Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Webinar Vignettes – Part 8

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Hart Crane (1899-1932)

Hart Crane was a disturbed young poet who committed suicide at age 33 by leaping into the sea. He left striking poems, including an epic, The Bridge (1930), which was inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge, in which he ambitiously attempted to review the American cultural experience and recast it in affirmative terms. His exuberant style works best in short poems such as “Voyages” (1923, 1926) and “At Melville’s Tomb” (1926), whose ending is a suitable epitaph for Crane:

This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

Marianne Moore once wrote that poems were “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Her poems are conversational, yet elaborate and subtle in their syllabic versification, drawing upon extremely precise description and historical and scientific fact. A “poet’s poet,” she influenced such later poets as her young friend Elizabeth Bishop.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

One of many talented poets of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s — in the company of James Weldon Johnson and others — was Langston Hughes. He embraced African- American jazz rhythms and was one of the first black writers to attempt to make a profitable career out of his writing. Hughes incorporated blues, spirituals, colloquial speech, and folkways in his poetry.

One of his most beloved poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921, 1925), embraces his African — and universal — heritage in a grand epic catalogue. The poem suggests that, like the great rivers of the world, African American culture will endure and deepen:

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset
I’ve known rivers
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Webinar Vignettes – Part 7

Friday, January 29th, 2010

E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)

A painter, e. e. cummings was the first American poet to recognize that poetry had become primarily a visual, not an oral, art; his poems used much unusual spacing and indentation, as well as dropping all use of capital letters.

Like Williams, Cummings also used colloquial language, sharp imagery, and words from popular culture. Like Williams, he took creative liberties with layout. His poem “in Just ” (1920) invites the reader to fill in the missing ideas:

in Just —
Spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

Webinar Vignettes – Part 6

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

William Carlos Williams was a practicing pediatrician throughout his life; he delivered more than 2,000 babies and wrote poems on his prescription pads. His sympathy for ordinary working people, children, and everyday events in modern urban settings make his poetry attractive and accessible. “The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923), like a Dutch still life, finds interest and beauty in everyday objects.

Williams cultivated a relaxed, natural poetry. In his hands, the poem was not to become a perfect object of art as in Stevens, or the carefully re-created nature scene as in Frost. Instead, the poem was to capture an instant of time like an unposed snapshot — a concept he derived from photographers and artists he met at galleries in New York City.

His epic, Paterson (five vols., 1946-58), celebrates his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, as seen by an autobiographical “Dr. Paterson.” Williams wrote this very unpretentious narrative poem to celebrate the ordinary. Like Whitman’s persona in Leaves of Grass, Dr. Paterson moves freely among the working people.

-late spring,
a Sunday afternoon!
– and goes by the footpath to the cliff (counting:
the proof)
himself among others
– treads there the same stones
on which their feet slip as they climb,
paced by their dogs!
laughing, calling to each other –
Wait for me!
(II, i, 14-23)

Webinar Vignettes – Part 5

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

Born in Pennsylvania, Wallace Stevens was educated at Harvard College and New York University Law School. He practiced law in New York City from 1904 to 1916, a time of great artistic and poetic activity there. On moving to Hartford, Connecticut, to become an insurance executive in 1916, he continued writing poetry.

Stevens’s poetry dwells upon themes of the imagination, the necessity for aesthetic form, and the belief that the order of art corresponds with an order in nature. His vocabulary is rich and various: He paints lush tropical scenes but also manages dry, humorous, and ironic vignettes.

Some of Stevens’s poems draw upon popular culture, while others poke fun at sophisticated society or soar into an intellectual heaven. He is known for his exuberant word play: “Soon, with a noise like tambourines / Came her attendant Byzantines.”

Stevens’s work is full of surprising insights. Sometimes he plays tricks on the reader, as in “Disillusionment of Ten O’clock” (1931):

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.

This poem seems to complain about unimaginative lives (plain white nightgowns), but actually conjures up vivid images in the reader’s mind. Stevens is not easy but well worth the effort.


Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Rome was one of the most important and influential city-states in world history. What Jerusalem was to the religious world, Rome was to the geo-political world. Legend said that in 753 B.C. twin boys, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned by the river Tiber to starve. A mother wolf cared for them until they were young adults. Years later, Mars, the Roman God of war encouraged the boys to build a city where they had been found. The two boys built this city; however, they could not get along and ended up at war with each other. Romulus won the battle, and the city became known as Rome. Today, historians and archaeologists agree that people started living in Rome long before the time of Romulus and Remus, but many people throughout Roman history continued to believe that this legend was true. Nevertheless, from this cryptic beginning the Roman civilization literally conquered the entire known world.

There is evidence, of course, that there were people in the Tiber River area long before the apocrypha stories about Romulus and Remus emerged. There were nomads in the Tiber River area that created sedentary villages around 800 B.C.

The history of Rome is marked by three epochs. In the first period from 753–5099 B.C. the city developed from a village to a city ruled by kings. Then, the Romans expelled the kings and established the Roman Republic during the period from 509–27 B.C. It was much like the Greek Republic existting about the same time in Athens. The Republic collapsed and Rome was ruled by despotic, if at times benign, emperors from 27 B.C.—A.D. 4766. It was during the last period that The Aeneid, Virgil, and Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, were written.

The Italian Peninsula provided the Romans with a secure base from which to expand over the Mediterranean and then European world. Italy was easy to defend and with its numerous deep-water ports, was an ideal launching pad for expeditions into the interior Mediterranean world. Italy is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea and protected to the north by the Alps mountain range. The climate is generally temperate, although summers are hot in the southern regions.

From the beginning, there were Italian competitors to Roman hegemony. At the beginning of Roman history, somewhat south and north of Rome, Etruscans had a vigorous civilization. Nevertheless, by A.D. 80 the Etrusca ns were conquered and absorbed into the expanding Roman city-state.

From the beginning of Roman history, the family lay at the center of all personal and social relations in Rome and even influenced public and political activities. Romans valued stable family life and passed laws to reward families led by two parents. At the same time, religion—which until the middle of the first millennium A.D. was a form of polytheism—was the most important element that shaped early Roman life.. Religion and stable families remained closely connected as the twin pillars of Roman society, especially for the five centuries of the Roman Republic. Later in Roman history, some Romans looked back to these early institutions for the salvation of the Roman Empire. These values are expressed in both the writings of Virgil and Marcus Aurelius.

Virgil was born in a rural town north of Rome and grew up in the most prosperous era of Roman h egemony. Emperor Augustus was reigning, and he -heralded unprecedented prosperity and peace for the Roman Empire. Virgil became one of the most famous poets in Roman history. His most famous work was the Aeneid. Virgil worked on the Aeneid for eleven years. This epic poem reflects his great skill and care in writing and his tremendous knowledge of Greek literature, which he studied throughout his life.

The Cry of Modern Man

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

BECAUSE I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
M y labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played
At wrestling in a ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’t is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

Emily Dickinson, a 19th century recluse, was the first modern American poet. She wrote in free verse and she discussed topics often ignored (e.g., birds on sidewalks). She also wrote about death.

Many think that Dickinson refused to commit her life to Christ. Perhaps that haunted her her whole life. I think so. When I read her poems I hear that forlorn cry.

Dickinson presages the cry of modern man—a cry for relevance and meaning and life in the midst of inhumanity.

IF I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,—”
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sp rightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

I am so glad I know who my Redeemer is! He snatches me from the tentativeness of modernity!

Self in 1958

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

“Self In 1958,” was written by lonely, unhappy, unfulfilled Anne Sexton but it could be written for 2009.

What is reality?
I am a plaster doll; I pose
With eyes that cut open without landfall or nightfall
Upon some shellacked and grinning person,
Eyes that open, blue, steel, and close.
Am I approximately an I. Magnum transplant?
I have hair, black angel,
Black-angel-stuffing to comb,
Nylon legs, luminous arms
And some advertised clothes.
I live in a doll’s house
With four chairs,
A counterfeit table, a flat roof
And a big front door.
Many have come to such a small crossroad.
There is an iron bed,
(Life enlarges, life takes aim)
A cardboard floor,
Windows that flash open on someone’s city,
And little more.
Someone plays with me,
Plants me in the all-electric kitchen,

Is this what Mrs. Rombauer said?

