Tag: poem

Thanksgiving

Thursday, 24 November, 2016 0 Comments

The poetry of Charles Reznikoff is marked by his love of the simple life and common things. Reznikoff was a New Yorker and “a collector of images and stories who walked the city from Bronx to Battery” in search of “the soul of the Jewish immigrant experience.” There is no mention of Thanksgiving in his Te Deum but he speaks of “the day’s work done” for the reward of a seat “at the common table.”

Te Deum

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Charles Reznikoff (1894 – 1976)

Note: Te Deum takes its name from an early Christian hymn and its opening Latin words, Te Deum laudamus, are translated as “Thee, O God, we praise”.


In Flanders Fields

Friday, 11 November, 2016 0 Comments

During the Second Battle of Ypres, a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2 May 1915 by a German artillery shell that landed near his position. The Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae conducted the burial service and it is believed that he began to write the poem In Flanders Fields later that evening.

poppy Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in many countries to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Fighting formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”. Inspired by Major McCrae’s poem, the custom of wearing a remembrance poppy at the “eleventh hour” to commemorate military personnel who have died in all wars began. It continues to this day.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Major John McCrae (1872 – 1918)

Losses during the Second Battle of Ypres are estimated at 69,000 Allied troops, against 35,000 German, the difference in numbers being explained by the Germans’ innovative use of chlorine gas.


Those whose business has to do with fish

Friday, 28 October, 2016 0 Comments

It’s Friday, which means fish for dinner, as was tradition in our home as was the observation of the Angelus, which begins “The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary…”

The general belief is that when T.S. Eliot was composing The Four Quartets and wrote “Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,” the church he had in mind was Notre Dame de la Garde, overlooking the Mediterranean at Marseilles. Another school of thought suggests he was thinking of the Church of Our Lady of Good Voyage, which watches over Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts. A noteworthy feature of this church, and relevant to Eliot’s poem, is its statue of the Virgin Mary. It stands between two spires and she cradles in her arms not the infant Jesus, but a sailing ship.

This excerpt is from the section titled “The Dry Salvages” — apparently les trois sauvages, which is a small group of rocks off the North East coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Note: Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.

Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,
Pray for all those who are in ships, those
Whose business has to do with fish, and
Those concerned with every lawful traffic
And those who conduct them.

Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
Women who have seen their sons or husbands
Setting forth, and not returning:
Figlia del tuo figlio,
Queen of Heaven.

Also pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them
Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell’s
Perpetual angelus.


Season of mists and mellows

Saturday, 24 September, 2016 0 Comments

Autumn mist

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

To Autumn by John Keats


Trees make a long shadow and a light sound

Monday, 5 September, 2016 0 Comments

“I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.”

Louise Bogan (1897 – 1970)

Mother and trees


A bevy of mysterious, beautiful swans

Sunday, 10 July, 2016 0 Comments

A group of swans in flight becomes “a wedge,” but it’s called “a bevy” on the water. The genus Cygnus has its own terminology of the collective and the literature also offers “a colony of swans” and, best of all, “a whiteness of swans.” When W.B. Yeats observed The Wild Swans at Coole, he was taken by their transitory nature:

“But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away.”

Wild swans


And after winter folweth grene May

Sunday, 1 May, 2016 0 Comments

The poem Troilus and Criseyde shows Geoffrey Chaucer at the top of his game and he displays great elegance in the challenging Rhyme royal measure. The tale was old when Chaucer took it over in the 14th century from Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, making some changes to the characters and lengthening the yarn. Boccaccio had borrowed it from an earlier Italian, Guido delle Colonne, who got his version from the French Roman de Troie by Benoit de Ste-Maure, who pretended that he got it from the Romans Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis. Two centuries after Chaucer died, Shakespeare retold the story in Troilus and Cressida. For the day that’s in it (May Day), here’s Chaucer:

“But now help God to quenchen al this sorwe,
So hope I that he shal, for he best may;
For I have seyn, of a ful misty morwe
Folwen ful ofte a mery someres day;
And after winter folweth grene May.
Men seen alday, and reden eek in stories,
That after sharpe shoures been victories.”

May


Swineherd of the brass pig

Friday, 8 April, 2016 0 Comments

etymology: A swineherd is a person who looks after pigs, but the more popular term today is “pig farmer”. The word “swineherd” is a compound of swine + herd and comes from the Late Old English swȳnhyrde, from Old English swȳn (‘swine, pig’) + Old English hierde (‘herd, herder’).

