Tuesday, August 31, 2010
(Satan Views Eden by Gustave Doré, 1832-1883,
French artist, engraver, and sculptor)
We end the month of August celebrating summer with a few lines by one of the greatest English poets.
John Milton’s Paradise Lost was published in 1667. This is the epic story, told in blank verse, of the rebellion against God launched by the archangel Lucifer and his cohort. Their defeat was total. Lucifer was banished to the depths of Hell where, as Satan, he plotted his revenge. Satan eventually entangled Man in his evil plans.
In the verse below, Adam and the angel Raphael are having a thoughtful discussion about the pursuit of knowledge. Eve is still enjoying the perpetual summer of the Garden of Eden. She has yet to fall for Satan’s temptation (which he would utter while in the form of a serpent) that would end in Adam and Eve’s permanent exile and loss of Paradise.
The drama is virtually cinematic in scope. Find a copy with Gustave Doré’s engraved illustrations and read the poem out loud.
from PARADISE LOST, Book VIII
So spake our sire [Adam], and by his countenance seemed
Entering on studious thoughts abstruse; which Eve
Perceiving, where she sat retired in sight,
With lowliness majestic from her seat,
And grace that won who saw to wish her stay,
Rose, and went forth among her fruits and flowers,
To visit how they prospered, bud and bloom,
Her nursery; they at her coming sprung,
And, touched by her fair tendance, gladlier grew.
~ John Milton (1608-1674), English writer, defender of civil and religious rights, and poet
Monday, August 30, 2010
(Trees and Undergrowth, Paris, Summer 1887, by Vincent
van Gogh, 1853-1890, Dutch Post-Impressionist painter)
Czeslaw Milosz was an eloquent witness of history, who testified in his poetry to the totalitarian “isms” that plundered through his homeland of Poland in the twentieth century. He also wrote of his search, “after a day of varied activities, to feel at dawn my oneness with remembered people, despite a thought about my person separated from others.”
Leaves glowing in the sun, zealous hum of bumblebees,
From afar, from somewhere beyond the river, echoes of lingering voices
And the unhurried sounds of a hammer gave joy not only to me.
They waited, ready, for all those who would call themselves mortals,
So that they might praise, as I do, life, that is, happiness.
~ Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), Polish poet, essayist, and translator, and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature
Sunday, August 29, 2010
(Approaching Thunderstorm near Bristol, Narragansett
Bay, R.I., 1859 by Martin Johnson Heade, 1819-1904,
“Until I saw the sea / I did not know / a sea breathes in and out / upon a shore,” wrote the poet Lillian Moore (1909-2004).
THE SOUND OF THE SEA
The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain's side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul:
And inspirations that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), American poet
Saturday, August 28, 2010
(Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico by Ansel Adams,
1902-1984, American photographer)
Step back to get the whole picture.
CAMPING IN THE CASCADES
Hungry for bootprints, shades of differences,
we've come to think like the earth.
In the valley below, it was summer,
dim air-conditioned houses sulked,
days flat as fallow fields.
We climb back in time:
yellow fawn lilies, shooting stars,
ferns curled tight as snails.
We meet grimed climbers coming down,
each wrapped in a heavy calm
that bears the unsteady weight of each foot.
Out of the blue, one mountain
after another steps forward, beckoning.
How far can we go?
Finally at Deep Lake, other tents
scattered along the shore,
we eat and watch a half moon rise.
The stars that guided seafarers,
kings, whole millenniums of geese,
awaken slowly in uninterrupted sky.
Our lives shrink to incandescent flames
that blink on the surface of the lake.
Smoke climbs its rope of air
and disappears into the dark
like our own best thoughts.
Nocturnal eyes open, claws flex.
Faithfully, we lie on the ground
spinning slowly through space.
Heavenly bodies shine through our sleep.
~ Joseph Powell, American poet
Friday, August 27, 2010
(Starry Night drawing by Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890,
Dutch Post-Impressionist painter)
I know better — but my memories of watching the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, as a youngster in Manitoba have me almost convinced that the night skies crackled as the fluorescent waves of color spun above me.
When night comes
I stand on the steps and listen.
Stars swarm in the yard
and I stand in the dark.
