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October 08, 2018


Just to (attempt to) set the ground a bit. It seems to me that what differentiates poetry from prose is structure.

That is, poetry will have meter and/or rhyme and/or alliteration . . . or something. This covers everything from sonnets to limericks to olde English alliterate forms -- and more besides. But if it's just prose broken up in to short lines, it doesn't qualify.

War poetry has a tendency to privilege veteran military experience and make it the gravitational point around which all the rest circulates. So I went out of my way to find something more in line with the sort of war experience I look for for my Children in Armed Conflict class:

Children of Aleppo
Chard deNiord

The children were asking
a thousand questions about why
the sky was blue and grass was green
when suddenly their tongues
were stilled by an answer they
never saw. Now silence rings
in their place so loud a stone
can hear it in Arkansas.
So why not the men inside
the sky who only hear the roar
beneath their wings that rip
the clouds? Who believe the distance
is theirs for the way it turns
the heavens into a high of feeling
nothing at all? In which
they have everywhere to turn
as excellent pilots—really
superb—with nowhere to go.

For some poetry of antiquity the line gets quite blurry there. Cicero warned that some types of verse were so close to prose that an orator had to take great care not to cross the line because (except as a quote) that was seen as a major faux pas. Which is btw another proof that we normally recite Latin or Greek verse completely wrong.

Hmmm. wj, in my opinion what you write is not exactly wrong, but it is too limited (unless we accept your "...or something.." as a hint that the poetic essence can sometimes be felt if not exactly defined).

Apparently, Robert Frost said: Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. To me, this captures something of the nature of poetry, and its often fugitive transcendence.

I've been trying to think of an example of a poem which is indubitably a poem, while lacking the elements you specify, and so far haven't found a perfect example. But in the other thread I referred to this poem, Naming of Parts, written by Henry Reed in 1942, and will give myself the pleasure of quoting it (and anybody who is unfamiliar with it the pleasure of reading it for the first time):

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens likecoral in all the neighboring gardens,
And today 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, 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 today we have the naming of parts.

That's an interesting poem, Nous. I'd never heard of Chard deNiord. In fact, as has probably become obvious over the years, I haven't read much recent poetry at all, and mainly quote Auden, Larkin, Yeats etc. It's good to be made to look at new stuff, thank you.

I'd say that the poetic urge is the urge to create language that draws attention to its own textual body; where the words -- the sounds or the shape of them -- dwell and persist in their material presence and refuse to be subsumed into invisible narrative or description or characterization or ideation.

Dammit, I've just seen that in the last line of Naming of Parts there is an errant "the", which ruins it. Sorry, I copied from Poemhunter, which I now remember often has little mistakes. The last line should of course read:

For today we have naming of parts.

I have to admit that I can do short* poetry only as a parody** or as a stylistic excercise.
Ironically, I find it much easier to write sonnets in English than German.

*epic is easy
**e.g. a confession of love to a Lovecraftian monstrosity in classic sonnet form

Nous, if I understand you correctly, I think that is a pretty good definition. I've just been looking (fruitlessly) for a definition I once read by I think Akhmatova or Mandelstam, about writing a poem. In my memory it was rather like the (possibly apocryphal) Michaelangelo one: "The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material."

So if the work of the poet is to carve away every superfluous or inauthentic word, it follows that all the words remaining are absolutely necessary and in fact irreplaceable, that "the sounds or the shape of them -- dwell and persist in their material presence and refuse to be subsumed into invisible narrative or description or characterization or ideation."

And then Whitman.
I’m pretty ignorant about American poetry, but this year sung Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem, which uses three of Whitman’s poems from Drum Taps, this one (Reconciliation) in its entirety.
If you enjoy choral music, it is a remarkable piece.

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again
and ever again, this soiled world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin - I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

Leaves of Grass was set to music beautifully by Fred Hersch, vocals by Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry. I'm not always a fan of collaborations, but that one is fantastic. Available on Spotify.

A little Yeats, presented without commentary.

