In Another Country

Stephen Dunn
In Another Country
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Poetry and Action: Octavio Paz at 100

Joel Whitney

Poetry and ActionWhen protest movements spread through cities around the world in 1968, Octavio Paz looked upon the “great youth rebellions . . . from afar,” he wrote, “with astonishment and with hope.” The poet was then Mexico’s ambassador to India. He escaped the summer heat of New Delhi into the foothills of the Himalayas, following developments on the radio. Soon, he learned that Mexico had joined the rebellions. Mexico would host the Olympics in October. As protests grew entrenched, and students threatened to disrupt the games, government repression intensified. On October 2, hundreds of student protesters were killed at Mexico’s City’s Tlatelolco Plaza. Hearing the grim news, Ambassador Paz’s response was a swift vote of no confidence, a letter of unambiguous dissent. It was, as he described the rebellions themselves, the merging of poetry and action, a merger he constantly craved.
Paz was poetry’s great universalist. Winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature, he absorbed many of the great movements of the twentieth century: Marxism, surrealism, the European avant garde. Early in the Spanish Civil War, he tried his hand at social realism, and he admired North American poetry, especially Whitman, Pound, Eliot, and Williams. His ambassadorship to India in the 1960s introduced him to the pillars of Hindu and Buddhist thought.

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Old Paintings On Italian Walls

By Kathleen Raine

Old Paintings On Italian WallsWho could have thought that men and women could feel,

With consciousness so delicate, such tender secret joy?

With finger-tips of touch as fine as music,

They greet one another on viols of painted gold

Attuned to harmonies of world with world.

They sense, with inward look and breath withheld,

The stir of intangible presences

Upon the threshold of the human heart alighting––

Angels winged with air, with transparent light,

Archangels with wings of fire and faces veiled.

Their eyes gleam with wisdom radiant from an invisible sun.

Others contemplate the mysteries of sorrow:

Some have carried the stigmata, themselves icons

Depicting a passion no man as man can know,

We being ignorant of what we do;

And painted wounded hands are by the same knowledge formed

Beyond the ragged ache that flesh can bear

And we with blunted mind and senses dulled endure.

Giotto’s compassionate eyes, rapt in sympathy of grief,

See the soul’s wounds that hate has given to love,

And those that love must bear

With the spirit that suffers always and everywhere.

Those painted shapes stilled in perpetual adoration

Behold in visible form invisible essences

That hold their gaze entranced through centuries; and we

In true miraculous icons may see still what they see,

Though the sacred lineaments grow faint, the outlines crumble,

And the golden heavens grow dim

Where the Pantocrator shows in vain wounds once held precious.

Paint and stone will not hold them to our world

When those who once cast their bright shadows on those walls

Have faded from our ken, we from their knowledge fallen.

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A review of Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato’s Republic, by Ramona A. Naddaff

PLATO'S POETRYRamona Naddaff’s reading of Plato’s Republic explicitly challenges two simple but nevertheless common, and therefore powerful, objections to the treatment of poetry in this dialogue. First, there is the liberal objection virtually every teacher of the Republic encounters from one or more students: Socrates advocates censorship of poetry, and censorship is bad. Socrates and his proposals for the reform of the “feverish” unjust city are therefore also bad. Naddaff, a professor in the Department of Rhetoric at University of California, Berkeley, agrees with these critics that censorship should be decried. Nevertheless, she points out, Socrates’ treatment of poetry in Books 2-3 of the Republic recognizes the power of poetic discourse to shape the characters (or souls) of those who listen to it, as liberal toleration of every form of speech does not. In “disciplining” that power by expunging all the elements that work against the inculcation of the virtues of courage and moderation in the guardians, Socrates’ “censorship” actually results in a purification of Homer that makes epic poetry, better and less ambiguously, serve its traditional aim of fostering the heroic virtues.
Naddaff crosses swords more directly and unqualifiedly with philosophical commentators like Francis Cornford, Benjamin Jowett, Paul Shorey, and Julia Annas, who suggest that the discussion of poetry in Book 10 adds nothing essential to the argument. Rather than an irrelevant addition, she argues, the reincorporation of poetry in the “myth of Er” at the end constitutes a new definition of philosophy. Because it takes a “myth” to arouse the desire that animates and sustains philosophy as a search for wisdom, poetry and philosophy are necessarily intertwined. After attempting first to restrict and then to negate the power of poetry, Naddaff argues, Socrates finally produces a new form of philosophical-poetic discourse.
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Nothing To Be Said

Philip Larkin

Nothing To Be SaidFor nations vague as weed,

For nomads among stones,

Small-statured cross-faced tribes

And cobble-close families

In mill-towns on dark mornings

Life is slow dying.
So are their separate ways

Of building, benediction,

Measuring love and money

Ways of slowly dying.

The day spent hunting pig

Or holding a garden-party,
Hours giving evidence

Or birth, advance

On death equally slowly.

And saying so to some

Means nothing; others it leaves

Nothing to be said.

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Read the oldest love poem in the world

“Istanbul #2461” was written by the ancient Sumerians and is etched on a clay tablet.

