Poems

Analysis of Ronsard’s poem “Qui voudra voir comme un dieu…”

This is the first poem in Le Premier Livre des Amours by Ronsard. An English translation can be found here.

Poem
Qui voudra voir comme un dieu me surmonte,
Comme il m’assaut, comme il se fait vainqueur,
Comme il renflamme et renglace mon coeur,
Comme il se fait un honneur de ma honte,

Qui voudra voir une jeunesse prompte
A suivre en vain l’objet de son malheur,
Me vienne lire: il verra ma douleur
Dont ma déesse et mon dieu ne font compte.

Il connaîtra qu’amour est sans raison,
Un doux abus, une belle prison,
Un vain espoir qui de vent nous vient paître.

Et connaîtra que l’homme se décoit
Quand plein d’erreur un aveugle il reçoit
Pour sa conduite, un enfant pour son maître.

Analysis
The 16th-century poet Ronsard is most known for his sonnets and odes. His sonnets are inspired by Petrarch and his odes by Pindar and Horace. The Petrarchan sonnet is made up of 2 quatrains and 2 tercets. The quatrains use enclosed rhyme (ABBA).

This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet. It is a description of furor poeticus, or poetic furor. The poet is powerless and senseless before the object of his love (cf. the title character of Orlando Furioso by Ariosto). In the two quatrains, Ronsard urges the person who wants to understand this phenomenon to read in order to see. The child-god Cupid enjoys assaulting and humiliating our poet; he enflames and cools his victim’s heart as he pleases. Thus, love is a form of suffering. Thus, the lover cannot influence the object of his love (here, Cassandra). Yet, he also cannot refrain from pursuing her because Cupid has complete control of his emotions.

Who is the “me” in “me vienne livre” of the second quatrain ? Who is speaking to the reader? Ronsard, or his poem? Although the first strophe suggests that the poet is the speaker, the second strophe invites the reader to read him (“Qui voudra voir une jeunesse prompte […]/ Me vienne lire”). Perhaps, the ambiguity of subject is deliberate. Ronsard identifies himself so fully with his poetry that reading his poem is equivalent to reading his heart. When, in the final line of the second quatrain, Ronsard refers to Cassandra as a heartless goddess, he suggests that she is not only an object of his love but also its agent.

The two tercets describe in greater detail what the reader will understand once he has read the poet/poem. The order of verbs is important: lire -> voir -> connaitre. Reading leads to seeing, which finally leads to an understanding of love. The reader will understand that love is a sweet abuse (“un doux abus”) and a beautiful prison (“une belle prison”). The contradiction in connotation between doux/belle and abus/prison evokes the conflicting feelings the poet has toward Cassandra. Love is at once pleasant and painful. The rhetorical slippage is most apparent in French (Amour/ à mort). Love and death are closely related to each other. Love may be sweet, but it is also futile. It is a vain hope that nourishes itself from wind. Ronsard’s love for Cassandra is unrequited.

The final tercet is a warning and a moral. Man deceives himself when he invites Cupid into his heart. A blind child cannot lead man from his errors: « Quand plein d’erreur un aveugle il reçoit / Pour sa conduite, un enfant pour son maître ». Thus, the final tercet somewhat contradicts the first quatrain. Ronsard is not entirely innocent. He invited Cupid into his heart.

Poems

Analysis of Mallarmé’s 1885 sonnet “Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui”

1885 Sonnet

Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui
Va-t-il nous déchirer avec un coup d’aile ivre
Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre
Le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui !

Un cygne d’autrefois se souvient que c’est lui
Magnifique mais qui sans espoir se délivre
Pour n’avoir pas chanté la région où vivre
Quand du stérile hiver a resplendi l’ennui.

Tout son col secouera cette blanche agonie
Par l’espace infligée à l’oiseau qui le nie,
Mais non l’horreur du sol où le plumage est pris.

Fantôme qu’à ce lieu son pur éclat assigne,
Il s’immobilise au songe froid du mépris
Que vêt parmi l’exil inutile le Cygne.

