Poetic Words: Thomas Hardy

In my long-ago college days, Hardy the novelist was celebrated, and Hardy the poet was–other than a few well-anthologized poems like The Darkling Thrush–passed over without comment by the faculty and the English majors. He was too Victorian, too prolific, a relic, and flat.

I’m glad to say that bias has passed, and the craft and depth of his poems are now valued (in concert with, rather than in opposition to, what else was going on in the early 20th century poetically).

Here’s one, chosen in honor of the gentle dust of white on our sort of suburban, even rural, back patio.

SNOW IN THE SUBURBS

        Every branch big with it,
	Bent every twig with it;
       Every fork like a white web-foot;
       Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they tum and descend again.
     The palings are glued together like a wall,
     And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.


A sparrow enters the tree,
	Whereon immediately
       A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
       Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
	And overturns him,
	And near inurns him,
 And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

      The steps are a blanched slope,
      Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
	And we take him in


 

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Winter Words

Still cold in Washington, so some pics and a poem by Mark Strand. We’ll be ushering in more seasonable weather this week I hear.

Rock Creek Park

Lines for Winter

by Mark Strand

for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself-
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
A neighborhood front yard.

Memorial Day

So easy to think it’s just another three day weekend, but some reminders courtesy of the NYPL of the origin of this day.

www.nypl.org/blog/2013/05/20/memorial-day

 

And one of the poems that this day evokes for me…

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


 

And there is that line from Auden’s “The Unknown Solider”

When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.


 

Pause and remember.

 

arlington

Poetic Words: Sharon Olds

poetryBoth Poetry Daily and Knopf Poem of the Day do celebrations of National Poetry Month (April, of course, the ‘cruelest’ month). Sharon Olds was one of Knopf’s selections, and she has always resonated with me, perhaps never more so than in this poem.

Directly

Then, one late afternoon,
I understand: the harm my father
did us is receding. I never thought
it would happen, I thought his harm was stronger than that,
like God’s harm—flood, or birth without
eyes, with mounds of tissue, no retina, no
pupil, the way my father on the couch did not
seem not to be using eyes
but not to have them, or to have objects
for eyes—Jocastal dress-brooches.
But he had not been hated, so he did not hate us,
just scorned us, and it is wearing off.
My son and daughter are grown, they are well
as if by some miracle. The afternoon has a
quality of miracle, the starlings all facing
the west, his grave. I come to the window
as if to open it, and whisper,
My father’s harm is fading. Then,
I think that he would be glad to hear it
directly from me,

so I come to where you are, bone
settled under the dewed tangle
of the blackish Northwoods moss like the crossroads
hair of a beloved. I come to you here
because it is home: your done-with body
broken back down into earth, holding
its solemn incapable beauty.


Perhaps all writers make use of their family first and foremost, but few do it as fearlessly.

Commonplace Book: Charles Wright

caribouEnjoying poet Charles Wright’s 2014 collection Caribou, notably the poem “Ducks.”

Gasoline smell on my hands, perfume
From the generator’s toothless mouth,
Opening swallow from the green hose,
Sweet odor from the actual world.

There’s an old Buddhist saying I think I read one time:
Before Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
After Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
The ducks, who neither carry nor chop,

Understand this, as I never will,
Their little feet propelling them, under the water,
Serene and stabilized,
                                         from the far side of the pond
Back to the marsh grasses and cattails.

I watch them every night they’re there.
Serenitas. I watch them.
Acceptance of what supports you, acceptance of what’s
Above your body,
                                 invisible carry and chop,

Dark understory of desire
Where we should live,
                                         not in the thrashing, dusk-tipped branches—
Desire is anonymous,
Motoring hard, unswaying in the unseeable.

buddha

Robot Words: Albert Goldbarth

The poet and essayist Albert Goldbarth collects robots and rocketships. He  gave a charming interview to Poetry Foundation about them.  Reminded of this by a photo I took last week of a toy store in window in Amsterdam.

robots
From the end of the interview:
Is there anything you’d like to tell me about your collection that I didn’t ask?
I guess for me some of these robots are beautiful. Some of them have a kind of futuristic look that I really appreciate. They’re part of the future that was promised us, that wonderful future where we really were going to be living on other planets, zipping around to work with little jet packs on our back and changing our personal weather by turning a dial in our homes, telebeaming to one another from the moon, to Mars Port, that beautiful innocent very optimistic and expansive promise-ful future. Of course, it became the world we’re living in now—AIDS and overpopulation and terrorism—but these robots are part of that alternative future. That’s quite lovely to me.

But also when I look at robots, I see heavy manual labor. To a large extent, we imagined that as mechanical creatures they would do our work for us. They would go into the mines on the moon, and they would be the ones to wield the picks to take out all the moon metal. The word “robot” comes from Karel Capek’s early play R.U.R., Rossum’s Universal Robots. Robot, for him, means labor or some heavy manual laborer. But when I look at these rocket ships, these anti-gravity vehicles, these things the size of 12 battleships put together, that nonetheless can zoom off the surface of a planet as if through the pure power of wishing, I think of the exact opposite of manual labor. For me, I think space and spaceships imply a world of immediate wish fulfillment. A kind of technological version of Peter Pan’s flight. And I wish I could articulate well for you how absolutely and deeply beautiful they are to my eyes.

Check out his funny, perceptive poems as well.