Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Natural History

(Untitled, textile by Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010, American
sculptor and artist, known as The Spider Woman for her
large spider structures and web-like images)

“Once you begin watching spiders,” E. B. White said, “you haven’t time for much else.”

White is the author of the classic children’s novel
Charlotte’s Web, the tale of a life-and-death drama that unfolds in a barn on Mr. and Mrs. Arable’s farm. The heroine, Charlotte, is a barn spider, a. k. a. Araneus cavaticus.

In 1929, a few weeks of weeks after his wedding to Katherine Angell, White sent the following poem to his bride from the King Edward Hotel in Toronto. (It is a well-established fact that most women don’t like spiders. But everything worked out fine; they remained married for almost fifty years.)


The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of his devising;
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
He builds a ladder to the place
From which he started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.

~ E. B. White (1899-1985), American novelist and writer, and co-author, with William Strunk, Jr., of the best guide to writing good prose, The Elements of Style, better known as Strunk & White

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wearing the Collar

(Aliens by Fernand Léger, 1881–1955, French painter
and sculptor)

“Pains of love be sweeter far / Than all the other pleasures are.”    ~ John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet, dramatist, and satirist


I live with a lady and four cats
and some days we all get

some days I have trouble with
one of the

other days I have trouble with
two of the

other days,

some days I have trouble with
all four of the

and the

ten eyes looking at me
as if I was a dog.

~ Charles Bukowsi (1920-1994), American poet and writer of novels and short stories

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Gift

(Untitled, Polaroid photograph by André Kertész, 1894-
1985, Hungarian-born photographer)

“Only love can be divided endlessly and still not diminish.”                ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001), American aviator and writer


One day the gift arrives — outside your door,
Left on a windowsill, inside the mailbox,
Or in the hallway, far too large to lift.

Your postman shrugs his shoulders, the police
Consult a statute, and the cat meows.
No name, no signature, and no address,

Only, “To you, my dearest one, my all . . .”
One day it all fits snugly on your lap,
Then fills the backyard like afternoon in spring.

Monday morning, and it’s there at work —
Already ahead of you, or left behind
Amongst the papers, files and photographs;

And were there lipstick smudges down the side
Or have they just appeared? What a headache!
And worse, people have begun to talk:

“You lucky thing!” they say, or roll their eyes.
Nights find you combing the directory
(A glass of straw-colored wine upon the desk)

Still hoping to chance on a forgotten name.
Yet mornings see you happier than before —
After all, the gift has set you up for life.

Impossible to tell, now, what was given
And what was not: slivers of rain on the window,
Those gold-tooled Oeuvres of Diderot on the shelf,

The strawberry dreaming in a champagne flute —
Were they part of the gift or something else?
Or is the gift still coming, on its way?

~ Kevin Hart, born in 1954, Australian poet

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Odyssey

Each Friday we provide the link to the blogger who is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books. It’s also a great way to explore the internet.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Diane Mayr.

You can visit her here at Random Noodling.

(Penelope by John Roddham Spencer-Stanhope,
1829-1908, English artist)

The poet Homer is thought to have lived in the ninth century B. C. in Ancient Greece. He is believed to be the writer of two of the greatest works of Western literature.

His two epic poems recount the legend of the Trojan War and its aftermath.

The first,
The Iliad, is a vivid tale of warfare, revealing how wrath and pride and a desire for vengeance lead the hero, Achilles, to tragedy and destruction. He has the heart of a warrior.

There are scenes of fighting in
The Odyssey, too, but this is more the story of Odysseus, a man with the heart of a husband, father, and builder.

Having helped to lead the Greeks to victory in the ten-year war, Odysseus is now determined, at all costs, to return home to his wife, Penelope, and to his son. That journey will take another ten years, during which he will have to defeat the monsters and dangers the gods throw in his way before he can be reunited with his beloved.

Over the long course of those twenty years, Penelope remains faithful and true. Everyone thinks she has been widowed. It is a lonely time for her, and difficult, for she is surrounded in her house by aggressive suitors for whom, because of custom, she has to provide food and shelter. She has resorted to ruses to ward off their demands. For three years, for example, she promised to announce her choice after she had finished weaving a burial cloth for her father-in-law. Each night she would unravel her day’s work.