My favorite English translation is Elizabeth Cook’s: https://litallover.com/2016/09/28/le-bel-aujourdhui-a-translation-walkthrough-of-mallarmes-le-cygne/ However, my commentary will be based on the original French.

Introduction
As with all of Mallarmé’s poems, his 1885 sonnet resists a straightforward reading. The rules and expectations of classical poetry are put aside. Words and images rarely conform to reader expectation. Reversals and contradictions abound. Therefore, I will not attempt a clear, unequivocal reading of this poem. My reading is one of many possible readings. The sonnet’s words guide and circumscribe my commentary.

In his 1897 prose poem “Crise de vers”, Mallarmé writes,

L’œuvre pure implique la disparition élocutoire du poète, qui cède l’initiative aux mots, par le heurt de leur inégalité mobilisés ; ils s’allument de reflets réciproques comme une virtuelle traînée de feux sur des pierreries, remplaçant la respiration perceptible en l’ancien souffle lyrique ou la direction personnelle enthousiaste de la phrase.
[The pure work implies the disappearance of the poet speaking, who yields the initiative to words, through the clash of their ordered inequalities; they light each other up through reciprocal reflections like a virtual swooping of fire across precious stones, replacing the primacy of the perceptible rhythm of respiration or the classic lyric breath, or the personal feeling driving the sentences] (trans. Barbara Johnson, in Divagations, p.208).

Mallarmé announces the death of the poet – prefiguring Roland Barthe’s death of the author. The reader of Mallarmé’s poems is invited to privilege words over everything else, to notice the patterns and ruptures produced by the poem’s very words. According to Mallarmé, poetic language should distinguish itself from the language of journalism. He believed that words had been cheapened by the rise of mass media. The creation of poetry was therefore an act of resistance. The reader of Mallarmé’s poetry cannot be a consumer. A multiplicity of readings emerges from our sonnet’s ambiguity of meaning and syntax, but only if the reader allows the words to speak for themselves.

Analysis
The overall structure of the poem is a sonnet (2 quatrains and 2 tercets). It has an enclosed rhyme scheme (ABBA for the quatrains and ABA for the tercets).

In the first stanza, a wing breaks through the icy surface of a hard lake. There is a tense shift between lines 2 and 4 (“va-t-il nous déchirer”/ le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui”. The grammatical tense of “va-t-il nous déchirer” is the near future (futur proche). It suggests a finality. The subject (“le vierge, le vivace et le bel”) is going to tear us apart. Here, the three elements are represented by the third person singular pronoun “il”.

The first word of the second stanza (“cygne”) recalls the wing and flights of the first stanza. The only other time that a swan is mentioned by name is in the final tercet (“l’exile inutile le Cygne”), yet, bird imagery is the most prominent imagery in the sonnet (“pour n’avoir pas chanté”, “à l’oiseau qui le nie”, “où le plumage est pris”). It’s perhaps noteworthy that the swan is only mentioned by name in the second quatrain and the second tercet.

Along with being a symbol of the poet in classical poetry, “cygne” (swan) is also a homophone of “signe” (sign). The sterility and agony of ice and winter also evoke the blank page. “Le plumage”, a pen.

But let’s return to the dynamics of the poem. The first stanza shifts between future and past, hope and disappointment. A wing will break through the frozen lake, yet in the last line we discover that some flights didn’t escape from beneath the transparent ice (“le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui”).

There is also a mix of tenses in the second quatrain: past and present. The swan of another era (“d’autrefois”) remembers (“se souvient”) and delivers itself (“se déliver”), yet notice that “vivre” is not conjugated. It is a pure action. The final line of the second quatrain can be read in two different ways (in my mind): “Quand du stérile | hiver a resplendi l’ennui” or “Quand du sterile hiver | a resplendi l’ennui”. In the first, winter sparkled boredom (Baudelaire’s Spleen) out of sterility (“du stérile). In the second, boredom sparkled from a sterile winter. In either case, there is a contradiction in connotation between the verb resplendir and the words “stérile” and “l’ennui”. “Resplendi” is an explosion / a rupture, not unlike the presence of an infinitive in a stanza of conjugated verbs. Therefore, despite the swan’s apparent regret for not having sung about his region, the second quatrain is not without hope.

