« Poetry: Open Thread | Main | Romney's Idiot Schtick »

January 15, 2008


I quite dislike the orthography (is that the right word?) above. I know it as more like:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading--treading--till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through--

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum--
Kept beating--beating--till I thought
My Mind was going numb--

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space--began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here--

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down--
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing--then--

The Dark Hills

Dark hills at evening in the west,
Where sunset hovers like a sound
Of golden horns that sang to rest
Old bones of warriors under ground,
Far now from all the bannered ways
Where flash the legions of the sun,
You fade—-as if the last of days
Were fading, and all wars were done.

-- Edwin Arlington Robinson


To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.

- Henry Reed

rilkefan: gack. What was I thinking?

(Answer: I wasn't. I know it by heart. I was reciting it to myself, on a walk, earlier. That, of course, makes not noticing the last stanza's absence pretty incomprehensible, if I ask me.)

I've changed it.

On a lighter note: a scale model (how would they know?) of The City of Minas Tirith During the Battle of Pellenor Fields, in candy.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in my tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, — the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

- Emily Dickinson

You can never have too much poetry.

The Minas Tirith model is cool. I imagine you've also seen the Grand Flaming Marshmallow Balrog Contest!

In other news, The Poor Man is back.

Note that currently they have the Best. Blogroll. Ever.

True Friends

(a Zen story, as translated by Paul Reps)

A long time ago in China there were two friends, one who played the harp skillfully and one who listened skillfully.

When the one played or sang about a mountain, the other would say: "I can see the mountain before us."

When the one played about water, the listener would exclaim, "Here is the running stream!"

But the listener feel sick and died. The first friend cut the strings of his harp and never played again. Since that time the cutting of harp strings has always been a sign of intimate friendship.

From The Heart's Garden, The Garden's Heart - Kenneth Rexroth

Water is always the same —
Obedient to the laws
That move the sun and the other
Stars. In Japan as in
California it falls
Through the steep mountain valleys
Towards the sea. Waterfalls drop
Long musical ribbons from
The high rocks where temples perch.
Ayu in the current poise
And shift between the stones
At the edge of the bubbles.
White dwarf iris heavy with
Perfume hang over the brink.
Cedars and cypresses climb
The hillsides. Something else climbs.
Something moves reciprocally
To the tumbling water.
It ascends the rapids,
The torrents, the waterfalls,
To the last high springs.
It disperses and climbs the rain.
You cannot see it or feel it.
But if you sit by the pool
Below the waterfall, full
Of calling voices all chanting
The turmoil of peace,
It communicates itself.
It speaks in the molecules
Of your blood, in the pauses
Between your breathing. Water
Flows around and over all
Obstacles, always seeking
The lowest place. Equal and
Opposite, action and reaction,
An invisible light swarms
Upward without effort. But
Nothing can stop it. No one
Can see it. Over and around
Whatever stands in the way,
Blazing infinitesimals —
Up and out — a radiation
Into the empty darkness
Between the stars.

Perhaps (no perhaps, I'm sure) this is too dark, but it's a poem that stays lodged in my mind.

Poem #20 from Time
by Yehuda Amichai (translated by author with Ted Hughes)

The radius of the bomb was twelve inches
And the radius of its effective force seven yards
Containing four dead and eleven wounded.
And around those, in a wider circle
Of pain and time, are scattered two hospitals
And one graveyard. But the young woman,
Buried in the place she came from,
Over a hundred kilometers from here,
Widens the circle quite a bit,
And the lonely man mourning her death
In the provinces of a Mediterranean land,
Includes the whole world in the circle.
And I shall omit the scream of orphans
That reaches God's throne
And way beyond, and widens the circle
To no end and no God.

Tha Naming Of Things

you remind me of you
the way you shot right through and how
you broke my window glass, fast
it happened so fast
I have to confess that I
that I was impressed that I
despite all the mess and the broken glass
I was impressed

here's where I disappeared
where I fell off the pier
and to be rescued I did wait
I watched waterbugs skate
as they draw figure eights as they draw
from the bottom of the lake as they draw
I watched waterbugs skate as they draw
from the bottom of the lake I watched the waterbugs skate

memories like mohair sweaters
stretched and pilled faux distressed letters
moose's horns and figure eights
white plastic bags in search of mates
what suffocates the land
in the memory of garbage can
memory of garbage can

you can't be found when the bell rings
you weren't there that day for the naming of things
the naming of things
where the homeroom bell rings
the homeroom bell rings

hey, just look at the mess you made today
didn't really think it would get this bad
hey, feel like you're living in a Russian play
where it seems like you made everybody mad

you remind me of you
when you shot through
and broke my window glass
it happened so fast
I have to confess
I was impressed, I was impressed
despite all the mess and the broken glass
I was impressed

Andrew Bird

Shine On, Perishing Republic
---by Robinson Jeffers

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence;
and home to the mother.

