Friday, December 12, 2008

Poem of the Week 11/10/2008: Sing a Song of Sixpence

Sing a Song of Sixpence

Sing a song of sixpence,
a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
the birds began to sing.
Wasn't that a dainty dish
to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,
counting out his money.
The queen was in the parlour,
eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,
hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
and pecked off her nose!

There was such a commotion
that little Jenny wren
Flew down into the garden
and put it back again

Unknown, 17th Century

For some reason this song popped into my head today, and I thought it's actually a really nice, surrealist, fun poem to put up. One could say all sorts of silly academic things about it, but is there a need to talk about the surprise of the moment, the inherent violence of the children's song exploding out of the pie into the king's face, the role of the Jenny wren... all of that seems kind of funny and postmodern in the face of this little old song. 

Poem of the Week 11/3/2008: from The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1: The War Within

from The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1: The War Within

Having seen your son's forces set in their
places and the fighting about to begin, Arjuna
spoke these words to Sri Krishna

O Krishna, drive my chariot between the two
armies. I want to see those who desire to fight
with me. With whom will this battle be fought?
I want to see those assembled to fight for
Duryodhana, those who seek to please the evil-
minded son of Dhritarashtra by engaging in war.

Thus Arjuna spoke, and Sri Krishna, driving his
splendid chariot between the two armies, facing
Bhishma and Drona and all the kings of the earth,
said: "Arjuna, behold all the Kurus gathered together."

And Arjuna, standing between the tweo armies,
saw fathers and grandfathers, teachers, uncles,
and brothers, sons and grandsons, in-laws
and friends. Seeing his kinsmen established
in opposition, Arjuna was overcome by
sorrow. Despairing, he spoke these words:

O Krishna, I see my own relations here anxious
to fight, and my limbs grow weak; my mouth is
dry, my body shakes, and my hair is standing on
end. My skin burns, and the bow Gandiva has
slipped from my hand. I am unable to stand; my
mind seems to be whirling. These signs bode evil
for us. I do not see that any good can come from
killing our relations in battle. O Krishna, I have
no desire for victory, or for a kingdom of pleasures.

... Arjuna explains at length the ills of going to war against his own friends and family, until,

Overwhelmed by sorrow, Arjuna spoke these words.
And casting away his bow and his arrows, he sat
down in his chariot in the middle of the battlefield.

translated by Eknath Easwaran

It is telling that this chapter heading is, "the War Within," for we must ask, in this introductory section, what this war consists in. "Bhagavad Gita,'" translated, means "song of God," and so it seems that the violence cannot be real, or rather against other beings; rather, the violence is that of a war within. But what is this war? Well, it is a war for a kingdom and pleasures; if I had included the introduction section, it would become clear that it is also a family war, presumably the result of years of inherited grudges, misdeeds, and tiffs. It is a very great war, with two sides, each trying to beat the other, each side matched. Arjuna lets us know that the war is against Duryodhana's minons, who are attempting to please the "evil-minded one." All of these are facts. But are they the entire story?

The song probably includes many levels of interpretation, the large scale ideas about "following one's dharma," doing what one ought in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, but I think this moment is also a moment of confronting oneself, of having to sacrifice a personality, or a desire or craving, or a fear-- in the following sections, Sri Krishna gives Arjuna a teaching about the nature of reality and illusion, ego and Atman/Self... for a small book it spans the whole cosmos. You really ought to read it when you want to do so. It's on Google Books, even:,M1

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Poem of the Week 10/27/2008: You I choose, of all the world alone

You I choose, of all the world, alone;
Will you suffer me to sit in grief?
My heart is as a pen in your hand,
You are the cause if I am glad or melancholy.
Save what you will, what will have I?
Save what you show, what do I see?
You make grow out of me now a thorn and now a rose;
Now I smell roses and now pull thorns.
If you keep me that, that I am;
If you would have me this, I am this.
In the vessel where you give color to the soul
Who am I, what is my love and hate?
You were first, and last you shall be;
Make my last better than my first.
When you are hidden, I am of the infidels;
When you are manifest, I am of the faithful.
I have nothing, except you have bestowed it;
What do you seek from my bosom and sleeve?

translated by R. A. Nicholson

I don't think this poem is about a lover, as in flesh and blood. Instead it is about The Lover, Rumi's beloved, the One and Only, i.e. Truth, Reality, God, Objective Consciousness (poor english terminology is so impoverished). And it raises all sorts of fabulous questions--what is the nature of will, and what ought we really desire? What would real wishing be?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Poem of the Week 10/20/2008: The Broken Home

The Broken Home

Crossing the street,
I saw the parents and the child
At their window, gleaming like fruit
With evening's mild gold leaf.
In a room on the floor below,
Sunless, cooler—a brimming
Saucer of wax, marbly and dim—
I have lit what's left of my life.
I have thrown out yesterday's milk
And opened a book of maxims.
The flame quickens. The word stirs.
Tell me, tongue of fire,
That you and I are as real
At least as the people upstairs.

My father, who had flown in World War I,
Might have continued to invest his life
In cloud banks well above Wall Street and wife.
But the race was run below, and the point was to win.
Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze
(Through the smoked glass of being thirty-six)
The soul eclipsed by twin black pupils, sex
And business; time was money in those days.
Each thirteenth year he married. When he died
There were already several chilled wives
In sable orbit—rings, cars, permanent waves.
We'd felt him warming up for a green bride.
He could afford it. He was "in his prime"
At three score ten. But money was not time.

When my parents were younger this was a popular act:
A veiled woman would leap from an electric, wine-dark car
To the steps of no matter what—the Senate or the Ritz Bar—
And bodily, at newsreel speed, attack
No matter whom—Al Smith or José María Sert
Or Clemenceau—veins standing out on her throat
As she yelled War mongerer! Pig! Give us the vote!,
And would have to be hauled away in her hobble skirt.
What had the man done? Oh, made history.
Her business (he had implied) was giving birth,
Tending the house, mending the socks.
Always that same old story—
Father Time and Mother Earth,
A marriage on the rocks.

One afternoon, red, satyr-thighed
Michael, the Irish setter, head
Passionately lowered, led
The child I was to a shut door. Inside,
Blinds beat sun from the bed.
The green-gold room throbbed like a bruise.
Under a sheet, clad in taboos
Lay whom we sought, her hair undone, outspread,
And of a blackness found, if ever now, in old
Engravings where the acid bit.
I must have needed to touch it
Or the whiteness—was she dead?
Her eyes flew open, startled strange and cold.
The dog slumped to the floor. She reached for me. I fled.

Tonight they have stepped out onto the gravel.
The party is over. It's the fall
Of 1931. They love each other still.
She: Charlie, I can't stand the pace.
He: Come on, honey—why, you'll bury us all!
A lead soldier guards my windowsill:
Khaki rifle, uniform, and face.
Something in me grows heavy, silvery, pliable.
How intensely people used to feel!
Like metal poured at the close of a proletarian novel,
Refined and glowing from the crucible,
I see those two hearts, I'm afraid,
Still. Cool here in the graveyard of good and evil,
They are even so to be honored and obeyed.

. . . Obeyed, at least, inversely. Thus
I rarely buy a newspaper, or vote.
To do so, I have learned, is to invite
The tread of a stone guest within my house.
Shooting this rusted bolt, though, against him,
I trust I am no less time's child than some
Who on the heath impersonate Poor Tom
Or on the barricades risk life and limb.
Nor do I try to keep a garden, only
An avocado in a glass of water—
Roots pallid, gemmed with air. And later,
When the small gilt leaves have grown
Fleshy and green, I let them die, yes, yes,
And start another. I am earth's no less.

A child, a red dog roam the corridors,
Still, of the broken home. No sound. The brilliant
Rag runners halt before wide-open doors.
My old room! Its wallpaper—cream, medallioned
With pink and brown—brings back the first nightmares,
Long summer colds, and Emma, sepia-faced,
Perspiring over broth carried upstairs
Aswim with golden fats I could not taste.
The real house became a boarding school.
Under the ballroom ceiling's allegory
Someone at last may actually be allowed
To learn something; or, from my window, cool
With the unstiflement of the entire story,
Watch a red setter stretch and sink in cloud.