The two tercets are entirely in the present or future tenses. There is no past tense anywhere.

In the first line of the first tercet, the swan’s collar will shake off this white agony. The futur “secouera” evokes hope. But there is something that he will not be able to shake off: “mais non l’horreur du sol où le plumage est pris”. The final line of this stanza evokes the imagery in the final line of the first stanza (“des vols qui n’ont pas fui”). The feathers caught in transparent ice will continue to haunt our swan.

Horror returns in “Fantôme”, the first word of the final stanza. Its presence is also an explosion. It’s a pure burst of energy. If “cygne” sounds like “signe”, “assigne” in line one of the final tercet sounds like “à signe”. What is this phantom that disrupts sign/language? It remains frozen before the “songe froid du mépris” that the swan wears. “Vêt” (wears) goes along with “col” (collar). The swan will shake off the white agony (perhaps snow) that weighs it down but it will always be haunted by the past. Between sign, swan, and poet, “le Cygne” is a liminal image. It represents the tension between poetic freedom and the conventions of classical poetry.

The swan must take up the pen. His exile is useless. Yet he will always be haunted by the failures of past poets as well as of his own. He will always be haunted by the transparent ice “où le plumage est pris”.

The swan acts and is acted upon. The mixture of pessimism and optimism suggests to me that the swan’s regrets are productive. His regret, disgust, and boredom will contribute to his future. A ghost represents the past (the spirit of the dead) but it appears among the living so as to influence future behavior.

My conclusion
Mallarmé’s 1885 sonnet describes the conflicting feelings of a poet caught between a desire to liberate poetry from classical conventions and sterility and a feeling of powerlessness in face of his own fragility and the failures of past poets/poems.

Poems, Reflections

La Fontaine’s “The Wolf and the Lamb” (Le Loup et L’Agneau)

I’ve been having a hell of a time finding something to blog about. But a few minutes ago, it occurred to me that I have never discussed my favorite La Fontaine fable “The Wolf and the Lamb” on my blog. Although “The Crow and the Fox” is the most famous French fable, “The Wolf and the Lamb” is my favorite because it gets at a disturbing social dynamic.

I am including both the original poem and an English translation.

                         Le Loup et L’Agneau
La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure :
Nous l’allons montrer tout à l’heure.
Un Agneau se désaltérait
Dans le courant d’une onde pure.
Un Loup survient à jeun qui cherchait aventure,
Et que la faim en ces lieux attirait.
Qui te rend si hardi de troubler mon breuvage ?
Dit cet animal plein de rage :
Tu seras châtié de ta témérité.
— Sire, répond l’Agneau, que votre Majesté
Ne se mette pas en colère ;
Mais plutôt qu’elle considère
Que je me vas désaltérant
Dans le courant,
Plus de vingt pas au-dessous d’Elle,
Et que par conséquent, en aucune façon,
Je ne puis troubler sa boisson.
— Tu la troubles, reprit cette bête cruelle,
Et je sais que de moi tu médis l’an passé.
— Comment l’aurais-je fait si je n’étais pas né ?
Reprit l’Agneau, je tette encor ma mère.
— Si ce n’est toi, c’est donc ton frère.
— Je n’en ai point.
— C’est donc quelqu’un des tiens :
Car vous ne m’épargnez guère,
Vous, vos bergers, et vos chiens.
On me l’a dit : il faut que je me venge.
Là-dessus, au fond des forêts
Le Loup l’emporte, et puis le mange,
Sans autre forme de procès.