In the excerpt below, Odysseus finally arrives home. He has slain the suitors who had menaced his wife. Penelope knows the man sitting before her is her husband — he bears a distinctive scar on his foot — but after twenty years away from her, is he the same man?


Odysseus came from the bath
Like a god, and sat down on the chair again
Opposite his wife, and spoke to her and said:

“You’re a mysterious woman.
The gods
Have given to you, more than to any
Other woman, an unyielding heart.
No other woman would be able to endure
Standing off from her husband, come back
After twenty hard years to his country and home.
Nurse, make up a bed for me so I can lie down
Alone, since her heart is a cold lump of iron.”

And Penelope, cautious and wary:

“You’re a mysterious man.
I am not being proud
Or scornful, nor am I bewildered — not at all.
I know very well what you looked like
When you left Ithaca on your long-oared ship.
Nurse, bring the bed out from the master bedroom,
The bedstead he made himself, and spread it for him
With fleeces and blankets and silky coverlets.”

She was testing her husband.

Could bear no more, and he cried out to his wife:

“By God, woman, now you’ve cut deep.
Who moved my bed? It would be hard
For anyone, no matter how skilled, to move it.
A god could come down and move it easily,
But not a man alive, however young and strong,
Could ever pry it up. There’s something telling
About how that bed’s built, and no one else
Built it but me.

“There was an olive tree
Growing on the site, long-leaved and full,
Its trunk thick as a post. I built my bedroom
Around that tree, and when I had finished
The masonry walls and done the roofing
And set in the jointed, close-fitting doors,
I lopped off all of the olive’s branches,
Trimmed the trunk from the root on up,
And rounded it and trued it with an adze until
I had myself a bedpost. I bored it with an auger,
And starting from this I framed up the whole bed,
Inlaying it with gold and silver and ivory
And stretching across it oxhide thongs dyed purple.
So there’s our secret. But I do not know, woman,
Whether my bed is still firmly in place, or if
Some other man has cut through the olive’s trunk.”

At this, Penelope finally let go.
Odysseus had shown he knew their old secret.
In tears, she ran straight to him, threw her arms
Around him, kissed his face, and said:

“Don’t be angry with me, Odysseus. You,
Of all men, know how the world goes.
It is the gods who gave us sorrow, the gods
Who begrudged us a life together, enjoying
Our youth and arriving side by side
To the threshold of old age. Don’t hold it against me
That when I first saw you I didn’t welcome you
As I do now. My heart has been cold with fear
That an imposter would come and deceive me.
There are many who scheme for ill-gotten gains.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dim Lady

(Woman and Bird in the Moonlight by Joan
Miró, 1893-1983, Spanish painter, ceramist,
and sculptor)

A friend of this blog sent us this modern prose-poem version of yesterday’s Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare.

Thank you, Dylan.


My honeybunch’s peepers are nothing like neon. Today's special at Red Lobster is redder than her kisser. If Liquid Paper is white, her racks are institutional beige. If her mop were Slinkys, dishwater Slinkys would grow on her noggin. I have seen tablecloths in Shakey’s Pizza Parlors, red and white, but no such picnic colors do I see in her mug. And in some minty-fresh mouthwashes there is more sweetness than in the garlic breeze my main squeeze wheezes. I love to hear her rap, yet I’m aware that Muzak has a hipper beat. I don’t know any Marilyn Monroes. My ball and chain is plain from head to toe. And yet, by gosh, my scrumptious twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any lanky model or platinum movie idol who’s hyped beyond belief.

~ Harryette Mullen, born 1953, American poet and professor of English

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sonnet 130

(Seed Catalogue, 1897, found at Early
American Gardens

“Love is a great beautifier.” ~ Louisa May Alcott, from Little Women


My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

~ William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English poet and playwright

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beautiful Dreamer

(Moonlight by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American artist)

Stephen Foster (1826-1864) has been called America’s first songwriter. Many of his compositions are like folk songs — they could have been created around the campfire by anonymous composers. And they were very popular. A friend said, “They seemed to travel like the wind from city to city and one had hardly heard them in Pittsburgh when they were being whistled on the streets of New York.”

Foster wrote two kinds of songs. The first were more public, the “stage songs” written for minstrel groups who performed in black face, with some lyrics that derisively mimicked the speech of blacks in language that was “trashy and really offensive,” as Foster once said. These reflected the sad and unfortunate mores of the time, of ante-bellum mid-nineteenth century America. Today, we sing only the cleaned-up verses of songs like Oh! Susanna.

