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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Madness of Love

(Rose Window dedicated to Mary,
circa 1235, at Chartres Cathedral,
located about 50 miles south of Paris;
the medieval cathedral was built in the
High Gothic style mainly between 1194
and 1260)

We now conclude our look at Agape, the final part of the study of love we began in June.

In our work we were inspired by C. S. Lewis, who wrote about the four kinds of love, using the Greek names: “Charity means love. It is called
Agape in the New Testament to distinguish it from Eros (sexual love), Storge (family affection) and Philia (friendship).”

The poem below was written by Hadewijch of Antwerp, a 13th-century poet and mystic. She was a member of the Beguines, one of the many medieval Catholic communities of lay women in the Low Countries, including Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. The women devoted their lives to their faith and their work with the poor.

The madness of love
Is a blessed fate;
And if we understood this
We would seek no other;
It brings into unity
What was divided,
And this is the truth:
Bitterness it makes sweet,
It makes the stranger a neighbor,
And what was lowly it raises on high.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amazing Grace

(Engraving of William Wilberforce at
age 29)

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is celebrated as the man who won the fight in the British Parliament to abolish first the slave trade in 1807 and then the practice of slavery in 1833 in all the countries under its rule.

But his victory was even greater than that. For five thousand years, everywhere on the globe, writes Eric Metaxas in his book
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, “slavery was as accepted as birth and marriage and death.” Today, after the work of Wilberforce and his friends, “even though slavery continues to exist here and there [in the trafficking of the sex trade, for example], . . . the idea that [slavery] is inextricably intertwined with human civilization, and part of the way things are supposed to be, and economically necessary and morally defensible, is gone.”

How did Wilberforce, as a young member of Parliament, win this great battle to change the hearts and minds of so many?

When he was only 25 years old, Wilberforce underwent a profound conversion of faith. “He saw the idea that all men are brothers and that we are all our brothers’ keepers,” writes Metaxas. “He saw the idea that one must love one’s neighbor as oneself and that we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

This is the very essence of
Agape, or charity.

Wilberforce let
Agape guide him in Parliament, as we can see in his most famous speech, his Abolition Speech of 1789, which he delivered when he was only 29 years old.

“I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole Parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered [allowed] this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty, we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others. . . .

“[W]hen I reflect on the command which says, ‘Thou shalt do no murder,’ believing the authority to be divine, how can I dare to set up any reasonings of my own against it? And, sir, when we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is there in this life that should make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?

“Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object placed before us, we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it; for it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences, the rectitude of the grounds and principles of their decision.”

Metaxas writes that “in the thick of the battle for abolition, one of its many dedicated opponents, Lord Melbourne, was outraged that Wilberforce dared inflict his Christian values about slavery and human equality on British society. ‘Things have come to a pretty pass,’ he famously thundered, ‘when one should permit one’s religion to invade public life.’”

The lyrics of the hymn below were composed by John Newton (1725-1807), an Anglican minister, former captain of a slaving ship, and great friend of Wilberforce.


Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
’Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mower

(Long Limb by Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American


The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 3

(Marigold, design by William Morris 1834-1896, English
textile designer, artist, and writer)

A mitzvah is a commandment or profound obligation to perform a meritorious act or good work. There are 613 such mitzvoth. Maimonides (1135-1204), the great medieval Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar, wrote that a man who performed even only one mitzvah was still worthy of salvation, provided he did so not to impress others or to win credit for himself, but for the sake of love and with joy.

And in his Sermon on the Mount, Christ said: “When thou givest alms, do not let thy left hand know what thy right hand is doing, so that thy alms may be given in secret; and thy Father, who sees in secret, will reward thee.”