                         The Wolf and the Lamb
The reason of those best able to have their way is always the best:
We now show how this is true.
A lamb was quenching its thirst
In the water of a pure stream.
A fasting wolf came by, looking for something;
He was attracted by hunger to this place.
—What makes you so bold as to meddle with my drinking?
Said this animal, very angry.
You will be punished for your boldness.
—Sir, answered the lamb, let Your Majesty
Not put himself into a rage;
But rather, let him consider
That I am taking a drink of water
In the stream
More than twenty steps below him;
And that, consequently, in no way,
Am I troubling his supply.
—You do trouble it, answered the cruel beast.
And I know you said bad things of me last year.
—How could I do that when I wasn’t born,
Answered the lamb; I am still at my mother’s breast.
—If it wasn’t you, then it was your brother.
—I haven’t a brother.—It was then someone close to you;
For you have no sympathy for me,
You, your shepherds and your dogs.
I have been told of this.I have to make things even.
Saying this, into the woods
The wolf carries the lamb, and then eats him
Without any other why or wherefore.
-Trans. Eli Siegel

Admittedly, this is a pretty pessimistic fable. But which Aesop or La Fontaine fable isn’t? French fables do not teach children how the world should be but how it really is. Consequently, children are forced to confront the injustices of the world from a young age.

In most La Fontaine fables, the first line is the moral. The first line of Le Loup et L’Agneau is “La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure”. A literal translation is “The reason of the strongest [person] is always the best.” The fable beneath tells the story of a wolf who chastises a lamb for troubling his water supply. Never mind that the lamb has done absolutely nothing to deserve the wolf’s wrath. The two animals are so far from each other that the lamb is not at all in the way. Nevertheless, the wolf claims that he is.

The wolf’s complaint is far from reasonable. The lamb was already at the stream before the wolf arrived. When the lamb defends himself, the wolf’s accusations become even more ludicrous. He claims that the lamb insulted him the previous year, even though the lamb hadn’t even been born.

So why is the wolf’s reason (ie. the reason of the strongest) the best? It’s certainly not the best because it is the most logical. It’s the best because the wolf has the power to get what he wants. The lamb, on the other hand, lacks the power to escape from the wolf; nothing he might say can prevent him from being eaten.

Thus, the reason of the strongest is the best because the strongest always wins. The irony of the moral points to an unpleasant social reality. Those with the power to get what they want, will.

Many scholars believe that La Fontaine’s moral was an allusion to the case of Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finance under Louis XIV. Fouquet was an ambitious administrator and an extravagant spender. He built himself the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, which eventually became the model for Louis XIV’s Versailles. Indeed, King Louis was so afraid that a subordinate might become a Richelieu-type premier ministre that he imprisoned Fouquet and confiscated his castle. Fouquet ended his days in prison.

Fouquet may have been one of the wealthiest men in King Louis XIV’s court, but his wealth could not save him. Nor could the reasoning of his friends and acquaintances. Of course, calling Fouquet a lamb is more than a little disingenuous. He certainly acquired his wealth through unjust means. Nevertheless, the moral of the fable holds true: “The reason of those best able to have their way is always the best” (trans. Eli Siegel).

People who get away with saying and doing the most ludicrous things are those who have the most power in our society.

Reflections

Discovering Poetry | Teachers Open Doors (Part 1)

When I was in 8th grade, I had two experiences that have been pivotal in my intellectual development.

I will share one with you today.

______

The summer before the first day of class, my future 8th grade English teacher assigned a poetry anthology. It was an easy assignment. We were asked to select twenty poems relating to a topic of our choice. I selected my topic, “Animals”, easily because I have always loved learning about the natural world. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of poetry. The only poems I enjoyed were those found in children’s novels. Because of my obsession with Roald Dahl, I was quite familiar with his poems. Thankfully, Dahl had written a few poems about animals. My favorite to-date is “The Pig”. I later used it in my audition for the middle school play.

While I was curating my anthology, I discovered poems that I enjoyed but are not critically acclaimed. I couldn’t care less about meter or style. I was only looking for entertainment. If an animal poem was funny, I selected it for my anthology. Soon, I widened my reading to include non-animal-related children’s poems.

I was obsessed. Not only did I read and reread my favorite poems, I also memorized them. During the first month of class, I recited these “silly” poems before my teacher. “You are Old, Father William” from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “The Pig” from Roald Dahl’s short story collection Kiss Kiss, “Anabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe, and some poem about the Easter bunny by Dean Koontz (yes, him!).

