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...