Neither yielding to rain
nor yielding to wind
yielding neither to
snow nor to summer heat
with a stout body
like that
without greed
never getting angry
always smiling quietly
eating one and a half pieces of brown rice
and bean paste and a bit of
vegetables a day
in everything
not taking oneself
into account
looking listening understanding well
and not forgetting
living in the shadow of pine trees in a field
in a small
hut thatched with miscanthus
if in the east there’s a
sick child
going and nursing
if in the west there is a tired mother
going and for her
bundles of rice
if in the south
there’s someone
and saying
you don’t have to be
if in the north
there’s a quarrel
or a lawsuit
saying it’s not worth it
stop it
in a drought
shedding tears
in a cold summer
pacing back and forth lost
a good-for-nothing
by everyone
neither praised
nor thought a pain
like that
is what I want
to be

~ Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), Japanese poet, translated by Hiroaki Sato

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Good People

(Miep Gies, 1909-2010, at work in Otto
Frank’s company in Amsterdam in 1938)

By early 1942, under the occupation of the Nazis, Amsterdam had become a very dangerous place for Jews. Each day Jewish families would disappear. The residents of the city knew that they were being deported to the East.

When Otto Frank asked his secretary if she would help him and his wife and two daughters hide from the Nazis, Miep Gies immediately said “Yes,” even though she knew she could be arrested for this.

The Franks went into hiding on July 6, 1942, the day after Anne’s sixteen-year-old sister, Margot, received notice to report for deportation to a forced-labor camp. Four other Jews later joined them in the attic or “Secret Annex” of the small office building housing Mr. Frank’s business.

Years later, Miep wrote, “Mr. Vossen [another of Mr. Frank’s employees] had placed a hook on the back of the bookcase, which could be fastened by our friends. When opened by them, it would permit the whole bookcase to swing out and away, so that one could enter the hiding place. . . .

“Every time I pulled the bookcase aside, I had to set a smile on my face, and disguise the bitter feeling that burned in my heart. I would take a breath, pull the bookcase closed, and put on an air of calm and good cheer that it was otherwise impossible to feel anywhere in Amsterdam anymore. My friends upstairs were not to be upset, not to be privy to any of my anguish.”

For two years, Miep and other helpers made sure that those in hiding would have food and books and other necessities and even a little luxury now and then.

Then, on August 4, 1944, acting on a tip, the Gestapo broke down the hidden door and arrested all the residents of the Secret Annex. Miep found Anne’s diary and gave it to Mr. Frank after the war. Otto was the only one of the eight to survive the extermination camps.

Since its original publication in 1947, Anne’s diary has become one of the most-read books about the Second World War. It has been translated into more than 60 languages and has been adapted into plays and films.

(Anne Frank, 1929-1945, in May 1942, two months before
the Franks went into hiding)


From the kindness of my parents
I suppose it was that I held
that belief about suffering

imagining that if only
it could come to the attention
of any person with normal
feelings certainly anyone
literate who might have gone

to college they would comprehend
pain when it went on before them
and would do something about it
whenever they saw it happen
in the time of pain the present
they would try to stop the bleeding
for example with their hands

but it escapes their attention
or there may be reasons for it
the victims under the blankets
the meat counters the maimed children
the animals the animals
staring from the end of the world

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Moment

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that 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.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Heidi Mordhorst.

You can visit her here at My Juicy Little Universe.

(Backyards, white-line woodcut by Blanche Lazell,
1876-1936, American artist)


A neighborhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter
Apple sweeten in the dark.

~ Eavan Boland, born 1944, Irish poet

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Te Deum

(Behold the Day, woodcut by Frances Gearhart, 1869-1958,
American artist)

Today is Thanksgiving Day in America.

The Latin title of the poem below is taken from the opening words of a Christian hymn from the fourth century,
“Te Deum laudamus,” meaning “Thee, O God, we praise.”


Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day's work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

~ Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976), American poet

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Song's Eternity

(Design for the performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute,
by Karl Friedrich Thiele, 1780-1836, after Karl Friedrich
Schinkel, 1781-1841, German artists both)

“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions — the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), English Romantic poet

(This poem is best when read out loud.)


