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Poetry

Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, 6 March, 2019

Written between 1927 and 1930, the first three sections of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday were published separately in the late 1920s: part I as Perch’ Io non Spero, part II as Salutation and part III as Som de l’escalina. The poem was published in its final form in 1930 and it can be interpreted as a contemplation on the conscious choice of one individual, T.S. Eliot, to pursue his belief in God.

Ash Wednesday

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond
repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Ash Wednesday


And life slips by like a field mouse

Tuesday, 19 February, 2019

Ezra Pound Ezra Pound was one of the founding members of the imagist movement in the early 20th century. Imagism relied on the impact of concrete images presented in exact, everyday language rather than traditional poetic metre. This is imagism:

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Ezra Pound (1885 — 1972)

Note: Ezra Pound was born in Idaho in 1885 and moved to Italy in 1924. He admired Mussolini and when World War II broke out he stayed in Rapallo from where he broadcast a series of radio talks attacking President Roosevelt and the “Jewish bankers” he deemed responsible for the war. The US regarded the broadcasts as treasonous and Pound was arrested at war’s end and imprisoned in an outdoor compound near Pisa.

While jailed, Pound completed the “The Pisan Cantos,” a group of poems that Paul L. Montgomery of the New York Times called “among the masterpieces of this century.” Eventually judged to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, Pound was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he remained incarcerated until 1958 when Robert Frost led a successful effort to free the poet. Ezra Pound was awarded The Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1949 and he died in his beloved Venice in 1972.

Many writers have made disastrous personal and political choices but few have faced up to their failings as clearly as Pound did during his final years of catatonic depression. His acknowledgement here of his failure is honest and poignant and tragic:

I have tried to write Paradise.
Do not move.
Let the wind speak.
That is Paradise.
May the gods forgive what I have made.
May those I have loved try to forgive
what I have made.


He caught the fever that reaped a harvest

Saturday, 2 February, 2019

Poetry provides visions and so does fever. The great C.P. Cavafy combines the two here.

Kleitos’s Illness

Kleitos, a likeable young man,
about twenty-three years old—
with an excellent upbringing, a rare knowledge of Greek—
is seriously ill. He caught the fever
that reaped a harvest this year in Alexandria.

The fever found him already worn out morally
by the pain of knowing that his friend, a young actor,
had stopped loving and wanting him.

He’s seriously ill, and his parents are terribly worried.

An old servant who brought him up
is also full of fear for Kleitos’ life;
and in her terrible anxiety
she remembers an idol she used to worship
when she was young, before she came there as a maid,
to the house of distinguished Christians, and turned Christian herself.
She secretly brings some votive cake, some wine and honey,
and places them before the idol. She chants whatever phrases
she remembers from old prayers: odds and ends. The fool
doesn’t realize that the black demon couldn’t care less
whether a Christian gets well or not.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

*Translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard


Take down the love letters

Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

The poet and playwright Derek Walcott was born on this day in 1930 in Saint Lucia, an island country in the eastern Caribbean. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992 “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”. How does Walcott’s verse rate? The poetry critic William Logan summed it up with faint praise: “No living poet has written verse more delicately rendered or distinguished than Walcott, though few individual poems seem destined to be remembered.” This one is, we feel.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott (1930 – 2017)

Letters home


Neutrality Loathsome in 2019

Tuesday, 1 January, 2019

Rainy Day wishes all its readers, near and far, a healthy New Year! Health is wealth. Happiness and prosperity will follow if the health holds. It’s as simple as that.

In 2019, there will be no time for here for weasel words and their loathsome users. That’s why we’re kicking off the New Year with Neutrality Loathsome by Robert Herrick. So, whether we’re talking Chinese thievery, Venezuelan thuggery, Iranian tyranny, liberal virtue signalling, #MSM hypocrisy or related forms of abhorrent behaviour, it’s going to get called out here this year.

Neutrality Loathsome

God will have all, or none; serve Him, or fall
Down before Baal, Bel, or Belial:
Either be hot, or cold: God doth despise,
Abhorre, and spew out all Neutralities.

Robert Herrick (1591 — 1674)


Carpe diem for 2018

Monday, 31 December, 2018

The departing 2018 brings to mind Horace’s Ode 1.11, which contains that much-quoted Latin phrase — Carpe diem (“Seize the day!”). Writing to his friend Leuconoe, Horace tries to convince him to avoid thinking about tomorrow and to forget, too, about asking astrologers to peer into the future. Instead, he encourages Leuconoe to “seize the day!” — to make every day count and to stop relying on the hope that tomorrow will bring something better. Ode 1.11 admonishes us to remember that we are not promised tomorrow, and the related Latin expression memento mori (remember that you are mortal) carries some of the same connotation as carpe diem. For Horace, awareness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment. In other words: Remember that you are mortal, so make the most of today.

Ode 1.11

Ask not — we cannot know — what end the gods have set for you, for me;
nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings Leuconoe.
How much better to endure whatever comes,
whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last,
which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs.
Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes.
Even while we speak, envious time has passed:
Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow.

Horace (65 BC – 8 BC)

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum. Sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.


