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"Serious Poetry" Part Two

Time to revive this thread, but I decided to make it a separate thread since our quoted poems made the other thread rather long.

So here is a more modern poem that moves me.

My Papa's Waltz by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

I remember the first time I read it, I was surprised that a poem could be about an alcoholic father, but of course it is really about how difficult it is to love a father who drinks too much--but love him the boy does--despite the pain in the relationship ("you beat time on my head" but you did "waltz me off to bed"). Sometimes it is very hard to love difficult family members--but you can't stop caring anyway.

For those of you who like playing with rhyme and rhythm, notice how they both "stumble" a bit in places--like drunken papa does. Brilliant technique on Roethke's part.

If that is too much of a downer, here is an amusing short Emily Dickinson poem (I told you she was my favorite!):

Faith" is a fine invention by Emily Dickinson

"Faith" is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see--
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

What a pragmatic poet, armed with her microscope! LOL

OK--I want to hear some more of your favorite poems/poets also.


Comments (26)

  • friedag
    9 years ago

    Kate, the Roethke verses convey more in sixteen short lines than the usual prose would on the same subject. I love the economy. Sometimes I don't like to think about a poet's 'technique', but I'm glad you called attention to the wobbliness of the rhythm and the imperfect rhyme (dizzy/easy...pans/countenance). Yep, it's brilliant, inspired, or something... I know intellectually that poetry must be 'worked on, worked out' like other types of writing, but I have romantic notions that somehow it just leaps from the creator's brain fully formed. I harbor this notion, probably, because I've never had any talent (the mysterious 'something') for writing poetry myself.

    The most evocative lines for me are:

    My mother's countenance
    Could not unfrown itself.
    'Unfrown'! An unconventional word but perfect. There's the economy I was referring to.

    At every step you missed
    My right ear scraped a buckle.
    The boy's age is indicated with no explicit statement.

    Then waltzed me off to bed
    Still clinging to your shirt.

    Whoa! The poignancy of it...

    Thanks, Kate, for posting 'My Papa's Waltz'. It's a keeper in my book.

    And then there's Dickinson... who I think could boil just about anything down to its essence. :-)

  • woodnymph2_gw
    9 years ago

    Some years ago I took a course in early Anglo-Saxon poetry. I recall many of the poems were riddles. There is something simple and direct in the style of writing that I find appealing. Here is "Wulf and Eadwacer" from "The Exeter Book."

    It is as though my people had been given
    A present. They will wish to capture him
    If he comes with a troop. We are
    Wulf is on one isle, I am on another.
    Fast is that island set among the fens.

    Murderous are the people who
    that island. They will wish to
    capture him
    If he comes with a troop. We are
    Grieved have I for my Wulf with
    distant longings.
    Then it was rainy weather, and I sad,
    When the bold warrior laid his arms
    about me.
    I took delight in that and also pain.
    O Wulf, my Wulf, my longing for
    your coming
    Has made me ill, the rareness of your
    My grieving spirit, not the lack of
    Eadwacer, do you hear me? For a
    Shall carry to the woods our wretched whelp.
    Men very easily may put asunder
    That which was never joined, our
    song together.

    (translated, copyright by Richard Hamer, 2002).

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  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    woodnymph, that poem is entirely new to me--but not surprising since I know almost nothing about Anglo-Saxon poetry, but it reminds me, in its moving simplicity, of that anonymous poem--what century, I'm not sure, but an "older" poem at any rate:

    O Western wind when wilt thou blow
    That small rain down can rain:--
    Christ, that my love were in my arms
    And I in my bed again

    Those two lines--"Christ, that my love were in my arms/ And I in my bed again"--such longing and love packed into one statement--there is a prime example of the power of economy that friedag was talking about.

    I feel some of that same power of economy in your Anglo-Saxon poem:

    The repetition of the lines--

    "They will wish to
    capture him
    If he comes with a troop. We are

    The fear of danger and the helplessness and aloneness of "We are apart."

    And the paradox of those final lines:

    Men very easily may put asunder
    That which was never joined, our
    song together

    "our song together"--such beauty and harmony in the togetherness; but it is "easily" put "asunder"--wonderfully Biblical sound to that word--God's awesome command that "what God has put together, let no man put asunder"--yet in these dangerous circumstances, how "easily" it can happen--the fragility of the bond barely sustained by time and separation and danger--how quickly and easily it can be lost.

    That is a powerful selection, woodnymph.