What is song’s eternity?
Come and see
Can it noise and bustle be?
Come and see
Praises sung or praises said,
Can it be?
Wait awhile and these are dead
Sigh sigh
Be they high or lowly bred
They die

What is song’s eternity?
Come and see
Melodies of earth and sky,
Here they be
Song once sung to Adam’s ears
Can it be?
Ballads of six thousand years
Thrive thrive
Songs awaken with the spheres

Mighty songs that miss decay
What are they?
Crowds and cities pass away
Like a day
Books are writ and books are read
What are they?
Years will lay them with the dead
Sigh sigh
Trifles unto nothing wed,
They die

Dreamers list¹ the honey bee
Mark the tree
Where the blue cap, tootle tee
Sings a glee
Sung to Adam and to Eve
Here they be
When floods covered every bough,
Noah’s ark
Heard that ballad singing now
Hark hark

Tootle tootle tootle tee
Can it be
Pride and fame must shadows be?
Come and see
Every season owns her own
Bird and bee
Sing creations music on
Nature’s glee
Is in every mood and tone

The eternity of song
Liveth here
Nature’s universal tongue
Singeth here
Songs I’ve heard and felt and seen
Songs like the grass are evergreen
The giver
Said live and be, and they have been
For ever

~ John Clare (1793-1864), English Romantic poet

¹ list – listen to

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Altogether Different Language

(Landscape with Stars, watercolor by Henri Edmond
Cross, 1856-1910, French artist)

“For love all love of other sights controls, / And makes one little room an everywhere.” ~ John Donne (1572-1631), the greatest of the English Metaphysical poets


There was an old church in Umbria, Little Portion¹,
Already old eight hundred years ago.
It was abandoned and in disrepair
But it was called St. Mary of the Angels
For it was known to be the haunt of angels,
Often at night the country people
Could hear them singing there.

What was it like, to listen to the angels,
To hear those mountain-fresh, those simple voices
Poured out on the bare stones of Little Portion
In hymns of joy?
No one has told us.
Perhaps it needs another language
That we still have to learn,
An altogether different language.

~ Anne Porter, born 1911, American poet

¹ Little Portion or "small portion of land," Porziuncola; the chapel is one of several small chapels now located here inside the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi.

Monday, November 21, 2011

If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking

(Road to Town, woodcut by Gustave Baumann, 1881-1971,
German-born American artist and puppeteer)

The opposite of cruelty is not simply kindness or the end of the cruel relationship. The opposite of cruelty is hospitality.

This is the conclusion reached by the philosopher Philip Hallie (1922-1994) after he studied what the villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon had done during the Second World War. Le Chambon was located in a part of France under the close eyes of the Nazis. All the Jews found in the area would be deported to the extermination camps in the East.

The residents decided as a village to provide food and shelter and comfort to any Jews knocking on their doors. Risking their lives, they saved more than 6000 Jews.

But their enduring hospitality did more than save lives. For example, writes Hallie, “the morning after a new refugee family came to town they would find on their front door a wreath with ‘
Bienvenue!’ ‘Welcome!’ painted on a piece of cardboard attached to the wreath. Nobody knew who had brought the wreath; in effect, the whole town had brought it.”

“The people of Le Chambon,” wrote a woman years later who had been saved as a young girl, “showed to us that life can be different, that there are people who care, that people can live together and even risk their own lives for their fellow man.” The people of Le Chambon gave their guests hope for the future.

If I can stop one Heart from breaking,
I shall not live in Vain:
If I can ease one Life the Aching,
Or cool one Pain,

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again,
I shall not live in Vain.

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

(To read more, see Philip Hallie’s Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Fountain

(A cyanotype, also called a sun print or
blueprint, circa 1850, by British botanist
Anna Atkins, 1797-1871)

“There is a politeness of the heart. It is akin to love.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German writer, poet, dramatist, and scientist


Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen

the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes

found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.

The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched — but not because
she grudged the water,

only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among the scalloped
green and gray stones,

it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.

