Sunday Morning

From The Wall Street Journal:

Sundays aren’t what they used to be, but then again when were they? The Christian sabbath was already losing primacy a century ago when an insurance lawyer by the name of Wallace Stevens published “Harmonium,” his first book of poems, and thereby unleashed on the world a set of eight extravagant stanzas titled “Sunday Morning.”

It’s hard to believe that anybody reading them in 1923 could ever look at Sunday mornings in the same light afterward. Stevens’s gorgeous meditation on the nature of divinity—and the human longing for “some imperishable bliss” in the face of mortality—is, among other things, a worldly rejection of the stringent Protestant sabbath of the poet’s youth.

Against the voluptuous sonorities and tropical paganism of Stevens’s iambs, the hard pews and tedious Sunday dinners of the 19th century never stood a chance. And the passage of time has done nothing to even out an unfair fight, or to blunt the unequivocal judgment of poet and critic Yvor Winters. “Sunday Morning,” he declared in 1943, “is probably the greatest American poem of the twentieth century and is certainly one of the greatest contemplative poems in English.”

By the time Stevens first published some of the stanzas, in 1915, it wasn’t altogether news that God was dead, for so Nietzsche had said. Born in 1879 and raised a Protestant, the poet himself shed his faith early. “I am not in the least religious,” he wrote in 1907. But the loss left him feeling “dispossessed,” and though he rarely attended services, he persisted in visiting churches, assuring a correspondent that “no one believes in the church as an institution more than I do.”

Like its author, “Sunday Morning” is suffused with paganism yet rooted in familiar Christian traditions—starting with the title, which describes a time when most Americans were presumed to be in church. But the poem’s nameless female protagonist, in the opening lines, greets the sabbath more in the manner of sybarite than supplicant:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late

Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,

And the green freedom of a cockatoo

Upon a rug mingle to dissipate

The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

The long-ago sacrifice is the crucifixion, and “that old catastrophe” darkens her dreams and raises discomfiting questions in one so full of vitality and awake to life’s pleasures.

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?

What is divinity if it can come

Only in silent shadows and in dreams?

On this Sunday morning, the old-time religion will no longer cut it. “Divinity,” she realizes, “must live within herself,” manifest in the passions of her nature, and of the nature of which she is a part. In the rest of the poem she and her creator—the poet, himself a kind of god in this respect—explore what shape our powerful spiritual yearnings can take in the absence of traditional faith and the persistence of human finitude.

Content with her life in the here and now, our heroine nonetheless longs for the lost sense of permanence once offered by the reassuring notion of an afterlife. The problem is that the beauty and passion of divinity depend on our evanescence for their force.

She says, “But in contentment I still feel

The need of some imperishable bliss.”

Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,

Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams

Although permeated with Christian imagery, “Sunday Morning” is riotously sensuous, and Stevens himself said flatly that it was about paganism, as in the penultimate stanza, which opens with a scene of ecstatic veneration:

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men

Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn

Their boisterous devotion to the sun,

Not as a god, but as a god might be

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG hadn’t thought of Wallace Stevens for quite a long time. He thought highly of him when he was in college and afterwards.

Stevens was not a typical poet. A Harvard and New York Law School graduate, his day job was as a vice-president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, now just The Hartford, a very large insurance company.

For those who believe that a successful poet must follow a particular career path that has little to do with business affairs and numbers, Stevens demonstrates that an atypical day job has little to do with artistic talent.

Forough Farrokhzad gave voice to Iranian women’s despair and defiance

From The Economist:

Women’s liberty is at the forefront of Iranian politics. In September Mahsa Amini was arrested for not wearing her hijab correctly and died in police custody; for weeks people occupied the streets and chanted “women, life, freedom.” The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s praetorian guard, has clamped down on the protests and arrested tens of thousands of people. Some police officers have continued to threaten women who do not cover their hair and have erected billboards stating that those forgoing the hijab are dishonouring their families.

The struggle for female emancipation was powerfully articulated by Forough Farrokhzad, a 20th-century poet. She was born into a strict military family in Tehran in 1934; at the age of 16 she married a distant, much older relative and had a son. In 1954 the couple divorced and, in accordance with the law at that time, she lost custody of the child. Farrokhzad released her first collection of poetry, “Asir” (“The Captive”), the following year.

Her work offered provocative explorations of lust; the verses are shot through with religious language. “Weary of divine asceticism,” she wrote, “in the middle of the night in Satan’s bed/I’d seek refuge in the slopes of a fresh sin.” Elsewhere sex and artistic inspiration are entwined: “You kindled my passionate desire/Thus setting my poems afire.”

