Monday, July 31, 2006

Poem of the Week 7/31/2006: Persimmons


In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down the newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew on the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down,
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I've forgotten.
Naked: I've forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn't ripe or sweet, I didn't eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set them both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents' cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He's so happy that I've come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

Li-Young Lee 1986

"Persimmons" is one among many fruit poems that I have been noticing (also among these are Bishop's "the Ballad of Orange and Grape," Harrison's "A Kumquat for John Keats," and many, many pomegranate poems. This one concerns language, layers, looking beneath the surface, foreiginness and alienation.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Poem of the Week 7/24/2006: from Dying: An Introduction

from Dying: An Introduction

Outside, although November by the clock,
Has a thick smell of spring,
And everything--
The low clouds lit
Fluorescent green by city lights;
The molten, hissing stream
Of white car lights, cooling
To red and vanishing;
The leaves,
Still running from last summer, chattering
Across the pocked concrete;
The wind in trees;
The ones and twos,
The twos and threes
Of college girls,
Each shining in the dark,
Each carrying
A book or books,
Each laughing to her friend
At such a night in fall;
The two-and-twos
Of boys and girls who lean
Together in an A and softly walk
Slowly from lamp to lamp,
Alternatively lit
And nighted; Autumn Street,
Astonishingly named, a rivulet
Of asphalt twisting up and back
To some spring out of sight--and everything
Recalls one fall
Twenty-one years ago, when I,
A freshman, opening
A green door just across the river,
Found the source
Of spring in that warm night,
Surprised the force
That sent me on my way
And set me down
Today. Tonight. Through my
Invisible new veil
Of finity, I see
November's world--
Low scud, slick street, three giggling girls--
As, oddly, not as sombre
As December,
But as green
As anything:
As spring.

L. E. Sissman 1968

Pay attention to the way this poem builds: Sissman begins with lonely images in short, elegant lines, but starts to stack them as the years stack on one another. They are the images of memory and of the present, of the nostalgic and loving present into which the narrator descends. These images are like stair-steps into 21 years ago, when something clicked into gear and life began purring along. The poem works as a set of real images, but on a different level, they can be seen as memories as well. Layering the meaning of different elementsis typical of the poem, which is an allegory for the end (the autumn) of the narrator's life. Four earlier sections establish that the narrator is dying of cancer. He is, and yet the end feels as fresh and new as spring. It's not so bad, the dying. And knowing that he will die, he pays closer attention to the details around him, to the interconnectedness of his life. And there is something beautiful in the symmetry and slowness of this poem.

Ironic that he only slows down at the end of his life, is it not? This section is the slowest of the five in the original poem, and it represents a coming to terms with death, a realization of the beauty of the things that have slowly walked through his life like girls under street lamps. In the first half of the poem, the theme of death manifests itself in the various vanishings throughout the poem, whether the girls flickering under the streetlamps, the car lights dissolving away, or the leaves fallen from the trees. Even the concrete is old, pocked, worn.

These images provide gorgeous metaphors for the way people drift through our lives. "The ones and twos, / The twos and threes / Of college girls, / Each shining in the dark, " perhaps represent the numinous glow of now-gone loves. Nostalgia for love is like that, I think - sweet and warming and glowing in the dark, lighting us up for brief moments and then receding again, on its way once more.

This same richness, luminosity, and attention to detail appears in the treatment of car lights and night sky. Simultaneously unnatural and comforting, the green sky adds a dreamlike quality to the night. It is unusual, yet the color recalls pastures and country comfort. The doubled, paradoxical meaning behind this image is again characteristic of the poem; it reinforces that there is good in bad, that there is spring in november, that there is comfort in the unnatural. There is also beauty in leaving, as the car's receding headlights show. They flicker into being, shift, and fade out as quickly as they came. This is still beautiful, and it pulses in memory as surely as it did in life.

