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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Kiss

(White and Yellow Chrysanthemums by
Pierre-Joseph Redouté, 1759-1840, French
botanist and watercolorist)

In the language of flowers, the White Chrysanthemum says that “truth comes easily, lies require imagination.”


“I saw you take his kiss!” “’Tis true.”
“O, modesty!” “’Twas strictly kept.
He thought me asleep, at least I knew
He thought I thought he thought I slept.”

~ Coventry Patmore (1823-1896), English poet

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Everything Promised Him to Me

(A Spring Motif, from the St. Petersburg Series, 1904
by Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, 1871-1955, Russian
printmaker; image found at thebluelantern)

“For one human being to love another is perhaps the most difficult of our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof: the work for which all the other work is but preparation.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Austrian poet


Everything promised him to me:
the fading amber edge of the sky,
and the sweet dreams of Christmas,
and the wind at Easter, loud with bells,

and the red shoots of the grapevine,
and waterfalls in the park,
and the two large dragonflies
on the rusty iron fencepost.

And I could only believe
that he would be mine
as I walked along the high slopes,
the path of burning stones.

~ Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), Russian poet

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stormy Weather

(Stormy Weather starring Lena Horne, Bill Robinson,
and Cab Calloway, 1943)

We’re back, safe and sound.

Rhode Island was one of the states on the eastern seaboard hit by the drenching rain and powerful winds of Hurricane Irene this weekend. Like more than 300,000 other households in the state, our home lost all power on Sunday morning.

With no electricity and therefore no connections to the internet, we turned to a more primitive source of amusement.

Today’s love poem is a famous song of loss. My favorite version is performed by the radiant Lena Horne (1917-2010).


Don’t know why
There’s no sun up in the sky.
Stormy weather,
Since my man and I ain’t together,
Keeps raining all the time.

Life is bare,
Gloom and mis’ry everywhere.
Stormy weather,
Just can’t get my poor self together.
It’s raining all the time.

When he went away,
The blues walked in and met me.
If he stays away,
Old rocking chair will get me.
All I do is pray
The Lord above will let me
Walk in the sun once more.

Can’t go on,
Everything I had is gone.
Stormy weather,
Since my man and I ain’t together.
It’s raining all the time

I walk around,
Heavy-hearted and sad.
Night comes around
And I’m still feeling bad.

Rain’s pouring down,
Blinding every hope I had.
This pitter ’n’ patter,
N’ beatin’ ’n’ spatterin’ drives me mad.

Love, love, love,
This misery’s just too much for me.

Can’t go on,
Everything I had is gone.
Stormy weather,
Since my man and I ain’t together.
It’s raining all the time.

~ Composed in 1933 by Ted Koehler (lyrics) and Harold Arlen (music)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Recipe for Happiness Khabarovsk or Anyplace

(Café des Deux Magots, Paris, 1959,
by Saul Leiter, born in 1923, American
painter and photographer)

Khabarovsk is a Russian city located at the eastern end of the country, about twenty miles from the Chinese border, or more than five thousand miles from Moscow.


One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day.

~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born in 1919, American poet, painter, and publisher

Friday, August 26, 2011

One Perfect Rose

Each Friday we provide the link to the
blogger who is hosting a celebration of
poetry around the blogosphere. There
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 Irene Latham.
You can find her here.

(Rosa gallica pontiana by Pierre-Joseph
Redouté, 1759-1840, French botanist and


A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet —
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
“My fragile leaves,” it said, “his heart enclose.”
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

~ Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), American writer of poetry and short stories

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beauty and the Beast, or, A Rough Outside with a Gentle Heart

(La Belle et la Bête or Beauty and the Beast,
1946, film by Jean Cocteau, starring Josette
Day and Jean Marais)

“Once upon a time there was a merchant who was very rich. He had six children, three boys and three girls. . . . His daughters were very beautiful, but the youngest especially excited admiration. As a child she was called nothing but ‘Little Beauty,’ so that this name stuck to her.”

So begins the fairy tale that inspired one of the most beautifully rendered films of romantic fantasy. This is the version of
Beauty and the Beast that a French writer, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780), published when working as a governess in London. She had taken the original tale by another French writer and revised and shortened it.

