Monday, January 30, 2012

MCMXIV

MCMXIV

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day--
And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word--the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Going To Heaven

Going to Heaven by Emily Dickinson

Going to heaven!
I don't know when,
Pray do not ask me how,--
Indeed, I'm too astonished
To think of answering you!
Going to heaven!--
How dim it sounds!
And yet it will be done
As sure as flocks go home at night
Unto the shepherd's arm!

Perhaps you're going too!
Who knows?
If you should get there first,
Save just a little place for me
Close to the two I lost!
The smallest "robe" will fit me,
And just a bit of "crown";
For you know we do not mind our dress
When we are going home.

I'm glad I don't believe it,
For it would stop my breath,
And I'd like to look a little more
At such a curious earth!
I am glad they did believe it
Whom I have never found
Since the mighty autumn afternoon
I left them in the ground.

"Going to Heaven" by Emily Dickinson. Public domain.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Beautiful Sandwich

The Beautiful Sandwich by Brad Ricca  (Makes me hungry just to read this one!)

She could always make
the most beautiful sandwich.
Laced swiss cheese: sliced
crossways, folded once.
Ham in rolls like sleeping bags.
Turkey piled like shirts.
Tarragon. Oregano. Pepper.
Herb dill mayonnaise the color of
skin. On top: the thin, wandering line of
mustard
like a contour on a map
in a thin, flat drawer.
Or a single, lost vein.
The poppyseeds hold on,
for now.

Placed on a plate like isolated
driftwood
or a large, solemn head.
The spilled chips in yellow piles
are like the strange coins
of tall, awkward islanders.
The thin dill pickle: their boat
slides into
the green-sour sea.

Thanks to The Writers Almanac -- "The Beautiful Sandwich" by Brad Ricca, from American Mastodon. © Black Lawrence Press, 2011.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Scholar Gypsy - Matthew Arnold

Go, for they call you, shepherd, from the hill;
   Go, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes!
     No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
   Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
     Nor the cropped herbage shoot another head.
       But when the fields are still,
   And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
     And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
     Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanched green.
   Come, shepherd, and again begin the quest!

Here, where the reaper was at work of late--
   In this high field's dark corner, where he leaves
     His coat, his basket, and his earthen cruse,
   And in the sun all morning binds the sheaves,
     Then here, at noon, comes back his stores to use--
       Here will I sit and wait,
   While to my ear from uplands far away
     The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
     With distant cries of reapers in the corn--
   All the live murmur of a summer's day.

Screened is this nook o'er the high, half-reaped field,
   And here till sun-down, shepherd! will I be.
     Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
   And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see
     Pale pink convolvulus in tendrils creep;
       And air-swept lindens yield
   Their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers
     Of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid,
     And bower me from the August sun with shade;
   And the eye travels down to Oxford's towers.

And near me on the grass lies Glanvil's book--
   Come, let me read the oft-read tale again!
     The story of the Oxford scholar poor,
   Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
     Who, tired of knocking at preferment's door,
       One summer morn forsook
   His friends, and went to learn the gypsy lore,
     And roamed the world with that wild brotherhood,
     And came, as most men deemed, to little good,
   But came to Oxford and his friends no more.

But once, years after, in the country-lanes,
   Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
     Met him, and of his way of life enquired;
   Whereat he answered, that the gypsy crew,
     His mates, had arts to rule as they desired
       The workings of men's brains,
   And they can bind them to what thoughts they will.
     "And I," he said, "the secret of their art,
     When fully learn'd, will to the world impart;
   But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill."

This said, he left them, and returned no more.--
   But rumors hung about the countryside,
     That the lost Scholar long was seen to stray,
   Seen by rare glimpses, pensive and tongue-tied,
     In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey,
       The same the gypsies wore.
   Shepherds had met him on the Hurst in spring;
     At some lone alehouse in the Berkshire moors,
     On the warm ingle-bench, the smock-frocked boors
   Had found him seated at their entering,

But, 'mid their drink and clatter, he would fly.
   And I myself seem half to know thy looks,
     And put the shepherds, wanderer! on thy trace;
   And boys who in lone wheatfields scare the rooks
     I ask if thou hast passed their quiet place;
       Or in my boat I lie
   Moored to the cool bank in the summer-heats,
     'Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills,
     And watch the warm, green-muffled Cumner hills,
   And wonder if thou haunt'st their shy retreats.