But Foster did change and his songs do show us that. My Old Kentucky Home, for example, was inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published several months earlier, the story of the unbearable separation of a slave family. Frederick Douglass, the famous black abolitionist, admired the sentiments of this song, for “they awaken the sympathies for the slave in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish.”

Foster is also known for a second kind of song, the quieter “household songs” written for the piano in the parlor. The melodies are simple and wistful, even melancholy. One critic has observed that many of these sentimental songs feature heroines, like Gentle Annie, Cora Dean, and Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, who are either asleep or dead.
Nelly Was a Lady, about the death of a black boatman’s wife, became notable because it was the first popular song to treat an African-American woman with dignity and humanity.

The song below is one of Foster’s best known. It speaks of “the wild Lorelei,” an allusion to a German folktale about the siren song of a lovely mermaid who lures sailors to their watery doom in the Rhine River.

My favorite version is this one by Raul Malo.


Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all pass’d away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea
Mermaids are chanting the wild Lorelei;
Over the streamlet vapors are borne,
Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn.
Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
E’en as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Happened That Night

(Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Massachusetts,
May 20, 1959)

Sylvia Plath was an American poet studying in England on a scholarship when she met Ted Hughes, a young English poet already on the path to success.

Their marriage was intense and passionate and troubled. One evening in 1963, when she was only thirty years old, Plath gassed herself, leaving behind their two young children. Hughes had just left her for another woman.

Hughes went on to become a popular writer of verses for children and poems about myths and nature. He also served as the country’s Poet Laureate from 1984 to 1998. On the whole, he remained silent about Plath. He never responded to the many angry public attacks hurled against him by self-proclaimed feminists who blamed him for Plath’s death.

But he had been thinking and writing about Plath all along. In 1998, as he was dying of cancer, he published
Birthday Letters, a collection of 88 poems about his wife and their life together, and his torment and his grief. And in 2010, another of his poems about Plath was discovered among his papers at the British Library.

That poem (below) is “almost unbearable to read,” said Carol Duffy, the current Poet Laureate, after the startling news came out. “It’s a poem that will speak in the way that a Shakespearean tragedy does to people who’ve had the misfortune to touch on those issues. . . . There is a deafening kind of agony, blinding agony to this new poem.”

What happened that night, your final night?
Double, treble exposure over everything.
Late afternoon Friday, my last sight of you alive,
Burning your letter to me in the ashtray with that strange smile.
What did you say over the smoking shards of that letter?
So carefully annihilated, so calmly,
That let me release you and leave you to blow its ashes off your plan.
Off the ashtray against which you would leave me to read the doctor’s phone number.
My escape had become such a hunted thing,
Sleepless, hopeless, all its dreams exhausted.

What happened that night, inside your hours
Is as unknown as if it never happened.
What accumulation of your whole life,
Like effort unconscious, like birth
Pushing through the membrane of each slow second
Into the next, happened
Only as if it could not happen
As if it was not happening.

And I had started to write when the telephone
Jerked me awake, in a jabbering alarm,
Remembering everything. It recovered in my hand.
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection,
Coolly delivered its four words
Deep into my ear: “Your wife is dead.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Good Night

(In Front of Mestre’s, Paris, 1947, by Willy
Ronis, 1910-2009, French photographer)

One form of poetry is the pantoum, or pantum, composed of quatrains with internal rhyming and the repetition of lines according to an established pattern. The poet here has created a variation of that, involving the repetition of lines that he first rearranges. Read the poem out loud and you’ll note that this double-repetition begins to resemble an incantation.


Sleep softly my old love
my beauty in the dark
night is a dream we have
as you know as you know

night is a dream you know
an old love in the dark
around you as you go
without end as you know

in the night where you go
sleep softly my old love
without end in the dark
in the love that you know

~ W. S. Merwin, born in 1927, American poet, essayist, and translator

Saturday, October 22, 2011

i carry your heart

(The Proposal, English wood engraving, Regency period,

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

~ e. e. cummings (1894-1962), American poet

Friday, October 21, 2011

For an Amorous Lady

Each Friday we provide the link to the blogger who is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books. It’s also a great way to explore the internet.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Jama Rattigan.

You can visit her here at Jama's Alphabet Soup, an eclectic feast of food, fiction and folderol.