James Merrill

"The Broken Home" reads almost like a American short story, with the puns ("Time was money // but money was not time"), the slightly roughed up family anecdotes, the careful, exact, strange images and details like an avocado in a glass, or the "satyr-thighed" irish setter. This, plus some taste of quietness, interiority, storytelling, and pacing. Enough for an introduction? Well I could go on to say that, thematically, the poem touches on endless repetition of the same within ones own family; by the end of his life, Merrill is planting a replanting an avocado, perhaps a whisper or a new version of his father's own continual development and discarding of wives, of the life and death of family.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Poem of the Week 10/13/2008: Summer Holiday

Summer Holiday

When the sun shouts and people abound
One thinks there were the ages of stone and the age of
And the iron age; iron the unstable metal;
Steel made of iron, unstable as his mother; the tow-
ered-up cities
Will be stains of rust on mounds of plaster.
Roots will not pierce the heaps for a time, kind rains
will cure them,
Then nothing will remain of the iron age
And all these people but a thigh-bone or so, a poem
Stuck in the world's thought, splinters of glass
In the rubbish dumps, a concrete dam far off in the

Robinson Jeffers

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poem of the Week 10/6/2008: Soni


I'm in a bar and someone's name is Soni
The floor is covered in ash Like a bird
like a single bird two old men arrive
Archilochus and Anacreon and Simonides* Miserable
Mediterranean refugees don't ask me what I'm doing
here, just forget that I've been with a girl
who'd pale and right Either way, I only remember blush
the word shame after the word hollow
Soni! Soni! I laid her back and rubbed
my penis all over her waist the dog barked in the street
below there was a theater and after coming
I thought "two theaters" and the void Archilochus and Anacreon
and Simonides sheathing their willow branches Man
doesn't search for life, I said, I laid her back and
shoved the whole thing in something crunched between
the dog's ears Crack! We're lost
All that's left is for you to get sick, I said And Soni
stepped away from the ground the light through dirty glass
rendered like a god and the author
closed his eyes

Roberto Bolaño
translated by Laura Healy

*Archilochus (Greek: Ἀρχίλοχος) (c. 680 BC – c. 645 BC) was a Greek poet and supposed mercenary.
Anacreon (Greek Ἀνακρέων) (570 BC-488 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and hymns.
Simonides of Ceos (Σιμωνίδης ὁ Κεῖος) (c. 556 BC-468 BC), Greek lyric poet, was born at Ioulis on Kea.

I think this is a wonderful poem--the eroticism and the violence shocking, and there is no clear line of activity; rather, the past and present, or perhaps the past and past, are so intermingled that to tear them apart would also tear apart the poem. In a way I don't think that these events are separate, for I imagine them in the head of the narrator; whatever he lives is crowded with his memories, which present themselves as real and vital. Pretty amazing and true to our lives.

There are more complicated statements about the erotic, poetry, and even some jokes in here too; the three greek references are all classical poets, and I wonder if their visitation is like the visitation of the fates, or whether they are a kind of muse. Moreover, Bolano brings in "the author" at the end of the poem, himself overwhelmed by these memories. What a blending of so many elements (blended but not mashed, if that makes sense; the events and characters are still somewhat identifiable in different scenes).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Poem of the Week 9/29/2008: Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Monday, November 03, 2008

Poem of the Week 9/22/2008: Underground


Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Rushing water,
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.

Barack Obama 1982

I hope that you vote Obama. The rest of his poems, published at Occidental College when he was 19, may be found:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Poem of the Week 9/16/2008: A Season in Hell

A Season in Hell

A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing.

One night, I sat Beauty down on my lap.—And I found her galling.—And I roughed her up.

I armed myself against justice.

I ran away. O witches, O misery, O hatred, my treasure's been turned over to you!

I managed to make every trace of human hope vanish from my mind. I pounced on every joy like a ferocious animal eager to strangle it.

I called for executioners so that, while dying, I could bite the butts of their rifles. I called for plagues to choke me with sand, with blood. Bad luck was my god. I stretched out in the muck. I dried myself in the air of crime. And I played tricks on insanity.

And Spring brought me the frightening laugh of the idiot.

So, just recently, when I found myself on the brink of the final squawk! it dawned on me to look again for the key to that ancient party where I might find my appetite once more.

Charity is that key.—This inspiration proves I was dreaming!

"You'll always be a hyena etc. . . ," yells the devil, who'd crowned me with such pretty poppies. "Deserve death with all your appetites, your selfishness, and all the capital sins!"

Ah! I've been through too much:-But, sweet Satan, I beg of you, a less blazing eye! and while waiting for the new little cowardly gestures yet to come, since you like an absence of descriptive or didactic skills in a writer, let me rip out these few ghastly pages from my notebook of the damned.

Arthur Rimbaud Translated by Bertrand Mathieu

Happy Halloween*
There were a lot of choices for this week's PotW--many writers have treated of Hell, of course (think Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Blake, Joyce--indeed all great epics following the Western tradition ought by right to have a passage to the underworld)... there could be an entire anthology of Hell, perhaps put together by a Beat or a Blakean? It would be a fabulous anthology.

At any rate, I picked this one because it treats a sort of interior Hell, addressed to the devil, yes, but it is remarkable that the narrator discusses his own abuse of his life. It also includes, darkly, some hope, which is perhaps an older meaning of Halloween; to enter the darkness in order to purge and to balance. The same thing happens in The Orestia. At the end (stop here if you haven't read it), Athena orders mankind to pay its debt to the Furies, to treat them properly, to give them some life still.

* (the posting date, not the fake chronological one)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Poem of the Week 9/8/08: Byzantium


The unpurged images of day recedes;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night-walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood,
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

William Butler Yeats

How does one begin to look at this poem? The opening stanza holds the line "all man is," and I think that would be an excellent question with which one might approach the poem. What is Yeats' vision of man, and if you find that it shifts or that it is nearly impossible to parse or pin down, then are there any perspectives that might shed light on man (fleshly, subconscious/mystical/visionary, mythic, violent, emotional, thoughtful etc)?

some notes of my own:
Yeats is placing his mythic Byzantium in the same category as Blake's Jerusalem or the great cities of the Old and New Testaments--real places in the worldly sense, but perhaps as well enormous landscapes inside the human being. So if there are aspects of blood and mire and violence in this poem, dolphins and golden birds and peace, then these are all characters in a vast subconsicous network, communicated to Yeats the poet, or perhaps in a way chosen by him to represent what man's inner experience is touched with from time to time.

Perhaps it will be helpful to read the beginning of this poem as a kind of movement from waking consciousness to a remembered draming consciousness; it opens with the receding of "the unpurged images of day," which leaves us what?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Poem of the Week 9/5/05: Heredity


I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance -- that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die

Thomas Hardy

It's the small things, right? Like the strangeness of looking into an old photograph, or one's mother's face, and seeing oneself.

ps Thank you to my grandmother, who introduced me to this poem.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Poem of the Week 8/25/2008: Tristia


I have taken to heart the lesson of goodbyes
In bareheaded laments in the night.
Oxen chew, waiting lengthens,
The last hour of the watch in the city.
And I bow to ceremonial cock-crowing nights
When lifting their lading of grief for the journey
Eyes red with crying search the horizon
And singing of Muses blends with the weeping of women.

Who can know from the word 'goodbye'
What kind of separation lies before us,
Or what the cock's clamour promises
When a light burns in the acropolis
And in his stall the lazy ox chews:
Why the cock,
The herald of new life,
Beats on the city walls with his wings?

