Category Archives: Poetry

Cathedral of My Enchantments

More from Stephen Pentz:

        The Wind Shifts

This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf 1923).

And this:

As I suggested here recently, wisdom does not necessarily come with age.  I can attest to that.  But growing old does provide an opportunity to pare your life down to essentials.  Think of all the things you once thought were important and that now mean nothing.  The length of that list will depend upon the length of your time upon the earth, dear reader.

One day you will realize, out of the blue, that you have lived more years than the number of years that remain to you.  On that day, life becomes simpler.  You may turn your attention to the wind.

Autumn

Cathedral of my enchantments, autumn wind, I grew old giving thanks.
Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998).

James McIntosh Patrick, “Braes o’ Lundie”

Sign of a Nation

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The Flag Goes By

Hats off! Along the street there comes A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums, A flash of color beneath the sky: Hats off! The flag is passing by! Blue and crimson and white it shines, Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines. Hats off! The colors before us fly; But more than the flag is passing by. Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great, Fought to make and to save the State: Weary marches and sinking ships; Cheers of victory on dying lips; Days of plenty and years of peace; March of a strong land’s swift increase; Equal justice, right, and law, Stately honor and reverend awe; Sign of a nation, great and strong Toward her people from foreign wrong: Pride and glory and honor,–all Live in the colours to stand or fall. Hats off! Along the street ther comes A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums; And loyal hearts are beating high: Hats off! The Flag is passing by!

Henry Holcomb Bennett

On Picture Books

G. K. Chesterton wrote this poem in the front of a Caldecott picture book he presented to a young friend:

This is the sort of book we like
     (For you and I are very small),
With pictures stuck in anyhow,
     And hardly any words at all.
You will not understand a word
     Of all the words, including mine;
Never you trouble, you can see,
     And all directness is divine—
Stand up and keep your childishness:
     Read all the pedant’s screeds and strictures;
But don’t believe in anything
     That can’t be told in colored pictures.

The first Caldecott Medal winner (1937). I’m guessing this is probably not the book Chesterton gave, as the illustrations are all black and white.

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To Walk is By a Thought to Go

 

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Walking

To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good,
Nor joy nor glory meet.

Ev’n carts and wheels their place do change,
But cannot see, though very strange
The glory that is by:
Dead puppets may
Move in the bright and glorious day,
Yet not behold the sky.

And are not men than they more blind,
Who having eyes yet never find
The bliss in which they move?
Like statues dead
They up and down are carried,
Yet neither see nor love.

To walk is by a thought to go,
To move in spirit to and fro,
To mind the good we see,
To taste the sweet,
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.

To note the beauty of the day,
And golden fields of corn survey,
Admire each pretty flow’r
With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
The marks of his great pow’r.

To fly abroad like active bees,
Among the hedges and the trees,
To cull the dew that lies
On ev’ry blade,
From every blossom, till we lade
Our minds, as they their thighs.

Observe those rich and glorious things,
The rivers, meadows, woods, and springs,
The fructifying sun;
To note from far
The rising of each twinkling star
For us his race to run.

A little child these well perceives,
Who, tumbling in green grass and leaves,
May rich as kings be thought:
But there’s a sight
Which perfect manhood may delight
To which we shall be brought.

While in those pleasant paths we talk
‘Tis that towards which at last we walk;
For we may by degrees
Wisely proceed
Pleasures of love and praise to heed,
From viewing herbs and trees.

Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), in H. I. Bell (editor), Traherne’s Poems of Felicity (Oxford University Press 1910).  I have modernized the spelling. The italicized words are in the original.

Thanks to Stephen Pentz

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Stonington Flower Show 2011

 

Ascension Day

Yesterday the Christian Church celebrated Ascension Day, forty days after Easter, the day our Lord ascended to Heaven.

Salute the last, and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
Have purely wash’d, or burnt your drossy clay.
Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon;
Nor doth he by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.
O strong Ram, which hast batter’d heaven for me!
Mild lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark’d the path!
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see!
O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.

                                                         John Donne

Latin.png Latin text

Coelos ascendit hodie
Jesus Christus Rex Gloriae:
Sedet ad Patris dexteram,
Gubernat coelum et terram.
Iam finem habent omnia
Patris Davidis carmina.
Iam Dominus cum Domino
Sedet in Dei solio:
In hoc triumpho maximo
Benedicamus Domino.
Laudetur Sancta Trinitas,
Deo dicamus gratias,
Alleluia. Amen.

English.png English translation

Today into the heavens has ascended
Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, Alleluia!
He sits at the Father’s right hand,
and rules heaven and earth, Alleluia!
Now have been fulfilled all of
Father David’s songs,
Now God is with God, Alleluia!
He sits upon the royal throne of God,
in this his greatest triumph, Alleluia!
Let us bless the Lord:
Let the Holy Trinity be praised,
let us give thanks to the Lord,
Alleluia! Amen.