(Enchanted Owl by Kenojuac Ashevak, born in 1927 on
the southern coast of Baffin Island, Canada; she is one
of the most accomplished modern Inuit artists)

The most unexpected metaphor can be transformed into a loving compliment, as in this sonnet.


“Most mammals like caresses, in the sense in which we usually take the word, whereas other creatures, even tame snakes, prefer giving to receiving them.” ~ from a Natural History book

The pensive gnu, the staid aardvark,
Accept caresses in the dark;
The bear, equipped with paw and snout,
Would rather take than dish it out.
But snakes, both poisonous and garter,
In love are never known to barter;
The worm, though dank, is sensitive:
His noble nature bids him give.

But you, my dearest, have a soul
Encompassing fish, flesh, and fowl.
When amorous arts we would pursue,
You can, with pleasure, bill or coo.
You are, in truth, one in a million,
At once mammalian and reptilian.

~ Theodore Roethke (1908-1963), American poet

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Annabel Lee

(Lady in a Yellow Dress Watering Roses,
Maryland, 1830, by Elizabeth Glaser,
American watercolorist)

For most of us, our first experience of falling in love often, sadly, comes to an end, yet it also continues to live on forever.

Sometimes an emotion can be so profound that it is better suited to expression in poetry. Described in prose, the feelings would seem merely melodramatic, even kitsch. But stated in the language of poetry, with its repetition, its form in meter and rhyme, inverted syntax, and unexpected images, the poet’s ardor becomes calmer and thus easier for the reader to understand and to appreciate, as in this well-known ballad.


It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love —
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me —
Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we —
Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In the sepulcher there by the sea,
In her tomb by the side of the sea.

~ Edgar Allan Poe (1801-1849), American poet, writer, and father of the detective story

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

La belle dame sans merci

(La belle dame sans merci by William Russell Flint, 1880-
1969, Scottish artist and illustrator)

A ballad is a poem that tells the story of one event, often tragic, using repetition and simple language and dialogue. Its rhyme and rhythm make it easy to put the words to music. Originally, in medieval times, ballads were sung to accompany a dance. The words “ballad” and “ballet” are both derived from the Late Latin ballare or to dance.

Many ballads belong to the folk literature, written by anonymous authors and subject to changes, large and small, over the years. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, poets came to favor this already popular poetic form and write their own literary ballads.

The poem below is considered by many to be one of the loveliest of the literary ballads. It begins when a person passing by on the side of a hill comes upon a knight at arms who seems lost and dazed. The knight describes his meeting with a beautiful lady without mercy.


O what can ail thee, Knight at arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the Lake
And no birds sing!

O what can ail thee, Knight at arms,
So haggard, and so woe begone?
The Squirrel’s granary is full
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast witherest too —

I met a Lady in the Meads,
Full beautiful, a faery’s child.
Her hair was long, her foot was light
And her eyes were wild —

I made a Garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant Zone
She look’d at me as she did love
And made sweet moan —

I set her on my pacing steed
And nothing else saw all day long
For sidelong would she bend and sing
A faery’s song —

She found me roots of relish sweet
And honey wild and manna dew
And sure in language strange she said
I love thee true —

She took me to her elfin grot
And then she wept and sigh’d full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And then she lulled me asleep
And there I dream’d, Ah Woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale Kings, and Princes too
Pale warriors, death pale were they all;
They cried, La belle dame sans merci
Thee hath in thrall.

I saw their starv’d lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill’s side

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering;
Though the sedge is withered from the Lake
And no birds sing —

~ John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic poet

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


(Original Infinity Nets by Yayoi Kusama, born
1929, Japanese painter, performance artist, and
creator of installation art)

The traditional form of the Japanese haiku is a verse confined to seventeen syllables, when composed in English. But the poet Amy Lowell feels no obligation to follow this rule exactly, as we see in these two poetic expressions of tenderness. “I have endeavored,” she writes, “only to keep the brevity and suggestion of the hokku [haiku] and to preserve it within its natural sphere.”


Even the iris bends
When a butterfly lights upon it.


If I could catch the green lantern of the firefly,
I could see to write you a letter.

