Friday, 30 November 2012

Day 161: Sleeping on the Wing

I love Frank O' Hara's poems - they're so full of energy, enthusiasm and inquisitive curiousity. (And also mystery and clues, answers and questions).

Especially this one.  (And note how the language soars and sweeps along to the puzzling, but comforting denouement!)

Sleeping on the Wing - Frank O' Hara

Perhaps it is to avoid some great sadness,
as in a Restoration tragedy the hero cries 'Sleep!
O for a long sound sleep and so forget it! '
that one flies, soaring above the shoreless city,
veering upward from the pavement as a pigeon
does when a car honks or a door slams, the door
of dreams, life perpetuated in parti-colored loves
and beautiful lies all in different languages.

Fear drops away too, like the cement, and you
are over the Atlantic. Where is Spain? where is
who? The Civil War was fought to free the slaves,
was it? A sudden down-draught reminds you of gravity
and your position in respect to human love. But
here is where the gods are, speculating, bemused.
Once you are helpless, you are free, can you believe
that? Never to waken to the sad struggle of a face?
to travel always over some impersonal vastness,
to be out of, forever, neither in nor for!

The eyes roll asleep as if turned by the wind
and the lids flutter open slightly like a wing.
The world is an iceberg, so much is invisible!
and was and is, and yet the form, it may be sleeping
too. Those features etched in the ice of someone
loved who died, you are a sculptor dreaming of space
and speed, your hand alone could have done this.
Curiosity, the passionate hand of desire. Dead,
or sleeping? Is there speed enough? And, swooping,
you relinquish all that you have made your own,
the kingdom of your self sailing, for you must awake
and breathe your warmth in this beloved image
whether it's dead or merely disappearing,
as space is disappearing and your singularity 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Day 160: Head Vs Heart

Wendy Cope, comic master as she is, witty and wry observer of relations between men and women, she still acknowledges the authentic little flutters of love nonetheless.

Here she is in this poem with her simple yet profound style, tackling the conflict between reason and passion, logic and dream, the head and the heart, when it comes to love. 

You can't help but smile knowingly along with her sentiments. How often have we wondered along these lines too - 'This is nothing. You're high on the charm and the drink' only to be confronted by something  else - 'but the juke-box inside me is playing a song that says something different' - the heart, 'the boss', who is never 'wrong', urging us on to all sorts of romantic adventures (or misadventures.)

After the Lunch - Wendy Cope

On Waterloo Bridge, where we said our goodbyes,
The weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.
I wipe them away with a black woolly glove
And try not to notice I’ve fallen in love.

On Waterloo Bridge I am trying to think:
This is nothing. You’re high on the charm and the drink.
But the juke-box inside me is playing a song
That says something different. And when was it wrong?

On Waterloo Bridge with the wind in my hair
I am tempted to skip. You’re a fool. I don’t care.
The head does its best but the heart is the boss —
I admit it before I am halfway across.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Day 159: Astonishment

Tension. Anticipation. Astonishment.

Tonight is November's full moon, called the 'frosty moon' - the whitest and brightest of the moons. Be sure to look up and be amazed by the beauty, the shock, the artistry of the world.

Full Moon and Little Frieda - Ted Hughes

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket -
And you listening.
A spider's web, tense for the dew's touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming - mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath -
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
'Moon!' you cry suddenly, 'Moon! Moon!'

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Day 158: Another Weeping Woman

'Weeping Woman' - Picasso
 Here is a poem about grief and loss and sorrow but also, the 'finitude' of the imagination.

Wallace Stevens was a firm believer in the power of the imagination for good or for bad, 'the magnificent cause of being','the one reality in this imagined world.' 

I am intrigued no end by this poem. And little has been written on it in the way of criticism, analysis...  But regardless, it seems to say so much, well, to me personally. What about you?

Another Weeping Woman - Wallace Stevens

Pour the unhappiness out
From your too bitter heart,
Which grieving will not sweeten.

Poison grows in this dark.
It is in the water of tears
Its black blooms rise.