. . . .

Farrokhzad saw that the repression of women was having a stultifying effect. Poets such as Rumi had imagined Persia as a thriving garden, yet she saw her country as “dying” and “waiting for rain”. In her final and most widely read collection, “Tavalodi Digar” (“Another Birth”, 1964), a blistering poem attacked self-satisfied elites who “suckle on our past glory”.

She released only four collections of poetry during her short life: she died in 1967, aged 32, in a car accident. Her work was potent enough to cause consternation more than a decade later, during the Islamic revolution of 1979. Religious clerics banned the dissemination of her poetry and, when Farrokhzad’s publisher refused to stop, he was thrown in jail.

Link to the rest at The Economist

5 Best (and Worst) AI Poem Generators

From TweetSpeak:

These days, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can do just about anything! It can even draw pictures.

What AI has a little more trouble with, however, is creating poems. Still, that doesn’t stop the AI writers of the world from making their valiant attempts. Here are the best (and worst) AI poem generators.

Let’s see how each one does on the perennial topic of Hades and Persephone…

1. Sonnet Generator

This sonnet generator claims to “take the ‘I’ out of iambic pentameter!” All you have to do is fill in a couple of boxes with words, and the generator will do the rest. (The same site can also generate haiku, villanelles, didactic cinquains, rhyming couplets, limericks, acrostics, tanka, narrative poems, and concrete poems).

Ode to the Hades
A Sonnet by Anonymous

The Yellow Wall-Paper Graphic Novel cropped cover

My wonder hades, you inspire me to write.
How I hate the way you gaze, throne and dash,
Invading my mind day and through the night,
Always dreaming about the whisper pash.

Let me compare you to a sere clover?
You are more quiet, create and serene.
Lead storms whip the twiglets of October,
And autumntime has the whispering lean.

How do I hate you? Let me count the ways.
I hate your cthonic, shroud and narcissus.
Thinking of your crafting shroud fills my days.
My hate for you is the paper electrophoresis.

Now I must away with an under heart,
Remember my red words whilst we’re apart.

2. Verse by Verse

Next on the list of artificial intelligence that would love to rule the world is Google! Pick up to three poets’ styles for it to emulate, create a rhyme scheme and syllable count and write a first line, and watch it come up with suggestions for the rest.

Self-described as “an experimental AI-powered muse that helps you compose poetry inspired by classic American poets,” how does the best search engine around fare on its foray into AI poetry generators? You decide.

Hades, deep in the Shadowed Underneath
Filled with alabaster air,
Drowning the voice of the rain,
Laid my hand around my chair.

Saw a dawn, his golden beam,
Hold me now! A single clause!
Pale gold on a naked moon,
Pale gold on a throne of gold.

—Google, inspired by Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, and Edgar Allan Poe

Link to the rest at TweetSpeak

Making of a Poem: Leopoldine Core on “Ex-Stewardess”

From The Paris Review:

How did this poem start for you? Was it with an image, an idea, a phrase, or something else?

Often a poem begins wordlessly. It’s as if the text is a reply to some cryptic spot in the back of my brain that I have become attracted to. I’m alerted to the presence of something that isn’t solid. It has more to do with feeling, tempo, scale, and temperature. I’m so focused on that emanating region that, even though I’m using words, my experience—the start of it—is wordless and meditative.

How did writing the first draft feel to you? Did it come easily, or was it difficult to write? (Are there hard and easy poems?)

Some poems come quick and others take a while. But maybe the one that took years was easier in the end—I don’t know. Certain poems require many rounds of rewording. When this happens I will rewrite one line forty or more times, then narrow it down to thirty, then fifteen, then five, then choose.

But this poem was realized fairly quickly and required zero rewording. That happens sometimes. I tried rewording certain parts at different points but always wound up reverting to the original. The editing I did consisted of deleting maybe seventy percent of what was there, changing the order, capitalizing certain letters, and adding line breaks. I might have added a comma but I don’t think so.

Were you thinking of any other poems or works of art while you wrote it?

Occasionally my friend Jane Corrigan will send me pictures of her paintings and drawings. There are two she showed me around that time—one is a pen drawing and the other is a Xerox of that same drawing that she drew over with pen and colored in with pencil. Jane’s images are infused with such narrative possibility—I like to stare at them for a long time, putting order to the plot. This one seems like a scene from some lost Jane Bowles story.

I wasn’t thinking consciously of these drawings while writing the poem, but there’s something so joyful and stimulating about discourse with friends. I like talking about art that isn’t mine.

