Monthly Archives: October 2014

Oct. 27, 2014: THE DEFINITION OF LOVE (Andrew Marvell)

Dear readers,

it’s amazing what can learn about the history of verse, even from a 1-page bio in an anthology. This morning, having settled upon Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) for some contribution today, I thought, “Ha! I knew there was a reason I’ve been carting this Norton Anthology of British Lit., Vol. I around the country lo these past 20 years.” The entry for Marvell left behind the dry voice of the orderly anthologist, and the writer’s delight in Marvell’s accomplishments was evident. For one thing, I learned that Marvell did sort of a “5th year” at Cambridge, but left without taking an M.A. Then, he “dropped from the biographer’s view” for a time, although a later letter of recommendation from none other than John Milton reveals he traveled in continental Europe for about 4 years. He became tutor to the daughter of a wealthy noble, and again, the sketch biographer notes that he must have made a most diverting instructor, since in his poetry he typically drapes great learning with playful wit. Marvell was a royalist, if one satirical of its corruption, and later on saved his patron Milton (a Puritan) from a long imprisonment and possible death in the Tower of London. He never made his living as a writer, though, and in fact after working as functionary to a number of government posts, he ran himself for MP, and served out much of his adult life as the representative for Hull, his hometown. According to the Norton, his detailed letters to constituents comprise a valuable historical record, but betray none of the wit and mellifluence of his poetic creations–most of which went entirely unknown until 2-3 years after his death.

At his death, Marvell was known chiefly as an able legislator and the author of a small handful of well-received political satires.But then a woman holding herself out as his widow–put perhaps his housekeeper?–published the lyrics upon which his reputation is chiefly based. One of these is today’s poem. The Norton editor notes that his reputation has grown steadily since that time, and has perhaps never stood higher than it does in our own day. He is labeled by this brief sketch, “The most major of the minor writers,” or, as Farmer Ted would have said, “King of the dipshits.” The current stature may have something to do with a famous essay published by T.S. Eliot on the tercentenary of Marvell’s death, about the same time that Ulysses, The Waste Land, To the Lighthouse, and all those other famous books came out. Here is Andrew Marvell as lexicographer, defining love. It’s a complicated poem, resting on well-developed astronomical metaphors. -ed.

THE DEFINITION OF LOVE

My love is of a birth as rare

As ’tis for object strange and high;

It was begotten by Despair

Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone

Could show me so divine a thing

Where feeble Hope could ne’er have flown,

But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive

Where my extended soul is fixt,

But Fate does iron wedges drive,

And always crowds itself betwixt.

For Fate with jealous eye does see

Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;

Their union would her ruin be,

And her tyrannic pow’r depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel

Us as the distant poles have plac’d,

(Though love’s whole world on us doth wheel)

Not by themselves to be embrac’d;

Unless the giddy heaven fall,

And earth some new convulsion tear;

And, us to join, the world should all

Be cramp’d into a planisphere.

As lines, so loves oblique may well

Themselves in every angle greet;

But ours so truly parallel,

Though infinite, can never meet.

Therefore the love which us doth bind,

But Fate so enviously debars,

Is the conjunction of the mind,

And opposition of the stars.

Oct. 20, 2014: A SONG (Laetitia Pilkington)

Dear readers,

I just stumbled upon a most fascinating biography, that of Laetitia Pilkington (1708-1750). It wasn’t really a biography, just a biographical sketch that was astonishingly rich and funny. She was born in Dublin to a surgeon father and aristocrat mother, married a priest of the Church of Ireland, became friends with Jonathan Swift, moved to London, and then… well, then things went all to heck, if you’ll pardon the swear. You have to read this essay:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/249064

In the essay, author Ruth Graham describes the poem below as a poem about “sexual rejection.” Look, OK, we all know I’m naive, but I just don’t get that. Perhaps some of our more perverse readers can help me out?