And I like the way of weaving:
The shuttle comes and goes, the spindle hums,
And -- flying to meet us like swan's down --
Look, barefooted Delia comes!
Oh how meagre the basis of life,
How threadbare the language of elysium!*
Everything existed of old, everything recurs anew,
The flash of recognition is all that we welcome.

So be it: a translucent manikin
On a clean clay plate --
A squirrel's stretched-out skin:
Bent over wax, a girl examines it.
Not for us to guess at Grecian Erebus:**
For women wax, what bronze is for men.
On us our fate falls only in battles;
Their death they die in divination.

Osip Mandelstam 1918
translated by James Greene

*In Greek mythology, Elysium was a section of the underworld, the great field which held the souls of heroes and those with virtue.
**In Greek mythology, Erebus or Erebos (Ancient Greek: Ἔρεβος, English translation: "deep blackness/darkness or shadow") was the son of a primordial god, Chaos, and represented the personification of darkness and shadow, which filled in all the corners and crannies of the world. He was the offspring of Chaos alone.
(Thank you Wikipedia for the information in the footnotes, which I have introduced)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Poem of the Week 8/18/2008: Regarding Chainsaws

Regarding Chainsaws

The first chainsaw I owned was years ago,
an old yellow McCulloch that wouldn't start.
Bo Bremmer give it to me that was my friend,
though I've had enemies couldn't of done
no worse. I took it to Ward's over to Morrisville,
and no doubt they tinkered it as best they could,
but it still wouldn't start. One time later
I took it down to the last bolt and gasket
and put it together again, hoping somehow
I'd do something accidental-like that would
make it go, and then I yanked on it
450 times, as I figured afterwards,
and give myself a bursitis in the elbow
that went five years even after
Doc Arrowsmith shot it full of cortisone
and near killed me when he hit a nerve
dead on. Old Stan wanted that saw, wanted it bad.
Figured I was a greenhorn that didn't know
nothing and he could fix it. Well, I was,
you could say, being only forty at the time,
but a fair hand at tinkering. "Stan," I said,
"you're a neighbor. I like you. I wouldn't
sell that thing to nobody, except maybe
Vice-President Nixon." But Stan persisted.
He always did. One time we was loafing and
gabbing in his front dooryard, and he spied
that saw in the back of my pickup. He run
quick inside, then come out and stuck a double
sawbuck in my shirt pocket, and he grabbed
that saw and lugged it off. Next day, when I
drove past, I seen he had it snugged down tight
with a tow-chain on the bed of his old Dodge
Powerwagon, and he was yanking on it
with both hands. Two or three days after,
I asked him, "How you getting along with that
McCulloch, Stan?" "Well," he says, "I tooken
it down to scrap, and I buried it in three
separate places yonder on the upper side
of the potato piece. You can't be too careful,"
he says, "when you're disposing of a hex."
The next saw I had was a godawful ancient
Homelite that I give Dry Dryden thirty bucks for,
temperamental as a ram too, but I liked it.
It used to remind me of Dry and how he'd
clap that saw a couple times with the flat
of his double-blade axe to make it go
and how he honed the chain with a worn-down
file stuck in an old baseball. I worked
that saw for years. I put up forty-five
run them days each summer and fall to keep
my stoves het through the winter. I couldn't now.
It'd kill me. Of course they got these here
modern Swedish saws now that can take
all the worry out of it. What's the good
of that? Takes all the fun out too, don't it?
Why, I reckon. I mind when Gilles Boivin snagged
an old sap spout buried in a chunk of maple
and it tore up his mouth so bad he couldn't play
"Tea for Two" on his cornet in the town band
no more, and then when Toby Fox was holding
a beech limb that Rob Bowen was bucking up
and the saw skidded crossways and nipped off
one of Toby's fingers. Ain't that more like it?
Makes you know you're living. But mostly they wan't
dangerous, and the only thing they broke was your
back. Old Stan, he was a buller and a jammer
in his time, no two ways about that, but he
never sawed himself. Stan had the sugar
all his life, and he wan't always too careful
about his diet and the injections. He lost
all the feeling in his legs from the knees down.
One time he started up his Powerwagon
out in the barn, and his foot slipped off the clutch,
and she jumped forwards right through the wall
and into the manure pit. He just set there,
swearing like you could of heard it in St.
Johnsbury, till his wife come out and said,
"Stan, what's got into you?" "Missus," he says
"ain't nothing got into me. Can't you see?
It's me that's got into this here pile of shit."
Not much later they took away one of his
legs, and six months after that they took
the other and left him setting in his old chair
with a tank of oxygen to sip at whenever
he felt himself sinking. I remember that chair.
Stan reupholstered it with an old bearskin
that must of come down from his great-great-
grandfather and had grit in it left over
from the Civil War and a bullet-hole as big
as a yawning cat. Stan latched the pieces together
with rawhide, cross fashion, but the stitches was
always breaking and coming undone. About then
I quit stopping by to see old Stan, and I
don't feel so good about that neither. But my mother
was having her strokes then. I figured
one person coming apart was as much
as a man can stand. Then Stan was taken away
to the nursing home, and then he died. I always
remember how he planted them pieces of spooked
McCulloch up above the potatoes. One time
I went up and dug, and I took the old
sprocket, all pitted and et away, and set it
on the windowsill right there next to the
butter mold. But I'm damned if I know why.

Hayden Carruth

(this 200th PotW dedicated to MG).

Well, for the official 200th posting of the Poem of the Week, almost a month and a half late, please enjoy Hayden Carruth, a wonderful Southern poet who passed away a few weeks ago. This poem is, I think, quietly astonishing. (I do hope you finished it, though it is long). From its beginning it is simple and honest, moving from tale to tale in the classical American-story sort of way.

More interesting is that it seems to me that this simplicity is accompanied by some kind of deep respect for every thing and person in the story. What do I mean by respect? A kind of release of analytical thought about the chainsaws or the characters. Their stories are allowed to unfold according, roughly, to what happened. When Carruth stops visiting old Stan, he first says it merely as a fact that when Stan sewed up the hole in the bearskin, about that time, the narrator stops coming. No causal link, no superstition, just what happened, temporally. The speaker is then hesitant to provide a reason for stopping, saying that his mother was having "the strokes" at that point, and "I figured / one person coming apart was as much / as a man can stand." Again, this is a fact; what he figured, not what is somehow fully or abstractly true about the situation, but the much finer and more lovely facts of what happened.

Thus, in "Regarding Chainsaws" the meanings are truly shown and not told, which means that Carruth had to place an immense amount of trust in the things themselves to communicate. A chainsaw and a set of people are themselves trusted to hold the meaning. They do not say it, they do not emphasize or comment on it, or even feel about it; they simply happen, and Carruth's genius is first to see it, and then to let his seeing translate into the poem.

Wendell Berry gives a lovely account of Carruth in the article "My Friend Hayden," found: .

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Poem of the Week 8/11/2008: We Did Not Make Ourselves

We Did Not Make Ourselves

We did not make ourselves is one thing
I keep singing into my hands
while falling

for just a second

before I have to get up and turn on all the lights in the house, one after the
other, like opening an Advent calendar

My brain opening
the chemical miracles in my brain
switching on

I can hear

dogs barking
some trees
last stars

You think you’ll be missed
it won’t last long
I promise

I’m not dead but I am
standing very still
in the back yard
staring up at the maple
thirty years ago
a tiny kid waiting on the ground
alone in heaven
in the world
in white sneakers

I’m having a good time humming along to everything I can still remember
back there

How we’re born

Made to look up at everything we didn’t make

We didn’t
make grass, mosquitoes
or breast cancer

We didn’t make yellow jackets

or sunlight


I didn’t make my brain
but I’m helping
to finish it

Carefully stacking up everything I made next to everything I ruined in broad
daylight in bright

This morning I killed a fly
and didn’t lie down
next to the body
like we’re supposed to

We’re supposed to

Soon I’m going to wake up


There is only this world and this world

What a relief

over and over

Michael Dickman 2008

Gone in this age are the great poetic reveries of Rilke and Coleridge, but it seems that there are still moments of reflection and expansion in poetry, and what a gem this poem is! Dickman must be somewhere in the imagist school of poetry, though he easily folds it into a narrative framework. This poem is formed from images of a moment and then a memory, but they suggest the scope of everything created, the failures and successes, all of the things of this world that somehow hover without us. Rilke's Things which "strangely concern us," despite their apparent existence.

