Friday, 31 October 2014

Day 834: Samhain

Did you know that Halloween originally comes from Ireland, from the ancient Pagan festival 'Samhain', celebrating summer's end and the start of the new Celtic year? 
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes to honor the dead who were allowed to rise from the Otherworld on this one night of the year. Some of these spirits were to be respected and some were to be feared. The costumes were both an honor and a disguise.  The mystical character of the season has now materialized into our modern day 'spooky' celebrations, but still lingers in certain regards.


Samhain - Annie Finch

In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Day 833: The Raven

Perhaps the most iconic gothic writer of all is Edgar Allan Poe. I remember reading his 'Tell-Tale Heart' as a child every Halloween and marveling at the suspenseful atmosphere therein. His most well-known poem of course is 'The Raven', a masterpiece of chilling atmosphere and gothic terror in which a mysterious bird comes to visit a young man at night. It soon becomes clear that the raven is a symbol of the author's never-ending haunted turmoil over the death of his love Lenore and his inability to forget her. 

Is there anything more diabolical I ask than the raven's repeated refrain of 'Nevermore!' running throughout the poem? Its culmination in the last line as a verdict on the author's mournful fate - that his soul will never escape the raven's shadow - is bound to send a shiver down your spine: 'And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/Shall be lifted—nevermore!'

If you aren't a a fan of reading long poems, play the video below and have none other than Christopher Lee read it to you. Guaranteed creepy atmosphere. 

*Email subscribers can find the video/reading here:

The Raven - Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Day 832: Her Kind

 'A woman like that is misunderstood...' 

Once upon a time, who or what was a witch? 

A powerful woman. An individual. A woman not afraid to be who she wanted to be. Who didn't 
answer to society's rigid code. Anne Sexton channels this idea here for a feisty declaration of  
courageous individualism.

Her Kind - Anne Sexton 

I have gone out, a possessed witch,   
haunting the black air, braver at night;   
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch   
over the plain houses, light by light:   
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.   
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.   
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,   
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,   
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:   
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,   
learning the last bright routes, survivor   
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.   
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.   
I have been her kind. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Day 831: Dusk in Autumn

Lovely Halloween atmosphere in this poem. Although full moons always feature in almost every depiction of Halloween, the description here of the new moon as a 'scimitar' is more apt (and spooky), as we won't have a full moon fall on this Halloween.  

Dusk in Autumn - Sara Teasdale

The moon is like a scimitar,
A little silver scimitar,
A-drifting down the sky.
And near beside it is a star,
A timid twinkling golden star,
That watches like an eye.

And thro' the nursery window-pane
The witches have a fire again,
Just like the ones we make, —
And now I know they're having tea,
I wish they'd give a cup to me,
With witches' currant cake.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Day 830: Haunted

'Ourself, behind ourself concealed,/Should startle most;'
I'll be posting spooky themed poems all week for Halloween.  First up it's Emily Dickinson with a very valid supposition: that our minds are the most frightening places of all. 

'Far safer', she says, to meet a ghost, gallop through a Abbey, or find an assassin in the closet than confront our true selves, 'a superior spectre.'  I definitely agree. What humans are capable of - cruelty, misery, violence - is far more horrifying than anything the supernatural has to offer.

#29 Haunted - Emily Dickinson

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one's own self encounter
In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartment,
Be horror's least.

The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O'erlooking a superior spectre
More near.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Day 829: Time Change

The clocks have gone back an hour this morning into official winter time. While many of us dread the coming season with its long hours of darkness, it's worth remembering that there are also things to be grateful for.

Like in this poem, Gerard Manley Hopkins talks of the 'world within', as a sort of anti-dote to the one without. There are  many inner sources that can be kindled at this time of year, when the external ones lie stark. We may be powerless to 'the times' outside, but not to what is happening within. There, he says, 'your will is law' - we rule the roost, if we merely set our mind to it.

