Poem-A-Day | Academy of American Poets
Poem-A-Day | Academy of American Poets
Read some enjoyable lines in Wordsworth's Prelude today:
The matter that detains us now may seem,
To many, neither dignified enough
Nor arduous, yet will not be scorned by them,
Who, looking inward, have observed the ties
That bind the perishable hours of life
Each to the other, and the curious props
By which the world of memory and thought
Exists and is sustained. More lofty themes,
Such as at least do wear a prouder face,
Solicit our regard; but when I think
Of these, I feel the imaginative power
Languish within me; even then it slept,
When, pressed by tragic sufferings, the heart
Was more than full; amid my sobs and tears
It slept, even in the pregnant season of youth.
For though I was most passionately moved
And yielded to all changes of the scene
With an obsequious promptness, yet the storm
passed not beyond the suburbs of the mind . . .
My daily morning poetry reading has suffered since the birth of Sebastian and the loss of my longstanding morning routine. So, one of the funs of sabbatical will be to take back my morning routine, at least for a while (and later in the morning after he's at daycare).
So, I'm well behind in my reading of Wordsworth's Prelude. In today's reading from the sixth section, done on the porch on this lovely, damp morning, I enjoyed these lines:
She [Nature] ceased to speak, but while St. Bruno's pines
Waved their dark tops, not silent as they waved,
And while below, along their several beds,
Murmured the sister streams of Life and Death,
Thus by conflicting passions pressed, my heart
Responded; "Honour to the patriot's zeal!
Glory and hope to new-born Liberty!
Hail to the mighty projects of the time!
Discerning sword that Justice wields, do thou
Go forth and prosper; and, ye purging fires,
Up to the loftiest towers of Pride ascend,
Fanned by the breath of angry Providence.
But oh! if Past and Future be the wings
On whose support harmoniously conjoined
Moves the great spirit of human knowledge, spare
These courts of mystery, where a step advanced
Between the portals of the shadowy rocks
Leaves far behind life's treacherous vanities,
For penitential tears and trembling hopes
Exchanged--to equalise in God's pure sight
Monarch and peasant: be the house redeemed
With its unworldly votaries, for the sake
Of conquest over sense, hourly achieved
Through faith and meditative reason, resting
Upon the word of heaven-imparted truth,
Calmly triumphant; and for humbler claim
Of that imaginative impulse sent
From these majestic floods, yon shining cliffs,
The untransmuted shapes of many worlds,
Cerulean ether's pure inhabitants,
These forests unapproachable by death,
That shall endure as long as man endures,
To think, to hope, to worship, and to feel,
To struggle, to be lost within himself
In trepidation, from the blank abyss
To look with bodily eyes, and be consoled."
Now, to reclaim my morning walk!
Blind Boone’s Apparitions | Academy of American Poets
John William Boone (1864-1927) world-renowned Ragtime pianist.
my motto for life
- merit, not sympathy, wins-
my song against death.
i stroke piano’s
eighty eight mouths. each one sings
hot colors of joy
keys raise up high into bliss,
born to sing my name
whippoorwill, hawk, crow
sing madrigals for blind men.
forests blooms through each note.
my eyes: buried deep
beneath earth’s skin. my vision
begins in her womb.
darkness sounds like God
flowering from earth’s molten tomb...
writhed wind. chorded cries.
rain, flower, sea, wind
map my dark horizon. i
inhale earth’s songbook
The periodic pleasure
of small happenings
is upon us—
behind the stalls
at the farmer’s market
snow glinting in heaps,
a cardinal its chest
puffed out, bloodshod
above the piles of awnings,
you picking up a sweet potato
turning to me ‘This too?’—
query of tenderness
under the blown red wing.
Remember the brazen world?
Let’s find a room
with a window onto elms
strung with sunlight,
a cafe with polished cups,
darling coffee they call it,
may our bed be stoked
with fresh cut rosemary
and glinting thyme,
all herbs in due season
tucked under wild sheets:
fit for the conjugation of joy.
One the many paragraphs in Between the World and Me which struck me was this one on poetry:
I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago--the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth--loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions--beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.
Earlier this year I was at a party of the theology and philosophy departments and was talking to a theologian about Alfred North Whitehead. At some point in the conversation, David Hume came up, and I mentioned Hume was part of the trinity of Hume, James, and Whitehead. This theologian was shocked that I'd include Hume. What I forgot was the fourth figure--the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. Wordsworth's view of experience was deeply influential on Alfred North Whitehead.
This week I began reading The Prelude and immediately began to see the sorts of statements that must have enticed Whitehead and sent him into deep philosophical speculation about the nature of reality and experience. Here are a few examples:
Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.