One of the final lines, "there is only this world and this world" reminds me of a line from the Upanisads: "there is no second reality here." Something is spoken but not said.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Poem of the Week 8/4/2008: from Requiem for a Friend

from Requiem for a Friend
(Paula Modersohn-Becker 1876-1907)

...That is what you understood: the ripe fruits.
You placed them in bowls there in front of you
and weighed out their heaviness with pigments.
And so you saw women as fruits too,
and saw the children likewise, driven
from inside into the forms of their being.
And you saw yourself in the end as a fruit,
removed yourself from your clothes, brought
yourself in front of the mirror, allowed yourself
within, as far as your gaze that stayed huge outside
and did not say: ‘I am that’: no, rather: ‘this is.’
So your gaze was finally free of curiosity
and so un-possessive, of such real poverty,
it no longer desired self: was sacred.
So I’ll remember you, as you placed yourself
within the mirror, deep within and far
from all. Why do you appear otherwise?
What do you countermand in yourself? Why
do you want me to believe that in the amber beads
at your throat there was still some heaviness
of that heaviness that never exists in the other-side
calm of paintings: why do you show me
an evil presentiment in your stance:
what do the contours of your body mean,
laid out like the lines on a hand,
so that I no longer see them except as fate?
Come here, to the candlelight. I’m not afraid
to look on the dead. When they come
they too have the right to hold themselves out
to our gaze, like other Things.
Come here: we’ll be still for a while.
See this rose, close by on my desk:
isn’t the light around it precisely as hesitant
as that over you: it too shouldn’t be here.
Outside in the garden, unmixed with me,
it should have remained or passed –
now it lives, so: what is my consciousness to it?
Don’t be afraid if I understand now, ah,
it climbs in me: I can do no other,
I must understand, even if I die of it.
Understand, that you are here. I understand.
Just as a blind man understands a Thing,
I feel your fate and do not know its name
Let us grieve together that someone drew you
out of your mirror. Can you still weep?
You cannot.

Rainer Maria Rilke 1909
trans. A.S. Kline

This poem is Rilke's reflection on the death of his friend, whom Adrienne Rich chose in the last selection. The entire poem may be found in a book or, in this translation at the following website:

Unlike Rich's treatment, Rilke explores the play between living and dying, between presence and absence, the realtively sensed reality of our own lives, the suffering held in them, interiority...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Poem of the Week 7/28/2008: Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff

Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff

Paula Becker (1876-1907) and Clara Westhoff (1878-1954) became friends at Worpswede, an artist's colony near Bremen, Germany, summer 1899. In January 1900, spent a half-year together in Paris, where Paula painted and Clara studied sculpture with Rodin. In August they returned to Worpswede, and spent the next winter together in Berlin. In 1901, Clara married the poet Rainer Maria Rilke; soon after, Paula married the painted Otto Modersohn. She died in a hemorrhage after childbirth, murmuring, What a shame!

The autumn feels slowed down,
summer still holds on here, even the light
seems to last longer than it should
or maybe I'm using it to the thin edge.
The moon rolls in the air. I didn't want this child.
You're the only one I've told.
I want a child maybe, someday, but not now.
Otto has a calm, complacent way
of following me with his eyes, as if to say
Soon you'll have your hands full!
And yes, I will; this child will be mine
not his, the failures, if I fail
will all be mine. We're not good, Clara,
at learning to prevent these things,
and once we have a child it is ours.
But lately I feel beyond Otto or anyone.
I know now the kind of work I have to do.
It takes such energy! I have the feeling I'm
moving somewhere, patiently, impatiently,
in my loneliness. I'm looking everywhere in nature
for new forms, old forms in new places,
the planes of an antique mouth, let's say, among the leaves.
I know and do not know
what I am searching for.
Remember those months in the studio together,
you up to your strong forearms in wet clay,
I trying to make something of the strange impressions
assailing me—the Japanese
flowers and birds on silk, the drunks
sheltering in the Louvre, that river-light,
those faces...Did we know exactly
why we were there? Paris unnerved you,
you found it too much, yet you went on
with your work...and later we met there again,
both married then, and I thought you and Rilke
both seemed unnerved. I felt a kind of joylessness
between you. Of course he and I
have had our difficulties. Maybe I was jealous
of him, to begin with, taking you from me,
maybe I married Otto to fill up
my loneliness for you.
Rainer, of course, knows more than Otto knows,
he believes in women. But he feeds on us,
like all of them. His whole life, his art
is protected by women. Which of us could say that?
Which of us, Clara, hasn't had to take that leap
out beyond our being women
to save our work? or is it to save ourselves?
Marriage is lonelier than solitude.
Do you know: I was dreaming I had died
giving birth to the child.
I couldn't paint or speak or even move.
My child—I think—survived me. But what was funny
in the dream was, Rainer had written my requiem—
a long, beautiful poem, and calling me his friend.
I was your friend
but in the dream you didn't say a word.
In the dream his poem was like a letter
to someone who has no right
to be there but must be treated gently, like a guest
who comes on the wrong day. Clara, why don't I dream of you?
That photo of the two of us—I have it still,
you and I looking hard into each other
and my painting behind us. How we used to work
side by side! And how I've worked since then
trying to create according to our plan
that we'd bring, against all odds, our full power
to every subject. Hold back nothing
because we were women. Clara, our strength still lies
in the things we used to talk about:
how life and death take one another's hands,
the struggle for truth, our old pledge against guilt.
And now I feel dawn and the coming day.
I love waking in my studio, seeing my pictures
come alive in the light. Sometimes I feel
it is myself that kicks inside me,
myself I must give suck to, love...
I wish we could have done this for each other
all our lives, but we can't...
They say a pregnant woman
dreams her own death. But life and death
take one another's hands. Clara, I feel so full
of work, the life I see ahead, and love
for you, who of all people
however badly I say this
will hear all I say and cannot say.

Adrienne Rich 1975-1976

Ms. Rich is a famously feminist poet, and in this poem she chooses two of the German poet Ranier Maria Rilke's best friends to give voice to. In its essence, the poem is a meditation upon the female artistic role, as creator of children, art, and the self. I chose this poem because I've been reading a biography of Rilke, and it seems like such an interesting time to have been alive--at the turn of the century. To be an artist was to devote one's entire existence to the production of beauty, to the exploration of life, and, as Rodin embodied, to "work, and nothing else." And to be a woman at the same time most likely had its own exhilaration as well.

Paula Becker had such a strange death for an artist, to die in childbirth, in creation, to bleed to death...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Poem of the Week 7/19/2008: Introduction to Songs of Experience


Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walk'd among the ancient trees,

Calling the lapsed Soul,
And weeping in the evening dew;
That might controll
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew!

``O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumberous mass.

``Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
The wat'ry shore,
Is giv'n thee till the break of day.''

William Blake

why are we leaving and why are we here

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Poem of the Week 7/11/2008: from Patmos

from Patmos

Near is
And difficult to grasp, the God.
But where danger threatens
That which saves from it also grows.
In gloomy places dwell
The eagles, and fearless over
The chasm walk the sons of the Alps
On bridges lightly built.
Therefore, since round about
Are heaped the summits of Time
And the most loved live near, growing faint
On mountains most separate,
Give us innocent water,
O pinions give us, with minds most faithful
To cross over and to return.