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Grace Paley


The sheep families are out in the meadow
Caddy and her two big lambs Gruff and Veronica
Veronica raises her curly head then bends to the grass
Usefully she shits green grass and wool is her work

Gruff is going away he will become something else
Father of generations? What? more likely meat that
is a male in war or pasture his work is meat

[the printed text as some gaps of spaces that I didn't manage to reproduce here]

Grace Paley

Bob Visits Friends

Well I can see you now
you are hurrying along the street
head down in order to not miss
any great event on the pavement
about to make a visit to somebody's life
Peter and Elka's where the children
will welcome you with bread and strawberries
they fly to a proper distance
nibbling rye crumbs by the healthy ton
sighing in Russian and singing in German

then you will extricate yourself
from the richness of kitchens and family
and cross town again because it's so early
the summer's first light hot hand
has made you feverish for encounter in air
at least by open window so now the sixth floor
overlooking Bedford Street the open lot
that will not become the Broome Street Expressway

Because of this political victory and the birth
of a child there is a plan being made
in that small apartment

The fact is: this can be successful
if it starts late enough in life

Russell Libby

Rules for Trees

One possibility I consider often is simple patience.
It's now twenty years since all the big pine and hemlock were cut,
and already the stumps are hard to find.
Eventually some trees will shade out others, and the undergrowth.
Poplars tried to dominate, but the ice storm removed most.
The broken trunks form a giant set of pick-up sticks that
I can't play. They're too big for me to lift.

I take my bow saw and walk to the woods.
When I stop and begin work at a cluster of saplings,
I realize how little I can do. Within a ten foot circle,
white pine, sugar maple, red maple, white birch,
yellow birch, black cherry, white ash.
I prune the pine, keep the sugar maple, and save
the yellow birch for another day,
one I'm unlikely to see.

I have my own simple rules.
Look for straight trees.
Help them grow.


Russell was the longtime executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. He died in 2012, far too soon, of cancer. This poem is from the last of his several books of poetry: What You Should Know: A Field Guide to Three Sisters Farm. The three sisters in question are Russell's daughters. The farm is in the next town over from mine.

I read the war poems here at ObWi coincidentally just before a conversation with my son about a podcast (?) he had listened to about the back story of Band of Brothers. That made me think of the Sullivan brothers, or "the Sullivan boys," as my parents' generation called them in the years when I was a tiny child, not that long after the war. I lost it at that point in the conversation, but luckily we were out for a night walk and there was nothing to do but walk silently for a while.

Before Disaster

Evening traffic homeward burns
Swift and even on the turns,
Drifting weight in triple rows,
Fixed relation and repose.
This one edges out and by,
Inch by inch with steady eye.
But should error be increased,
Mass and moment are released;
Matter loosens, flooding blind,
Levels drivers to its kind.
Ranks of nations thus descend,
Watchful, to a stormy end.
By a moment's calm beguiled,
I have got a wife and child.
Fool and scoundrel guide the State.
Peace is whore to Greed and Hate.
Nowhere may I turn to flee:
Action is security.
Treading change with savage heel,
We must live or die by steel.

Yvor Winters

Dockery and Son

'Dockery was junior to you,
Wasn't he?' said the Dean. 'His son's here now.'
Death-suited, visitant, I nod. 'And do
You keep in touch with-' Or remember how
Black-gowned, unbreakfasted, and still half-tight
We used to stand before that desk, to give
'Our version' of 'these incidents last night'?
I try the door of where I used to live:

Locked. The lawn spreads dazzlingly wide.
A known bell chimes. I catch my train, ignored.
Canal and clouds and colleges subside
Slowly from view. But Dockery, good Lord,
Anyone up today must have been born
In '43, when I was twenty-one.
If he was younger, did he get this son
At nineteen, twenty? Was he that withdrawn

High-collared public-schoolboy, sharing rooms
With Cartwright who was killed? Well, it just shows
How much . . . How little . . . Yawning, I suppose
I fell asleep, waking at the fumes
And furnace-glares of Sheffield, where I changed,
And ate an awful pie, and walked along
The platform to its end to see the ranged
Joining and parting lines reflect a strong

Unhindered moon. To have no son, no wife,
No house or land still seemed quite natural.
Only a numbness registered the shock
Of finding out how much had gone of life,
How widely from the others. Dockery, now:
Only nineteen, he must have taken stock
Of what he wanted, and been capable
Of . . . No, that's not the difference: rather, how

Convinced he was he should be added to!
Why did he think adding meant increase?
To me it was dilution. Where do these
Innate assumptions come from? Not from what
We think truest, or most want to do:
Those warp tight-shut, like doors. They're more a style
Our lives bring with them: habit for a while,
Suddenly they harden into all we've got

And how we got it; looked back on, they rear
Like sand-clouds, thick and close, embodying
For Dockery a son, for me nothing,
Nothing with all a son's harsh patronage.
Life is first boredom, then fear.
Whether or not we use it, it goes,
And leaves what something hidden from us chose,
And age, and then the only end of age.