What else were you listening to / reading / watching while you were writing this poem?

I was reading a collection of interviews with the filmmaker Claude Chabrol. I underlined this sentence—“I like mirrors, because they are a way of crossing through appearances.” He was talking about manipulating space but I was drawn to a conceptual meaning of the statement—how something solid that reflects the surface of things can also function as an entryway, a portal.

I was listening to Tangerine Dream, Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Dance II” by Discovery Zone, and this mournful song “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms,” performed by Mia Farrow in The Muppets Valentine Show in 1974. I love how sincerely she sings to that puppet. She sounds a little like Nico. And there’s something about the confluence of optimism and despair in her voice that might have influenced me.

It also seems relevant to mention that I had gotten an aura photo taken around that time—I kept looking at it. The aura photo I had taken a few years before was mostly red with a cloud of yellow and orange. I was told at the time that the color red implies a closeness to Earth.

But this one was so blue. I kept wondering what that meant. Where was my spirit in relation to Earth? Was it farther from Earth now? I was—am still—grieving the loss of someone I love dearly, and looking at the photo made me think of a sky within.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG admits he is a poetry snob.

“Often a poem begins wordlessly. It’s as if the text is a reply to some cryptic spot in the back of my brain” doesn’t sound like how the 20th century greats wrote poetry and the the beginning of the poem below doesn’t indicate (for PG at least) that the author is someone who really knows his art or his craft.

I used to be a lock

I used to be a dog
part malamute
part pointer
part bluetick hound

Never what will be
as banjo in hand

The Bible and Poetry

From The Paris Review:

We do not read the Bible as it is meant to be read. Theology always risks leading us astray by elaborating its own discourse, with the biblical texts merely as a point of departure. The presence of poetry in the Bible is the key to a more pertinent and more faithful reading.

There are many poems found in the Bible. We know this, vaguely and without giving it too much thought, but shouldn’t we be rather astonished by the role of poetry in a collection of books with such a pressing and salutary Word to express? And shouldn’t we ask ourselves if the presence of this writing—so much more self-conscious and desirous than is prose of a form it can make vibrate—affects the biblical “message” and changes its nature?

It is unsurprising that the Psalms are poems, given their liturgical purpose and the abyss of individual and collective emotion that they explore. At the heart of the Bible and yet also apart from it, they lay out, we might suppose, for both the individual and the community, the lived experience of religion that other biblical books have the task of defining. We can accept the Song of Songs as a love poem, Jeremiah’s Lamentations as a sequence of elegies, Job as a verse drama, and we discover without too much surprise a considerable number of poems in the historical books: the song of Moses and Miriam, for example, in Exodus 15; the canticle of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5; the lament of David for Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1. And yet when we think about the presence of all these poetic books in a work in which we expect to find doctrines, and about the turn to poetry in so many of the historical books of the Bible, it gives us reason to think again. And how should we react to Proverbs, in which wisdom itself is taught in a poetic form? Or to the prophetic books, where poetry is sovereign, where warnings of the greatest urgency, for us as well as for the writers’ contemporaries, come forth in verse?

Isn’t this curious? And poetry appears from the beginning. In the second chapter of Genesis (verse 23), Adam welcomes the creation of woman in this way:

Here at last the bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.
This one shall be called woman, for she was drawn forth from man.

These are the very first human words reported; it is tempting and perhaps legitimate to draw some conclusions. By this point Adam has already named the animals, but the author only indicates this, without recording the spoken words; in the world of the beginning, from which the author knows himself as well as his readers to be excluded, he probably recognized that there must have existed an intimate relationship between language and the real, between words and things, that we are incapable of regaining. But when Adam does speak for the first time, he is given an “Edenic” language, one which our fallen languages can still attain in certain moments: thus Adam literally draws woman, ishah, from man, ’ish. Hebrew, thanks to the pleasure it takes in wordplay—in the ludic and deeply serious harmonies between the sounds of words and the beings, objects, ideas, and emotions to which they open themselves—is a language particularly and providentially skillful at suggesting what would be a cordial relation between our language and our world, and a meaningful relation among the presences of the real. It is skillful in affirming the gravity of the lightest among the figures of rhetoric: the pun. Most importantly, as soon as the first man opens his mouth, he speaks in verse. Did the author think that in the world of primitive wonder language was naturally poetic? Is this why Adam, immediately after eating the forbidden fruit, responds to God in prose: “I heard your steps in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10)? We cannot know, but that first brief, spontaneous poem of Adam, which we seem to hear from so far away and from so close, solicits our attention and calls for our thought. If language before the Fall was poetic, or produced poems at moments charged with meaning, does poetry represent for us the apogee of our fallen speaking—its beginning and its end, its nostalgia and its hope?

