Category Archives: poetry
I’ve posted this before, back on March 28th, 2014 as part of my “Daily Whitman” series; but it’s a great poem for the Fourth of July, non-jingoistic and speaking of what makes the American project truly great. May we continue to emulate it. Enjoy, and Happy Independence Day.
I Hear America Singing
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him “personal.” Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
–T. S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent; courtesy of Wikiquote.
Appropriately, I begin this series with the patron of this blog, غیاث الدین ابوالفتح عمر بن ابراهیم خیام نیشابورﻯ, in proper Persian transcription, Ghiyāth ad-Din Abu’l-Fatḥ ‘Umar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Khayyām Nīshāpūrī. In the West, though, he’s most commonly known as Omar Khayyám (in the Victorian era, when Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of Omar’s poetry became wildly popular, the custom for indicating long vowels in Persian transcription was to use the acute accent; nowadays, the macron is preferred; hence, “Khayyám” vs “Khayyām”).
Omar is best known in the west as the author of the Rubáʿiyát. This is the plural of rubáʿi, which simply means “quatrain” (a verse of four lines). The rubáʿi was a very popular genre of verse in Persia, and hundreds of rubáʿiyát are attributed to Omar. Beginning in 1859, the English poet Edward FitzGerald translated a number of the rubáʿiyát attributed to Omar, publishing them under the title The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (for keen-sighted readers, I’m not being inconsistent. The apostrophe, representing the glottal stop, should properly be between the first “a” and the “i” in rubáʿiyát–thus, it’s pronounced “roo-BAH-ee-yaht”, not “roo-BYE-yaht”. However, FitzGerald left it out, for whatever reason. Thus, when I print the title as he gave it, I’m following suit; but when discussing the genre as such, I’m leaving the glottal stop in). Over the remainder of his life, FitzGerald produced five editions of the Rubáiyát. This book became immensely popular in the Victorian age, and while less well-known now, it is still moderately popular, and has never been out of print.
Good-Bye My Fancy
Good-bye my Fancy! Farewell dear mate, dear love! I'm going away, I know not where, Or to what fortune, or whether I may ever see you again, So Good-bye my Fancy. Now for my last—let me look back a moment; The slower fainter ticking of the clock is in me, Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping. Long have we lived, joy'd, caress'd together; Delightful!—now separation—Good-bye my Fancy. Yet let me not be too hasty, Long indeed have we lived, slept, filter'd, become really blended into one; Then if we die we die together, (yes, we'll remain one,) If we go anywhere we'll go together to meet what happens, May-be we'll be better off and blither, and learn something, May-be it is yourself now really ushering me to the true songs, (who knows?) May-be it is you the mortal knob really undoing, turning—so now finally, Good-bye—and hail! my Fancy.
Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well, Under the snow and ice, under the darkness, in every square or cubic inch, Germinal, exquisite, in delicate lace, microscopic, unborn, Like babes in wombs, latent, folded, compact, sleeping; Billions of billions, and trillions of trillions of them waiting, (On earth and in the sea—the universe—the stars there in the heavens,) Urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless, And waiting ever more, forever more behind.
Grand is the Seen
Grand is the seen, the light, to me—grand are the sky and stars, Grand is the earth, and grand are lasting time and space, And grand their laws, so multiform, puzzling, evolutionary; But grander far the unseen soul of me, comprehending, endowing all those, Lighting the light, the sky and stars, delving the earth, sailing the sea, (What were all those, indeed, without thee, unseen soul? of what amount without thee?) More evolutionary, vast, puzzling, O my soul! More multiform far—more lasting thou than they.
How dare one say it? After the cycles, poems, singers, plays, Vaunted Ionia's, India's—Homer, Shakspere—the long, long times' thick dotted roads, areas, The shining clusters and the Milky Ways of stars—Nature's pulses reap'd, All retrospective passions, heroes, war, love, adoration, All ages' plummets dropt to their utmost depths, All human lives, throats, wishes, brains—all experiences' utterance; After the countless songs, or long or short, all tongues, all lands, Still something not yet told in poesy's voice or print—something lacking, (Who knows? the best yet unexpress'd and lacking.)
L. of G.’s Purport
Not to exclude or demarcate, or pick out evils from their formidable masses (even to expose them,) But add, fuse, complete, extend—and celebrate the immortal and the good. Haughty this song, its words and scope, To span vast realms of space and time, Evolution—the cumulative—growths and generations. Begun in ripen'd youth and steadily pursued, Wandering, peering, dallying with all—war, peace, day and night absorbing, Never even for one brief hour abandoning my task, I end it here in sickness, poverty, and old age. I sing of life, yet mind me well of death: To-day shadowy Death dogs my steps, my seated shape, and has for years— Draws sometimes close to me, as face to face.
More experiences and sights, stranger, than you'd think for; Times again, now mostly just after sunrise or before sunset, Sometimes in spring, oftener in autumn, perfectly clear weather, in plain sight, Camps far or near, the crowded streets of cities and the shopfronts, (Account for it or not—credit or not—it is all true, And my mate there could tell you the like—we have often confab'd about it,) People and scenes, animals, trees, colors and lines, plain as could be, Farms and dooryards of home, paths border'd with box, lilacs in corners, Weddings in churches, thanksgiving dinners, returns of long-absent sons, Glum funerals, the crape-veil'd mother and the daughters, Trials in courts, jury and judge, the accused in the box, Contestants, battles, crowds, bridges, wharves, Now and then mark'd faces of sorrow or joy, (I could pick them out this moment if I saw them again,) Show'd to me—just to the right in the sky-edge, Or plainly there to the left on the hill-tops.