    Back to Roethke--yes, friedag--you got it ! The imagery is so moving, and usually I don't simultaneously sit there and wonder at the technique, but this poem brings out that dual response in me. Notice also the use of periodic weak rhymes: knuckle/buckle and "easy/dizzy" again--ending on the unaccented syllable is another way the waltz "wobbles" as you so appropriately described it. Those lines also have one syllable too many--again, a difficult waltz to sustain! I agree, brilliant!


  • woodnymph2_gw
    9 years ago

    Here's another by Theodore Roethke. I found this decades ago and was so moved by it:

    Elegy for Jane

    (My student, thrown by a horse)

    I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
    And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
    And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
    And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
    A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
    Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
    The shade sang with her;
    The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
    And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.

    Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
    Even a father could not find her:
    Scraping her cheek against straw,
    Stirring the clearest water.

    My sparrow, you are not here,
    Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
    the sides of wet stones cannot console me,
    Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

    If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
    My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
    Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
    I, with no rights in this matter,
    Neither father nor lover.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    9 years ago

    Sharing two more of my favorites:


    I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained;
    I stand and look at them long and long.
    They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
    They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
    They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
    Not one is dissatisfied -- not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
    Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
    Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

    (From "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman.)

    I've always loved the sheer musicality of A.E. Housman:

    "Into my heart an air that kills
    From yon far country blows:
    What are those blue remembered hills,
    What spires, what farms are those?

    That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.

  • friedag
    9 years ago

    Oh, I love this! Reading poems that others like, that is. Thanks for all the postings. Thanks for continuing the thread, Kate. We can always count on you, Woodnymph, to come up with intriguing choices.

    The 'Wulf and Eadwacer' poem reminds me how much skill (art) goes into translating. The translator of poetry really has to be a poet her/himself. That one was 'proto-English' but a little later one is English all right, but it still needs a bit of translating -- or at least it was necessary for me to understand it.
    The Corpus Christi Carol
    Lulley, lully, lulley, lully,
    The faucon hath born my mak away.

    He bare hym up, he bare hym down,
    He bare hym into an orchard brown.

    In that orchard ther was an hall,
    That was hanged with purpill and pall.

    And in that hall ther was a bede,
    Hit was hangid with gold so rede.

    And yn that bede ther lythe a knyght,
    His wowndes bledyng day and nyght.

    By that bedes side ther kneleth a may,
    And she wepeth both nyght and day.

    And by that bedes side ther stondith a ston,
    "Corpus Christi" wretyn theron.
    I discovered this poem when I was about ten years old. I didn't understand half of it then, but I always liked the way it sounded...especially out loud, if you can imagine an American-Midwest adolescent girl sitting on concrete cellar steps declaiming Middle English.

    I figure somewhere in some English studies there has to be a course devoted entirely to elegies. I've read a slew of 'em, and I'm nearly always 'touched'. That Roethke had no claim as 'father or lover' but still feels that way about the girl is something that I recognize. I recall visiting a cemetery and coming across the headstone of a seventeen-year-old girl. Her people had engraved on the reverse side the entire lyrics of 'Dust in the Wind' with the notation that it was her favorite song. I couldn't help but weep, though I never knew her.

    I like epitaphs, too. Serious ones and silly ones. The humor often floors me.

  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    The Elegy for Jane is very moving, as is the story about the Dust in the Wind notation--there's a poem in there somewhere, in fact.

    I do like the "musical" selections--wonder why the musical lines work so well when the subject matter is often rather sad. Hmmm.

    But I like free verse, like the Whitman poem. By the way, I usually wince when I read that selection from Whitman. Years ago, freshman in college and madly in love with the college poet, I said something to that effect (about cows) and he hooted at me and ridiculed me for having no poetic sense. Don't know if I had read Whitman at that point in my life, but I wish I could have thrown that in his face. (The relationship didn't work out, in case you didn't guess--LOL ). Other than the pain of that memory, yes, I do like Whitman's version--and he probably did say it better than I could have as a raw college freshman.!

    Here's a modern one I like celebrating free verse and about the goddess who inspires women poets. Let the guys make love to their muses, their words being their ejaculations --the woman poet has a very different relationship with the goddess of poetry and I like this unconventional portrait of her--her whacking the resistant poet around until she forces the poet outside the traditional house of poetry!.

    The Goddess by Denise Levertov

    She in whose lipservice
    I passed my time,
    whose name I knew, but not her face,
    came upon me where I lay in Lie Castle!