The magnificent cause of being,
The imagination, the one reality
In this imagined world

Leaves you
With him for whom no phantasy moves,
And you are pierced by a death. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Day 157: Arctic Balance

At this time of year, I always get to thinking about the Arctic and Antarctic -  their beautiful landscapes and what they represent, the tales of heroic exploration and all the metaphors that go with them. (You can read more on my personal blog here)

And I think this poem sums up exactly the lure and appeal of these geographical and metaphorical locations -  'the emptiness that can promise one thing only: plenitude', the white wastelands made from 'a surfeit of happiness.' 

The language is beautiful, suitably sublime and what the poem seems to convey is what these surreal white lands represent: 'a perfect balance between waking and dreams.' 

Balance - Adam Zagajewski

I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport’s labryinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day’s sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

—translated by Clare Cavanagh

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Day 156: Fog

Woke up today to a misty outside: a fuzzy blanket of fog obscuring everything.

I love fog! It's so Christmassy. And it adds a strange veneer to ordinary days and surroundings, coats them in mystery, and even magic. Everything looks different. Like things are waiting to be discovered again.

Fog - Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Day 155: Drunkenness of Things being Various

You don't have to have snow to appreciate this poem.  Sitting in by a fire on a winter evening will suffice with a pink November sunset in one direction and a frosty moon against an arctic blue dusk in the other.  

'World is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural...' and all the better to feel 'the drunkenness of things being various.' What a line! And what a thought... yes, anything can happen and everything is possible in this great wide random beautiful world of ours.

Snow - Louis MacNiece

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Day 154: Primer for the Nuclear Age

Is having a heart (a full-on acting, feeling heart) a bad thing? Sometimes - especially in a heartless unfeeling place - it seems so.

Primer for the Nuclear Age - Rita Dove

At the edge of the mariner’s
     map is written: “Beyond
     this point lie Monsters.”

Someone left the light on
     in the pantry—there’s
     a skull in there on the shelf

that talks. Blue eyes
     in the air, blue as
     an idiot’s. Any fear, any

memory will do; and if you’ve
     got a heart at all, someday
     it will kill you.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Day 153: Thanks

'If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, that will suffice.' ~ Meister Eckhart

Seeing since it's Thanksgiving today in America... We are saying thank you...dark though it is.

Thanks - WS Mervin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Day 152: Faulty Heart

Yes, sometimes it feels like this alright! Damn heart, wanting what it wants, its 'constant pestering.'

And as always, the descriptions from Margaret Atwood are aptly shocking, graphic (-beware stanza two those with a squeamish disposition!) but stunning all the same.

The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart - Margaret Atwood

I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;

I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful.

All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.

But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitous,
though no twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,

and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen.

It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?

Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Day 151: Colours of You

'The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of colour. Our entire being is nourished by it.' - Hans Hoffmann 

Look around. The world is a colourful place, an artist's palette. And even more colourful when you're in love. 

This poem - is a veritable rainbow!

Colours Passing Through Us - Marge Piercy

Purple as tulips in May, mauve
into lush velvet, purple
as the stain blackberries leave
on the lips, on the hands,
the purple of ripe grapes
sunlit and warm as flesh.

Every day I will give you a color,
like a new flower in a bud vase
on your desk. Every day
I will paint you, as women
color each other with henna
on hands and on feet.

Red as henna, as cinnamon,
as coals after the fire is banked,
the cardinal in the feeder,
the roses tumbling on the arbor
their weight bending the wood
the red of the syrup I make from petals.

Orange as the perfumed fruit
hanging their globes on the glossy tree,
orange as pumpkins in the field,
orange as butterflyweed and the monarchs
who come to eat it, orange as my
cat running lithe through the high grass.

Yellow as a goat’s wise and wicked eyes,
yellow as a hill of daffodils,
yellow as dandelions by the highway,
yellow as butter and egg yolks,
yellow as a school bus stopping you,
yellow as a slicker in a downpour.

Here is my bouquet, here is a sing
song of all the things you make
me think of, here is oblique
praise for the height and depth
of you and the width too.
Here is my box of new crayons at your feet.

Green as mint jelly, green
as a frog on a lily pad twanging,
the green of cos lettuce upright
about to bolt into opulent towers,
green as Grand Chartreuse in a clear
glass, green as wine bottles.