Anyway, it’s three couplets of ABAB rhyme scheme, iambic, lines alternating 4 feet (tetrameter) and 3 feet (trimeter). And I dare say it’s perfect meter, not an extra half-foot or off-beat to be found (excepting perhaps “liberty” in line 8?). Enjoy! -ed.

A SONG

Strephon, your breach of faith and trust

Affords me no surprise;

A man who grateful was, or just,

Might make my wonder rise.

That heart to you so fondly tied,

With pleasure wore its chain,

But from your cold neglectful pride,

Found liberty again.

For this no wrath inflames my mind,

My thanks are due to thee;

Such thanks as gen’rous victors find,

Who set their captives free.

Oct. 14, 2014: MANFRED (Lord Byron)

Readers,

this weekend I heard the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred Symphony,” something I’d never heard before, and indeed, had never heard of. I would like to point out that the orchestra included 2 harpists, a gong and a tubular bell, 4 french horns, pipe organ, and 7 — seven! — double basses. It was rockin’.

The piece is relevant to us because it is a thematic composition based on George Gordon, Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) closet drama of the same name. A closet drama is a poetic piece that is written in dramatic form, with different characters, dialogue, etc., but no stage directions. It is intended for a dramatic stage reading, not full-fledged play production. A british literature professor I spoke to told me that’s a shame, because it is extremely mopey and boring. But, she went on to explain, the piece is important because it’s sort of the chief exemplar of the Byronic hero–the struggling, tortured soul wandering in a wilderness that echoes his desolated mind, seeking wisdom or lost love or whatever his fate drives him toward. In Manfred’s case, lost love, forgetfulness, and, ultimately, death.

Manfred’s dialogue is in blank verse, which any high school junior will tell you is unrhymed iambic pentameter, and Shakespeare’s medium. He summons some spirits, eventually seven of them, and they speak to him in various arrangements of rhymed lines. Overall, this poem suits our goal of running several rhymed, “poem-looking” poems, although I’m only going to reprint the first snippet of Manfred’s invocation, in Act I, Scene I. The scene: he’s camped in a desolate cave, high in the Swiss Alps… -ed.

fromMANFRED

THE LAMP must be replenish’d, but even then
It will not burn so long as I must watch.
My slumbers—if I slumber—are not sleep,
But a continuance of enduring thought, 5
Which then I can resist not: in my heart
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within; and yet I live, and bear
The aspect and the form of breathing men.
But grief should be the instructor of the wise; 10
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.
Philosophy and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world, 15
I have essay’d, and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself—
But they avail not: I have done men good,
And I have met with good even among men—
But this avail’d not: I have had my foes, 20
And none have baffled, many fallen before me—
But this avail’d not:—Good, or evil, life,
Powers, passions, all I see in other beings,
Have been to me as rain unto the sands,
Since that all—nameless hour. I have no dread, 25
And feel the curse to have no natural fear,
Nor fluttering throb, that beats with hopes or wishes,
Or lurking love of something on the earth.
Now to my task.—
Mysterious Agency! 30
Ye spirits of the unbounded Universe,
Whom I have sought in darkness and in light!
Ye, who do compass earth about, and dwell
In subtler essence! ye, to whom the tops
Of mountains inaccessible are haunts, 35
And earth’s and ocean’s caves familiar things—
I call upon ye by the written charm
Which gives me power upon you—Rise! appear!

