Saturday, May 17, 2008

Poem for this week

Ode to a Nightingale
by John Keats

               1.

MY heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
  But being too happy in thine happiness,—
    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
        In some melodious plot
  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

               2.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
  Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
  Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
  Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
        And purple-stained mouth;
  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

               3.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
  What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
  Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
        And leaden-eyed despairs,
  Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

               4.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
    Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
        But here there is no light,
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

               5.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
    Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
        And mid-May’s eldest child,
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

               6.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
  I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
  To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
  To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
        In such an ecstasy!
  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
    To thy high requiem become a sod.

               7.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
  No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
  In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
        The same that oft-times hath
  Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

               8.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
  To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
  As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
    Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
        In the next valley-glades:
  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
    Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Poem for Friday - May 9

Today’s poem is by Friedrich Schiller (b. 1759), who died on this day in 1805. The poem, “Ode to Joy” (1785), is the original source text of the famous last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It is worth noting, however, that the “Joyful, joyful we adore thee…” that appears in most American church hymnals, while often entitled “Ode to Joy,” was written by American writer Hen­ry van Dyke in 1907. Schiller, a noted poet, philosopher, historian, and dramatist, is considered one of the preeminent pillars of German intellectual history.


Ode To Joy
by Friedrich Schiller

Joy, beautiful spark of Gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, fire-imbibed,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary.
Thy magic powers re-unite
What custom's sword has divided
Beggars become Princes' brothers
Where thy gentle wing abides.

Be embraced, millions!
This kiss to the entire world!
Brothers—above the starry canopy
A loving father must dwell.
Whoever has had the great fortune,
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won the love of a devoted wife,
Add his to our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to must creep
Tearfully away from this circle.

Those who dwell in the great circle,
Pay homage to sympathy!
It leads to the stars,
Where the Unknown reigns.
Joy all creatures drink
At nature's bosoms;
All, Just and Unjust,
Follow her rose-petalled path.
Kisses she gave us, and Wine,
A friend, proven in death,
Pleasure was given (even) to the worm,
And the Cherub stands before God.

You bough down, millions?
Can you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy.
Above the stars He must dwell.
Joy is called the strong motivation
In eternal nature.
Joy, joy moves the wheels
In the universal time machine.
Flowers it calls forth from their buds,
Suns from the Firmament,
Spheres it moves far out in Space,
Where our telescopes cannot reach.

Joyful, as His suns are flying,
Across the Firmament's splendid design,
Run, brothers, run your race,
Joyful, as a hero going to conquest.
As truth's fiery reflection
It smiles at the scientist.
To virtue's steep hill
It leads the sufferer on.
Atop faith's lofty summit
One sees its flags in the wind,
Through the cracks of burst-open coffins,
One sees it stand in the angels' chorus.

Endure courageously, millions!
Endure for the better world!
Above the starry canopy
A great God will reward you.
Gods one cannot ever repay,
It is beautiful, though, to be like them.
Sorrow and Poverty, come forth
And rejoice with the Joyful ones.
Anger and revenge be forgotten,
Our deadly enemy be forgiven,
Not one tear shall he shed anymore,
No feeling of remorse shall pain him.

The account of our misdeeds be destroyed!
Reconciled the entire world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
God judges as we judged.
Joy is bubbling in the glasses,
Through the grapes' golden blood
Cannibals drink gentleness,
And despair drinks courage—
Brothers, fly from your seats,
When the full rummer is going around,
Let the foam gush up to heaven:
This glass to the good spirit.

He whom star clusters adore,
He whom the Seraphs' hymn praises,
This glass to him, the good spirit,
Above the starry canopy!
Resolve and courage for great suffering,
Help there, where innocence weeps,
Eternally may last all sworn Oaths,
Truth towards friend and enemy,
Men's pride before Kings' thrones—
Brothers, even it if meant our Life and blood,
Give the crowns to those who earn them,
Defeat to the pack of liars!

Close the holy circle tighter,
Swear by this golden wine:
To remain true to the Oath,
Swear it by the Judge above the stars!
Delivery from tyrants' chains,
Generosity also towards the villain,
Hope on the deathbeds,
Mercy from the final judge!
Also the dead shall live!
Brothers, drink and chime in,
All sinners shall be forgiven,
And hell shall be no more.

