Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Consummate New Year’s Poem: The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

Coppice_GateI leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

      The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

      Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

      Had sought their household fires.


The land’s sharp features seemed to be

      The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

      The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

      Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

      Seemed fervourless as I.


At once a voice arose among

      The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

      Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

      In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

      Upon the growing gloom.


So little cause for carolings

      Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

      Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

      His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

      And I was unaware.

Click here to listen to Barte Wolffe read “The Darkling Thrush”

Click here to read an excellent essay about this poem

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Poetry Off the Shelf commemorates the life and poetry of William Stafford

William_Stafford-2Download the podcast:

Commemorating the life and poetry of William Stafford

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Holiday Drinking and Driving

Holiday_drinkingWith the Holidays upon us I would like to share a personal experience with my friends about drinking and driving.

As you may know some of us have been known to have brushes with the authorities from time to time on the way home after a “social session” out with friends.

Well, two days ago I was out for an evening with friends and had several cocktails followed by some rather nice red wine. Feeling jolly I still had the sense to know that I may be slightly over the limit.

That’s when I did something that I’ve never done before – I took a cab home.

Sure enough on the way home there was a police road block, but since it was a cab they waved it past. I arrived home safely without incident.

This was a real surprise as I had never driven a cab before, I don’t know where I got it and now that it’s in my garage I don’t know what to do with it.

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Classical Tradition and Myth in Modern Poetry

Classical_mythologyClassical Tradition and Myth in Modern Poetry
y Bruce Burnett

Writing an essay about James Joyce’s controversial and recently published (1922) novel Ulysses in Dial Magazine in 1923, T. S. Eliot declared:

In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. [….] It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr. Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious. It is a method for which the horoscope is auspicious. Psychology (such as it is, and whether our reaction to it be comic or serious), ethnology, and The Golden Bough have concurred to make possible what was impossible even a few years ago. Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method.1

It is noteworthy that Eliot credits W.B. Yeats with being the first contemporary poet to be mindful of the significance of myth to current events. Certainly Yeats adapted and applied both traditional Celtic and ancient Greek myth to the problems of Ireland, especially during that troublesome time when “a terrible beauty” was being born, and what he regarded as modern philistine society “grubbing in a greasy till.” His poem “The Realists” is addressed to those who underestimate the value of myth:

Download the complete essay (PDF): Classical_Tradition_in_Modern_Poetry

1 T. S. Eliot, “‘Ulysses’, Order, and Myth,” in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, p.177-178. Faber And Faber Ltd. (1975).

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The Word Exchange: Anglo Saxon Poems in Translation

Word_ExchangeOn December 6th [2010], W. W. Norton published The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto. It collects new translations of the best known poems of the Old English canon. The one hundred and twenty-three poems included are a reminder, as Seamus Heaney notes in the Foreword, that “Anglo-Saxon poetry isn’t all stoicism and melancholy, isn’t all about battle and exile and a gray dawn breaking: it can be unexpectedly rapturous…and happily didactic. It can be intimate and domestic, and take us to places far behind the shield wall. And everywhere…it rejoices in its own word-craft, its inventiveness, its appositive imagining and fundamental awareness of itself as a play of language.”

Poems Out Loud will be featuring readings of many of these fresh new translations from contemporary poets.

Listen to the poems: Poems Out Loud

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The lyric gift of Louise Glück

GluckDownload the Poetry Off the Shelf podcast: The lyric gift of Louise Glück

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Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb

ByronIt was Lady Caroline who christened his poetic lordship “mad, bad and dangerous to know”, yet she herself was a few violets short of a nosegay. The only daughter of the Earl of Bessborough, she showed an early flair for wit and mimicry. At 19, she married William Lamb, heir to the Viscount Melbourne, and had three children; but she lost two and, as he pursued a career in politics, the couple grew apart. In 1812, she met Lord Byron, three years her junior (at 24) and famous for writing Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. He was surrounded by adoring beauties; she was appalled by the way he lapped their attentions up – but fell for him all the same. The poet became obsessed with her and schemed to ruin her marriage. Since she was shameless about making their affair public, this wasn’t hard. She once slashed her wrists in front of him at a ball. On another occasion, she sent him a letter containing clippings of her pubic hair. Their affair lasted only four months, but Lady Caroline’s passion endured. When he cooled off, she fell into depression. The fact that he had an affair with her mother-in-law, Lady Melbourne, didn’t help; nor did his later marriage to Lady Melbourne’s niece. Caroline wrote a novel, Glenarvon, in which she spilled the beans about their affair. He decamped to the Continent, the object of general obloquy; she hit the bottle and went mad after seeing his funeral cortège. An amour fou if ever there was one.

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Happy Holidays

Xmas_sceneSeason’s greetings from the Academy of American Poets with this apropos roundup of poems to enjoy and share:

Winter is good – his Hoar Delights” (1316) by Emily Dickinson

Winter Field” by Joanna Klink

The Feast of Lights” by Emma Lazarus

Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Winter Twilight by Anne Porter

Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays” by Charles Reznikoff

The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

The Coming of Light” by Mark Strand

Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams

Skating in Harlem, Christmas Day” by Cynthia Zarin

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Dial Up the Magic of This Moment: Philosopher Joanna Macy on How Rilke Can Help Us Befriend Our Mortality and Be More Alive

Rilke_a-year-withFew people have stood at the gates of hope — through world wars and environmental crises and personal loss — with more dignity, wisdom, and optimism than Joanna Macy during her six decades as a Buddhist scholar, environmental activist, and pioneering philosopher of ecology. Macy is also the world’s greatest translator-enchantress of Rainer Maria Rilke, in whose poetry she found refuge upon the sudden and devastating death of the love of her life after fifty-six years of marriage.

Indeed, our mortality, as well as our quintessential resistance to it, is a subject Rilke unravels frequently and with deeply comforting insight in Macy’s A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke —A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke a sublime collection spanning from Rilke’s early poems to the last sonnet he wrote days before his death from leukemia, alongside fragments of his letters, diaries, and prose. The project is reminiscent of Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom, but instead of an elevating thought for each day of the year culled from a different thinker, every day features a short Rilke reading.

Read the complete review

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Yeats Meets the Digital Age, Full of Passionate Intensity

Yeats_DigitalSO here, under airtight, light-shielding glass, is a notebook given to William Butler Yeats in 1908 by Maud Gonne, the beautiful, brainy feminist Irish revolutionary and object of Yeats’s infatuation across five decades, the muse — well, really, the furnace — for his poetry of yearning and his willing partner in what they called a mystical marriage. As far as actual marriage, Gonne became expert at wielding the word “no.”

Bound in white vellum, the notebook served as their metaphysical marital bed. Yeats used it to keep track of their shared fixation with the occult and each other. One morning in July 1908 Gonne wrote from Paris to report that she had been seized by a vision. “I had such a wonderful experience last night that I must know at once if it affected you & how?” she wrote. “At a quarter of 11 last night I put on this body & thought strongly of you & desired to go to you.”

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