Monday, November 20, 2023

From "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World" by Galway Kinnell

The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ 
into the New World

                  Was diese kleine Gasse doch für ein Reich an sich war . . .


pcheek pcheek pcheek pcheek pcheek
They cry. The motherbirds thieve the air
To appease them. A tug on the East River
Blasts the bass-note of its passage, lifted
From the infra-bass of the sea. A broom
Swishes over the sidewalk like feet through leaves.
Valerio’s pushcart Ice Coal Kerosene
Moves       clack
On a broken wheelrim. Ringing in its chains
The New Star Laundry horse comes down the street
Like a roofleak whucking into a pail.
At the redlight, where a horn blares,
The Golden Harvest Bakery brakes on its gears,
Squeaks, and seethes in place. A propane-
gassed bus makes its way with big, airy sighs.

Across the street a woman throws open
Her window.
She sets, terribly softly,
Two potted plants on the windowledge
                        tic              tic
And bangs shut her window.

A man leaves a doorway tic toc tic toc tic toc tic hurrah toc splat
        on Avenue C tic etc and turns the corner.
Banking the same corner
A pigeon coasts 5th Street in shadows,
Looks for altitude, surmounts the rims of buildings,
And turns white.
The babybirds pipe down. It is day.

Source of the text – Galway Kinnell, The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World: Poems 1953-1964.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002, pages 67-68.

TJB: Street sonics. In Section I of a long poem, the poet sets the stage with a series of meticulously described/enacted sounds heard on Avenue C.

"Left-Wife Goose" by Sharon Olds

Left-Wife Goose

Hoddley, Poddley, Puddles and Fogs,
Cats are to Marry the Poodle Dogs;
Cats in Blue Jackets and Dogs in Red Hats,
What Will Become of the Mice and Rats?
       Had a trust fund, had a thief in,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
Fiddle-Dee-Dee, Fiddle-Dee-Dee,
The Fly Has Left the Humble-Bee.
They Went to the Court, and Unmarried Was She:
The Fly Has Left the Humble-Bee.
       Had a sow twin, had a reap twin,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
In Marble Halls as White as Milk,
Lined with a Skin as Soft as Silk,
Within a Fountain Crystal-Clear,
A Golden Apple Doth Appear.
No Doors There Are to This Stronghold
Yet Robbers Break In and Steal the Gold.
       Had an egg cow, had a cream hen,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
Formed Long Ago, Yet Made Today,
Employed While Others Sleep;
What Few Would Like to Give Away,
Nor Any Wish to Keep.
       Had a nap man, had a neap man,
       Had a flood man, could not keep him.
Ickle, Ockle, Blue Bockle,
Fishes in the Sea.
If You Want a Left Wife,
Please Choose Me.
       Had a safe of 4X sheepskin,
       Had a brook brother, could not keep him.
Inter, Mitzy, Titzy, Tool,
Ira, Dura, Dominee,
Oker, Poker, Dominocker,
Out Goes Me.
       Had a lamb, slung in keepskin,
       Had some ewe-milk, in it seethed him.
There Was an Old Woman Called Nothing-at-All,
Who Lived in a Dwelling Exceedingly Small;
A Man Stretched His Mouth to the Utmost Extent,
And Down at One Gulp House and Old Woman Went.
       Had a rich pen, had a cheap pen,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
Put him in this nursery shell,
And here you keep him very well.

Source of the text – Sharon Olds, Stag’s Leap.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012, pages 34-35.

TJB: With the diction, doggerel, nonce-words, & rhythm of nursery rhyme, this poem enacts failed attempts to make sense of transience—life, marriage.

Friday, November 17, 2023

"Animals Are Passing from our Lives" by Philip Levine


It’s wonderful how I jog
on four honed-down ivory toes
my massive buttocks slipping
like oiled parts with each light step.

I’m to market. I can smell
the sour, grooved block, I can smell
the blade that opens the hole
and the pudgy white fingers

that shake out the intestines
like a hankie. In my dreams
the snouts drool on the marble,
suffering children, suffering flies,

suffering the consumers
who won’t meet their steady eyes
for fear they could see. The boy
who drives me along believes

that any moment I’ll fall
on my side and drum my toes
like a typewriter or squeal
and shit like a new housewife

discovering television,
or that I’ll turn like a beast
cleverly to hook his teeth
with my teeth. No. Not this pig.

Source of the text – Philip Levine, New Selected Poems.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991, page 36.