Someone pretends with me

I am walled in solid by their noise…
Or puts me upon their straight bed.
They think I am me!
Their warmth? Their warmth is not a friend!
They pry my mouth for their cups of gin
And their stale bread.
What is reality
To this synthetic doll
Who should smile, who should shift gears,
Should spring the doors open in a wholesome disorder,
And have no evidence of ruin or fears?
But I would cry,
Rooted into the wall that
Was once my mother,
If I could remember how
And if I had the tears.

What is reality?

To many in this generation that remains an unanswered question.

What is reality?
I pose as a plaster doll,
With eyes and nothing to look at,
Seeing shellacked and grinning person,

Eyes that open and close, colors blue and steel
I am the size of an I?
I have black angel hair,
Nylon legs, luminous arms
And some advertised clothes.
I live in a doll’’s house
With four chairs,
A counterfeit table, a flat roof
And a big front door.
Some come to a small crossroad.
There is an iron bed,
(Life enlarges, life takes aim)
A cardboard floor,
Windows that flash open at the neighbors
And little more.
Someone plays with me,
Plants me in the all-electric kitchen,
It this what Mrs. Rombauer said?
Someone pretends with me
I am use to there noises
Or lays me on there bed.
I think I am a doll.
Warmth is not a friend to me!
They open my mouth for their cups to fit
And their stale bread.

What is reality

To this synthetic doll

The Associated Press calls this new generation “The Entitlement Generation,” and they are storming into schools, colleges, and businesses all over the country. They are today’s young people, a new generation with sky-high expectations and a need for constant praise and fulfillment. This new generation may be tolerant, confident, open-minded, and ambitious but it is also cynical, depressed, lonely, and anxious.

Generation Me disregards rules. 88% of public high school students regularly cheat. We are all equals of course. No one is in charge. They are an army of one: me. We will all be famous. We are entitled to it. 80% of Generation Me have sex before they leave high school.

The sad thing is, though, that Dr. Twenge found that Generation Me is more unhappy than any other generation.

Should I smile, should I shift gears,
Should I open the doors in a wholesome disorder,
And show no evidence of fears?
But I would cry,
Put into the wall that
My mother lies
If I could remember how
And if I had the tears.

We know who we are, don’t we? We serve a living, loving, awesome God. Who loved us enough to send His only Begotten Son. It is time . . .

Emily Dickinson’s Poems

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

My life closed twice before its close;
My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive, As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven, And all we need of hell.

Emily Dickinson (Stobaugh, AMERICAN LIT) uses the metaphor of death to describe the catastrophe that two terrible events caused. Were these the death of two friends? Two unrequited loves? We really don’t know.

What matters is that the pain of these events was so sharp that Dickinson feels as if her life ended. Loss exacerbates Dickinson’s already fragile metaphysics.

What happens after death, in immortality? Well we know, don’t we?

The last two lines of this poem present a powerful paradox; parting is heaven to some and hell to others. We part with those who die and–hopefully–go to heaven, which is, ironically, an eternal happiness for them; however, we who are left behind suffer the pain (hell) of their deaths (parting).

Is there any comfort in this poem? Not if one is the realist Emily Dickinson whose cold New England intellectualism offers scant protection against the frigid exigencies of death! It is fun20to talk about birds walking on sidewalks as long as one does not have to think about ultimate things.

But we all have to think about ultimate things once in a while. In “a while” for most of us is death. Where will you spend eternity? If the Lord Jesus is your Savior you know where you will spend eternity.

Contrast this tentativeness with Dickinson’s New England predecessor Edward Taylor (From “I Prepare a Place”):

But thats not all: Now from Deaths realm, erect, Thou gloriously gost to thy Fathers Hall:
And pleadst their Case preparst them place well dect
All with thy Merits hung. Blesst Mansions all.
Dost ope the Doore locks fast ‘gainst Sins that so These Holy Rooms admit them may thereto.

I like to read Emily Dickinson’s poems. I like to drink vanilla milk shakes too. But not too many and never for nourishment and life. How about you?

