Monthly Archives: March 2017

Hamlet

by Boris Pasternak,  trs. Jon Stallworth and Peter France from Selected Poems (Penguin, 1983)

Hamlet_PasternakThe buzz subsides. I have come on stage.

Leaning in an open door

I try to detect from the echo

What the future has in store.
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A thousand opera-glasses level

The dark, point-blank, at me.

Abba, Father, if it be possible

Let this cup pass from me.
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I love your preordained design

And am ready to play this role.

But the play being acted is not mine.

For this once let me go.
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But the order of the acts is planned,

The end of the road already revealed.

Alone among the Pharisees I stand.

Life is not a stroll across a field.
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own selection of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly
See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections posted to-date.

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Gabriel

Adrienne Rich, 1929 – 2012
Gabriel
Gabriel-text-1

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Ophelia

by Arthur Rimbaud
(- As translated by Oliver Bernard: Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems (1962))
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OpheliaOn the calm black water where the stars are sleeping
White Ophelia floats like a great lily;
Floats very slowly, lying in her long veils…
– In the far-off woods you can hear them sound the mort.
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For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.
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The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds in a wreath
Her great veils rising and falling with the waters;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder,
The rushes lean over her wide, dreaming brow.
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The ruffled water-lilies are sighing around her;
At times she rouses, in a slumbering alder,
Some nest from which escapes a small rustle of wings;
– A mysterious anthem falls from the golden stars.

II

O pale Ophelia! beautiful as snow!
Yes child, you died, carried off by a river!
– It was the winds descending from the great mountains of Norway
That spoke to you in low voices of better freedom.
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It was a breath of wind, that, twisting your great hair,
Brought strange rumors to your dreaming mind;
It was your heart listening to the song of Nature
In the groans of the tree and the sighs of the nights;
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It was the voice of mad seas, the great roar,
That shattered your child’s heart, too human and too soft;
It was a handsome pale knight, a poor madman
Who one April morning sate mute at your knees!
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Heaven! Love! Freedom! What a dream, oh poor crazed Girl!
You melted to him as snow does to a fire;
Your great visions strangled your words
– And fearful Infinity terrified your blue eye!

III

– And the poet says that by starlight
You come seeking, in the night, the flowers that you picked
And that he has seen on the water, lying in her long veils
White Ophelia floating, like a great lily.
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own choice of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections posted to-date.

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The End of March

Elizabeth Bishop

For John Malcolm Brinnin and Bill Read: Duxbury
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The End of MarchIt was cold and windy, scarcely the day

to take a walk on that long beach

Everything was withdrawn as far as possible,

indrawn: the tide far out, the ocean shrunken,

seabirds in ones or twos.

The rackety, icy, offshore wind

numbed our faces on one side;

disrupted the formation

of a lone flight of Canada geese;

and blew back the low, inaudible rollers

in upright, steely mist.
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The sky was darker than the water

–it was the color of mutton-fat jade.

Along the wet sand, in rubber boots, we followed

a track of big dog-prints (so big

they were more like lion-prints). Then we came on

lengths and lengths, endless, of wet white string,

looping up to the tide-line, down to the water,

over and over. Finally, they did end:

a thick white snarl, man-size, awash,

rising on every wave, a sodden ghost,

falling back, sodden, giving up the ghost…

A kite string?–But no kite.
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I wanted to get as far as my proto-dream-house,

my crypto-dream-house, that crooked box

set up on pilings, shingled green,

a sort of artichoke of a house, but greener

(boiled with bicarbonate of soda?),

protected from spring tides by a palisade

of–are they railroad ties?

(Many things about this place are dubious.)

I’d like to retire there and do nothing,

or nothing much, forever, in two bare rooms:

look through binoculars, read boring books,

old, long, long books, and write down useless notes,

talk to myself, and, foggy days,

watch the droplets slipping, heavy with light.

At night, a grog a l’américaine.

I’d blaze it with a kitchen match

and lovely diaphanous blue flame

would waver, doubled in the window.

There must be a stove; there is a chimney,

askew, but braced with wires,

and electricity, possibly

–at least, at the back another wire

limply leashes the whole affair

to something off behind the dunes.

A light to read by–perfect! But–impossible.

And that day the wind was much too cold

even to get that far,

and of course the house was boarded up.
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On the way back our faces froze on the other side.

The sun came out for just a minute.

For just a minute, set in their bezels of sand,

the drab, damp, scattered stones

were multi-colored,

and all those high enough threw out long shadows,

individual shadows, then pulled them in again.

They could have been teasing the lion sun,

except that now he was behind them

–a sun who’d walked the beach the last low tide,

making those big, majestic paw-prints,

who perhaps had batted a kite out of the sky to play with.
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A very early reminder that we’ll be discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28.