    Flung me across the room, and
    room after room (hitting the wall, re-
    bounding--"to the last
    sticky wall--"wrenching away from it
    pulled hair out!)
    till I lay
    outside the outer walls!

    There in cold air
    lying still where her hand had thrown me,
    I tasted the mud that splattered my lips:
    the seeds of a forest were in it,
    asleep and growing! I tasted
    her power!

    The silence was answering my silence,
    a forest was pushing itself
    out of sleep between my submerged fingers.
    I bit on a seed and it spoke on my tongue
    of day that shone already among the stars
    in the water-mirror of low ground,

    and a wind rising ruffled the lights:
    she passed near me in returning from the encounter,
    she who plucked me from the close rooms,

    without whom nothing
    flowers, fruits, sleeps in season,
    without whom nothing
    speaks in its own tongue, but returns
    lie for lie!

    The poet laying in the mud of reality, nibbling on seeds and sensing the power of forests contained within it--Wow!


  • friedag
    9 years ago

    Kate, it was decades after I found it that I actually heard 'The Corpus Christi Carol' sung. However, the tune it is set to has never much appealed to me. I prefer it strictly as a poem.

    One more sad poem and I promise to get off the morbid:
    When the white flame in us is gone,
    And we that lost the world's delight
    Stiffen in darkness, left alone
    To crumble in our separate night;

    When your swift hair is quiet in death,
    And through the lips corruption thrust
    Has stilled the labour of my breath---
    When we are dust, when we are dust!---

    Not dead, not undesirous yet,
    Still sentient, still unsatisfied,
    We'll ride the air, and shine, and flit,
    Around the places where we died,

    And dance as dust before the sun,
    And light of foot, and unconfined,
    Hurry from road to road, and run
    About the errands of the wind.

    And every mote, on earth or air,
    Will speed and gleam, down later days,
    And like a secret pilgrim fare
    By eager and invisible ways,

    Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,
    Till, beyond thinking, out of view,
    One mote of all the dust that's I
    Shall meet one atom that was you.

    Then in some garden hushed from wind,
    Warm in a sunset's afterglow,
    The lovers in the flowers will find
    A sweet and strange unquiet grow

    Upon the peace; and, past desiring,
    So high a beauty in the air,
    And such a light, and such a quiring,
    And such a radiant ecstasy there,

    They'll know not if it's fire, or dew,
    Or out of earth, or in the height,
    Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue,
    Or two that pass, in light, to light,

    Out of the garden, higher, higher. . . .
    But in that instant they shall learn
    The shattering ecstasy of our fire,
    And the weak passionless hearts will burn

    And faint in that amazing glow,
    Until the darkness close above;
    And they will know---poor fools, they'll know!---
    One moment, what it is to love.

    --Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915

    Danny Kirwan (of the second and third incarnations of Fleetwood Mac) set part of the poem to music. He was a sad fella himself, apparently, making the original poem -- and his music and singing -- affecting and haunting on several levels, I think.

    Hmm, I will have to ruminate on Levertov's 'The Goddess'. It doesn't immediately strike me, but I often have a way of coming 'round. :-)

  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Here's a very different poem I've always liked--the sad, frightened life vs the proud, courageous embroidered dreams:

    "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" by Adrienne Rich

    Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
    Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
    They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
    They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

    Aunt Jennifer's fingers fluttering through her wool
    Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
    The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
    Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

    When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
    Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
    The tigers in the panel that she made
    Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

    It makes me think of my mother's generation who dreamed dreams that inspired the next generation (namely, me) but couldn't themselves figure out how to break out of the traditional roles mandated for women--roles that kept them from pursuing their own dreams. Yet they are to be credited with dreaming the prancing dreams and passing on that legacy!


  • woodnymph2_gw
    9 years ago

    Kate and Frieda, thanks for posting all the above. Levertov, Rich, and Rupert Brooke are favorites poets of mine, also. Frieda, I'd never heard the "Corpus Christi Carol" before. I find it exquisite. Do you have an approximate date?
    I'll be back to post some other favorites, anon.

  • dido1
    9 years ago

    I've been away in hospital, or I would have posted here before now. I can't think what to put up, just want to say I love it. I'm into Hardy's poetry far more than his novels; Yeats; Dylan Thomas; Auden and the usual classics.

  • veer
    9 years ago

    dido, glad that you are back with us, I knew you would enjoy this thread. ;-)

  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Hi dido, I'm new here, but evidently you are not. But we are both here now, so let's go with it. : )

    As far as I'm concerned, just pick a Hardy poem you like--for whatever reason--and share it with us. We'll see where it goes.