So I spoke, when more swiftly
Than ever I had expected,
And far as I nevcer thought
I should come, a Genius carried me
From my own house. There glimmered
In twilight, as I went,
The shadowy wood
And the yearning streams of
My homeland; no longer I knew those regions;
But soon, in a radiance fresh,
In the golden haze,
Quickly grown up,
With strides of the sun,
And fragrant with a thousand peaks,

Now Asia burst into flower for me, and dazzled
I looked for one thing there I might know, being unaccustomed
To those wide streets where down
from Tmolus drives
The golden-bedded Pactolus,
And Taurus stands, and Messogis,
And full of flowers the garden,
A quiet fire; but in the light, high up
There blossoms the silver snow;
And, witness to life immortal,
On inaccessible walls
Pristine the ivy grows, and supported
On living pillars, cedars and laurels,
There stand the festive,
The palaces built by gods.

Friedrich Holderlin
trans. Michael Hamburger

Friday, July 11, 2008

Poem of the Week 7/7/2008: from Plato's Phaedrus

from Phaedrus

SOCRATES: And I must say that this saying is not true, which teaches that when a lover is at hand the non-lover should be more favoured, because the lover is insane and the other sane. For if it were a simple fact that insanity is an evil, the saying would be true; but in reality the greatest of blessings come to us through madness, when it is sent as a gift of the gods. For the prophetess at Delphi and thepriestesses at Dodona when they have been mad have conferred many splendid benefits upon Greece both in private and in public affairs, but few or none when they have been in their right minds; and if we should speak of Sibyl and all the others who by prophetic inspiration have foretold many things to many persons and thereby made them fortunate afterwards, anyone can see that we should speak a long time. And it is worth white to adduce also the fact that those men of old who invented names thought that madness was neither shameful nor disgraceful... [a discourse follows on the connection between mania and mantike (which, significantly, uses the root mn, for mind or attention), both of which signify a higher form of prophecy than augury. I do not know exactly what this distinction means, but would guess that it bears on the root mn]... Moreover, when diseases and the greatest troubles have been visited upon certain families through some ancient guilt, madness has entered in and by oracular power has found a way of release for those in need, taking refuge in prayers and the service of the gods, and so, by purifications and sacred rites, he who has this madness is made safe for the present adn the after time, and for him who is rightly possessed of madness a release from present ills is found. And a third kind of possession and madness comes from the Muses. This takes hold upon a gentle and pure soul, arouses it and inspires it to songs and other poetry, and thus by adorning countless deeds of the ancients educates later generations. But he who without the divine madness comes to the doors of the Muses, confident that he will be a good poet by art, meets with no success, and the poetry of the sane man vanishes into nothingness before that of the inspired madmen.


I find this passage incredibly provocative, and also in line with much later work about poetic composition, notably Milton's discussion of the Muse visiting him at night. It's so hard to even begin to write about it; the necessity for madness appears in the works of Foucault, the hymns of the Rg Veda, the poetry of Blake and Rimbaud, and the fiction of Nerval, to name only a very few. What does it mean to go mad, and what is the divine form of madness Plato is talking about?

Well, in the dialog, Socrates lists three qualities to this madness, though he says that he might be able to put some more into operation. Fiurst, this madness is a form of prophecy, and has guided countless persons on small and large scales. Second, it has a kind of healing quality, the capacity to dispel not disease, but "ancient family guilt." And third, it produces the most majestic poetry in the world... it is a wellspring of poetic composition, of life and well-being.

But what is it? Later in the dialog, we learn that our "right minds" are the sane ones, but that those are merely the products of human life, and that the madness is really the divine half of things. What if madness is nothing other than the loosening of the corset strings of ego and partition, forgetting and deception? I would guess that it is not merely expression, the crazed release of appetite (which is, perhaps, only the other side of the human side of sanity), but rather the subtle and ranging release of dreams. Perhaps madness is freedom, madness is a river, is blissful release and flight. What if it is the complete release of any sense of control over our lives, or complete submission, whatever that means? I suppose then the right question is how might we begin to strive for this kind of holy insanity, a divine drunkenness? Is this what it is, even? Do we all have tastes of it? How crazy does one have to become?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Poem fo the Week 7/1/2008: To be or not to be

from Hamlet, Act III Scene I

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

William Shakespeare

One of the most (if not the most) quoted lines of all of Shakespeare struck me the other morning as one of the central questions of all existence, TO be or not to be. That is the question. That is the question. Why? Because it begs of us to consider why we are here, whether life is worth living, what life is, what keeps us here... What does? Just a fear of the afterlife and of the unknown, which would be almost pathetic (though perhaps nonetheless accurate at times)...*

The suicide question is perhaps the explicit, and even intended, meaning of the passage, but when it flashed to me, it seemed to be asking about To Sleep, Perchance to Dream. Death as sleep, the unknowingness of sleep, and that waking up and living might really demand that we face the "slings and arrows of existence," the "thousand natural shocks" that come to us daily. And why choose to be that? Is it nobler to suffer those things, nobler in the mind? TO be or not to be. To awake and suffer, or to sleep and dream?

Thus conscience makes cowards of us all, facing the ills we have. And why does Shakespeare write about conscience here? It is so lost from modern language, modern understanding of man--guilt is something to be expiated, but perhaps it has a taste of the other side of knowledge, perhaps it knows something more than we think that we know? Who are we? And why are we here? Should we choose to stay)?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Poem of the Week 6/23/2008: i am

i am so glad and very
merely my fourth will cure
the laziest self of weary
the hugest sea of shore

so far your nearness reaches
a lucky fifth of you
turns people into eachs
and cowards into grow

our can'ts were born to happen
our mosts have died in more
our twentieth will open
wide a wide open door

we are so both and oneful
night cannot be so sky
sky cannot be so sunful
i am through you so i

e.e. cummings

Who is the "you" in this poem? oh oh beauty poem. I think this is one of the best poems ever written, and that it plays into two of my larger questions: what role do relationships play in the meaningful part of self-development, and also, why does the modern world have such an obsession with them? Is the modern world on to something, or rather does it have a taste, through this experience, of the "sunful" in another? Of the release?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Poem of the Week 6/16/2008: No Second Troy

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

W.B. Yeats

comments to come. sunshine calls.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Poem of the Week 6/9/2008: I Missed His Book, but I Read His Name

I Missed His Book, but I Read His Name

"The Silver Pilgrimage," by M. Anantanarayanan . . .
160 pages. Criterion. $3.95.
- The New York Times

Though authors are a dreadful clan,
To be avoided if you can,
I'd like to meet the Indian,
M. Anantanarayanan.

I picture him as short and tan,
We'd meet, perhaps, in Hindustan,
I'd say, with admirable elan,
"Ah, Anantanarayanan,

I've heard of you. The Times once ran
A notice on your novel, an
Unusual tale of God and Man."
And Anantanarayanan

Would seat me on a lush divan
And read his name--that sumptuous span
Of "a"s and "n"s more lovely than
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan"--

Aloud to me all day. I plan
Henceforth to be an ardent fan
Of Anantanarayanan,
M. Anantanarayanan.

John Updike 1963

The last two poems of the week have been amusing ones, but reading Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel is helping me appreciate the value of laughter and literature. It's so easy for thought et. al. to take itself seriously, and especially so for poets. The very word, today, rings of sensitivity and sensibility, as if it has a kind of flourish to it. So I admire the work of John Updike, who often writes for the New Yorker, and tickles and delights his readers. A delight!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Poem of the Week 6/2/2008: The Dover Bitch

The Dover Bitch

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.

Anthony Hecht


Poem of the Week 5/28/2008: Dover Beach

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold is my guilty pleasure. I think most of the content of this posting will show that, so while I am qualifying it, I happily stick to my opinions.

