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.

Deep breaths…

It’s a simple playlist, only sixteen songs right now. My thinking music. My deep breathing, deep contemplating music. My centering music. It’s playing in the background right now. I invite you to join in my thoughtful reveries:

a pipe and thoughts

 

Every life is a universe. Every step opens new worlds, new realities and spheres of possibility and influence. Some days I feel off center but find that my life is merely finding a new center; it’s the way of things on the outside of normal.

  All the past we leave behind;
We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, Pioneers! O pioneers!

-Walt Whitman, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”

I cannot always believe the life I live. At times it is painfully ordinary; life must be that way to be effective. But when I float up and out, when I peer down upon my life like the watchful moon, there’s something unsettlingly magical.

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a little bit of love, E.E. Cummings and Damien Rice

The thing about poetry is that its power and brilliance lies in its weakness. There are only a handful of universal themes, but poetry takes that vague generality and fractures its meaning and its telling (its story) into a thousand-million little tributaries which break off from the complete thing and then eventually find themselves coming back to their source or running dry awhile away.

What can be more general than love?

Famed avante-garde American poet E.E. Cummings explores the tension of love in his poem “[love is more thicker than forget].” Love is paradoxical in nature, just beyond defining but never going away. “love is more thicker than forget,” says his opening line, forcing the attention and the absurdity while defying normal English conventions. It is “mad and moonly,” “sane and sunly.” But importantly, “it cannot die.”

Famed Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice has appealed to select audiences throughout the years, namely my college roommate Jimmy. Because of Jimmy I was introduced to Damien Rice though I have still listened to very little of his work. His largely mellow tunes also (surprise, surprise) explore themes of love and relationships. On his most recent album My Favourite Faded Fantasy (2014), the narrator of “Colour Me In” states his desire to “repress it [love]” and that “love let me down.” But guess what? He couldn’t escape it. To live without love is a foolish, unwinnable game. It’s what colors us in.

So read this poem, and then watch Rice’s performance. What are the connections you make? [p.s. it’s a good practice, connecting art forms and messages across mediums, genres, and times]

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

Poetry: Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”

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First of all, can we just acknowledge how cool Walt Whitman looks? I mean, like the original mountaineer hipster guy. Okay good, glad you agree.

I first came across Whitman in college quite by accident. I honestly can’t remember how I found his poem “Song of the Open Road,” but it was while compiling a POI (program of oral interpretation) for my forensics team in college (think debate/speech, not CSI). It’s sad, really, that I “accidentally” stumbled upon one of America’s most famous poets. But this truth perhaps highlights how far I’ve come literarily-speaking since that time.

Whitman (1819-1892), a humanist journalist, essayist, and poet, was not always loved for his poetry. His free verse was very unconventional, and his overt liberality of human sexuality was ill-approved. Nevertheless, his legacy is one of the trademarks of American literature. His works praise humanity (i.e. “Song of Myself”) and are quintessentially American in their wild, rugged freedom. And if you aren’t very familiar with Whitman’s poetry, you may have at least come across his famous “O Captain! My Captain!” which was written about the death of Abraham Lincoln and more recently immortalized in Dead Poets Society (starring Robin Williams).

So, without further ado for all my freedom-loving, adventure-seeking, open-roadies (yes, I subtly wanted to pretend I have “roadies”), literature is something that should become a friend on your journeys if it is not already. Nothing goes better with travel than deep thoughts (think Chris McCandless in Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild”). Thus, Whitman’s “Open Road” is almost like a companion guide to the adventurer. I’ll share a few lines from the rather long poem, but you should read it all for yourself. Happy adventuring!

[a few pictures from my trip to Scotland a couple years ago]

 

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.
O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not—if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?
O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.
I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.
Forever alive, forever forward,
Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble, dissatisfied,
Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men,
They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go,
But I know that they go toward the best—toward something great.
Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

 

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”

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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