Philip Larkin
_The Whitsun Weddings_

Next, Please

Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say,

Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste!

Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
Each rope distinct,

Flagged, and the figurehead with its golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors; it's
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last

We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.

Phillip Larkin

In the Desert

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter -- bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

Stephen Crane
and Other Lines

Reuben Bright

Because he was a butcher and thereby
Did earn an honest living (and did right)
I would not have you think that Reuben Bright
Was any more a brute than you or I;
For when they told him that his wife must die,
He stared at them and shook with grief and fright,
And cried like a great baby half that night,
And made the women cry to see him cry.
And after she was dead, and he had paid
The singers and the sexton and the rest,
He packed a lot of things that she had made
Most mournfully away in an old chest
Of hers, and put some chopped-up cedar boughs
In with them, and tore down the slaughter-house.

Edward Arlington Robinson

What Any Lover Learns

Water is heavy silver over stone.
Water is heavy silver over stone's
Refusal. It does not fall. It fills. It flows
Every crevice, every fault of the stone,
Every hollow. River does not run.
River presses its heavy silver self
Down into stone and stone refuses.

What runs,
Swirling and leaping into sun, is stone's
Refusal of the river, not the river.

Archibald Macleish

A strange old man
Stops me
Looking out of my deep mirror.

Masu kagami
Soko naru kage ni
Mukai ite miru
Toki ni koso
Shirani okina ni
Au kokochi sure


GFTNC, thank you for Naming of Parts
I've added it to the permanent collection.

Areala, thanks for WBY on Maude Gonne
I'll post one more, in which he talks about her again.

And so to bed.


Now must I these three praise--
Three women that have wrought
What joy is in my days:
One because no thought,
Nor those unpassing cares,
No, not in these fifteen
Many-times-troubled years,
Could ever come between
Mind and delighted mind;
And one because her hand
Had strength that could unbind
What none can understand,
What none can have and thrive,
Youth's dreamy load, till she
So changed me that I live
Labouring in ecstasy.
And what of her that took
All till my youth was gone
With scarce a pitying look?
How could praise that one?
When day begins to break
I count my good and bad,
Being wakeful for her sake,
Remembering what she had,
What eagle look still shows,
While from my heart's root
So great a sweetness flows
I shake from head to foot.

William Butler Yeats

Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

Howard Nemerov

I hope I'm not stinking up the place here, but I wanted, for a bit of comic relief, to introduce William McGonagall to any who may not know him.


The Tay Bridge Disaster
by William McGonagall

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

’Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill’d all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

The German poem on the same event:
Beloved by teachers and hated by the kids who have to memorise it.

Amaryllis: wonderful!

joel hanes: thank you for yours, too. I love everything you posted, some of which I knew, some not. I hope you took the errant "the" out of the last line. The final verse of Next, Please (one of my late husband's favourites - we came together partly in a love of Larkin) is so fantastic. On Maude Gonne: I once knew someone who had visited the house where she died and was taken in to see her dead body, lying out. I can't remember anything about what they said (they were old when we had this conversation, and told me this decades ago, obviously) but it makes me feel a bit like I have been within touching distance of some kind of glory.

Janie: I loved yours too, particularly Rules for Trees. I had forgotten about the Sullivan brothers, no wonder you fell silent.

lj: I am nerving myself to read the McGonagall!

crossing the streams:
comic relief X sparrows :


The Sparrow in the Zoo

No bars are set too close, no mesh too fine
To keep me from the eagle and the lion
Whom keepers feed that I may freely dine.
This shows that if you have the wit
To be small, common, cute, and live on shit,
Thought the cage fret kings, you may make free with it.