Oct. 13, 2014: from MANFRED

Readers,

this weekend I heard the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred Symphony,” something I’d never heard before, and indeed, had never heardof. I would like to point out that the orchestra included 2 harpists, a gong and a tubular bell, 4 french horns, pipe organ, and 7 — seven! — double basses. It was rockin’.
The piece is relevant to us because it is a thematic composition based on George Gordon, Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) closet drama of the same name. A closet drama is a poetic piece that is written in dramatic form, with different characters, dialogue, etc., but no stage directions. It is intended for a dramatic stage reading, not full-fledged play production. A british literature professor I spoke to told me that’s a shame, because it is extremely mopey and boring. But, she went on to explain, the piece is important because it’s sort of the chief exemplar of the Byronic hero–the struggling, tortured soul wandering in a wilderness that echoes his desolated mind, seeking wisdom or lost love or whatever his fate drives him toward. In Manfred’s case, lost love, forgetfulness, and, ultimately, death.
Manfred’s dialogue is in blank verse, which any high school junior will tell you is unrhymed iambic pentameter, and Shakespeare’s medium. He summons some spirits, eventually seven of them, and they speak to him in various arrangements of rhymed lines. Overall, this poem suits our goal of running several rhymed, “poem-looking” poems, although I’m only going to reprint the first snippet of Manfred’s invocation, in Act I, Scene I. The scene: he’s camped in a desolate cave, high in the Swiss Alps… -ed.
from MANFRED
THE LAMP must be replenish’d, but even then
It will not burn so long as I must watch.
My slumbers—if I slumber—are not sleep,
But a continuance of enduring thought,         5
Which then I can resist not: in my heart
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within; and yet I live, and bear
The aspect and the form of breathing men.
But grief should be the instructor of the wise;         10
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.
Philosophy and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world,         15
I have essay’d, and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself—
But they avail not: I have done men good,
And I have met with good even among men—
But this avail’d not: I have had my foes,         20
And none have baffled, many fallen before me—
But this avail’d not:—Good, or evil, life,
Powers, passions, all I see in other beings,
Have been to me as rain unto the sands,
Since that all—nameless hour. I have no dread,         25
And feel the curse to have no natural fear,
Nor fluttering throb, that beats with hopes or wishes,
Or lurking love of something on the earth.
Now to my task.—
                Mysterious Agency!         30
Ye spirits of the unbounded Universe,
Whom I have sought in darkness and in light!
Ye, who do compass earth about, and dwell
In subtler essence! ye, to whom the tops
Of mountains inaccessible are haunts,         35
And earth’s and ocean’s caves familiar things—
I call upon ye by the written charm
Which gives me power upon you—Rise! appear!

October 6, 2014: ROADS

Dear readers,

apologies again for the 24-hour delay.
For today’s reading, in our attempt to temporarily tear ourselves from the tyranny of free verse, a “bridge” poet. I did a hasty search and it seems like somehow Edward Thomas (1878-1917)  has evaded our review thus far. Today’s poem was described on the Poetry Foundation’s website as a “nature poem,” but that only makes sense to me if we include human nature in “nature.”
I’m calling Thomas a bridge poet because he lies somewhere between the Georgian movement of the early 20th century, and the moderns. He packed his poems with the first person and an intense vision, like some of the moderns, yet he also leaned on nature poetry and archaic diction, like “the ancients.” I think one can see that in today’s poem, with its measured diction, regular rhythm, and a classical ABBA rhyme scheme. On the other hand, the end rhymes in that first stanza are so slanted that it struck me as a very contemporary attack, more along the lines of a Jayhawks song than a WWI poem.
And it is clearly a WWI poem, as you see in the concluding stanzas. Thomas would publish only one book of poems during his lifetime, under a pseudonym; a second book, some fragments, and collected poems were issued posthumously. He was killed in the Battle of Arras, two years after enlisting. His reputation as a master has grown, particularly in the 21st century. What is it about this piece (or his other works) that is so appealing to us? -ed.
ROADS
I love roads:
The goddesses that dwell
Far along invisible
Are my favorite gods.
Roads go on
While we forget, and are
Forgotten like a star
That shoots and is gone.
On this earth ’tis sure
We men have not made             
Anything that doth fade
So soon, so long endure:
The hill road wet with rain
In the sun would not gleam
Like a winding stream
If we trod it not again.
They are lonely
While we sleep, lonelier
For lack of the traveller
Who is now a dream only. 
                
