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
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.
Yes, yes, I know, but this MUST be shared!
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
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. 🙂
“Crossing the Bar” is an 1889 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson that is traditionally the last poem in collections of his work. It is thought that Tennyson wrote it as his own elegy, as the poem has a tone of finality about it. The narrator uses an extended metaphor to compare death to crossing the “sandbar” between the tide or river of life, with its outgoing “flood,” and the ocean that lies beyond death, the “boundless deep,” to which we return.
This poem hung in my beloved maternal grandparents’ home and is inscribed on the headstone of my family’s burial place.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
- Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson (robertbyron22.wordpress.com)
- The Devon home where Tennyson wrote his last poem (telegraph.co.uk)
- 158. Lord Alfred Tennyson Reincarnates as a Bear (sashersund.com)
- Personal anthology: Alfred, Lord Tennyson (householdopera.typepad.com)
- Caroline Kennedy has become ambassador to world of poetry (stltoday.com)
I’m giving you a break from Victorian poetry with my fave Shakespeare Sonnet.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may because tomorrow it’s back to Wordsworth, Tennyson, Coleridge and the Brownings….
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
- sonnet 116: challenging life (themuseproject1990.wordpress.com)
- Sonnet 116 – William Shakespeare (gcserevisionhelp.wordpress.com)
- Shakespeare & Facets of Romance (operative7.wordpress.com)
- An ever-fixed mark? (markedpages.com)
- How to Celebrate National Poetry Month (kbuuk.com)
- Taking Shakespeare’s Sonnets to the Streets of New York (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Sonnet (heleningram1.wordpress.com)
It’s always some “month” or another, I guess…
But I do love poetry, especially great poetry, and I can’t keep myself from taking this opportunity to post a few of my favorites.
I’m not going to post them every day because April is too busy with beekeeping and gardening. But I will sneak them in from time to time.
Here is a snippet from T.S. Eliot’s Choruses from The Rock. I know it by heart. I hope you enjoy it too.
O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.
O Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening,
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
O Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
We thank Thee for the light that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!
- National Poetry Month (poemattic.wordpress.com)
- National Poetry Month (scribesglobal.com)
- April is National Poetry Month! (bloomingedu.wordpress.com)
- April is National Poetry Month (lorettaboyermcclellan.wordpress.com)
- Happy National Poetry Month (blatherskiteblog.com)
- April Poetry Challenges Have Begun (2voices1song.com)
- Cruel April’s Fool (writersite.org)
Reprinted from The Writers Almanac
It’s the birthday of the woman who wrote “My candle burns at both ends;/ It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!” Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, was born on this day in 1892 in Rockland, Maine.
After being educated at Vassar, she moved to Greenwich Village and lived a Jazz Age Bohemian life, which revolved around poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. Critic Edmund Wilson asked her to marry him. She said no. He later reflected that falling in love with her “was so common an experience, so almost inevitable a consequence of knowing her in those days.”
She wrote: “Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: / Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!”
I”m back to my old self again, but I’m enjoying posting all these wonderful Yeats’ poems! I hope you won’t mind reading a few more…
Yeats was an unreconstructed romantic, sensitive and emotional. His love life is a captivating story all its own.
This poem is about unrequited love, ever the stuff of poetry.
Never Give All The Heart
Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.
- A Poem I love by W.B. Yeats (this is Yeats week I hear) 😀 (shafiqah1.wordpress.com)
This is one of my favorite Yeats’ poems. The sweet sadness of growing older…
When You Are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.