At the end of World War II, the French poet Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) took that story and wrote a film script that reduced the number of characters and subplots and tamed its darkness and violence.

He also altered the narrative in a subtle but significant way. This was to be a fairy tale for adults.

“To fairyland as people usually see it, I would bring a kind of realism to banish the vague and misty nonsense now so completely outworn,” Cocteau explained in an article at the time.

“My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naïveté of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”

Because of post-war scarcities, Cocteau filmed
Beauty and the Beast in black-and-white. But the lack of color transforms what would be merely a beautiful film into a masterpiece. Everything glitters so — the pearls, the diamonds, the silver, the tears. And the magical scenes, depending on mundane means rather than expensive special effects, create a different but real world entirely, one that is convincing and possible.

The excerpt below is of a poem written by Charles Lamb (1775-1834), the English essayist and writer. It recalls the original written version of the fairy tale.


And there, alas! he now was found
Extended on the flowery ground.
“Ah! fond and faithful Beast,” she cried,
“Hast thou for me perfidious died!
O! could’st thou hear my fervid prayer,
’Twould ease the anguish of despair.”

Beast open’d now his long-closed eyes,
And saw the fair with glad surprise.
“In my last moments you are sent;
You pity, and I die content.”
“Thou shalt not die,” rejoin’d the maid;
“O rather live to hate, upbraid —
But no! my grievous fault forgive;
I feel I can't without thee live.”

Beauty had scarce pronounced the word,
When magic sounds of sweet accord,
The music of celestial spheres,
As if from seraph harps she hears!
Amazed she stood, — new wonders grew;
For Beast now vanish’d from her view;
And, lo! a prince, with every grace
Of figure, fashion, feature, face,
In whom all charms of Nature meet,
Was kneeling at fair Beauty’s feet.
“But where is Beast?” still Beauty cried:
“Behold him here,” the prince replied.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

To Dorothy

(Untitled, photograph by Vivian Maier, 1926-2009,
American photographer, from a collection of tens of
thousands of photographs she took on the streets of
mid-century Chicago; her work was discovered when
a real estate agent found the negatives in 2007 at an
auction of boxes abandoned in storage lockers)

A poet can say “I can’t imagine life without you” so much more poignantly than can most of us.


You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
and a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
of a windy night, it brushes the wall
and sweeps away the day till we sleep.

A child said it, and it seemed true:
“Things that are lost are all equal.”
But it isn’t true. If I lost you,
the air wouldn’t move, nor the tree grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn’t be yours. If I lost you,
I'd have to ask the grass to let me sleep.

~ Marvin Bell, born in 1937, American poet

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Any Prince to Any Princess

(“O Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down thine hair!”
— illustration by Walter Crane, 1845-1915,
English artist and book illustrator)

In the early part of the nineteenth century, two German linguists traveled the countryside writing down the folk tales they heard from the people they met.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were not the first to do this. Others had put together collections of folk tales of countries like France and Italy. The brothers, however, were remarkably original in their approach. As the folklorists Iona and Peter Opie explain in their book
The Classic Fairy Tales, the Brothers Grimm were the first to study folk tales for their own sake, the first to record them in the way ordinary people told them without changing or improving them, and the first to appreciate that every detail in the tales was of interest, even the identity of the narrator of the tale.

In 1812, the brothers published over two hundred of the stories in a collection entitled
Children’s and Household Tales.

The poem below alludes to several of the better-known Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The narrator is a handsome prince waiting at the base of the tower for the beautiful Rapunzel to let down her golden tresses so that he can climb up to her chamber. In his impatience, he bemoans the sad fact that not everything has turned out happily ever after for some of the characters in the fairy tales. Look closely and you will find the Golden Goose, Rumpelstilskin, the Princess whose sleep was disturbed by a pea, the Frog Prince, the Fairy who granted three wishes, the Elves and the Shoemaker, and Snow White.