~ Amy Lowell (1874-1925), American Imagist poet

Monday, October 17, 2011

Love Song

(Maligne Lake, at Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada,
by Lawren Harris, 1885-1970, Canadian artist)

The pathetic fallacy is a form of personification. Writers ascribe human feelings and thoughts to flora and fauna and all manner of inanimate things. Hence the name: “pathetic” from the Greek pathos or feeling, and “fallacy” for the mistaken notion that this is truly possible.

This rhetorical device is most useful to the poets, especially in declarations of love. It greatly expands the potential support they can enlist to their side. Any thing at all can now join the chorus.


I have to adore the earth:

The wind must have heard
your voice once.
It echoes and sings like you.

The soil must have tasted
you once.
It is laden with your scent.

The trees honor you
in gold
and blush when you pass.

I know why the north country
is frozen.
It has been trying to preserve
your memory.

I know why the desert
burns with fever.
It has wept too long without you.

On hands and knees,
the ocean begs up the beach,
and falls at your feet.

I have to adore
the mirror of the earth.
You have taught her well
how to be beautiful.

~ Henry Dumas (1934-1968), American poet and writer of novels and short stories

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Triple Fool

(Couple with Bird’s Nest, eighteenth-century
English woodcut)

“She saw no reason against their being happy. Louisa had fine naval fervor to begin with, and they would soon grow more alike. [Captain Benwick] would gain cheerfulness, and she would learn to be an enthusiast for Scott and Lord Byron; nay that was probably learnt already; of course they had fallen in love over poetry.” ~ Jane Austen, from Persuasion


I am two fools, I know,
For loving, and for saying so
In whining poetry;
But where’s that wise man, that would not be I,
If she would not deny?
Then as th’earth’s inward narrow crooked lanes
Do purge sea water’s fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
Through rhyme’s vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.

But when I have done so,
Some man, his art and voice to show,
Doth set and sing my pain;
And, by delighting many, frees again
Grief, which verse did restrain.
To love and grief tribute of verse belongs,
But not of such as pleases when ’tis read.
Both are increasèd by such songs,
For both their triumphs so are published,
And I, which was two fools, do so grow three.
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

~ John Donne (1572-1631), the finest of the English Metaphysical poets, lyric poets whose work displayed a subtlety of thought and fanciful imagery and often used one surprising metaphor to bring together two very different ideas

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Emperor

(Tea at Furlongs by Eric Ravilious, 1903-1942, English
engraver, artist, and official war painter during World
War II)


She sends me a text
she’s coming home
the train emerges
from underground

I light the fire under
the pot, I pour her
a glass of wine
I fold a napkin under
a little fork

the wind blows the rain
into the windows
the emperor himself
is not this happy

~ Matthew Rohrer, born in 1970, American poet

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Arundel Tomb

(The Tomb of the Earl and Countess of Arundel)

The tomb pictured above and referred to in the poem below is now located in Chichester Cathedral.

A sign stands beside the tomb, giving the history of the stone effigies:

“The figures represent Richard Fitzalan III, 13th Earl of Arundel (ca. 1307-1376) and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster [1318-1372], who by his will of 1375 were to be buried together ‘without pomp’ in the chapter house of Lewes Priory.

“The armour and dress suggest a date near 1375; the knight’s attitude is typical of that time but the lady’s crossed legs, giving the effect of a turn towards her husband, are rare. The joined hands have been thought due to ‘restoration’ by Edward Richardson (1812-69), but recent research has shown this feature to be original. If so, this monument must be one of the earliest showing this concession to affection where the husband was a knight rather than a civilian.”

Philip Larkin wrote the poem after he first saw the tomb, with “the stone effigies of the Earl and Countess of the Arundel family shown lying hand in hand in a way that I had never seen in English church ornamental sculpture anywhere else and which I found extremely affecting.” The poem was published in 1964 as part of his collection
The Whitsun Weddings.


Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits¹ vaguely shown
As jointed armor, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd —
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet², still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only their attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruths. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

~ Philip Larkin (1922-1985), English poet, novelist, and jazz critic

¹ habits – clothes
² his left-hand gauntlet – “I got the hands wrong,” Larkin said in a 1981 interview. “It’s a right-hand gauntlet really.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

To You

(Circle Limit III Tessellation by M. C. Escher, 1898-1972,
Dutch artist)

It’s even possible to express love in surreal terms.

Kenneth Koch wrote poetry filled with much irony and sarcasm, some so absurd and humorous that one critic called him the “funniest serious poet we have.”