TJB: No going wee wee wee all the way home. Nursery rhyme-like, its rhythm building, this poem sees through the eyes of a pig & speaks strongly in refusal.

"A Greenness Taller Than Gods" by Yusef Komunyakaa

A Greenness Taller Than Gods

When we stop, 
a green snake starts again 
through deep branches. 
Spiders mend webs we marched into. 
Monkeys jabber in flame trees, 
dancing on the limbs to make 
fire-colored petals fall. Torch birds 
burn through the dark-green day. 
The lieutenant puts on sunglasses 
& points to an X circled 
on his map. When will we learn 
to move like trees move? 
The point man raises his hand Wait! 
We’ve just crossed paths with VC, 
branches left quivering. 
The lieutenant’s right hand says what to do. 
We walk into a clearing that blinds. 
We move like a platoon of silhouettes 
balancing sledge hammers on our heads, 
unaware our shadows have untied 
from us, wandered off 
& gotten lost.

Source of the text – Yusef Komunyakaa, Dien Cai Dau.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988, page 11.

TJB: Junglevision. This poem moves in sections: wildlife pausing to observe passing soldiers; a near-encounter between enemy combatants; then, evanescence.

"Pulling a Nail" by Galway Kinnell

Pulling a Nail

In the year of my birth
my father buried this spike,
half in hemlock half in oak,
battered the flat of its head
into the dead center
of the round dent of his last blow.

He would have struck
in quick strokes filled
with inertia and follow-through.
He would have hit at the precise
moment the direction of force
in the hammer exactly lined up
with the axis of the nail.

As friction tightened, he would have
hit harder, striking up
shock waves that struck back
in his elbow and shoulder.

Near the end, when his arm
grew weak and his hand
could barely hang on,
he would have gone
all out and clobbered
the nail, crushed it into itself,
with each blow knocking
off kilter every new tilt of the head.

I hack and scrape
but can’t get the hammer’s claw
to catch under the rim of the nail,
and I have no nail pull or pry bar.
But looking back in time, I see
my father, how he solved
it when in the same fix:
angling the claw of his hammer
like a chisel, he cozied it
up to the nail head, then taking
a second hammer, smacked
the face of the first, and kept on
smacking it, until the claw
gouged grooves for itself
in the bruised wood and grudged under.
So I do as my father did.

Now begins what could be called
carpenters’ arm wrestling, and also,
in this case, transrealmic combat
between father and son.
We clasp right hands (the flared
part of the hammer handle,
his hand) and press right elbows
to the hemlock (the curved
hammer head, his steel elbow) and pull.
Or rather, I pull, he holds fast, lacking
the writ to drag me down where he lies.

A nail driven so long ago
ought to be allowed to stay put,
until the structure it serves
crumbles into its ill-fitting cellar hole,
or on a freezing night flaps up
and disappears in a turmoil
of flame and smoke and its
blackened bones; or until the nail
discovers it has become
merely a nail hole filled with rust.

A spike driven long ago
resists being pulled—worse
than a stupefied wisdom tooth
whose roots, which have screwed
themselves into the jawbone,
refuse to budge; worse even
than an old pig who hears
the slaughterer’s truck pull up
and rasp open its gate and rattle
its ramp into place, and grunts,
and squeals, and digs in.

Slipping for leverage
a scrap of quarter-inch wood
under the hammer, I apply
a methodology I learned from
unscrewing stuck bottle lids:
first, put to it the maximum force
you think you can maintain,
and second, maintain it.

Just as when an earthworm
pulls itself out of a cul-de-sac,
cautious end pulling adventurous end,
stretching itself almost in two
until the stuck end starts to come free,
so this nail, stretched and now
starting to let go, utters a thick squawk—
first sound it has made since
my father brought down his hammer
full force on it, adding a grunt of his own,
and thudded it home—and a half-inch
of newly polished steel stutters
out of fibrous matter intended to grip it
a good long time, if not forever.

My fulcrum this time a chunk
of inch board, I pull again, again
creating a chaotic ruckus,
and another segment of bright
steel screeches free.

Helped along this time by
a block of two-by-four lying
on its inch-and-three-quarter side,
I leverage out another noisy half-inch.
At last, standing the block up
on its three-and three-quarter inch side,
I pull hard, hold the pressure,
and the entire rest of the nail,
almost too hot to handle, extrudes
in an elegant curve of defeated matter.