Blue as cornflowers, delphiniums,
bachelors’ buttons. Blue as Roquefort,
blue as Saga. Blue as still water.
Blue as the eyes of a Siamese cat.
Blue as shadows on new snow, as a spring
azure sipping from a puddle on the blacktop.

Cobalt as the midnight sky
when day has gone without a trace
and we lie in each other’s arms
eyes shut and fingers open
and all the colors of the world
pass through our bodies like strings of fire.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Day 150: You're a Star

Sometimes we all need a little reminding of how precious and important we are. Especially if we are in the midst of troubles, hardships, darknesses.

Carol Ann Duffy was inspired by  the Pride of Britain winners to write this poem, an award which acknowledges unsung heroes in society, from cancer survivors to carers to even children who show remarkable courage in the face of the worst scenarios. 

It reminds us that the human spirit is indomitable; it doesn't break but rather strengthens under pressure and shines blatantly in the face of darkness. At the edge of your ordinary human days, the gold of legend blazed.

Here is poetry that reminds us of our greatness, our capacity for strength despite adversity. But more than that, that each one of us is precious, a miracle, a marvel, a wonder, a gift. 
'Know - your hand is a star. Your blood is famous in your heart.'

(You can read more about the poem and the Pride of Britain here)

Gesture - Carol Ann Duffy

Did you know your hands could catch that dark hour
like a ball, throw it away into long grass
and when you looked again at your palm, there
was your life-line, shining?
                                            Or when death came,
with its vicious, biting bark, at a babe,
your whole body was brave;
or came with its boiling burns,
your arms reached out, love's gesture.
                                                              Did you know
when cancer draped its shroud on your back,
you'd make it a flag;
or ignorance smashed its stones through glass,
light, you'd see, in shards;
paralysed, walk; traumatised, talk?
                                                        Did you know
at the edge of your ordinary, human days
the gold of legend blazed,
where you kneeled by a wounded man,
or healed a woman?
                                 Know -
your hand is a star.
Your blood is famous in your heart. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Day 149: Bright Star

I woke up today with these lines of Keats in my head: "a thing of beauty is a joy forever, its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness;" (from Endymion) for some strange reason and was so moved by them that I just had to have a root around his poems again and post another.

When I studied Keats at college for a brief course, I have to admit, I wasn't impressed and tuned out a bit. But now, reading him again years later, I find there's so much more to him than what I thought. And the language - the language is just beautiful - if you don't let the out-dated vernacular put you off!  There's just something so sublime and soothing about Keats' language. It illuminates and comforts, like a restorative balm, for the mind and the soul. 

Here's his famous love poem, Bright Star:

Bright Star - John Keats

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Day 148: November for Beginners

November - not such a popular month. Why wouldn't it just snow!!

But take comfort - there are poems written, like this one, that totally get it (and ease our winter chills)

November for Beginners - Rita Dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Day 147: Bloody Men

Poetry is not all serious. It can be funny too. Like this poem from Wendy Cope, comic poetess extraordinaire. 

You really have to be or have been a bus commuter to get the simile in this poem  - comparing men to buses. Because it's oh so true!

Oh the agony of waiting on buses, for ages, the minutes stretching into what feels like hours, days, standing in the cold, waiting, and waiting, in the limbo nothingness between the end of work and the beginning of leisure time. And then when the bus finally arrives - it's not one bus - but wait - two, three, four! Oh the irony. And the ecstasy - at last - here comes your ride! Then you're all flustered as decide on which one to get.

And it's just like men. As Wendy puts it, as simple and clear 'you wait for about a year/and as soon as one approaches your stop/two or three others appear.' (And don't forget about the buses that come along 'Out of Service' - build up your hopes only to dash them - the unavailable men so to speak...)

Bloody Men - Wendy Cope

Bloody men are like bloody buses —
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You’re trying to read the destinations,
You haven’t much time to decide.

If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Day 146: love is more thicker than forget

And today, a little ee cummings. To cut through logic and linear thinking right to the mysterious, miraculous core.  