The second half of the poem moves into explicit memory, though it is as vague and fleeting as the rest.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Poem of the Week 7/17/2006: Darwin in 1881

Darwin* in 1881

Sleepless as Prospero back in his bedroom
In Milan, with all his miracles
Reduced to sailors' tales,**
He sits up in teh dark. The islands loom.
His seasickness upswells,
Silence creeps by in memory as it crept
By him on water,*** while the sailors slept,
From broken eggs and vacant tortise shells.
His voyage around the cape of middle age
Comes, with a feat of insight, to a close,
The same way Prospero's
Ended before he left the stage
To be led home across the blue-white sea,
When he had spoken of the clouds and globe,
Breaking his wand, and taking off his robe;*
Knowledge increases unreality.
He quickly dresses.
Form wavers like his shadow on the stair
As he descends, in need of air
To cure his dizziness,
Down past the ship-sunk emptiness
Of grownup children's rooms and hallways where
The family portraits stare,
All haunted by each other's likenesses.

Outside, the orchard and a piece of moon
Are islands, he an island as he walks,
Brushing against weed stalks.
By hook and plume
The seeds gathering on his trouser legs
Are archipelagoes, like nests he sees
Shadowed in branching, ramifying trees,
Each with unique expressions in its eggs.
Different islands conjure
Different beings; different beings call
From different isles. And after all
His scrutiny of Nature
All he can see
Is how it will grow small, fade, disappear,
A coastline fading from a traveler
Aboard a survey ship. Slowly,
As coasts depart,
Nature had left behind a naturalist
Bound for a place where species don't exist,
Where no emergence has a counterpart.

He's heard from friends
About the other night, the banquet hall
Ringing with bravos--like a curtain call,
He thinks, when a performance ends,
Failing to summon from the wings
An actor who had lost his taste for verse,
Having beheld, in larger theaters,
Much greater banquet vanishings
Without the quaint device and thunderclap
Required in Act 3.**
He wrote, Let your indulgence set me free,***
To the Academy, and took a nap
Beneath a London Daily tent,
Then puttered on his hothouse walk
Watching his orchids beautifully stalk
Their unreturning paths, where each descendent
Is the last--
Their inner staircases
Haunted by vanished insect faces
So tiny, so intolerably vast.
And, when they gave his proxy the award,
He dined in Downe* and stayed up rather late
For backgammon with his beloved mate,
Who reads his books and is, quite frankly, bored.

Now, done with beetle jaws and beaks of gulls
And bivalve hinges, now, utterly done,
One miracle remains, and only one.
An ocean swell of sickness rushes, pulls,
He leans against the fence
And lights a cigarette and deeply draws.
Done with fixed laws,
Done with experiments
Within his greenhouse heaven where
His offspring, Frank, for half the afternoon
Played, like an awkward angel, his bassoon
Into the humid air
So he could tell
If sound would make a Venus's-flytrap close.
And, done for good with scientific prose,
That raging hell
Of tortured grammars writhing on their stakes,
He’d turned to his memoirs, chuckling to write
About his boyhood in an upright
Home: a boy preferring gartersnakes
To schoolwork, a lazy, strutting liar
Who quite provoked her aggravated look,
Shushed in the drawing room behind her book,
His bossy sister itching with desire
To tattletale--yes, that was good.
But even then, much like the conjurer
Grown cranky with impatience to abjure
All his gigantic works and livelihood
In order to immerse
Himself in tales where he could be the man
In Once upon a time there was a man.

He'd quite by chance beheld the universe:
A disregarded game of chess Between two love-dazed heirs
Who fiddle with the tiny pairs
Of statues in their hands,** while numberless
Abstract unseen
Combinings on the silent board remain
Unplayed forever when they leave the game
To turn, themselves, into a king and queen.
Now, like the coming day,
Inhaled smoke illuminates his nerves.
He turns, taking the sandwalk as it curves
Back to the yard, the house, the entrance way
Where, not to waken her,

He softly shuts the door,
And leans against it for a spell before
He climbs the stairs, holding the banister,
Up to their room: there
Emma sleeps, moored
In illusion, blown past the storm he conjured
With his book,*** into a harbor
Where it all comes clear,
Where island beings leap from shape to shape
As to escape
Their terrifying turns to disappear.
He lies down on the quilt,
He lies down like a fabulous-headed
Fossil in a vanished riverbed,
In ocean drifts, in canyon floors, in silt,
In lime, in deepening blue ice,
in cliffs obscured as clouds gather and float;
He lies down in his boots and overcoat,
And shuts his eyes.

