Tuesday, October 31, 2023

from "Tales of the Islands, Chapter IX / Le Loupgarou" by Derek Walcott

Chapter IX / “Le Loupgarou”

A curious tale that threaded through the town
Through greying women sewing under eaves,
Was how his greed had brought old Le Brun down,
Greeted by slowly shutting jalousies
When he approached them in white linen suit,
Pink glasses, cork hat, and tap-tapping cane,
A dying man licensed to sell sick fruit,
Ruined by fiends with whom he’d made a bargain.
It seems one night, these Christian witches said,
He changed himself to an Alsatian hound,
A slavering lycanthrope hot on a scent,
But his own watchman dealt the thing a wound.
It howled and lugged its entrails, trailing wet
With blood, back to its doorstep, almost dead.

Source of the text - Derek Walcott, Collected Poems: 1948-1984.  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986, pages 26-27.

TJB: I’d like to meet his tailor. In this tale of a fruitseller/wolf teetering between cultures, balanced iambics give way at times to wild anapests & assonance.

"Bonny Barbara Allan," anonymous ballad



1  IT was in and about the Martinmas time,
       When the green leaves were a falling,
    That Sir John Græme, in the West Country,
       Fell in love with Barbara Allan.

2  He sent his man down through the town,
       To the place where she was dwelling:
    ‘O haste and come to my master dear,
       Gin ye be Barbara Allan.’

3  O hooly, hooly rose she up,
       To the place where he was lying,
    And when she drew the curtain by,
       ‘Young man, I think you’re dying.’

4  ‘O it’s I’m sick, and very, very sick,
       And ’tis a’ for Barbara Allan:’
    ‘O the better for me ye’s never be,
       Tho your heart’s blood were a spilling.

5  ‘O dinna ye mind, young man,’ said she,
       ‘When ye was in the tavern a drinking,
    That ye made the healths gae round and round,
       And slighted Barbara Allan?’

6  He turned his face unto the wall,
       And death was with him dealing:
    ‘Adieu, adieu, my dear friends all,
       And be kind to Barbara Allan.’

7  And slowly, slowly raise she up,
       And slowly, slowly left him,
    And sighing said, she coud not stay,
       Since death of life had reft him.

8  She had not gane a mile but twa,
       When she heard the dead-bell ringing,
    And every jow that the dead-bell geid,
       It cry’d, Woe to Barbara Allan!

9  ‘O mother, mother, make my bed!
       O make it saft and narrow!
    Since my love died for me to-day,
       I’ll die for him to-morrow.’

Source of the text - The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, edited by Francis James Child, Volume II, Part II.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886, pages 276-277.

TJB: She loves him not, she loves him. Understatement, rhythm, & repetition-doublets are pure, pure ballad in this tale of love spurned then regretted.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

"Bogland" by Seamus Heaney


For T. P. Flanagan

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening—
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encroaching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.

Source of the text - Seamus Heaney, Selected Poems: 1965-1975.  London: Faber & Faber, 1980, pages 53-54.

TJB: God-bog; the Troubles seen as muck. In essay mode, the poet declares this praise-song to the Irish bog: creating, swallowing & preserving all.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

"Admission" by Rae Armantrout


The eye roves,
back and forth, as
indictment catches up?

If shadows tattoo
the bare shelf,
they enter by comparison?

A child's turntable fastened
to the wall with a white cord
will not?

Unless on its
metal core
an unspeakable radiance . . .

Think in order
to recall
what the striking thing

(So impotently
loved the world

Source of the text - Rae Armantrout, Veil: New and Selected Poems.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001, page 31.

