Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Day 131: Byron's Vampire

Happy Hallowe'en!
Vampires. They'll never cease being  popular subject matter for fiction and poetry. But when did it all start?
Vampires first originated in print in the form of zombies. It wasn't until the Romantic poet Lord Byron came along and put his stamp on things, that they evolved into the more seductive, suave, aristocratic vampire we have today.
Byron himself was very influenced by the myth of the vampire as he travelled around Europe and his lavish lifestyle and rebellious character has given rise to the term we have today - 'Byronic hero' applied to some vampires and characters to mean a tragic, gothic type of hero, both hero and villain, handsome and dangerous.
Here's an extract from his poem, 'The Giaour', which mentions the figure of the vampire.
*(If you want to get your teeth into more vampires, (pun intended!),you can read my blog on vampires in fiction here)

The Giaour - Lord Byron

A turban carved in coarsest stone,
A pillar with rank weeds o'ergrown,
Whereon can now be scarcely read
The Koran verse that mourns the dead,
Point out the spot where Hassan fell
A victim in that lonely dell.
There sleeps as true an Osmanlie
As e'er at Mecca bent the knee;
As ever scorn'd forbidden wine,
Or pray'd with face towards the shrine,
In orisons resumed anew
At solemn sound of "Alla Hu!"
Yet died he by a stranger's hand,
And stranger in his native land;
Yet died he as in arms he stood,
And unavenged, at least in blood.
But him the maids of Paradise
Impatient to their halls invite,
And the dark Heaven of Houris' eyes
On him shall glance for ever bright;
They come---their kerchiefs green they wave,
And welcome with a kiss the brave!
Who falls in battle 'gainst a Giaour
Is worthiest an immortal bower.

But thou, false Infidel! shall writhe
Beneath avenging Monkir's scythe;
And from its torments 'scape alone
To wander round lost Eblis' throne;
And fire unquench'd, unquenchable,
Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!
But first, on earth as Vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, most beloved of all,
Shall bless thee with a father's name--
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark
Her cheek's last tinge, her eye's last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o'er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallow'd hand shalt tear
The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn
Affection's fondest pledge was worn,
But now is borne away by thee,
Memorial of thine agony!
Wet with thine own best blood shall drip
Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave,
Go---and with Gouls and Afrits rave;
Till these in horror shrink away
From Spectre more accursed than they!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Day 130: Jack-o'-Lantern

And now a seasonal offering. The pumpkin, Halloween symbol extraordinaire
explored here by Carl Sandburg.

But what else is the poem saying? Could it be, possibly, something about aging??

Theme in Yellow - Carl Sandburg

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o'-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know I am fooling.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Day 129: Sonoma Fire

'To make art means standing a little outside the furnace. Gold, or clay, or stories can go into the furnace and be transformed.' - Jane Hirshfield

It's true. Art can even make hurt lesser, make tragedy beautiful.
(You can read more here on the poet's explanation of this idea and this poem.)

Sonoma Fire - Jane Hirshfield

Large moon the deep orange of embers.
Also the scent.
The griefs of others—beautiful, at a distance.


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Day 128: Excursion to the Planet Mercury

If poetry is a product of the imagination, then this poem is a testament to that faculty's immense power. Mercury. The planet Mercury. Who would think to write a poem on it? What would you write? How would you describe it?
Well, if you're Alice Oswald, wonderfully. A 'tiny iron island' of a planet, a 'violently magic little place' where the 'sky is racing along/ like a blue wrapper flapped and let go.' Her range of figurative language is astonishing. Mercury is a place with 'nothing but glimmering beginnings/making ready to manifest' with 'feather-footed winds.'
Most of all, it is a place open to the imagination and as Alice Oswald shows here, that kind of place can be anything you want it to be.