If it weren’t for children’s poetry I would never have discovered “fine” literature (poetry AND prose). I started to pay attention to words and the ways they disclose or conceal meaning.

The most successful teachers are those who can instill a passion for learning in their students. As you will discover next week, I was a weak language student for most of my childhood. I couldn’t analyze a book for beans, and my vocabulary was quite limited. Although I read a lot, my analytical essays were nothing but summaries of the work at hand. But Mr. Korvne’s simple assignment invited me to explore poetry at my own pace and on my own terms.

He also introduced me to imagery, but more on that later…

Poems

A Song for Matthew Shepard

Image result for a song for matthew shepardIt may be surprising that I started the year with such a depressing book, but I felt ready today to read this poetry pamphlet. Lesléa Newman delivered these poems at the University of Wyoming five days after Matthew Shepard’s murder.

Matthew Shepard is to the LGBTQ movement what Emmett Till was to the Civil Rights Movement. Shepard was kidnapped and tortured by two boys on the night of October 6, 1998. He was found tied to a fence by a cyclist who mistook the body for a scarecrow.

The poems in October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard are told from a variety of perspectives – some inanimate. Each section begins with a poem from the fence’s perspective, and most of the poems begin with a quote from one of the actual people involved in the case. According to the pamphlet, Newman was heavily inspired by the structure of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams.

I was the most moved by the poems that addressed the national response to Shepard’s murder. “A Chorus of Parents”, “Then and Now”, and “The Drag Queen” were my favorite in the collection.

Not all of the poems were brilliant. A few were frankly pretty trite. But overall, I felt that Newman captured well Shepard’s influence on the Gay Rights Movement. We must not forget the son, student, and lover behind the involuntary martyr.

Then I was a guy
Now I am a ghost

Then I was a student
Now I am a lesson.

– from “Then and Now”

Reflections

Reading Poetry

When did you get into poetry? Have you ever gotten into poetry?

I was first introduced to poetry in the eighth grade. The summer before classes started, the English teacher asked us to make a poetry anthology. I chose to focus on poems written about farm animals. Because I didn’t know any “fine” poets, I searched for fun children’s poems. I knew that Roald Dahl included poetry in his fiction, so I decided to start with him. Dahl wrote a poem called “The Pig” that is still one of my favorite poems. I recited it to my teacher before class one day, and I got a role in a school play with the poem. Even though my anthology focused on farm animals, the poems I loved the most were not about animals at all. I loved “Father William” by Lewis Carroll and “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe, so I recited both to my teacher. Nearly every week, I memorized a new poem so that by the end of the year I had memorized quite a few poems. While they weren’t necessarily the most sophisticated poems, I finally found poetry that I liked.

I dip in and out of poetry collections from time to time. Some poems resonate with me on a deep level like “Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I first came across it in the short, young adult novel Baby by Patricia McLaughlin. If you want a beautiful but depressing book, read Baby. Millay’s poem goes perfectly with yesterday’s post since it addresses grief.

My favorite French poet is Paul Claudel. His “Chemin de la Croix” (The Way of the Cross) is a 14-poem meditation on the Stations of the Cross. Claudel was a very difficult person and a fascist to boot, but I find his poems particularly moving. I also love “Zone” by the surrealist, World War I poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

So many young people hate poetry because of the way it’s taught in school. They spend hours dissecting a poem line by line, but they don’t get the point. Students today feel intimidated by the genre.

I am grateful to my 8th grade English teacher for having assigned that poetry anthology project. I found poems that I enjoyed, which encouraged me to read more poetry. At one time, most children’s books included short poems. They were a part of a child’s intellectual development. But today, students only encounter poetry in school where it’s dissected and analyzed bit by bit. I am not denying the value of literary analysis. I am a literature student after all. And I do it all the time on my blog. But poetry should be fun. Students should be encouraged to find poems that they love, even if they’re children’s poems.