I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut
That will solve a murder case unsolved for years
Because the murderer left it in the snow beside a window
Through which he saw her head, connecting with
Her shoulders by a neck, and laid a red
Roof in her heart. For this we live a thousand years;
For this we love, and we live because we love, we are not
Inside a bottle, thank goodness! I love you as a
Kid searches for a goat; I am crazier than shirttails
In the wind, when you’re near, a wind that blows from
The big blue sea, so shiny so deep and so unlike us;
I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields
Always, to be near you, even in my heart
When I’m awake, which swims, and also I believe that you
Are trustworthy as the sidewalk which leads me to
The place where I again think of you, a new
Harmony of thoughts! I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.

~ Kenneth Koch (1925-2002), American poet, playwright, and writer of short stories, renowned for teaching children and the elderly how to appreciate and write poetry

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


(Waiting for an Answer by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910,
American artist)

“Elizabeth’s spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her.

“‘How could you begin?’ said she. ‘I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?’

“‘I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.’”

~ Jane Austen, from
Pride and Prejudice


Years later they find themselves talking
about chances, moments when their lives
might have swerved off
for the smallest reason.

What if
I hadn’t phoned, he says, that morning?
What if you’d been out,
as you were when I tried three times
the night before?

Then she tells him a secret.
She’d been there all evening, and she knew
he was the one calling, which was why
she hadn’t answered.

Because she felt —
because she was certain — her life would change
if she picked up the phone, said hello,
said I was just thinking
of you.

I was afraid,
she tells him. And in the morning
I also knew it was you, but I just
answered the phone

the way anyone
answers a phone when it starts to ring,
not thinking you have a choice.

~ Lawrence Raab, born in 1946, American poet and screenwriter

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wedding Toast

(Wedding by Marc Chagall, 1887-1985,
Belarusian-French artist)

“On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus was also invited to the marriage with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

“Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.’ So they took it.

“When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’”

~ John 2: 1-10, from
The New Testament


St. John tells how, at Cana’s wedding feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
There were a hundred gallons at the least.

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That this world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana’s wine.

~ Richard Wilbur, born 1921, American poet and translator, and U. S. Poet Laureate, 1987-1988

Monday, October 10, 2011

Two Chambers Has the Heart

(Rose Catalog, American, 1892, found
at Early American Gardens)


Two chambers has the heart
Wherein do dwell
Sorrow and Joy apart.

When Joy wakes in her nest
Sorrow is still
And lies in quiet rest.

Oh Joy — beware — nor break
The calm. Speak low
Lest Sorrow should awake.

~ Hermann Neumann (1808-1875), German Romantic poet

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Her Garden

(Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, American poets)

When they first met, Donald Hall was a published poet and a tenured professor and Jane Kenyon a college student. They were twenty years apart in age. After they married, they moved to Hall’s Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, where they lived a quiet and happy life together. In their early days there, Hall said, “we worked on our poems, often in the same room . . . at close quarters because we had no heat except for the single woodstove, Jane and I occupying chairs on either side.”

And they helped and inspired each other in their work. “Boundaries helped. We belonged to different generations. Her first book of poems came out as I published my fifth. I could have been an inhibitor as easily as I was an encourager — if she had not been brave and stubborn.”

Then Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia. As Hall helped her through the year-and-a-half of her fatal illness, he also wrote powerful lamentations.

Kenyon died in 1995, at the age of 47.

“After Jane died,” Hall said in an interview in 2006 following his appointment as U. S. Poet Laureate, “I wrote many poems of grief. For the first year, I wrote her letters. Later I wrote some poems in rhyme and meter. I had written poems in rhyme and meter when I was young, but most of my life I’ve written varieties of free verse. . . . I know whose poetry in particular was behind these poems, Thomas Hardy, who had a first marriage which ended in his wife’s death, whose marriage was very dissimilar to Jane’s and mine, but he wrote genuine and deeply moving poems of grief.”


I let her garden go.
let it go, let it go
How can I watch the hummingbird
Hover to sip
With its beak’s tip
The purple bee balm — whirring as we heard
It years ago?

The weeds rise rank and thick
let it go, let it go
Where annuals grew and burdock grows,
Where standing she
At once could see
The peony, the lily, and the rose
Rise over brick

She’d laid in patterns. Moss
let it go, let it go
Turns the bricks green, softening them
By the gray rocks
Where hollyhocks
That lofted while she lived, stem by tall stem,
Blossom with loss.