It seems I’ve won.
But in matters like this
winning doesn’t often
feel exactly like winning.
It’s only a nail, I know,
an earthen bit. Bent.
Very possibly torqued.
And yet my father drove it
to stake out his only hope
of leaving something
lasting behind. See,
there he is now, bent
at his workbench,
in the permanent
gloom of the basement
of the house on Oswald
Street that he built, as he did
everything he did, alone,
probably driving all but a few dozen
of its ten thousand nails himself.

A dark yellowish aura, like
the dead glow of earliest
electricity, unused to being
harnessed, hangs above
his head. He’s picking over
a small heap of bent nails,
chucking some, straightening
out others back into usefulness
in the rectilinear world.
At this one he pauses.
He lifts it to the light, sights
along it as if he doubts
it can ever be used again.
I take it from his hand just
as he fades out of sight.
In it I can feel the last heat
of our struggle. Thumb
and forefinger hold the nail
to the bench, bent side up,
forming a little wobbling
bridge between then
and now, between me and him,
or him and me, over which
almost nothing of what mattered
to either of us ever passed.
A hammer still floats in the space
he had been standing in.
I pluck it out of the air
and use it to hammer the nail
up and down its length, rotate it
to keep the bend on top,
hammer it, rotate it,
hammer it, well into the night.
The cellar windows become light.
It is late. I don’t think
I will ever straighten it out.

Source of the text – Galway Kinnell, Strong Is Your Hold.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006,  pages 24-29.

TJB: Unhammering. The poet’s step-by-step struggle to pull a nail that was driven into place long ago by his father becomes a sort of time-travel.

"Topography" by Sharon Olds


After we flew across the country we
got in bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states untied, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Source of the text - Sharon Olds, The Gold Cell.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987, page 58.

TJB: Eroticartography; folding maps as deeply sensual.  This lovemaking lyric uses short phrases in elegant long chiasmus patterns & ends on a salute.

"Belle Isle, 1949" by Philip Levine


We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow. I remember going under
hand in hand with a Polish highschool girl
I’d never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out
on the starless waters towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking.
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare
fall on, the damp piles of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.

Source of the text – Philip Levine, New Selected Poems.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991, page 131.

TJB: Skinny dip lyric. The poem of a long-ago event, with language that builds toward then away from incantation, tells us what happened but not why.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

"The Smokehouse" by Yusef Komunyakaa

The Smokehouse

In the hickory scent
Among slabs of pork
Glistening with salt,
I played Indian
In a headdress of redbird feathers
& brass buttons
Off my mother’s winter coat.
Smoke wove
A thread of fire through meat, into December
& January. The dead weight
Of the place hung around me,
Strung up with sweetgrass.
The hog had been sectioned,
A map scored into skin;
Opened like love,
From snout to tail,
The goodness
No longer true to each bone.
I was a wizard
In that hazy world,
& knew I could cut
Slivers of meat till my heart
Grew more human & flawed.

Source of the text – Yusef Komunyakaa, Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001, pages 274-275.

TJB: Slow-cooked, pulled off the bone, with stress on strong “o” and “k” sounds—the sound of smoke—the poem remembers childhood play & smoked meat.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

"A Communication Which the Author Had to London, Before She Made Her Will" by Isabella Whitney

A Communication Which the Author Had to London, 
Before She Made Her Will

The time is come, I must depart
    from thee, ah famous city;
I never yet to rue my smart,
    did find that thou had’st pity.
Wherefore small cause there is, that I
    should grieve from thee to go;
But many women foolishly,
    like me, and other moe,
Do such a fixèd fancy set,
    on those which least deserve,
That long it is ere wit we get
    away from them to swerve.
But time with pity oft will tell
    to those that will her try,
Whether it best be more to mell,
    or utterly defy.
And now hath time me put in mind
    of thy great cruelness,
That never once a help would find,
    to ease me in distress.
Thou never yet would’st credit give
    to board me for a year;
Nor with apparel me relieve,
    except thou payèd were.
No, no, thou never did’st me good,
    nor ever wilt, I know.
Yet am I in no angry mood,
    but will, or ere I go,
In perfect love and charity,
    my testament here write,
And leave to thee such treasury,
    as I in it recite.
Now stand aside and give me leave
    to write my latest will;
And see that none you do deceive
    of that I leave them till.

Source of the text – The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Fifth edition, edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005, pages 146-147.

TJB: Greedy unreal city. This address to London, styled as a breakup poem to a toxic lover, wrenches its word-order to achieve a sing-song rhythm.

Monday, November 13, 2023

"An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish" by Marianne Moore


Here we have thirst
and patience, from the first,
    and art, as in a wave held up for us to see
    in its essential perpendicularity;

not brittle but
intense—the spectrum, that
    spectacular and nimble animal the fish,
    whose scales turn aside the sun's sword by their polish.

Source of the text - Marianne Moore, The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore.  London: Faber and Faber, 1956, page 83.

TJB: Model bottle. Describing an ancient object with crisp rhyme, we move from scientific to mythological.  But really, why “thirst”? Or “patience”?

"Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

       Go home and write
       a page tonight.
       And let that page come out of you—
       Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Source of the text - Langston Hughes, A Collection of Poems, edited by James C. Hall.  Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998, pages 28-29.

TJB: Poem about prose. With calm syntax, & about a breath per line, & strong rhymes, this poem describes an essay assignment and then the essay itself.

Friday, November 10, 2023

"Sonnet 73" by William Shakespeare

Source of the text - Shakespeare's Sonnets, Being a Reproduction in Facsimile of the First Edition, 1609, from the copy in the Malone Collection in the Bodleian Library. Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1905.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang;
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all in rest;
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by;
    This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Source of the text - Shakespeare's Sonnets, edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones.  London: The Arden Shakespeare, 1997, page 257.

TJB: Sleep is the cousin of death. Describing trees, ruins, sunsets, & sleep, he’s like, you see old age & coming death in me; & you just love me more.

"Teodoro Luna Confesses After Years..." by Alberto Ríos

Teodoro Luna Confesses After Years to His 
Brother, Anselmo the Priest, Who Is Required 
to Understand, But Who Understands Anyway, 
More Than People Think

I am a slave to the nudity of women.
I do not know with what resolve

I could stand against it, a naked woman
Asking of me anything.

An unclothed woman is sometimes other things.
I see her in a dish of green pears.

Anselmo, do you know what I mean if I say
Without clothes

Her breasts are the two lions
In front of the New York Public Library,

Do you know that postcard of mine?
In those lions there is something

For which I have in exchange
Only sounds. Only my fingers.

I see her everywhere. She is the lions
And the pears, those letters of the alphabet

As children we called dirty, the W,
The Y, the small o.

She is absolutely the wet clothing on the line.
Or, you know, to be more intimate,

May I? The nub, the nose of the pear,
Do you know what I mean? Those parts of the woman

I will call two Spanish dancer hats,
Or rounder sometimes, doughboy helmets from the War.

Sometimes they are flat in the late afternoon
Asleep. Like drawings,

Like a single rock thrown into the lake,
These parts of a woman an imperfect circling

Gyre of lines moving out, beyond the water.
They reach me at the shore, Anselmo.

Without fail, they are stronger,
And they have always been faster than I am.

It’s like watching the lassoing man,
The man with the perfectly circling rope,

Pedro Armendariz in the Mexican movies,
Or Will Rogers. Wherever one is from,

Whoever this man is.
And he is always there. Everybody knows one.

He always makes his big lasso, twirling his rope
Around himself and a woman from the audience

Only I am the woman, do you understand, Anselmo?
Caught in the circling rope. I am the woman

And me thinking of a woman
Without clothes

Is that man and that rope
And we are riding on separate horses.

Source of the text - Alberto Ríos, Teodoro Luna's Two Kisses: Poems.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990, pages 65-67.

TJB: In this dramatic monologue, the speaker starts to confess to loving naked women, but he’s actually confessing being caught in naked-women metaphors.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

"The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" by Tracy K. Smith


The first track still almost swings. High hat and snare, even
A few bars of sax the stratosphere will singe-out soon enough.

Synthesized strings. Then something like cellophane
Breaking in as if snagged to a shoe. Crinkle and drag. White noise,

Black noise. What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings
In molasses. So much for us. So much for the flags we bored

Into planets dry as chalk, for the tin cans we filled with fire
And rode like cowboys into all we tried to tame. Listen:

The dark we've only ever imagined now audible, thrumming,
Marbled with static like gristly meat. A chorus of engines churns.

Silence taunts: a dare. Everything that disappears
Disappears as if returning somewhere.

Source of the text – Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars: Poems. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2011, page 24.

TJB: Sibilant, sly-rhyming, punning on string theory & dark matter, the universe is figured as an unknowable concept album & us as not yet worthy of it.

"Privacy" by Carla Harryman


       The insects hung in the air, frozen invisible pouches, contorted
parodies  of  medieval  fate.  How  right for such an afternoon!  Do
not  pull  down  those  varicose  blinds.  Motion  and  noise are one
thing.  The  red dragonfly behind the dangling rope is alone forever
but  the  grey  has a hundred mates.  Brushing aside the air with the
power  of  propagation they yield,  like boulders at a hydro-electric
plant  in  Siberia,  to  the  touch  obscurity  bestows  on  them  via a
cook  displaying  a  mound  of  fried  food  for  two  thousand  fund
raisers, whose charitable ideas drool,  green-eyed, onto the turnstile
of  insect  life  so  often  compared  to  the web of human saturation
points  in  an  adept squirming of an old,  an approximately plowed
field.  A  dog’s  obedience  can’t  be  more  touching.  Everything is
allowed  to  pile  up.  And  why  not?  Why is the shade thick?  The
house  is  lumpy  with  numbness,  protruding  from below.  And so
the quiet day is heavy from a body in a sink.
       Expression  concludes  existence.  Though  though and though.
A  thousand  red  spiders  living in brick and that’s what refusing to
talk  is  like.  Below  is below and in is in and this is in.  People are
surprised.  They  wake  up  to  find  the room, a tiny machine.  This
is  not  the  time  for subjectivity.  But it survives.  Because space is
small.  For example,  love  me  but  don’t talk to me.  A size crosses
the  street.  The  street asks,  what’s going on?  Some facts are to be
gotten around while others remain external to their shapes.
       People  in  the  kitchen  picking  at  bones  don’t  want  to  pay
attention  to  the  heavy  air.  We  let  them go on  they’re not hurt-
ing  anybody.  This  special  mode  of  address  is  used to captivate
inanimate objects,  in our sanctuary.  We look at our things because
they have our respect.

Source of the text - In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman. Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation, 1986, p. 162.

TJB: To what extent do these crisply-written sentences relate to each other, or to privacy? They do “hang in the air” & “captivate inanimate objects.”

"Written on the wall at Chang's Hermitage" by Tu Fu


It is Spring in the mountains.
I come alone seeking you.
The sound of chopping wood echos
Between the silent peaks.
The streams are still icy.
There is snow on the trail.
At sunset I reach your grove
In the stony mountain pass.
You want nothing, although at night
You can see the aura of gold
And silver ore all around you.
You have learned to be gentle
As the mountain deer you have tamed.
The way back forgotten, hidden
Away, I become like you,
An empty boat, floating, adrift.

Source of the text - Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.  New York: New Directions Books, 1971, page 4.  

TJB: Unneedy graffiti. Drenched in seasonal awareness and location, this lyric dramatizes the approach to Chang and the poet’s discovery of inner peace.

"The Properties of a Good Greyhound" by Dame Juliana Berners

[1881 Facsimile of the original manuscript]


[Poem as published in The Rattle Bag]

The Properties of a Good Greyhound

A greyhound should be headed like a Snake,
And necked like a Drake,
Footed like a Cat,
Tailed liked a Rat,
Sidèd like a Team,
Chined like a Beam.

The first year he must learn to feed,
The second year to field him lead,
The third year he is fellow-like,
The fourth year there is none sike,
The fifth year he is good enough,
The sixth year he shall hold the plough,
The seventh year he will avail
Great bitches for to assail,
The eighth year lick ladle,
The ninth year cart saddle,
And when he is comen to that year
Have him to the tanner,
For the best hound that ever bitch had
At nine year he is full bad.

Sources of the text - (1) The Boke of Saint Albans by Dame Juliana Berners, with an introduction by William Blades.  London: Elliot Stock, 1881.  (2) The Rattle Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.  London: Faber and Faber, 1982, pages 352-353.

TJB: Dog georgics; greyhounding for dummies. With a first stanza sleek as a greyhound, the poet uses rhyming couplets to create easy-to-remember advice.

"I'm Nobody! Who are you?" by Emily Dickinson

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you - Nobody - too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Dont tell! they'd advertise - you know!

How dreary - to be - Somebody!
How public - like a Frog -
To tell one's name - the livelong June -
To an admiring Bog!

Source of the text - The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998, pages 116-117.

TJB: Anyone out there? In a pair of ballad stanzas, in search of a reader, the poet summons cuteness & bleakness (& exclamation points!) to her service.

"The Tyger" by William Blake

[Image of poem as illustrated and published by the author]

[Poem as published by Faber]

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes!
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Sources of the text - (1) Facsimile of the original outlines before colouring of The Songs of Innocence and Experience executed by William Blake, with an introduction by Edwin J. Ellis.  London: Bernard Quaritch, 1893, page 42.  (2) William Blake, Poems selected by James Fenton.  London: Faber and Faber, 2010, page 59.

TJB: Grrreat! Built out of alliterated musical rhetorical questions, the lyric posits a primordial creator-figure: part god, part blacksmith, part poet.

"I Saw a Peacock," anonymous lyric


I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud with ivy circled round
I saw a sturdy oak creep on the ground
I saw a pismire swallow up a whale
I saw a raging sea brim full of ale
I saw a Venice glass sixteen foot deep
I saw a well full of men's tears that weep
I saw their eyes all in a flame of fire
I saw a house as big as the moon and higher
I saw the sun even in the midst of night
I saw the man that saw this wondrous sight.

Source of the text - The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Second Edition, Edited by Iona and Peter Opie.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, page 405.

TJB: In this litany riddle constructed of anaphora, couplets, & seeming paradox, each line’s second clause modifies the prior as well as the next line.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

"Mercian Hymn I" by Geoffrey Hill


King  of  the  perennial holly-groves,  the  riven  sand-
      stone:  overlord  of  the  M5:   architect of  the his-
      toric  rampart and ditch,  the citadel at  Tamworth, 
      the summer hermitage in Holy Cross: guardian of 
      the Welsh Bridge and  the Iron Bridge:  contractor 
      to  the  desirable new estates:  saltmaster:  money-
      changer:  commissioner  for oaths:  martyrologist: 
      the friend of Charlemagne.

‘I liked that,’ said Offa, ‘sing it again.’

Source of the text - Geoffrey Hill, Mercian Hymns.  London: Andrew Deutcsch, 1971.

TJB: Trochaic, sprung, this naming-poem for the medieval warrior/builder king combines timeless, historical, & new, creating mythical space for Offa.

"Green enravishment of human life" by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz also known as Juana de Asbaje

[Original Spanish text]

Verde embeleso de la vida humana,
loca esperanza, frenesí dorado,
sueño de los despiertos intrincado,
como de sueños, de tesoros vana;

alma del mundo, senectud lozana,
decrépito verdor imaginado,
el hoy de los dichosos esperado
y de los desdichados el mañana:

sigan tu sombra en busca de tu día
los que, con verdes vidrios por anteojos,
todo lo ven pintado a su deseo:

que yo, más cuerda en la fortuna mía,
tengo en entrambas manos ambos ojos
y solamente lo que toco veo.

[English translation by Samuel Beckett]

"Green enravishment of human life"...

Green enravishment of human life,
smiling frenzy of demented hope,
inextricable dream of them that wake
and, as a dream, of riches destitute.

Spirit of the world, robust old age,
imagination of decrepit vigour,
longing for the happy ones' to-day
and for the unhappy ones' to-morrow.

Let those who, with green glasses spectacled,
see all things sicklied o'er with their desire,
questing for thy light pursue thy shadow:

but I, more mindful of my destiny,
imprison my two eyes in my two hands
and see no other thing than it I touch.

Source of the text - An Anthology of Mexican Poetry, translated by Samuel Beckett, compiled by Octavio Paz, and preface by C. M. Bowra.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958, p. 87.

TJB: This sonnet, rhymed in the original, might be an artist’s statement renouncing the world of desire for a spiritual life; or a curse on desire.

"A Musical Instrument" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,
    Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat
    With the dragon-fly on the river.

He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
    From the deep cool bed of the river:
The limpid water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
And the dragon-fly had fled away,
    Ere he brought it out of the river.

High on the shore sate the great god Pan,
    While turbidly flowed the river;
And hacked and hewed as a great god can,
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed
    To prove it fresh from the river.

He cut it short, did the great god Pan,
    (How tall it stood in the river!)
Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
Steadily from the outside ring,
And notched the poor dry empty thing
    In holes, as he sate by the river.

‘This is the way,’ laughed the great god Pan,
    (Laughed while he sate by the river,)
‘The only way, since gods began
To make sweet music, they could succeed.’
Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
    He blew in power by the river.

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
    Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
    Came back to dream on the river.

Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
    To laugh as he sits by the river,
Making a poet out of a man:
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain,—
For the reed which grows nevermore again
    As a reed with the reeds in the river.

Source of the text - Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  London: Oxford University Press, 1920, page 570.

TJB: Cloying metamorphosis. With very-precious repetition & rhymes on “Pan,” the Pan-Syrinx myth is retold as the creation of a poet, amazing & terrible.

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