Humans cannot bear much reality

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Humans cannot bear much reality . . .The church lies bereft,
Desecrated, desolated.
And the heathen shall build
On the ruins . . .–T. S, Eliot

These haunting words punctuate the lowest point of T. S. Eliot’s MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL (James P. Stobaugh, BRITISH LITERATURE, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005). Archbishop Becket will die, martyred by the selfish King Henry II, but not for any nostalgic reason. Not for any sentimental purpose. He will die in obedience to our Lord God’s purposes. He defies hyperbole.

As we struggle to make sense of all the hard times we face, of all the good things we can do. Let us choose the obedient thing to do, not the thing that may seem right in our own eyes.

There is a crisis of ethics in our time. Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think he can turn the wheel on which he turns. To do the right deed for the wrong reason . . . in this age of compromises, of good intentions, it is critical that we follow Becket’s example. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Human kind cannot bear very much reality.
The church shall be open, even to our enemies.
We are not here to triumph by fighting, by stratagem, or by resistance,
Not to fight with beasts as men. We have fought the beast
And have conquered. We have only to conquer
Now, by suffering. This is the easier victory.
For every life and every act
Consequence of good and evil can be shown.
And as in time results of many deeds are blended
So good and evil in the end become confounded.
In life there is not time to grieve long.

And the heathen shall build
On the ruins
Their world without God.
I see it.
I see it.

Let us not be of the world; let us be in that world. But let us create a new world!

The Rape of the Lock

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The most accomplished verse satirist in the English language, Alexander Pope, was born on May 21, 1688. Pope’s life, which he ironically described as “this long disease,” was shaped by two great disadvantages: he was crippled from his earliest years by a deformity of the spine, and as a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was excluded from the public life of his time and denied a university education. Nevertheless, Pope was a gifted writer. Home-schooled, he wrote his earliest surviving poem when he was about twelve years old. Too sickly for boys’ sports, he devoted his teenage years to literature. But his most famous works were An Essay on Criticism (1711) and “The Rape of the Lock.” Who can ever forget the tragic figure Miss Arabella Fermor, who lost a curl to the upstart young Baron Lord Petre!

The Rape of the Lock
Canto I
What dire Offence from am’rous Causes springs,
What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things,
I sing-This verse to Caryl, Muse! is due;
This, ev’n Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
Slight is the Subject, but not so the Praise,
If She inspire, and He approve, my Lays.

Say what strange Motive, Goddess! cou’d compel
A well-bred Lord t’assault a gentle Belle?
Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor’d,
Cou’d make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
In tasks so bold, can little Men engage,
And in soft Bosoms, dwell such mighty Rage?

Sol through white Curtains shot a tim’rous Ray,
And ope’d those Eyes that must eclipse the Day:
Now Lap-dogs give themselves the rouzing Shake,
And sleepless Lovers, just at Twelve, awake:
Thrice rung the Bell, the Slipper knock’d the Ground,
And the press’d Watch return’d a silver sound,
Belinda still her downy Pillow prest,
Her guardian Sylph prolng’d the balmy rest.
’Twas he had summon’d to her silent Bed
The Morning Dream that hover’d o’er her Head.
A Youth more glitt’ring than a Birth-night Beau
(That ev’n in slumber caus’d her Cheek to glow)
Seem’d to her Ear his winning Lips to lay,
And thus in Whispers said, or seemed to say.

Fairest of Mortals, thou distinguish’d Care
Of thousand bright Inhabitants of Air!
If e’er one Vision touch’d thy infant Thought,
Of all the Nurse and all the Priest have taught,
Of airy Elves by Moonlight Shadows seen,
The silver Token, and the Circled Green,
Or Virgins visited by Angel-powers
With Golden Crowns and Wreaths of heav’nly Flow’rs;
Hear and believe! thy own Importance know,
Nor bound thy narrow Views to things below.
Some secret Truths, from Learned Pride conceal’d,
To Maids alone and Children are reveal’d:
What tho’ no Credit doubting Wits may give?
The Fair and Innocent shall still believe.
Know then, unnumber’d Spirits round thee fly,
The light Militia of the lower sky:
These, tho’ unseen, are ever on the Wing,
Hang o’er the Box, and hover round the Ring.
Think what an Equipage thou hast in Air,
And view with scorn Two-pages and a Chair.
As now your own, our Beings were of old,
And once inclos’d in Woman’s beauteous Mold;
Thence, by a soft Transition, we repair
From earthly Vehicles to these of Air.
Think not, when Woman’s transient Breath is fled,
That all her Vanities at once are dead.
Succeeding Vanities she still regards,
And tho’ she plays no more, o’erlooks the Cards.
Her Joy in gilded Chariots, when alive,
And love of Ombre after Death survive.
For when the Fair in all their Pride expire,
To their first Elements the Souls retire:
The Sprites of fiery Termagants in Flame
Mount up, and take a Salamander’s name.
Soft yielding Minds to Water glide away,
And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental Tea.
The graver Prude sinks downward to a Gnome,
In search of Mischief still on Earth to roam.
The light Coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,
And sport and flutter in the Fields of Air.