Gjertrud Schnackenberg 1982

*The English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882), who developed the theory of evolution.
** In Shakespeare's The Tempest, the magician Prospero is the usurped and exiled duke of Milan; at the play's end, he is restored to his dukedom.
*** Cf. The Tempest, 1.2.395: "This music crept by me on the waters"
* Allusion to Prospero's words: "the great globe itself / Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve / And, like this insubstantial pagent faded, / Leave not a rack behind"
**Prospero conjures up a banquet and then makes it disappear with thunder and (as in the stage direction) "a quaint device"
***Prospero's final speech, the last line of the play.
* Darwin's home
**That is, playinc chess, as in The Tempest Act 5 Scene 1
***Prospero's book of magic helped him conjure a tempest. Darwin's book On the Origin of Species (1859) was equally powerful, culturally and scientifically.

1881 was a year before Darwin's death, and so this poem is about endings. It asks us all the question: what does one do when one's greatest journey is over? When the ship is docked and he is home, all he has are the memories of islands rushing up around him. Scientific diction widens the poem's scope, while revolving changes in scale make relevant the rest of the poem and concentrate the tone (more on this later). This is a poem exploring a singular time in life: when there is nothing left to experience. Life is over but death not there. So what one has to do, this poem shows, is wait, and remember. Schnackenberg's poem distills this moment and then explores its corners and crystals, examining his life and endings.

The poem opens with Darwin's sleeplessness at night. He gets up, feels sea-sick and lonely, and walks outside. Schnackenberg immediately draws a parallel between Darwin and Prospero. It is a sound comparison; both men were once great, and accomplished that greatness overseas. Plus, Darwin looks almost exactly as I imagine Prospero - great white beard, great white brows, shadowed, brooding eyes.... The poem opens with that link, and then the line, "all his miracles / Reduced to sailors' tales." Schnackenberg insinuates that whatever wonderful thing Darwin accomplished at the Galapagos is now a collection of "sound bites," the property of others who say what they like. I am reading Kundera's Immortality now, and this seems the same idea. Our memory is inevitably given over to the public, as are our works. Now that he is home and his work published, it is no longer his. It is the public's to digest and incorporate, not his.

Memory of that work has not left. Indeed, the first stanza teems with images and memories of the trip to the Galapagos. Darwin experiences seasickness, perhaps a signal that he was so accustomed to the boat that land is sickening, or perhaps evidence that his memory of the trip is so haunting that it touches him even now. Maybe it's just a heady sense of nostalgia. This stanza uses images of loss like those throughout the poem; "broken eggs and vacant tortoise shells," "ship-sunk," and "grownup children's rooms" reflect Darwin's lost experience.

In the second stanza, the island image stands for more than just memory - it signals Darwin's solitude in Downe and lasting connection with the Galapagos. Hee is truly alone in Downe, England. Who, after all, could imagine the heights of experiment and idea Darwin reached? Being so unbearably misunderstood perhaps influences the sense that everything will "grow small, fade, disappear." With nobody to understand, perhaps the experiences are unrealized, stifled. In part, this comes from my own belief that human ideas and experiences are meant to be shared, for they are best that way. I think it holds with the throbbing nostalgia in the poem; feeling alone/misunderstood/incomplete can total to a longing for a time of solidarity/understanding/completeness.

Aside from loneliness, this stanza treats mortality and memory. The islands saturate Darwin's thought. His ideas from his expeditions saturate his thought. The word "different," key in the discovery of the origin of species, pulses through lines 33-35, and yet even this recedes. Like "a coastline fading from its traveler," the experience fades, is pushed back by time and Nature, which brings all things to an end. For Darwin, the journey is everything, providing not only the core of his work, but the framework on which he understands his life. Only that journey ending could make mortality real.

