Monthly Archives: September 2018

To Autumn

John Keats

To AutumnSeason of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cider-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Read A Short Analysis of John Keats’s ‘To Autumn’

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Jane Hirshfield

AutumnAgain the wind

flakes gold-leaf from the trees

and the painting darkens—

as if a thousand penitents

kissed an icon

till it thinned

back to bare wood,

without diminishment.

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Last Meeting

By Gwen Harwood

Shadows grazing eastward melt

from their vast sun-driven flocks

into consubstantial dusk.

A snow wind flosses the bleak rocks,

strips from the gums their rags of bark,

and spins the coil of winter tight

round our last meeting as we walk

the littoral zone of day and night,

light’s turncoat margin: rocks and trees

dissolve in nightfall-eddying waters;

tumbling whorls of cloud disclose

the cold eyes of the sea-god’s daughters.

We tread the wrack of grass that once

a silver-bearded congregation

whispered about our foolish love.

Your voice in calm annunciation

from the dry eminence of thought

rings with astringent melancholy:

‘Could hope recall, or wish prolong

the vanished violence of folly?
Minute by minute summer died;

time’s horny skeletons have built

this reef on which our love lies wrecked.

Our hearts drown in their cardinal guilt.’


The world, said Ludwig Wittgenstein,

is everything that is the case.

– The warmth of human lips and thighs;

the lifeless cold of outer space;

this windy darkness; Scorpio

above, a watercourse of light;

the piercing absence of one face

withdrawn for ever from my sight.
Last Meeting“Last Meeting” appears in Mappings of the Plane: New Selected Poems by Gwen Harwood, edited by Gregory Kratzmann and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, and published by Fyfield Books at Carcanet.

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Fernando Pessoa’s Disappearing Act

The mysterious masterpiece of Portugal’s great modernist.

By Adam Kirsch

The Book of DisquietIf ever there was a writer in flight from his name, it was Fernando Pessoa. Pessoa is the Portuguese word for “person,” and there is nothing he less wanted to be. Again and again, in both poetry and prose, Pessoa denied that he existed as any kind of distinctive individual. “I’m beginning to know myself. I don’t exist,” he writes in one poem. “I’m the gap between what I’d like to be and what others have made of me. . . . That’s me. Period.”

In his magnum opus, “The Book of Disquiet”—a collage of aphorisms and reflections couched in the form of a fictional diary, which he worked on for years but never finished, much less published—Pessoa returns to the same theme: “Through these deliberately unconnected impressions I am the indifferent narrator of my autobiography without events, of my history without a life. These are my Confessions and if I say nothing in them it’s because I have nothing to say.”

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We will read and discuss the poetry of Fernando Pessoa on October 25th. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for more information.

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When in Rome …

Arthur Hugh Clough‘s long poem Amours de Voyage is about failure, misreading and cowardice in love. Julian Barnes salutes Matthew Arnold’s overshadowed friend.

When in RomeOne hundred and sixty years ago today, on 18 April 1849, a 30-year-old English poet wrote to his mother from Rome. British writers had been coming here on a regular basis for a century and more. In 1818 Shelley found its monuments “sublime”. The following year the city “delighted” Byron: “it beats Greece – Constantinople – every thing – at least that I have ever seen.” And in 1845 Dickens arrived, later telling his biographer John Forster that he had been “moved and overcome” by the Colosseum as by no other sight in his life, “except perhaps by the first contemplation of the Falls of Niagara.”
The young English poet was in good spirits, and happier than at any previous time in his adult life. The great early crisis of his life – one mixing religious belief and employment, and causing him to resign his fellowship at Oxford – had passed; a post at University College London, awaited him in the autumn. He was a classicist as well as a poet, and so we might expect Rome to produce the effect it had on his many literary predecessors. But neither the city of the ancient Romans nor the city of the modern Popes impressed him. He wrote to his mother: “St Peter’s disappoints me: the stone of which it is made is a poor plastery material; and, indeed, Rome in general might be called a rubbishy place; the Roman antiquities in general seem to me only interesting as antiquities, and not for any beauty … The weather has not been very brilliant.”

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A final reminder that on September 27 we will be reading and discussing Great Narrative Poetry of the Victorian era.

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Douglas Dunn
“There’s nothing especially advantageous about being a Scottish poet but it means you can rhyme ‘Bach’ and ‘loch’, and ‘moors’ and ‘conifers’, so we have one or two advantages.”

From New Selected Poems 1964-2000 (Faber, 2003), © Douglas Dunn 2003


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On Not Being Silent

Answering the call of Audre Lorde

Jamie Wagman

On Not Being SilentI left my journalism career shortly before I found the writer Audre Lorde. I no longer wanted to sit in the back of the room and report what the county commissioner said. I wanted to critique the culture I had only been watching, and in Lorde’s more profound words, I sought to transform silences into bridges. She wrote, “The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”I instantly recognized her as my teacher—in feminism and self-care, of the practice of doing social justice work, and of teaching me when to listen and when to speak out.
We readers honored her this last November, during the week of the 25th anniversary of her death [1992]. So many who write and speak about Lorde today comment that they felt that she spoke to them personally when they were first reading her work. She called readers to action:

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I  am myself, a Black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?

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Edward Thomas
DiggingToday I think
Only with scents – scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,
And the square mustard field;
Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the root of the tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;
The smoke’s smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.
It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.

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By Thomas C. Foster

MAYBE POETS ARE, IN FACT, ALIENSMartians? Really? Yes, really. Once upon a time, you see, there was a poem called “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” (1979) by Craig Raine. The poem takes an old philosophical notion—describe X from the point of view of a visitor from Mars with no knowledge of the goings-on of earth—and breathes new life into it. Such an idea lay behind a good deal of popular as well as philosophical culture. The screwball comedies of the 1930s often relied upon the main character not understanding how, say, life in high society worked, a trope that found its final resting place in television’s The Beverly Hillbillies. The Clampetts may not have been from Mars, but in Beverly Hills, the Appalachian backwoods were a suitable substitute. Even earlier in the decade of Raine’s poem, Robin Williams mined the earthbound-spaceman trope for comic gold in Mork & Mindy. Raine’s gamble wasn’t that his concept was too far beyond readers but that it might seem less than exotic. Or compelling. In any case, no worries. The key to his success lies in the crispness of his Martian’s observations, and in the odd mix of worldliness and naiveté, as in the opening lines:

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings

and some are treasured for their markings—

they cause the eyes to melt

or the body to shriek without pain

I have never seen one fly, but

sometimes they perch on the hand.

There’s a bit of trickery here at the beginning: How does the spaceman not know the word “book” yet know Caxton, the man who brought the printing press to England? It is more than many of my students knew, so discovering that the wings were pages and the mystery items books frequently came as a complete surprise. Later, the Martian can say that “Rain is when the earth is television,” yet he doesn’t understand the telephone, a “haunted apparatus” that people talk back to sleep when it cries and yet sometimes awaken “by tickling with a finger.” Sketchy knowledge is sometimes a wonderful thing. Nor does he understand the purpose of a bathroom, which he believes is a place of punishment, given the noises people make there, noting that “everyone’s pain has a different smell,” perhaps the most thought-provoking description of defecation ever written.

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Naomi Shihab Nye

To move


Needing to be

nowhere else.

Wanting nothing

from any store.

To lift something

you already had

and set it down in

a new place.

Awakened eye

seeing freshly.

What does that do to

the old blood moving through

its channels?

Fresh“Fresh” by Naomi Shihab Nye, from You & Yours. © BOA Editions, 2005.

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