TJB: Admit nothing? Each stanza is hypotactic, interrupted; between stanzas, the poem moves in glances around a room, perhaps, then by association.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

from "American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin" by Terrance Hayes


The black poet would love to say his century began
With Hughes or God forbid, Wheatley, but actually
It began with all the poetry weirdos & worriers, warriors,
Poetry whiners & winos falling from ship bows, sunset
Bridges & windows. In a second I'll tell you how little
Writing rescues. My hunch is that Sylvia Plath was not
Especially fun company. A drama queen, thin-skinned,
And skittery, she thought her poems were ordinary.
What do you call a visionary who does not recognize
Her vision? Orpheus was alone when he invented writing.
His manic drawing became a kind of writing when he sent
His beloved sketch of an eye with an X struck through it.
He meant I am blind without you. She thought he meant
I never want to see you again. It is possible he meant that, too.

Source of the text - Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin.  New York: Penguin Books, 2018, page 5.

TJB: Consonant comment. This long-lined, verbose sonnet moves essaylike through poetry in the octet, dallying on Plath, then goes Orphic in the sestet.

"Ankle Bells," attributed to Mirabai

Ankle Bells

Mira dances, how can her ankle bells not dance?
"Mira is insane," strangers say that.  "The family's
Poison came to the door one day; she drank it and
I am at Hari's feet; I give him body and soul.
A glimpse of him is water: How thirsty I am for that!
Mira's Lord is the one who lifts mountains, he
      removes evil from human life.
Mira's Lord attacks the beings of greed; for safety I
      go to him.

Source of the text - Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems.  Versions by Robert Bly and Jane Hirshfield.  Boston: Beacon Press, 2004, p. 12.  This poem was translated by Robert Bly.

TJB: Happy feet. With dancing, dialogue, & prayer, the poem changes from third to first person after poison is ingested; then becomes straight psalmlike.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

"The Diamond Cutters" by Adrienne Rich


However legendary,
The stone is still a stone,
Though it had once resisted
The weight of Africa,
The hammer-blows of time
That wear to bits of rubble
The mountain and the pebble—
But not this coldest one.

Now, you intelligence
So late dredged up from dark
Upon whose smoky walls
Bison took fumbling form
Or flint was edged on flint —
Now, careful arriviste,
Delineate at will
Incisions in the ice.

Be serious, because
The stone may have contempt
For too-familiar hands,
And because all you do
Loses or gains by this:
Respect the adversary,
Meet it with tools refined,
And thereby set your price.

Be hard of heart, because
The stone must leave your hand.
Although you liberate
Pure and expensive fires
Fit to enamor Shebas,
Keep your desire apart.
Love only what you do,
And not what you have done.

Be proud, when you have set
The final spoke of flame
In that prismatic wheel,
And nothing’s left this day
Except to see the sun
Shine on the false and the true,
And know that Africa
Will yield you more to do.

Source of the text – Adrienne Rich, Collected Poems: 1950-2012. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, pages 104-105.

TJB: Fearful symmetry. In short-lined, lightly rhymed octets, with cool/warm imagery, the poem sees both object & maker; diamond as poem or diamond as self.

Monday, October 9, 2023

"The Wife's Complaint," anonymous Anglo-Saxon lyric

 The Wife’s Complaint


[Text of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon]