Despite all of the reasons to stay clear of this poem, I know that I like it; it's one of those things literary critics could probably appreciate but perhaps not out and out like? Actually, why am I saying that? Some idea about not sticking to cliches, to the easily accessed poems, but I really do appreciate this poem for what it is, a rather complete whole reflecting upon meaning, faith, the presence of modern life against the way things were, and finally the position of relationships within everything, not to mention one of my favorite lines of all time (for some reason, it seems just perfect to me, though it's certainly not the cleverest or most spectacular):

the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling

I miss music in poetry. An introduction to a volume of Rilke I recently read mentioned that with the coming of more recent poetry, a drier, more "willful" and active style came into being, and the lofty notes of Arnold's work

Another note: Matthew Arnold was once found on a naked jaunt in a stream, and, when admonished by the onlooker, yelled back, "Is it impossible you find anything imperfect in the human form divine?" Who says things like that? O sweet spirit of delight!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Poem of the Week 5/18/2008: from Little Gidding

from "Little Gidding"

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

T.S. Eliot

thoughts later.
goodbye college!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Poem of the Week 5/12/2008: Little Elegy

Little Elegy

That madman from the eastern regions
Ho Chi-chang
wild as wind and river

first time I met him
at the capital
he called me "angel in exile"

oh how he loved his cup
and now he's dirt
under the pine trees

he pawned his gold turtle
to buy me wine

as I remember that
tears wet my scarf.

Li Po
Trans. David Young

I don't think that Li Po's poems need much explanation; each is like a small glass globe, taking in the world, managing it so that it fits in the palm of one's hand.

A friend was challenging me that poetry can be too intrusive, (she may be thinking of confessional poets, and also undeveloped poets), who smear their emotions on the page, sharing what is little more than a diary entry, meant for no person's eyes. The emo-music of poetry. I suppose it's a rare thing to find a poem that really manages its emotion, though I think that all good ones should; Li Po's certainly achieves this through such carefully selected detail! The poem is so sparing with its images that what arise to us are the gold turtle, the tears on the scarf, the cup loved ny the madman, the dirt he now is...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Poem of the Week 5/5/2008: Black and White Stone

Black and White Stone

seeds a stone
in the air
The stone rises
an old man is asleep
If his eyes open
the stone explodes
whirlwind of wings and beaks
above a woman
who flows
through the whiskers of autumn

The stone falls
in the eye's plaza
in the palm of your hand
between your breasts
languages of water

The stone ripens
the seeds sing
They are seven
seven sisters
seven vipers
seven drops of jade
seven words
on a bed of glass
seven veins of water
in the center
of the stone
opened with a glance

Octavio Paz 1971
Trans. Eliot Weinberger

Perhaps what will help the understanding of this poem most is to know that it was based on a dream Paz had. The author's note is as follows:

"I was not a friend of Joseph Sima's, but in 1969 and 1970 I had the fortune of seeing him a few times always briefly, at the gallery Le Point Cardinal in Paris. His presence and conversation created an impression on me that was no less vivid than his painting. Two days before writing the poem and dreaming the dram that are the object of this note, I had recieved a letter from Claude Esteban, asking me for a text--perhaps, he hinted, a poem--in homage to Sima. I barely remember my dream, except for the image of an almost spherical stone--a planet? giant gourd? light bulb? fruit?--floating in the air, slowly changing color (but what were the colors that alternately lit up and grew dark?) spinning around itself and over a landscape of fine sand covered with eyes--the eyes of Marie Jose who slept at my side. The undulating yellow landscape had turned into eyes that watched the stone breathe, dilating and contracting, suspended in the air. Then I was woken by a voice that said "Sima siembra" ("Sima seeds"). I got up and wrote, almost embarassedly, the poem that Esteban had requested. Three days later I read in Le Monde that Sima had died. As the newspaper arrived in Mexico three days after publication in Paris, I had dreamed the dream and written the poem just when Sima died."

Oddly, the way Sima, somebody Paz obviously admired, will be remembered best through a poem of Paz's; it is at moments like this when I reflect on and trust Shakespeare's idea of art lasting longer than the person himself.

Some other thoughts that came to me are those pertaining to latin poetry; this poem's sensuality and mysterious but clear imagery seem, to me, like Nietzsche's woman. That is, they are beautiful and true yet lead one forward, their mystery never quite grasped, quite understood. Reading this poem, it is perhaps best not to treat it like something to be Understood, but rather something by which to be humbled, or something to marvel at, legs crossed on the floor.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Poem of the Week 4/28/2008: Death


Death calls my dog by the wrong name.
A little man when I was small, Death grew
Beside me, always taller, but always
Confused as I have almost never been.
Confusion, like the heart, gets left behind
Early by a boy, abandoned the very moment
Futurity with her bare arms comes a-waltzing
Down the fire escapes to take his hand.

"Death," I said, "if your eyes were green
I would eat them."

For what are days but the furnace of an eye?
If I could strip a sunflower bare to its bare soul,
I would rebuild it:
Green inside of green, ringed round by green.
There'd be nothing but new flowers anymore.
Absolute Christmas.

"Death," I said, "I know someone, a woman,
Who sank her teeth into the moon."

For what are space and time but the inventions
Of sorrowing men? The soul goes faster than light.
Eating the moon alive, it leaves space and time behind.
The soul is forgiveness because it knows forgiveness.
And the knowledge is whirligig.
Whirligig taught me to live outwardly.
Shoe shop. . . pizza parlor. . . surgical appliances. . .
All left behind me with the hooey.
My soul is my home.
An old star hounded by old starlight.

"Death, I ask you, whose only story
Is the end of the story, right from the start,
How is it I remember everything
That never happened and almost nothing that did?
Was I ever born?"

I think of the suicides, all of them thriving,
Many of them painting beautiful pictures.
I think of boys and girls murdered
In their first beauty, now with children of their own.
And I have a church in my mind, set cruelly ablaze,
And then the explosion of happy souls
Into the greeny, frozen Christmas Eve air:
Another good Christmas, a white choir.

Beside each other still,
My Death and I are a magical hermit.
Dear Mother, I miss you.
Dear reader, your eyes are now green,
Green as they used to be, before I was born.

Donald Revell

Does anybody have questions about this poem? I think that I could answer them, but that it is a poem that you all could puzzle out yourselves; he uses some basic college facts (it is a very collegy poem; Mr. Revell is a professor at the University of Las Vegas-Nevada), including the old idea that men are stars, the philosophic lynchpin that our perception shapes the world around us, that rationality is a mill that cannot itself learn, that must be informed by impressions. I think that Mr. Revell has read Blake-- these philosophic undertones align with Blake's.

At any rate, meditations on death are, I think, one thing poetry still has going for it, and one thing that many of us could do to think about a little more. Here, the lamentation is a measured one. That is, the thought of endings, and the grief for life that accompanies death (death's bride?), is cut by the funny tone of lines like, "Absolute Christmas" and by the playful wonder at Death, as well. Death is somebody who grows, who gets things wrong, who is so confusing that he must be forgotten; I take this to mean that man must push the thought of death away because simply he does not know what happens...

Revell also brings up questions of life, and death of course must do; with death, he wonders what the quality of life truly is. Are we ever born, he wonders, into a real and true place, or are we always drawn outward to pizza parlors and worry about our health in doctor's offices? Death calls us home, in a way, bringing the interior world to light again, the soul, the true home, whatever that means.

What does death demand of us? And how does Revell address it?I am grateful that Revell addresses the reader at the end of the poem, for, as a friend and I were discussing yesterday, death must necessarily be about oneself, and about life in general--the great grief of living lifts its chin, everything held in the eyes of a good old black dog.

Poem of the Week 4/21/2008: Your Hair of Snakes and Flowers

Your Hair of Snakes and Flowers

When I saw one of those men touch your hair,
I heard for the first time in many a year
the ancient battle trumpets and I saw
the banners of an army winding off to war
and felt that blind power urging me to knock
him out with one punch, send him tumbling to the floor.
If nobody had held me back, stopped me,
I would—God help me—have killed him on the spot,
stomped out his blood, and spit in it. I'm sorry,
but you must be aware your winding hair
is different now, a hornets' nest, a snakes' lair!
Yes, like a ball of snakes in a flower basket, dear.