Howard Nemerov

They shut me up in Prose – (445)

They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me “still” –

Still! Could themself have peeped –
And seen my Brain – go round –
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason – in the Pound –

Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Look down opon Captivity –
And laugh – No more have I –

One I like:

“Closing Time At The Second Avenue Deli” by Alan Dugan

This is the time of night of the delicatessen
when the manager is balancing
a nearly empty ketchup bottle
upside-down on a nearly full ketchup bottle
and spreading his hands slowly away
from the perfect balance like shall I say
a priest blessing the balance, the achievement
of perfect emptiness, of perfect fullness? No,
this is a kosher delicatessen. The manager
is not like. He is not like a priest,
he is not even like a rabbi, he
is not like anyone else except the manager
as he turns to watch the waitress
discussing the lamb stew with my wife,
how most people eat the whole thing,
they don’t take it home in a container,
as she mops up the tables, as the
cashier shall I say balances out?
No. The computer does all that. This
is not the time for metaphors. This is the time
to turn out the lights, and yes,
imagine it, those two ketchup bottles
will stand there all night long
as acrobatic metaphors of balance,
of emptiness, of fullness perfectly contained,
of any metaphor you wish unless
the manager snaps his fingers at the door,
goes back, and separates them for the night
from that unnatural balance, and the store goes dark
as my wife says should we take a cab
or walk, the stew is starting to drip already.
Shall I say that the container can not
contain the thing contained anymore? No.
Just that the lamb stew is leaking all across town
in one place: it is leaking on the floor of the taxi-cab,
and that somebody is going to pay for this ride.

Addressing the theme of "thank you for your service", from the other thread:

PANDARUS son of Lycaon had a wife at home
In his high-roofed house in the foothills of Ida
He was captain of Zelea and he and his men
Used to drink the black raw water from the river
He was a rich man a master bowman
Eleven war cars in his stables brand new beautifully made
With rugs and thoroughbred horses
He couldn’t bear to risk them in the War
He went on foot to Troy with nothing but his bow
But that was no good to him
The arrows kept flying off at angles
If I ever get home he said
And see my wife and my high-roofed house
May a stranger cut off my head if I don’t
Smash this bow and throw it with my own hands
Into the fire it has proved such a nothingness
But he climbed up nevertheless next to Aeneas
He charged at Diomedes and a spear
Thrown by Diomedes pushed hard by Athene
Hit him between the eyes it split-second
Splintered his teeth cut through his tongue broke off his jaw
And came out clean through the chin

Like an oak tree struck by lightening
Throws up his arms and burns
Terrifying for a man out walking
To smell that sulphur smell
And see the fields flickering ahead of him
Lit up blue by the strangeness of god

Like an oak tree struck by lightening
Throws up his arms and burns
Terrifying for a man out walking
To smell that sulphur smell
And see the fields flickering ahead of him
Lit up blue by the strangeness of god

Alice Oswald "Memorial", what the poet calls "an excavation of the Iliad", the rank and file dead.

Each of the two hundred excavations of the names and their fate end with two identical stanzas.

by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the baseball
fan, the statistician—
nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and
school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination"—above
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry

joel hanes: I'm obviously the misprint police at the moment - your last line of The Sparrow in the Zoo seemed wrong to me, and I was right, it should be Though, not Thought. I had the advantage of not being familiar with it!

I loved Pandarus son of Lycaon, who had a wife at home. He reminds me a bit of Phlebas the Phoenician, the only part of The Wasteland (because short) that I committed to memory, although plenty of the other lines have stuck indelibly in my mind:


Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Thanks for catching the typos.

I don't know which line your remark about the errant "the" refers to.
Could you maybe quote it ?

Ah, Count, I was going to post the Marianne Moore as the last word when the thread was exhausted.
So much for plans.

Henry Reed did a "companion piece" to Naming of Parts which I like: "Judging Distances"

Whoops, Joel, sorry, I'm guilty of premature poetification.

Besides, there never is a last word, even about the last word:


joel, there is an extra "the" in the final line of Naming of Parts as I copied the poem with a misprint. The final line should be: For today we have naming of parts.

William Nickles: I know it and like it, just not nearly as much. Apparently there is another in the set, but I haven't found it yet (only saw this for the first time last night, even though I've known Naming of Parts since school, and Judging Distances for a few years).

there never is a last word

I think Auden comes pretty close:

We must love one another or die

There you go.

joel haynes: ISTR that in some versions, Auden wrote that line as
we must love one another and die

which is also a true last word

joel, great selection - I loved Stephen Crane and E.A. Robinson when I was younger, have a avoided Larkin mainly because he was a bit of a dick it seems (not uncommon among writers) and always wanted to (due to my Irish connections) but never got into Yeats, though "The Second Coming" is eerily prescient of the 21st century (but I think that point has been made repeatedly...):

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

And one more by Keats (he died at 25...)


