Poetry Feed

The Road Not Taken

Here, on the Poetry Foundation website, is an excellent interpretation of The Road Not Taken, one of the most misunderstood of poems.  An excerpt:

Through its progression, the poem suggests that our power to shape events comes not from choices made in the material world—in an autumn stand of birches—but from the mind’s ability to mold the past into a particular story. The roads were about the same, and the speaker’s decision was based on a vague impulse. The act of assigning meanings—more than the inherent significance of events themselves—defines our experience of the past. 

Also, this:

In a letter, Frost claimed, “My poems … are all set to trip the reader head foremost into the boundless.” The meaning of this poem has certainly tripped up many readers—from Edward Thomas to the iconic English teacher in Dead Poets Society. But the poem does not trip readers simply to tease them—instead it aims to launch them into the boundless, to launch them past spurious distinctions and into a vision of unbounded simultaneity.

There is a level of Sartrean existentialism to the poem.  Of course written decades before Sartre's work. 


Adonis

I'm in the midst of reading the selected poems of the Syrian poet Adonis, and they are marvelous. Now I'm very puzzled why he has never won the Nobel, though he seems every year to be on the shortlist of those writers which the bookmakers imagine might win. Even without having read him, I wondered why he hadn't won during the Syrian civil war, given the Nobel's aim to often respond to something in the moment.

So many good poems, here's one I particularly liked, especially the opening lines.

The Fall

I live between fire and plague
with my language, with these mute worlds.
I live in an apple orchard and a sky,
in the first happiness and the drollness
of life with Eve,
master of those cursed trees,
master of fruit.

I live between clouds and sparks,
in a stone that grows, in a book
that knows secrets, and knows the fall.


Exploring an individual's metaphysical sensitivity

This weekend I began reading a collection of poems by Adonis, who is often mentioned as a contender for a Nobel prize.  And being a Syrian in exile who is in his late 80's, I've been surprised that he hasn't won in recent years.

In the introduction the translator summarizes Adonis' view of poetry.

Poetry, he argued, must remain a realm in which language and ideas are examined, reshaped, and refined, in which the poet refuses to descend to the level of daily expediencies.  Emerging as one of the most eloquent practitioners and defenders of this approach, Adonis wrote that the poet is a "metaphysical being who penetrates to the depths" and , in so doing, "keeps solidarity with others."  Poetry's function is to convey eternal human anxieties.  It is the exploration of an individual's metaphysical sensitivity, not a collective political or socially oriented vision.


The Prelude

Wordsworth: The PreludeWordsworth: The Prelude by William Wordsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My morning poetry reading has not been that consistent since Sebastian's birth, disappearing with most parts of my decades-long morning routine. Oh well.

So, it took me a long time to get through Wordsworth's Prelude. Part of that is because the poem itself bogs down in places. The opening and closing books are the best, filled with his experiences of nature.

I've long known (and even written on) Wordsworth's influence on Whitehead's philosophy of perception. Having now finally read all of the Prelude I believe that Wordsworth may be the most important influence for understanding Whitehead and the development of process philosophy.

View all my reviews

The Dark Times

Ghazal: The Dark Times

Marilyn Hacker


Tell us that line again, the thing about the dark times…
“When the dark times come, we will sing about the dark times.”

They’ll always be wrong about peace when they’re wrong about justice…
Were you wrong, were you right, insisting about the dark times?


The traditional fears, the habitual tropes of exclusion
Like ominous menhirs, close into their ring about the dark times.


Naysayers in sequins or tweeds, libertine or ascetic
Find a sensual frisson in what they’d call bling about the dark times.

Some of the young can project themselves into a Marshall Plan future
Where they laugh and link arms, reminiscing about the dark times.

From every spot-lit glitz tower with armed guards around it
Some huckster pronounces his fiats, self-sacralized king, about the dark times.

In a tent, in a queue, near barbed wire, in a shipping container,
Please remember ya akhy, we too know something about the dark times.

Sindbad’s roc, or Ganymede’s eagle, some bird of rapacious ill omen
From bleak skies descends, and wraps an enveloping wing about the dark times.

You come home from your meeting, your clinic, make coffee and look in the mirror
And ask yourself once more what you did to bring about the dark times.



Protest

Protest

Ella Wheeler Wilcox


To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.



After the Squall

After the Squall

Elise Paschen


In need of air, she unhinged every
window, revolving ones downstairs,
upstairs skylights, mid-floor French doors,
swept into the house the salt-brine,
the cricket chirp, the osprey whistle,
the sea-current, sound of the Sound,
but had not noticed the basement
bedroom window shielded by blinds,
screen-less. Later that night when they
returned home, lights illuminating
the downstairs hall, insects inhabited
the ground floor rooms. She carried handfuls
of creatures across a River Styx—
the katydids perched on lampshades,
beach tiger beetles shuttling across
floorboards, nursery web spiders splotching
the ceiling—trying to put back
the wild fury she had released.



The Permanent Way

The Permanent Way

 


Open Road

Song of the Open Road, I

Walt Whitman


Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)



I like this poem.  The opening stanzas express some of the sentiment behind my memoir, which I entitled Open (hopefully coming soon).