August is coming
and the goose, I’m afraid,
is getting fat.
There have been
no golden eggs for some months now.
Straw has fallen well below market price
despite my frantic spinning
and the sedge is,
as you rightly point out,

I can’t imagine how the pea
got under your mattress. I apologize
humbly. The chambermaid has, of course,
been sacked. As has the frog footman.
I understand that, during my recent fact-finding tour of the Golden River,
despite your nightly unavailing efforts,
he remained obstinately

I hope that the Three Wishes granted by the General Assembly
will go some way towards redressing
this unfortunate recent sequence of events.
The fall in output from the shoe-factory, for example:
no one could have foreseen the work-to-rule
by the National Union of Elves. Not to mention the fact
that the court has been fast asleep
for the last six and a half years.

The matter of the poisoned apple has been taken up
by the Board of Trade: I think I can assure you
the incident will not be

I can quite understand, in the circumstances,
your reluctance to let down
your golden tresses. However
I feel I must point out
that the weather isn’t getting any better
and I already have a nasty chill
from waiting at the base
of the White Tower. You must see
the absurdity of the
Some of the courtiers are beginning to talk,
not to mention the humble villagers.
It’s been three weeks now, and not even
a word.

a cold, black wind
howls through our empty palace.
Dead leaves litter the bedchamber;
the mirror on the wall hasn’t said a thing
since you left. I can only ask,
bearing all this in mind,
that you think again,

let down your hair,


~ Adrian Henri (1932-2000), British poet and painter

Monday, August 22, 2011

Brown Penny

(The Bridle Path, White Mountains, New Hampshire,
by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910, American artist)

There’s no love without taking a chance.


I whispered, “I am too young,”
And then, “I am old enough”;
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
“Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.”
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
’Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

~ William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet and dramatist and winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature

Sunday, August 21, 2011

anyone lived in a pretty how town

(Clearing, woodblock print by Frances Gearhart,
1869-1958, American artist)

“Once upon a time” is how many tales of romance begin.

But not this love story. It begins with lines of verse that seem strange, even nonsensical.

This is the story of a typical town and a certain couple, a man and a woman, anyone and noone. As the days and seasons follow their cycles, the two lead quiet lives unnoticed by all except for some of the town’s children. They fall in love, marry, and share their joy and grief and dreams and laughter. And then, after a full and happy life, they die, he before she, and are buried side by side.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Song of Songs

(Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds by Martin Johnson
Heade, 1819-1904, American artist)

One of the most beautiful lyric love poems in Western literature is The Song of Songs, also known as The Canticle of Canticles or The Song of Solomon. It is found in the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian Old Testament.

The poem is made up of some twenty-five distinct verses. “Scholars differ on the question of their possible interrelation and unity,"  write Amy and Leon Kass in their collection of readings on courting and marriage,
Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar. “Although the Song of Songs contains no explicit divine or religious references, Jewish and Christian interpreters over the centuries have read the text theologically. For example, Jewish mystical readers see in the images of erotic longing the expression of the soul’s longing for God. . . . Christian tradition has interpreted the song as an allegory of the love of Christ for his bride, the Church, or as symbolizing the experience of God’s love in the individual human soul.”

The editors raise an interesting question, “whether and how the passionate, sensuous love of man and woman may be related, not merely symbolically, to the love for and from the divine.”


Hark! my beloved!
Behold, here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My beloved speaks; he says to me,
“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come away!
For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree pours forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come away!”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Love Song

Each Friday we provide the link to the blogger who is hosting a weekly celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. There 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!

Today’s host is Doraine Bennett. You can visit her here.

(Untitled eighteenth-century English woodcut)

Since June we have been looking at love, first at Storge, or affection, and then Philia, or friendship. Today we start our study of “love poems,” verses concerned with Eros, or romance.

“By Eros,” writes C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves, “I mean of course that state which we call ‘being in love’; or, if you prefer, that kind of love which lovers are ‘in’.”


Where would my home like to be?
My home is tiny,
Moves constantly,
Takes along my heart in captivity,
Makes me joyful, makes me blue;
My home is you.

~ Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), the German-Swiss novelist, poet, and painter

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dedicatory Oath

(Beautiful World by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma”
Moses, 1860-1961, American painter)

We now come to the end of our study of Philia, or friendship.

“Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling
safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breadth of kindness blow the rest away.”

~ Dinah Maria Craik (1826-1887), English novelist and poet, from
A Life for a Life


They say that in the unchanging place,
Where all we loved is always clear,
We meet our morning face to face
And find at last our twentieth year. . . .

They say (and I am glad they say),
It is so; and it may be so:
It may be just the other way,
I cannot tell. But this I know:

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.

~ Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), French-born poet, essayist, and historian, who became a naturalized British citizen and even served as a Member of Parliament for five years

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Plain Ordinary Steel Needle Can Float on Pure Water

(The Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman,
1915-1970, American artist; one of several
such sculptures, this is located in Houston,
Texas, as a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.)

A mark of true friendship is that it changes us, quietly, gently, for the better.

“If we speak of the happiness of this life, the happy man needs friends, . . . not, indeed, to make use of them, since he suffices himself, nor to delight in them, since he possesses perfect delight in the operation of virtue; but for the purpose of a good operation, in other words, that he may do good to them; that he may delight in seeing them do good; and again that he may be helped by them in his good work. For in order that man may do well, whether in the works of the active life, or in those of the contemplative life, he needs the fellowship of friends.”

~ Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Italian philosopher, priest, theologian, and author of the most influential commentaries on the philosophy of Aristotle, from his
Summa Theologica


Who hasn’t seen
a plain ordinary
steel needle float serene
on water as if lying on a pillow?
The water cuddles up like Jell-O.
It’s a treat to see water
so rubbery, a needle
so peaceful, the point encased
in the tenderest dimple.
It seems so simple
when things or people
have modified each other’s qualities
we almost forget the oddity
of that.

~ Kay Ryan, born in 1945, American poet

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

During Rain and Wind

(Rainy Day, Tokyo by André
Kertész, 1894-1985, Hungarian-
born photographer)

“The greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory — the individual human memory . . . . The memory is a living thing — it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives — the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.”

~ Eudora Welty (1909-2001), American writer of novels and short stories, from her collection of autobiographical essays,
One Writer’s Beginnings


They sing their dearest songs —
He, she, all of them — yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss —
Elders and juniors — aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See, the white story-birds wing across!

They are blithely breakfasting all —
Men and maidens — yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ripped from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them — aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Days among the Dead Are Past

(Chartres Cathedral: the scaffolding supports in the roof
space between the ceiling and the inside; located about
50 miles south of Paris, the medieval cathedral was built
in the High Gothic style mainly between 1194 and 1260;
this photo was found at

Our community of friends includes people we could never know. We are who we are in great measure because of tradition, the knowledge and understanding that have been transmitted to us, often from the distant past.


My days among the Dead are past;
Around me I behold,
Where’er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old;
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.

With them I take delight in weal,
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedew’d
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

My thoughts are with the Dead, with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears,
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead, anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.

~ Robert Southey 91774-1843), English biographer, historian, and poet of the Romantic school

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Knocker

(The Library by Jacob Lawrence, 1917-2000, American

“Friends can most of all be what they want to be, and what they are called to be, exactly when they are members of a broader flourishing community,” writes John Cuddeback in True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. “The Greeks had a wonderful insight. The height of human greatness is the greatness of a community, a community whose backbone is friendship.”


There are those who grow
gardens in their heads
paths lead from their hair
to sunny and white cities

it’s easy for them to write
they close their eyes
immediately schools of images
stream down from their foreheads

my imagination
is a piece of board
my sole instrument
is a wooden stick

I strike the board
it answers me
yes — yes
no — no

for others the green bell of a tree
the blue bell of water
I have a knocker
from unprotected gardens

I thump on the board
and it prompts me
with the moralist’s dry poem
yes — yes
no — no

~ Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), Polish poet

Saturday, August 13, 2011


(Detail of the illustration for June, the Harvest, from the illuminated manuscript of a Book of Hours commissioned
by John, Duke of Berry, France, around 1410)

“Friendship seems to hold states together,” said Aristotle (384-322 B. C.) in Nicomachean Ethics. “When men are friends, they have no need of justice, while when they are just, they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality.”