You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it
stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the
thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there
are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught -- they say --
God, when he walked on earth.

--Bloix, have you heard the recording of Henry Reed reading Naming of Parts?

Sick Leave

When I'm asleep, dreaming and lulled and warm,--
They come, the homeless ones, the noiseless dead.
While the dim charging breakers of the storm
Bellow and drone and rumble overhead,
Out of the gloom they gather about my bed.
They whisper to my heart; their thoughts are mine.
"Why are you here with all your watches ended?
From Ypres to Frise we sought you in the Line."
In bitter safety I awake, unfriended;
And while the dawn begins with slashing rain
I think of the Battalion in the mud.
"When are you going out to them again?
Are they not still your brothers through our blood?"

Siegfried Sassoon

Not to nitpick, outofcontext, but the title is "Shine, Perishing Republic." It's an important difference because part of the idea is that "life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly / A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:" i.e., this republic won't shine long in comparison. It won't shine on, but will rather gloriously blaze a short time then disappear.

And now, a poem:

after Philip Larkin

I thought that it would last my time
as well, but now I have my doubts
that we can make it past this latest cry
of “Empire!” without losing out

on what might once have been. We are
not exceptional, not that we
ever were, except in legend-
makers’ mouths, our Founding Fathers

only real as Arthur, El Cid,
the Seven Samurai, Ah-nold.
Our myths are real to us, although
they’re only atmosphere. Now

we start to pay the price: belief
in what we supposed we were—
saviors, fair, just, and then the biggie,
moral—and yet absurd belief

is what has brought us here, to this
time when quicksilver runs
in rivers; refineries spill
toxic chemicals by the tons

into lakes beside where homes
once dry behind levees now sink
into silt that even when dry
will grow nothing for years, will stink,

this time where protest, a voice raised
is called treason by reckless cowards
who send others to do their will.
This is nothing that hasn’t come

before; it wasn’t reality
I thought would last beyond my time,
just the illusion. It’s possible
we’ll stay fooled. I hope I’m wrong.

by Wilfrid Owen

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son
And half the youth of Europe, one by one.

("Old Man and the Young" I mean)

No! I am not Prince Hamlet,
nor was meant to be
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Thanks for the correction, Brian (I don't know why nitpicking has a negative connotation because I wouldn't want to have nits). I have corrected it in my archives. As penance, I will post an antidote of sorts to the previous poem (corrections welcomed, as I have also transposed this one by hand):

From As I Sat Alone By Blue Ontario's Shores
by Walt Whitman

O I see now, flashing, that this America is only you and me,
Its power, weapons, testimony, are you and me,
Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, slavery, are you and me,
Its Congress is you and me—the officers, capitols, armies, ships, are you and me,
Its endless gestations of new States are you and me,
The war—that war so bloody and grim—the war I will henceforth forget—was
you and
Natural and artificial are you and me,
Freedom, language, poems, employments, are you and me,
Past, present, future, are you and me.

I swear I dare not shirk any part of myself,
Not any part of America, good or bad,
Not the promulgation of Liberty—not to cheer up slaves and horrify foreign despots,
Not to build for that which builds for mankind,
Not to balance ranks, complexions, creeds, and the sexes,
Not to justify science, nor the march of equality,
Nor to feed the arrogant blood of the brawn beloved of time.

I swear I am for those that have never been master’d!
For men and women whose tempers have never been master’d,
For those whom laws, theories, conventions, can never master.

I swear I am for those who walk abreast with the whole earth!
Who inaugurate one, to inaugurate all.

I swear I will not be outfaced by irrational things!
I will penetrate what it is in them that is sarcastic upon me!
I will make cities and civilizations defer to me!
This is what I have learnt from America—it is the amount—and it I teach again.