    Ic  þis  giedd  wrece        bi  me  ful  geomorre

minre  sylfre  sið        ic  þæt  secgan  mæg

hwæt  ic  yrmþa  gebad        siþþan  ic  up  [a]weox

niwes  oþþe  ealdes            þonne 

a  ic  wite  wonn        minra  wræcsiþa

ærest  min  hlaford  gewat        heonan  of  leodum

ofer  yþa  gelac        hæfde  ic  uhtceare

hwær  min  leodfruma        londes  wære ·

ða  ic  me  feran  gewat        folgað  secan

wineleas  wrecca        for  minre  weaþearfe ·

ongunnon  þæt  þæs  monnes        magas  hycgan

þurh  dyrne  geþoht        þæt  hy  todælden  unc

þæt  wit  gewidost        in  woruldrice

lifdon  laðlicost        ond  mec  longade ·

het  mec  hlaford  min        her  heard  niman

ahte  ic  leofra  lyt        on  þissum  londstede

holdra  freonda        forþon  is  min  hyge  geomor ·

ða  ic  me  ful  gemæcne        monnan  funde

heardsæligne        hygegeomorne

mod  miþendne        morþor  hycgend[n]e

    bliþe  gebæro        ful  oft  wit  beotedan

þæt  unc  ne  gedælde        nemne  deað  ana ·

owiht  elles        eft  is  þæt  onhworfen

is  nu        swa  hit  no  wære

freondscipe  uncer        s[c]eal  ic  feor  ge  neah

mines  fela  leofan        fæhðu  dreogan

heht  mec  mon  wunian        on  wuda  bearwe

under  actreo        in  þam  eorðscræfe ·

eald  is  þes  eorðsele        eal  ic  eom  oflongad ·

sindon  dena  dimme        duna  uphéa

bitre  burgtunas        brerum  beweaxne

wic  wynna  leas        ful  oft  mec  her  wraþe  begeat

fromsiþ  frean        frynd  sind  on  eorþan

leofe  lifgende        leger  weardiað

þonne  ic  on  uhtan        ana  gonge

under  actreo        geond  þas  eorðscrafu

þær  ic  sittan  mot        sumorlangne ·  dæg

þær  ic  wepan  mæg        mine  wræcsiþas

earfoþa  fela        forþon  ic  æfre  ne  mæg

þære  modceare        minre  gerestan ·

ne  ealles  þæs  longaþes        þe  mec  on  þissum  life  begeat

    a  scyle  geong  mon        wesan  geomormod

heard  heortan  geþoht        swylce  habban  sceal

bliþe  gebæro        eac  þon  breostceare

sinsorgna  gedreag        sy  æt  him  sylfum  gelong

eal  his  worulde  wyn        sy  ful  wide  fah

feorres  folclondes        þæt  min  freond  siteð

under  stanhliþe        storme  behrimed

wine  werigmod        wætre  beflowen

on  dreorsele        dreogeð  se  min  wine

micle  modceare        he  gemon  to  oft

wynlicran  wic        wa  bið  þam  þe  sceal

of  langoþe        leofes  abidan  : 



[English translation by W.S. Mackie]


I compose this lay about my own wretched self,
about my own experience. I can tell
what miseries new or old I have endured
since I grew up, and never more than now.
I have always been struggling against my cruel sorrows.
First of all my lord went away from his people here
over the tossing waves; I was sleepless with anxiety,
not knowing in what land my prince might be.
Then, on account of my woeful need, I went forth,
a friendless wretch, to seek service.
The kinsmen of my husband began in secret counsel
to devise how they might estrange us,
so that we two lived in the world far apart
and alienated, and I was weary with longing.
My stern lord bade me be taken here—
I had few dear and loyal friends
in this country. And so my heart is sad,
since I found the man who was my true mate
to be unhappy, sorrowful of heart,
concealing his purpose, meditating crime.
Blithe in demeanour we two had very often vowed
that nothing else should part us
but death alone. That has changed since;
our love is now
as if it never had been. Far and near I must endure
the enmity of my dearly beloved.
I was bidden dwell in the cave in the earth
under the oak-tree in the forest grove.
This hall in the earth is old, and I am wearied with longing.
There are dark dells, hills precipitous,
ugly fortress-like thickets overgrown with briars—
a joyless dwelling. Very often did the absence of my lord
afflict me here with bitter sorrow. On the earth there are lovers
who live dear to each other, sharing one bed,
while I at dawn walk alone
under the oak-tree through these caves in the earth.
There must I sit during the long summer day,
there can I weep my miseries,
my many hardships. For I can never
find rest from my anxiety of mind
or from all the longing that has afflicted me in this life.
Ever may the young man be sad of mind,
bitter the thought of his heart; whatever blithe demeanour
he shall have, may he also have anxiety
and a throng of constant sorrows. May all his worldly joy
be dependent on himself alone, may he be far banished
in a distant land, since my lover,
my disconsolate lord, sits under a rocky cliff,
covered with sleet by the storm, encompassed by water
in a hall of sorrow. My lord suffers
great anxiety of mind; he remembers too often
a more joyful dwelling. Woe befalls him who must
wait with sad longing for his beloved.