What is love?  Work out the riddles/unusual descriptions below and maybe you'll have a good idea! (But note, it is always beautifully benevolent - 'less never than alive.')

love is thicker than forget - ee cummings

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Day 145: Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Here's an example of a poem that is written simply, but has layers of meaning to it. In the space of four short stanzas, it conveys the deep burden of responsibilities and commitments we carry and the struggle to lay them down or keep going.

It would be so easy to slip into sleep, to lie down, to give up on 'the darkest evening of the year', as the traveller in the poem contemplates, after a long journey, to stop, to rest, let the snow make him forget, be tranquilized into a numb immobile state -  'the woods are lovely, dark and deep.' (And just look at how the language creates this drowsy feeling: 'the only other sound's the sweep/ of easy wind and downy flake.')

But he has 'promises to keep' and resolves to go on. As we must keep going, keep on. For there are 'miles to go' before we sleep. 

(It's interesting to note that this poem was a favourite of President John F Kennedy.)

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Day 144: Silence

Silence - it's an integral part of the human condition. Just listen. Can you hear it? It is not always there. It is special and rare. 

Sometimes full of fear, expectation, and sometimes, full of peace.  When it comes to writing, it is both an aid and an incredible weight. 

And when it comes to reading, it is a synchronized silence that allows us to hear better. - Listen to the silence as you read this poem, for poems silence the hectic rush of thoughts in our mind, if only for a moment, so they can bring us back to the centre of what's important.

Silence - Billy Collins

There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a player not moving on the field,
and the silence of the orchid.

The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the floor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.

The stillness of the cup and the water in it,
the silence of the moon
and the quiet of the day far from the roar of the sun.

The silence when I hold you to my chest,
the silence of the window above us,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Day 144: A Room like June

It's November. It's cold and dark and dreary. Days where it's better to be inside than outside. Cosied in beside a fire with a book, where it's exactly like ... June. Even if your heart is cold.

A Winter Night - Sara Teasdale

My window-pane is starred with frost,
The world is bitter cold to-night,
The moon is cruel and the wind
is like a two-edged sword to smite.

God pity all  the homeless ones,
The beggars pacing to and fro.
God pity all the poor to-night
who walk the lamp-lit streets of snow.

My room is like a bit of June,
Warm and close-curtained fold on fold,
But somewhere, like a homeless child,
My heart is crying in the cold.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Day 142: Alphabets

Seamus Heaney is one who knows the magic of language. He is a poet in love with words (from an early age it seems) and a true wordsmith. 

Alphabets - Seamus Heaney

A shadow his father makes with joined hands
And thumbs and fingers nibbles on the wall
Like a rabbit's head. He understands
He will understand more when he goes to school.

There he draws smoke with chalk the whole first week,

Then draws the forked stick that they call a Y.
This is writing. A swan's neck and swan's back
Make the 2 he can see now as well as say.

Two rafters and a cross-tie on the slate

Are the letter some call ah, some call ay.
There are charts, there are headlines, there is a right
Way to hold the pen and a wrong way.

First it is 'copying out,' and then 'English,'

Marked correct with a little leaning hoe.
Smells of inkwells rise in the classroom hush.
A globe in the window tilts like a coloured O.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Day 141: Ulysses

Here's another classic poem - used in the new James Bond film - of all places (just goes to show you poetry's relevance!). 

A poem which offers a reminder once again, of all that is important in life. And the immortal lines, a noble drumroll, a beat of strength: 'to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'

Ulysses - Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
that loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known---cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all---
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, my own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle---
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me---
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads---you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are---
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Day 140: Praise the Mutilated World

It's not that bad really. Bad times would have you think it - but no, look around. Take a real wide look at the world. So much beauty, so much strength through sorrow, love, possibility, hope, dreams, and the light that always returns.  It's amazing, really.

(When, after September 11, The New Yorker published this poem, "Try to Praise the Mutilated World," on its back page—a rare departure from the cartoons and parodies that usually occupy that space—it resonated with many readers. In an interview in Poets & Writers Magazine, Zagajewski said, “Don’t we use the word poetry in two ways? One: as a part of literature. Two: as a tiny part of the world, both human and pre-human, the part of beauty. So poetry as literature, as language, discovers within the world a layer that has existed unobserved in reality, and by doing so changes something in our life, expands somewhat the space of what we are. So yes, it has the power to restore the mutilated world, even if no statistics ever show it.” It does. Read more on the poet here)

Try to Praise the Mutilated World - Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Day 139: Death in Life

I've posted this poem before, but I'll do it again, as it's been in my head the past few days. 