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less - Gerard Manley Hopkins
The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Day 828: That Sweet Moon Language

With That Moon Language - Hafiz

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them, 
“Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, 
someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this, 
this great pull in us 
to connect.
Why not become the one 
who lives with a full moon in each eye 
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon 
what every other eye in this world 
is dying to

Friday, 24 October 2014

Day 827: All Gold

The trees are lining the countryside with all kinds of gold treasure right now and how beautiful it is. 

The reference here to Daphne is apt. Daphne in Greek mythology was turned into a laurel tree with 
the help of  her father to hide from the unwanted pursuit of Apollo. What a gorgeous image and 
sentiment it is here, expressing a deep love and connection to the season. 

October (from The Months)  - Linda Pastan

How suddenly
the woods
have turned
again. I feel

like Daphne, standing
with my arms
to the season,

by color, crowned
with the hammered gold
of leaves.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Day 826: Screech Owl

Another perfect gem of a poem from Ted Kooser.

Screech Owl - Ted Kooser

All night each reedy whinny
from a bird no bigger than a heart
flies out of a tall black pine
and, in a breath, is taken away
by the stars. Yet, with small hope
from the center of darkness
it calls out again and again.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Day 825: The Lightest Touch

Lines To Be Put Into Latin - James Laughlin

The lightest touch
if it is gently giv-

en can yield as much
affection as a deep

embrace soft as a
glance swift as a

drop of rain light
as a leaf I give

you these again.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Day 824: Heart on Sleeve

You can't get a more touching poem than one about heartbreak. And the shorter and simpler it is, the bigger and better the effect.

 Second Helpings - John Brehm

I wear my heart on my sleeve,
or rather both sleeves, since
it's usually broken.

Sometimes when I join my hands
to pray, the jagged edges
briefly touch,

like a plate that fell and cracked
apart from being asked
to hold too much.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Day 823: To October


October - Robert Frost 
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Day 822: Sunday Morning Sonnet

'Sunday Morning Tea' ~ by Fenwick Parrody 
Source: Deviant Art

There's something special about Sundays isn't there? The feeling as Louis MacNeice puts it here of trying to 'abstract the day' and make it 'a small eternity, a sonnet self-contained in rhyme'. Sunday morning is 'Fate's great bazaar.' But also, there's an anxiety that overhangs Sunday of the return to the working week, the reminder that church bells echo at the end of the last stanza.

Sunday Morning - Louis MacNeice

Down the road someone is practising scales,
The notes like little fishes vanish with a wink of tails,
Man's heart expands to tinker with his car
For this is Sunday morning, Fate's great bazaar;
Regard these means as ends, concentrate on this Now,

And you may grow to music or drive beyond Hindhead anyhow,
Take corners on two wheels until you go so fast
That you can clutch a fringe or two of the windy past,
That you can abstract this day and make it to the week of time
A small eternity, a sonnet self-contained in rhyme.

But listen, up the road, something gulps, the church spire
Open its eight bells out, skulls' mouths which will not tire
To tell how there is no music or movement which secures
Escape from the weekday time. Which deadens and endures. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Day 821: Turtle

Simple and wise.

Turtle - Kay Ryan 
Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible. With everything optimal,
she skirts the ditch which would convert
her shell into a serving dish. She lives
below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
the sport of truly chastened things.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Day 820: Grand Central, New York

I'm in a New York state of mind right now.  Let's take a trip to Grand Central:

Grand Central - Billy Collins

The city orbits around eight million
centers of the universe
and turns around the golden clock
at the still point of this place.
Lift up your eyes from the moving hive
and you will see time circling
under a vault of stars and know
just when and where you are.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Day 819: The Thought Fox


This poem, one of Ted Hughes most popular, is a poem about writing a poem. The elusiveness, the uncertainty, the tentative magic and mystery that go with it are all captured herein.

The Thought Fox - Ted Hughes

I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox,
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Day 818: Leaf/Loneliness

Leaves falling from trees in autumn is so often equated with loneliness. Here EE Cummings puts the very action inside the word loneliness and the whole effect is one of sadness, silence and maybe even a tender sorrow. 