The secret ministry of frost

Sunday, 21 October, 2018

The year of the endless summer continues. Autumn was simply steamrollered out of the way by a summer that had hijacked spring and then refused to negotiate with the seasons. Still, change is in the air. The mornings are chillier and the secret ministry of frost is sending out feelers at night. That phrase, “the secret ministry of frost,” was coined by the English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was born on this day in 1772. Coleridge also minted “suspension of disbelief” and lots of other great phrases (“a sadder and a wiser man”, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”), many of which can be found in his major works, especially The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

In his poem Frost at Midnight, the narrator is speaking to his infant son, asleep by his side. It begins, “The Frost performs its secret ministry / Unhelped by any wind,” and the last ten lines have been cited as a perfect example of the kind of verse that’s uniquely Coleridge: as natural as prose, but superbly poetic.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Icicles


Grazing at large in meadows submarine

Monday, 15 October, 2018

“It was the kind of Sunday to make one ache for Monday morning,” wrote Joan Didion in South and West: From a Notebook. Monday has a questionable reputation but not everyone complains about the day. On Monday, 26 April 1784, the notable English poet William Cowper dined on a flatfish of the genus Hippoglossus from the family of right-eye flounders and was very pleased with the result.

Language note: “wast” is an archaic spelling of the second-person singular simple past form of be, and the adjective “minikin” means small; insignificant.

To The Immortal Memory Of The Halibut, On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784

Where hast thou floated, in what seas pursued
Thy pastime? When wast thou an egg new spawned,
Lost in the immensity of ocean’s waste?
Roar as they might, the overbearing winds
That rocked the deep, thy cradle, thou wast safe —
And in thy minikin and embryo state,
Attached to the firm leaf of some salt weed,
Didst outlive tempests, such as wrung and racked
The joints of many a stout and gallant bark,
And whelmed them in the unexplored abyss.
Indebted to no magnet and no chart,
Nor under guidance of the polar fire,
Thou wast a voyager on many coasts,
Grazing at large in meadows submarine,
Where flat Batavia just emerging peeps
Above the brine, — where Caledonia’s rocks
Beat back the surge, — and where Hibernia shoots
Her wondrous causeway far into the main.
— Wherever thou hast fed, thou little thoughtst,
And I not more, that I should feed on thee
Peace, therefore, and good health, and much good fish,
To him who sent thee! — and success, as oft
As it descends into the billowy gulf,
To the same dreg that caught thee! — Fare thee well!
Thy lot thy brethren of the slimy fin
Would envy, could they know that thou wast doomed
To feed a bard, and to be praised in verse.

William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

Halibut


Believe in miracles

Thursday, 11 October, 2018

Healing wells were traditional shrines dedicated to the miraculous powers of water, which is the fons et origo of life itself. They were incorporated by Christianity and country people still make pilgrimages to the holy wells to seek relief for a variety of ills from rheumatism to cancer. A great many wells are supposed to cure eye problems and it’s customary for the petitioner to leave a token piece of clothing, usually hung on a bush or a tree, so that the healing power of the water can act through it.

Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

At the holy well


Reader! make time, while you be

Wednesday, 3 October, 2018

Sir Fukle Greville’s death in 1628 followed an attack by a servant, Ralph Hayward, on 1 September that year. Hayward appears to have been unhappy with the terms of his master’s will and stabbed Greville in the stomach while he was assisting him to fasten his breeches. Fukle Greville died of gangrene on 30 September, after physicians had replaced the damaged natural fatty membrane around his intestines with animal fat.

Apart from his closest friend, the gifted Sir Philip Sidney, Fukle Greville was the main courtly writer of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. His works include the poetic dramas Alaham and Mustapha, the sonnet sequence Caelica and five verse treatises: An Inquisition upon Fame and Honour, A Treatise of Humane Learning, A Treatise of Wars, A Treatise of Monarchy and A Treatise of Religion. Throughout his writings, Greville’s main concern is with the dangers of power and intrigue in an absolute monarchy, and in his sombre opinion, the individual is powerless in the face of political corruption. The careerist and artist Greville survived dangerous times and ended up convinced of the degeneracy of human nature. This view is encapsulated in a remark of his in a letter to Sir John Coke dated 1 February 1613: “I know the world and believe in God.”

You that seek what life is in death

You that seek what life is in death,
Now find it air that once was breath.
New names unknown, old names gone:
Till time end bodies, but souls none.
Reader! then make time, while you be,
But steps to your eternity.

Fulke Greville (3 October 1554 — 30 September 1628)

Fukle Greville


A Monster at Our Table

Sunday, 2 September, 2018

Derived from the Latin monstrum, the English word monster suggests something awful, evil, because a monster is generally physically or psychologically hideous and morally objectionable. Monsters are often hybrids of humans and animals, but the word can also be used figuratively to describe someone with similar characteristics, such as a person who does cruel or horrific things.

A Monster at Our Table

A monster sat down at our table
And ate up all of our bread
We watched his jaws crush the crusts
Immobilized by revulsion and dread

He talked about the weather and sport
But the topics withered under his breath
We nodded at convenient intervals
And silently prayed for his death

The monster got up from our table
And waddled away towards his lair
We sprinkled Holy Water behind him
To protect what we loved about there.

Eamonn Fizgerald

A Monster at our tabl