Indeed, the voyage was so enormous in his life that anything else seems paltry. Darwin evades attending an awards ceremony. Schnackenberg compares him to "an actor who has lost his taste for verse, / Having beheld, in larger theaters, / much greater banquet vanishings." This again recalls Prospero, as does the request "Let your indulgence set me free." Those are Prospero's last lines, and some of the last Shakespeare himself ever wrote. Layering three seminal figures in Western imagination under one goodbye deepens it and lends an already-nostalgic term another coat of nostalgia. Schnackenberg also emphasizes the importance of his journey with the paltry activities he fills his later years with. Like backgammon. The only part of his life that retains some of the magic of his Galapagos trip is his experimentation with orchids. There, the scale zooms in and out, for the faces are "so tiny, [and] so intolerably vast" just as "the seeds gathering on his trouser legs / are archipelagoes" in stanza 2. The quick shifting of perspective is characteristic of his connection with the past, perhaps because of the radical flashes of insight from something as small as a bird beak or a beetle's shell could reveal such fundamental truths about the earth.

The fourth stanza - by far the longest - is almost a rant. After only one upswell of scientific nostalgia, Darwin takes control of the emotion. With more force than before, he says, "Done with fixed laws, / Done with experiments," and proceeds to appreciate something of his life: his son, an "awkward angel." Darwin goes so far as to denounce scientific prose, denounce "that raging hell / of tortured grammars writing on their stakes." Perhaps reminded of youth by his son, Darwin instead turns to memoirs, hoping to appreciate a different part of his life. He recognizes the goodness of his youth, the funness of mischief and mayhem. Gasp! Fun! Not in this nostalgia-soaked poem. But these memories turn out to be healing for Darwin, for he loses his earlier romantic illusions about the past and looks candidly at his vision of the world.

It is a world of infinite possibilities, and infinitely unrealized ones. Like Miranda and Ferdinand's chess game, it has endless closed developments and well-intentioned but distracted orchestraters. This metaphor either signals a sort of abstracted god, or the benign, lucky ramble of nature. The luck comes through in the pawns-to-royalty metaphor, for even the little lost pieces are "meant to be," in a way. This is Darwin's last thought before he feels he can turn back to the bedroom. What, then, is comforting about it? It seems to be the clearest view of his understanding of the world. Perhaps also he may leave it because, as for Prospero before him, the game is in someone else's hands. So long as he has a hold on his own life - through his memoir, through the fidelity of his memories, through his final lingering experiments, through his children - it is comforting to release the weight of the world into someone else's hands.

And so he journeys back once again, this small journey mirroring his larger one from the Galapagos to his home. He is ready to settle into dreamland, a magical place recalling Prospero's islands where the creatures, Ariel-like, jump from tree to tree in their efforts to stay alive. And that is the way of things - a constant shifting, leaping from island to island, and responsibility for present and understanding of the past flits from person to person, from era to era. We experience this in our own lives, the inevitable ebb and flow of nostalgia, of annoyance, of clarity, and eventually of returning. There is always a leaving, and things are never quite what they were, but is this not somehow the beautiful part? The poem hums with love as Darwin lays down on his pillow, old and restful, giving his consciousness to the motions of time.

So after everything, this poetic journey, what are we to do with greatness when it ends? What can we do, the poem replies, but set it free. Let the earth move on and lay down your head content to join where billions of others have gone. The world keeps turning, those young lovers sit at their chess-board, humming and moving the pieces as one species turns over its time to the other.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Poem of the Week 7/10/2006: The Victor Dog

The Victor Dog*

for Elizabeth Bishop

Bix to Buxtehude to Boulez,
The little white dog on the Victor label
Listens long and hard as he is able.
It's all in a day's work, whatever plays.