  • dido1
    9 years ago

    Hello Kate. Good to meet another poetry enthusiast.

    Here's the one I read, then, at the writer Stan Barstow's (my beloved's) funeral, 18 months ago:


    You did not walk with me
    Of late to the hill-top tree
    By the gated ways,
    As in earlier days;
    You were weak and lame
    So you never came,
    And I went alone, and I did not mind.
    Not thinking of you as left behind.

    I walked up there today
    Just as in the former way;
    Surveyed around
    The familiar ground
    By myself again:
    What difference then?
    Only that underlying sense
    Of the look of a room on returning thence.

    Thomas Hardy

    This was one of the poems from 'Veteris Vestigia Flammae' (remains of old fires) he wrote after the death of his first wife Emma in 1912. There are better poems than this in the sequence, but this seemed to fit my feelings at the time and I like its simplicity. Hardy never went in for rich or complicated imagery. He went straight to the point. Stan always liked this about him.

  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Talk about interesting-- just as you weren't sure what to make of my Levertov poem, I was rather nonplussed with your Brooke poem. I've read it over several times now and find myself moved by the lover's hyperbole in these lines--

    The lovers in the flowers will find
    . . .

    So high a beauty in the air,
    And such a light, and such a quiring,
    And such a radiant ecstasy there,

    They'll know not if it's fire, or dew,
    Or out of earth, or in the height,
    Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue,
    Or two that pass, in light, to light,

    Out of the garden, higher, higher. . . .
    But in that instant they shall learn
    The shattering ecstasy of our fire
    . . .

    Captures perfectly the beyond the ordinary and almost beyond language of love's intensity.

    And moving from Brooke's soaring language and vision to Hardy's simplicity--a single action repeated and the pathos of returning this time to an empty room. Chokes me up--but how appropriate for your memorial, especially since Hardy was a poet you two shared and enjoyed.

    I have read little Hardy and no Brooke before, so you are both expanding my poetic horizons here.


  • woodnymph2_gw
    9 years ago

    I am the Great Sun

    I am the great Sun, but you do not see me.
    I am your Husband, but you turn away.
    I am the Captive, but you do not free me.
    I am the Captain you will not obey.
    I am the Truth, but you will not believe me.
    I am the City, where you will not stay.
    I am your Wife, your Child, but you will leave me.
    I am that God, to whom you will not pray.
    I am your Counsel, but you do not hear me.
    I am the Lover, whom you will betray.
    I am the Victor, but you do not cheer me.
    I am the Holy Dove, whom you will slay.
    I am your Life, but you will not name me.
    Seal up your soul with tears and never blame me.

    Charles Causley, Norman Crucifix, 1632.

    c. 2001-2004 Hugo J.K. de Vries.

  • veer
    9 years ago

    Kate, Rupert Brooke was one of the poets of the Great War, much admired for probably his most famous sonnet
    The Soldier

    The Soldier

    If I should die, think only this of me:
    That there's some corner of a foreign field
    That is for ever England. There shall be
    In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
    A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
    Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
    A body of England's, breathing English air,
    Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

    And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
    A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
    Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
    Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
    In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

    In fact RB never saw active service, dying of an infected insect bite on board ship off the coast of Greece.

    His other longer but well-know work is The Old Vicarage Granchester which ends with the lines

    "Stands the church clock at half past three
    And is there honey still for tea?"

    You can't get more 'English' than that.

  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Veer, your Rupert Brooke selections are powerful, but I don't think I'm "English" enough to really get into him--without making an effort to enter his world that I do not really sympathize that much with. A number of the WWI poets are moving--but partly because they did not survive the war. However, I have trouble sympathizing with the "patriotism" or whatever it is that motivated them to accept without question the premises of that war. But maybe if they had lived and written afterwards, they would have expressed very different attitudes--maybe more like the Hemingway crowd -- in A Farewell to Arms, for instance. Maybe I really just want them to be post Viet Nam war protesters--but whatever, I have trouble sympathizing with war poetry.

    woodnymph--I am the Great Sun--a mystical puzzle? I think I need some context for that poem.