Excursion to the Planet Mercury - Alice Oswald

certain evenings a little before the golden
foam of the horizon has properly hardened
you can see a tiny iron island
very close indeed to the sun.

all craters and mirrors, the uncanny country
of the planet Mercury - a mystery
without I without air,
without you without sound.

in that violently magic little place
the sky is racing along
like a blue wrapper flapped and let go
from a car window.

now hot now cold
the ground moves fast,
a few stones frisk about
looking for a foothold

but it shales it slides
the whole concept is only
loosely fastened
to a few weak tweaks of gravity.

o the weather is dreadful there:
thousand-year showers of dust
all dandruff and discarded shells
of creatures too swift to exist:

paupers beggars toughs
boys in dresses
who come alive and crumble
at the mercy of metamorphosis

no nothing accumulates there
not even mist
nothing but glimmering beginnings
making ready to manifest.

as for the catastrophe
of nights on mercury,
hiding in a rock-smashed hollow
at about two hundred degrees below zero

the feather-footed winds
take off their guises there,
they go in gym shoes
thieving and lifting

and their amazed expressions
have been soundproofed, nevertheless
they go on howling
for gladness sheer glaadness

Taken from © Woods etc. (Faber & Faber, 2005)

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Day 127: Alone

No one can say things as simply and profoundly as Charles Bukowski. There is reason and wisdom in his verse that can't be ignored.

oh yes - Charles Bukowski

there are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it's too late
and there's nothing worse
too late.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Day 126: Garden of the Heart

Alice Walker might be well known for her prose - most especially, her novel 'The Color Purple' - but she's also an accomplished poet. Her poetry, like her prose, is compassionate, affirming and ultimately redemptive.

Here's a taster. -

Desire - Alice Walker

My desire
is always the same; wherever Life
deposits me:
I want to stick my toe
& soon my whole body
into the water.
I want to shake out a fat broom
& sweep dried leaves
bruised blossoms
dead insects
& dust.
I want to grow
It seems impossible that desire
can sometimes transform into devotion;
but this has happened.
And that is how I've survived:
how the hole
I carefully tended
in the garden of my heart
grew a heart
to fill it.      

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Day 125: The Stolen Child

In Ireland we have a peculiar saying to denote madness - we say a person is 'away with the fairies.' How unfair really. For going by this poem from Yeats, away with the fairies seems a most pleasant destination, away from all the 'weeping' of the world into the magic and beauty of nature. Escapism, in other words, to the imagination, that most fertile world of fantasy.
Yeats uses the influence of old Irish myths and legends here, but the poem does have a deep ring of truth to it - who wouldn't want to be tempted away by the fairies, away from all their sorrows? Lured into an imaginative world where the burdens of reality drop away? But what the poem really urges is for a young child to escape to  the sanctuary of his imagination, before the adult world can corrupt him with all its sorrows and woes.
Yeats, by the way, was a fervent believer in fairies. He was even accused of 'being away with the fairies' himself at many points in his career. Maybe that could explain his uniquely dazzling and unequalled collection of work and reputation as a grand poet. Because poets are believers are they not, in magic, above all else??
(This poem choice was inspired by stumbling upon this wonderful quote from LM Montgomery - There is such a place as Fairyland... which backs up my immediate previous statement!)

The Stolen Child - WB Yeats

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we've hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can


Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can

Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
From a the world more full of weeping than he can

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Day 124: The Blues

'Woman with Crossed Arms' - Picasso, 1901
After reading an article on all the connotations of the colour blue (-The New York Times) and how many different things it represents, including 'the blues', that emotional state of sorrow we are all familiar with, I got to thinking of this poem by Maya Angelou. 

In it, she explores the idea of blue not only as implying sadness, but also as cold and forlorn - the depressing hue and feel of winter. 

My Life Has Turned to Blue - Maya Angelou

Our summer's gone,
the golden days are through.
The rosy dawns I used to
wake with you
have turned to gray,
my life has turned to blue.

The once-green lawns
glisten now with dew.
Red robin's gone,
down to the South he flew.
Left here alone,
my life has turned to blue.

I've heard the news
that winter too will pass,
that spring's a sign
that summer's due at last.
But until I see you
lying in green grass,
my life has turned to blue. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Day 123: Do, Don't, Didn't, Die

Small town living can sometimes be dispiriting. Lots of dos and don'ts (and other 'd' words: demeaning, disheartening, depressing, deadpan, drudgery). As ee cummings acknowledges here in his mocking depiction of it. 