Source of the text in Anglo-Saxon and in translation – The Exeter Book, Part II: Poems IX-XXXII, edited by W.S. Mackie. London: The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1934 (reprinted 1958), pages 152-155.

TJB: Inclement lament. In beautiful, enigmatic Anglo-Saxon accentuals, a wife of constant sorrow with trouble all her days whispers the whole night through.




Verse XI from "Tao Te Ching" by Lao Tzu


 Thirty spokes
 Share one hub.
Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and 
you will have the use of the cart.  Knead clay in order 
to make a vessel.  Adapt the nothing therein to the 
purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the 
vessel.  Cut out doors and windows in order to make 
a room.  Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in 
hand, and you will have the use of the room.
Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of 
Nothing that this can be put to use.

Source of the text - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, translated with an introduction by D.C. Lau.  New York: Penguin Books, 1963, page 67.

TJB: Inner space. This parable-like text might express how things are constructed so as to allow empty space to have meaning and use. So too our mind?

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Untitled lyric attributed to Tzu Yeh

Bright moon
lights up the cinnamon

And colors opening flowers
in shades of amber
like a gold brocade.

I think of
should I not?

—As, lonely
on my loom,
I weave.

Source of the text - A Gold Orchid: The Love Poems of Tzu Yeh, translated from the Chinese by Lenore Mayhew and William McNaughton.  Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1972, page 49.

TJB: In this moonage daydream, implied-narrative lyric, the speaker works a loom (poem?), sees moonlit woods and thinks, inevitably, of a beloved.

from Twelfth Night, Act V, Scene 1, lines 382-401, by William Shakespeare

from Twelfth Night, Act V, Scene 1, lines 382-401

FESTE (Sings.)

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
     With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
     For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
     With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
’Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
     For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas, to wive,
     With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
     For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
     With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With tosspots still had drunken heads,
     For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
     With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
     And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Source of the text - William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, edited by Keir Elam.  London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2008, pages 352-354.

TJB: Philosophical nonce; 7 ages of man for dummies. This bit of pure song seems to build up to a profound finish, then dismounts by requesting applause.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

"The Death of English" by Linh Dinh

The Death of English

It stang me to sang of such thang:
This language, like all others, will be deep fried,
Will die, then be reborn as another tongue
Sloshed in too many mouths.  What of
"That kiff joint has conked me on a dime"?
"Them cedars, like quills, writing the ground"?
It's all japlish or ebonics, or perhaps Harold Bloom's
Boneless hand fondling a feminist's thigh.

Source of the text - Linh Dinh, American Tatts.  Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, 2005, page 86.

TJB: Prophecy-quip. Lightly end-rhymed, mixing registers—essaylike prose, various slangs, lampooning Bloom—is this the death, or an evolution, of English?

"Night Arrival of Sea-Trout" by Ted Hughes

Night Arrival of Sea-Trout

Honeysuckle hanging her fangs.
Foxglove rearing her open belly.
Dogrose touching the membrane.

Through the dew’s mist, the oak’s mass
Comes plunging, tossing dark antlers.

Then a shattering
Of the river’s hole, where something leaps out –

An upside-down, buried heaven
Snarls, moon-mouthed, and shivers.

Summer dripping stars, biting at the nape.
Lobworms coupling in saliva.
Earth singing under her breath.

And out in the hard corn a horned god
Running and leaping
With a bat in his drum.

Source of the text - Ted Hughes, Poems, Selected by Simon Armitage. London: Faber & Faber, 2000, page 89.

TJB: A fish is caught, defined in a series of image-actions in curt sentence fragments: wild & dangerous, tamed perhaps by the poet-angler. Who’s the god?