Listen, a star fell with a clang!
Don’t go out in the grass with bare feet;
my yard is full of shards.
~ Edith Södergran (1892-1923), Finnish-Swedish poet
Thursday, August 26, 2010
(The Lady and the Flower, medieval woodcut)
There are always two sides — back and forth, here and there, to and fro. . . .
THE ARITHMETIC OF ALTERNATION
today I write
of the shadows
on a white wall,
the texture of petals
and leaves like a flat braille,
even without color
I will tell
how on the warmest day
there is an icy edge
to things, a darkness
at the rim
of every shining
this is the arithmetic
the way the hours,
it keeps us honest,
it keeps us turning
~ Linda Pastan, born 1932, American poet
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
(Dancing Bears by William Holbrook Beard, 1824-1900,
Summer is the perfect time for dining al fresco.
To sing along with Canadian singer Anne Murray, click on this link (you may have to cut and paste):
TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC
If you go down in the woods today,
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go down in the woods today,
You'd better go in disguise.
For ev’ry bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.
Picnic time for teddy bears,
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today.
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them picnic on their holiday.
See them gaily gad about,
They love to play and shout,
They never have any cares.
At six o’clock
Their mommies and daddies
Will take them home to bed,
Because they’re tired little teddy bears.
Ev’ry teddy bear who’s been good
Is sure of a treat today.
There’s lots of marvelous things to eat
And wonderful games to play.
Beneath the trees
Where nobody sees,
They’ll hide and seek as long as they please.
That’s the way the teddy bears have their picnic.
~ Jimmy Kennedy (1902-1984), British lyricist, and John Bratton (1867-1947), American composer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
(Grasshopper by Raoul Dufy,
1877-1953, French artist)
One night in December, 1816, the poet Leigh Hunt and his friend John Keats heard the chirping of a cricket by the hearth in Hunt’s cottage. The two men challenged each other to write a sonnet about this.
TO THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE CRICKET
Green little vaulter in the sunny grass,
Catching your heart up at the feel of June, —
Sole voice that’s heard amidst the lazy noon
When even the bees lag at the summoning brass;
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
With those who think the candles come too soon,
Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass!
O sweet and tiny cousins, that belong,
One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both, though small, are strong
At your clear hearts; and both seem given to earth
To sing in thoughtful ears this natural song, —
In doors and out, summer and winter, mirth.
~ Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), English essayist, critic, and poet
ON THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE CRICKET
The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s — he takes the lead
In summer luxury, — he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
~ John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic poet
Monday, August 23, 2010
(Moonlight by Edvard Munch 1863-1944, Norwegian painter)
On a peaceful night, still and quiet, the sky and water are one.
Dusk over the lake,
a nightmare behind branches,
from the swamp
the odor of cedar and fern,
the long circular
wail of the loon —
the plump bird aches for fish
for night to come down.
Then it becomes so dark
that I shatter the moon with an oar.
~ Jim Harrison, born 1937, American poet
Sunday, August 22, 2010
(Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, 1859-1932,
English writer; illustration by E. H. Shepard, 1879-1976,
It is an established fact that all children are multilingual for a certain period of time.
Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each failing dying flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?
~ Shel Silverstein (1932-1999), American poet and songwriter
Saturday, August 21, 2010
(Snap the Whip by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910,
For many kids in the early Sixties, this ditty was their first introduction to opera. It is sung to the tune of Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” from the opera La Gioconda.
To sing along with Allan Sherman, click on this link (you may have to cut and paste):
HELLO MUDDAH, HELLO FADDUH (A LETTER FROM CAMP)
Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh,
Here I am at Camp Grenada.
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.
I went hiking with Joe Spivy.
He developed poison ivy.
You remember Leonard Skinner.
He got ptomaine poisoning last night with dinner.
All the counselors hate the waiters,
And the lake has alligators,
And the head coach wants no sissies
So he reads to us from something called “Ulysses.”
Now I don’t want this should scare ya
But my bunkmate has malaria.
You remember Jeffrey Hardy.
They’re about to organize a search party.
Take me home, oh Muddah, Fadduh.
Take me home, I hate Grenada.