A serene hour of farewell!
Sweet rest in the shroud!
Brothers—a mild sentence
From the mouth of the final judge!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 30

Today’s poem is from one of my all-time favorite poets, British poet Tony Harrison, in honor of his birthday. This poem is a bit long, but it’s worth it.


A Kumquat for John Keats
by Tony Harrison

Today I found the right fruit for my prime,
not orange, not tangelo, and not lime,
nor moon-like globes of grapefruit that now hang
outside our bedroom, nor tart lemon's tang
(though last year full of bile and self-defeat
I wanted to believe no life was sweet)
nor the tangible sunshine of the tangerine,
and no incongruous citrus ever seen
at greengrocers' in Newcastle or Leeds
mis-spelt by the spuds and mud-caked swedes,
a fruit an older poet might substitute
for the grape John Keats thought fit to be Joy's fruit,
when, two years before he died, he tried to write
how Melancholy dwelled inside Delight,
and if he'd known the citrus that I mean
that's not orange, lemon, lime, or tangerine,
I'm pretty sure that Keats, though he had heard
'of candied apple, quince and plum and gourd'
instead of 'grape against the palate fine'
would have, if he'd known it, plumped for mine,
this Eastern citrus scarcely cherry size
he'd bite just once and then apostrophize
and pen one stanza how the fruit had all
the qualities of fruit before the Fall,
but in the next few lines be forced to write
how Eve's apple tasted at the second bite,
and if John Keats had only lived to be,
because of extra years, in need like me,
at 42 he'd help me celebrate
that Micanopy kumquat that I ate
whole, straight off the tree, sweet pulp and sour skin—
or was it sweet outside, and sour within?
For however many kumquats that I eat
I'm not sure if it's flesh or rind that's sweet,
and being a man of doubt at life's mid-way
I'd offer Keats some kumquats and I'd say:

You'll find that one part's sweet and one part's tart:
say where the sweetness or the sourness start.

I find I can't, as if one couldn't say
exactly where the night became the day,
which makes for me the kumquat taken whole
best fruit, and metaphor, to fit the soul
of one in Florida at 42 with Keats
crunching kumquats, thinking, as he eats
the flesh, the juice, the pith, the pips, the peel,
that this is how a full life ought to feel,
its perishable relish prick the tongue,
when the man who savours life 's no longer young,
the fruits that were his futures far behind.
Then it's the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.

History, a life, the heart, the brain
flow to the taste buds and flow back again.
That decade or more past Keats's span
makes me an older not a wiser man,
who knows that it's too late for dying young,
but since youth leaves some sweetnesses unsung,
he's granted days and kumquats to express
Man's Being ripened by his Nothingness.
And it isn't just the gap of sixteen years,
a bigger crop of terrors, hopes and fears,
but a century of history on this earth
between John Keats's death and my own birth—
years like an open crater, gory, grim,
with bloody bubbles leering at the rim;
a thing no bigger than an urn explodes
and ravishes all silence, and all odes,
Flora asphyxiated by foul air
unknown to either Keats or Lemprière,
dehydrated Naiads, Dryad amputees
dragging themselves through slagscapes with no trees,
a shirt of Nessus fire that gnaws and eats
children half the age of dying Keats . . .

Now were you twenty five or six years old
when that fevered brow at last grew cold?
I've got no books to hand to check the dates.
My grudging but glad spirit celebrates
that all I've got to hand 's the kumquats, John,
the fruit I'd love to have your verdict on,
but dead men don't eat kumquats, or drink wine,
they shiver in the arms of Proserpine,
not warm in bed beside their Fanny Brawne,
nor watch her pick ripe grapefruit in the dawn
as I did, waking, when I saw her twist,
with one deft movement of a sunburnt wrist,
the moon, that feebly lit our last night's walk
past alligator swampland, off its stalk.
I thought of moon-juice juleps when I saw,
as if I'd never seen the moon before,
the planet glow among the fruit, and its pale light
make each citrus on the tree its satellite.

