Sunday, 30 September 2012

Day 100: Faith

Yay, it's the 100th day of Poem A Day! And the perfect poem for it: 'Faith' by beloved poet of many, Polish Czeslaw Milosz. 

So here's to having faith in poetry. Knowing that out there, somewhere, these poems are leaving their mark on people -  on random and regular readers alike. And I hope that they've changed the minds of those who came to poetry before with a grimace and a yawn. For it isn't boring, it isn't irrelevant, it isn't elitist. 

And you might just miss out on what the world has to offer by not reading it, as 'reality only reveals itself when it is illuminated by a ray of poetry.'  Yes, the faith it engenders makes the whole world glow. 

Faith - Czeslaw Milosz

Faith is in you whenever you look
At a dewdrop or a floating leaf
And know that they are because they have to be.
Even if you close your eyes and dream up things
The world will remain as it has always been
And the leaf will be carried by the waters of the river.

You have faith also when you hurt your foot
Against a sharp rock and you know
That rocks are there to hurt our feet.
See the long shadow that is cast by the tree?
We and trees throw shadows on the earth.
What has not shadow has no strength to live.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Day 99: Harvest Moon

It's the Harvest Moon tonight, the most glorious and golden of all the moons!

Under the Harvest Moon - Carl Sandburg

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions. 

*Read more here: Harvest Moon Muse

Friday, 28 September 2012

Day 98: September Moon

What I love about Ruth Padel is her wonderful way with words, her surreal descriptions. Like here, in this poem, a fox is a 'Parade of white shirtfront. A flame, horizontal,/with ear.'

And maybe this poem has helped me like this time of year just a bit better - just look at the colours in it - 'tangerine lily, dawnglow apricot' - a veritable autumn painting!

In The Open - Ruth Padel

September: Blood Moon, Wine Moon

Grape-cluster. Sacrifice. Pigs killed for winter
provision. Adults and cubs
look the same now: sorrelflame, split
conker, goldfish, marmalade; a splinter
of sanguine chrysanthemum,
tangerine sparkler-head, lit.

You meet him, your late summer fox, as you turn
off the lights, zipping back from a night with your girl,
and watch St Pancras' pinnacles
stamp phosphorous ribbons on a glory sky
of wine-dark lily, dawnglow apricot.

Here he is, sniffing. Those scenting-cells
wind you exactly. No mange, and no moult.
Parade of white shirtfront. A flame, horizontal,
with ears (one back, and one forward);
gilt eyes under fox-frown. And not - till
you brake, stop the engine - afraid.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Day 97: Letting Go

Letting go - it's maybe the harshest medicine of advice, but always right, always worth it. We can't live with heaviness, holding on to things that aren't good for us.

And EE Cummings makes it seem so light and easy here in this poem, the rhythm and the line structure combining to depict a freefalling of intent, a loosening of what we hold the tightest, 'you must let them go they/were born/to go.' 

For only then, 'so comes love.'

let it go - ee cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go

so comes love

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Day 96: Siren Song

Staying on the mythic theme, here's a poem from writer Margaret Atwood that uses the sirens of myth - those mermaid temptress creatures that would lure sailors to their death with their bewitching song - to make a comment on love.

Never the romantic, Atwood's fierce realism shines through here. What else is love but a trick, an illusion, a siren song that lures us to our death under false pretences, 'a boring song', but one that works every time because love makes fools of us all? (especially men she seems to be saying!)

Not for the faint-hearted or romantics is Atwood's work!

Siren-Song - Margaret Atwood

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Day 95: Medusa

Here we have Carol Ann Duffy present the terrible mythic figure of Medusa with some sympathy. Yes, she was monstrous. Yes, she'd turn you to stone in the blink of an eye. Yes, she scared the living daylights out of men. But, all because of a weakness - a deep-seated fear of betrayal - which quickly turned itself into malevolent jealousy. 

The real 'monster' of jealousy is what it can make us become, 'Love gone bad showed me a Gorgon. I stared at a dragon.'  Not a very attractive trait!

And just look at the witty use of language, and especially the ambivalence of the last line, 'look at me now.' Is Medusa regretful here of what she has become, or about to reign death on the observer? Is she to be pitied or feared?

Medusa - Carol Ann Duffy

A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy
grew in my mind,
which turned the hairs on my head to filthy snakes
as though my thoughts
hissed and spat on my scalp.

My bride’s breath soured, stank
in the grey bags of my lungs.
I’m foul mouthed now, foul tongued,
yellow fanged.
There are bullet tears in my eyes.
Are you terrified?

Be terrified.
It’s you I love,
perfect man, Greek God, my own;
but I know you’ll go, betray me, stray
from home.
So better by for me if you were stone.

I glanced at a buzzing bee,
a dull grey pebbly fell
to the ground.
I glanced at a singing bird,
a handful of dusty gravel
spattered down

I looked at a ginger cat,
a housebrick
shattered a bowl of milk.
I looked at a snuffling pig,
a boulder rolled
in a heap of shit.