From judgment, it would seem, he has refrained.
He even listens earnestly to Bloch,
Then builds a church upon our acid rock.**
He's man's--no--he's the Leiermann's best friend,***

Or would be if hearing and listening were the same.
Does he hear? I fancy he rather smells
Those lemon-gold arpeggios in Ravel's
"Les jets d'eau du palais de ceux qui s'aiment." *

He ponders the Schumann Concerto's tall willow hit
By lightning, and stays put. When he surmises
Through one of Bach's eternal boxwood mazes**
The oboe pungent as a bitch in heat,

Or when the calypso decants its raw bay rum
Or the moon in Wozzeck*** reddens ripe for murder,
He doesn't sneeze or howl; just listens harder.
Adamant needles bear down on him from

Whirling of outer space, too black, too near--
But he was taught as a puppy not to flinch,
Much less to imitate his bete noire Blanche
Who barked, fat foolish creature, at King Lear.*

Still others fought in the road's filth over Jezebel,**
Slavered on hearths of horned and pelted barons.
His forebears lacked, to say the least, forbearance.
Can nature change in him? Nothing's impossible.

The last chord fades. The night is cold and fine.
His master's voice rasps through the grooves' bare groves.
Obediently, in silence like the grave's
He sleeps there on the still-warm gramophone

Only to dream he is at the premiere of a Handel
Opera long thought lost--Il Cane Minore.***
Its allegorical subject is his story!
A little dog revolving round a spindle

Gives rise to harmonies beyond belief,
A cast of stars. . . . Is there in Victor's heart
No honey for the vanquished? Art is art.
The life it asks of us is a dog's life.

James Merrill 1972

*Long a trademark of RCA, the dog "Nipper" - here called "Victor" - was on the label of RCA Victor records, listening intently to a gramophone, with the caption "His master's voice." In the poem, passing reference is made to the jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, the classical composers Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, Franz Schubert, and Robert Schumann, and to the modernists Pierre Boulez, Ernest Bloch, Maurice Ravel, and Alban Berg.
** Cf. Matthew 16.18: ". . . upon this rock I will build my church"
*** In Schubert's song "Der Leiermann" ("The Organ-Grinder"), an old man cranks his barrel-organ in the winter cold to an audience of snarling dogs.
* The palace fountains of those who are in love with each other (French).
** The composer's works are compared to labyrinths executed in living boxwood plants, popular in eighteenth-century formal gardens.
*** An opera by Berg in which the protagonist murders his unfaithful wife beneath a rising moon.
* In King Lear, the mad kings says, "the little dogs and all. / Tray, Blanch, and Sweet-heart, see, they bark at me" (3.6.57-58). Bete Noire: a person or thing detested or avoided; in French, its literal meaning is black beast, whereas Blanche means white.
** The proverbial wicked woman, she was killed in the street; when the body was recovered for burial, dogs had eaten most of it, as had been prophesied earlier by Elijah.
*** The little dog (Italian).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Poem of the Week 6/3/2006: Dejection: An Ode

Dejection: An Ode

Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,
With the old Moon in her arms;
And I fear, I fear my master dear!
We shall have a deadly storm.
Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence


Well! if the Bard was weather-wise, who made
The grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence,
This night, so tranquil now, will not go hence
Unroused by winds, that ply a busier trade
Than those which mould yon cloud in lazy flakes,
Or the dull sobbing draft, that moans and rakes
Upon the strings of this Aeolian lute,
Which better far were mute.
For lo! the New-moon winter-bright!
And overspread with phantom light,
(With swimming phantom light o'erspread
But rimmed and circled by a silver thread)
I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
And oh! that even now the gust were swelling,
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!
Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,
And sent my soul abroad,
Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,
Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live! 20


A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear --
O Lady! in this wan and heartless mood,
To other thoughts by yonder throstle woo'd,
All this long eve, so balmy and serene,
Have I been gazing on the western sky,
And its peculiar tint of yellow green:
And still I gaze -- and with how blank an eye!
And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
That give away their motion to the stars;
Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen:
Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew
In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue;
I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!


My genial spirits fail;
And what can these avail
To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
It were a vain endeavour,
Though I should gaze for ever
On that green light that lingers in the west:
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.


O Lady! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live:
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!
And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,
Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
Enveloping the Earth --
And from the soul itself must there be sent
A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,
Of all sweet sounds the life and element!


