Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Day 529: Year's End

 

Well today marks the end of the calendar year and the start of a new one. Time to review the year gone past and open up to welcome the new.  



Year's End - Ted Kooser

Now the seasons are closing their files
on each of us, the heavy drawers
full of certificates rolling back
into the tree trunks, a few old papers
flocking away. Someone we loved
has fallen from our thoughts,
making a little, glittering splash
like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.
Otherwise, not much has happened;
we fell in love again, finding
that one red feather on the wind.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Day 528: Life's Loveliness


It's during the Christmas season that we see the loveliness of life, when 'holy thoughts star the night' and when  one 'white singing hour of peace' can ameliorate a year of strife.


Barter - Sara Teasdale

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be. 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Day 527: Little Bird


Tired of the dark winter days? Take heart from this little poem:


I Heard a Bird Sing - Oliver Herford

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.


"We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December. 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Day 526: The Wicked Fairy at the Manger


                                                        

UA Fanthorpe makes a good point here.
 

The Wicked Fairy at the Manger - UA Fanthorpe 

My gift for the child:
No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The workshy, women, wimps,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
His end?
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.
'Right', said the baby, 'That was roughly
What we had in mind'. 
 


Friday, 27 December 2013

Day 525: Modern Santa


This poem appeared in The Telegraph last week to an audience of chuckles. Santa going digital, imagine...!


Alternative Santa: A Christmas Poem - Roger McGough
 
‘I’m fed up looking like Father Christmas,’
Muttered Father Christmas one year
‘I need a new outfit, I must move with the times
So for a start, it’s goodbye reindeer’

He googled Alternative Santas
And was amazed at the stuff that appeared
He got rid of the holly-red costume
Had a haircut, and shaved off his beard

Spent his days in front of a computer
In a cave hollowed out of the ice
Wearing a tee shirt emblazoned Merry Xmas
And jeans (Amazon, Armani, half price)

Couldn’t wait to straddle his snow-ped
(The bargain he’d bought on eBay)
A rocket-powered silver toboggan
His supersonic sleigh

Then one morning he thought, ‘Oh why bother
Delivering presents by hand
When it could all be done online
Busy parents will understand

We are lucky to live in a digital age
Where the aim is access and speed
SantaNet I’ll call the system
‘Santafaction guaranteed’

And that was years and years ago
Times that children barely know
Midnight mass and mistletoe
Christmas carols and candle glow

Sleigh bells ringing across the snow
And Santa singing Yo ho ho
For that was years and years ago
And that was years and years ago.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Day 524: Boxing Day Belles


I don't agree with this, being a feisty proud singleton, but I do see where the sentiment comes from...


A Christmas Poem - Wendy Cope

At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,
The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle
And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle
And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you're single.

 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Day 523: How Wonderful, How Wonderful

 
  
'How wonderful that was, how wonderful!'

Patrick Kavanagh captures the joy and magic of Christmas here through a child's eye, in one of Ireland's most beloved poems. 

Happy Christmas to you all and may the season open our eyes to the magic all around us. 


A Christmas Childhood - Patrick Kavanagh

One side of the potato‑pits was white with frost—
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling‑post
The music that came out was magical.



The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December‑glinting fruit we saw —
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking‑place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch
Or any common sight the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside the cow‑house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable‑lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water‑hen screeched in the bog,
Mass‑going feet
Crunched the wafer‑ice on the pot‑holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — The Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
“Can’t he make it talk” —
The melodeon. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box‑pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door’post
With my penknife’s big blade—
There was a little one for cutting tobacco,
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Day 522: Christmas Eve Truce



'But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief
thrilled the night air...'

Here's a real Christmas treat. A poem by Carol Ann Duffy about the Armistice at Christmas during WW1 in 1914. Whatever you believe about Christmas, the inherent benevolence it brings out in people can't be denied.