How Nature by extrinsic passion first
Peopled the mind with forms sublime or fair,
And made me love them
To those first-born affinities that fit
Our new existence to existing things
I held unconscious intercourse with beauty
even then I felt
Gleams like the fleshing of a shield;--the earth
And common face of Nature spake to me
This in today's e-mail from poets.org
For years I went to the Peruvian barbers on 18th Street
—comforting, welcome: the full coatrack,
three chairs held by three barbers,
oldest by the window, the middle one
a slight fellow who spoke an oddly feminine Spanish,
the youngest last, red-haired, self-consciously masculine,
and in each of the mirrors their children’s photos,
smutty cartoons, postcards from Machu Picchu.
I was happy in any chair, though I liked best
the touch of the eldest, who’d rest his hand
against my neck in a thoughtless, confident way.
Ten years maybe. One day the powdery blue
steel shutters pulled down over the window and door,
not to be raised again. They’d lost their lease.
I didn’t know how at a loss I’d feel;
this haze around what I’d like to think
the sculptural presence of my skull
requires neither art nor science,
but two haircuts on Seventh, one in Dublin,
Then (I hear my friend Marie
laughing over my shoulder, saying In your poems
there’s always a then, and I think, Is it a poem
without a then?) dull early winter, back on 18th,
upspiraling red in a cylinder of glass, just below the line
of sidewalk, a new sign, WILLIE’S BARBERSHOP.
Dark hallway, glass door, and there’s (presumably) Willie.
When I tell him I used to go down the street
he says in an inscrutable accent, This your home now,
puts me in a chair, asks me what I want and soon he’s clipping
and singing with the radio’s Latin dance tune.
That’s when I notice Willie’s walls,
though he’s been here all of a week, spangled with images
hung in barber shops since the beginning of time:
lounge singers, near-celebrities, random boxers
—Italian boys, Puerto Rican, caught in the hour
of their beauty, though they’d scowl at the word.
Cheering victors over a trophy won for what?
Frames already dusty, at slight angles,
here, it is clear, forever. Are barbershops
like aspens, each sprung from a common root
ten thousand years old, sons of one father,
holding up fighters and starlets to shield the tenderness
at their hearts? Our guardian Willie defies time,
his chair our ferryboat, and we go down into the trance
of touch and the skull-buzz drone
singing cranial nerves in the direction of peace,
and so I understand that in the back
of this nothing building on 18th Street
—I’ve found that door
ajar before, in daylight, when it shouldn’t be,
some forgotten bulb left burning in a fathomless shaft
of my uncharted nights—
the men I have outlived
await their turns, the fevered and wasted, whose mothers
and lovers scattered their ashes and gave away their clothes.
Twenty years and their names tumble into a numb well
—though in truth I have not forgotten one of you,
may I never forget one of you—these layers of men,
arrayed in their no-longer-breathing ranks.
Willie, I have not lived well in my grief for them;
I have lugged this weight from place to place
as though it were mine to account for,
and today I sit in your good chair, in the sixth decade
of my life, and if your back door is a threshold
of the kingdom of the lost, yours is a steady hand
on my shoulder. Go down into the still waters
of this chair and come up refreshed, ready to face the avenue.
Maybe I do believe we will not be left comfortless.
After everything comes tumbling down or you tear it down
and stumble in the shadow-valley trenches of the moon,
there’s a still a decent chance at—a barber shop,
salsa on the radio, the instruments of renewal wielded,
effortlessly, and, who’d have thought, for you.
Willie if he is Willie fusses much longer over my head
than my head merits, which allows me to be grateful
without qualification. Could I be a little satisfied?
There’s a man who loves me. Our dogs. Fifteen,
twenty more good years, if I’m a bit careful.
There’s what I haven’t written. It’s sunny out,
though cold. After I tip Willie
I’m going down to Jane Street, to a coffee shop I like,
and then I’m going to write this poem. Then
Today's poem of the day was this:
It wasn’t long before I rose
into the silk of my night-robes
and swilled the stars
and the beetles
back into sweetness—even my fingernails
carry my likeness, and I smudge
the marrow of myself
into light. I whisper street-
car, ardor, midnight
into the ears of the soldier
so he will forget everything
but the eyes of the night nurse
whose hair shines beneath
the prow of her white cap.
In the end, it is me
he shipwrecks. O arrow.
My arms knot as I pluck
the lone string tauter.
O crossbow. I kneel. He oozes,
and the grasses and red wasp
knock him back from my sight.
The night braids my hair.
I do not dream. I do not glow.
I'm excited by the great metaphor: "I smudge the marrow of myself into light."