~ Denise Levertov (1923-1977), English-born American poet

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Good News

(Open Window by Henri Matisse, 1869-1954,
French printmaker, painter, and sculptor)

“And when we come to think of it, goodness is uneventful. It does not flash, it glows. It is deep, quiet, and very simple. It passes not with oratory, it is commonly foreign to riches, nor does it often sit in the places of the mighty: but may be felt in the touch of a friendly hand or the look of a kindly eye.” ~ Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946), American journalist and writer


They don’t publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

~ Thích Nhat Hanh, born 1926, Vietnamese Buddhist monk

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I Wake Early

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that 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 Tabatha Yeatts.

You can visit her here at The Opposite of Indifference.

(California Meadow by Granville Redmond, 1872-1935,
American painter)

“Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.” ~ Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), American writer


Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even,
the miserable and the crotchety —

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light —
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

~ Mary Oliver, born 1935, American poet

Thursday, November 17, 2011

To Play Pianissimo

(Cranes, a mural by N. C. Wyeth, 1882-1945, American
artist and illustrator)

Mother Teresa was speaking to members of her order, the Missionaries of Christ:

“What we need is to love without getting tired.

“How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. If the drops of oil run out, the light of the lamp will cease. . . .

“My daughters, what are the drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, punctuality, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting.”

~ Mother Teresa (1910-1997), Albanian-born Indian Catholic nun, from
Heart of Joy


To play pianissimo¹
Does not mean silence.
The absence of moon in the day sky,
for example.

Does not mean barely to speak,
the way a child’s whisper
makes only warm air
on his mother’s right ear.

To play pianissimo
is to carry sweet words
to the old woman in the last dark row
who cannot hear anything else,
and to lay them across her lap like a shawl.

~ Lola Haskins, American poet and essayist

¹ pianissimo – in musical direction: passage to be performed very softly (Italian – piano, soft)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Love a Life Can Show Below

(Still Life by Jacob Collins, born 1964, American painter)

“To love our neighbor as ourselves does not mean that we should love all people equally, for I do not have an equal love for all the modes of existence of myself. Nor does it mean that we should never make them suffer, for I do not refuse to make myself suffer. But we should have with each person the relationship of one conception of the universe to another conception of the universe, and not to a part of it.”

~ Simone Weil (1909-1943), French philosopher and Christian mystic

The Love a Life can show Below
Is but a filament, I know,
Of that diviner thing
That faints upon the face of Noon —
And smites the Tinder in the Sun —
And hinders Gabriel’s¹ Wing —

’Tis this — in Music — hints and sways —
And far abroad on Summer days —
Distils uncertain pain —
’Tis this enamors in the East —
And tints the Transit in the West
With harrowing Iodine —

’Tis this — invites — appalls — endows —
Flits — glimmers — proves — dissolves —
Returns — suggests — convicts — enchants —
Then — flings in Paradise —

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

¹ Gabriel – the archangel

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


(Sprig of Almond Blossoms in Glass
by Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890,
Dutch Post-Impressionist painter)

“Most people really believe that the Christian commandments (e.g., to love one’s neighbor as oneself) are intentionally a little too severe — like putting the clock ahead half an hour to make sure of not being late in the morning.” ~ Søren Kirkegaard (1813-1855), Danish theologian and philosopher, one of the fathers of Existentialism


That tree with trembling leaves
is longing for something.

That tree, so lovely to look at,
seems to want to give away flowers:
it is longing for something.

That tree, so lovely to see,
seems to want to flower:
it is longing for something.

It seems to want to give away flowers:
they are already showing; come and look at them:
it is longing for something.

It seems to want to flower:
they are already showing; come and see them:
it is longing for something.

They are already showing; come and look at them.
Let the women come to pick the fruit:
it is longing for something.

~ Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, 1364-1404, poet and Admiral of Castile, Spain

Monday, November 14, 2011


(Omega IV by Morris Louis, 1912-1962,
American Abstract Expressionist painter)

The poem below was written by Primo Levi (1919-1987), an Italian chemist, writer, and poet. His many works, especially If This Is a Man, his memoir of his year at Auschwitz, examine man’s struggles to maintain his humanity in the face of great evil.

The Hebrew title of the poem below translates into “listen” or “hear.” It is the first word of a prayer in Jewish liturgy admonishing the faithful to teach their children to love God and to obey the commandments.

The poem is in three parts. The first stanza greets the readers now living in the post-Holocaust world of comfort and peace; the second describes the terror of the death camps; and the third urges us to warn future generations of the lessons of this evil so that such evil can never again take place.


You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labors in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Three Words of Strength

(Toleware Box, watercolor painting by John H. Tercuzzi,
 American artist)

The spirit of charity requires that gifts be given without condition.

“Go, give a penny to that blind beggar,” said the Rabbi of Witkowo to his son, when they were walking together.

The boy did so. When he rejoined him, his father asked him, “Why didst thou not raise thy hat?”

“But he is blind,” replied the boy. “He could not have seen me.”

“And how dost thou know,” retorted his father, “that he is not an impostor? Go, raise thy hat.”

~ Celia Haddon, from
The Yearbook of Hope and Inspiration


There are three lessons I would write —
Three words, as with a burning pen,
In tracings of eternal light,
Upon the hearts of men.

Have hope! though clouds environ round,
And gladness hides her face in scorn,
Put though the shadow from the brow,
No night but hath its morn.

Have faith! where’er thy bark is driven —
The calm’s disport, the tempest’s mirth —
Know this: God rules the hosts of heaven,
The inhabitants of earth.

Have love! not love alone for one,
But man as man they brother call,
And scatter, like the circling sun,
Thy charities on all.

Thus grave these lessons on the soul,
Hope, faith, and love; and thou shalt find
Strength when life’s surges rudest roll,
Light when thou else wert blind.

~ Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), German poet, philosopher, and playwright of dramas including the story of the Swiss marksman William Tell

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

(The Island by Annelisse Molini, artist born 1966 in Puerto Rico)

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

~ C. S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity


Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

~ Adam Zagajewski, born 1945, Polish poet

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Nation’s Builders

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that 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 hosts this week are Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing.

You can visit them here at their blog, Teaching Authors.

(The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in
England, which contains the remains of 3,812 of U. S.
military who died either in the Battle of the Atlantic or
the strategic air bombardment of northwest Europe
during World War II.)

Today is Veterans Day in America (known as Remembrance or Armistice Day in the Commonwealth and other countries), when we honor those who so loved their fellow countrymen they were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.


Not gold, but only men can make
A people great and strong —
Men who, for truth and honor’s sake,
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly —
They build a nation’s pillars deep;
They lift them to the sky.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American poet and essayist

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The World State

(“I love mankind — it’s people I can’t
stand.” ~ Linus in Peanuts, by Charles
M. Schulz, 1922-2000)


Oh, how I love Humanity,
With love so pure and pringlish,
And how I hate the horrid French,
Who never will be English!

The International Idea,
The largest and the clearest,
Is welding all the nations now,
Except the one that’s nearest.

This compromise has long been known,
This scheme of partial pardons,
In ethical societies
And small suburban gardens —

The villas and the chapels where
I learned with little labor
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbor.

~ G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), prolific English author who wrote poetry, novels, essays, and the Father Brown detective series

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No Man Is an Island

(John Donne, 1572-1631, the greatest of the
English Metaphysical poets)

Agape, or charity, is an act of the will. It involves an understanding of our common humanity, of the connections that bind all of us human beings. What happens to you, happens to me. Your suffering is my suffering.

In one of his
Meditations, the poet John Donne explains the paradoxical character of this uniquely human vulnerability.

“Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.”