I stared in the mirror.
Love gone bad
showed me a Gorgon.
I stared at a dragon.
Fire spewed
from the mouth of a mountain.

And here you come
with a shield for a heart
and a sword for a tongue
and your girls, your girls.
Wasn’t I beautiful
Wasn’t I fragrant and young?

Look at me now.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Day 94: Equinocital Tears

A sestina is a poem consisting of 6 six-line verses, ending in a 3 line envoi. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern. Typically, it is a complex form that serves to echo the emotional content of the poem.

It is used to great effect here by Elizabeth Bishop, describing a sorrowful childhood, in almost fairytale-like manner.  The 'equinoctial tears' are those occurring at the time of the Equinox, which is, of course, the time we're in now, a time of change, redress and rebalance. 

Sestina - Elizabeth Bishop

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Day 93: Alchemists

And now to the mystical and mysterious.  Rumi was a Persian poet whose work incorporated the mystical and spiritual in a very accessible way. There is a deep wisdom in Rumi's poems that could explain why they are still so popular today. (There's even a Rumi quotes page on Facebook!)

Rumi is an example of the poet as an enlightened being, sharing his wisdom in words. His poetry is a guidebook for the ideal way of living.

In this poem, he talks about living life fully, no 'half-hearted holding back, well-enough getting by.'  If true alchemy can exist (turning metals into gold - living life to its highest value) then there must be the right temperament for it and the right conditions, including courage and a willingness to change.

Not Here - Rumi

There's courage involved if you want
to become truth.  There is a broken-
open place in a lover.  Where are
those qualities of bravery and sharp

compassion in this group?  What's the
use of old and frozen thought?  I want
a howling hurt.  This is not a treasury

where gold is stored; this is for copper.
We alchemists look for talent that
can heat up and change.  Lukewarm

won't do. Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by?  Not here.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Day 92: Safe House

I've always  been of the opinion that a 9 to 5 routine sucks all the joy out of life. The starched stillness of suburban living. So many people not living their lives.

Seems The Buk thought the same too. 

safe - Charles Bukowski

the house next door makes me
both man and wife rise early and
go to work.
they arrive home in early evening.
they have a young boy and a girl.
by 9 p.m. all the lights in the house
are out.

the next morning both man and
wife rise early again and go to
they return in early evening.
By 9 p.m. all the lights are

the house next door makes me
the people are nice people, I
like them. 

but I feel them drowning.
and I can't save them. 

they are surviving.
they are not

but the price is

sometimes during the day
I will look at the house
and the house will look at
and the house will
weep, yes, it does, I
feel it. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

Day 91: Selfless Love

This poem you may recognise. I always thought it was a quote, but no, it is a poem. Written by the Persian mystic poet Hafiz in the 14th century, and still going strong today. 

Maybe it's the endearing simplicity of it: the simple telling of an essential truth, the simple illustration of a grand type of love we should all aspire to. 

The Sun Never Says - Hafiz

All this time
The sun never says to the earth

"You owe me."

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights
The whole sky.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Day 90: Love Letter

Here's a love poem with a difference, charting the transformation love can have on us.

As always, Plath's imagery and metaphors are strikingly original and apt. From snake to stone to clouds; unfeeling to feeling.

Love Letter - Sylvia Plath

Not easy to state the change you made.
If I’m alive now, then I was dead,
Though, like a stone, unbothered by it,
Staying put according to habit.
You didn’t just toe me an inch, no—
Nor leave me to set my small bald eye
Skyward again, without hope, of course,
Of apprehending blueness, or stars.

That wasn’t it. I slept, say: a snake
Masked among black rocks as a black rock
In the white hiatus of winter—
Like my neighbors, taking no pleasure
In the million perfectly-chiseled
Cheeks alighting each moment to melt
My cheek of basalt. They turned to tears,
Angels weeping over dull natures,
But didn’t convince me. Those tears froze.
Each dead head had a visor of ice.

And I slept on like a bent finger.
The first thing I saw was sheer air
And the locked drops rising in a dew
Limpid as spirits. Many stones lay
Dense and expressionless round about.
I didn’t know what to make of it.
I shone, mica-scaled, and unfolded
To pour myself out like a fluid
Among bird feet and the stems of plants.
I wasn’t fooled. I knew you at once.

Tree and stone glittered, without shadows.
My finger-length grew lucent as glass.
I started to bud like a March twig:
An arm and a leg, an arm, a leg.
From stone to cloud, so I ascended.
Now I resemble a sort of god
Floating through the air in my soul-shift
Pure as a pane of ice. It’s a gift.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Day 89: Good Morrow

 A classic offering today from metaphysical poet John Donne. 