~ Donald Hall, born in 1928, American poet and essayist

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Flea

(Apple Blossom and Fruit, circa 1890; in
the language of flowers, apple blossoms
can represent deceit, in an allusion to the
serpent’s deception in Paradise)

This poem, by John Donne (1572-1631), is a fine example of a work by one of the English Metaphysical poets. Many of their lyric poems were filled with fanciful imageries and startling metaphors.

The young man here thinks he is quite clever and witty as he tries to charm a young lady into temptation — since the flea has already done it for us, he says, with our two bloods becoming one, why don’t you and I just do it, too?

But the lady’s not persuaded.

She kills the flea.


Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be;
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself, nor me the weaker now.
’Tis true; then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Symptoms of Love

Each Friday we provide the link to the blogger who is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books. It’s also a great way to explore the internet.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Mary Ann Scheuer.

You can visit her here at Great Kid Books.

(Hopeless by Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997, American
Pop artist, whose works were influenced by advertising
and comic books)

It’s true. There’s no use denying it. Love really hurts.

That’s what all those achy breaky songs are about, all those hurtin’ and singin’ the blues songs like the following:

• Good Morning, Heartache
• Take These Chains from My Heart and Set Me Free
• I Fall to Pieces
• Crying over You
• Your Cheatin’ Heart
• Killing Me Softly with Your Love
• It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’
• Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain

and this classic:

• She's Acting Single (I’m Drinking Doubles)

and my favorite:

• How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?


Love is a universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares —
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Can you endure such grief
At any hand but hers?

~ Robert Graves (1895-1985), English poet and novelist, famous especially for the historical novel set in the Roman Empire, I, Claudius

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Voice

(Bust from My Window, New York, 1979,
by André Kertész, 1894-1985, Hungarian-
born photographer)

When Elizabeth, his wife, muse, and model, died in 1977, the photographer André Kertész descended into grief, no longer able to do any work. Then, one day, he found a small glass bust in a New York bookstore and embarked on a completely new period of creativity. The bust became a stand-in for his beloved in many of his photographic tributes to her.


Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Traveling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

~ Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

All I Want Is You

(Romance by Thomas Hart Benton, 1889-
1975, American painter and muralist)

Last month, we looked at three poems that used the rhetorical device of the hypothetical. This device involves conditional clauses and verbs in the subjunctive mood to suggest the impossible and the improbable, or to express wishes and doubts and uncertainties and suppositions contrary to fact.

The hypothetical is especially useful since it allows poets and lyricists to expand the possibilities for the expression of love.

The lyrics below are of a song from the soundtrack of the film
Juno. You’ll notice a few errors in the verb forms. As Barry Louis Polisar, the singer-songwriter, explained, “I wrote and recorded this song in 1977 when I was about 23 years old and should have known better. . . . I went back 20 years later and re-recorded the song with the proper grammar (and an in tune guitar!) but the director liked the old funky, off-key version with the bad grammar intact. As a kid, I listened to — and loved — the songs of Roger Miller. He had a song called ‘Reincarnation’ which begins with the line ‘If I was a bird and you was a fish / what would we do, I guess we’d wish for reincarnation.’ I’m sure this was in my subconscious when I wrote this song.”

(Click here to listen to Barry Louis Polisar’s performance.)


If I was a flower growing wild and free,
All I’d want is you to be my sweet honey bee.
And if I was a tree growing tall and green,
All I’d want is you to shade me and be my leaves.

All I want is you, will you be my bride,
Take me by the hand and stand by my side?
All I want is you, will you stay with me,
Hold me in your arms and sway me like the sea?

If you were a river in the mountains tall,
The rumble of your water would be my call.
If you were the winter, I know I’d be the snow,
Just as long as you were with me when the cold winds blow.

If you were a wink, I’d be a nod.
If you were a seed, well, I’d be a pod.
If you were the floor, I’d wanna be the rug,
And if you were a kiss, I know I’d be a hug.

If you were the wood, I’d be the fire.
If you were the love, I’d be the desire.
If you were a castle, I’d be your moat,
And if you were an ocean, I’d learn to float.