(Democracy! while weapons were everywhere aim’d at your breast,
I saw you serenely give birth to immortal children—saw in dreams your dilating form;
Saw you with spreading mantle covering the world.)

"(I don't know why nitpicking has a negative connotation because I wouldn't want to have nits)"

Bless you, and all your descendents.


"We're sorry, your comment has not been published because TypePad's antispam filter has flagged it as potential comment spam. It has been held for review by the blog's author.

Go back to More Poetry. More Thread.."

Yes, of course it is.

(This is Gary.)

Thanks, outofcontext. I only knew that because I taught the poem last week so it was fresh in my mind. And I like the Whitman.

One of my all-time favorites, by Edna St. Vincent Millay.


This door you might not open, and you did;
  So enter now, and see for what slight thing
You are betrayed. . . . Here is no treasure hid,
  No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
  For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
But only what you see. . . . Look yet again —
  An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
Yet this alone out of my life I kept
  Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
And you did so profane me when you crept
  Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
&bsp; This now is yours. I seek another place.

grrr. that should be an nbsp in the last line, not a bsp. sigh.

And if we're going to be extremely topical, another favorite from e. e. cummings:

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

ctate: except, of course, that the last poem no more describes Andy than, oh, Now is the Month of Maying or To His Coy Mistress.

He did not rush like a lion. He always stopped to think.

&bsp; This now is yours. I seek another place.

Maybe it's a tbsp: The author is handing the kitchen over to the subject?

hilzoy, i certainly did not intend to present that poem as representing Andy. i see our nattering crowds in it -- the enablers of Andy's deployment.

Did someone say there would be an end,
An end, Oh an end to love and mourning?
Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend,
The cold bleak voices of the early morning
When all the birds are dumb in dark November,
Remember and forget, forget, remember.

After the false night, warm true voices, wake!
Voice of the dead that touches the cold living,
Through the pale sunlight once more gravely speak.
Tell me again while the last leaves are falling:
"Dear child, what has been once so interwoven
Cannot be raveled nor the gift ungiven."

Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited--
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.

Darkness to light, light into darkness spin;
When all the birds have flown to some real haven
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen and feel new-cherished, new-forgiven
As the lost human voices speak through us and blend
Our complex love, our mourning without end.

May Sarton, "All Souls"

i see our nattering crowds in it -- the enablers of Andy's deployment.

That's certainly how I teach it, and how I will teach it in a couple of weeks. What, me indoctrinate the college-aged youth of America? Perish the thought. (I'm not good enough at it yet is all.)

Modesto Kid: Do you know the setting of the Owen "Parable" in Benjamin Britten's War Requiem? We're rehearsing it now, and that section tears me up more than any other part of the Requiem.

(Coincidentally, the above comment is valid for both tears=rips and tears=crying.)

No, I didn't know that poem had been set to music. Is it a choral piece? I don't really know who Britten is though I recognize his name.

The War Requiem was written by British composer Benjamin Britten in 1963 for the dedication of Coventry Cathedral, rebuilt after it had been destroyed by German bombs in World War II.

It's considered one of the great choral works of the 20th century, though not often done because of the resources required - full choir and orchestra, children's choir, and three absolutely first-rate soloists (soprano, tenor, and baritone). The best-known recording has Britten himself conducting, and much of the "original cast," including the three soloists, who were intentionally of three of the nationalities involved in WWII: Galina Vishnevskaya (USSR), Peter Pears (UK - and Britten's lover of many years), and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Germany).

The text combines elements of the Latin mass for the dead (requiem), sung by the choirs and the soprano, and a number of Owen's poems, sung by the male soloists. At its best it is absolutely haunting.

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

-- ee cummings

Damnit - sorry ctate, great minds thinking and fools seldom differing and all that.

Oh yes, Benjamin Britten. Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings, please.

Sonnet by John Keats
O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom‑pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes.
Or wait the “Amen” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my Soul.

This Guardian review recommends the Guilini/Chicago/Robert Tear/Dale Clevenger version, but to a horn player, it is impossible to imagine one better than the (previously mentioned) Peter Pears/Denis Brain version. Get them both.

I think it better that in times like these
A poet's mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter's night.

"On Being Asked for a War Poem" -W.B. Yeats

Gary watches all
Green clouds in a purple sky
Dreaming of Fafblog

Can anyone help me untangle my puzzlement?