Swineherd is a poem by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, who was educated in Cork and Oxford and is now a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin. Along with Leland Bardwell and Pearse Hutchinson, she founded Cyphers, a fine literary magazine.

Swineherd

When all this is over, said the swineherd,
I mean to retire, where
Nobody will have heard about my special skills
And conversation is mainly about the weather.

I intend to learn how to make coffee, as least as well
As the Portuguese lay-sister in the kitchen
And polish the brass fenders every day.
I want to lie awake at night
Listening to cream crawling to the top of the jug
And the water lying soft in the cistern.

I want to see an orchard where the trees grow in straight lines
And the yellow fox finds shelter between the navy-blue trunks,
Where it gets dark early in summer
And the apple-blossom is allowed to wither on the bough.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

The brass pig


Epiphany poem and painting

Wednesday, 6 January, 2016 0 Comments

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.

The Journey Of The Magi by T S Eliot

It has been said that Eliot’s imagery in The Journey Of The Magi is similar to that used by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Balthasar, Caspar and Melchior speak and act in a mystical world where their frankincense, gold and myrrh are both real and mysterious. Sometime around 1475, Hieronymus Bosch attempted to capture this in The Adoration of the Magi, which is displayed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Magi


The Triumph of Isis

Sunday, 13 December, 2015 0 Comments

No, this is not a post about the victory (God forbid!) of the evil scourge that rules parts of Iraq and Syria and incites its hate-filled followers to slaughter concert-goers in Paris and workers in San Bernardino. Actually, The Triumph of Isis is a poem in praise of the University of Oxford and its students composed in 1749 by Thomas Warton, who was the Poet Laureate of England from 1785 to 1790. The Triumph of Isis rebutted William Mason’s Isis, an Elegy published the previous year, which was rather unflattering to Oxford. Warton’s language appears orotund and arcane to our eyes and ears today:

In vain the thunder’s martial rage she stood,
With each fierce conflict of the stormy flood;
More sure the reptile’s little arts devour,
Than waves, or wars, or Eurus’ wintry pow’r.

Anyway, it so happens that today, 13 December, marks the 231st anniversary of the death of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great English writer, biographer and lexicographer. Johnson was very witty, had a wicked sense of humour and could dispatch challengers and pretenders in style. He found Warton’s verses unbearably turgid and he disposed of the writer memorably in a mere eight lines Written in Ridicule of Certain Poems {of Thomas Warton} published in 1777:

Wheresoe’er I turn my view,
All is strange, yet nothing new;
Endless labour all along,
Endless labour to be wrong;
Phrase that time has flung away,
Uncouth words in disarray,
Trick’d in antique ruff and bonnet,
Ode, and elegy, and sonnet.

When it comes to ridicule, it’s hard to better “Endless labour all along, Endless labour to be wrong,” while “Phrase that time has flung away” is a perfect definition of cliché.


When a Limerick is not a Limerick

Friday, 6 November, 2015 0 Comments

After Lord Montagu of Beaulieu died in August, a seat in the House of Lords became vacant. This has now resulted a hereditary peer by-election — the system by which vacancies left by the death of a sitting hereditary peer are filled. The Earl of Limerick, Edmund Christopher Pery, has put himself forward for the job and the press is reporting that he’s hoping to convince sitting peers to support his bid “by presenting them with a personal statement in the form of a limerick poem.”

As most people know, however, a Limerick (limerick) is a form of poetry in five-line, mostly anapestic tetrameter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA). Limericks are sometimes obscene but the intent is always humourous. The verse that the Earl of Limerick has produced is not lewd, but it is not a limerick and with 12 lines it’s not a sonnet, either. Still, he does get points for “embenched”.

The Upper House knows none so queer
A creature as the Seatless Peer
Flamingo-like he stands all day
With no support to hold his sway
And waits with covert eagerness
For ninety-two to be one less
Then on to hustings he must pace
Once more to plead his special case
Noble Lordships, spare a thought
For one so vertically distraught
And from your seats so well entrenched
Please vote that mine may be embenched

Oxford English Dictionary: embenched em ‘benched, ppl. a.Obs.rare—1
[f. en- + bench n. + -ed.]
Formed into ‘benches’; cf. bench n. 6, 7, and v. 2.
1599 Nashe Lent. Stuffe 9 Cerdicus… was the first..that on those embenched shelues stampt his footing.