Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sept 23, 2013 Indian Summer

Readers,

the best response I got to last week’s poem and questions was astute antipodean Jennifer Ulichny’s opinion that of course, “Milton’s God” can’t be formal–it is about the Mass Pike, and that implies pure chaos. Very good point.
As for the Miltonian elements, well, the italicized lines were from Paradise Lost Book III, and if you’re betting that I am too lazy to look up what that means, exactly, right now, then a big payoff to you. Is it about Satan’s journey toward Earth to mess with Adam and Eve? Is it the battle scene? Can’t recall. I did enjoy the fact that Mr. Klug mixed reference to Milton’s best-known epic poem with reference to his best-known sonnet, the one that begins “When I consider how my light is spent,” and extols the constant virtue of those “who only stand and wait”–made hilarious by context.
It’s easy to feel, while standing and waiting on the Mass Pike, or I-465, or Riverside Drive, or while being awoken by your late-night neighbors, or while discovering the late charge not taken off your account, or while resigning ourselves to the fact that one more “urgent” thing is not getting done today, like time and the world are conspiring against us. In those moments maybe we can at least mouth the words of Richard Eberhart these late September days, and pretend like we have his patience and grace. This is a poem about creeping mortality, and way sunnier than such poems tend to be. Now is this poem free verse? I suppose so. But the repetition– The slant rhyme– The chiasmus– It’s also a formal analyst’s dream!
I come to find out that, though I’d never heard of him, Richard Eberhart (“rather be a rich Dr.”) was a really important mid-century poet and teacher, one of the first establishment voices to take beat poetry seriously, and a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner. He was also the U.S. poet laureate from 1959-61. He’s a man of whom it can be said that the best line in his wikipedia bio is “after serving as private tutor to the son of King Prjadhipok of Siam…” -ed.
INDIAN SUMMER
I saw my days as passionate integers,
They leaped upon the wind as leaves
Leaping upon the wind; not Spring leaves
Fixed; I see them all as Autumn leaves.
It is the season of my mellowest appetite,
And germane to my soul; cruel times forgot,
Unvexing, the joyful. Plain days unspecified.
The clear enchantment of dry exhalations!
I would speak a word deep and pure,
Pure and deep, deep, deep and pure.
And these Autumnal days speak for me here–
Realization–else what is Autumn for?
I think the Indian Summer’s long regard
Flanks all the days with resonance–
That I shall never be more richly blessed
Than I am breathing in it now.
-1950

Sept 16, 2013 Milton’s God

Two questions about today’s poem:

1. Is this a formal poem?
2. Why/how is this about John Milton?
I cribbed this from the Poetry Foundation website; it appeared in a recent edition of Poetry magazine. The author, Nate Klug, is absurdly, obscenely young, and that’s about all I have to say about him. His press photo on the website is actually a sonogram, because that’s the most recent photo he had. -ed.

Milton’s God

Where i-95 meets the Pike,
a ponderous thunderhead flowered;


stewed a minute, then flipped
like a flash card, tattered
edges crinkling in, linings so dark
with excessive bright


that, standing, waiting, at the overpass edge,
the onlooker couldn’t decide


until the end, or even then,
what was revealed and what had been hidden.
 
-2013

Sept 9, 2013 Mid-Term Break

He was born 2 years and 6 days after my own father, in 1939, and when he died 10 days ago at the age of 74 Seamus Heaney left behind as indelible a mark as a writer could hope for. You don’t need me to tell you about Mr. Heaney’s contributions to verse in English (and some other languages); it’s almost enough to say that he was a poet, and he was famous, to recognize the size of his achievement. Anyway, the obituaries in the Guardian and the New York Times did a very admirable job of enlightening the man and the work and what they’ve meant to contemporary readers. I actually got a little emotional at the conclusion of the Times obit, reflecting for a second on the hours of hard work it takes to be a great communicator, and, for someone of Heaney’s tone, the generosity of spirit. “Big-hearted” was the word Paul Muldoon used at the funeral last week. Muldoon spoke of Mr. Heaney’s ability to connect readers not just to himself, but to each other.

On the same day as his funeral I was at the funeral of a close friend’s father. The eulogies–or words of remembrance, to be more precise–were wonderful, and funny, and vividly painted some lasting words and feelings. To remember Heaney today I’m running a eulogy of sorts that he himself wrote, a remembrance of the death of his little brother while the older Seamus was away at high school. I’m not sure how old this poem is, but I think it’s from one of his early collections. It’s got the Heaney hallmarks of plainspoken diction, rounded lyricism, and penetrating emotion. Gifts that we of his era are lucky to share. -ed.

MID-TERM BREAK

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.