Meditation XVII

No man is an island, entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends of thine own were;
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


(Place of Gathering by Frank Stella, born in 1936,
American painter and printmaker)

“The fashion of this world passes away. The very name of nature implies the transitory. Natural loves can hope for eternity only in so far as they have allowed themselves to be taken into the eternity of Charity; have at least allowed the process to begin here on earth, before the night comes when no man can work.”

~ C. S. Lewis, from
The Four Loves


When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.

One cloud upon the hillside,
Two shadows in the valley
And the light strikes home.

Now dawn commands the capture
Of the tallest fortune,
The surrender
Of no less marvelous prize!

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

Now act is waste
And suffering undone
Laws become prodigals

Limits are torn down
For envy has no property
And passion is none.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!

~ Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American Trappist monk, poet, and writer of many books and essays

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Love My Enemies

(Sermon on the Mount, lithograph, part of a
series on the Gospel of Matthew, found here,
by Otto Dix, 1891-1961, German Expressionist

On June 1, we began our study of love with one of the most thought-provoking statements ever made about this virtue.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells his followers, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ~ Matthew 5:43-48

It isn’t easy.


I love my enemies, those I forgive;
they are my friends.
But at times, when fate lies like a stone,
there is a dying in my soul,
and I’m prepared to love even those
no one should forgive,
just because life is hard work.
Any life. Any at all.

. . . You burned down my house
so you could warm yourself by the fire.
You trampled my hopes.
Who can measure my loss?
Still, I’m grateful, friend:
you didn’t kill me,
though you’re stronger than I am
and don’t believe in anything at all.

~ Leonid Zavalniuk (1931-2010), Russian poet and songwriter

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Barranong Angel Case

(Mystery of the Street by Umbo, born Otto
Umbehr, 1902-1980, German photographer)

Today we begin to look at charity, or Agape (ah-gah-pay) in Greek and Caritas in Latin. This is the love that C. S. Lewis describes as “all about giving, not getting.” It is not an emotion. “It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.” It is the highest form of love, selfless, unlimited, and voluntary.


You see that bench in front of Meagher’s store?
That’s where the angel landed.
What? An angel?
Yes. It was just near smoko¹ time on a sale day.
Town was quite full. He called us all together.
And was he obeyed?
Oh yes. He got a hearing.
Made his announcement, blessed us and took off
Again, straight up.
He had most glorious wings . . .
What happened then?
There were some tasks he’d set us
Or rather that sort of followed from his message.
And were they carried out?
At first we meant to,
But after a while, when there had been some talk
Most came to think he’d been a bit, well, haughty,
A bit overdone, with those flourishes of wings
And that plummy² accent.
Lot of the women liked that.
But the men who’d knelt, off their own bat, mind you,
They were specially crook³ on him, as I remember.

Did he come again?
Oh yes. The message was important.
The second time, he hired the church hall,
Spoke most politely, called us all by name.
Any result?
Not much. At first we liked him.
But, after all, he’d singled out the Catholics.
It was their hall. And another thing resented
By different ones, he hadn’t charged admission.
We weren’t all paupers, and any man or angel
With so little regard for local pride, or money,
Ends up distrusted.

Did he give up then?
Oh no. The third time round
He thought he had our measure. Came by car,
Took a room at Morgan’s, didn't say a word
About his message for the first two days
And after that, dropped hints. Quite clever ones.
He made sure, too, that he spoke to all the Baptists.
I’ll bet that worked.
You reckon? Not that I saw.
We didn’t like him pandering to our ways
For a start. Some called it mockery, straight out.
He was an angel, after all. And then
There was the way he kept on coming back
Hustling the people.
And when all’s said and done
He was a stranger. And he talked religion.

Did he keep on trying?
No. Gave us away.
Would it have helped if he’d settled in the district?
Don’t think so, mate. If you follow me, he was
Too keen altogether. He’d have harped on that damn message
All the time — or if he’d stopped, well then
He’d have been despised because he’d given in, like.
He’d just got off on the wrong foot from the start
And you can’t fix that up.

