Poetry Month – “To Strive, To Seek, To Find, And Not To Yield”

Ulysses is one of the greatest poems of all time, and its author Alfred, Lord Tennyson one of the greatest poets.

Tennyson exemplifies the Victorian Age in poetry. He succeeded Wordworth as Poet Laureate in 1850. He was Queen Victoria’s favorite poet.

Like most Victorian poetry, Ulysses is best appreciated when heard read aloud. So sit back and enjoy this fine recitation of a truly magnificent work of literary art.

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d

Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

As tho’ to breathe were life. Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this gray spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle–

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port: the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil’d and wrought, and thought with me–

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads–you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all; but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Poetry Month – Walt Whitman’s “Oh Captain! My Captain!”

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., just five days after the surrender of the Civil War’s Confederate leader, General Lee.  Lincoln died the following day.

Walt Whitman wrote “Oh Captain! My Captain!” in 1865 about the assassination.

Many people know of this poem from the movie Dead Poets Society although only its title appears in the film.

The screenplay for Dead Poets Society was written by my Vanderbilt classmate and fellow English Major, Tom Schulman.

Tom, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, modeled the hidebound school in that 1989 film on his alma mater, Montgomery Bell Academy, a aristocratic prep school in Nashville, and the Robin Williams character on Sam Pickering, an inspirational teacher he had there.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father!

The arm beneath your head!

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

Poetry Month – Canto One Of Dante’s “Inferno” – Both The Longfellow And The Rap Translations

I am not a big Rap fan, but I have to admit the Rap Translation is enjoyable and strangely appropriate for the poem.

I’m listening to the whole “Inferno” Rap.

Midway upon the journey of our life
  I found myself within a forest dark,
  For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
  What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
  Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
  But of the good to treat, which there I found,
  Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
  So full was I of slumber at the moment
  In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
  At that point where the valley terminated,
  Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
  Vested already with that planet's rays
  Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted
  That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
  The night, which I had passed so piteously.

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
  Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
  Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
  Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
  Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
  The way resumed I on the desert slope,
  So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
  A panther light and swift exceedingly,
  Which with a spotted skin was covered o'er!

And never moved she from before my face,
  Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
  That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,
  And up the sun was mounting with those stars
  That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
  So were to me occasion of good hope,
  The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
  But not so much, that did not give me fear
  A lion's aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
  With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
  So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
  Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
  And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
  With the affright that from her aspect came,
  That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires,
  And the time comes that causes him to lose,
  Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E'en such made me that beast withouten peace,
  Which, coming on against me by degrees
  Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
  Before mine eyes did one present himself,
  Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
  "Have pity on me," unto him I cried,
  "Whiche'er thou art, or shade or real man!"

He answered me: "Not man; man once I was,
  And both my parents were of Lombardy,
  And Mantuans by country both of them.

'Sub Julio' was I born, though it was late,
  And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
  During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
  Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
  After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
  Why climb'st thou not the Mount Delectable,
  Which is the source and cause of every joy?"

"Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
  Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?"
  I made response to him with bashful forehead.

"O, of the other poets honour and light,
  Avail me the long study and great love
  That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
  Thou art alone the one from whom I took
  The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
  Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
  For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble."

"Thee it behoves to take another road,"
  Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
  "If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
  Suffers not any one to pass her way,
  But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
  That never doth she glut her greedy will,
  And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
  And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
  Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
  But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
  'Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
  On whose account the maid Camilla died,
  Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,
  Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
  There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
  Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
  And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
  Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
  Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
  Within the fire, because they hope to come,
  Whene'er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
  A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
  With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
  In that I was rebellious to his law,
  Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
  There is his city and his lofty throne;
  O happy he whom thereto he elects!"

And I to him: "Poet, I thee entreat,
  By that same God whom thou didst never know,
  So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
  That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
  And those thou makest so disconsolate."
Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

Poetry Month – Did Shakespeare Translate Psalm 46?

The King James translation of the Bible contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language. Among my favorite passages is Psalm 46.

Some people believe that William Shakespeare translated Psalm 46. Are they right?

Shakespeare may have left us a clue. He was 46 years old and at the height of his popularity when the King James version was published. If you count 46 words forward from the beginning of Psalm 46, you arrive at the word “shake” in the phrase, “the mountains shake.” If you count 46 words from the end backwards you arrive at the word “speare” in the phrase, “cutteth the speare in sunder.”

Proof or coincidence? We’ll never know for sure. It’s another of the fascinating mysteries that surround Shakespeare and his work.