 
The Christmas Truce - Carol Ann Duffy

Christmas Eve in the trenches of France,
the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man's Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.

Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel,
sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother's eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.

In a copse of trees behind the lines,
a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin
holding his winter ground
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.

Somebody kissed the gold of his ring;
a few lit pipes;
most, in their greatcoats, huddled,
waiting for sleep.
The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.

But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief
thrilled the night air,
where glittering rime on unburied sons
treasured their stiff hair.
The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.

On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain –
no sign of life,
no shadows, shots from snipers,
nowt to note or report.
The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.

Then flickering flames from the other side
danced in his eyes,
as Christmas Trees in their dozens shone,
candlelit on the parapets,
and they started to sing, all down the German lines.

Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot,
or vaporised
by falling shells, or live to tell,
heard for the first time then –
Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht …
 
Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge
from man to man;
a gift to the heart from home,
or childhood, some place shared …
When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.

A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel
and all joined in,
till the Germans stood, seeing
across the divide,
the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.

All night, along the Western Front, they sang,
the enemies –
carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems,
in German, English, French;
each battalion choired in its grim trench.

So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist,
to open itself
and offer the day like a gift
for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz …
with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

Frohe Weinachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!
A young Berliner,
brandishing schnapps,
was the first from his ditch to climb.
A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.

Then it was up and over, every man,
to shake the hand
of a foe as a friend,
or slap his back like a brother would;
exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie's stew,

Tickler's jam … for cognac, sausages, cigars,
beer, sauerkraut;
or chase six hares, who jumped
from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball
and make of a battleground a football pitch.

I showed him a picture of my wife.
Ich zeigte ihm
ein Foto meiner Frau.
Sie sei schön, sagte er.
He thought her beautiful, he said.

They buried the dead then, hacked spades
into hard earth
again and again, till a score of men
were at rest, identified, blessed.
Der Herr ist mein Hirt … my shepherd, I shall not want.

And all that marvellous, festive day and night,
they came and went,
the officers, the rank and file,
their fallen comrades side by side
beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves …

… beneath the shivering, shy stars
and the pinned moon
and the yawn of History;
the high, bright bullets
which each man later only aimed at the sky.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Day 521: Various Magic


This is one of my favourite contemporary Christmas poems, encapsulating the various magic that the season contains: people coming home, following stars of wonder, stars of light, gift-giving, wishing for snow, and all kinds of believing.

Various Portents  - Alice Oswald

Various stars. Various kings.
Various sunsets, signs, cursory insights.

Many minute attentions, many knowledgeable watchers,
Much cold, much overbearing darkness.

Various long midwinter Glooms.
Various Solitary and Terrible stars.
Many Frosty Nights, many previously Unseen Sky-flowers.
Many people setting out (some of them kings) all clutching at stars.

More than one North star, more than one South star.
Several billion elliptical galaxies, bubble nebulae, binary systems.
Various dust lanes, various routes through varying thickness of Dark,
Many tunnels into deep space, minds going back and forth.

Many visions, many digitally enhanced heavens,
All kinds of glistenings being gathered into telescopes:
Fireworks, gasworks, white-streaked works of Dusk,
Works of wonder and or water, snowflakes, stars of frost …

Various dazed astronomers dilating their eyes,
Various astronauts setting out into laughterless earthlessness,
Various 5,000-year-old moon maps,
Various blindmen feeling across the heavens in Braille.

Various gods making beautiful works in bronze,
Brooches, crowns, triangles, cups and chains,
Various crucifixes, all sorts of nightsky necklaces.
Many Wise Men remarking the irregular weather.

Many exile energies, many low-voiced followers,
Watchers of whisps of various glowing spindles,
Soothsayers, hunters in the High Country of the Zodiac,
Seafarers tossing, tied to a star…

Various people coming home (some of them kings). Various headlights.