Each evening when I reach to draw the blind
stars seem the light zest squeezed through night's black rind;
the night's peeled fruit the sun, juiced of its rays,
first stains, then streaks, then floods the world with days,
days, when the very sunlight made me weep,
days, spent like the nights in deep, drugged sleep,
days in Newcastle by my daughter's bed,
wondering if she, or I, weren't better dead,
days in Leeds, grey days, my first dark suit,
my mother's wreaths stacked next to Christmas fruit,
and days, like this in Micanopy. Days!

As strong sun burns away the dawn's grey haze
I pick a kumquat and the branches spray
cold dew in my face to start the day.
The dawn's molasses make the citrus gleam
still in the orchards of the groves of dream.

The limes, like Galway after weeks of rain,
glow with a greenness that is close to pain,
the dew-cooled surfaces of fruit that spent
all last night flaming in the firmament.
The new day dawns. O days! My spirit greets
the kumquat with the spirit of John Keats.
O kumquat, comfort for not dying young,
both sweet and bitter, bless the poet's tongue!
I burst the whole fruit chilled by morning dew
against my palate. Fine, for 42!

I search for buzzards as the air grows clear
and see them ride fresh thermals overhead.
Their bleak cries were the first sound I could hear
when I stepped at the start of sunrise out of doors,
and a noise like last night's bedsprings on our bed
from Mr Fowler sharpening farmers' saws.

from Tony Harrison, Selected Poems. New York: Random House, 1987

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 29

Today’s poem is by my friend Joel Brouwer, who is currently Associate Professor of English (Creative Writing) at the University of Alabama.


"Astronomers Detect Water in Distant Galaxy, Suggest Life May Be Present Throughout Universe"
                        –San Francisco Chronicle April 3, 1994
by Joel Brouwer


Whether a thimbleful frozen hard as a tooth
or a boiling lagoon they don't say.
Because it doesn't matter. A single drop

or an ocean makes the same implication,
namely: maybe. Maybe we're not alone
in this universe, friends. Maybe bathtubs

up there, bougainvillea and thunderheads.
And maybe (why not?) they've got it
good up there: no mumps, no smashed china

on the kitchen floor, no rubber checks
to the gas company, no Kalashnikovs . . .
Beleaguered skeptics everywhere, you may begin

dreaming now. Of wars fought with peonies,
or glasses of milk. Of every belly filled each day
with dish after succulent dish. Of law books

one sentence long: "Be nice." But maybe this
is too much to hope. Perhaps
they're just protozoa up there, wiggling

blind in a sullen puddle. Let's rocket there quick
and help them avoid our mistakes,
snatch the stone from their first murderer's hand,

inoculate them for plague and smallpox,
burn their Oppenheimer's notes. In a few million years
they could be perfect, with our help,

and then we could go live there too, simply,
in cabañas along the ocean, eating mangoes
and staring out at the deep blue water, wondering

when somewhere out there the first shark
will feel its first tooth
rise like a dagger from its jaw.


from Exactly What Happened. Purdue University Press, 1999.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 27

Beethoven
by Louie Skipper

I remember the great composers,
their heads, those simple mutes,
on the slave block of my weekly piano lesson.
Half a century ago, I came to nothing.

Mrs. Riley, patient as a nurse,
sat beside me on the bench as I made the piano suffer,
the eyes of Mozart straight ahead,
Beethoven expressionless.

Nevertheless it was he alone who swallowed back
such monstrous violence,
his arm folded invisibly in rage and song,
then, once I was gone, raising his fingers above the keys,

threw the rest of his life before the silent room.


From the upcoming book, It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun, Settlement House, January 2009.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 26

Today's poem is by Brandon McLeod.


Respire
by Brandon McLeod

Deep resonance within me
tribal drumming
the high stiff tone of a pipe
respire and gravity loses its hold
and     I     am     released
Rocketing to the edge of the universe
I feel the swell within me
the soft vocals, tertiary,
almost obliterate my rush.
closing my eyes,
the pulsing, pulsing
saturates my mind.
Benevolent and wild
you take me over the edge,
and when you break
the silence within me
is haunting.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hot Docs and Cool Toy

Paula Webb has created a new Hot Docs: America By Air.

And try this new toy I found. Create your own--has to better than mine! Be patient. It was my first try.

Poem of the Day - April 25

Today's poem is by Dr. Sue Walker.