Poetry Month – William Shakespeare – “This England…”

Shakespeare's Tomb

Shakespeare’s Tomb

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Richard II Act 2

William Shakespeare

Poetry Month – Robert Lowell’s “For The Union Dead”

Photograph of Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, by A...

Photograph of Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848 – 1907) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robert Lowell, a U.S. Poet Laureate, wrote this poem in 1960 to express his despair at the unfair treatment of African-Americans at the time, and the loss of the egalitarian ideals for which Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (“Glory”) fought and died in the American Civil War.

The title is an allusion to “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” a 1928 poem written by Lowell’s former teacher and mentor, Southern poet Allen Tate.

“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”

The old South Boston Aquarium stands

in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.

The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.

The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;

my hand tingled

to burst the bubbles

drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still

for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom

of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,

I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,

yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting

as they cropped up tons of mush and grass

to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic

sandpiles in the heart of Boston.

A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders

braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw

and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry

on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,

propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,

half the regiment was dead;

at the dedication,

William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone

in the city’s throat.

Its Colonel is as lean

as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,

a greyhound’s gentle tautness;

he seems to wince at pleasure,

and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,

peculiar power to choose life and die–

when he leads his black soldiers to death,

he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,

the old white churches hold their air

of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags

quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier

grow slimmer and younger each year–

wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets

and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw’s father wanted no monument

except the ditch,

where his son’s body was thrown

and lost with his “niggers.”

The ditch is nearer.

There are no statues for the last war here;

on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph

shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”

that survived the blast. Space is nearer.

When I crouch to my television set,

the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw

is riding on his bubble,

he waits

for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,

giant finned cars nose forward like fish;

a savage servility

slides by on grease.

Poetry Month – William Blake’s “Jerusalem”

I will use any excuse to post a video of this poem by William Blake set to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry. I think this is the third time I’ve posted. Enjoy both the words and the music.

jerusalem (1)

Poetry Month – Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din”

Okay, maybe Kipling isn’t politically correct, but his heart was in the right place. It was a different time and a different world.

I can’t help it. I love this poem.

Please watch the video of this poem being recited perfectly. I got chills watching it!

That’s the glory of Victorian poetry. It was meant to be read aloud and enjoyed by the growing British middle classes as well as the aristocrats. They didn’t have Scandal or American Idol, but they had Kipling and “Gunga Din!”

Fyi, the name “Gunga Din” means “Spirit of the Ganges.”  So cool!  More chills!!

YOU may talk o’ gin an’ beer

When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,

An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;

But if it comes to slaughter

You will do your work on water,

An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.

Now in Injia’s sunny clime,

Where I used to spend my time

A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,

Of all them black-faced crew

The finest man I knew

Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

 

It was “Din! Din! Din!

You limping lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!

Hi! slippy hitherao!

Water, get it! Panee lao!

You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din!”

 

The uniform ‘e wore

Was nothin’ much before,

An’ rather less than ‘arf o’ that be’ind,

For a twisty piece o’ rag

An’ a goatskin water-bag

Was all the field-equipment ‘e could find.

When the sweatin’ troop-train lay

In a sidin’ through the day,

Where the ‘eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,

We shouted “Harry By!”

Till our throats were bricky-dry,

Then we wopped ‘im ’cause ‘e couldn’t serve us all.

 

It was “Din! Din! Din!

You ‘eathen, where the mischief ‘ave you been?

You put some juldee in it,

Or I’ll marrow you this minute,

If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!”

 

‘E would dot an’ carry one

Till the longest day was done,

An’ ‘e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.

If we charged or broke or cut,

You could bet your bloomin’ nut,

‘E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.

With ‘is mussick on ‘is back,

‘E would skip with our attack,

An’ watch us till the bugles made “Retire.”

An’ for all ‘is dirty ‘ide,

‘E was white, clear white, inside

When ‘e went to tend the wounded under fire!

 

It was “Din! Din! Din!”

With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.

When the cartridges ran out,

You could ‘ear the front-files shout:

“Hi! ammunition-mules an’ Gunga Din!”

 

I sha’n’t forgit the night

When I dropped be’ind the fight

With a bullet where my belt-plate should ‘a’ been.

I was chokin’ mad with thirst,

An’ the man that spied me first

Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.

 

‘E lifted up my ‘ead,

An’ ‘e plugged me where I bled,

An’ ‘e guv me ‘arf-a-pint o’ water—green;

It was crawlin’ an’ it stunk,

But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,

I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.