By Shane Croucher

Read the oldest love poem in the worldAt around 4,000 years old, ‘Istanbul #2461’, as it’s unceremoniously called, is the oldest surviving love poem in the world.
The poem is etched into an ancient clay tablet discovered by archaeologists in Nippur, southern Iraq, during the late 19th century. Its name is just the reference number allocated by archivists at the Istanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient where it ended up.
The full name is The Love Song for Shu-Sin, though it took seven decades for this to be discovered as it lay untranslated in a museum drawer.
It comes from Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, which we know today as Iraq. Ancient Sumerians were the first people to develop a written language which used symbols to represent spoken sounds. This system of written symbols pressed into wet clay by a stylus is called cuneiform.
The author of the poem is unknown, but according to Guinness World Records, it “is believed to have been recited by a bride of Sumerian King Shu-Sin, who ruled between 2037 and 2029 BC.”
“When it was found, the cuneiform tablet of The Love Song for Shu-Sin was taken to the Istanbul Museum in Turkey where it was stored in a drawer, untranslated and unknown, until 1951 when the famous Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer came across it while translating ancient texts,” says an article on the Ancient History Encyclopedia website.
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Robinson Jeffers

NovaThat Nova was a moderate star like our good sun; it stored no

doubt a little more than it spent

Of heat and energy until the increasing tension came to the


Of a new chemistry; then what was already flaming found a new

manner of flaming ten-thousandfold

More brightly for a brief time; what was a pin-point fleck on a

sensitive plate at the great telescope’s

Eye-piece now shouts down the steep night to the naked eye,

a nine-day super-star.
                                       It is likely our moderate

Father the sun will some time put off his nature for a similar

glory. The earth would share it; these tall

Green trees would become a moment’s torches and vanish, the

oceans would explode into invisible steam,

The ships and the great whales fall through them like flaming

meteors into the emptied abysm, the six mile

Hollows of the Pacific sea-bed might smoke for a moment. Then

the earth would be like the pale proud moon,

Nothing but vitrified sand and rock would be left on earth. This

is a probable death-passion

For the sun’s planets; we have no knowledge to assure us it may

not happen at any moment of time.
Meanwhile the sun shines wisely and warm, trees flutter green

in the wind, girls take their clothes off

To bathe in the cold ocean or to hunt love; they stand laughing

in the white foam, they have beautiful

Shoulders and thighs, they are beautiful animals, all life is beautiful.

We cannot be sure of life for one moment;

We can, by force and self-discipline, by many refusals and a few

assertions, in the teeth of fortune assure ourselves

Freedom and integrity in life or integrity in death. And we know

that the enormous invulnerable beauty of things

Is the face of God, to live gladly in its presence, and die without

grief or fear knowing it survives us.

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Reviewing, and setting the record straight on Langdon Hammer’s James Merrill: Life and Art


MAKE SONG OF THEMCharles E. Merrill, founder (with his friend Edmund C. Lynch) of the famous brokerage firm, probably never read this comment by President John Adams: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” Engaged in “Commerce,” Charles Merrill might have expected his son to follow suit, but, when young Jamie said he wanted to be a poet, his father, according to sound investment practice, sent a sheaf of poems to literary experts for an opinion. Assured that this aspirant had talent, the senior Merrill, in good John Adams fashion, abandoned any opposition and supported his son’s artistic ambitions. With that talent and a very large fortune in hand, James Merrill went on to become one of the most famous poets of his time. He briefly held a desk job in the Army, and several times accepted to teach college poetry-writing courses, but otherwise never took any salaried work. His bank account gave him unlimited access to things that can feed literary composition: education, travel, theatre, books, music, art, porcelain, and the company of other established artists. Someone could write a Ph.D. thesis on the role that inherited wealth has played in the history of American poetry. James Russell Lowell, Amy Lowell, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, James Laughlin, Isabella Gardner, Frederick Seidel, and Harry Matthews all, with varying artistic results, benefited from it. As did James Merrill. Not only does money talk, it also sometimes writes poetry.
Merrill was gay and could be fairly certain that there would always be young men interested in him — but in varying degrees and with differing motives. A high percentage of his work is love poetry, the aching uncertainties and reversals of love providing requisite dramatic interest, since most other problems could be solved by signing a check. But like all rich people Merrill suffered from a nagging anxiety: “Are they interested in me or what I can do for them?” That anxiety could also be expanded into the question of whether poets and critics who professed interest in his work did so because of its intrinsic value or because they hoped to gain some sort of advantage. On the other hand, leftwing critics could be expected to attack him simply on the basis of his inherited privilege, whether or not his books happened to be good. Hammer’s exhaustive biography makes it clear that Merrill’s fortune, though it gave him the means to succeed, was also the source of several kinds of doubt and frustration.
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Celebrate Valentine’s Day by listening to Jude Law, Judi Dench and more reading classic love poems

Celebrate Valentine's DayJude Law reads She Walks in Beauty… by Lord Byron 
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Judi Dench reads How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
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Stephen Fry reads Now sleeps the crimson petal by Alfred Tennyson 
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Helen Mirren reads To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet
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Kenneth Branagh reads To A Stranger by Walt Whitman 
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Christopher Marlowe credited as one of Shakespeare’s co-writers

Christopher Marlowe credited as one of Shakespeare's co-writers
Dramatists to appear jointly on title pages of Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three in the New Oxford Shakespeare after analysis by team of 23 academics

The long-held suggestion that Christopher Marlowe was William Shakespeare is now widely dismissed, along with other authorship theories. But Marlowe is enjoying the next best thing – taking centre stage alongside his great Elizabethan rival with a credit as co-writer of the three Henry VI plays.
The two dramatists will appear jointly on each of the three title pages of the plays within the New Oxford Shakespeare, a landmark project to be published by Oxford University Press this month.
Using old-fashioned scholarship and 21st-century computerised tools to analyse texts, the edition’s international scholars have contended that Shakespeare’s collaboration with other playwrights was far more extensive than has been realised until now.

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