For most, I know, thou lov'st retired ground!
   Thee at the ferry Oxford riders blithe,
     Returning home on summer nights, have met
   Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,
     Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet,
       As the punt's rope chops round;
   And leaning backward in a pensive dream,
     And fostering in thy lap a heap of flowers
     Plucked in shy fields and distant Wychwood bowers,
   And thine eyes resting on the moonlit stream.

And then they land, and thou art seen no more!--
   Maidens, who from the distant hamlets come
     To dance around the Fyfield elm in May,
   Oft through the darkening fields have seen thee roam,
     Or cross a stile into the public way.
       Oft thou hast given them store
   Of flowers--the frail-leafed, white anemone,
     Dark bluebells drenched with dews of summer eves,
     And purple orchises with spotted leaves--
   But none hath words she can report of thee.

And, above Godstow Bridge, when hay time's here
   In June, and many a scythe in sunshine flames,
     Men who through those wide fields of breezy grass
   Where black-winged swallows haunt the glittering Thames,
     To bathe in the abandoned lasher pass,
       Have often passed thee near
   Sitting upon the river bank o'ergrown;
     Mark'd thine outlandish garb, thy figure spare,
     Thy dark vague eyes, and soft abstracted air--
   But, when they came from bathing, thou wast gone!

At some lone homestead in the Cumner hills,
   Where at her open door the housewife darns,
     Thou hast been seen, or hanging on a gate
   To watch the threshers in the mossy barns.
     Children, who early range these slopes and late
       For cresses from the rills,
   Have known thee eying, all an April day,
     The springing pasture and the feeding kine;
     And marked thee, when the stars come out and shine,
   Through the long dewy grass move slow away.

In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood--
   Where most the gypsies by the turf-edged way
     Pitch their smoked tents, and every bush you see
   With scarlet patches tagged and shreds of grey,
     Above the forest ground called Thessaly--
       The blackbird, picking food,
   Sees thee, nor stops his meal, nor fears at all;
     So often has he known thee past him stray,
     Rapt, twirling in thy hand a withered spray,
   And waiting for the spark from heaven to fall.

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
   Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
     Have I not passed thee on the wooden bridge,
   Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
     Thy face tow'rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
       And thou has climbed the hill,
   And gained the white brow of the Cumner range;
     Turned once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
     The line of festal light in Christ Church hall--
   Then sought thy straw in some sequestered grange.

But what--I dream! Two hundred years are flown
   Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,
     And the grave Glanvill did the tale inscribe
   That thou wert wandered from the studious walls
     To learn strange arts, and join a gypsy tribe;
       And thou from earth art gone
   Long since, and in some quiet churchyard laid--
     Some country nook, where o'er thy unknown grave
     Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave,
   Under a dark, red-fruited yew-tree's shade.

--No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!
   For what wears out the life of mortal men?
     'Tis that from change to change their being rolls;
   'Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,
     Exhaust the energy of strongest souls
       And numb the elastic powers.
   Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,
     And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,
     To the just-pausing Genius we remit
   Our worn-out life, and are--what we have been.

Thou hast not lived, why should'st thou perish, so?
   Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;
     Else wert thou long since numbered with the dead!
   Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire!
     The generations of thy peers are fled,
       And we ourselves shall go;
   But thou possessest an immortal lot,
     And we imagine thee exempt from age
     And living as thou liv'st on Glanvill's page,
   Because thou hadst--what we, alas! have not.

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
   Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
     Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
   Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,
     Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.
       O life unlike to ours!
   Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,
     Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives,
     And each half lives a hundred different lives;
   Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
   Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
     Who never deeply felt, nor clearly willed,
   Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
     Whose vague resolves never have been fulfilled;
       For whom each year we see
   Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
     Who hesitate and falter life away,
     And lose tomorrow the ground won today--
   Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?

Yes, we await it!--but it still delays,
   And then we suffer! and amongst us one,
     Who most has suffered, takes dejectedly
   His seat upon the intellectual throne;
     And all his store of sad experience he
       Lays bare of wretched days;
   Tells us his misery's birth and growth and signs,
     And how the dying spark of hope was fed,
     And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,
   And all his hourly varied anodynes.

This for our wisest! and we others pine,
   And wish the long unhappy dream would end,
     And waive all claim to bliss, and try to bear;
   With close-lipped patience for our only friend,
     Sad patience, too near neighbor to despair--
       But none has hope like thine!
   Thou through the fields and through the woods dost stray,
     Roaming the countryside, a truant boy,
     Nursing thy project in unclouded joy,
   And every doubt long blown by time away.