In paging through Genesis, a book of history and not a collection of poetry, we encounter an impressive number of poems. It is in poetry that God gives the law on murder and its punishment (Genesis 9:6), that Rebecca’s family blesses her (24:60), that Isaac prophesies the future of Esau (27:39–40), and that Jacob blesses the twelve tribes of Israel (49:2–27). Given the occasional difficulty of identifying which passages are in verse, it may be that others will be discovered. The Bible de Jérusalem (I am reading from a 2009 edition) presents God as speaking in poetry several times in the first three chapters, beginning with the creation of man, as the Word of God gives birth to the only creature endowed with speech:

God created man in his image,
in the image of God he created him,
man and woman he created them.

In approaching the Bible’s beginning, we must often change our listening, our rhythm, our mode of attention and of being, in order to understand and receive a different language.

There are fewer poems in the New Testament, but they give even more food for thought. The Gospel of Luke introduces, from its first chapters, three poems: the canticles of Mary, Zachariah, and Simeon. Thus the Savior’s life begins under the sign of poetry. The book of Revelation, at the end of the Bible, contains additional canticles, as well as lamentations on Babylon, in poetry that appeals to the visionary imagination. In the name of Christianity, it returns to the extravagant poetry of the prophets. The first letter of John develops its thought with such felicity of rhythmic phrasing and close-crafted form that the Jerusalem Bible translates it completely in verse. These same translators have Paul’s letter to the Romans begin and end in verse, thus using poetry to frame a doctrinal exposition animated by an inflamed but in principle “prosaic” process of reflection, analysis, and synthesis.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG opines that the King James edition of the Bible is where you’ll find the best poetry.

In Flanders fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, Canadian poet, soldier, and physician

11 Types of Poetry to Know, With Examples

From The Grammarly Blog:

Poetry is a broad literary category that covers a variety of writing, including bawdy limericks, unforgettable song lyrics, and even the sentimental couplets inside greeting cards. Some kinds of poetry have few rules, while others have a rigid structure. That can make poetry feel hard to define, but the variety is also what makes it enjoyable. Through poetry, writers can express themselves in ways they can’t always through prose.

There are more than 150 types of poetry from cultures all over the world. Here, we’ll look at some of the key types of poetry to know, explain how they’re structured, and give plenty of examples.

. . . .

Key poetry terms

To better understand the differences between types of poetry, it’s important to know the following poetry terms:

Rhyme: Repeated sounds in two or more words. Usually, rhyming sounds are at the ends of words, but this is not always the case. A poem’s rhyme scheme is the pattern its rhymes follow.

Meter: A poem’s meter is its rhythmic structure. The number of syllables in a line and their emphasis compose a poem’s meter.

Form: The overall structure of a poem is known as its form. A poem’s form can determine its meter and rhyme scheme.

Stanza: A stanza is a section of a poem. Think of it like a verse in a song or a paragraph in an essay. Stanzas compose a poem’s form. In a poem, the stanzas can all fit the same meter, or they can vary.

Not all poems have a rhyme scheme, a form, or a meter. A poem might have one or two of these, or it could have all three. Many types of poetry are defined by a specific form, rhyme scheme, or meter. When you set out to write a poem, think about which form—if any—best suits your subject matter. Generally, poetic forms don’t include rules for using punctuation, such as periods and quotation marks, so you have some wiggle room with these.

. . . .

11 types of poems to know

1 Acrostic

You might remember writing acrostic poems in elementary school. In an acrostic poem, the lines are arranged so the first letter in each line helps to spell out a word. Here’s an example:

Perfect tool for writing on the fly Evolution from quills to fountains, ballpoints to rollerballs No touchscreen or keyboard can replicate the satisfaction of writing by hand

The lines in an acrostic poem can be full lines or single words. There is no required meter or rhyme scheme for acrostic poems; the only requirement is to form a word using the first letter of each line.

2 Ballad

There’s a reason so many songs are also called ballads—ballads are narrative poems characterized by their melodious rhyme scheme. A ballad can be any length, but it must be a series of rhyming quatrains. These quatrains, four-line stanzas, can follow any rhyme scheme. Commonly, the quatrains in a ballad follow an ABCB pattern, like this quatrain from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:

And through the drifts the snowy clifts 
Did send a dismal sheen 
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken— 
The ice was all between

An ABCB rhyme scheme refers to the order of the repeated sounds at the end of each line. Here’s a quick example:

A: I write every day B: Someday, I’ll finish my book C: But sometimes I get so immersed B: That I forget to cook!