But what — Oh Hell! — what if he’d been, say, born here?
Well, that sort of thing’s a bit above an angel,
Or a bit below. And he’d grow up too well known.
Who’d pay any heed to a neighbor’s boy, I ask you,
Specially if he came out with messages?
Besides, what he told us had to do with love
And people here,
They don’t think that’s quite — manly.

~ Les A. Murray, born 1938, Australian poet and critic

¹smoko – a break from work (Australian slang)
²plummy – rich in tone (informal British)
³crook on – abusive, hostile to (Australian slang)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Book of the Duchess

(Courtly Love, by unknown medieval artist)

We now come to the end of our study of the poetry of Eros, or romantic love, that state of “being in love.” (Tomorrow we begin our look at Agape, or charity, the last of the four loves famously discussed by C. S. Lewis.)

Today’s post hearkens back to the origins of the medieval tradition of courtly love in Provence, in south-eastern France. The selections below suggest two perspectives to romance at the time, first, from the view of a man and then second, of a woman. The third poem, by a Cavalier poet from the seventeenth century, shows how the sentiments of courtly love remain an integral part of romance.

Of course, there were many poems and songs about romance before this, like the Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, and ninth-century songs about star-crossed lovers in Ireland. But the conventions of courtly love, as popularized by troubadours performing among the nobility in the courts from the eleventh century on, brought something new to the literature of love.

The songs and poems of courtly love are notable for their particular ideal of romance, an ideal which features the chivalry and honor of the knight and his unrequited love for a woman. It is a romance that is doomed, a love that is not to be.


Heart-whole, I started to beseech
That she would be my lady sweet.
I swore to her with heartfelt heat
My steadfast duty firm and true,
And love that would be always new.
To guard her honor evermore,
And serve no other, then I swore
To do my best. I promised this:
“For yours is all that ever there is,
My sweetheart. Barring dreams untrue,
I never shall be false to you,
As sure as God’s intents prevail!”

~ Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1343-1400), English courtier, diplomat, and poet, famous especially for The Canterbury Tales


“Alas,” she said,
“whatever shall I do?
I shall never again be happy!
I loved these four knights
and desired each one
for his own sake.
There was a great deal
of good in them all
and they loved me
above everything.
Because they were so handsome,
brave, worthy, and generous,
I made them compete
for my love,
not wishing to lose them all
to have just one.

“I do not know which of them
to mourn the most,
but I can no longer disguise
or hide my feelings.
One of them I now see wounded
and three are dead.”

~ Marie de France, writer and translator of the second half of the twelfth century, who wrote in the Breton, Anglo-Norman, and Latin languages

(Richard Lovelace, 1618-1657, English
poet and Royalist supporter of King
Charles I in his ultimately fatal struggle
with Parliament in the English Civil War,


Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast, and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such,
As thee too shall adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Lov’d I not honor more.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Spring and the Fall

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 Laura Salas.

You can visit her here at Writing the World for Kids

(Sunlight and Shadow, Newbury Marshes, Massachusetts
by Martin Johnson Heade, 1819-1904, American artist)

“Love is a circle that doth restless move / In the same sweet eternity of love.” ~ Robert Herrick (1591-1674), the greatest of the English Cavalier poets


In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.

In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There’s much that’s fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
’Tis not love’s going hurt my days,
But that it went in little ways.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), American poet

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In Love for Long

(Grand Boulevard by Léonard Misonne, 1870-1943,
Belgian photographer)

“First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world — a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring — this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.”

~ Carson McCullers (1917-1967), from
The Ballad of the Sad Café


I’ve been in love for long
With what I cannot tell
And will contrive a song
For the intangible
That has no mold or shape,
From which there’s no escape.

It is not even a name,
Yet is all constancy;
Tried or untried, the same,
It cannot part from me;
A breath, yet as still
As the established hill.