    Back to my Emily Dickinson. I like poems about nature's beauty and spirituality, like this one:

    I'll tell you how the Sun rose -
    A Ribbon at a time -
    The Steeples swam in Amethyst -
    The news, like Squirrels, ran -
    The Hills untied their Bonnets -
    The Bobolinks - begun -
    Then I said softly to myself -
    "That must have been the Sun"!
    But how he set - I know not -
    There seemed a purple stile
    That little Yellow boys and girls
    Were climbing all the while -
    Till when they reached the other side -
    A Dominie in Gray -
    Put gently up the evening Bars -
    And led the flock away -

    I always think of how quiet and peaceful that ending is--kind of like Wordsworth's "It is a beauteous evening, calm and free, / The holy time is quiet as a Nun / Breathless with adoration." I don't even remember the rest of that poem, but that one Wordsworth image has stuck in my mind for decades--which is how long it has been that I probably last read Wordsworth--aha!


  • dido1
    9 years ago

    Dulce et Decorum Est

    1 Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    2 Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    3 Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
    4 And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    5 Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
    6 But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
    7 Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    8 Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

    9 Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
    10 Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
    11 But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    12 And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
    13 Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
    14 As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

    15 In all my dreams before my helpless sight
    16 He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    17 If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    18 Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    19 And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    20 His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
    21 If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    22 Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
    23 Bitter as the cud
    24 Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
    25 My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    26 To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    27 The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    28 Pro patria mori.
    Wilfred Owen

    Talking of War/Anti-war poetry, I wonder if you know this one? Owen is generally rated as being the best of the WW1 poets. He was already brilliant, in his early '20s, in the middle of the war. He was killed just a month or so before the war ended - terrible tragedy! Sassoon rated him very highly and helped him get his poems pulished. This is almost The Definitive war poem, by many people's rating:


  • dido1
    9 years ago


    Just identifying Siegfried Sassoon for you as a poet, in case you don't know his work - he who 'discovered' Owen while they were both at a recuperation centre in England, having been wounded in France in WW1:

    1. âÂÂBlightersâÂÂ

    The House is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
    And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks
    Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;
    âÂÂWeâÂÂre sure the Kaiser loves our dear old Tanks!âÂÂ

    IâÂÂd like to see a Tank come down the stalls, 5
    Lurching to rag-time tunes, or âÂÂHome, sweet HomeâÂÂ,
    And thereâÂÂd be no more jokes in Music-halls
    To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.

    I think the tone of bitterness + high irony is extremely effective here.


  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Yes, Dido--I am familiar with that poem and have taught it many times in the past--but strangely enough, had forgotten it. Thank you for reminding me. Impressive imagery. It chokes me up--the old lie!

    Since we are on anti-war poems, here are a couple more that I used to teach along with Owen. The Jarrell poem--WWII-- leaves us gasping because it is pure horrifying image with no commentary. The shortest and maybe most realistic war poem I know--and a fitting postscript to Owen: "The old Lie: dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria more."

    The second one--WWI poem--, with its repetitions and wandering, circling thoughts that take us no where but leave us caught in an endlessly pointless repeating maze, also leaves us gasping with its final pointed question--what are "patterns" for?

    The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
    By Randall Jarrell

    From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
    And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
    Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
    I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
    When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

    By Amy Lowell

    I walk down the garden paths,
    And all the daffodils
    Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
    I walk down the patterned garden-paths
    In my stiff, brocaded gown.
    With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
    I too am a rare
    Pattern. As I wander down
    The garden paths.
    My dress is richly figured,
    And the train
    Makes a pink and silver stain
    On the gravel, and the thrift
    Of the borders.
    Just a plate of current fashion,
    Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
    Not a softness anywhere about me,
    Only whalebone and brocade.
    And I sink on a seat in the shade
    Of a lime tree. For my passion
    Wars against the stiff brocade.
    The daffodils and squills
    Flutter in the breeze
    As they please.
    And I weep;
    For the lime-tree is in blossom
    And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

    And the plashing of waterdrops
    In the marble fountain
    Comes down the garden-paths.
    The dripping never stops.
    Underneath my stiffened gown
    Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
    A basin in the midst of hedges grown
    So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
    But she guesses he is near,
    And the sliding of the water
    Seems the stroking of a dear
    Hand upon her.
    What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
    I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
    All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

    I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
    And he would stumble after,
    Bewildered by my laughter.
    I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles
    on his shoes.
    I would choose
    To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
    A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
    Till he caught me in the shade,
    And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
    Aching, melting, unafraid.

  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    The Sassoon poem is new to me--what bitterness--that poem is raw in feeling--hurts!

    OK--I should study the WWI poets more closely. I guess I was just put off by the loss of so many of them during that dirty, muddy war. As an Americanist, I tend to look at Hemingway's In Our Time instead. That collection of stories hits me at gut level--somewhat like Sassoon--and the Jarrell poem, for that matter.