Don’t leave me out in the forest
Where I might get eaten by a bear.
Take me home, I promise
I will not make noise
Or mess the house with other boys.
Oh please don’t make me stay,
I’ve been here one whole day.
Dearest Fadduh, darling Muddah,
How’s my previous little bruddah?
Let me come home if ya miss me.
I’ll even let Aunt Bertha hug and miss me.
Wait a minute, it stopped hailing,
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing,
Playing baseball, gee that’s better.
Muddah, Fadduh, kindly disregard this letter.
~ Allan Sherman (1924-1973), American comedian and writer of parodies
Friday, August 20, 2010
(William Butler Yeats, 1908 by John Singer
Sargent, 1856-1925, American portrait painter)
“Sometimes I told myself very adventurous love-stories with myself for hero, and at other times I planned out a life of lonely austerity, and at other times mixed the ideals and planned a life of lonely austerity mitigated by periodical lapses,” W. B. Yeats wrote in his Autobiography. “I had still the ambition, formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water. From the sudden remembrance came my poem ‘Innisfree,’ my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music.”
THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
~ William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet and dramatist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1923
Thursday, August 19, 2010
(Woman Walking in Exotic Forest, 1905, by
Henri Rousseau, 1844-1910, French painter)
It’s a jungle out there, in your garden.
It grows too fast! I cannot keep pace with it!
While I mow the front lawns, the drying green becomes impossible;
While I weed the east path, from the west path spring dandelions,
What time I sort the borders, the orchard escapes me.
And then the interruptions! the interlopers!
While I clap my hands against the blackbird,
Michael, our cat, is rolling on a seedling;
While I chase Michael, a young rabbit is eyeing the lettuces.
And oh the orgies, to think of the orgies
When I am not present to preside over this microcosm!
~ Mary Ursula Bethell (1874-1945), New Zealand
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
(Apples, Peaches, Pears, and Grapes by Paul
Cézanne, 1839-1906, French Post-Impressionist
“Give me Books, fruit, French wine and fine whether [sic] and a little music out of doors, played by somebody I do not know . . . and I can pass a summer very quietly without caring much about Fat Louis, fat Regent or the Duke of Wellington,” wrote John Keats to his sister Fanny, on August 28, 1819. “I should like now to promenade round you[r] Gardens — apple tasting — pear tasting — plum judging — apricot nibbling — peach scrunching — Nectarine-sucking and Melon carving.”
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
~ Li-Young Lee, American poet born 1957 in Indonesia to Chinese parents after they fled political turmoil in China
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
(Hot Summer Day by Fyodor Vasilyev, 1850-1873,
John Clare loved the countryside. He had a gift of knowing and seeing what was going on around him in nature. In his quiet way, in his many poems, he reminds his readers that beauty is there to be shared.
I love at eventide to walk alone
Down narrow lanes o’erhung with dewy thorn
Where from the long grass underneath, the snail,
Jet black, creeps out and sprouts his timid horn.
I love to muse o’er meadows newly mown
Where withering grass perfumes the sultry air;
Where bees search round, with sad and weary drone
In vain for flowers that bloomed but newly there;
While in the juicy corn the hidden quail
Cries “wet my foot!” and hid as thoughts unborn;
The fairy-like and seldom-seen landrail
Utters “craik, craik” like voices underground,
Right glad to meet the evening’s dewy veil
And see the light fade into gloom around.
~ John Clare (1793-1864), English Romantic poet
Monday, August 16, 2010
(Gardener, eighteenth-century American woodcut)
The gardener must cut to encourage growth. Or, as Hamlet put it, “I must be cruel only to be kind.”
Shearing, as the gardener
snips the sucker,
controlling wild growth
with shaping hands, looking and choosing —
which bud’s to be the branch —
rooting out, cutting or pardoning
by design and scheme:
trimming pyramids, tall arches,
scissoring bowers for gods —
how I'd love doing that —
taking hold of the passionate growth
in my unmastered heart.
Slicing through wild, winding
with a bright, sharp blade —
to but loosen its hold on me!
release its hold?
and must the clasper wither?
trailers, leaves, tendrils droop?