Small town living where appearances are everything - 'pretty how town', but where people lose their personality, become 'noones' and 'anyones' and 'someones' and 'everyones.' And lose their dreams too, give up on wishes and give in to the collective attitude - 'sang his didn't,' 'sowed their isn't they reaped their same',  'they said their nevers they slept their dream'. This is a place where conformity and convention and the collective soon swamp individualism and the spontaneous magic in life.

Well, that's what I take from it anyway. (Poetry is subjective according to your state of mind...) What about you? 

anyone lived in a pretty how town - ee cummings
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Monday, 22 October 2012

Day 122: Love in Autumn

Autumn leaves, in love with the wind, 'whirl to their own death.' Or so it is in Carol Ann Duffy's poem, 'Love'.  Hard not to be in love with the leaves this time of year. Everywhere you go, their gold greets you. 

But it's not just the trees - the whole landscape is in love in this poem - the land 'yearns', the moon 'aches and frets' for the earth, as lovelorn as the poet. (For when you're in love - it seems the whole world mirrors it back to you!)

This poem comes from Carol Ann Duffy's collection of love poetry from a few years back, 'Rapture.' I remember getting it one Autumn, maybe October, and being completely absorbed in its telling of - by all accounts - a great love affair, nature as its background, passion as its theme.  If you like love poetry, you'll love it. And you just can't help but fall in love with the seasons too, especially her descriptions of them.

Love - Carol Ann Duffy

Love is talent, the world love's metaphor.
Aflame, October's leaves adore the wind,
its urgent breath, whirl to their own death.
Not here, you're everywhere. 

                                                The evening sky
worships the ground, bears down, the land
yearns back in darkening hills. The night
is empathy, stars in its eyes for tears. Not here, 

you're where I stand, hearing the sea, crazy
for the shore, seeing the moon ache and fret
for the earth. When morning comes, the sun, ardent,
covers the trees in gold, you walk

                                                        towards me,
out of the season, out of the light love reasons.

© From 'Rapture' 2005 Picador

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Day 121: Half Life

How very very true.

Half Life - Stephen Levine

We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground

our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Day 120: Petals

Sometimes a poem is as simple as a mere passing image that imprints itself on the mind, offering beauty and solace. Like this memorable one from Imagist poet Ezra Pound.

In a Station of the Metro - Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Day 119: Love/Hate

Surprisingly, here's a poem that doesn't give hate a bad rap. Instead, Frank O'Hara says that it's 'cleansing and allows you to be direct.' Hmm.

There are other truths in this poem too, some vague and some clear, some exaggerated. But one of them that most certainly can't be denied is the fact that 'hurt and hate go hand in hand.'  One leads to the other, whichever comes first.

Poem (Hate Is Only One of Many Responses) - Frank O'Hara

Hate is only one of many responses
true, hurt and hate go hand in hand
but why be afraid of hate, it is only there
think of filth, is it really awesome
neither is hate
don't be shy of unkindness, either
it's cleansing and allows you to be direct
like an arrow that feels something

out and out meanness, too, lets love breathe
you don't have to fight off getting in too deep
you can always get out if you're not too scared

an ounce of prevention's
enough to poison the heart
don't think of others
until you have thought of yourself, are true

all of these things, if you feel them
will be graced by a certain reluctance
and turn into gold

if felt by me, will be smilingly deflected
by your mysterious concern 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Day 118: Anything Could Happen

Telling someone you love them is never an easy thing. Just think of all the things that could go wrong! The many 'what could happens' bubbling up in your mind that make you anticipate the experience with both dread and excitement.

Well, I bet you've never thought of these outcomes - both good and bad, downright hilarious and strange and sweet.

Things That Could Happen - Jacob Sam-La Rose

She swoons, falls into his arms
and they live happily ever after.

She kisses him: the restaurant applauds.

There’s a pin-drop silence. She turns
the knife in her hand, slowly.

His heart bursts in his mouth before he can say the words.
It splatters the table, ruins her dress, and she never forgives 


He’s interrupted by a handsome man from another table
who asks if he can cut in. She accepts, of course,
and waltzes off to an orchestra of cutlery, side-plates,
strummed napkins and warm bread. He seethes, turns bald
and tells the story to every man he meets.

She falls in love with the waiter.

She falls in love with the waitress.

She starts by saying she’s quitting the country,
that there’s nothing in London to keep her.