Two or three children standing or sitting on the low wall.
Various winds, the Sea Wind, the sound-laden Winds of Evening
Blowing the stars towards them, bringing snow.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Day 520: Christmas Sparrow


Christmas poems from here on in folks.  And I've set myself the challenge this year of trying to find different seasonal poems from the staple well-known ones I posted last year. (To have a read of those click here: December 2012). If anyone has any suggestions or favourites, please let me know!

To start things off, here's Billy Collins on the escapades of one of our feathered friends.


Christmas Sparrow - Billy Collins
 
The first thing I heard this morning
was a soft, insistent rustle,
the rapid flapping of wings
against glass as it turned out,

a small bird rioting
in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of transparency into the spacious light.

A noise in the throat of the cat
hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap in a basement door,
and later released from the soft clench of teeth.

Up on a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a small towel and carried it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.

But outside, it burst
from my uncupped hands into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
and disappearing over a tall row of hemlocks.

Still, for the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms whenever I thought
about the hours the bird must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,

its eyes open, like mine as I lie here tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Day 519: Winter Solstice


Today is December 21st, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and longest night. From today on, the light will return, slowly but surely.  The potent symbolism of this is not lost in the festivities around us. But it all comes down to one thing doesn't it -  hope. That irrepressible feeling of possibility, of life being lit into action, of  'tomorrow's dust', flaring, as Mark Strand puts it, 'into breath.'


The Coming of Light - Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Day 518: Snow-Storm

 

Oh if only it would snow...


The Snow-Storm - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, naught cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,

Maugre the farmer's sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Day 517: A Certain Slant of Light

 

Yes, these days are gloomy and dark and oppressive, as Emily Dickinson puts it. All the more reason to look forward to the Solstice and Christmas!


There's a certain slant of light - Emily Dickinson
 
There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Day 516: Nearing the Solstice




Almost at the Winter Solstice now - the point when the light starts to come back - but also the time of the worst winter cold. And according to the Irish weather forecast, these last few days before it are going to be rough ones, just as this poem predicts!


In the Grip of the Solstice - Marge Piercy

Feels like a train roaring into night,
the journey into fierce cold just beginning.
The ground is newly frozen, the crust
brittle and fancy with striations,
steeples and nipples we break
under our feet.

Every day we are shortchanged a bit more,
night pressing down on the afternoon
throttling it. Wan sunrise later
and later, every day trimmed
like an old candle you beg to give
an hour's more light.

Feels like hurtling into vast darkness,
the sky itself whistling of space
the black matter between stars
the red shift as the light dies,
warmth a temporary aberration,
entropy as a season.

Our ancestors understood the brute
fear that grips us as the cold
settles around us, closing in.
Light the logs in the fireplace tonight,
light the candles, first one, then two,
the full chanukiya.

Light the fire in the belly.
Eat hot soup, cabbage and beef
borscht, chicken soup, lamb
and barley, stoke the marrow.
Put down the white wine and pour
whiskey instead.

We reach for each other in our bed,
the night vaulted above us
like a cave. Night in the afternoon,
cold frosting the glass so it hurts
to touch it, only flesh still
welcoming to flesh.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Day 515: December Moon




December's full moon tonight, the Cold Moon, and even though we don't have snow, we do have lovely bright blue nights thanks to it.
 


December Moon - May Sarton

Before going to bed
After a fall of snow
I look out on the field
Shining there in the moonlight
So calm, untouched and white
Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.

Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
where the wild creatures ranged
while the moon rose and shone.

why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?

How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we'll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fall of snow.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Day 514: The Idea


I am always on the lookout for poets who have a distinctive seasonal leaning and I think I've just found my winter one - Mark Strand.