A French park, my loving?
moderation, cautious suffering?
precise forms, narrow blossoms,
the reign of geometry,
is my calmness to be a tight calmness?
Anna Hajnal (1907-1977), Hungarian poet
Sunday, August 15, 2010
(The Hands by Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528,
German printmaker and painter)
In summer, there is more time for meditation.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean —
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver, born 1935, American poet
Saturday, August 14, 2010
(Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë by
their brother Branwell, who painted
himself out of the picture)
“I went apart into the orchard,” recalls the heroine of the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855). “No nook in the grounds more sheltered and more Eden-like; it was full of trees, it bloomed with flowers: a very high wall shut it out from the court, on one side; on the other, a beech avenue screened it from the lawn. At the bottom was a sunk fence; its sole separation from lonely fields: a winding walk, bordered with laurels and terminating in a giant horse-chestnut, circled at the base by a seat, led down to the fence. Here one could wander unseen. While such honey-dew fell, such silence reigned, such gloaming gathered, I felt as if I could haunt such shade for ever; but in threading the flower and fruit parterres at the upper part of the enclosure, enticed there by the light the now rising moon cast on this more open quarter, my step is stayed . . .”
MOONLIGHT, SUMMER MOONLIGHT
’Tis moonlight, summer moonlight,
All soft and still and fair;
The solemn hour of midnight
Breathes sweet thoughts everywhere,
But most where trees are sending
Their breezy boughs on high,
Or stooping low are lending
A shelter from the sky.
And there in those wild bowers
A lovely form is laid;
Green grass and dew-steeped flowers
Wave gently round her head.
~ Emily Brontë (1818-1848), one of three English sisters famous for their poetry and novels, Emily for Wuthering Heights; Charlotte, Jane Eyre; and Anne, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. (Their brother Branwell led a dissipated life of little distinction.)
Friday, August 13, 2010
(The Angler, woodcut block by Walter
J. Phillips, 1884-1962, Canadian artist)
The memories of summer stay with us. The poet does not go into detail, but we know exactly what he is talking about.
WHY I AM HAPPY
Now has come, an easy time. I let it
roll. There is a lake somewhere
so blue and far nobody owns it.
A wind comes by and a willow listens
I hear all this, every summer. I laugh
and cry for every turn of the world,
its terribly cold, innocent spin.
That lake stays blue and free; it goes
on and on.
~ William Stafford (1914-1993), American poet
Thursday, August 12, 2010
(Sunrise, Yosemite Valley, 1865 by Albert Bierstadt,
1830-1902, German-born American painter)
“O what a beautiful morning, / O what a beautiful day, / I’ve got a wonderful feeling, / Everything’s going my way,” sang Gordon MacRae (1921-1986) in the musical Oklahoma.
IS IT THE MORNING?
IS IT THE LITTLE MORNING?
Is it morning? Is it the little morning
Just before dawn? How big the sun is!
Are those the birds? Their voices begin
Everywhere, whistling, piercing, and joyous
All over and in the air, speaking the words
Which are more than words, with mounting consciousness:
And everything begins to rise to the brightening
Of the slow light that ascends to the blaze’s lightning!
~ Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966), American poet
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
(Provincetown by Childe Hassam, 1859-1935,
American Impressionist painter)
The poet here is providing an answer — but what was the question?
DEFENDING POETRY, ETC.
Yes, defending poetry, high style, etc.,
but also summer evenings in a small town,
where gardens waft and cats sit quietly
on doorsteps, like Chinese philosophers.
~ Adam Zagajewski, born 1945, Polish poet who now teaches in the U.S.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
(The Bird Cage by Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1874-1939,
American Impressionist painter)
The directions below are clear enough.
HOW TO PAINT THE PORTRAIT OF A BIRD
First, paint a cage
with an open door.
Then, in the cage, paint something for the bird,
something useful and beautiful, and simple.
Then take the picture to a garden
or a park
or a forest.
Put the picture under a tree.
Hide behind the tree.
Sometimes the bird comes quickly.
But it can just as well take years before deciding.
If the bird doesn’t come right away,
don’t be discouraged. Wait.
Wait years if necessary.
It doesn’t mean that your picture won’t be good.
When the bird comes, if it comes,
remain absolutely silent.