Wake Up

For a few years now I have regularly looked, with anticipation, for a new post on a blog titled First Known When Lost.  The latest one is no disappointment:

Present

I often feel that I have spent most of my life sleepwalking or daydreaming.  Asleep at the switch.  Nearly everything has escaped me.  But each moment offers the possibility of redemption:  a new opportunity to be awake and to be present.  “Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Fortunately for us, the beautiful particulars of the World are boundlessly and endlessly merciful.  Every day, without fail, they gently shake us by the shoulders and whisper in our ear:  “Wake up!  Look over here.  Listen to this.”  Not in so many words, of course.  The World is wordless.  Yet it is not reticent.  Nor is it impassive.  Hence, immanence.

It always takes me a while to get through it all because I go off to every link, like this one to immanence:
On a late afternoon this past week I walked between two meadows.  The meadow on my left, the parade ground of a former army post, was open and expansive.  It has been mown recently, and the winter rains have turned it deep green.  On my right, a broad field of brown and gray wild grasses sloped down to the bluffs above Puget Sound.
The afternoon was windless and quiet.  The declining sun was hidden behind a flat layer of motionless grey clouds out over the Sound, stretching away to the Olympic Mountains in the west.  Throughout my walk, my eyes kept returning to a glowing patch of pale yellow in the center of the cloud blanket, above, and dimly reflected in, the dark water below.
As I gazed at the patch yet again, I suddenly heard behind and above me a tiny creaking of wings.  A dozen or so sparrows soon flew over me with the sound of a soft rush of wind.  And those lovely creaking wings.  I lost sight of the sparrows as they disappeared into the woods up ahead.
                                   Beauty
What does it mean?  Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now.  And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph —
‘Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one.’  Then in a trice that whim
Has wearied.  But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening while it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through the window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale,
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unswerving to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me.  Beauty is there.
The entry always has some interesting art interspersed throughout as well.
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It feels like fresh air to me.

How Pure a Thing is Joy

What are years?
by Marianne Moore
What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, –
dumbly calling, deafly listening-that
in misfortune, even death,
encourage others
and in it’s defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.
 Patrick Kurp’s reference to Marianne Moore here sent me off to find what I could about her.  Born in 1887 in Kirkwood, Missouri, Moore began publishing poetry in 1905.  During a time of popularity she was asked by Ford Motor Company officials to suggest names for a new series of cars. She offered at least nineteen, the worst being ‘Magigravue,’ ‘Pastelogram,’ and ‘Turcotingo,’ and the best perhaps including ‘Chaparral,’ ‘Mongoose Civique,’ and ‘Silver Sword.’ Declining all of her suggestions, Ford chose the name ‘Edsel.’ (University of Illinois, Department of English, “Marianne Moore’s Life and Career” found here).
According to Oswald and Gale, authors of “Marianne Moore’s Life and Career,” Miss Moore’s body of work defied easy description:
Moore has proved to be an engaging puzzle, not only to critics of her time but to later ones as well. It is seen that her themes broadened to a degree as she matured. In early works she emphasized a need for discipline and heroic behavior. Later she stressed the need for spiritual grace and love. To survive, she hinted, one must be alert, disciplined, and careful. Gradually she moved from scrutinizing one object to comparing several objects. She delighted in whimsically describing characteristics of animals and athletes, seeing both organisms as subjects and exemplars of art. Never dogmatic in propounding her morality, she often distanced herself and remained furtive by attributing declarative dicta to others and by commenting on quotations and even photographs expressing the point of view of others. For these reasons, critics have not yet reached a consensus–is she modern or anachronistic, imagistic or objectivistic? Regardless, Moore tremendously relished her quietly intense, largely bookish, often convivial life, made memorable to a host of friends by her rapid-fire talk. She was superb at her chosen craft. Her expression is notable for deftness and sharpness of detail, linguistic experimentation, and integration of fresh observation and obscure reading. She teases the reader into looking at reality with keener vision, as though, like her, seemingly for the very first time; challenges the reader to accept the relationship of big and little, animate and inanimate, ideal and object; and invites the reader to note, and practice, the power of words. To those who complained that her poetry often seemed obscure, she once replied that something that was work to write ought to be work to read. Her life displayed and her writings expressed the virtues of courage, loyalty, patience, modesty, spontaneity, and steadfastness.
I like her poems and think they must have been a source of joy for her too.  For instance,

Silence

My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
nor the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self reliant like the cat —
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth —
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “`Make my house your inn’.”
Inns are not residences.

And one more:

The Past is the Present

If external action is effete
and rhyme is outmoded,
I shall revert to you,
Habakkuk, as when in a Bible class
the teacher was speaking of unrhymed verse.
He said – and I think I repeat his exact words –
“Hebrew poetry is prose
with a sort of heightened consciousness.” Ecstasy affords
the occasion and expediency determines the form.