O pure of heart! thou need'st not ask of me
What this strong music in the soul may be!
What, and wherein it doth exist,
This light, this glory, this fair luminous mist,
This beautiful and beauty-making power.
Joy, virtuous Lady! Joy that ne'er was given,
Save to the pure, and in their purest hour,
Life, and Life's effluence, cloud at once and shower,
Joy, Lady! is the spirit and the power,
Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower
A new Earth and new Heaven,
Undreamt of by the sensual and the proud --
Joy is the sweet voice, Joy the luminous cloud --
We in ourselves rejoice!
And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight,
All melodies the echoes of that voice,
All colours a suffusion from that light.


There was a time when, though my path was rough,
This joy within me dallied with distress,
And all misfortunes were but as the stuff
Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness:
For hope grew round me, like the twining vine,
And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine.
But now afflictions bow me down to earth:
Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth;
But oh! each visitation
Suspends what nature gave me at my birth,
My shaping spirit of Imagination.
For not to think of what I needs must feel,
But to be still and patient, all I can;
And haply by abstruse research to steal
From my own nature all the natural man --
This was my sole resource, my only plan:
Till that which suits a part infects the whole,
And now is almost grown the habit of my soul.


Hence, viper thoughts, that coil around my mind,
Reality's dark dream!
I turn from you, and listen to the wind,
Which long has raved unnoticed. What a scream
Of agony by torture lengthened out
That lute sent forth! Thou Wind, that rav'st without,
Bare crag, or mountain-tairn, or blasted tree,
Or pine-grove whither woodman never clomb,
Or lonely house, long held the witches' home,
Methinks were fitter instruments for thee,
Mad Lutanist! who in this month of showers,
Of dark-brown gardens, and of peeping flowers,
Mak'st Devils' yule, with worse than wintry song,
The blossoms, buds, and timorous leaves among.
Thou Actor, perfect in all tragic sounds!
Thou mighty Poet, e'en to frenzy bold!
What tell'st thou now about?
'Tis of the rushing of an host in rout,
With groans, of trampled men, with smarting wounds --
At once they groan with pain, and shudder with the cold!
But hush! there is a pause of deepest silence!
And all that noise, as of a rushing crowd,
With groans, and tremulous shudderings -- all is over --
It tells another tale, with sounds less deep and loud!
A tale of less affright,
And tempered with delight,
As Otway's self had framed the tender lay, --
'Tis of a little child
Upon a lonesome wild,
Not far from home, but she hath lost her way:
And now moans low in bitter grief and fear,
And now screams loud, and hopes to make her mother hear.


'Tis midnight, but small thoughts have I of sleep:
Full seldom may my friend such vigils keep!
Visit her, gentle Sleep! with wings of healing,
And may this storm be but a mountain-birth
May all the stars hang bright above her dwelling,
Silent as though they watched the sleeping Earth!
With light heart may she rise,
Gay fancy, cheerful eyes,
Joy lift her spirit, joy attune her voice;
To her may all things live, from pole to pole,
Their life the eddying of her living soul!
O simple spirit, guided from above,
Dear Lady! friend devoutest of my choice,
Thus mayest thou ever, evermore rejoice.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1802

What I am particularly interested in, in this poem, is the type of anguish Coleridge is feeling. It is not so much the howling eye of despair as a flattening of emotion, a dulling of the senses, a stifling of imagination. This, and I resonate with Coleridge on this point, is the worst kind of hurt. It is not so much hurt as deadness, and nothing is worse. The key distinction, for me, lies in that between "seeing" the moon and "feeling" it. And I do mean to write "feeling" the moon, for that is akin to experiencing it. To see something requires distance, for one has to be separate from something to see it. Conversely, to feel something necessitates closeness. Coleridge thus forwards that living within the full range of emotion is better than static realms of being. It is the difference between the infinity of self and the bounded nature of knowledge, if that is clear. To know something is to have it pinned to a rational definition, to have it tamed, dominated. But to feel it is endless.

This is just the start of a longer response to this poem. I am tiring slightly of continuous close-reads, so I will be picking some different poems. And not that I have run out of poetry by any means, but my Norton is giving up fewer shortish, emotion-packed poems. And though it is possible to interest myself in any poem, I don't in many of them. I will write what I will, and hopefully right soon.