Wait till the bird enters the cage.
Then gently close the door with your brush.
Then, erase the cage,
one bar at a time,
being very careful of the bird’s feathers.
Now paint the portrait of the tree
with the prettiest branch for the bird.
Paint the green leaves and the summer breeze.
Paint the smell of the sunshine and the flowers,
and the songs of the bees and the butterflies.
Then wait for the bird to sing.
If it doesn’t sing, don’t be sad.
You did your best.
But if the bird sings,
it’s a very good sign.
It’s a sign that you can sign.
So then, very gently, take a feather from the bird
and write your name in a corner of the picture.
(Tomorrow you can paint another one.)
~ Jacques Prévert (1900-1977), French surrealist poet who also wrote a number of screenplays for the film director Marcel Carné, including his masterpiece Les enfants du paradis.
Monday, August 9, 2010
(Summer Landscape by Paul Klee, 1879-1940,
The dog days of summer, those very hot days in July and August, get their name from Sirius or the Dog Star, the brightest star in the Great Dog constellation. The Romans believed the star added to the heat as it rose with the sun.
O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.
Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air —
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.
Cut the heat —
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.
~ H. D., born Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), American Imagist poet and novelist
Sunday, August 8, 2010
(The First Steps by Jean-François Millet, 1814–1875,
Insight can come upon us in a flash.
from SUMMERS AND SPRINGS
God has left us — I felt it clearly
digging the earth around a rhubarb plant.
It was black and moist. I don’t know where he is,
only a shelf full of sacred books remains of him,
a couple of wax candles, a prayer wheel and a little bell.
Coming back to the house I thought
there might still be something — the smell of lilac and honeysuckle.
Then suddenly I imagined a child’s face
there, on the other side, in eternity
looking here into time, regarding wide-eyed
our comings, goings and doings in this time-aquarium
under the light of the sun going down
and falling asleep under a water-lily leaf
somewhere far away in the west.
~ Jaan Kaplinski, born 1941, Estonian poet and translator
Saturday, August 7, 2010
(Inverted Personage by Joan Miró,
1893-1983, Spanish painter, ceramist,
In our perch alone above the flora and fauna of nature, only we have free will, and as such, the sounds we make — our words — have consequences.
THEIR LONELY BETTERS
As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.
A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.
Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.
Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.
~ W. H. Auden (1907-1973), English-born American poet and essayist
Friday, August 6, 2010
(Painting His Shadow by André Kertész,
1894-1985, Hungarian-born photographer)
“Memories are made of this,” sang Dean Martin (1917-1995).
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
~ Wendell Berry, born 1934, American poet, writer, and farmer
Thursday, August 5, 2010
(Arikara Indian Girl Standing by a Stream,
1908, North Dakota by Edward Curtis,
1868-1952, American photographer)
A haiku is a Japanese form of lyric verse expressing, in very few words, a single idea, image, or experience, usually about nature or the seasons. In English, it consists of three short lines, totaling no more than 17 syllables.
Ah, what a pleasure
to cross a stream in summer —
sandals in hand.
~ Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Japanese poet and painter
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
(Studies of Bees and Insects by Beatrix Potter,
1866-1943, English writer, illustrator, sheep breeder,
and conservationist, and creator of Peter Rabbit and
Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, among many others)
No thing is too small or theme too slight for a poet to tackle. John Donne wrote of a flea, John Keats of a grasshopper and cricket, and Don Marquis of archy the cockroach. And then there’s D. H. Lawrence’s challenge to the “Winged Victory,” that pesky bane of summer outdoor fun.
(The poet makes a small error of no consequence — it is the female of the species that does all the biting.)
When did you start your tricks,
What do you stand on such high legs for?
Why this length of shredded shank,
Is it so that you shall lift your center of gravity upwards
And weigh no more than air as you alight upon me,
Stand upon me weightless, you phantom?
I heard a woman call you the Winged Victory
In sluggish Venice.
You turn your head towards your tail, and smile.
How can you put so much devilry
Into that translucent phantom shred
Of a frail corpus?
Queer, with your thin wings and your streaming legs,
How you sail like a heron, or a dull clot of air,
Yet what an aura surrounds you;
Your evil little aura, prowling, and casting a numbness on my mind.