I can’t say that I really understand poetry. I don’t have much experience analyzing poetry. But I care deeply about the poems that I’ve enjoyed. I’m sure that formal poetry courses would help me better appreciate 20th-century poetry, but that doesn’t mean that I am ignorant of the genre. I appreciate my favorite poems more each time I reread them. We would never tell a non-English student that she can’t understand The Great Gatsby because she hasn’t studied it in school, so why do we assume that those who lack formal education in poetry are completely ignorant of the genre? Find the poetry you enjoy and read it.

Cervantes, Miguel de, Literary Miscellanea

Don Quixote and Aristotle

In Chapter III of the Second Part of Don Quixote, Bachelor Sansón Carrasco, Don Quixote, and Sancho Panza discuss the First Part of Cervantes’ work. One of the questions addressed is the difference between poetry and history.

“Even so,” responded the bachelor, “some people who have read the history say they would have been pleased if its authors had forgotten about some of the infinite beatings given to Señor Don Quixote in various encounters.”

“That’s where the truth of the history comes in,” said Sancho.

“They also could have kept quiet about them for the sake of fairness,” said Don Quixote, “because the actions that do not change or alter the truth of the history do not need to be written if they belittle the hero. By my faith, Aeneas was not as pious as Virgil depicts him, or Ulysses as prudent as Homer describes him.”

“That is true,” replied Sansón, “but it is one thing to write as a poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth.”

The debate that these three men are having centers on an Aristotelian question, treated heavily by 16th and 17th century humanists. In chapter 9 of his Poetics, Aristotle writes:

But it is evident from what has been said that it is not the province of a poet to relate things which have happened, but such as might have happened, and such things as are possible according to probability, or which would necessarily have happened. For a historian and a poet do not differ from each other because the one writes in verse and the other in prose; for the history of Herodotus might be written in verse, and yet it would be no less a history with meter than without meter. But they differ in this, that the one speaks of things which have happened, and the other of such as might have happened.

The poet’s job is to relate what might have happened while the historian’s job is to give an account of what actually happened. But what does Aristotle mean? During the Renaissance, writers try to systematically describe a verisimilitudinous play (i.e. a play that presents events as they might have happened). The 17th century humanist Nicolas Boileau even applies Aristotle to non-theatrical poetry in his Art Poétique (Art of Poetry). The debate concerning the difference between a poet and a historian is also a debate about the role of the public. What does the public expect from a poet vs. from a historian?

Don Quixote, as part meta-fiction, is not only a satire on courtly romance but also a commentary on Renaissance values such as verisimilitude. What does the public expect from a history of Don Quixote? If the story is about a knight errant, should it follow tropes found in the courtly romances that Don Quixote‘s audience know so well? How should Don Quxote act? Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are at once ignorant and self-aware. They behave irrationally, but they know what readers of courtly romance expect. They try to realize in their own lives what a knight or a squire never did historically but might have done poetically. What is ironic about the above conversation is that Don Quixote seems to know that the heroes in his favorite stories were idealized and mythologized, yet he attempts to imitate them anyway. Sancho Panza definitely knows what the public (i.e. Don Quixote) expects because he frequently lies about events to fool and please his master.

Poems

The Second Coming – W.B. Yeats

This poem seems particularly relevant today.

 THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Berry, Wendell, Poems

The Cold by Wendell Berry

Update: I have not blogged in almost 2 months. I switched graduate programs from entomology to French and have been really busy reading for school. I know that I was supposed to participate in read-alongs that I had organized, but I bit off way more than I could chew. I hope to get to the books at some point before the end of the year, but it may not be for a while. I apologize for dropping the ball. Until I have more time do read for pleasure, I will post more poems or reviews of plays than book reviews. I may even discuss some philosophical treatises I’ve read. But I will be moving at a slower pace than I have in the past.

Enough about me. Now on to the poem:

The Cold

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

-to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

Poems

October Meme: Some Of My Favorite Poems

This is the Classics Club meme for October: Let’s talk about classic poetry! Have you got a favorite classic poem? Do you read poetry? Why or why not? // You could also feature a poet or a book of poetry, rather than a poem.