The Idea - Mark Strand

for Nolan Miller
For us, too, there was a wish to possess
Something beyond the world we knew, beyond ourselves,
Beyond our power to imagine, something nevertheless
In which we might see ourselves; and this desire
Came always in passing, in waning light, and in such cold
That ice on the valley’s lakes cracked and rolled,
And blowing snow covered what earth we saw,
And scenes from the past, when they surfaced again,
Looked not as they had, but ghostly and white
Among false curves and hidden erasures;
And never once did we feel we were close
Until the night wind said, “Why do this,
Especially now? Go back to the place you belong;”
And there appeared , with its windows glowing, small,
In the distance, in the frozen reaches, a cabin;
And we stood before it, amazed at its being there,
And would have gone forward and opened the door,
And stepped into the glow and warmed ourselves there,
But that it was ours by not being ours,
And should remain empty. That was the idea.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Day 513: Living Like a Mystic

There are prophets everywhere - trees, like the poet notices here. And signs and stars  for mystics to read, mystics like star-gazers, wanderers, wonderers, wishers, dreamers, and poets of course. 

 

I'm Going to Start Living Like a Mystic- Edward Hirsch

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage - silent, pondering.

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Day 512: Snow Queen



Snowfall - Sara Teasdale

"She can't be unhappy," you said,
"The smiles are like stars in her eyes,
And her laugh is thistledown
Around her low replies."
"Is she unhappy?" you said -
But who has ever known
Another's heartbreak -
All he can know is his own;
And she seems hushed to me,
As hushed as though
Her heart were a hunter's fire
Smothered in snow. 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Day 511: Winter of Contemplation

Why does age preoccupy us so much? I think WS Mervin gets at the quick of it in this poem - it is not the number of years we've clocked up that bothers us, but what we've done with those years.

 

In the Winter of My Thirty-Eighth Year - WS Mervin

 

It sounds unconvincing to say When I was young
Though I have long wondered what it would be like
To be me now
No older at all it seems from here
As far from myself as ever

Walking in fog and rain and seeing nothing
I imagine all the clocks have died in the night
Now no one is looking I could choose my age
It would be younger I suppose so I am older
It is there at hand I could take it
Except for the things I think I would do differently
They keep coming between they are what I am
They have taught me little I did not know when I was young

There is nothing wrong with my age now probably
It is how I have come to it
Like a thing I kept putting off as I did my youth

There is nothing the matter with speech
Just because it lent itself
To my uses

Of course there is nothing the matter with the stars
It is my emptiness among them
While they drift farther away in the invisible morning

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Day 510: Polar Explorer


Mark Strand again today on a topic I am really drawn to: polar exploration. 

But look, he does something else with the subject matter, something metaphorical that makes that huge universal feat of humanity intensely personal and specific and symbolic.



I Had Been a Polar Explorer - Mark Strand

I had been a polar explorer in my youth
and spent countless days and nights freezing
in one blank place and then another. Eventually,
I quit my travels and stayed at home,
and there grew within me a sudden excess of desire,
as if a brilliant stream of light of the sort one sees
within a diamond were passing through me.
I filled page after page with visions of what I had witnessed—
groaning seas of pack ice, giant glaciers, and the windswept white
of icebergs. Then, with nothing more to say, I stopped
and turned my sights on what was near. Almost at once,
a man wearing a dark coat and broad-brimmed hat
appeared under the trees in front of my house.
The way he stared straight ahead and stood,
not shifting his weight, letting his arms hang down
at his side, made me think that I knew him.
But when I raised my hand to say hello,
he took a step back, turned away, and started to fade
as longing fades until nothing is left of it.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Day 509: The Albatross


'...he cannot walk because of his great wings.' 
 
This poem I came across in a recently acquired anthology The Poetry of Birds.  Of course, most of the poems in the book - certainly the best ones - are not about birds alone. They have a touch of metaphor and allegory about them that refers to the human condition in both subtle and original ways.

This one by French poet Charles Baudelaire is such a poem. Just look at the last stanza, the comparison comes so unexpectedly that it catches us totally off-guard, a bewildering one of majesty and sadness, that leaves us reeling in dazed agreement.



