
y eternamente diga:
el crimen fue en Granada, ¡en su Granada!

The crime was in Granada

For Federico García Lorca

I. The crime

He was seen walking between the rifles,
down a long street
out to chill fields
still lit by early stars.
They killed Federico
when the dawn broke.
The executioner’s crew
dared not look in his face.
They shut their eyes,
said: ‘Nor will God save you!
Federico fell dying
–blood on his brow, lead in his guts –
…To think the crime should be in Granada.
– poor Granada – in his Granada…

II. Death and the poet

He was seen walking only with Her,
and unafraid of her scythe.
– The sun now on tower after tower, hammers
on anvils – anvil on anvil, of the forges.
Federico was speaking
flattering Death. She listened.
‘Yesterday in my verse, friend,
the clap of your dry palms sounded,
you gave ice to my song, your silver
scythe’s edge to my tragedy,
I’ll sing to you of your wasted flesh,
your empty eyes,
your hair the wind stirs,
the red lips where you were kissed…
Now as ever, gypsy, my death,
how good to be alone with you,
in this breeze of Granada, my Granada!

III. He was seen walking…

Friends, carve
in the Alhambra, a statue of dreams
and stone, for the poet,
over a fountain where water goes grieving
and saying, eternally:
the crime was in Granada, in his Granada!

Translated by A. S. Kline



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Re: poetry thread

Post  Guest on Mon Jun 27, 2011 9:01 am

Dylan Thomas - The Hunchback In The Park

The hunchback in the park
A solitary mister
Propped between trees and water
From the opening of the garden lock
That lets the trees and water enter
Until the Sunday sombre bell at dark

Eating bread from a newspaper
Drinking water from the chained cup
That the children filled with gravel
In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship
Slept at night in a dog kennel
But nobody chained him up.

Like the park birds he came early
Like the water he sat down
And Mister they called Hey Mister
The truant boys from the town
Running when he had heard them clearly
On out of sound

Past lake and rockery
Laughing when he shook his paper
Hunchbacked in mockery
Through the loud zoo of the willow groves
Dodging the park keeper
With his stick that picked up leaves.

And the old dog sleeper
Alone between nurses and swans
While the boys among willows
Made the tigers jump out of their eyes
To roar on the rockery stones
And the groves were blue with sailors

Made all day until bell time
A woman figure without fault
Straight as a young elm
Straight and tall from his crooked bones
That she might stand in the night
After the locks and chains

All night in the unmade park
After the railings and shrubberies
The birds the grass the trees the lake
And the wild boys innocent as strawberries
Had followed the hunchback
To his kennel in the dark.


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Re: poetry thread

Post  sil on Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:36 am


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