Monthly Archives: July 2016

Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae

by Ernest Christopher Dowson

Ernest_DowsonDowson’s Cynara – which comes from the Greek word for artichoke – represents a lost love for which he yearns dreamily within the ebb and flow of the 12-syllable French line, the Alexandrine .

The full title, taken from Horace’s Odes, means “I am not what once I was in the kind Cynara’s day.” Concerned about its daring subject, Dowson wrote to a friend in March, 1891: “I have just seen the proofs of my ‘Cynara’ poem for the April Hobby [Horse]. It looks less indecent in print, but I am still nervous! Though I admire [Herbert] Horne’s audacity [in printing it]. I read it, or rather Lionel [Johnson] did for me, at the last Rhymers’ [Club meeting]….



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The Soul-Expanding Value of Difficulty: Rilke on How Great Sadnesses Transform Us and Bring Us Closer to Ourselves

By Maria Popova


Rainer Maria Rilkes classic Letters to a Young Poet (public library) is among those very few texts — alongside Thoreau’s journal, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek — that I read like one does scripture. In the century since its publication, Rilke’s reflections have proven timeless and timely, over and over, in countless human lives — a wealth of enduring ideas on how to live the questions and what it really means to love.

Perhaps his most piercing insight and sagest advice — not only for the recipient, the 19-year-old cadet and budding poet Franz Xaver Kappus, but for every human being with a beating heart and a restless mind — comes from a letter penned on August 12, 1904.

Read the complete article

An early reminder that on September 22 we will be discussing the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke, (focusing on translations by Stephen Mitchell and J.B. Leishman). See the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of poems to be featured.

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Irish Poetry




A final reminder that this Thursday, July 28, we will continue with our summer tradition of a “free-for-all” with everyone bringing a favourite poem or two. This year we will focus on poetry from, or about, Ireland or Irish poets. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems

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Contemporary Irish poetry impresses in inventive mode

By John McAuliff

Contemporary Irish poetryNew work by Michelle O’Sullivan, Adam Crothers and Robert Herbert McClean

In January 1916, Thomas MacDonagh finished writing Literature in Modern Ireland, one of Ireland’s most significant works of literary criticism, in which MacDonagh proposed an “Irish mode”. Readers might have expected a vision that was conservative and backward-looking (as Daniel Corkery would later imagine), but MacDonagh’s argument was anything but narrow or prescriptive. Because of the complex developments of the English language in Ireland, he argued, Irish writers could access different traditions and were instinctively open to exploring the possibilities of poetry to create new rhythms and ideas.

MacDonagh’s emphasis on new material and new sounds in poetry sets the bar high for an art that, in Ireland as elsewhere, has always moved between mastering existing forms and making new ones. Michelle O’Sullivan’s second collection The Flower and the Frozen Sea (Gallery, €11.95 pb, €18.50 hb) occupies a landscape with which readers are already familiar: western, sparsely populated, an arena for light and shadow, it could be the setting for a poem by one of MacDonagh’s contemporaries, but O’Sullivan works hard to set this material in motion on her own terms. The first poem’s first lines make clear what is at stake: “Waking, not to you / but the wind making summer / though the trees, pink shadows / gold through the green” (Partial).

Her skill with line and rhythm, her ability to dodge predictable harmonics, is notable in poems like Partial and the trochees and spondees of A Sound Box, “Down, unequal weight on his haunches / and the rain driving his shirt sideways”, begins her character study. “One said he disappeared – as if he fell headlong/into the horizon. Another said it wasn’t a boy, / but a hart. Next to nothing left where Evans / was found, but there was a sound box, / some thing in which his soul made itself felt.”

Read the complete review

A reminder that on July 28 we will continue with our summer tradition of a “free-for-all” with everyone bringing a favourite poem or two. This year we will focus on poetry from, or about, Ireland or Irish poets. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems.

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Wessex Heights

by Thomas Hardy


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Happy Birthday, Hart Crane

Hart_CraneBorn on July 21, 1899, in Garrettsville, Ohio, Harold Hart Crane was a highly anxious and volatile child. He began writing verse in his early teenage years, and though he never attended college, read regularly on his own, digesting the works of the Elizabethan dramatists and poets Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Donne and the nineteenth-century French poets Vildrac, Laforgue, and Rimbaud. His father, a candy manufacturer, attempted to dissuade him from a career in poetry, but Crane was determined to follow his passion to write. (

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The Mower

by Philip Larkin

The MowerThe mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades, 
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

This poem refers to a real, sad incident in Philip Larkin’s life. The next day, while relating the story to his secretary, he burst into tears. In his will, Philip Larkin left to considerable sum of money to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty in Animals.


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The timeless genius of William Shakespeare

ShakespeareStratford veterans Colm Feore and Seana McKenna describe what Shakespeare demands of his actors; how his characters embody the essential qualities of humanity, and why Shakespeare in the 21st century is more relevant than ever.

Listen to this, from the CBC Radio show Sunday Edition: The timeless genius of William Shakespeare

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Twenty-One Love Poems VII

By Adrienne Rich

Twenty-One Love Poems VIIVII
What kind of beast would turn its life into words?
What atonement is this all about?
–and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living.
Is all this close to the wolverines’ howled signals,
that modulated cantata of the wild?
or, when away from you I try to create you in words,
am I simply using you, like a river or a war?
And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
to escape writing of the worst thing of all—
not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
but the failure to want our freedom passionately enough
so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?

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Dionne Brand on Adrienne Rich

Adrienne_Rich-4When I read of Adrienne Rich’s passing in 2012, I experienced an anxiety that the world had become smaller, the rooms less airy, some precious and rare mineral having disappeared. And yet Adrienne Rich left the world larger, the rooms more filled with breath and light, the precious and rare minerals of her language present, potent and lustrous. But I want to stay with what it means when such a poet dies and one feels a polar wandering—as if seconds have been removed from time or the weight of some element, like iron or cerium, has changed. Her work is that big. It occupies a space in the world, a valence. Her absence is felt. “Who will do that work,” you ask, “that sense-making work”? When you read Adrienne Rich, you experience a consciousness engaged by history, modernity, the literary, the ethical.

Listening to this recording, in which she reads from that great book, An Atlas of the Difficult World, one is held by her sense of urgency. Your attention is commanded by someone who must tell you something important at a time when you most need to hear it. She meditates on the longue durée of capital over ideas and gestures to what it means to be human—to be a citizen—under such circumstances. Hers is a poetry of witness and critical observation, a poetry of relentless intelligence. An intelligence that leads with compassion and one you want on your side. It expects you to rise to full awareness no matter how difficult the geography. The effect of her poems is that you emerge from them bigger. To hear her voice is to hear all of her power gathered, all of her intelligence pressed to the page and passed on to you.

Such an intensity, the sound of this poet:

Here is a map of our country:
here is the Sea of Indifference, glazed with salt
This is the haunted river flowing from brow to groin
we dare not taste its water
This is the desert where missiles are planted like corms. . .
This is the cemetery of the poor
who died for democracy

Read the complete article and listen to Adrienne Rich read her poetry

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