by Helen Hunt Jackson
Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revelers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.
Helen Hunt Jackson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830. She published five collections of poetry during her lifetime and was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985. She died in 1885.
There seems to be a consensual preference for modern poets, and there are some major poets in this category whose work we have yet to cover. For example, T. S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, the Neo-Romantics (Dylan Thomas, David Gascoyne and George Barker), William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, and three women poets of stunning technical brilliance: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rich (these could be grouped as one topic). I could go on, so please come up with some suggestions and post them on the CONTACT US page, or email me directly. Or simply bring your ideas to the meeting on October 22nd, when we will be discussing W. B. Yeats. And on this topic, we have yet to receive any submissions for your favourite Yeats’ poems to discuss. Again, please post them on the CONTACT US page, or email me directly. Please see the SCHEDULE PAGE for the three Yeats’ poems I will cover in the brief introduction.
Happy Thanksgiving and we’ll see you all on the 22nd!
Jonathan Bate’s unauthorised biography confirms that, no matter how energetic his love life, Hughes’s obsession with Plath never faded.
Towards the end of his biography of Ted Hughes, Jonathan Bate quotes a passage from one of Hughes’s letters, addressed to his lifelong friend Leonard Baskin and his wife, Lisa. “Almost all art is an attempt by somebody unusually badly hit (but almost everybody is badly hit), who is also unusually ill-equipped to defend themselves internally against the wound, to improvise some sort of modus vivendi with their internal haemophilia, etc. In other words, all art is trying to become an anaesthetic and at the same time a healing session drawing up the magical electrics.”
The letter was written in 1984 and closes with the thought that he had “lived quite a lot of my last ten years (at least) somehow unconscious” – a victim of that self-induced anaesthesia. But then Hughes had been, as all the world knows, “unusually badly hit”. His life story is one of early success and blessed reward fatally blighted by tragedy, not once but over and over again.
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Listen to Robert Creeley read his Very Short, Very Famous Poem, followed by a discussion about the poem between Curtis Fox and Prageeta Sharma.
Filed under Audio, Poem, Study
by Brad Leithauser
Updike began and ended his career with poetry. More than his other writings, Updike’s verse provides the clearest picture of who he is.
In one of John Updike’s early stories, the narrator urges us to contemplate his dead grandmother’s thimble.1 Moving through a dark house, heading downstairs, he upends a sewing basket left on the landing. The moment’s dislocation encourages one of Updike’s greatest strengths, his flair for simile and metaphor. Retrieving the thimble from the floor, briefly uncertain what it is, he describes it as a “stemless chalice of silver weighing a fraction of an ounce.” The metaphor’s religious overtones are brightly suited to his succeeding sensations: “the valves of time parted, and after an interval of years my grandmother was upon me again, and it seemed incumbent upon me, necessary and holy, to tell how once there had been a woman who now was no more, how she had been born and lived in a world that had ceased to exist.” He is inviting us to partake in one of literature’s mystical rites—to drink deep and slake our souls from a chalice smaller, lighter than a tulip.
Updike was still in his twenties when he wrote these words, which appear in a story that bore, I suppose, the lengthiest title of any piece of fiction he ever published: “The Blessed Man of Boston, My Grandmother’s Thimble, and Fanning Island.” The young writer had already received, or was soon to receive, a host of propitious honors: a summa cum laude undergraduate degree from Harvard; employment at The New Yorker; book publication in three different genres (novel, poetry, short stories); and a widespread critical recognition that he’d already become, and promised long to be, a decisive shaper of contemporary American literature.
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By Alexander Adams
A new biography shows us just how brilliant, and dangerous, Ezra Pound was.
In 1945 Ezra Pound faced the death penalty for the crime of treason. For a poet who had declared that there were only ‘a few hundred people… capable of recognising what I am about’, the matter of being understood (and misunderstood) had become a matter of life and death. A grand three-volume biography by A David Moody, the final volume of which is published this month, traces Pound’s path from the courthouse in Washington DC.
Ezra Loomis Pound was born in Idaho in 1885. As soon as Pound arrived in London from the US (in 1908), the young firebrand wanted to demolish the polite conventions of Victorian verse. His poems were modern in form but not in content. He used ancient languages and mythic allegories to address pressing matters such as governance and justice. His epic 50-year suite The Cantos runs to over 800 pages of verse in a mixture of English, Medieval Provencal, Italian, Latin and Mandarin. Through its very obscurity, Pound’s poetry offered a radical new direction. His journal Blast advocated Vorticism (a British variant of Futurism); behind the scenes, Pound arranged grants for indigent modernist artists such as James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis, while not being any better off than they were. Hemingway, Eliot and Yeats (among others) considered Pound an invaluable critic. They asked him to edit their writing and consented to the drastic changes he suggested.
His abrasiveness became a trademark. In one announcement, relating to one of the other journals he edited, he declared:
‘Exile will appear three times per annum until I get bored of producing it. It will contain matters of interest to me personally, and is unlikely to appeal to any save those disgusted with the present state of letters in England…’
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BY MARIA POPOVA
“There was a wonderful sense in his writing of a fresh world opening, to which we were all attending… He has created out of his own upbringing a universe.”
In his magnificent Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the late Irish poet, playwright, and translator Seamus Heaney (April 13, 1939–August 30, 2013) asserted that the task of poetry is to “persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness.” Heaney himself was an uncommon master of this art of persuasion — a mastery which wife-and-husband filmmaker duo Elaine McMillon Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon celebrate in this breathtaking cinematic homage for The New York Times.
View the film clip: A Cinematic Homage to Beloved Poet Seamus Heaney
Filed under Audio, Poem, Video
Download the short (1:41 minutes) podcast: Alice Walker: The Natural Self
“Love,” someone once joked, “is a form of temporary insanity, curable only by marriage!” But a new book suggests that the love song has always been among the most revolutionary of musical forms.
Love Songs: The Hidden History
By Ted Gioia
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