The Albatross - Charles Baudelaire
 
Often to pass the time on board, the crew
will catch an albatross, one of those big birds
which nonchalantly chaperone a ship
across the bitter fathoms of the sea.

Tied to the deck, this sovereign of space,
as if embarrassed by its clumsiness,
pitiably lets its great white wings
drag at its sides like a pair of unshipped oars.

How weak and awkward, even comical
this traveller but lately so adoit -
one deckhand sticks a pipestem in its beak,
another mocks the cripple that once flew!

The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds
riding the storm above the marksman's range;
exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered,
he cannot walk because of his great wings. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Day 508: Snow Show


Nature is always there to intervene when things get too serious.


Dust of Snow - Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.       

Monday, 9 December 2013

Day 507: The Shape of Things


What is the opposite of fear? A powerful antidote to death? Love (love, love.) Of course. And what does love look like? Here's an attempt to describe it.


The Shape of Death - May Swenson
 
What does love look like? We know
the shape of death. Death is a cloud
immense and awesome. At first a lid
is lifted from the eye of light:
there is a clap of sound, a white blossom

belches from the jaw of fright,
a pillared cloud churns from white to gray
like a monstrous brain that bursts and burns,
then turns sickly black, spilling away,
filling the whole sky with ashes of dread;

thickly it wraps, between the clean sea
and the moon, the earth's green head.
Trapped in its cocoon, its choking breath
we know the shape of death:
Death is a cloud.

What does love look like?
Is it a particle, a star -
invisible entirely, beyond the microscope and Palomar?
A dimension unimagined, past the length of hope?
Is it a climate far and fair that we shall never dare

discover? What is its color, and its alchemy?
Is it a jewel in the earth - can it be dug?
Or dredged from the sea? Can it be bought?
Can it be sown and harvested?
Is it a shy beast to be caught?

Death is a cloud,
immense, a clap of sound.
Love is little and not loud.
It nests within each cell, and it
cannot be split.

It is a ray, a seed, a note, a word,
a secret motion of our air and blood.
It is not alien, it is near -
our very skin -
a sheath to keep us pure of fear.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Day 506: Lines for Winter




I love this poem so much. Its quiet resilience and strength, the simplicity of its lines, the beauty of its imagery, the light radiating from its centre. Beautiful. 

(Mark Strand of course, won a Pulitzer for his poetry.)


Lines for Winter - Mark Strand
 
Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Day 505: December Night

cold mountains at blue dusk

Beautiful blue nights full of contemplation are December ones.

 
December Night - WS Mervin

The cold slope is standing in darkness
But the south of the trees is dry to the touch

The heavy limbs climb into the moonlight bearing feathers
I came to watch these
White plants older at night
The oldest
Come first to the ruins

And I hear magpies kept awake by the moon
The water flows through its
Own fingers without end

Tonight once more
I find a single prayer and it is not for men 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Day 504: RIP Nelson Mandela

 

'I am the master of my fate:/ I am the captain of my soul.' 

I've posted this poem before of course, but I'll post it again today in remembrance of Nelson Mandela who died yesterday. A man of indomitable strength and courage, wisdom and compassion, an icon for peace now and evermore, one of humanity's greatest ambassadors.

'Invictus' is the now famous poem he was inspired by when he was in prison on Robben Island for 27 years. He had it written on a scrap of paper in his prison cell and would read it to fellow prisoners to inspire morale. It became the name of the 2009 Clint Eastwood film about the leader's bid to unite the country with its rugby team. It also became an easy synonymn for strength. The word itself, fittingly, means  'unconquerable'.  

Here is a poem that is a testament to the power of poetry, the power of the human spirit, and the power of this extraordinary man.


Invictus - William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Day 503: Moon Blooms


A Haiku for today, short and sweet and astute.