ABCB isn’t the only acceptable rhyme scheme for ballads. Some follow an ABAB scheme, which means the first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme. Whichever rhyme scheme a ballad follows, the rhyme and meter give the poem a feeling of musicality.

3 Elegy

Unlike our previous entries, there are no length or form rules for elegies. However, there is a content requirement: Elegies are about death.

Generally, elegies are reflective and written to mourn an individual or group. They also frequently end with lines about hope and redemption. Elegies originated in ancient Greece, and over time, they morphed into the mourning poems we know them as today.

“Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a well-known elegy. Take a look at this excerpt:

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

4 Epic

There’s a reason the adjective epic refers to things that are huge, complex, and/or over-the-top: Epics are long, detailed poems that tell fantastical stories of larger-than-life characters. These stories can be fictional, historical, or historical with a generous helping of fiction and drama to heighten the emotion.

Epics have a long history. In fact, The Epic of Gilgamesh, considered by many to be the oldest surviving piece of literature, is an epic poem. Here is a snippet from the epic’s more than 2,000 words:

When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man.

5 Free verse

Free verse poetry explicitly does away with a consistent rhyme scheme and meter. A free verse poem can be long or short, and it can cover any subject matter—as long as it doesn’t have a consistent rhyme scheme or meter, it’s a free verse poem!

“Autumn” by T.E. Hulme is example of a short free verse poem:

A touch of cold in the Autumn night— I walked abroad, 
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge Like a red-faced farmer. 
I did not stop to speak, but nodded, 
And round about were the wistful stars With white faces like town children.

Free verse vs. blank verse

While their names are similar, free verse poetry is quite different from blank verse poetry. Blank verse poetry is poetry with a specific meter, but no rhyme scheme. Although many blank verse poems are written in iambic pentameter, this is not a requirement. The only requirements for blank verse poetry are that the poem not rhyme and that it adheres to a consistent meter.

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

To a Wreath of Snow

by Emily Brontë

O transient voyager of heaven!
O silent sign of winter skies!
What adverse wind thy sail has driven
To dungeons where a prisoner lies?

Methinks the hands that shut the sun
So sternly from this morning’s brow
Might still their rebel task have done
And checked a thing so frail as thou.

They would have done it had they known
The talisman that dwelt in thee,
For all the suns that ever shone
Have never been so kind to me!

For many a week, and many a day
My heart was weighed with sinking gloom
When morning rose in mourning grey
And faintly lit my prison room

But angel like, when I awoke,
Thy silvery form so soft and fair
Shining through darkness, sweetly spoke
Of cloudy skies and mountains bare;

The dearest to a mountaineer
Who, all life long has loved the snow
That crowned her native summits drear,
Better, than greenest plains below.

And voiceless, soulless, messenger
Thy presence waked a thrilling tone
That comforts me while thou art here
And will sustain when thou art gone

The Lawyers Know Too Much

The Lawyers Know Too Much, by Carl Sandburg:

The lawyers, Bob, know too much.
They are chums of the books of the old John Marshall.
They know it all, what a dead hand wrote,
A stiff dead hand and its knuckles crumbling,
The bones of the fingers a thin white ash.
       The lawyers know
       a dead man’s thoughts too well.

In the heels of the higgling lawyers, Bob,
Too many slippery ifs and buts and howevers,
Too much hereinbefore provided whereas,
Too many doors to go in and out of.

       When the lawyers are through
       What is there left, Bob?
       Can a mouse nibble at it
       And find enough to fasten a tooth in?

Link to the rest at

Carver wins Moth Nature Writing Prize for ‘deeply funny’ work combining science and poetry

FromThe Bookseller:

Genevieve Carver has won The Moth’s Nature Writing Prize for “Postcards from a Fulmar”, a “deeply funny” hybrid of science writing and poetry.

The prize, run by the Moth magazine, is in its third year, and was judged by author Max Porter. It awards writing of the highest quality that reflects the writer’s relationship with the natural world.

Commenting on Carver’s work, Porter said: “It’s such an interesting and surprising hybrid, which manages to be deeply funny and very sad at the same time, an unusual feat in both science writing and poetry, even more unusual when the two are blended. The ironic and the tender are perfectly fused, and formal innovations are cleverly tethered to meaning. Both the birds and the language were thrillingly – and in unexpected ways – alive in this piece.”

