Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer in the South

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Oriole sings in the greening grove
As if he were half-way waiting,
The rosebuds peep from their hoods of green,
Timid, and hesitating.
The rain comes down in a torrent sweep
And the nights smell warm and pinety,
The garden thrives, but the tender shoots
Are yellow-green and tiny.
Then a flash of sun on a waiting hill,
Streams laugh that erst were quiet,
The sky smiles down with a dazzling blue
And the woods run mad with riot.

Snake

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the
edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Silently.
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into
that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in
undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.
-- D H Lawrence

http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.com/2003/06/snake-d-h-lawrence.html

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Land of Lost Content

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman

Quoted on the new Lewis mystery episode The Dead of Winter by the wonderful Laurence Fox (Hathaway)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The House that Goes Dancing by Deborah Digges

Not always but sometimes when I put on some music
the house it goes dancing down through the yard
to cha-cha the willows or up into town
to tango the churches.
The neighbors, appalled, they call the police.
The dogcatcher chases my dogs up the street.
Toward the house that goes dancing in raven black boots
or enormous bed slippers,
dragging one leg like an earnest old hunchback
through the midsummer gardens gathering garlands
to wrap round her roof, she goes dancing,
love's house she goes dancing her grief-stricken dance
for his unpacked suitcases, his detritus, his hair, his hairbrush,
his glasses, his letters, his toothbrush,
his closets of clothes where I crouch like a thief
when the house it goes dancing,
a stowaway hiding in big woolen coats,
the scent of his body, the smell of him rising.
We are shaken past the ending, his passing,
Who waltz out of town,
All our mirrors well shattered, our china, our crystal,
Our lightbulbs, our pictures have crashed from the walls.
A magnificent mess!—The doors off their hinges,
the windows wide open.
Let his spirit let go now and his big broken heart,
neither sky nor horizon, neither clay nor this dust.
It's as if he went racing his horse
past the house as we dance him goodbye
as far as we can, as we call out goodbye with our hands
round our mouths, shouting and dancing,
dancing and calling to the edge of the world
through the fields.

"The House that Goes Dancing" by Deborah Digges, from The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cole Porter's Birthday

Via The Writer's Almanac: It's the birthday of the man who wrote the lines:
The girls today in society
Go for classical poetry
So to win their hearts one must quote (with ease)
Aeschylus and Euripides. …
But the poet of them all
Who will start 'em simply ravin'
Is the poet people call
The bard of Stratford-on-Avon!
Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now,
Brush up your Shakespeare,
And the women you will wow.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lives of the Nineteenth Century Poetesses - By Katha Pollitt

As girls they were awkward and peculiar,
wept in church or refused to go at all.
their mothers saw right away,
no man would marry them.
So they must live at the sufferance of others,
timid and queer, as governesses out of Chekhov,
malnourished on theology,
boiled eggs and tea,
but given to outbursts of cries
that embarrass everyone.
After the final quarrel,
the grand renunciation,
they retire upstairs to the attic,
or to the small room in the cheap off-season hotel,
and write, "Today I burned all your letters," or
"I dreamed the magnolia blazed like an avenging angel,
and when I woke, I knew I was in Hell."
No one is surprised when they die young,
having left their savings to a wastrel nephew,
to be remembered for a handful of minor but perfect lyrics,
a passion for jam or charades,
and a letter still preserved in the family archives:
"I send you here with the papers of your aunt,
who died last Tuesday in the odor of sanctity,
although a little troubled in her mind
by her habit, much disapproved of by the ignorant,
of writing down the secrets of her heart."

Friday, June 4, 2010

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death by William Butler Yeats

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

An Irish Airman foresees his Death" by William Butler Yeats.

This poem reminds me of the Canadian poet John Gillespie Magee's 
High Flight (featured in the 1993 Russell Crowe movie For the Moment, in which it is recited by Crowe's character, Lachlan Curry.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Peonies


The Writers Almanac: Peonies  by Jeanne Lohmann

Grandma called them pineys, and I didn't know why.
They smelled so good, the full lush petals
crowded thick, the whole flower heavy on its stem,
the leaves dark and rich and green as shade in Chatauqua Woods
where each spring I hunted for violets. What could there be
to pine for on this earth? Now I think maybe it was Missouri
she missed, and maybe that was what somebody she knew
called peonies there, before she traveled to Ohio,
a sixteen-year-old bride whose children came on as fast
as field crops and housework. Her flowers saved her,
the way they came up year after year and with only a bit of care
lived tender and pretty, each kind surprising,
keeping its own sweet secret: lily-of-the-valley, iris,
the feathery-leaved cosmos, lilacs in their white and purple curls,
flamboyant sweet peas and zinnias, the bright four o'clocks
and delphinium, blue as her eyes, and the soft peony flowers
edged deep pink. In her next life I want my grandmother
to walk slowly through the gardens in England and Kyoto.
I want to be there when she recognizes the flowers
and smiles, when she kneels and takes the pineys in her hands.

"Peonies" by Jeanne Lohmann, from Calls from a Lighted House. © Fithian Press, 2007.