Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poem of the Week 1/30/2007: from Jerusalem. Plate 97.

from Jerusalem, a Poem.
Plate 97

Awake! Awake Jerusalem! O lovely Emanation of Albion
Awake and overspread all Nations as in Ancient Time
For lo! the Night of Death is past and the Eternal Day
Appears upon our Hills: Awake Jerusalem, and come away
So spake the Vision of Albion & in him so spake in my hearing,
The Universal Father Then Albion stretched his hand into Infinitude.
And took his Bow. Fourfold the Vision for bright beaming Urizen
Layed his hand on the South & took a breathing Bow of carved Gold
Luvah his hadn stretched to the East & bore a Silver Bow bright shining
Tharmas Westward a Bow of Brass pure flaming richly wrought
Urthona. Northward in thick storms a Bow of Iron terrible thundering

And the Bow is a Male & Female & the Quiver of the Arrows of Love.
Are the children of this Bow: a Bow of Mercy & Loving-kindness: laying
Open the hidden Heart in Wars of mutual Benevolence Wars of Love
And the Hand of Man grasps firm between the Male & Female Loves
And he Clothed himself in Bow & Arrows in awful state Fourfold
In the midst of his Twenty-eight Cities each with his Bow breathing-----

William Blake

What I am interested in for this poem is the tension in the third stanza between male and female, and the tension arising between opposites, or from struggle. Let us meditate on the image of an arrow and a bow. The tighter a bow is, the more tension there is within it, but the farther it can shoot an arrow. Tension leads to strength. Therefore, when the man chooses to clad himself in bow and arrows in the final stanza, he is not merely arming himself for war, but covering himself with strength. The "awful" state is also not one of horror, but of awe, of some kind of deep and abiding power within him. As for the fourfold nature of his state, he may be the symbol of the unity of the four Gods listed above (and many other things I am sure. Four is a key number for Blake, and the mode of thought in which he worked. There is little I know about this, but there are some things that I may say even in this small and limited space). He brings together the power of metals, gathering to him the power of metallurgy, which Blake equated with riotous transformation.

Yes! The melting of metals is "breathing bows," is the living fluid of struggle and overcoming.

This perhaps settles the initially offputting line, "Wars of mutual Benevolence Wars of Love"-- how can war and love go together? We don't tend to think that war is good for anybody. Surely Blake isn't merely talking about nationalism here. Maybe historicity is a part of it (I am not familiar with any historical references here; see Erdman for more on this), but it seems that the emphasis cannot just be a man loving his country like a man loves a woman. Romantic love (passioned?) involves reciprocated love. But here Blake seems to say that it also involves war, some kind of destructive tension. Men and women... that's reproduction, the sustained creation of a third through two who are different...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Letter concerning the Poem of the Week

My favorite quote about poetry is written by Howard Nemerov:

"Poetry is getting something right in language."

Poetry is that which represents the world rightly, whatever piece of the world it regards. Nemerov's definition solves the dilemma of whether prose can be poetic, or whether every thirteen year old's spillover angst is *really* poetry.** It can take the form of a conversation, a song, a quote, an aphorism, poem, or paragraph. So long as the language gets something right about its subject, a precise and undefinable art, it is poetry.

With this understood, I am looking to expand the poem of the week to any form of right language that catches me. Aphorisms will make a frequent appearance from now on; Nietzsche writes that they move from peak to peak of knowledge. They are the crystals of understanding, the hardest and most beautiful expression of truth that require little explanation.

At the risk of filling in knowledge for you (or perhaps to fill in knowledge for myself), I hope to in the future put down my thoughts about various aphorisms and poetry. Ultimately there is not much difference between the two. Often, my favorite part of a poem is not the entirity, but one line, one sure and clear idea nestled among images or events.

I hope that the aphorisms don't appear too corny, as they sometimes can taken out of context, but I suppose that is one of the responsibilities of the new form of the poem of the week.

This change follows some changes in my own intellectual and personal drives. Close-reading is a helpful skill, and I hope that you have learned something if you have read the poems and perhaps my thoughts. However, there is only so much a muscle may grow, especially if my blood begins to flow elsewhere. So, from now on I will offer you different dances between beauty and ideas, which, despite a change in size and focus, remain at the core of this blog.