When I have fears that I may cease to be 

   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, 

Before high-pilèd books, in charactery, 

   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain; 

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face, 

   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 

And think that I may never live to trace 

   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance; 

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, 

   That I shall never look upon thee more, 

Never have relish in the faery power 

   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore 

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think 

Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Alas, Larkin was a bit of a dick, but nonetheless a very great poet. As Auden said about the death of Yeats "By mourning tongues the death of the poet was kept from the poems", and in the same way we have to maintain a distance and a difference between the artist and the art. Also, lucky you: many treats await you when you get into Yeats.

And in support of Larkin's greatness, I will give myself the pleasure (again, I know I have done it before) of quoting Aubade, surely one of the greates poems of the 20th Century, and written when he had been blocked for years:


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Alas, Larkin was a bit of a dick, but nonetheless a very great poet.

As novakant says, perhaps not uncommon among poets. Or, in my observation, writers in general. Randall Garrett was one of my favorite science fiction writers. But in person, pretty much lacking as a human being.

a theory I have about writers being dicks, I think it tends to be more fiction writers than non-fiction, and my take is that the fiction writer is going to take anything s/he comes in contact with and use it as raw material. Doing that on a regular basis means that everyone is basically a giver and the writer is the taker. It also means that many writers often have difficult sharing. All this is going to put someone in a bad place and if they don't have suprahuman compassion and empathy, they are going to end up being a bit dickish. I think a similar dynamic affects comedians. The recent WaPo article about Chevy Chase comes to mind.


To my beloved Deep One girl

It's lovely how the air goes through your gills
That slurping sound each time you start to croak
Just like a toad that uncouth hands do choke
What wondrous sense of sickness it instills

Oh how your fishy smell my nostrils fills
Emitted from the slime, your skin's pale cloak
Does nausea like pyridine evoke
Like fest'ring boils and other putrid ills

Oh Deepie, do embrace me here and now
And let us join my dry and your webbed hand
It's time to take the third and final vow

Oh how I wish to see, alas, I can't
The Deep One cities, for they lie below
At least our child shall see the promised land

Without title

Her hair is darker than a moonless night
And intertwined with ribbons of pale blue
Her eyes like forest pools when sun shines through
The branches of the trees on May Day bright

A flickering green surrounded by pale white
Of almond shape that daily will anew
Rekindle in me love that's pure and true
And fill my wary soul with pure delight

Oh how can such a beauty that seems less
Of low and earthly birth but of divine
Put up with me and to me love confess?

But yes you said you'll share your life with mine
That higher powers will our union bless
You own my heart, I'll be forever thine

The first is (of course) parody, the second a pure excercise in traditional style.

The children cried: ‘Mummy!’
‘I have been good!’
‘Why is it dark! Dark!’

You can see them
going down
you can see the marks
of small feet here and there
going down

Their pockets full
of string and pebbles
and little horses made of wire

The great plain closed
like a geometric figure
one tree of black smoke
a dead tree
starless its crown

("Massacre of the Innocents", Tadeusz Rózewicz)

This is farming country.
The neighbors will believe
you are crazy
if you take a walk
just to think and be alone.
So carry a shotgun
and walk the fence line.
Pretend you are hunting
and your walking will not
arouse suspicion.
But don’t forget
to load the shotgun.
They will know
if your gun is empty.
Stop occasionally.
Cock your head and listen
to the doves you never see.
Part the tall weeds
with your hand and inspect
the ground.
Sniff the air as a hunter would.
(That wonderful smell
of sweet clover is a bonus.)
Soon you will forget
the gun in your hands,
but remember, someone
may be watching.
If you hear beating wings
and see the bronze flash
of something flying up,
you will have to shoot it.

("How to take a walk", Leo Dangel)

I am working on an anthology on antiquity parodies and have just finished the drafts for front and back cover

Hartmut, it appears that a login is required to view those sites. Are they available elsewhere.

Drat, the alternative thread I posted the stuff in is open but the attachments are only visible for members.
Sorry, I have currently no online storage for files that is both free of charge and not nosy about my personal data.

Hartmut, if you'd like to mail it to me and I'll post it in the Kitty's google drive account, I can do that.

Sorry this took some time.

Hartmut's covers are here



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