Håkan Sandell
Translated from the Swedish by Bill Coyle

There would be all sorts of fun and easy ways to discuss this poem as the staging of epic in the modern world, how it stands at an intersection of traditional heroic poetry and modern love lyric. Then one could discuss the further intertwining of poet and translator, one language moving into another language.

But that is poetic wrangling, and I can't speak Swedish to compare the two anyway, so it seems that the implication of these intersections is that the battle of epic is a battle in one's own head, in one's own life. The great drums sound as the beating of a heart, the armies are energy and fury running down the arm, pulling the hand into a fist...

A final note: I don't think that it would be as good of a poem without the final line, when the speaker turns to his wife or girlfriend, and addresses her caustically and politely. Yes dear, he says, you are so sweet and dangerous.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Poem of the Week 4/14/2008: The List of Famous Hats

The List of Famous Hats

Napoleon's hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous hat, but that's not the hat I have in mind. That was his hat for show. I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all honesty wasn't much different than the one any jerk might buy at a corner drugstore now, except for two minor eccentricities. The first one isn't even funny: Simply it was a white rubber bathing cap, but too small. Napoleon led such a hectic life ever since his childhood, even farther back than that, that he never had a chance to buy a new bathing cap and still as a grown-up--well, he didn't really grow that much, but his head did: He was a pinhead at birth, and he used, until his death really, the same little tiny bathing cap that he was born in, and this meant that later it was very painful to him and gave him many headaches, as if he needed more. So, he had to vaseline his skull like crazy to even get the thing on. The second eccentricity was that it was a tricorn bathing cap. Scholars like to make a lot out of this, and it would be easy to do. My theory is simple-minded to be sure: that beneath his public head there was another head and it was a pyramid or something.

James Tate 1996

This is a prose poem by James Tate; I have become interested in prose poems of late, partially because it begs the question ever interesting to me: what makes a poem? Why do we recognize some language as poetic and some not? Is there a cultural locus of this? I, at least, feel that a prose poem like this couldn't really exist before the modern age, for only now are we so chatty and cluttered that we have to abandon form, or rather that we can't appreciate more formal aspects of lanuage or poetry. Perhaps that's unfair. Well, it's probably true in many cases and not in others, I suppose.

My favorite definition for poetry was set forth by Howard Nemerov, himself an excellent poet. "Poetry," he writes, "is right language." So any proper description would make poetic language; clever style is thus not necessarily poetry (though is often counted as such), nor is high form. It has to be apt language. What does this mean? Oh, I hesitate to provide answers, so here, instead, are a few thoughts. Compression, paradox, symbolism (provided it doesn't symbolize something made up, like creativity or "sense of place," for example), and musicality often convey more of a thing, can lead us to the thing itself... This is probably a lot of quibbling. Does anybody have any thoughts, or is this something that it does not do to think about; perhaps, like the question of music, it's a case of: we know it when we hear it. That's satisfactory for me.

I hope you enjoy this poem. Funny poetry is a real gift of existence.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Poem of the Week 4/7/2008: The Third Century

The Third Century

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which
never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I
thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting.
The dust and stones of the street were as precious
as gold : the gates were at first the end of the world.
The green trees when I saw them first through one
of the gates transported and ravished me, their
sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to 
leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such 
strange and wonderful things. The Men ! O what
venerable and reverend creatures did the aged
seem ! Immortal Cherubims !    And young men
glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange
seraphic pieces of life and beauty ! Boys and girls
tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving
jewels. I knew not that they were born or should
die ; But all things abided eternally as they were in
their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the 
Light of the Day, and something infinite behind
everything appeared : which talked with my
expectation and moved my desire.  The city seemed
to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The 
street were mine, the temple was mine, the people
were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were
mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and
ruddy faces.    The skies were mine, and so were the
sun and moon and stars, and all the World was
mine ; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.
I knew no churlish properties, nor bounds, nor
divisions : but all properties and divisions were
mine : all treasures and the possessors of them. So
that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to 
learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I 
unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again
that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.

Thomas Traherne, from Centuries of Meditation

Though technically "prose," this work by Thomas Traherne stands in my "Poetry is right language" category. For it is certainly some of the most marvelous and remarkable language I have ever come across, at once simple and shining, as hard cut and as glittering as a gem. I steal that image from this "century." A Metaphysical poet, Traherne was most primarily a pastor and member of several holy orders in England in the mid to late 17th Century. I suppose it is unnecessary to write too much about this passage, for it stands as something to be slowly savored and tasted. However, it might be fruitful to think about the way the state of childhood works in this poem, and how it might open up into a much greater redemptive state; what is childhood, and why is it connected with the divine, the infinite? How is Traherne entering the Kingdom of Heaven now, though this childlike state? Happy reading.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Poem of the Week 3/31/2008: Death the Hypocrite

Death the Hypocrite

You claim to loathe me, yet everything you prize
Brings you within the reach of my embrace.
I see right through you though I have no eyes;
You fail to know me even face to face.

Your kiss, your car, cocktail and cigarette,
Your lecheries in fancy and in fact,
Unkindness you manage to forget,
Are ritual prologue to the final act

And certain curtain call. Nickels and dimes
Are but the cold coin of a realm that's mine.
I'm the acute accountant of your crimes
As of your real estate. Bristlecone pine,

Whose close-ringed chronicles mock your regimen
Of jogging, vitamins, and your strange desire
To disregard your assigned three-score and ten,
Yields to my absolute instrument of fire.

You know me, friend, as Faustus, Baudelaire,
Boredom, Self-Hatred, and, still more, Self-Love.
Hypocrite lecteur, mon sembable, mon frere,
Acknowledge me. I fit you like a glove.

Anthony Hecht 1995

Hecht's note: "Some bristlecone pines are the oldest living things on earth . . . a total of seventeen bristlecone pines have been found which, still living and growing, are over 4,000 years old, the oldest some 4,600 years old." Andreas Feininger, from his book Trees.
Also, the line, "Hypocrite lecteur...frere" comes from TS Eliot's "The Waste Land"

This poem springs from a series of "Death" poems by Anthony Hecht, including, Death Demure, Death the Oxford Don, Death the Society Lady, Death the Poet, Death the Judge, Death the Mexican Revolutionary, Death the Whore, Death the Copperplate Printer, and even a set of nursery rhymes about death. This last one is a delicious poem you can check out here:

"Death the Hypocrite" is titled after its narrator, the death that results from hypocrisy, or the death that deals in hypocrisy. It demands us to ask, what has death become in the modern world? Why would somebody try to avoid the question of death, and how? All of the little gimmicks modern man uses to put off the reality of death, that "certain curtain call," are actually tokens of death's appearance, his already having settled in. For fear of death is consciousness of death, is it not? To repress the reality of death is to slide under the need to come to any sort of reckoning with one's life, for life seems endless, formless, interminable. But to not terminate, ever, to simply mist and fritter one's life away, what kind of life is this, Hecht's poem begs us to ask. Indeed, he leaves us almost nowhere to turn for solace, for our small attempts to "preserve life"--jogging, vitamins, etc--shrink to nothing against the 4,600 rings on the bristlecone pine.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Poem of the Week 3/24/2008: Drinking in Moonlight

Drinking in Moonlight

I sit with my wine jar
among flowers
blossoming trees

no one to drink with

well, there's the moon

I raise my cup
and ask him to join me
bringing my shadow
making us three

but the moon doesn't seem to be drinking
and my shadow just creeps around behind me

still, we're companions tonight
me, the moon, and the shadow
we're observing
the rites of spring

I sing
and the moon rocks back and forth

I dance
and my shadow
weaves and tumbles with me

we celebrate for awhile
then go our own ways, drunk

may we meet again someday
in the white river of stars

Li Po
trans. David Young

What does it make you want to do? When thinking about the sympathetic power of poetry, or its motive power perhaps.... anybody feel like commenting on this one? It's spectacular. I will probably have something to say about it later in the week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Poem of the Week 3/17/2008: The Anactoria Poem

The Anactoria Poem

Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers,
others call a fleet the most beautiful of
sights the dark earth offers, but I say it's what-
ever you love best.