 

It was “Din! Din! Din!

‘Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ‘is spleen; 65

‘E’s chawin’ up the ground an’ ‘e’s kickin’ all around:

For Gawd’s sake, git the water, Gunga Din!”

 

‘E carried me away

To where a dooli lay,

An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.

‘E put me safe inside,

An’ just before ‘e died:

“I ‘ope you liked your drink,” sez Gunga Din.

So I’ll meet ‘im later on

In the place where ‘e is gone—

Where it’s always double drill and no canteen;

‘E’ll be squattin’ on the coals

Givin’ drink to pore damned souls,

An’ I’ll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

 

Din! Din! Din!

You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!

Tho’ I’ve belted you an’ flayed you,

By the livin’ Gawd that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

 

Poetry Month – W.H. Auden’s “Musee Des Beaux Arts”

“Musée des Beaux Arts” (French for “Museum of Fine Arts”) is a poem by W. H. Auden from 1938. The poem’s title derives from the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels which contains the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, thought until recently to be by Pieter Brueghel the Elder,though still believed to be based on a lost original of his.

The painting portrays several men and a ship peacefully performing daily activities in a charming landscape. While this occurs, Icarus is visible in the bottom right hand corner of the picture, his legs splayed at absurd angles, drowning in the water.

The allusions in the first part of the poem to a “miraculous birth” and a “dreadful martyrdom” refer obliquely to Christianity, the subject of other paintings by Breughel in the museum that the poem evokes, “The Census at Bethlehem” and “The Massacre of the Innocents”. The “forsaken cry” of Icarus alludes to Christ crying out on the cross, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

The Census at Bethlehem

The Census at Bethlehem

About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

Massacre of the Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

The Fall of Icarus

The Fall of Icarus

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Why I Love Poetry

West Virginia

West Virginia

I thought I loved poetry because I read so much of it at university. I was a rabid English Literature Major.

You know the type. Very serious. Dressed in black. Always with a book in hand.

(Actually, I’m still like that except for the  “very serious” part. That was always hard for me to pull off.)

I had it all wrong.  My love of literature, especially poetry, was there way before I became a pretentious English Major.

I learned to love poetry during the long summer days I spent with my maternal grandparents in the beautiful hills of West Virginia. I would go and visit them for a month or longer in the summer.

My memories of that time are dreamy ones, fragrant with the sweet peas from my grandmother’s gardens. There was a huge weeping willow in the side yard. Mr. Evans across the street kept chickens that I visited daily. There was an old fashioned soda shop and movie theater.

I had a best girl friend, Maureen, who lived across the street. Later I would have my first real boyfriend, Bob, who was movie star handsome and had a big swimming pool in his backyard. My grandmother caught us kissing in the den. I was mortified.

My grandfather was a doctor, the old fashioned kind.  He made house calls, some of them on horseback. He delivered all the babies in town. He drank whiskey and smoked smelly cigars. He was brilliant and gruff and I loved him.

My grandmother was sweet, smart, and cultured. She graduated from college in 1916. She played piano beautifully, and despaired at my lack of musical talent. I took lessons for years and still can’t play.

She insisted I call her “grandmother.” Once I called her “granny”  and she was not amused.

It was a different time then. Quieter. There were two channels on their TV, neither of which came in very well. We never watched it. I was never bored.

Their house was full of books, none particularly suitable for a girl my age, but fascinating nonetheless.

After I finished all the Nancy Drew books I brought with me, I would start on their bookshelves. First I sampled my mother’s old college textbooks, one of which was Bocaccio’s “Decameron”. If you haven’t read it, it’s very risque. Very.

This copy was graphically illustrated.

My grandmother never said anything to me, but she must have seen me reading it because it disappeared. Hasn’t been seen since.

Then I would start on the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Wonderful for a kid. I read years of Best Sellers and remember many of them, especially “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. I didn’t sleep for a week.

But my favorite book of all was a well worn paperback copy of “The 100 Best-Loved Poems of All Time.”  I read that thing over and over again.

I’ll wager almost every poem I’ve posted here was in that book.  It taught me to love poetry. There aren’t many books like that.

I’ve tried to find a copy, but I’m sure it’s long out of print. I did find a something similar and have ordered copies for myself and my grown children. I will insist they leave it around for their own kids to find. The best present a “grandmother” could give.  🙂