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ Mary Oliver, born in 1935, American poet

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do You See the Town?

Today we begin something new.

Each Friday we will provide the link to the blogger who is hosting a weekly celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. There 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!

Today’s host is Karen Edmisten. You can visit her here.

(I and the Village by Marc Chagall, 1887-1985,
Russian-French artist)

“Men, even when they do not require one another’s help, desire to live together,” said Aristotle (384-322 B. C.) in Politics, “and are in fact brought together by their common interests in proportion as they severally attain to any measure of well-being. This is certainly the chief end, both of individuals and of states.”

The good life, then, is at one and the same time the chief end or goal, both of each person and of the true civil society.


Do you see the town, how it rests over there,
whispering, it nestles in the cloak of night?
The moon pours her silvery silken stream
down upon it in magical splendor.

The gentle night wind wafts its breath from there,
so ghostly, a dying, gentle sound:
It cries in dreams, it breathes deeply and heavily,
it whispers, mysterious, alluringly frightened . . .

The dark town, it sleeps in my heart
with brilliance and fire, with painfully colored splendor:
But its reflection floats around you, flatters you,
Hushed to a whisper, gliding, through the night.

~ Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), Austrian poet

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What Constitutes a State?

(Stone City, Iowa by Grant Wood, 1891-1942, American

Without virtuous citizens, high-minded people who know their duties, the true civil society is not possible.

“[I]n the constitutions of all nations, of whatever kind they may be,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in
Democracy in America, “a certain point exists at which the legislator is obliged to have recourse to the good sense and the virtue of his fellow-citizens. This point is more prominent and more discoverable in republics, whilst it is more remote and more carefully concealed in monarchies, but it always exists somewhere. There is no country in the world in which everything can be provided for by the laws, or in which political institutions can prove a substitute for common sense and morality.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), French foreign minister and social thinker, famous for the observations he published after his tour of America


What constitutes a state?
Not high-raised battlements or labored mound,
Thick wall or moated gate;
Not cities proud, with spires and turrets crowned;
Not bays and broad-arm ports,
Where, laughing at the storm, rich navies ride;
Not starred and spangled courts,
Where low-browed baseness wafts perfume to pride.
No! Men — high-minded men,
With powers as far above dull brutes endued,
In forest, brake, or den,
As beasts excel cold rocks and brambles rude;
Men who their duties know,
But know their rights, and, knowing, dare maintain;
Prevent the long aimed blow,
And crush the tyrant while they rend the chain.
These constitute a state;
And sovereign law, that state’s collected will,
O’er thrones and globes elate,
Sits empress, crowning good, repressing ill.

~ Sir William Jones (1746-1794), English linguist and poet

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Truth about Small Towns

(Green Town by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, 1928-
2000, Austrian painter and architect)

“Now each man is imbued by nature with the light of reason,” wrote Thomas Aquinas in On Kingship, “and he is directed toward his end by its action within him. If it were proper for man to live in solitude, as many animals do, he would need no other guide towards his end; for each man would then be a king unto himself, . . . But man is by nature a social and political animal, who lives in a community: more so, indeed, than all other animals.”

~ Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Italian philosopher, priest, theologian, and author of the most influential commentaries on the philosophy of Aristotle


It never stops raining. The water tower’s tarnished
as cutlery left damp in the widower’s hutch.

If you walk slow (but don’t stop), you’re not from nearby.
All you can eat for a buck at the diner is

cream gravy on sourdough, blood sausage, and coffee.
Never lie. The preacher before this one dropped bombs

in the war and walked with a limp at parade time.
Until it burned, the old depot was a disco.

A café. A card shoppe. A parts place for combines.
Randy + Rhonda shows up each spring on the bridge.

If you walk fast you did it. Nothing’s more lonesome
than money. (Who says shoppe?) It never rains.

~ David Baker, born in 1954, American poet

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Often after a Public Event

(Morning Sun, woodblock print by Gustave Baumann,
1881-1971, German-born American artist and puppeteer)

“There can be no Friendship where there is no Freedom,” wrote William Penn. “Friendship loves a free Air, and will not be penned up in straight and narrow Enclosures. It will speak freely, and act so too: and take nothing ill where no ill is meant; nay, where it is, ’twill easily forgive, and forget too, upon small Acknowledgments.”