Only in generalities Gary… In my experience there are many bloggers who are quick to link the hot story of the day but then move on to other things and don’t link follow up stories, even when they are pointed out to them.

Megan McArdle linked since I posted that, and a well-known blogger you're familiar with e-mailed me to say that he didn't blog it, although he appreciated my sending the info to him, because a) he felt funerals were private (it was on the front page of one of the two dominant newspapers in the state, and on every newsstand in the state -- that's "private"?), and "it was depressing."

I do very much appreciate the explanation. Best I not comment further on it.

What I find depressing about it is the realization that I waited too long: if I write a post of personal memories about Andy, now, it'll be a tree falling in the forest with only a few witnesses.

I really shouldn't post some of the bitter thoughts running through my mind. It's normal that everyone else wasn't that close to Andy, I remind myself. It's normal that, for most of those folks who posted tearfully once, Andy is now "done." Past. We did that.

People moving on is normal.

It's just that I wasn't prepared to run into that in what is, for me, so very soon.

I should know better.

And I must work harder on making myself absorb the fact that this is normal, and I shouldn't think ill of anyone for it.

Gary: I can certainly understand all that. But I think you should do that post anyway because a) it may help you to go through the exercise and b) there are plenty of people here and other places who would look forward to reading such personal memories, people who wished they had known Andrew a little better and may feel at least a little that we do reading such a piece, and finally c) members of his family have mentioned they’ll be checking in from time to time and I’m certain that any of them would love to read such a piece.

Just my 2 pennies.

"But I think you should do that post anyway"

Oh, sure. Sorry I didn't make that clear. If I don't do it, or don't do it for a long time, it'll be because it's still too emotionally hard for me.

But I'd be doing it for those who care, and no other reason.

After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?

The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

--Emily Dickinson

I love the War Requiem, which introduced me to a number of Wilfred Owen's poems. There's an archive of his poetry here.
I was going to quote "Anthem for Doomed Youth" here, but another one I just encountered today resonates more with me right now:

Smile, Smile, Smile

Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday's Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not yet planned,
'For,' said the paper, 'when this war is done
The men's first instinct will be making homes.
Meanwhile their foremost need is aerodomes,
It being certain war has but begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead,-
The sons we offered might regret they died
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
Though all be worthy Victory which all bought,
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot
The greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity.'
Nation?-The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
(This is the thing they know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France,
Not many elsewhere now, save under France.)
Pictures of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings
Say: How they smile! They're happy now, poor things.

Owen was KIA on November 4th, 1918, just one week before the end of the war. He was an officer who was killed while leading his men across a canal. His reasons for for returning to his unit (from Britain, where he had been invalided), strike me as parallel to some of the things Andrew wrote about his motivations. I imagine the two of them as kindred spirits, and equally tragic losses.

A month before his death he wrote to his mother: "My nerves are in perfect order. I came out again in order to help these boys; directly, by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can."

(Noted by Siegfried Sassoon in the introduction to the posthumous book of Owen's poetry)

Dear Gary,

If I can put my two cents in: please do the post when you can.

I first heard about Andrew Olmsted on the day he died. It's two weeks later, and I still think about him when I go to sleep and when I wake up and at odd times during the day. I feel deep sorrow and sadness that he is no longer participating in this world. His life and passing have deeply affected me in more ways than even I expected. I've even been looking for some postings about his funeral for a sense of closure.

I love to read about peoples' interactions with him. For me, he put the face of a human being on the soldiers who are in Iraq. I've always supported them, but opposed the relentless war that marches on year after year. I respect that he held some different ideas and honor his personal reasons for participating. He has also reminded me that we need to create ways to dialog with one another, especially when we disagree. I admired his respectful and thoughtful responses to people who disagreed with him. It makes me realize that we've come to such a polarized way of political communication that we stall out, rather than finding ways to move forward together.

I really admire the Obsidian Wings posters and commenters for striving to more fully engage one another in dialog. It is a breath of fresh air to come here, although I notice it's more difficult to put focused attention on the thoughtful, reasoned arguments, simply because they are more than just sound bites. I've become accustomed to short, superficial comments and it requires more attention to be here.

P.S. I hadn't read the whole thread before adding my comment and now am grateful to find that Gary did a post on the funeral. Thank you.

The comments to this entry are closed.