I do read poetry. For an eighth grade assignment I was required to create a poetry notebook centered around a theme. I chose farm animals as my theme and spent the summer before school started finding poems that would fit the theme. At around the same time, I fell in love with Roald Dahl’s books. Roald Dahl always included poetry in his children’s books. So did Lewis Carroll. When I first learned about the assignment I thought, “I don’t like poetry.” But by the end of the summer I fell in love with poetry. Not all of it, of course. No one loves every novel or every short story. No one should expect to love every poem. But I fell in love with poetry because that summer I had found, for the first time in my life, poems that I enjoyed reading. I memorized my favorites and recited them to my English teacher before class. I am convinced that people who say they don’t like poetry have not yet found the right poem. When they do find the right one (notice that I didn’t say “if”) they will know. Dissecting a poem to find its hidden meaning certainly has value but the dissection can be taken too far. I suspect that the reasons that some people avoid poetry are similar to the reasons some people avoid reading the classics.

Anyway, I will share some of my favorites below. Some, all, or none of these poems may interest you. But they are near and dear to my heart. If you are interested in hearing my thoughts about any of the poems in this post, you can ask me in the comments.

Let’s start with some fun, children’s poetry.

The Pig

In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn’t read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn’t puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, ‘By gum, I’ve got the answer! ‘
‘They want my bacon slice by slice
‘To sell at a tremendous price!
‘They want my tender juicy chops
‘To put in all the butcher’s shops!
‘They want my pork to make a roast
‘And that’s the part’ll cost the most!
‘They want my sausages in strings!
‘They even want my chitterlings!
‘The butcher’s shop! The carving knife!
‘That is the reason for my life! ‘
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great piece of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor…
Now comes the rather grisly bit
So let’s not make too much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
‘I had a fairly powerful hunch
‘That he might have me for his lunch.
‘And so, because I feared the worst,
‘I thought I’d better eat him first.’

– Roald Dahl

You Are Old, Father William

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door –
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment – one shilling the box –
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak –
‑ray how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose –
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs!”

– Lewis Carroll

in Just –

in Just-
spring        when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles        far       and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far       and       wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
      the

           goat-footed                                         

balloonMan      whistles
far
and
wee                 

– E.E. Cummings

And now for the more “mature” poetry:

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love–
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me–
Yes!–that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we–
Of many far wiser than we–
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling–my darling–my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

– Edgar Allan Poe

Where’s the Poet?

Where’s the Poet? show him! show him,
Muses nine! that I may know him.
‘Tis the man who with a man
Is an equal, be he King,
Or poorest of the beggar-clan
Or any other wonderous thing
A man may be ‘twixt ape and Plato;
‘Tis the man who with a bird,
Wren or Eagle, finds his way to
All its instincts; he hath heard
The Lion’s roaring, and can tell
What his horny throat expresseth,
And to him the Tiger’s yell
Come articulate and presseth
On his ear like mother-tongue.
– John Keats

One I just discovered while reading Baby by Patricia MacLachlan:

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

And finally, three Christian-themed poems by C.S. Lewis. They were mostly (if not all) published posthumously:

Legion

Lord, hear my voice, my present voice I mean,
Not that which may be speaking an hour hence
(For I am Legion) in an opposite sense,
And not by show of hands decide between
The multiple factions which my state has seen
Or will see. Condescend to the pretence
That what speaks now is I; in its defence
Dissolve my parliament and intervene.

Thou wilt not, though we asked it, quite recall
Free will once given. Yet to this moment’s choice
Give unfair weight. Hold me to this. O strain
A point – use legal fictions; for if all
My quarrelling selves must bear an equal voice,
Farewell, thou has created me in vain.

– C.S. Lewis

The Apologist’s Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

– C.S. Lewis

After Prayers, Lie Cold

Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush’d mortal, in the sacred night,
– A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness’ and pardon’s watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, and breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.

– C.S. Lewis