As always, feel free to email me with any questions, responses, or ideas.


**of course prose can be poetry, and, sorry, most angsty "poetry" is merely a collection of dripping, overstuffed sentences.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Poem of the Week 1/23/2007


You there, in the middle of your mind,
curled up into a ball but wide awake--
I am awake like you, in the same bed

hearing the train that when it passes
means it's almost morning, though the sky
is dark, though the highway is quiet.

You can follow the train in your mind,
but you cannot follow the train
from little town to little town to Boston,

where in the dark the transactions happen--
something poured, something filled,
something dropped off, something taken--

happen among the loud men at the wharf
before their very first sign of dawn,
and the train in Boston turns around.

I wish our minds were like the train,
passing once a night through the woods,
fading out among the lights and termini,

its load of oil or metal going some place
they want it, returning in the morning,
its mile-long belly not empty, not hungry;

not the wharf, accepting train after train
of junk from the provinces all night,
a throat that tries and tries to swallow dirt.

Dan Chiasson 2006

Now this is a lovely, lonely poem, a meditation on the mind of man and the thoughts of night. Several things are at work: rhythm, long phrases and sentences, and a symbolic explanation of distraction and thought. This poem discusses much that has been passing through my mind--restlessness, hunger, loneliness, the fact that we don't will thought but that it comes to us...

I don't know whether I want to write about this any more or not... it is a beautiful poem, lovely in tone and in content both.

Here's something, everybody, and I don't write this lightly. I don't know if the Poem of the Week is right for me any more. I am doing it more out of mechanical habit than real love for these poems, and that doesn't seem right to me. More and more I find myself wanting to repeat poems, becuase some of the poems that have nestled themselves in my chest aren't going to leave. So... I don't know about the future of the poem of the week. It's something that I will have to think about, and I am sorry that I might think of changing or abandoning this.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Poem of the Week 1/8/2007: from The Drunken Song

from The Drunken Song

O man! Take care!
What does Deep Midnight now declare?
'I sleep, I sleep--
From deepest dream I rise for air:--
The world is deep,
And deeper than day had been aware.
Deep is its woe--
Joy--deeper still than misery:
Woe says: Be gone!
Yet all joy wants Eternity--
--wants deepest, deep Eternity!

Friedrich Nietzsche 1885
Thus Spake Zarathustra trans. Graham Parkes

Though translated, which is not ideal, I was struck by this poem reading Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In context, it is far more beautiful than it is alone, here, but I ask you, when reading it, to imagine yourself rising to eternity, to meet the world head on, to learn that everything is something--every thought, tree, bird, and person is new to you every single second... new and simultaneously eternal, according to Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence. Each and every moment is eternal, has the weight of eternity...

Joy and woe are the two deepest emotions, perhaps. Nietzsche writes of their interconnection, of the mingling of love and grief, joy and woe etc. I wish that I could make you all read this book. Well, instead, I will quote another passage. Maybe that will help place the gorgeousness of the poem, or help you feel/understand it.

You higher humans, what do you think? Am I a soothsayer? A dreamer? Drunkard? A dream interpreter? A midnight-bell?
A drop of dew? A haze and fragrance of eternity? Do you not hear it? Do you not smell it? Just now my world became perfect, midnight is also midday--
Pain is also a joy, curse is also a blessing, night is also a sun--be gone! or will you learn: a wise man is also a fool.
Did you ever say Yes to a single joy? Oh, my friends, then you said Yes to all woe as well. All things are chained together, entwined, in love--
--if you ever wanted one time a second time, if you ever said 'You please me happiness! Quick! Moment!' then you wanted it all back!
--All anew, all eternally, chained together, entwined, in love, oh then you loved the world--
--you eternal ones, love it eternally and for all time: and even to woe you say: Be gone, but come back! For all joy wants--Eternity!
- TSZ p. 283


Monday, January 01, 2007

Poem of the Week 1/1/2007: Sonnet 60

Sonnet 60

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked elipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

William Shakespeare 1609

What better way to start a year than with Shakespeare! With a poem about the ravages of time, no less? Or a beautiful nod to the temporality of all? Check back soon for a close-read.