That is your trick, your bit of filthy magic:
Invisibility, and the anesthetic power
To deaden my attention in your direction.
But I know your game now, streaky sorcerer.
Queer, how you stalk and prowl the air
In circles and evasions, enveloping me,
Ghoul on wings,
Settle, and stand on long thin shanks
Eyeing me sideways, and cunningly conscious that I am aware,
I hate the way you lurch off sideways into the air
Having read my thoughts against you.
Come then, let us play at unawares,
And see who wins in this sly game of bluff.
Man or mosquito.
You don’t know that I exist, and I don’t know that you exist.
It is your trump
It is your hateful little trump
You pointed fiend,
Which shakes my sudden blood to hatred of you:
It is your small, high, hateful bugle in my ear.
Why do you do it?
Surely it is bad policy.
They say you can’t help it.
If that is so, then I believe a little in Providence protecting the innocent.
But it sounds so amazingly like a slogan
A yell of triumph as you snatch my scalp.
Blood, red blood
I behold you stand
For a second enspasmed in oblivion,
Sucking live blood,
Such silence, such suspended transport,
Such obscenity of trespass.
As well as you may.
Only your accursed hairy frailty
Your own imponderable weightlessness
Saves you, wafts you away on the very draft my anger makes in its snatching.
Away with a paean of derision
You winged blood-drop.
Can I not overtake you?
Are you one too many for me,
Am I not mosquito enough to out-mosquito you?
Queer, what a big stain my sucked blood makes
Beside the infinitesimal faint smear of you!
Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have disappeared into!
~ D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), English novelist, poet, and literary critic
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
(This Is Our Corner by Lawrence Alma-Tadema,
1836-1912, Dutch-born English painter)
Libraries are great places to take your vacation day trips.
AN ODE TO THE LIBRARY
The first person at the library
took a story
and it set an adventure for her
to the sea
where crabs walk sideways
and jellyfish blub
and where lobsters pinch
and also where sharks go “Roar!”
and last of all for the ocean
set where seaweed flows up
and down the current
and on the next day when
she went to the library
she took the book again
and went to the desert
where it’s dry and hot
where cactus grows
among the sand
that night when the girl
went to bed
she had a dream
about going to the library and seeing a monster there
~ Crickett Johnson, a patron of the newly refurbished Children’s Room at the George Hail Library in Warren, Rhode Island
Monday, August 2, 2010
(The Great Piece of Turf by Albrecht Dürer,
1471-1528, German printmaker and painter)
Silence has much to say to us, if only we pause and listen.
WHEN I AM WISE
When I am wise in the speech of grass,
I forget the sound of words
and walk into the bottomland
and lie with my head on the ground
and listen to what grass tells me
about small places for wind to sing,
about the labor of insects,
about shadows dank with spice,
and the friendliness of weeds.
When I am wise in the dance of grass,
I forget the name and run
into the rippling bottomland
and lean against the silence which flows
out of the crumpled mountains
and rises through slick blades, pods,
wheat stems, and curly shoots,
and is carried by wind for miles
from my outstretched hands.
~ Mary Gray, American poet
Sunday, August 1, 2010
(The Open Window by Pierre Bonnard,
1867-1947, French painter)
(August is the last full month of summer. It is still vacation time. We can linger to enjoy the birds, the bees, the flowers, the trees, all at their peak. We can also pause and meditate a little on the less material fruits of life.)
“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, / Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer,” sang Nat “King” Cole (1919-1965).
PHILOSOPHY IN WARM WEATHER
Now all the doors and windows
are open, and we move so easily
through the rooms. Cats roll
on the sunny rugs, and a clumsy wasp
climbs the pane, pausing
to rub a leg over her head.
All around physical life reconvenes.
The molecules of our bodies must love
to exist: they whirl in circles
and seem to begrudge us nothing.
Heat, Horatio, heat makes them
put this antic disposition on!
This year’s brown spider
sways over the door as I come
and go. A single poppy shouts
from the far field, and the crow,
beyond alarm, goes right on
pulling up the corn.
~ Jane Kenyon (1947-1995), American poet