All I want is you, will you be my bride,
Take me by the hand and stand by my side?
All I want is you, will you stay with me,
Hold me in your arms and sway me like the sea?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wooing Song

(Two Lovers with Lute and Harp, a medieval woodcut)

What is a good way to prepare for marriage?

Advice columnists would recommend a thoughtful period of dating, or, to use the more old-fashioned terms, of courtship or wooing, to get to know the person before making a lifetime commitment.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is best known as a founding father of the United States, and scientist, inventor, printer, writer, and diplomat. He also wrote some sensible advice to the lovelorn. In 1746 he published those suggestions anonymously under the title
Reflections on Courtship and Marriage: In Two Letters to a Friend, Wherein a Practicable Plan Is Laid Down for Obtaining and Securing Conjugal Felicity.

“What has been observed seems to point out,” Franklin wrote, “that a blind, a sudden and intoxicating passion, has a natural tendency, under its own direction, to occasion unhappy marriages, and produce scenes of grief and repentance.

“Let us, on the contrary, proceed with deliberation and circumspection. Let reason and thought be summoned before we engage in the courtship of a lady. Endeavor as much as possible, to stifle all those passionate and amorous emotions, that would cloud and bribe our judgments. Let us seriously reflect, that engagements of this kind, are of the greatest moment and import to our future happiness in life. That courtship brings on marriage, and that makes all the peace and welfare of our lives dependant on the behavior and disposition of another; a matter of the utmost consequence, and of which we cannot well think too long or too much. Let not therefore our eyes or passions prevail with us, to barter away all that is truly valuable in our existence for their gratification.”


Love is the blossom where there blows
Every thing that lives or grows:
Love doth make the Heav’ns to move,
And the Sun doth burn in love:
Love the strong and weak doth yoke,
And makes the ivy climb the oak,
Under whose shadows lions wild,
Soften’d by love, grow tame and mild:
Love no med’cine can appease,
He burns the fishes in the seas:
Not all the skill his wounds can stench,
Not all the sea his fire can quench.
Love did make the bloody spear
Once a leavy* coat to wear,
While in his leaves there shrouded lay
Sweet birds, for love that sing and play
And of all love’s joyful flame
I the bud and blossom am.
Only bend thy knee to me,
Thy wooing shall thy winning be!

~ Giles Fletcher, the Younger (1586-1623), English poet

*leavy - leafy

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Master Speed

(Couple Dancing by Eadweard Muybridge, 1830-
1904, English pioneer in photographing motion;
his work influenced the art of Marcel Duchamp)

Robert Frost wrote this sonnet on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding.

It captures “the togetherness of the married couple empowered to resist the flux of wind and water. Frost is not the first to use the language of speed or quickness to show how love may quicken the life of a couple into a vitality that far exceeds what each partner might attain alone. But Frost also plays on the archaic meaning of ‘speed,’ ‘prosperity or success in an undertaking,’ as well as on its Latin root, spes, meaning ‘hope,’ to point to the possibility of rest within motion, permanence within change, the eternal within the perishable.”

~ Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass, from Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marriage


No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste,
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still —
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

~ Robert Frost (1874-1963), American poet

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Good-Morrow

(Aleko and Zemphira by Moonlight, study for a backdrop
for the ballet Aleko, watercolor by Marc Chagall, 1887-
1985, Belarusian-French artist)

“A lover is easily found, but someone who is everything at once and who would leave you an orphan, a widow, and friendless, if he left you, would be a miracle. You are that miracle — I adore you!” ~ Colette (1873-1954), French writer, from Young Lady of Paris


I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? were we not weaned till then,
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear,
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room, an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown:
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp North, without declining West?
What ever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

~ John Donne (1572-1631), the finest of the English Metaphysical poets, lyric poets whose work displayed a subtlety of thought and fanciful imagery and often used one surprising metaphor to bring together two very different ideas

Saturday, October 1, 2011

She Who Is Always in My Thoughts

(Fugue 2033 by Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010, American
sculptor and artist, known as The Spider Woman for her
large spider structures and web-like images)

Bhartrhari (570?-651?) was an Indian-born Sanskrit poet, who also wrote important works on the philosophy of language.


She who is always in my thoughts prefers
Another man, and does not think of me.
Yet he seeks for anothers love, not hers;
And some poor girl is grieving for my sake.
Why then, the devil take
Both her and him; and love; and her; and me.