Monthly Archives: March 2016

Monday’s Verse, 3/28/2106

Hmm, if only there were a poem appropriate for the Monday after Easter, 2016. Ohhh… RIGHT. William Butler Yeats’s "Easter, 1916," written in commemoration of the Easter Monday uprising of that year, when a small band of dedicated nationalist revolutionaries raised arms against their British rulers, and were quickly defeated–and the leaders almost as quickly executed. Yeats finished the poem in September of that year and had it published in a private edition of 25 copies. It was not until 1920 that it appeared in journals, and 1921 that it appeared in a book, Michael Robartes and the Dancers.

"Of the quarrels with others we make rhetoric;" Yeats said, "of the quarrels with ourselves, poetry." Here’s an instance of Yeats puzzling out one or two of those quarrels, asking unanswerable questions, and engaging with literary modernism and early 20th century extremist politics. The opening stanza of this poem, for example, is much more in the mold of Eliot or Pound than any of his prior dreamy, celtic verse had been. He didn’t drop his sense of rhyme or music, though, and for that reason I think the refrain is effective.

A brief review of today’s English-language journalism will bring you many commentaries on the continuing meaning of the Easter Rising, for those who want to know more. And those who learn more, should report back here! Have a good week, -ed.

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Monday’s Verse 3/21/2016

Dear readers,

you know, laugh all you want, but it’s not an easy thing to write a poem and let the world in on it. Whether it’s your 6th grade class, or a graduate seminar, or a funeral, or whether you’re a prize-winning poet with multitudes of readers, there is always a risk. Of embarrassment, of failure, of misunderstanding. Therefore, while Kobe Bryant isn’t getting a ton of credit in the box scores this season, I think he deserves loads of credit for announcing his retirement — on 11/29/15 — in the form of a poem.

And not just any form: it’s an apostrophe! Apostrophe, you may recall, is the literary device where the speaker addresses a dead, or inanimate, or absent thing/person. Very popular in Shakespeare; we all remember the famous examples from Macbeth. Also popular in romantic poetry, where the speaker addresses an ideal or an emblem of the physical world. "To Autumn" by Keats is one example. If you see a poem or play segment that begins with the invocation "O," it’s likely you’re reading an apostrophe.

Bryant does a lot of things well here. He’s got a strong first-person voice that is consistent with what basketball fans know of him — the single-mindedness, the obsessive love. There are motifs of nostalgia and tempus fugit–where has the time gone? There’s artful use of modern, twitter-age typography — the ampersands, ALL CAPS, numbers, and ellipses. There is sparing, effective use of alliteration and rhyme: My heart can take the pounding/ My mind can handle the grind. There’s slant rhyme, too (bad/have; go/now). Most of all, the poem’s direct language and concision work in its favor. Bryant does not reach for any 3-point words, and, although one imagines the poem could have been much, much longer, he really boils it down to essentials. Bryant will not win any Nobel prizes for either peace or poetry, but I’ll give him a tip of the cap for taking a risk with words. -ed.

DEAR BASKETBALL

From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
Game-winning shots
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:

I fell in love with you.

A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.

As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.

And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.

I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1

Love you always,
Kobe

11/29/2015