It is not any thing,
And yet all being is;
Being, being, being,
Its burden and its bliss.
How can I ever prove
What it is I love?

This happy happy love
Is sieged with crying sorrows,
Crushed beneath and above
Between todays and morrows;
A little paradise
Held in the world’s vice.

And there it is content
And careless as a child,
And in imprisonment
Flourishes sweet and wild;
In wrong, beyond wrong,
All the world’s day long.

This love a moment known
For what I do not know
And in a moment gone
Is like the happy doe
That keeps its perfect laws
Between the tiger’s paws
And vindicates its cause.

~ Edwin Muir (1887-1959), born on the Orkney Islands, Scotland; poet, novelist, and translator

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lili Marlene

(Left: a poster for one of Vera Lynn’s many performances
for the troops, August 7, 1944, in Blackpool, England;
and right: a salute for “The Forces’ Sweetheart”)

It happens sometimes that a song can become the anthem for the soldiers of both sides of a conflict. Such a song of sentiment gains popularity in part by reminding the men of their sweetheart and the hearth and home they have left behind.

Yesterday, we featured the love song
Lorena, from the American civil war.

Today, we look at
Lili Marlene, the German love song that became the favorite of the soldiers fighting for both the Allies and the Axis during the Second World War.

Lili Marlene was written in 1915 by Hans Leip, a soldier with the German Imperial Army in the First World War. Set to music by Norbert Schultze in 1938, it was first published under the title of The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch.

A recoding of that song by the German singer Lale Andersen was broadcast repeatedly over Nazi-controlled radio in Belgrade at the start of the Second World War. Soon, soldiers from both sides, throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, were singing the wistful lyrics in German, until the words were translated into the many different languages of all the combatants.

The most popular English versions were those performed by the British singer Vera Lynn (born in 1917) and Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), the German actress and singer who chose exile over life in a Nazi state.

To listen to the performance by Vera Lynn, please click here.


Underneath the lantern
By the barrack gate,
Darling, I remember
The way you used to wait.
’Twas there that you whispered tenderly
That you loved me;
You’d always be
My Lili of the Lamplight,
My own Lili Marlene.

Time would come for roll call,
Time for us to part,
Darling, I’d caress you
And press you to my heart,
And there ’neath that far-off lantern light,
I’d hold you tight,
We’d kiss good night,
My Lili of the Lamplight,
My own Lili Marlene.

Orders came for sailing,
Somewhere over there.
All confined to barracks
Was more than I could bear.
I knew you were waiting in the street,
I heard your feet
But could not meet
My Lili of the Lamplight,
My own Lili Marlene.

Resting in our billet
Just behind the line,
Even tho’ we’re parted,
Your lips are close to mine.
You wait where that lantern softly gleams,
Your sweet face seems
To haunt my dreams,
My Lili of the Lamplight,
My own Lili Marlene.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


(Lorena, cover of the sheet music)

Music can have such power that the soldiers on the opposing sides of a conflict will even choose the same anthem, a lyrical song of sentiment that reminds them of the sweetheart and the hearth and home they have left behind.

During the American civil war, for example, that anthem was
Lorena, a poem by Henry Webster put to music by his friend Joseph Webster. The song was published in Chicago in 1858, before the hostilities began in 1861. By the end of the first year of the war, it was a great favorite of the soldiers on both sides, the Blue and the Gray, in the North and in the South, in all parts of the land.

The mournful ballad puts to words the emotions of the composer after the breakup of his engagement to Miss Ella Blocksom, renamed Lorena here — the melody needed a three-syllable name.

My favorite version is the performance by John Hartford (1937-2001).


Oh, the years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the ground again.
The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow’rs have been.
But the heart beats on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh.
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
To be down affection’s cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, ’twas flowery May,
When up that hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
Far more than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had our lovings prospered well —
But then, ’tis past, the years are gone,
I’ll not call up their shadowy forms;
I’ll say to them, “Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life’s pelting storms.”