O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
   And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
     Before this strange disease of modern life,
   With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
     Its heads o'ertaxed, its palsied hearts, was rife--
       Fly hence, our contact fear!
   Still fly, plunge deeper in the bowering wood!
     Averse, as Dido did with gesture stern
     From her false friend's approach in Hades turn,
   Wave us away, and keep thy solitude!

Still nursing the unconquerable hope,
   Still clutching the inviolable shade,
     With a free, onward impulse brushing through,
   By night, the silvered branches of the glade--
     Far on the forest-skirts, where none pursue,
       On some mild pastoral slope
   Emerge, and resting on the moonlit pales
     Freshen thy flowers as in former years
     With dew, or listen with enchanted ears,
   From the dark dingles, to the nightingales!

But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!
   For strong the infection of our mental strife,
     Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest;
   And we should win thee from thy own fair life,
     Like us distracted, and like us unblest.
       Soon, soon thy cheer would die,
   Thy hopes grow timorous, and unfixed thy powers,
     And thy clear aims be cross and shifting made;
     And then thy glad perennial youth would fade,
   Fade and grow old at last, and die like ours.

Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!
   --As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
     Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
   Lifting the cool-haired creepers stealthily,
     The fringes of a southward-facing brow
       Among the Aegean Isles;
   And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
     Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
     Green, bursting figs, and tunnies steeped in brine--
   And knew the intruders on his ancient home,

The young light-hearted masters of the waves--
   And snatch'd his rudder, and shook out more sail;
     And day and night held on indignantly
   O'er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
     Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
       To where the Atlantic raves
   Outside the western straits; and unbent sails
     There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
     Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
   And on the beach undid his corded bales.

This poem is featured in the 2011 TV drama Endeavour

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rest by Richard Jones

Rest - Thanks to the Writers Almanac

It's so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
by starlight,
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I've done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers' breath.
But instead of resting, I'd smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I'm not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything's fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I'm driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I've got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I'll be home by dawn.

"Rest." by Richard Jones, from The Correct Spelling and Exact Meaning. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude By Percy Bysshe Shelley

From Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude By Percy Bysshe Shelley
 
It is a woe too "deep for tears," when all
Is reft at once, when some surpassing Spirit,
Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves
Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans,
The passionate tumult of a clinging hope;
But pale despair and cold tranquillity,
Nature's vast frame, the web of human things,
Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Papa’s Waltz By Theodore Roethke

My Papa’s Waltz - By Theodore Roethke
The whiskey on your breath   
Could make a small boy dizzy;   
But I hung on like death:   
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans   
Slid from the kitchen shelf;   
My mother’s countenance   
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist   
Was battered on one knuckle;   
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head   
With a palm caked hard by dirt,   
Then waltzed me off to bed   
Still clinging to your shirt.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Winter Thanks

Winter Thanks by Marcus Jackson

To the furnace—tall, steel rectangle
containing a flawless flame.
                     To heat

gliding through ducts, our babies
asleep like bundled opal.
                     Praise

every furry grain of every
warm hour, praise each
                     deflection of frost,

praise the fluent veins, praise
the repair person, trudging
                     in a Carhartt coat

to dig for leaky lines, praise
the equator, where snow
                     is a stranger,

praise the eminent sun
for letting us orbs buzz around it
                     like younger brothers,

praise the shooter's pistol
for silencing its fire by
                     reason of a chilly chamber

praise our ancestors who shuddered
through winters, bunched
                     on stark bunks,

praise the owed money
becoming postponed by a lender
                     who won't wait

much longer in the icy wind,
praise the neon antifreeze
                     in our Chevrolet radiator,

and praise the kettle whistle,
imitating an important train,
                     delivering us

these steam-brimmed sips of tea.

"Winter Thanks" by Marcus Jackson, from Neighborhood Register. © Cavan Kerry Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. - Thanks to the Writers Almanac

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Clock

Happy New Year! - The Clock

With only one story to tell, the clock strikes
a monotonous note, irrespective of how
musical the bell, how gilded the chimes
its timely conclusions report through.
Time literally on hands, it informs you
to your face exactly where you stand
in relation to your aspirations, stacks up
the odds against your long-term prospects,
leaves your hopes and expectations checked.
Keeping track of time to the last second, it gives
the lie to all small talk about your reputedly
youthful looks, sees through the subterfuge
of dyed hair, exposes the stark truth beneath
the massaged evidence of smooth skin.

"The Clock" by Dennis O'Driscoll, from Reality Check. © Copper Canyon Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission