Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Poems of the Week 12/24/2007: My Nose Garden

Because who's tired of those last three serious poems!

My Nose Garden

I have rowses and rowses of noses and noses,
And why they all growses I really can't guess.
No lilies or roses, just cold-catching noses,
And when they all blowses, it's really a mess.

They runs and they glowses, these sneezity noses,
They drips and they flowses, they blooms and they dies.
But you can't bring no noses to fine flower showses
And really expect them to give you a prize.

But each mornin' I goeses to water with hoses
These rowses of noses that I cannot sell,
These red sniffly noses that cause all my woeses,
Why even the crowses complain that they smell.

Why noses, not roses? Well, nobody knowses.
Why do you suposes they growses this thick?
But since there's no roses come gather some noses--
I guarantee each one's a good nose to pick.

Shel Silverstein 1996

Uselessness, a little fun, yes!

Poem of the Week 12/17/2007: Where Many Rivers Meet

Where Many Rivers Meet

All the water below me came from above
All the clouds living in the mountains
gave it to the rivers
who gave it to the sea, which was their dying.

And so I float on cloud become water,
central sea surrounded by white mountains,
the water salt, once fresh,
cloud fall and stream rush, tree root and tide bank
leading to the rivers' mouths
and the mouths of the rivers sing into the sea,
the stories buried in the mountains
give out into the sea
and the sea remembers
and sings back
from the depths
where nothing is forgotten.

David Whyte 2004

This brings to mind impermanence (as a different poem might say), even though Whyte closes with the idea that the sea will remember all of the places its particles have been. He is probably going for unity within nature, the transformation of one element into another, the great commune between things. It probably also wants to imply that we are part of it; by writing this poem, perhaps he enters the cycle, as do we, tiny, ephemeral pieces in a great, remembering whole.

Poem of the Week 12/10/2007: " ill that heals and wounds."

{From a capitolo, a verse epistle:]

Young ladies, you who still enjoy your freedom
From the constraining bounds that Love imposes,
With which I and so many more are bound,
If you wish passionately to have knowledge
About this Love, who is made god and master
Not only by this age, but by olden times:
It is a burning feeling, vain desire
For empty shadows, self-imposed deception,
Setting your own well-being in disregard;...

Display of what were better kept in hiding,
A way of life forever pale and trembling,
Wandering in a way not understood;
Debasing of your self toward the beloved,
But when away from him, bold and defiant---
Not knowing surely where to set your feet;
A state of holding your own life in hatred,
Loving another more; your own existence
Darkened and say; again, happy and bright.
An apathy toward other occupations,
Fleeing from company of other people;
Close to one only, alien to yourself;...

Though hurt, unable to express your grievance
To the offended; misdirected anger
Against yourself, disprizing of yourself;
Seeing one face alone that's worth the looking;
Preoccupied with it, though at a distance;
An inner happiness expressed in sighs---
And finally, an ill that heals and wounds.

[#241, ll.1-9, 25-36, 43-49]

Gaspara Stampa ~1550
trans. Laura Anna Stortoni and Mary Prentice Lillie 1994

Rilke references Gaspara Stampa in the First Elegy of the Duino Elegies, and for a moment I had to ask why: why choose this poet? Why would their poetry intersect? Stampa is concerned with the experience of love, and the experience of the lover-abandoned. A member of the Italian literati in Venice in the 1540s and 50s, she fell in love with Collaltino de Collato, an adventuring man who, though was Stampa's sometime lover, did not return her love with such ardour. Stampa, on the other hand, wrote 311 poems out of this abandonment.

I might bet that Rilke chooses Stampa for her bravery in facing her despair. He writes that we ought to admire her as a greater lover, and it does seem that she can bear greater love! She can embrace the love and the anxiety, learning from both. Moreover, she is keenly aware of the progress that comes from suffering--this selection ends with, "an ill that heals and wounds." In what capacity does it do both? I believe that she is talking firstof the pleasure of loving another so much that even to think about his leaving makes one feel the closer to him, and thus happier. In other poems, though, she is explicit that he was the muse for an even greater love, poetry itself. There is healing in the controlled expression and transsubstantiation of love, perhaps. Is this true, that a refined, healthy way of dealing with the sexual feeling, and with love, is through art? I wonder!

Poem of the Week 12/3/2007: from Duino Elegies

from The Seventh Elegy

No more wooing! Voice, you've outgrown wooing; it won't be
the reason for your cry anymore, even if you cried clear as
a bird when the soaring season lifts him, almost forgetting
he's an anxious creature, and not just a single heart
she's tossing toward brightness, into the intimate blue.
Just like him, you'd be courting some still invisible,
still silent lover, a mate whose reply was slowly waking
and warming itself while she listened-- the glowing
reflection of your own fired feeling.