Carver, whose poetry has been published in journals such as Mslexia, the White Review and the North, is currently Poet in Residence with the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, where she’s observing and writing in response to their work studying bottlenose dolphin, porpoise and harbour seals in the Moray Firth, as well as the fulmar colony on the uninhabited island of Eynhallow in Orkney.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG didn’t know Schools of Biological Sciences had poets in residence. Let it be known that PG is available to be a poet in residence at a law school.

 Where Poems Begin

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Creativity emerges from a vast, wordless reality that is hidden in plain sight. Radiant, beautiful, benevolent, and infinite, it is the source of all ideas and inspiration. Contrary to popular myth, you do not have to suffer to create. There is a gentle path to creativity, one that does not involve alcohol, drugs, or a life lived in chaos and torment. Creativity: Where Poems Begin is not just about how poets get ideas for poems. It is about how moments of inspiration come to all of us.

. . . .

In 1971, I wrote over a hundred poems, but the price was high. Suffering, grief, loss, sadness, and despair shattered the barrier between my rational consciousness and the emotional, non-rational sources of my creativity. After I put those troubles behind me, I wanted to go on writing poetry, but I didn’t want to go on suffering. I had come to believe there might be another path to the source of my creativity, a gentle path that I would be able to follow without harming myself. Many things encouraged me to believe that such a path existed, so I examined accounts of how other people had contacted their sources of creativity. 

The first writer I looked at was Marcel Proust, a man who seemed to contact his source primarily by accident. I was fascinated with Proust’s involuntary memories; but I wanted to be able to sit down in the morning, access the source of my creativity, and start writing. 

The second group of people I considered were poets who used more aggressive methods. What I found was not the gentle path I was looking for, but what I came to call, for lack of any better name, “the path of intoxication.” So many great poets had lived miserable lives, ultimately drinking themselves to death or committing suicide. It was hard to think of another literary genre with so many victims. 

Why had writing poetry taken such a toll? I suspected I knew at least part of the answer. In college, I had come across Rimbaud’s letter to Paul Demeny. “The poet,” Rimbaud argued, “transforms himself into a visionary by a . . .  systematic derangement of all the senses. He seeks out all forms suffering, and folly . .”

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Several centuries ago, PG thought of himself as a poet. Perhaps that’s the source of his systemic derangement.

He thought law school choked all the systemic derangement out of him, but maybe there’s still some hanging around.

Emily’s Rhythms

The thing PG really enjoys about doing TPV are some of the amazing comments that visitors post to provide additional information.

Yesterday’s post, It’s Always Time for Meter and Rhyme which brought PG back to Emily Dickinson’s poetry generated two world-class comments from Karen Myers and allynh, each a long-time denizens of the TPV world.

Each of the comments discussed the meter and rhyme of Emily’s poems, but in very different ways.

Karen provided this illustration of iambic tetrameter from Emily’s poem, Because I Could Not Stop for Death:


The lower and upper cases are the unstressed and stressed syllables in this line.

Iambic refers to an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable – daDUM.

Tetrameter refers to how many iambs there are in the line of poetry – six.

Iambic pentameter (five iambs per line) is more frequently found in poetry written in the English language, but Karen’s comment argues that iambic tetrameter (six iambs per line) is a better fit for the way people speak using English.

This is important because in PG’s opinion (and the opinion of many other students of poetry who are smarter/have deeper knowledge than PG), while poetry can be enjoyed by reading it silently, classically, poetry is meant to be spoken aloud and hearing a poem is a better way of enjoying/understanding the poem than just reading it silently.

Music (at least in the Western tradition) is also meant to be played and/or sung and hearing is a better way of enjoying/understanding music than simply reading the words and notes on paper. Western music also has stressed and unstressed notes and often repeats its musical patterns with small or large differences.

Think of the opening sounds of Beethoven’s 5th symphony – da-da-da-DA – repeated thereafter in varying speeds and tonal variations.

allynh pointed out Dickinson’s iambic tetrameter in Because I Could Not Stop for Death meter works with the tune of a long-time favorite song (at least in Texas), The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Here’s an illustration (PG couldn’t get the YouTube video to embed).

It’s Always the Time for Meter and Rhyme

From The Wall Street Journal:

When my sister was in the sixth grade, she had to memorize the poem “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It was the 1950s and my mother, quite modern, was dismayed. To her, rote memorization wasn’t education. The poem was terribly old-fashioned, and it was about death. My mother’s views back then are now standard.

In ancient times, poetry was part of ritual, not only to placate the gods but as to pass history along. Meter and rhyme made it easy to learn.