Death is not the worst that can happen to us - death in life is. your life is your life/don't let it be clubbed into dank submission.

The Laughing Heart - Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Day 138: Funeral Blues

And now, Auden's take on the other side of death: the overwhelming grief. That feeling that the world should stop. 

But it doesn't. Even though, to the bereaved, the stars are put out, and the world as they know it, packed away.

Funeral Blues - WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Day 137: Life Goes On

Strange isn't it, how death, that greatest leveller of all, can go by so unnoticed. Just like suffering. No matter what happens, no matter how terrible and how sad, life goes on.
Life. Goes. On.
And most of the time, so do people. (I was confronted by this stark reality in my own life today, after the death of a relative was brushed off with a casual dismissive 'oh sure, there's always something' from another relative. ? Why do some of us have that horribly indifferent attitude to death, and suffering??)
Anyway, made me think of this poem by WH Auden, based on Breughel's painting of 'The Fall of Icarus' - 'how everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster.' Note how the fall to his death is presented so minutely in the painting (you have to search to see where Icarus plunges into the water) - while life around him, goes calmly on.  Death is in the background, while life is in the foreground.
As it is.

Museé des Beaux Arts - WH Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Day 136: When Death Comes

Death comes so unawares. And when it does, it throws such light on life. It puts things in perspective. 

We are here only for a little while. Let us enjoy it while we can. 

And let us focus on all that matters when it comes down to it: love. 

When Death Comes- Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Day 135: Ithaca (by Sean Connery)

Something different today - CP Cavafy's great poem 'Ithaka', recited by Sean Connery.
Ithaka, was of course the mythic home destination in Greek myth which Odysseus sought for. But his journey there was a long one, one filled with many obstacles, and wonders. Just like life. This poem offers, as all the great poems do, advice for living, filtrated wisdom in words.
The text is below, but just listen to his voice. Sometimes reading a poem brings it alive.
And I think its wisdom is highlighted perfectly here between the images and the tone.
Ithaka - CP Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Day 134: Light

If there is light, it will find you. Simple as that. No need to run around chasing it down.

Despite Bukowski's inherent dirty realism, he has a deep sense of faith in the universe and the powers of the enlightened nonchalant self.

the harder you try - Charles Bukowski

the waste of words
continues with a stunning
as the waiter runs by carrying the loaded
for all the wise white boys who laugh at
no matter. no matter,
as long as your shoes are tied and
nobody is walking too close
just being able to scratch yourself and
be nonchalant is victory
those constipated minds that seek
larger meaning
will be dispatched with the other
back off.
if there is light
it will find

Friday, 2 November 2012

Day 133: Moon Over Water

Here's a poem that describes exactly the feelings associated with watching the moon.
Oh, and yet another poem that depicts the moon as a feminine deity, elusive, inspiring, but still, a soothing companionable presence.

Moon and Water - Mary Oliver

I wake and spend
the last hours
of darkness
with no one

but the moon.
She listens
to my complaints
like the good

companion she is
and comforts me surely
with her light.
But she, like everyone,

has her own life.
So finally I understand
that she has turned away,
is no longer listening.

She wants me
to refold myself
into my own life.
And, bending close,

as we all dream of doing,
she rows with her white arms
through the dark water
which she adores.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Day 132: Wild Swans

Melancholy is a word often associated with poetry. A beautiful kind of sadness that attends some poems.
Like here in this poem by Yeats, where he laments growing old and disconsolate, comparing himself to the lone swan, without a partner (nine-and-fifty swans), being as he was a victim of unrequited love for most of his life.
But Yeats manages to transform his sorrow into something beautiful. Just look at the language: 'Under the October twilight the water/mirrors a still sky,' 'the bell-beat of their wings,' 'lover by lover,/ they paddle in the cold/ companianable streams.'

The Wild Swans at Coole - WB Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

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?