But have you ever seen a leaf in the moment of falling from a tree? It seems more giddy to me than anything else, twirling to the ground in a kind of swoon, glad to be free. But I suppose this does happen most of the time with no one around to witness it, thus validating the loneliness comparison. Even this poem is lonely - look how it sits on the page with no words or punctuation around it for company, its vertical structure mimicking a lone leaf dropping to the ground, a quiet almost imperceptible event.

leaf - ee cummings





Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Day 817: Leaves Before the Wind

Autumn lends itself to so many metaphors doesn't it? In this lyrical poem by May Sarton, it's love, specifically the unsaying of it. 

Leaves Before the Wind - May Sarton

We have walked, looked at the actual trees:
The chestnut leaves wide-open like a hand,
The beech leaves bronzing under every breeze,
We have felt flowing through our knees
As if we were the wind.

We have sat silent when two horses came,
Jangling their harness, to mow the long grass.
We have sat long and never found a name
For this suspension in the heart of flame
That does not pass.

We have said nothing; we have parted often,
Not looking back, as if departure took
An absolute of will - once not again
(But this is each day's feat, as when
The heart first shook).

Where fervor opens every instant so,
There is no instant that is not a curve,
And we are always coming as we go;
We lean toward the meeting that will show
Love's very nerve.

And so exposed (O leaves before the wind!)
We bear this flowing fire, forever free,
And learn through devious paths to find
The whole, the center, and perhaps unbind
The mystery

Where there are no roots, only fervent leaves,
Nourished on meditations and the air,
Where all that comes is also all that leaves,
And every hope compassionately lives
Close to despair. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Day 816: For The Love of October

 'the day is yet one more yellow leaf...'

I always think of October as a golden yellow month, don't you? Must be all those leaves, ripe with colour. This poem is  fitting ode to such thinking.

The Love of October - W. S. Merwin

A child looking at ruins grows younger
but cold
and wants to wake to a new name
I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows
and the wren laughs in the early shade now
come again shining glance in your good time
naked air late morning
my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips
in the sun.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Day 815: Aerialists

Aerialists - Mary Oliver

Aerialists know
Doubt is the heavy thing.
They know doubt is the stone, the flaw
Named accident. The figure
Whose body flows
Over the rings of darkness
Is the perfect believer.
He makes it look easy,
Leaping from swing to swing,
Shining—a white tendril
In the garden of blue air—
And safer than men on earth trudging,
Fervent but irresolute,
Their doubt always a dark itch,
Over fields and roads.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Day 814: So Long As

 'The Milkmaid' - Vermeer

How to find a moment of pause, of calm, of contemplation in this busy harsh world? Step into a gallery. Take a moment to look, really look at a painting. Feel the outside world dim to a whisper. And the inside one strike up.

Art, by its very nature, is transformative. It can make us feel better about who we are and about the world we live in. As simple as that. It is inspiring, uplifting, redemptive even, as Wislawa Szymborska demonstrates here. 

Vermeer - Wislawa Szymborska

So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum
in painted quiet and concentration
keeps pouring milk day after day
from the pitcher to the bowl
the World hasn’t earned
the world’s end.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Day 813: Autumn Love Song


Love Song - Denise Levertov

Your beauty, which I lost sight of once
for a long time, is long,
not symmetrical, and wears
the earth colors that make me see it.

A long beauty, what is that?
A song
that can be sung over and over,
long notes or long bones.

Love is a landscape the long mountains
define but don’t
shut off from the
unseeable distance.

In fall, in fall,
your trees stretch
their long arms in sleeves
of earth-red and

sky-yellow, a little
lop-sided. I take
long walks among them. The grapes
that need frost to ripen them

are amber and grow deep in the
hedge, half-concealed,
the way your beauty grows in long tendrils
half in darkness.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Day 812: Wild Geese


There is a time for everything, including endings and goodbyes and movings-on.

Something Told the Wild Geese - Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go;
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, - 'snow'.
Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, - 'frost'.