Now that we have books and electronics, we can remember without meter and rhyme. But they’re still part of us. An echo of the early uses of poetry can be found in nursery rhymes and in such children’s stories as “The Cat in the Hat.” Parents quickly learn that toddlers love rhymes and can readily repeat them.

But poetry has mostly narrowed to small, constrained passages in intellectual magazines like the New Yorker or the Atlantic. It isn’t for the masses. Shakespeare is mostly ignored. The beguiling rhythms of Amanda Gorman’s poetry are available on special occasions only.

A valiant effort to bring back poetry was Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac.” For many years he read a poem on National Public Radio each morning. Another current effort is Poetry Magazine’s poem sent daily by email at no charge. The featured verse is by a contemporary writer on weekdays, a past one on weekends. The magazine has been especially valuable in bringing back little-known poetry by early-20th-century African-American poets.

But a poem sent by email that’s not read aloud must have a small audience. And I don’t know of any poetry clubs comparable to the book clubs that meet monthly around the country.

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Mr. Keillor put some of the blame on T.S. Eliot—perhaps as a stand-in for many modern poets: “Eliot was in a lousy marriage. He was so unhappy, so he took it out on the rest of us. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to be dreary.”

So what can help us when someone does cross the bar? Can poetry soothe? One attraction of funerals is that they are public rituals, and there is the poetic writing of the Bible along with sacred music.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Over the Brazier

Robert Graves was the son of a Gaelic scholar and poet and a mother who was related to an influential German historian of those times.

Graves turned down a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, to join the British Army. While serving, he published his first book of poetry in 1916. The title was Over the Brazier.

Over the Brazier

What life to lead and where to go
After the War, after the War?
We’d often talked this way before.
But I still see the brazier glow
That April night, still feel the smoke
And stifling pungency of burning coke.

I’d thought: ‘A cottage in the hills,
North Wales, a cottage full of books,
Pictures and brass and cosy nooks
And comfortable broad window-sills,
Flowers in the garden, walls all white.
I’d live there peacefully and dream and write.’

But Willie said: ‘No, Home’s no good:
Old England’s quite a hopeless place,
I’ve lost all feeling for my race:
But France has given my heart and blood
Enough to last me all my life,
I’m off to Canada with my wee wife.

‘Come with us, Mac, old thing,’ but Mac
Drawled: ‘No, a Coral Isle for me,
A warm green jewel in the South Sea.
There’s merit in a lumber shack,
And labour is a grand thing…but—
Give me my hot beach and my cocoanut.’

So then we built and stocked for Willie
His log-hut, and for Mac a calm
Rock-a-bye cradle on a palm—
Idyllic dwellings—but this silly
Mad War has now wrecked both, and what
Better hopes has my little cottage got?

Memorial Day

PG wrote about Memorial Day a day or two ago.

Today is celebrated as Memorial Day in the United States. Other nations also have similar traditions.

PG understands that the United Kingdom celebrates Remembrance Day on November 11, the day on which the armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed, ending World War I. He also understands that Australia and New Zealand recognize Anzac Day on April 25, as the day of the first military action by Australian and Kiwi forces in World War I.

Rupert Brooke was one of the leading English poets of World War I.

His most well-known poem had two somewhat different titles, “The Soldier” and “Nineteen-Fourteen: 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.

Rupert Brook

Brooke saw his only action of World War I during the defense of Antwerp, Belgium, against German invasion in early October 1914. Although aided by a stiff resistance from Antwerp’s inhabitants, British troops suffered a decisive defeat in that conflict and were forced to retreat through a devastated Belgian countryside.

In 1915, Brooke was serving as an officer in the British Royal Navy. He died of blood poisoning on a hospital ship anchored off the Greek island of Skyros, while awaiting deployment in the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

In Flanders Fields

Canadian physician John McCrae volunteered for World War I in 1914 and served as a brigade surgeon for an artillery unit. He was involved in Second Battle of Ypres, where the Germans launched an assault that included the war’s first use of poisonous chlorine gas. He cared for many wounded, including a close friend who died.

In the aftermath, McCrae wrote a poem about those he and others could not save.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

God Has a Beautiful Mansion for Me Elsewhere

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

On December 10, 1825, the fifty-year-old English lawyer Henry Crabb Robinson attended a dinner at the home of his friend Charles Aders, a London businessman. Eliza, Aders’ wife, was a painter and printmaker, and she had invited a few artist and engraver friends to the party. Over the course of the evening Robinson became increasingly fascinated by one of the guests—an elderly, relatively unknown poet and painter by the name of William Blake, whose conversation casually roamed from the polite and mundane to the beatific and fantastic.