Don't be put off by the language - there's a lot more to Donne than meets the eye. He was a master at the conceit (elaborate extended metaphors) and witty explorations of a topic. Here in this poem, it's the idea of the lovers both possessing two worlds, that of their own and the one they have become to the other, complimented by the observation of how each of their reflections appear in the eye of the other, likening the pupils to the heavenly spheres (that were thought to be the universe at the time.)

And look closely - there's astute phrases here on love that have become common quotes, like 'For love all love of other sights controls,/And makes one little room an everywhere.'  It's really rather wonderful!

The Good Morrow - John Donne

I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den?
'Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,

Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown;
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Day 88: Disillusionment of Ten O' Clock

Oh, I am still suffering from the seasonal changeover. The liveliness and colours of summer now fading into a quiet gathering of darkness. Especially the evenings, where life seems to still prematurely. 

But I've found the perfect poem for it.  Disillusionment of Ten O' Clock - what a great title - from modernist maestro Wallace Stevens, a comment on life without imagination.

Disillusionment of Ten O' Clock - Wallace Stevens

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches Tigers
In red weather. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Day 87: Blackberry Picking

Another Autumn poem.  This time by Seamus Heaney, whose sense of wording and sound, rhyme and rhythm make all his poems a sensual feast. 

What better description for a blackberry than 'a glossy purple clot'? And its taste - 'sweet like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it' and the sight of them in the bucket, 'big dark blobs burned like a plate of eyes.'  The attention to detail is stunning: 'wet grass bleached our boots,' 'hands peppered with thorn pricks,' a rat-grey fungus glutting on our cache.'  Enough to make reading the poem an experience in itself.

But it's not just the wonderful words used that make this poem - it's the sentiment. Heaney manages to capture that feeling of childhood joy through the spectrum of this one event - all the fervour and  rush and excitement of it. But also, how it can be fleeting and end - just as the blackberries would rot not long after picking, 'the sweet flesh would turn sour', as the poet (a child growing older) regretfully came to know each year. 

Blackberry Picking - Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Day 86: Morning Poem

Yes, with a little sun today, it does feel like the world has re-created itself. 

Morning Poem - Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Day 85: Drunk

Drunk and disorderly and delirious and delighted. (Hiccup).

Finally a poem that captures that tipsy teetering feeling exactly. (Although the last time I was drunk - the moon didn't just wobble - there were two moons in the sky...)

But it also describes intoxication of a different kind. That kind where you're high on inspiration and enthusiasm  - 'and the whole world a mouth', the whole world for the taking and you wanting more and more, head-over-heels in love with life -  'give me a double, a kiss.'

Drunk - Carol Ann Duffy 

Suddenly the rain is hilarious.
The moon wobbled in the dusk.

What a laugh. Unseen frogs
belch in the damp grass.

The strange perfumes of darkening trees.
Cheap red wine

and the whole world a mouth.
Give me a double, a kiss.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Day 84: Fall

Autumn is a great season for writers and artists alike. But I can't say I'm such a fan! Well, I do love the falling leaves and the colours, but not the absence of light, (I'm a spring girl myself!). It's hard to get accustomed to.

Maybe what I find hardest is the change in seasons. And the worst change has to be from summer into autumn/winter. It's the first few weeks of trying to adapt that is the toughest. 

How appropriate the American term for the season - Fall. A lot of 'falling.' But as Rilke reminds us, 'Someone' is 'holding up all this falling.'  

Here's a different autumn poem from all the other waxing descriptive ones you may know.

Autumn - Rainer Maria Rilke 

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning "no."

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We're all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It's in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Day 83: Hazel Wood

It feels real Autumnal all of a sudden. Time for woodland walks. And for Yeats. 

Yes, that grand master of poetry, mystical and lyrical and romantic. 

I'm always reminded of The Song of Wandering Aengus at this time of year. Who can forget those beautiful last lines, 'the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun' and all the silver and gold beauty of Autumn around us?

The Song of Wandering Aengus - W.B. Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Day 82: Today

Okay, it may not be a Tuesday as it is in this poem, but the same applies. Every day is the only day. Even if it is overcast and damp, when the world appears to have a 'heavy, low-hung ceiling.' 

Let us make the most of them anyway: inquisitive, eager, enthusiastic and open to learn.
(I wish I had came across this poem yesterday!)  

The Only Day in Existence - Billy Collins

The early sun is so pale and shadowy,
I could be looking up at a ghost
in the shape of a window,
a tall, rectangular spirit
looking down at me in bed,
about to demand that I avenge
the murder of my father.
But the morning light is only the first line
in the play of this day--
the only day in existence--
the opening chord of its long song,
or think of what is permeating
the thin bedroom curtains

as the beginning of a lecture
I will listen to until it is dark,
a curious student in a V-neck sweater,
angled into the wooden chair of his life,
ready with notebook and a chewed-up pencil,
quiet as a goldfish in winter,
serious as a compass at sea,
eager to absorb whatever lesson
this damp, overcast Tuesday
has to teach me,
here in the spacious classroom of the world
with its long walls of glass,
its heavy, low-hung ceiling.