Epigram attributed to Erinna

Epigram attributed to Erinna

[Text of the poem in the original Greek]

[Prose translation by W.R. Paton]

I am the tomb of Baucis the bride, and as thou passest the much bewept pillar, say to Hades who dwells below “Hades, thou art envious.”  To thee the fair letters thou seest on the stone will tell the most cruel fate of Bauco, how her bridegroom’s father lighted her pyre with those very torches that had burnt while they sang the marriage hymn.  And thou, Hymenaeus, didst change the tuneful song of wedding to the dismal voice of lamentation.

[Verse Translation by Sherod Santos]


I am the tomb of the white bride Baucis,
and those who pass through my shadow
should pause to remind the underworld god
such envies are unworthy of a king.
The chiseled letters you see on this stone
are the telltale sign of his tampering
how the bride's own father lighted her pyre
with the pine torch he had earlier struck
to illuminate the singing of the hymeneals.
But who could believe the marriage god
conspired to turn their celebrant song
into the ash tones of a funeral dirge?

Source of the text in Greek  – The Greek Anthology: with an English translation by W.R. Paton, Volume II.  London: William Heinemann, 1919, page 378.

Source of the English verse translation  – Greek Lyric Poetry: A New Translation, edited and translated by Sherod Santos.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005, page 104.

TJB: Headstone song; Distaff-inspired epitaph. The talking tomb chats / chants about its occupant, who died soon after her wedding, & her dodgy in-law.




Untitled lyric fragment by Sappho

Untitled Lyric Fragment by Sappho

[Text of the poem fragment in the original Greek]

[Translation by Anne Carson]


as the sweetapple reddens on a high branch

     high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot

no, not forgot: were unable to reach


like the hyacinth in the mountains that shepherd men

with their feet trample down and on the ground the purple


Source of the text in Greek and in translation – Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, pages 214-215.

TJB: Two hendecasyllabic wedding-similes: a beloved as the highest, unpickable/sweetest apple; & a beloved, a trampled flower/loved too much by Apollo.




"The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse" by Geoffrey Chaucer


To yow, my purse, and to noon other wight
Complayne I, for ye be my lady dere.
I am so sory, now that ye been lyght;
For certes but yf ye make me hevy chere,
Me were as leef be layd upon my bere;
For which unto your mercy thus I crye,
Beth hevy ageyn, or elles mot I dye.

Now voucheth sauf this day or hyt be nyght
That I of yow the blisful soun may here
Or see your colour lyk the sonne bryght
That of yelownesse hadde never pere.
Ye be my lyf, ye be myn hertes stere.
Quene of comfort and of good companye,
Beth hevy ageyn, or elles moot I dye.

Now purse that ben to me my lyves lyght
And saveour as doun in this world here,
Out of this toune helpe me thurgh your myght,
Syn that ye wole nat ben my tresorere;
For I am shave as nye as any frere.
But yet I pray unto your curtesye,
Beth hevy agen, or elles moot I hye.

Lenvoy de Chaucer

O conquerour of Brutes Albyon,
Which that by lyne and free eleccion
Been verray kyng, this song to yow I sende,
And ye, that mowen alle oure harmes amende,
Have mynde upon my supplicacion.

Source of the text - Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, Third Edition, edited by Larry D. Benson.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987, page 656.

TJB: Cash rules everything around him. With puns on hevy and lyght, the poet sings for his supper like someone in love & envoys it to the new king.

Monday, October 2, 2023

"I taste a liquor never brewed" by Emily Dickinson

I taste a liquor never brewed -
From Tankards scooped in Pearl -
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air - am I -
And Debauchee of Dew -
Reeling - thro’ endless summer days -
From inns of molten Blue -

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door -
When Butterflies - renounce their “drams” -
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats -
And Saints - to windows run -
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the - Sun!

Source of the text - The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 96.

TJB: Day-drinking. The poet glories in nature’s mellow fruitfulness—molten blue! leaning against the sun/lamppost! Is it about nature or her poetic gift?



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