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Guilielmus Rex

By Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Guilielmus RexThe folk who lived in Shakespeare’s day
And saw that gentle figure pass
By London Bridge, his frequent way–
They little knew what man he was.
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The pointed beard, the courteous mien,
The equal port to high and low,
All this they saw or might have seen–
But not the light behind the brow!
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The doublet’s modest gray or brown,
The slender sword-hilt’s plain device,
What sign had these for prince or clown?
Few turned, or none, to scan him twice.
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Yet ‘t was the King of England’s kings!
The rest with all their pomps and trains
Are mouldered, half-remembered things–
‘T is he alone that lives and reigns!
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own choice of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections posted to-date.

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Today’s Birthday: Robert Frost

Robert_Frost_1910(From poets.org): Robert Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, where his father, William Prescott Frost Jr., and his mother, Isabelle Moodie, had moved from Pennsylvania shortly after marrying. After the death of his father from tuberculosis when Frost was eleven years old, he moved with his mother and sister, Jeanie, who was two years younger, to Lawrence, Massachusetts. He became interested in reading and writing poetry during his high school years in Lawrence, enrolled at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1892, and later at Harvard University in Boston, though he never earned a formal college degree.
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An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing the poetry of Robert Frost on May 25. Please bring your own choice of a poem by Frost, and if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.

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DEDICATION

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

DEDICATIONFrom The age of Shakespeare To The Memory of Charles Lamb by Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 1837-1909
Published 1908

When stark oblivion from above their names

Whose glory shone round Shakespeare’s, bright as now,

One eye beheld their light shine full as fame’s,

One hand unveiled it: this did none but thou.

Love, stronger than forgetfulness and sleep,

Rose, and bade memory rise, and England hear:

And all the harvest left so long to reap

Shone ripe and rich in every sheaf and ear.
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A child it was who first by grace of thine

Communed with gods who share with thee their shrine:

Elder than thou wast ever now I am,

Now that I lay before thee in thanksgiving

Praise of dead men divine and everliving

Whose praise is thine as thine is theirs, Charles Lamb.
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own choice of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections posted to-date.

 

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Caliban’s last sigh

Auden’s reworking of The Tempest is irritatingly didactic, but 60 years on, the imaginary worlds of The Sea and the Mirror are as solidly mysterious as ever, says Jeremy Noel Tod

Caliban's last sighThe Sea and the Mirror
by W. H. Auden, edited by Arthur Kirsch

Although it is now standard practice in academic publishing, it seems odd that “advance praise” blurb should have been provided for a reprint of a poem that first appeared in the 1940s. Odder still that the dust jacket should then quote, from Sylvia Plath’s Journals , a description not of the poem but the poet: “Auden…the naughty mischievous boy genius…gesticulating with a white new cigarette in his hands, holding matches, talking in a gravelly incisive tone about…art and life, the mirror and the sea. God, god, the stature of the man.”
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The publishers of this critical edition presumably sense that Auden’s stature is not what it was; Plath, though, should attract the attention of a large contemporary readership. It is also an expertly revealing sketch: Auden the compulsive lecturer; the chain-smoking, roving don.
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When Auden went off to America in 1939 his poetry, it is generally agreed, went off too. Philip Larkin’s diagnosis, in 1960, seems accurate: by emigrating, Auden lost “his key subject and emotion – Europe and the fear of war – and abandoned his audience together with their common dialect and concerns”. Instead, wrote Larkin disapprovingly, “he took a header into literature”.
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Read the complete review
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Read a commentary on The Sea and the Mirror
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own selection of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.

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“The Fire and the Rose Are One” – Little Gidding

Fire-rose-synthesis-image
Fire-Rose-synthesisRead “Maud” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

A final reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing more of  T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our March session. On March 23 we will focus on “The Dry Salvages” and “Little Gidding.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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“Little Gidding”: T.S. Eliot’s Final Answer

by Dwight Longenecker

Little Gidding T.S. Eliot_s Final AnswerLittle Gidding, Huntingdonshire, England

The first three of the Four Quartets provide deep connections between significant geography and significant biography for T.S. Eliot. In Burnt Norton, the site of a ruined manor house became the locus for a meditation on what might have been. His visit there with an old college flame, Emily Hale, prompted a poem of nostalgia and regret. East Coker, the Somerset village from which Eliot’s ancestor emigrated to the New World sparked the second poem’s more complex pondering on the nature of time and redemption, and Dry Salvages connected Eliot back to his boyhood on the Mississippi and the surges of the sea in Boston Harbor where he vacationed in his youth. Looking back, and looking forward, Dry Salvages is a bleak, yet hopeful meditation on the vanity of worldly pursuits and the hope of redemption.
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Little Gidding completes the cycle. The tiny hamlet in Huntingdonshire that bears the name comprises no more than an old farm house, some outbuildings, and an ancient church. Like Burnt Norton, Eliot had no personal links with Little Gidding except a fascination for its history and a visit there in 1936. Like Burnt Norton, Little Gidding nurtures a brave but tragic history. The village was the home of a small Anglican religious community established in 1626 by Nicholas Ferrar, two of his siblings, and their extended families. They lived together in the countryside following a round of prayer, work, and worship.

Read the complete article

A final reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing more of  T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our March session. On March 23 we will focus on “The Dry Salvages” and “Little Gidding.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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