He loses his voice, has to write it all down.
She spills a glass of wine, the ink blurs and swims
across the page. I’m sorry she says, and he nods,
his eyes turning to crystal.

They laugh.

They have passionate sex in the single toilet.
Outside, a lengthening queue tuts and frets.
Someone presses their ear to the door.

She doesn’t believe him.

They have 3 children. Some night, she tells them
(again) how their father won her heart
over chicken gyoza and ebi katsu.
Whenever he hears this, something in him rises
like a bull-chested spinnaker.

Her mobile rings. The moment falls, like a crumb,
to the napkin in her lap. She brushes it away.

He learns a new language - says it in French or Swahili.
She’s mightily impressed, but doesn’t understand.

She chokes on a noodle. The tips of her fingers turn blue
as she fights for breath, and fails. Later, he learns to love
the bite of alcohol and numbs his tongue with ice.

She chokes on a noodle. He Heimlichs her.
She sees him in a different light,
as he dabs the sparkling sputum
from her lips.

He watches the way she eats
and thinks better of saying anything.

Before he can speak, she leans across the table,
fingers barely touching the corners of his mouth,
and says I know, already. I know.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Day 117: Nocturne

Winter evenings are cosy evenings. Dark outside, fire-glow inside.

And better still, that lovely contented feeling of the late quiet hours of the night, where everything comes into its own realm. Which can only be appreciated at home alone, up late, when everyone is asleep, and time 'is a tick, a purr, a drop.'

Nocturne - Eavan Boland

After a friend has gone I like the feel of it:
The house at night. Everyone asleep.
The way it draws in like atmosphere or evening.

One-o-clock. A floral tea pot and a raisin scone.
A tray waits to be taken down.
The landing light is off. The clock strikes. The cat

comes into his own, mysterious on the stairs,
a black ambivalence around the legs of button-back
chairs, an insinuation to be set beside

the red spoon and the salt-glazed cup,
the saucer with the thick spill of tea
which scalds off easily under the tap. Time

is a tick, a purr, a drop. The spider
on the dining room window has fallen asleep
among complexities as I will once

the doors are bolted and the keys tested
and the switch turned up of the kitchen light
which made outside in the garden

an electric room - a domestication
of closed daisies, an architecture
instant and improbable.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Day 116: Words

How to know if you're a poet? You love words. More than a prose writer. To writers, words are the tools of the trade, functionary, they advance and structure and shape plot and ideas and characters. They mould and make.

But to a poet, they are everything. As beautiful as flowers, ever-enchanting, 'they are doves falling out of the ceiling... the sun, its passionate face.' They are the blueprint of the world. Something we have power over, but which have more power over us.

Words - Anne Sexton

Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren't good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Day 115: Fine Cats

Here's one of the many reasons to love cats, if you need convincing. I don't. I think cats are magnificent, mysterious, graceful, elegant animals. You could watch one all day and admire the many different angles it can assume, 'adjusting to the space of itself with a delightful grace.' 

Yes, a reminder of some kind of magic. The Egyptians were on to something alright!

in other words - Charles Bukowski 

The Egyptians loved the cat
were often entombed with it
instead of with the women
and never with the dog

but now
good people with
good eyes
are very few

yet fine cats
with great style
lounge about
in the alleys of
the universe

our argument tonight
whatever it was
no matter
how unhappy
it made us

remember that
there is a
adjusting to the
space of itself
with a delightful

in other words
magic persists
without us
no matter what
we may try to do
to spoil it

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Day 114: Quiet & Calm

Something quiet for a Sunday afternoon. And an ode to reading. 

For me anyway, nothing quiets and quickens the mind like settling down to read a book.

The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm - Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Day 113: At the Heart of the Ridiculous, The Sublime

Heroic gestures are almost always quiet and unsung. Heroes pass us in ordinary everyday life, their sacrifices and actions almost unnoticed, 'at the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.'

This poem - 'Antarctica' - came into my head today. It is based on the infamous ill-fated Scott expedition to Antarctica in the early 20th century, specifically the fate of Captain Oates - who sacrificed himself for the sake of the rest of the team. 

Scott recorded in his diary how he simply left the camp with the final words, 'I'm just going outside and may be some time', which Mahon uses here to highlight how in the midst of something ordinary, the heroic can occur.