And it's easy to make this understood by
everyone, for she who surpassed all human
kind in beauty, Helen, abandoning her
husband--that best of

men--went sailing off to the shores of Troy and
never spent a thought on her child or loving
parents: when the goddess seduced her wits and
left her to wander,

she forgot them all, she could not remember
anything but longing, and lightly straying
aside, lost her way. But that reminds me
now: Anactória,

she's not here, and I'd rather see her lovely
step, her sparkling glance and her face than gaze on
all the troops in Lydia in their chariots and
glittering armor.

Translated by Jim Powell

Some quick notes on this poem:
--Anactoria is Sappho's lover, and the person to whom the poem is addressed--
At question in it is, appropriate for a lyric poem, only, "the most beautiful of / sights the dark earth offers." What is it? Well, it depends on who you are, for beauty, for Sappho, is a matter of perspective. Whatever one finds the most beautiful is whatever you love; beauty is a function of love. Sappho then goes on to show this to be true using the example of Helen of Troy. Though her physical beauty was allegedly the greatest, Helen herself did not think so, and left her life in order to cavort with Paris, to wander with longing.

Sappho reveals her taste in beauty at the end of the poem, saying that what she loves best is this woman, that Sappho would rather see Helen's glittering face than all of the power in the world. This is a philosophical poem that turns into a love poem.

a biography on Sappho from

Only a handful of details are known about the life of Sappho. She was born around 615 B.C. to an aristocratic family on the Greek island of Lesbos. Evidence suggests that she had several brothers, married a wealthy man named Cercylas, and had a daughter named Cleis. She spent most of her adult life in the city of Mytilene on Lesbos where she ran an academy for unmarried young women. Sappho's school devoted itself to the cult of Aphrodite and Eros, and Sappho earned great prominence as a dedicated teacher and poet. A legend from Ovid suggests that she threw herself from a cliff when her heart was broken by Phaon, a young sailor, and died at an early age. Other historians posit that she died of old age around 550 B.C.

The history of her poems is as speculative as that of her biography. She was known in antiquity as a great poet: Plato called her "the tenth Muse" and her likeness appeared on coins. It is unclear whether she invented or simply refined the meter of her day, but today it is known as "Sapphic" meter. Her poems were first collected into nine volumes around the third century B.C., but her work was lost almost entirely for many years. Merely one twenty-eight-line poem of hers has survived intact, and she was known principally through quotations found in the works of other authors until the nineteenth century. In 1898 scholars unearthed papyri that contained fragments of her poems. In 1914 in Egypt, archeologists discovered papier-mâché coffins made from scraps of paper that contained more verse fragments attributed to Sappho.

Three centuries after her death the writers of the New Comedy parodied Sappho as both overly promiscuous and lesbian. This characterization held fast, so much so that the very term "lesbian" is derived from the name of her home island. Her reputation for licentiousness would cause Pope Gregory to burn her work in 1073. Because social norms in ancient Greece differed from those of today and because so little is actually known of her life, it is difficult to unequivocally answer such claims. Her poems about Eros, however, speak with equal force to men as well as to women.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Poem of the Week 3/9/2008: from Paradise Lost

from Paradise Lost
Book I ll. 1-26

OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse,that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

John Milton 1674

Where to start an epic, the greatest in the english language? Well, at the beginning! These are the first 26 lines of John Milton's Paradise Lost, which, as an epic will do, contain the invocation to the muse and introduce the subject. In this poem, the muse plays a large role; Milton said that the muse would come to him at night. In this clear state, the words would arrange themselves in front of his eyes (which, by the way, were sightless; he went blind before composing the poem). He writes, "The thoughts, as if by their own power, produce the lines of poetry," and, "true eloquence I find to be none, but the serious and hearty love of truth... when such a man would speak..., his words (by what I can express), like so many nimble and airy servitors, trip about him at command, and in well-ordered files, as he would wish, fall aptly into their own places" (An Apology for Smectymnuus).

Even in this excerpt, he asks, "chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer / Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure," hoping for purification and inspiration. So the Muse, for Milton, was a literal visitor he had, in that he did not "make up" the words, but rather that they were given him out of his own desire for truth and goodness. Milton, in writing the epic, assumes the pious pose necessary in order to be inspired: he wants to know himself, he wants to help others, he wants to know God and be able to write of His ways to men.

Milton also wishes to know of all things; the generation of the earth from Chaos, the original state of man and how he fell, the temptation and the goodness of man, life and death, the fall and the possibility of redemption--manifest in the Son of God. So to ask for inspiration is also to ask for knowledge, somewhat paradoxical given that the fall comes as a result of humanity's desire for knowledge. In Paradise Lost, Satan tempts Eve by telling her that she can be Adam's equal in knowledge, so to ask for it in the introduction perhaps benefits from the fall? That is, there's no going back; mankind is hungry for knowledge and to eradicate this won't get us back to the tree of Life. Rather, we have to deal with the conditions of the fall in order to be redeemed, and perhaps, as the existence of knowledge and epics containing them will reveal, it is also possible that the return will be better. After all, the garden of Eden in PL is only a small part of the earth, whereas man presumably finds a far greater Eden upon his redemption, encompassing the old garden and all of the land he has tread since that time...

Oh achingly beautiful, are not these lines:
Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant:

A glorious blossom of creation appears to us here; Milton appropriately uses a sexual and asexual metaphor. Much of the epic following takes place in the fertile and generative garden. The imagery of the plants and animals is almost erotic, and Adam and Eve are consistently naked with one another. Milton implies that there is a holiness and a purity to this kind of sex.

It is also appropriate to discuss generation--pregnancy--in this opening section, as the poet himself must generate the epic. The question of artistic creation in relation to sexual creation in relation to cosmic creation is one that has been played out by artist after artist... what does it mean to be inspired? Sing, O muse!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Poem of the Week 3/2/2008: Dream Song 14

Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) "Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no
Inner Resources." I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

John Berryman

I like poetry that captures something, that puts its finger right on a certain experience, and Berryman's Dream Songs (a set of more than 300 16 line poems) often brilliantly manage this. The poem's narrator is named Henry. At some point in his life--unknown to the reader--Henry suffered something tragic. He sets forth the story of his life in a series of songs that seem to almost arise from his subconscious, hence the title of the book. Moreover, he does not always speak as "Henry" as a unified person; "Henry" frequently speaks of himself in the third person, and sometimes dresses in blackface, speaking from that.

What strikes me about this poem is the split character of the narrator and the presence of memory revealed in the final stanza, and the humour this engenders. Regarding Henry's split nature: we are presented in the first stanza with a Henry who is as active as Achilles: he "flashes" and "yearns," and has "plights and gripes." One aspect of Henry has a whole set of concerns and interests in his life with which other parts of him are bored to tears. Some Henrys worry about a woman or are depressed about life or are annoyed with a customer. But the narrative Henry in this poem is, "heavy bored." It's so funny, Henry's different attitudes to his life.

Also interesting to me is the way that Berryman writes the clinging, responsive aspects of thought into the end of this poem; the dog sticks in the memory of Henry after it has gone: an exit leaves the lingering impression of the original presence; we cling even though something has left.

It's always fun with Berryman to do a deeper psychological reading; that these poems are "dream songs" is an invitation to do so, I believe. So the question becomes: why does Henry call up the dog leaving? Does this have to do with his psychological trauma early in life, or is it just an incidental impression that rises to the surface for this poem? I might play with the idea that the dog's leaving represents whatever trauma happened once upon a time in Henry's life; an abandonment of some kind leaves a memory, and is left alone with "me" and an impression.

My Brit Lit professor said that it's a great compliment to treat a poetic character as if s/he is real; I have done so with Henry because he is so perfectly devstated and disunified in these poems. It is a great compliment to Berryman indeed, and picking up The Dream Songs at any time is really rewarding and fun.