Moon Haiku - Basho



A field of cotton -
as if the moon
had flowered.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Day 502: Falling Star


There's a quiet beauty and a sparkling simplicity to Sara Teasdale's verse, perfect for winter reading.


Compensation - Sara Teasdale

I should be glad of loneliness
And hours that go on broken wings,
A thirsty body, a tired heart
And the unchanging ache of things,

If I could make a single song
As lovely and as full of light,
As hushed and brief as a falling star
On a winter night. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Day 501: Winter Trees


Ah, the trees are all bare now. Hard to think of them as anything but barren. But as William Carlos Williams points out, they are just asleep, wise in their defensive restful stature. 


Winter Trees - William Carlos Williams

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

Monday, 2 December 2013

Day 500: Winter Syntax


Did I mention I love Billy Collins? And I just LOVE this poem!  Clever, contemplative, and always, saying something significant in the most nonchalant but brilliant way -


Winter Syntax - Billy Collins

A sentence starts out like a lone traveler
heading into a blizzard at midnight,
tilting into the wind, one arm shielding his face,
the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him.

There are easier ways of making sense,
the connoisseurship of gesture, for example.
You hold a girl's face in your hands like a vase.
You lift a gun from the glove compartment
and toss it out the window into the desert heat.
These cool moments are blazing with silence.

The full moon makes sense. When a cloud crosses it
it becomes as eloquent as a bicycle leaning
outside a drugstore or a dog who sleeps all afternoon
in a corner of the couch.

Bare branches in winter are a form of writing.
The unclothed body is autobiography.
Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun.

But the traveler persists in his misery,
struggling all night through the deepening snow,
leaving a faint alphabet of bootprints
on the white hills and the white floors of valleys,
a message for field mice and passing crows.

At dawn he will spot the vine of smoke
rising from your chimney, and when he stands
before you shivering, draped in sparkling frost,
a smile will appear in the beard of icicles,
and the man will express a complete thought.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Day 499: December Blue

 

A poem for the first of December today, month of ice and cold, but also, warming epiphanies, that 'conjure flame.' 


Kingfisher - Peter Scupham

December took us where the idling water
Rose in a ghost of smoke, its banks hard-thatched
With blanching reeds, the sun in a far quarter.

Short days had struck a bitter chain together
In links of blue and white so closely matched
They made an equipoise we called the weather.

There, the first snowfall grew to carapace,
The pulse beneath it beating slow and blind,
And every kind of absence marked the face

On which we walked as if we were not lost,
As if there was something there to find
Beneath a sleep of branches grey with frost.

We smiled, and spoke small words which had no hold
Upon the darkness we had carried there,
Our bents and winter dead-things, wisps of cold.

And then, from wastes of stub and nothing came
The Kingfisher, whose instancy laid bare
His proof that ice and sapphire conjure flame.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Day 498: Gemstones

 
 
When asked this question by his young son, this is what Don Paterson replied, explaining the process 
of poetry  in a way a child would understand
 
 
Why Do You Stay Up So Late? - Don Paterson
       
For Russ
 
I’ll tell you, if you really want to know:
remember that day you lost two years ago
at the rockpool where you sat and played the jeweler
with all those stones you’d stolen from the shore?
Most of them went dark and nothing more,
but sometimes one would blink the secret color
it had locked up somewhere in its stony sleep.
This is how you knew the ones to keep.

So I collect the dull things of the day
in which I see some possibility
but which are dead and which have the surprise
I don’t know, and I’ve no pool to help me tell -
so I look at them and look at them until
one thing makes a mirror in my eyes
then I paint it with the tear to make it bright.
This is why I sit up through the night.
 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Day 497: Bluegrass


Some performance poetry today! Here's Rives with 'Bluegrass':





Thursday, 28 November 2013

Day 496: Give Thanks, Give Praise


So many things to be thankful for... #Thanksgiving


A List of Praises - Anne Porter

Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.

Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away
With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle
As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,
Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh
Of the wind in the pinewoods,
At night give praise with starry silences.