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly -
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Day 811: Hunter's Moon

Tonight is October's Full Moon - or the Hunter's Moon as it is called. Extra special this year due to the lunar eclipse that will also occur - making this moon a 'blood moon', one that takes on a reddish colour on eclipse and for many, a portentous quality. Don't forget to look up!

Hunter's Moon Haiku - Basho

Hunter’s Moon still grows
Creeping up on all of us –
A faint rustling sound. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Day 810: The Life with a Hole in it

I don't post much of Philip Larkin because to put it bluntly (because he certainly does) -  he's a pessimistic git.  But a great poet nonetheless. 

Although bleak - stamped as it is with a heavy dose of Larkin's characteristic cynical realism - this poem challenges you to think what it really is you want to be doing with your life, and to do it, before time slips by and make's a miserable old git of you too. It is almost, I think, an invitation to rail readers into defying it, rebelling against it.

The Life With a Hole in It - Philip Larkin

When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you've always done what you want,
You always get your own way

- A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that's been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I've never done what I don't.

So the shit in the shuttered chateau
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds
Is far off as ever, but so
Is that spectacled schoolteaching sod
(Six kids, and the wife in pod,
And her parents coming to stay) . . .

Life is an immobile, locked,
Three-handed struggle between
Your wants, the world's for you, and (worse)
The unbeatable slow machine
That brings what you'll get. Blocked,
They strain round a hollow stasis
Of havings-to, fear, faces.
Days sift down it constantly. Years.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Day 809: Season of Flames

 'I want to celebrate/color, how one red leaf/flickers like a match/held to a dry branch...'

What beautiful imagery here in this poem, the whole world ablaze with autumn colours. It's as if the poet is saying there's two ways you can look at the season (and life): as an end, a death, a regret, the world morosely wilting in reality's confines; or as a beginning, a rebirth, an opportunity for change, the world blazing with passion in imagination's embrace.

Autumn - Linda Pastan

I want to mention
summer ending
without meaning the death
of somebody loved

or even the death
of the trees.
Today in the market
I heard a mother say

Look at the pumpkins,
it's finally autumn!
And the child didn't think
of the death of her mother

which is due before her own
but tasted the sound
of the words on her clumsy tongue:
pumpkin; autumn.

Let the eye enlarge
with all it beholds.
I want to celebrate
color, how one red leaf

flickers like a match
held to a dry branch,
and the whole world goes up
in orange and gold.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Day 808: Canal Calm

 Banks of a Canal, near Naples, c. 1872 by Gustave Caillebotte.
 Banks of a Canal - Gustave Caillebotte, 1872

A treat for today. Here is Seamus Heaney's last ever poem he wrote for inclusion in The National Gallery of Ireland's anthology of writers on paintings to celebrate its 150th anniversary, out tomorrow. (You can read more about the anthology 'Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art' here: )

Heaney's choice was Gustave Caillebotte's 'Banks of a Canal' (above) and the result is an evocative calm verse that features his trademark verbal sparkle and pious attention to landscape detail. I just love 'grassy zest of verges' , the declarative 'peaceable' and the surprising accuracy of 'coolth' (a pleasantly low temperature) - don't you? The entire poem is a meditation on calm, beautifully paced and worded, in typical Heaney style. Perfect for an ambling Sunday.

Banks of a Canal - Seamus Heaney 

Say ‘canal’ and there’s that final vowel
Towing silence with it, slowing time
To a walking pace, a path, a whitewashed gleam
Of dwellings at the skyline. World stands still.
The stunted concrete mocks the classical.
Water says, ‘My place here is in dream,
In quiet good standing. Like a sleeping stream,
Come rain or sullen shine I’m peaceable.’
Stretched to the horizon, placid ploughland,
The sky not truly bright or overcast:
I know that clay, the damp and dirt of it,
The coolth along the bank, the grassy zest
Of verges, the path not narrow but still straight
Where soul could mind itself or stray beyond.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Day 807: Why We Tell Stories