And just like the gesture in question, this poem is quiet and unassuming, yet moving.

Antarctica - Derek Mahon

‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
The others nod, pretending not to know.

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He leaves them reading and begins to climb,

goading his ghost into the howling snow;

He is just going outside and may be some time.

The tent recedes beneath its crust of rime

And frostbite is replaced by vertigo:

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

Need we consider it some sort of crime,

This numb self-sacrifice of the weakest? No,

He is just going outside and may be some time –

In fact, for ever. Solitary enzyme,

Though the night yield no glimmer there will glow,

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He takes leave of the earthly pantomime

Quietly, knowing it is time to go:

‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Day 112: Love (Over a Cello)

Sometimes love can strike us unaware. But look, in this poem, a poet - laconic Billy Collins in this case - is there to observe it, to capture it in verse. 

And the effect is spellbinding and quite endearing. Especially in the fact that in the midst of ordinary life, ordinary recounting, the heavenly glow of love can shine through: 'I saw him looking up at her/and what she was doing/the way the eyes of saints are painted/when they are looking up at God'. The first hint of love indeed!

Love - Billy Collins

The boy at the far end of the train car
kept looking behind him
as if he were afraid or expecting someone

and then she appeared in the glass door
of the forward car and he rose
and opened the door and let her in

and she entered the car carrying
a large black case
in the unmistakable shape of a cello.

She looked like an angel with a high forehead
and somber eyes and her hair
was tied up behind her neck with a black bow.

And because of all that,
he seemed a little awkward
in his happiness to see her,

whereas she was simply there,
perfectly existing as a creature
with a soft face who played the cello.

And the reason I am writing this
on the back of a manila envelope
now that they have left the train together

is to tell you that when she turned
to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her
and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted

when they are looking up at God
when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Day 111: Storm Warnings

There are many kinds of storms we must face in this life. 

Adrienne Rich knew a lot about them - activist, feminist, woman writer in a time when womens' rights were shaky to say the least (she was writing circa 1950s and onwards). But she persisted in her role first and foremost as an individual amongst the conforming masses - a hurricane in itself. 

But then of course, there are the emotional storms - 'weather abroad and weather in the heart  alike come regardless of prediction' - that we all know. Rich outlines the experience of 'weathering' them here too, which results in a poem of survival, strength, tenacity and resolve. 

Storm Warnings - Adrienne Rich

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of grey unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction. 

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters. 

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Day 110: Moon & the Yew Tree

Most poems about the moon revel in its beauty, mystery and magic. It is a benevolent muse to poets.  

This poem by Sylvia Plath on the other hand, takes a different more malevolent view of it, as it plays its part in her anguished vision, 'I simply cannot see where there is to get to.' 

There are some brilliant descriptions here from Plath, typically shocking as they are apt. Moonlight is not romantic, but 'the light of the mind, cold and planetary.'  The moon is 'white as a knuckle...bald and wild' and perhaps the most moving - 'it is quiet with the complete O-gape of despair.'  Like the whole poem in a way. 

Yes, sometimes the moon just doesn't give a damn. 

 The Moon and the Yew Tree - Sylvia Plath

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs at my feet as if I were God,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
Fumy spiritious mists inhabit this place
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,

White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky -
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape.

The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness -
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering

Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Day 109: Ode to Autumn

photo taken locally by Donal Kearney ©

Autumn - such a beautiful season. And this poem by Keats is perhaps the season's most famous verse, a fitting ode indeed. 

Don't let the language style put you off. Keats has a way of saying things beautifully, of painting images in each turn of phrase - if we only take the patience to read them attentively.  'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' is a line familiar to many. But what about 'While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day/And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;'? Yes, that's exactly what the sunset is like this time of year!
Keats allegedly wrote this poem after a Sunday afternoon walk in Autumn. Now it's hard not to think of it while walking in this season! 

But for those of us who don't like this time of year, fear not - 'Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.' Maybe if we listen closely enough, we'll hear Autumn's golden music, and it might just overpower those Spring memories. For in a way, it is a type of new beginning too.

Ode to Autumn - John Keats

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-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed 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'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.