Know further yet; Whoever fair and chaste
Rejects Mankind, is by some Sylph embrac’d:
For Spirits, freed from mortal Laws, with ease
Assume what Sexes and what Shapes they please.
What guards the Purity of melting Maids,
In Courtly Balls, and Midnight Masquerades,
Safe from the treach’rous Friend, the daring Spark,
The Glance by Day, the Whisper in the Dark;
When kind Occasion prom pts their warm Desires,
When Music softens, and when Dancing fires?
’Tis but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know,
Tho’ Honour is the Word with Men below.

Some Nymphs there are, too conscious of their Face,
For Life predestin’d to the Gnomes’ Embrace.
Who swell their Prospects and exalt their Pride,
When Offers are disdain’d, and Love deny’d.
Then gay Ideas crowd the vacant Brain,
While Peers and Dukes, and all their sweeping Train,
And Garters, Stars, and Coronets appear,
And in soft sounds, Your Grace salutes their Ear.
’Tis these that early taint the Female Soul,
Instruct the eyes of young Coquettes to roll,
Teach Infant Cheeks a bidden Blush to know,
And little Hearts to flutter at a Beau.

Oft when the World imagine Women stray,
The Sylphs through Mystic mazes guide their Way.
Thro’ all the giddy Circle they pursue,
And old Impertinence expel by new.
What tender Maid but must a Victim fall
To one Man’s Treat, but for another’s Ball?
When Florio speaks, what Virgin could withstand,
If gentle Damon did not squeeze her Hand?
With varying Vanities, from ev’ry Part,
They shift the moving Toyshop of their Heart;
Where Wigs with Wigs, with Sword-knots Sword-knots strive,
Beaux banish Beaux, and Coaches Coaches drive.
This erring Mortals Levity may call,
Oh blind to Truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.

Of these am I, who thy Protection claim,
A watchful Sprite, and Ariel is my name.
Late, as I rang’d the crystal Wilds of Air,
In the clear Mirror of thy ruling Star
I saw, alas! some dread Event impend,
Ere to the Main this morning’s Sun descend,
But Heav’n reveals not what, or how, or where:
Warn’d by thy Sylph, oh pious Maid beware!
This to disclose is all thy Guardian can.
Beware of all, but most beware of Man!

He said: when Shock, who thought she slept too long,
Leap’d up, and wak’d his Mistress with his Tongue.
’Twas then, Belinda! if Report say true,
Thy Eyes first open’d on a Billet-doux;
Wounds, Charms, and Ardors,20were no sooner read,
But all the Vision vanish’d from thy Head.

And now, unveil’d, the Toilet stands display’d,
Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, rob’d in White, the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncover’d, the Cosmetic Pow’rs.
A heav’nly Image in the Glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears;
Th’ inferior Priestess, at her Altar’s side,
Trembling, begins the sacred Rites of Pride.
Unnumber’d Treasures ope at once, and here
The various Off’rings of the World appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious Toil,
And decks the Goddess with the glitt’ring Spoil.
This casket India’s glowing Gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder Box.
The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,
Transform’d to Combs, the speckled and the white.
Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Pat ches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev’ry Grace,
And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;
Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,
And keener Lightnings quicken in her Eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling Care;
These set the Head, and those divide the Hair,
Some fold the Sleeve, whilst others plait the Gown;
And Betty’s prais’d for labours not her own.