~ William Penn (1644-1718), English Quaker and founder of the colony of Pennsylvania


often after a public event
a pretty girl curly black hair
framing literary ambition
or a shy tall boy black curly
hair burning with sympathy

will say something in a foreign
accent to me we are from bosnia
hungarians or jews my mother
was born near your city back then
it was another country

now we are from here
what should we do with our accents

do like me I say
keep talking

~ Andrei Codrescu, born in 1946 in Romania, American poet, essayist, and novelist

Monday, August 8, 2011

If I Had Known

(Above the Clouds by Hiroshi Yoshida, 1876-1950, Japanese painter and woodblock printmaker)

“Remorse is memory awake.” ~ Emily Dickinson.


If I had known what trouble you were bearing;
What griefs were in the silence of your face;
I would have been more gentle, and more caring,
And tried to give you gladness for a space.
I would have brought more warmth into the place,
If I had known.

If I had known what thoughts despairing drew you;
(Why do we never try to understand?)
I would have lent a little friendship to you,
And slipped my hand within your hand,
And made your stay more pleasant in the land,
If I had known.

~ Mary Carolyn Davies (1888-1966), American poet

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Break, Break, Break

(Untitled by Richard Serra, born in 1939, American artist)

In 1833, the poet Arthur Hallam died unexpectedly of a stroke. He was only twenty-one years old. His friend, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, put his profound grief into verse. In Memoriam A. H. H. is a long lyric poem about bereavement and despair and faith and hope that includes these oft-quoted lines about friendship:

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
’Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Tennyson wrote another poem about his friend, a short elegy that mourned the loss of “the tender grace of a day” while it acknowledged the forces of life and nature that continue on after death.


Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), English poet

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sea Canes

(Ocean Racer by Christopher Pratt, born in 1935, my favorite
Canadian painter)

In an interview published in The Paris Review, the poet Derek Walcott was asked about an epiphanic experience he described in his book-length autobiographical poem Another Life.

“I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer,” Walcott said. “I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation. What I described in Another Life — about being on the hill and feeling the sort of dissolution that happened — is a frequent experience in a younger writer. I felt this sweetness of melancholy, of a sense of mortality, or rather of immortality, a sense of gratitude both for what you feel is a gift and for the beauty of the earth, the beauty of life around us. When that’s forceful in a young writer, it can make you cry. It’s just clear tears; it’s not grimacing or being contorted, it’s just a flow that happens. The body feels it is melting into what it has seen. This continues in the poet.”

Below, Walcott meditates on the friends who are gone.


Half my friends are dead.
I will make you new ones, said earth.
No, give me them back, as they were, instead,
with faults and all, I cried.

Tonight I can snatch their talk
from the faint surf's drone
through the canes, but I cannot walk

on the moonlit leaves of ocean
down that white road alone,
or float with the dreaming motion

of owls leaving earth's load.
O earth, the number of friends you keep
exceeds those left to be loved.

The sea canes by the cliff flash green and silver;
they were the seraph lances of my faith,
but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,
enduring moonlight, further than despair,
strong as the wind, that through dividing canes

brings those we love before us, as they were,
with faults and all, not nobler, just there.

~ Derek Walcott, born in 1930, Caribbean poet, playwright, and watercolorist, and winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature

To listen to the poet's reading of his poem, follow this link (you may have to cut and paste):

Friday, August 5, 2011


(Bowl with Sugar Cubes by André Kertész, 1894-1985,
Hungarian-born photographer)

When we speak of a Platonic friendship, we mean the chaste but passionate feelings between two people who would normally be expected to share a romantic attraction for each other.

By its nature, friendship is good and desirable. We welcome it with open arms.

But not always, especially when we expect romance but are offered Platonic friendship instead.

“Just friends” is what we would say. And a sad phrase it is.