Give praise with the skirling of seagulls
And the rattle and flap of sails
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.
Give praise with the humpback whales,
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.

Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas,
Give praise with hum of bees,
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over.

Give praise with mockingbirds, day’s nightingales.
Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle
And glossy tulip trees
On quiet side streets in southern towns.

Give praise with the rippling speech
Of the eider-duck and her ducklings
As they paddle their way downstream
In the red-gold morning
On Restiguche, their cold river,
Salmon river,
Wilderness river.

Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow.
Far, far from the cities,
Far even from the towns,
With piercing innocence
He sings in the spruce-tree tops,
Always four notes
And four notes only.

Give praise with water,
With storms of rain and thunder
And the small rains that sparkle as they dry,
And the faint floating ocean roar
That fills the seaside villages,
And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains

And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood,
And with the angels in that other country.

Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing, Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches, Mad with the joy of the Sabbath, Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun, Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes, A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry living wild on the Streets through generations of children. Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning, Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh Of the wind in the pinewoods, At night give praise with starry silences. Give praise with the skirling of seagulls And the rattle and flap of sails And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor. Give praise with the humpback whales, Huge in the ocean they sing to one another. Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas, Give praise with hum of bees, Give praise with the little peepers who live near water. When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries We know that the winter is over. Give praise with mockingbirds, day's nightingales. Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle And glossy tulip trees On quiet side streets in southern towns. Give praise with the rippling speech Of the eider-duck and her ducklings As they paddle their way downstream In the red-gold morning On Restiguche, their cold river, Salmon river, Wilderness river. Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow. Far, far from the cities, Far even from the towns, With piercing innocence He sings in the spruce-tree tops, Always four notes And four notes only. Give praise with water, With storms of rain and thunder And the small rains that sparkle as they dry, And the faint floating ocean roar That fills the seaside villages, And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood, And with the angels in that other country. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20501#sthash.kIiYxQpI.dpuf

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Day 495: Talking in Code

 

Where I think language excels is in its figurative form. Nothing sparks originality and awe and wondering quite like like metaphors and similes. 

In this poem by Simon Armitage, there is a series of metaphors that describe a person, unusual and arresting ones like: 'his grin was the Great Wall of China' and 'his last smile was a caesarean section.' It's like one giant Morse code for something unexpressable - pain, shock and grief.


Not The Furniture Game - Simon Armitage
 
His hair was a crow fished out of a blocked chimney
and his eyes were boiled eggs with the tops hammered in
and his blink was a cat flap
and his teeth were bluestones or Easter Island statues
and his bite was a perfect horseshoe.
His nostrils were both barrels of a shotgun, loaded.
And his mouth was an oil exploration project gone bankrupt
and his last smile was a caesarean section
and his tongue was an iguanodon
and his whistle was a laser beam
and his laugh was a bad case of kennel cough.
He coughed, and it was malt whisky.
And his headaches were Arson in Her Majesty's Dockyards
and his arguments were outboard motors strangled with fishing line
and his neck was a bandstand
and his Adam's apple was a ball cock
and his arms were milk running off from a broken bottle.
His elbows were boomerangs or pinking shears.
And his wrists were ankles
and his handshakes were puff adders in the bran tub
and his fingers were astronauts found dead in their spacesuits
and the palms of his hands were action paintings
and both thumbs were blue touchpaper.
And his shadow was an opencast mine.
And his dog was a sentry box with no-one in it
and his heart was a first world war grenade discovered by children
and his nipples were timers for incendary devices
and his shoulder blades were two butchers at the 

    meat cleaving competition
and his belly button was the Falkland Islands
and his private parts were the Bermuda triangle
and his backside was a priest hole
and his stretchmarks were the tide going out.
The whole system of his blood was Dutch elm disease.
And his legs were depth charges
and his knees were fossils waiting to be tapped open
and his ligaments were rifles wrapped in oilcloth under the 

   floorboards
and his calves were the undercarriages of Shackletons.
The balls of his feet were where meteorites had landed
and his toes were a nest of mice under the lawn mower.
And his footprints were Vietnam
and his promises were hot air balloons floating off over the 

    trees
and his one-liners were footballs through other peoples' 

   windows
and his grin was the Great Wall of China as seen from the 

   moon
and the last time they talked, it was apartheid. 