Why We Tell Stories - Lisel Mueller

Because we used to have leaves
and on damp days
our muscles feel a tug,
painful now, from when roots
pulled us into the ground

and because our children believe
they can fly, an instinct retained
from when the bones in our arms
were shaped like zithers and broke
neatly under their feathers

and because before we had lungs
we knew how far it was to the bottom
as we floated open-eyed
like painted scarves through the scenery
of dreams, and because we awakened

and learned to speak

We sat by the fire in our caves,
and because we were poor, we made up a tale
about a treasure mountain
that would open only for us

and because we were always defeated,
we invented impossible riddles
only we could solve,
monsters only we could kill,
women who could love no one else
and because we had survived
sisters and brothers, daughters and sons,
we discovered bones that rose
from the dark earth and sang
as white birds in the trees

Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

Because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
and grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and ...

Friday, 3 October 2014

Day 806: Serious Stuff

I really like this poem mainly because of its manner. Kenneth Koch is usually such a playful poet, words for him are toys to fling about the page in feisty fun, but here he tries to capture seriousness seriously. Well, almost. Not until the end does it smack you.

The Boiling Water - Kenneth Koch
A serious moment for the water is
when it boils
And though one usually regards it
merely as a convenience
To have the boiling water
available for bath or table
Occasionally there is someone
around who understands
The importance of this moment
for the water—maybe a saint,
Maybe a poet, maybe a crazy
man, or just someone
temporarily disturbed
With his mind 'floating'in a
sense, away from his deepest
Personal concerns to more
'unreal' things...

A serious moment for the island
is when its trees
Begin to give it shade, and
another is when the ocean
Big heavy things against its side.
One walks around and looks at
the island
But not really at it, at what is on
it, and one thinks,
It must be serious, even, to be this
island, at all, here.
Since it is lying here exposed to
the whole sea. All its
Moments might be serious. It is
serious, in such windy weather,
to be a sail
Or an open window, or a feather
flying in the street...

Seriousness, how often I have
thought of seriousness
And how little I have understood
it, except this: serious is urgent
And it has to do with change. You
say to the water,
It's not necessary to boil now,
and you turn it off. It stops
Fidgeting. And starts to cool. You
put your hand in it
And say, The water isn't serious
any more. It has the potential,
However—that urgency to give
off bubbles, to
Change itself to steam. And the
When it becomes part of a
hurricane, blowing up the
And the sand dunes can't keep it
Fainting is one sign of
seriousness, crying is another.
Shuddering all over is another

A serious moment for the
telephone is when it rings.
And a person answers, it is
Angelica, or is it you.

A serious moment for the fly is
when its wings
Are moving, and a serious
moment for the duck
Is when it swims, when it first
touches water, then spreads
Its smile upon the water...

A serious moment for the match
is when it burst into flame...

Serious for me that I met you, and
serious for you
That you met me, and that we do
not know
If we will ever be close to anyone
again. Serious the recognition
of the probability
That we will, although time
stretches terribly in

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Day 805: 3 Cheers For National Poetry Day!

Today is National Poetry Day here in Ireland and the UK.  To celebrate, I'm posting three poems (first time ever! - It'll balance out my repeated poems...) that probe the nature of what poetry is: wondrous, mysterious, magical, artful, memorable, beautiful, necessary, natural.   Enjoy.

A Poem Is A Spider Web - Charles Ghigna

A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.


Notes on the Art of Poetry - Dylan Thomas

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

Ars Poetica* - Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves.
Memory by memory the mind -

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -

A poem should not mean
But be.

*The Art of Poetry

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Day 804: Hello October

'I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers' said L.M. Montgomery. Here's to the golden month.

October (from 'The Poet's Calendar') - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My ornaments are fruits; my garments leaves,
  Woven like cloth of gold, and crimson dyed;
I do not boast the harvesting of sheaves,
  O'er orchards and o'er vineyards I preside.
Though on the frigid Scorpion I ride,
  The dreamy air is full, and overflows
With tender memories of the summer-tide,
  And mingled voices of the doves and crows.