Blake was short, pale, and a little overweight, with the accent of a lifelong Londoner. He was dressed in old-fashioned, threadbare clothes and his gray trousers were shiny at the front through wear. His large, strong eyes didn’t seem to fit with his soft, round face. Robinson noted in his diary that he had “an expression of great sweetness, but bordering on weakness—except when his features are animated by expression, and then he has an air of inspiration about him.”

For all his wild notions and heretical statements, Blake was pleasant company and easy to like. The aggressive and hectoring voice of his writings was not the Blake those who met him recall. Many years later, another guest at that party, Maria Denman, remarked, “One remembers even in age the kindness of such a man.”

What made Blake so fascinating was the casual way in which he talked about his relationship with the spirit world. Blake, Robinson wrote, “spoke of his paintings as being what he had seen in his visions—and when he said ‘my visions’ it was in the ordinary unemphatic tone in which we speak of trivial matters that everyone understands and cares nothing about.” Blake peppered his conversation with remarks about his relationship with various angels, the nature of the devil, and his visionary meetings with historical figures such as Socrates, Milton, and Jesus Christ. Somehow, he did this in a way that people found endearing rather than disturbing. As Robinson wrote, “There is a natural sweetness and gentility about Blake which are delightful. And when he is not referring to his visions he talks sensibly and acutely.”

Robinson walked home with Blake that night and was so struck by the conversation that he spent the evening transcribing as much of it as he could remember. The two men became friends, and Robinson’s diary is an invaluable record of how Blake acted and thought during the last two years of his life. “Shall I call him Artist or Genius—or Mystic—or Madman?” Robinson mused that first night. He spent the rest of their relationship attempting to come up with a definite answer. “Probably he is all” was the best he could find.

. . . .

A week after the party, Robinson made his first visit to Blake’s home at Fountain Court in the Strand, where he lived with his wife, Catherine. The building itself has long since gone, but it was roughly where the Savoy Hotel now stands. Robinson was unprepared for the level of poverty in which the couple were living. “I found him in a small room, which seems to be both a working room and a bedroom,” he wrote. “Nothing could exceed the squalid air both of the apartment and his dress, but in spite of dirt—I might say filth—an air of natural gentility is diffused over him.”

This was the second of the two rooms that the Blakes rented on the first floor of the building. The first was a wood-paneled reception room, which doubled as an unofficial gallery for Blake’s drawings and paintings. The second, at the rear, was reserved for everything else. In one corner was the bed, and in the other was the fire on which Catherine Blake cooked. There was one table for meals, and another on which Blake worked. From here he looked out of the southern-facing window, where a glimpse of the Thames could be seen between the buildings and streets that ran down to the river. This sliver of water would often catch the sun and appear golden. Behind it, the Surrey Hills stretched into the distance. For all the evident poverty, visitors spoke of the rooms as enchanted. As one later recalled, “There was a strange expansion and sensation of freedom in those two rooms very seldom felt elsewhere.”

Blake, Robinson remembered, was “quite unembarrassed when he begged me to sit down, as if he were in a palace. There was but one chair in the room besides that on which he sat. On my putting my hand to it, I found that it would have fallen to pieces if I had lifted it, so, as if I had been a sybarite, I said with a smile, ‘Will you let me indulge myself?’ and I sat on the bed, and near him, and during my short stay there was nothing in him that betrayed that he was aware of what to other persons might have been even offensive, not in his person, but in all about him.”

“I live in a hole here, but God has a beautiful mansion for me elsewhere,” Blake once said. He knew that he was pitied by the occasional prosperous artist who visited, but he thought that it was he who should be pitying them. “I possess my visions and peace,” he argued. “They have bartered their birthright for a mess of pottage.” Robinson was struck on that first visit by how at ease the Blakes seemed with their poverty. “I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory,” Blake told him. Despite how the world had treated him he was quite happy, he insisted, because he wanted nothing other than to live for art and had no desire to do anything for profit. But as Robinson also noted, “Though he spoke of his happiness, he spoke of past sufferings, and of sufferings as necessary. ‘There is suffering in heaven, for where there is the capacity of enjoyment, there is the capacity of pain.’ ”

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake, The Tyger, 1794
Blake’s Ancient of Days, 1794

But at my back I always hear Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvel, To His Coy Mistress

PG’s Note: In 1641, two years after Marvel completed his BA at Cambridge, his father drowned in “the Tide of Humber”—the estuary at Hull made famous by To his Coy Mistress.