 
She was a chair, tipped over backwards
with his donkey jacket on her shoulders. 

 
They told him,
and his face was a hole
where the ice had not been thick enough to hold her. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Day 494: Starlings


Ted Hughes is a nature poet extraordinaire, especially when it comes to describing animals and birds. Here he is on starlings, those strange birds that can be acrobats of air one minute, then stumbling screechers on land, their black feathers iridescent with rainbow colours.  

The language here mimics their unfurling sky movements perfectly - 'a Niagara/Of upward rumbling wings - that collaspes again/In an unmanageable weight/Of neurotic atoms.' before taking on a a darker quality, describing the starlings as 'a writhing of imps, 'a seething of fleas', a 'doom-panic mob'. Although I wouldn't agree with Hughes in this assessment of these birds, I love his language, how tight and taut it is, and how attentive and original.


Starlings Have Come - Ted Hughes

A horde out of Sub-Arctic Asia
Darkening nightfall, a faint sky-roar
Of pressure on the ear.

More thicken the vortex, gloomier.

A bacteria cyclone, a writhing of imps
Issuing from a hole in the horizon
Topples and blackens a whole farm.

Now a close-up seething of fleas.
                                                      And now a silence -
The doom-panic mob listens, for a second.
Then, with a soft boom, they wrap you
Into their mind-warp, assembling a nightmare sky-wheel
Of escape - a Niagara
Of upward rumbling wings - that collaspes again

In an unmanageable weight
Of neurotic atoms.
                              They're the subconscious
Of the Smart-Alec, all slick hair and Adam's apple,
Sunday chimney starling.
                                         This Elizabethan songster,
Italianate, in damask, emblematic,
Trembles his ruff, pierces the Maytime
With his perfected whistle
Of a falling bomb - or frenzies himself
Into a Gothic, dishevelled madness,
Chattering his skeleton, sucking his brains,
Gargling his blood through a tin flute -
                                                               Ah, Shepster!
Suddenly such a bare dagger of listening!

Next thing - down at the bread
Screeching like a cat
Limber and saurian on your hind legs,

Tumbling the sparrows with a drop kick -

A Satanic hoodlum, a cross-eyed boss,
Black body crammed with hot rubies
And Anthrax under your nails.


Monday, 25 November 2013

Day 493: Waking at 3am


What is it about 3am?  Lots of poems written about night that mention it, songs too. I always seem to wake exactly around it. 

But as all insomniacs will know, being awake at night with an awake mind means a whole lot of gargantuan worries. Everything seems worse then, as this poem details. But look how that changes as sleep comes - so too does reassurance and comfort: 'A great snug wall goes around everything... It is a good world to be lost in...It is all right.'  Maybe we humans are wired this way, to self-comfort and find assurance in times of crisis.



Waking at 3AM - William Stafford

Even in the cave of the night when you
wake and are free and lonely,
neglected by others, discarded, loved only
by what doesn't matter - even in that
big room no one can see,
you push with your eyes till forever
comes in its twisted figure eight
and lies down in your head.

You think water in the river;
you think slower than the tide in
the grain of the wood; you become
a secret storehouse that saves the country,
so open and foolish and empty.

You look over all that the darkness
ripples across. More than has ever
been found comforts you. You open your
eyes in a vault that unlocks as fast
and as far as your thought can run.
A great snug wall goes around everything,
has always been there, will always
remain. It is a good world to be
lost in. It comforts you. It is
all right. And you sleep.