And, oh, Spring would understand--the mustic
of your annunciation would echo everywhere.
First that tiny swell of questioning surrounded by
the purely affirmative day's magnifying stillness.
Then the calling-intervals, the rising steps up
to the future's dreamed-of temple; then the trill,
the fountain whose rising jet's already lured into
falling by the promist of play... And ahead of it, summer.
Not only all of summer' dawns, not only
the way they turn into day and shine before beginning.
Not only the days, so delicate around flowers, bove,
around the molded trees, so heavy and strong.
Not only the reverence of these unleashed forces,
not only the paths, not only the evening meadows,
not only the breathing freshness after late thunder,
not only the coming of sleep and a premonition
at night--but also the nights! the high summer nights,
the nights and the stars, the stars of the earth.
Oh, to be dead at last and know all the stars,
forever! Then how, how, how could you forget them!

Look, I've been calling a lover. But she wouldn't come
alone... Other girls would rise out
of those crumbling graves and stand... How could I
limit the call I'd made? The lost are always searching
for the earth again. --Children, just one thing
of this world suddenly undrestood is valid for many.
Never think destiny's more than the substrate of childhood:
how often you'd catch up with a lover, panting, panting
from the happy chase, into the open, forever.

Life is glorious here. You girls knew it, even you
who seem to have gone without it--you who sank under
in the cities' vilest streets festerung like open sewers.
For there was one hour for each of you, maybe
less than an hour, some span between two whiles
that can hardly be measured, when you possessed Being.
All. Your veins swelled with existence.
But we forget so easily what our laughing neighbor
neigher confirms nor envies. We want to make it
visible, even though the most visible joy reveals
itself to us only when we've transformed it, within.

Love, the World exists nowhere but within.
Our life is lived in transformation. And, diminishing,
the outer world vanishes.

Ranier Maria Rilke 1927

Goethe, a great German poet, said that he spent his entire life learning to read. At eighty, he still didn't have the trick. So one question is, why might that be? What does it take to read?

I wonder if reading is a kind of state, a receptive, responsive, open one one's memory is relaxed enough to access different one's varoius associations. A great book would call for very great associations, perhaps, meaning expansion of experience. Real reading might also demand that one stay engaged with every word, difficult to do when thoughts attempt to interrupt through every line.

Rilke is often a litmus test for reading, for me, because he does demand a certain state of sensitivity, rare and delightful when it arises.

It's so hard to codify Rilke in an "analysis"--he must truly be read, be given over to, for only then could the sense of my small words come out. But a note about the first stanza:
Birds, in Rilke's poetry, often represent a higher state for man, a person who is freer from the heavy concerns of man. And so this bird forgets his own anxiety, forgets one identity in order to become a particle of the whole, "just a single heart."
Another thought: Rilke does such an exquisite job incorporating rapture and sadness into his poetry. Every time I read the Duino Elegies I am lifted and saddened. It seems that he balances the possibility of openness with such a compassionate look at the small and wondering man struggling to live.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Poem of the Week 11/26/2007: Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium

THAT is no country* for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats 1927

*the country of animal pleasures

from, Yeats, William. William Butler Yeats: Selected Poems and Four Plays. Ed. M.L. Rosenthal. New York: Scribner Paperback Poetry, 1996., a note on Yeats:
"Byzantium" in Yeats' poetry refers specifically to the capital of the Byzantine empire, in the fifth and sixth centuries, when there was "substituted for Roman magnificence, with its glorification of physical power, an architecture that suggests the Sacred City in the Apocalypse of St. John. I think if I could be given a month of Antiquity... I would spend it in Byzantium a little before Justinian opened St. Sophia and closed the Academy of Plato. I think I could find in some little wine-shop some philosophical worker in mosaic who could answer all my questions, the supernatural descending near to him than Plotinus even. ... I think that in early Byzantium, maybe never before or since in recorded history, religious, aesthetic, and practical life were one ... The painter, the mosaic worker, the worker in gold and silver, the illuminator of sacred books, were almost impersonal, almost perhaps without the consciousness of individual design..." (A Vision, pp. 270-280). Thus, Byzantium, in addition to its exotic Eastern connotations of a romantic nature, and of a stylized art and orientalized Christianity, represents a perfection of aesthetic and spiritual imagination to which the old man who is the protagonist of Yeats' poem wishes to turn.

Poem of the Week 11/19/2007: Jacob's Ladder Reversed

Jacob’s Ladder Reversed

I tell a story awfully.
If I were to find a girl in a well, become a hero,
surely I too would take my life.
I have at lesser successes.
I have wrestled with such pale angels.

For example, I know a wonderful girl
who is wonderful because once we spoke
barely knowing each other while speaking
& she moved my furniture & painted it gold
& set me up with friends & lovers.
She is wonderful. Do you see?

Did I tell you that this was two years ago,
that I’d just been married?
This wonderful girl did not come to the wedding.
(She was not invited.) Still I think her wonderful.

Throw me a little ladder.
Let me climb back now to my grave

Arielle Greenberg

Some general questions about this poem. Maybe you could write a paper.
Hm. Regrets. What is an opportunity?
In what ways is the narrator conflicted, and what does this conflict show us?

Another, more specific: does anybody know the reference in the first stanza, to finding a girl in a well and saving her life?