Category Archives: poems
O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us
An’ ev’n Devotion
–Robert Burns, “To a Louse”, st. 8 (1786); courtesy of Wikiquote.
The Journey Of The Magi by T.S. Eliot
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
–T. S. Eliot; courtesy of here.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —
–Emily Dickinson, Poem 254 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1960), edited by Thomas H. Johnson; courtesy of Wikiquote.
The above may–may–be the only existing sound recording of Walt Whitman himself. The case is complicated, and you can read about it here. Whether or not it is Walt himself, enjoy!
It Is Later Than You Think
Lone amid the cafe’s cheer,
Sad of heart am I to-night;
Dolefully I drink my beer,
But no single line I write.
There’s the wretched rent to pay,
Yet I glower at pen and ink:
Oh, inspire me, Muse, I pray,
It is later than you think!
Hello! there’s a pregnant phrase.
Bravo! let me write it down;
Hold it with a hopeful gaze,
Gauge it with a fretful frown;
Tune it to my lyric lyre . . .
Ah! upon starvation’s brink,
How the words are dark and dire:
It is later than you think.
Weigh them well. . . . Behold yon band,
Students drinking by the door,
Madly merry, bock in hand,
Saucers stacked to mark their score.
Get you gone, you jolly scamps;
Let your parting glasses clink;
Seek your long neglected lamps:
It is later than you think.
Look again: yon dainty blonde,
All allure and golden grace,
Oh so willing to respond
Should you turn a smiling face.
Play your part, poor pretty doll;
Feast and frolic, pose and prink;
There’s the Morgue to end it all,
And it’s later than you think.
Yon’s a playwright — mark his face,
Puffed and purple, tense and tired;
Pasha-like he holds his place,
Hated, envied and admired.
How you gobble life, my friend;
Wine, and woman soft and pink!
Well, each tether has its end:
Sir, it’s later than you think.
See yon living scarecrow pass
With a wild and wolfish stare
At each empty absinthe glass,
As if he saw Heaven there.
Poor damned wretch, to end your pain
There is still the Greater Drink.
Yonder waits the sanguine Seine . . .
It is later than you think.
Lastly, you who read; aye, you
Who this very line may scan:
Think of all you planned to do . . .
Have you done the best you can?
See! the tavern lights are low;
Black’s the night, and how you shrink!
God! and is it time to go?
Ah! the clock is always slow;
It is later than you think;
Sadly later than you think;
Far, far later than you think.
As implied by the title, I’m not crazy about the direction poetry took in the last century. I’m generally a traditionalist in poetry–I like traditional verse forms, includinng (shudder!) those with rhyme, I think there should be at least some musicality to verse, and while I don’t think there should be restrictions on topics dealt with in poetry, I do not like the obsession with the weird, bizarre, dark, morbid, and obscene that goes as far back as the Decadent movement and the poètes maudits, but which sometimes seems to dominate the scene since the Second World War. Despite this, there are some poets from the last century–mostly becoming active before WW II–that I do like, to varying degrees. Here are a few, off the top of my head.
Robert Frost. What more can you say about him? Two of my favorite by him are his lesser known “Two Tramps in Mud Time” and “Fire and Ice”.
T. S. Eliot. I discussed some of his faults at my other blog, but for all his faults (and possible plagiarism), I do like a lot of his work. Heck, the man who wrote Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats can’t be all bad!
e e cummings (pictured above) Cummings is notorious for spelling his name with no capitals and for weird, unusual, and eccentric spellings and punctuation in his poems. That made me avoid him for a long time, since by and large, IMO, such shenanigans are just literary showng off. How I changed my mind I’m saving for a future post. Suffice it to say for now that if you get past the spelling and punctuation, his verse is surprisingly trational and very good.
Karl Shapiro. I like his “Auto Wreck”.
Galway Kinnell. His “Saint Francis and the Sow” is one of my favorite poems.
That’s all I have time for now–I’ll discuss more and add to the list in future posts.