Modulations: Sharp Voices and Soft Voices Sounded Together
by Sue Walker

Who is to say
Mozart was not a starling
who dreamed he was a poet,
tune on the tips of his fingers,
a foolish wag who fought for words
the color of sky,
the shape of clouds
light as a wafer issued by a priest
who understood wind
was breath, was ballad,
was twelve mortal men,
prisoners who were hawk and raven,
eagle and crow, woodpecker,
sapsucker, each constructing
a Piano Concerto in G Major
while the earth itself listened:
tseee tseee tseee,
and maestro’s pen scratching
Whenn ich daran gedenke
O lessert schenke

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 24

Today’s poem is by Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) for his birthday.


Mortal Limit
by Robert Penn Warren

I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.
It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the lazy purity of snow-snags.

There--west--were the Tetons. Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations. Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck? Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light?

Or, having tasted that atmosphere's thinness, does it
Hang motionless in dying vision before
It knows it will accept the mortal limit,
And swing into the great circular downwardness that will restore

The breath of earth? Of rock? Of rot? Of other such
Items, and the darkness of whatever dream we clutch?

From New and Selected Poems 1923-1985 by Robert Penn Warren, published by Random House. Copyright © 1985 by Robert Penn Warren.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 23

Today's poem is for the Bard on his birthday.


My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun
by William Shakespeare

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 22

Today’s poem is by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) and is one of the most famous English poems about World War I. The Latin title is an abbreviated version of the last two lines of the poem, which are a famous quote from Horace's Odes and roughly translate as “It is sweet and honorable (or right or fitting) to die for one’s country.” This poem, if nothing else, is a wonderful testament to the power and necessity of poetry. Owen was killed in battle at the age of 25, exactly one week before the war ended.



Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 21

Today’s poem is by my good friend Angela Jackson-Brown, who was a colleague of mine when I was at Troy (State). She is now living in Louisville.



where the music at
by Angela Jackson-Brown

hey ma – why you all the time sounding so angry

don’t you have some rhymes about
when a man fingered you up
getting you all saxed up
making you cry out jazz notes
to the tune of the yardbird
scratch, scratch, scratching your blues away

i swear to god, one man treat you bad and you
can’t hear the music no more
one man treat you bad and
you give him the power to play the rhythm
clean out of your soul

you need to ride the trane, girl,
and let some miles get between you
and him or whoever took your music away

you need to let them evil thoughts
spin up out of your mind
and get you dizzy over gillespie
so you can bebop your way back home again

you need to let your mind
be free so you can hear
rashied ali thumping
your drums, ma
bump twa, bump twa, bump twa

how you gonna let the rhythm reverberate
through your hips again
if you don’t let that earthy beat
call your name

put on some hendrix
and let some disharmonies
roll you back into a thelonious mood

come on, baby
write something with a hook
but with no words
scat yourself back into a happy mood
doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah

rhyme us something, just you and me,
that’s gonna make us both feel good tonight

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 20

Today's poem is one I wrote a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy it.



when i sing
by Robert Gray

when i sing
i often feel
like a rich old woman
with a priceless steinway
in her front parlor
that she’d never learned how to play
i possess an instrument on which
i can bang out brilliant flourishes
fleeting fragments of virtuosity
that can at times approach
the heights of placido or pavarotti
or more often those of tonic or toad
like the young guitarist
who can dazzle
with a few zeppelin riffs
but cannot play an entire song
and as i sit here in virtual quietness
serenaded by the arrhythmic
almost inaudible clicks of this keyboard
i have a similar feeling as a poet
i have stashed away
somewhere in the attic
in one of the countless
boxes of books notebooks
and other sorts of literary trinkets
an antique ticket
for the train to transcendence
but i could never use it
the bridge is out near simplon pass
broken long ago
whether by the winds of time
or nietzsche’s madman
i cannot be certain
but it is more likely that its abutments
and cross supports collapsed
under the weight of their own suppositions
or were gradually deconstructed
by internal contradictions
and faulty assumptions
and so we are left with the fragments
we can mimic the masterpieces
i have myself sung handel’s messiah
haydn’s creation and bach’s b minor mass
and while
iambics often trickle off my tongue
i can only bang out fragments
on this keyboard
there is of course brief comfort
in attempts to imagine a stairway to heaven
but it is no different than the haunting rhythms
of the ocean or even the steps
of a fool in the rain