    Here's an anti-war Vietnam poem that almost makes me forget to breathe when I read that last line. No answer.

    What Were They Like?
    By Denise Levertov

    1) Did the people of Viet Nam
    use lanterns of stone?
    2) Did they hold ceremonies
    to reverence the opening of buds?
    3) Were they inclined to quiet laughter?
    4) Did they use bone and ivory,
    jade and silver, for ornament?
    5) Had they an epic poem?
    6) Did they distinguish between speech and singing?

    1) Sir, their light hearts turned to stone.
    It is not remembered whether in gardens
    stone lanterns illumined pleasant ways.
    2) Perhaps they gatherered once to delight in blossom,
    but after the children were killed
    there were no more buds.
    3) Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.
    4) A dream ago, perhaps. Ornament is for joy.
    All the bones were charred.
    5) It is not remembered. Remember,
    most were peasants; their life
    was in rice and bamboo.
    When peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies
    and the water buffalo stepped surely along terraces,
    maybe fathers told their sons old tales.
    When bombs smashed those mirrors
    there was time only to scream.
    6) There is an echo yet
    of their speech which was like a song.
    It was reported their singing resembled
    the flight of moths in moonlight.
    Who can say? It is silent now.


  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Just to make sure there is no confusion, my first post to the WWI poems is to the Owen poem--that poem I know. My second post is to the Sasoon poem--that one is new to me.

    We crossed wires in posting. : )


  • friedag
    9 years ago

    It's good to see your posts, Dido! I've thought, "Where's Dido? A poetry thread without you is just not right. :-)

    My apologies for being out of pocket for a few days. Woodnymph, 'The Corpus Christi Carol' (author unknown) is thought to be 15th century or possibly earlier. Some of the anthologies I have found it in say it is related to -- and might have evolved from -- the Grail poetry of the Middle Ages. It is usually agreed, though, that the form we now know it in was found in a manuscript dated 1504.

    'I Am the Great Sun' never fails to intrigue me. It is said to be from a Norman crucifix, but the imagery that comes to my mind seems much older and possibly pagan in origin. Like Kate, I really don't know how to interpret it. I only know I like the enigma, possibly better than I would like a full explanation, if that makes any sense. Some things are just visceral.

    I am still working on Levertov's 'The Goddess' and now, Kate, you've give me another to chew on: 'What Were They Like?' :-) I think I will have greater affinity for the latter, although I've only read it through once so far.

    Well, I've said before the poetry that usually appeals most to me tends to have been written long before the twentieth century. I'll go back to the 13th century with this one:
    Thy Mortal Goods

    If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
    And of thy meager store
    Two loaves alone to thee are left,
    Sell one, and with the dole
    Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

    --Saadi, circa 1250

    Oh-oh! Here's one from the early 20th I have always liked.
    A Walk

    My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
    going far ahead of the road I have begun.
    So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
    it has inner light, even from a distance-
    and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
    into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
    we already are; a gesture waves us on
    answering our own waveâ¦
    but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

    --Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875-1926

    Vee, I didn't remember that Rupert Brooke died from an insect bite. Good grief, that's pitiful! I've actually seen Brooke's 'bit of England' on Skyros.

  • pink_warm_mama_1
    9 years ago

    The depth of these four simple lines is powerful:

    Here we labor, here we pray,
    Here we wrestle night and day;
    There we lay our burdens down,
    There we wear the victor's crown. - Anon.

  • dublinbay z6 (KS)
    Original Author
    9 years ago

    Hmmm---I'm missing the poem I thought I posted here. Where is it--floating in cyberspace? Misposted on another thread? (If so, my apologies for posting it again here.) Very strange when they disappear that way!

    Anyway, here it is again-- another "happy" poem. Reminds me of when I was young--occasionally there would be that perfect date or party and we would want to prolong the perfect night--wearily but happily greeting the sunrise finally--"a bucketful of gold"--perfect metaphor for the "golden" experience.

    by Edna St. Vincent Millay
    We were very tired, we were very merry--
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
    It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable--
    But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
    We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
    And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

    We were very tired, we were very merry--
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
    And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
    From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
    And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
    And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

    We were very tired, we were very merry,
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
    We hailed "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
    And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
    And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
    And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

    I especially like that ending--the generosity as an overflow of their happiness and wanting to share it with others. Perfect ending to a perfect night, don't you think?


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