Tag: poetry

A cold coming we had of it

Friday, 6 January, 2017 0 Comments

Was it the birth of a new world (Christianity) or the death of an old one (polytheism) that caused his crisis in belief? The speaker in The Journey Of The Magi says that since returning home following their visit to see the infant Christ, he and his companions have felt uneasy among their compatriots, who now seem to be “an alien people clutching their gods” (in contrast to the believers in the newly arrived Jesus, who worship one god only).

T. S. Eliot converted to Christianity in 1927, the same year he wrote Journey of the Magi in a single day, one Sunday morning. “I had been thinking about it in church,” Eliot told his wife Valerie years later, “and when I got home I opened a half-bottle of Booth’s Gin, poured myself a drink, and began to write. By lunchtime, the poem, and the half-bottle of gin, were both finished.” This is for the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Journey Of The Magi

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.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T. S. Eliot (26 September 1888 — 4 January 1965)

A cold coming


Winter Trees

Wednesday, 4 January, 2017 0 Comments

Although he respected the work of T.S Eliot, William Carlos Williams was critical of Eliot’s highbrow style with its use of foreign languages and allusions to classical literature. Instead, Williams preferred colloquial American English.

Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

Cullane winter


Light Shining out of Darkness

Saturday, 31 December, 2016 0 Comments

Light in the darkness

Light Shining out of Darkness

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

Note: The cat was highly thought of the age of Cowper, especially by those artists who were judged to be a bit mad. Cowper, who had bouts of madness and depression, was the foremost poet of the generation between Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth and for several decades had probably the largest readership of any English poet. He espoused the cultivated beliefs of the time: a love of nature and thereby a love of animals. In The Retired Cat written in 1791, the plight of his cat that has become trapped in a dresser drawer offered an opportunity for a moral tale.


Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 25 December, 2016 0 Comments

The journey of a “A rugged billion miles” has many twists and turns said the poet Emily Dickinson. The task of developing a moral vision is arduous and it’s a hard road we’ve been travelling since Bethlehem but we do have a guide. Now that we’ve arrived at Christmas Day, let’s recall those who introduced us to its true meaning. On behalf of the Rainy Day team: Happy Christmas!

The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman

The Savior must have been
A docile Gentleman –
To come so far so cold a Day
For little Fellowmen –

The Road to Bethlehem
Since He and I were Boys
Was leveled, but for that ‘twould be
A rugged Billion Miles –

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)


On Translation

Thursday, 20 October, 2016 0 Comments

The poet Anthony Hecht died on this day in 2004. His work was filled with a passionate desire to confront the horrors of 20th century history, especially the Second World War, in which he fought. On 23 April 1945, Hecht’s division helped liberate the Bavarian concentration camp at Flossenbürg. Years later, he said of this experience, “The place, the suffering, the prisoners’ accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking.”

In an interview with the Paris Review, Hecht was asked what he did after his discharge from the US Army. His answer:

“I was consistently drunk for well over two weeks. My parents were particularly forbearing and indulgent about this. They kept me in full supply of booze. I think I drank day and night, and I fell asleep most nights on the floor of their New York apartment. The drink must have served as a sort of narcotic for everything unmentionable that had happened or that I saw during those years.”

Hecht was a great admirer of Robert Fitzgerald, the American translator whose renderings of the Greek classics became standard works for a generation of scholars and students. On Translation was dedicated to Fitzgerald.

On Translation

Robert, how pleasantly tempting to surmise,
As Auden half suspected,
That heaven and the benign Italian skies
Are intimately connected;

And once there we shall truly be translated
In grand operatic style
And bella figura flourish, who are fated
To tarry here the while.

Amid hill towns and places where dwell
The blessed of heaven’s see,
They shall address you as Signor Freeztjell
Me, Signor Hecate.

Anthony Hecht (1923 – 2004)


On this day last year…

Sunday, 14 August, 2016 1 Comment

… we went to the graveyard and we stood at the graves and did not weep. Today, it’s time dwell upon the “love of unforgotten times” as Robert Louis Stevenson put it.

Do not stand at my grave and weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave bereft
I am not there. I have not left.

Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905 – 2004)

Mammy


The human heart and face

Friday, 12 August, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1827, William Blake died. The English poet, painter, printmaker and visionary was largely unrecognised during his lifetime, but is now considered a pivotal figure in the arts of the Romantic Age. When he was 14, his family decided that he would be apprenticed to an engraver, so his father took him to William Ryland, a highly respected master of the trade. The boy, however, resisted the arrangement telling his father, “I do not like the man’s face: it looks as if he will live to be hanged!” The grim prophecy came true 12 years later.

William Blake’s uncanny ability to expose the face that lies behind the mask resulted in some revealing and enduring paintings and poetry.

A Divine Image

Cruelty has a Human Heart
And Jealousy a Human Face
Terror the Human Form Divine
And Secrecy, the Human Dress

The Human Dress, is forged Iron
The Human Form, a fiery Forge.
The Human Face, a Furnace seal’d
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge.

William Blake (1757 – 1827)

William Blake - Nebuchadnezzar

William Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar is a print portraying the Old Testament Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. The story of Nebuchadnezzar tells of a ruler who through hubris lost his mind and was reduced to madness and eating “grass as oxen.”


Hooooo! A Toast to Iceland

Sunday, 3 July, 2016 1 Comment

France vs. Iceland tonight in Paris, with the winner meeting Germany in the semi-final of Euro2016. During the game, most non-French people will be clapping their hands and chanting “Hooooo,” the Icelanders’ version of the New Zealand rugby haka.

The poet Jónas Hallgrímsson was born in Eyjafjörður on the northern part of Iceland. He studied Latin and Greek at secondary school in Bessastaor and then attended the University of Copenhagen. He coined many Icelandic words, including reikistjarna, meaning planet, from the verb að reika (to wander) and the noun stjarna (star).

A Toast to Iceland

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth’s fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!

Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807 – 1845)


Word of the Day: amain

Thursday, 30 June, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1666, the English poet Alexander Brome died. A lawyer by profession, he wrote satirical verse in favour of the Royalists and in opposition to the Rump Parliament. Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Brome published Songs and other Poems, which contained ballads, epistles, elegies, epitaphs and epigrams.

“Then I’ll fall to loving and drinking amain” is how Brome’s poem The Mad Lover ends. In this context, the archaic word “amain” means with great haste.

The Mad Lover

I have been in love, and in debt, and in drink,
This many and many a year;
And those three are plagues enough, one would think,
For one poor mortal to bear.
‘Twas drink made me fall in love,
And love made me run into debt,
And though I have struggled and struggled and strove,
I cannot get out of them yet.

There’s nothing but money can cure me,
And rid me of all my pain;
‘Twill pay all my debts,
And remove all my lets,
And my mistress, that cannot endure me,
Will love me and love me again, —
Then I’ll fall to loving and drinking amain.

Alexander Brome (1620 – 1666)


Remembering those who built for us

Saturday, 18 June, 2016 0 Comments

On 18 June 1952, Michael Fitzgerald and Catherine O’Donnell were married in the village of Lisvernane, County Tipperary. The ceremony was followed by a meal at Riversdale House Hotel in the Glen of Aherlow. Transport for the bride and her family was via a Ford V8 driven by Jack Fraser, grocer/publican/undertaker, but cars were scarce in the Ireland of the early 1950s so some of the guests cycled. The wedding cake was prepared by the bride, baked by Mrs Ryan-Russell, who had a Stanley Range cooker, and the icing was added by the confectionery specialists of Kiely’s Bread Company in Tipperary town. The sun shone and the couple went on to spend 59 years together, during which time they earned love and respect from those who loved and respected them.

Mammy and Daddy

Scaffolding is one of the first poems Seamus Heaney wrote. It’s a metaphorical work about the construction of a marriage and the measures needed to keep it firm in the face of the shocks. Walls of “sure and solid stone” will be strong enough to stand on their own, says Heaney. “Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall / Confident that we have built our wall.”

Scaffolding

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney (1939 — 2013)


An epitaph for an enemy

Sunday, 22 May, 2016 0 Comments

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) died on this day in 1972. He was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972, and the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he adhered to its Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist line until the early 1950s. He renounced communism in 1960 in his autobiography, Buried Day, and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), is a contemptuous portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends, Auden and Spender, have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to echo, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy