Poetry Wednesday: Shel Silverstein

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Nearly everyone has been exposed to some of the fun, whimsical poetry of Shel Silverstein: The Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, and The Giving Tree are some of his most notable works. His writing–targeted primarily at children–shows itself to be both entertaining and often quite surprisingly deep. Today I wanted to share his poem “Invitation.” CHEERS! to fellow dreamers and creators. May your tales always find a welcome heart.

If you are a dreamer, come in
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by the fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

Poetry Wednesday: “To the Rose upon the Rood of Time”

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C.S. Lewis (the author who first cultivated my love of literature with his Narnia chronicles) once said about the Irish poet, essayist, and playwright William Butler (W.B.) Yeats, “I am often surprised to find how utterly ignored Yeats is among the men I have met: perhaps his appeal is purely Irish–if so, then thank the gods that I am Irish.” Yeats remained staunchly Irish at a time when Irish heritage was often overshadowed by their more imperialistic Anglo neighbors to the east. His poetry featured Irish legends and heroes and an overall connection to his own roots. Despite his mystical and occult tendencies that at times drew criticism, there is no doubting the magnificence of his supernatural imagination. To read more about the life of W.B. Yeats, you can check out his biography at the Poetry Foundation here.

In his poem “To the Rose upon the Rood of Time,” Yeats balances the immortal (the rood or crucifix of time) with the mortal. According to Suheil B. Bushrui’s and Tim Prentki’s An International Companion to the Poetry of W.B. Yeats, “The strength of the poem is derived from the tension revealed by its title between immortality and mortality. The Rose is identified as ‘Eternal Beauty’ but it can only be perceived in such things as an actual rose which must die. Thus while the poet wishes to experience the influence of the Rose, he does not wish to be overwhelmed totally by its power and so lose contact with this world” (83). The poem highlights the timelessness of epic, historical deeds of Irish ancestry as well as the common, mundane realities of a “weak worm hiding” and a “field-mouse running.”

I personally appreciate and am moved by the delicate balance of mortality and immortality, or, if you will, finding the immortal in the mortal. Thus, I hope you appreciate Yeats’ masterful poem.

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:
Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;
The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,
Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;
And thine own sadness, whereof stars, grown old
In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,
Sing in their high and lonely melody.
Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,
I find under the boughs of love and hate,
In all poor foolish things that live a day,
Eternal beauty wandering on her way.

Come near, come near, come near—Ah, leave me still
A little space for the rose-breath to fill!
Lest I no more hear common things that crave;
The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,
The field-mouse running by me in the grass,
And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;
But seek alone to hear the strange things said
By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,
And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.
Come near; I would, before my time to go,
Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:
Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.

Poetry Wednesday: “The Story-Teller”

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Mark Van Doren (writing.upenn.edu)

Mark Van Doren was a poet, critic, and professor born in Hope, Illinois (a couple hour drive from where I grew up). Educated at the University of Illinois and later Columbia University (where he would later become professor), he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1940. Highly influential, I first came across Van Doren’s name while reading the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (still one of the most moving works I’ve ever read).  As I post poetry on Wednesdays I am often learning about the poets alongside my blog readers. I can say, Mark Van Doren is a guy I’d like to know more about. Nevertheless, this poem struck when I came across it a few days ago, and I feel that it helps capture the essence of the creative story-teller, a vocation which knows that all is alive and life is a grand story to share. I hope it stirs your imagination as it has mine. When someone tells a good story, a “worm” is wakened “in the world’s brain” and nothing stands firms again. What great story has done this to you?

He talked, and as he talked
Wallpaper came alive;
Suddenly ghosts walked;
And four doors were five;

Calendars ran backward,
And maps had mouths;
Ships went tackward
In a great drowse;

Trains climbed trees,
And soon dripped down
Like honey of bees
On the cold brick town.

He had wakened a worm
In the world’s brain,
And nothing stood firm
Until day again.

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Poetry Wednesday: “She Walks in Beauty”

She walks in beauty like the night  - Lord Byron  in a Starfield  Lose Yourself in These Images of Pretty Celestial Happenings - The Cut:
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Though his love life was notorious, even infamous, Lord Byron’s ability to speak of the aesthetics of love is nothing less than profound. Thus, this week’s poem is a good ol’ fashioned love poem.George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron by Richard Westall (2).jpg

Lord Byron (1788-1824) was an English poet and a leading writer in the Romantic movement. Though in life he may have seemed to be a young, amorous, spoiled aristocrat, his handling of language particularly in the form of poetry will forever cement him as one of the best writers in English. In a Telegraph article, “The 1o best love poems,” Felicity Capon states that “She Walks in Beauty” is “[a]rguably the most romantic poem in English literature.”  Try not to think too intently on the context of the poem’s writing though–it is said that Byron wrote it after seeing his cousin outside of a ball. Yikes! However, without further ado and for which ever lovely lady is in your life, let Lord Byron’s words transfix and transform you.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

 

Poetry Wednesday: “God’s Grandeur”

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Acadia National Park (I took this picture June 2016)

Sometimes “religious” poem smacks of over-sentimentality. In that case, this isn’t a religious poem. Gerald Manley Hopkins is a master with words, a Victorian poet who reminds us of the “bright wings” of the world. And check out the reading by Stanley Kunitz, another poet.

[Note: For some reason I was having difficulty with the indentations. There should be indentations on lines 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 12, and 14. Check it out here.]

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Poetry Wednesday: “The Rose that Grew from Concrete” and “In the Event of My Demise”

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I claim to know very little about Tupac Shakur, but, in addition to being a legendary rapper, he was an artist and a poet. Despite a hard life, young Tupac was enrolled in various programs where he studied acting, poetry, jazz, and even ballet. He used his words to raise awareness of the harsh realities of minorities and to decry social injustice (systematic racism). His murder in 1996 remains a tragic mystery, but his legacy is perhaps even stronger in death. After the recent shooting of unarmed Terence Crutcher by a Tulsa police officer, Tupac’s influence is especially relevant. Below are two of his poems followed by a hauntingly moving song by the Outlawz commemorating his poetry and legacy.

The Rose that Grew from Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

In the Event of My Demise

In the event of my Demise
when my heart can beat no more
I Hope I Die For A Principle
or A Belief that I had Lived 4
I will die Before My Time
Because I feel the shadow’s Depth
so much I wanted 2 accomplish
before I reached my Death

I have come 2 grips with the possibility
and wiped the last tear from My eyes
I Loved All who were Positive
In the event of my Demise

Poetry Wednesday: “Death, be not proud”

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John Donne, a 17th century English poet, wrote “Death, be not proud,” a sonnet, in 1609. This particular poem was published posthumously along with a group of other poems in a collection known as his Holy Sonnets. These sonnets explore deep religious themes and are thought to have been written in a period of personal trial in Donne’s own life.

Another piece of life added to Donne’s poem is the composition of nine holy sonnets by composer Benjamin Britten in 1945. Though the poems are melancholy, there is a note of redemption, especially poignant in “Death, be not proud.” It is said that Britten was inspired to compose his work after witnessing the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. Both the poem and the musical composition are posted here.

Personally, when I first came across Donne’s poem I was deeply moved by its words and message. Though perhaps a bit gloomy, I have often been drawn to the imaginative personification of Death, the creative macabre (Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman perhaps). Death has been at times depicted as the great devil himself, Satan. At times Death is merely an angel or supernatural entity doing his duty (think of Zusak’s narrator in The Book Thief). At times he is kind and empathetic of life’s tragedies, and at times he is the instigator. For some reason, when I think of Death personified, I hear the last track of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida running through my mind: “No, I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end; / I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge; I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.” But Donne’s words are clear and are our hope: “Death, thou shalt die.”

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

#HappyWednesday

Poetry Wednesday: “Do not go gentle into that good night”

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Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet who died in 1953 at the age of 39, wrote (among other significant works) “Do not go gentle into that good night.” It is one of my favorite poems and feels truly inspired especially when one considers the strict form it is written in: the Villanelle. Please read and listen to this hauntingly riveting poem.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Additionally, I believe that adaptations are art in their own right, and we need to treat them separately, allowing them to communicate their own life. Thus, here are a few verses recited by Michael Caine’s character in the hit movie Interstellar.

Do you prefer one over the other?

Personally, though I like what Caine was doing in interstellar, I still prefer the original voice of Thomas himself.

#HappyWednesday

Poetry Wednesday: “The Peace of Wild Things”

[Here is my first post entitled “Poetry Wednesday.” This is a pretty new blog to begin with, but this particular idea is fresh-outta-the-oven-new. I like the medium of poetry. I once heard someone describe dance as a pure art since dancers rarely get famous and the peak of a dancer’s life is so short (they’re bodies literally cannot handle the grind forever). So you know there’s something embedded in the soul that wills them to make art regardless of notoriety or even longevity. Similarly, I think of poetry as the purest form of writing because poets are so dedicated to their craft. They can’t NOT write poetry. You know this because poets, unlike serial novelists (potentially), can have no grand illusions of wealth/fame. It’s not that kind of field. But it’s important. I thought Wednesdays would be good since poetry has the power to lift us out of our stations and our weeks momentarily, to connect us with the heavens or to remind us of the hells… or all the in-betweens. That’s it for now.]

 

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I was first introduced to Wendell Berry by a friend. I haven’t ever sat down and simply read through his collection. I’ve probably read about thirty of his poems, though. I pick them up when I need something. I often find the peace of his writing, the nature-ness of it, is a balm and a quite spot. I want to share a diversity of poetry, but this is one of my favorite poems, a classic, and I knew it would fit rather well as the first on this blog.

A band whose music I enjoy titled an album after this very poem, listing Berry as an influence. They are called Paper Route, and I’ve added a song from that album which I think captures some of the essence of Berry’s writing.

#HappyWednesday #HappyHumpDay