I knew it the first of the Summer —
I knew it the same at the end —
That you and your love were plighted,
But couldn’t you be my friend?
Couldn’t we sit in the twilight,
Couldn’t we walk on the shore,
With only a pleasant friendship
To bind us, and nothing more?

There was not a word of nonsense
Spoken between us two,
Though we lingered oft in the garden
Till the roses were wet with dew.
We touched on a thousand subjects —
The moon and the worlds above;
But our talk was tinctured with science,
With never a hint of love.

“A wholly Platonic friendship,”
You said I had proved to you,
“Could bind a man and a woman
The whole long season through,
With never a thought of folly,
Though both are in their youth.”
What would you have said, my lady,
If you had known the truth?

Had I done what my mad heart prompted —
Gone down on my knees to you,
And told you my passionate story
There in the dusk and the dew;
My burning, burdensome story,
Hidden and hushed so long,
My story of hopeless loving —
Say, would you have thought it wrong?

But I thought with my heart and conquered,
I hid my wound from sight,
You were going away in the morning,
And I said a calm good-night.
But now, when I sit in the twilight,
Or when I walk by the sea
That friendship, quite “platonic”
Comes surging over me.
And a passionate longing fill me
For the roses, the dusk and the dew, —
For the beautiful Summer vanished —
For the moonlight talks — and you.

~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1915), American poet

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Your Catfish Friend

(Quilt by Lorena Pettway, Gee’s Bend, Alabama)

“When we think of friends,” wrote Mark Twain in a letter, “and call their faces out of the shadows, and their voices out of the echoes that faint along the corridors of memory, and do it without knowing why, save that we love to do it, we content ourselves that that friendship is a Reality, and not a Fancy — that it is builded upon a rock, and not upon the sands that dissolve away with the ebbing tides and carry their monuments with them.”


If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, “It's beautiful
here by this pond. I wish
somebody loved me,”
I'd love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, “I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond? It seems like
a perfect place for them.”

~ Richard Brautigan (1935-1984), American poet and writer

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

(Glasses by Jacob Collins, born 1964, American painter)

A Latin expression, Ubi amor, ibi oculus or “Where there is love, there is the power to see” (oculus literally means “an eye”), describes what is so wonderful about a true friend, observes John Cuddeback in his book True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. “The true friend is especially capable of showing me truths about myself that I am incapable of seeing on my own.”

Below, the poet sees that his friend, being honorable, will be satisfied with having done his best. He does not need to be viewed as the victor.


Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

~ William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet and dramatist and winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Some People

(Coney Island Crowd, 1940, photograph by Weegee,
pseudonym of Arthur Fellig, 1899-1968, New York
City photographer)

“Outside of a dog,” Groucho Marx said, “a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”


Some people
ascend out of our life, some people
enter our life,
uninvited and sit down,
some people
calmly walk by, some people
give you a rose,
or buy you a new car,
some people
stand so close to you, some people,
you've entirely forgotten
some people, some people
are actually you,
some people
you've never seen at all, some people
eat asparagus, some people
are children,
some people climb up on the roof,
sit down at table,
lie around in hammocks, take walks with their red
some people look at you,
some people have never noticed you at all, some people
want to take your hand, some people
die during the night,
some people are other people, some people are you, some people
don't exist,
some people do.

~ Rolf Jacobsen (1907-1994), Norwegian poet

Monday, August 1, 2011

Since Hanna Moved Away

(Apple Picking, watercolor by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910,
American artist)

It’s a new month.
In the next few days, we finish our exploration of Philia or friendship. Then, for the rest of August, we look at poems about Eros or the kind of love which lovers are “in,” as C. S. Lewis described it.


The tires on my bike are flat.
The sky is grouchy gray.
At least it sure feels like that
Since Hanna moved away.

Chocolate ice cream tastes like prunes.
December’s come to stay.
They’ve taken back the Mays and Junes
Since Hanna moved away.

Flowers smell like halibut.
Velvet feels like hay.
Every handsome dog’s a mutt
Since Hanna moved away.

Nothing’s fun to laugh about.
Nothing’s fun to play.
They call me, but I won’t come out
Since Hanna moved away.

~ Judith Viorst, born 1931, American writer, journalist, and poet