From dawn’s twilight
And all the clouds like sheep
On the mountains of sleep
They wind into the night.
The next turn may reveal
Heaven: upon the crest
The close pine clump, at rest
And black, may Hell conceal.
Often footsore, never
Yet of the road I weary,                  
Though long and steep and dreary,
As it winds on for ever.
Helen of the roads,
The mountain ways of Wales
And the Mabinogion tales,
Is one of the true gods,
Abiding in the trees,
The threes and fours so wise,
The larger companies,
That by the roadside be,
And beneath the rafter
Else uninhabited
Excepting by the dead;
And it is her laughter
At morn and night I hear
When the thrush cock sings
Bright irrelevant things,
And when the chanticleer
Calls back to their own night
Troops that make loneliness
With their light footsteps’ press,
As Helen’s own are light.
Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:
Whatever the road bring
To me or take from me,
They keep me company
With their pattering,
Crowding the solitude
Of the loops over the downs,
Hushing the roar of towns
and their brief multitude.

Oct. 6, 2014: ROADS (Edward Thomas)

Dear readers,

apologies again for the 24-hour delay.

For today’s reading, in our attempt to temporarily tear ourselves from the tyranny of free verse, a “bridge” poet. I did a hasty search and it seems like somehow Edward Thomas (1878-1917) has evaded our review thus far. Today’s poem was described on the Poetry Foundation’s website as a “nature poem,” but that only makes sense to me if we include human nature in “nature.”

I’m calling Thomas a bridge poet because he lies somewhere between the Georgian movement of the early 20th century, and the moderns. He packed his poems with the first person and an intense vision, like some of the moderns, yet he also leaned on nature poetry and archaic diction, like “the ancients.” I think one can see that in today’s poem, with its measured diction, regular rhythm, and a classical ABBA rhyme scheme. On the other hand, the end rhymes in that first stanza areso slanted that it struck me as a very contemporary attack, more along the lines of a Jayhawks song than a WWI poem.

And it is clearly a WWI poem, as you see in the concluding stanzas. Thomas would publish only one book of poems during his lifetime, under a pseudonym; a second book, some fragments, and collected poems were issued posthumously. He was killed in the Battle of Arras, two years after enlisting. His reputation as a master has grown, particularly in the 21st century. What is it about this piece (or his other works) that is so appealing to us? -ed.

ROADS

I love roads:

The goddesses that dwell

Far along invisible

Are my favorite gods.

Roads go on

While we forget, and are

Forgotten like a star

That shoots and is gone.

On this earth ’tis sure

We men have not made

Anything that doth fade

So soon, so long endure:

The hill road wet with rain

In the sun would not gleam

Like a winding stream

If we trod it not again.

They are lonely

While we sleep, lonelier

For lack of the traveller

Who is now a dream only.

From dawn’s twilight

And all the clouds like sheep

On the mountains of sleep

They wind into the night.

The next turn may reveal

Heaven: upon the crest

The close pine clump, at rest

And black, may Hell conceal.

Often footsore, never

Yet of the road I weary,

Though long and steep and dreary,

As it winds on for ever.

Helen of the roads,

The mountain ways of Wales

And the Mabinogion tales,

Is one of the true gods,

Abiding in the trees,

The threes and fours so wise,

The larger companies,

That by the roadside be,

And beneath the rafter

Else uninhabited

Excepting by the dead;

And it is her laughter

At morn and night I hear

When the thrush cock sings

Bright irrelevant things,

And when the chanticleer

Calls back to their own night

Troops that make loneliness

With their light footsteps’ press,

As Helen’s own are light.

Now all roads lead to France

And heavy is the tread

Of the living; but the dead

Returning lightly dance:

Whatever the road bring

To me or take from me,

They keep me company

With their pattering,

Crowding the solitude

Of the loops over the downs,

Hushing the roar of towns

and their brief multitude.