Poesie: Dickinson’s “There’s a certain Slant of light”

Neither dash nor dot means anything; it is the difference between that makes the Morse code possible.

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the Seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

~ Emily Dickinson (10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)

Black-white_photograph_of_Emily_Dickinson
Daguerreotype taken at Mount Holyoke, December 1846 or early 1847; the only authenticated portrait of Emily Dickinson after childhood

Poesie: Rossetti’s The Woodspurge

This English poet with the Italian name was a painter as well as a poet.

Something to ponder…

The Woodspurge

The wind flapp’d loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walk’d on at the wind’s will,—
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,—
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flower’d, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,—
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Rossetti self portrait 1847
Self-portrait, 1847

Rossetti was as talented as a painter as he was as a poet.  Here’s a compilation of his paintings, set to Bach’s Concerto for 3 Harpsichords in C major.

Poesie: Allingham’s The Fairies

Legends of the wee little men persist everywhere, but the Irish have known to be particularly attuned to the presence of the good folk.

This is another poem we have known for a long time, something the girls used to love hearing when they were little.  The fairy illustrations on this post are Arthur Rackham’s, obviously.

The Fairies

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watchdogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and grey
He’s nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with the music
On cold starry nights,
To sup with the Queen
Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake,
On a bed of fig-leaves,
Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hillside,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
For my pleasure, here and there.
Is any man so daring
As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

~ William Allingham (1824 – 1889)

celtic lady

 

Poesie: Tolkien’s Noel

One last Christmas poem…

I had already written a post for today when a dear friend sent me a link to this blog post.  It appears two of J.R.R. Tolkien’s poems that were printed in the annual magazine of an Oxfordshire Catholic high school in 1936 came to the attention of the press, one called The Shadow Man, the other NoelThe Shadow Man was published later in a different form as we pointed out recently, but I had not heard of “Noel”, or at least, I do not remember reading it.  Since Christmastide ended only yesterday with Epiphany, let’s have one last Christmas poem for this season, and maybe not the most commonplace one.  Enjoy!

NOEL

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, 1936

mother of god.jpeg

The Road Goes Ever On and On

This day in 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to Mable Suffield and Arthur Reuel Tolkien.  His father’s name would be the name J.R.R. would become famous under some 60 years later, but his heart was in the ancestral home of the Suffield’s in England’s West Midlands.  Mabel and Belladonna Took surely bear some resemblance, and so do the Tolkien’s and the Baggins’, but John Ronald’s sub-creation grew out of the leaf mold of much more than ‘mere biography’.

For John Ronald, the Road started in a windy, dusty yet strangely beautiful foreign country, far away from what would become the home of his heart.  It ended in the heart of Oxford, seventy-some years later.  And in between, something wonderful grew.  Read his Mythopoeia poem to peek behind the scenes.

the grey havens

And for us, the Road still goes on, from the Door where it began to wherever our feet, willing or weary, will eventually lead us.

Happy Birthday, dear John Ronald.  And Thank You.  You have given us so much…

Poesie: Two for 2020

Open wide the door, friends: The New Year is knocking.

Two poems today, both by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

The Year (1910)

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850 – 1919)

E-W-Wilcox

New Year: A Dialogue

MORTAL:
“The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear;
Who is it knocking at my door?”

THE NEW YEAR:
“I am Good Cheer.”

MORTAL:
“Your voice is strange; I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”

THE NEW YEAR:
“Friend, let me in; my name is Hope.”

MORTAL:
“And mine is Failure; you but mock the life you seek to bless.
Pass on.”

THE NEW YEAR:
“Nay, open wide the door; I am Success.”

MORTAL:
“But I am ill and spent with pain; too late has come your wealth.
I cannot use it.”

THE NEW YEAR:
“Listen, friend; I am Good Health.”

MORTAL:
“Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”

THE NEW YEAR:
“But you must open, too, your heart, for I am Love.”

 

~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850 – 1919)

Our Own Dear John Ronald: Myth and Truth

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme / of things not found within recorded time.

But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.
No, said Tolkien, they are not.

And indicating the great trees of Magdalen Grove as their branches bent in the wind, he struck out a different line of argument.

You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word.  But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name.  You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course.  But that is merely ho YOU see it.  By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them.  And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect God.  Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man ascribe to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall.  Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

In expounding this belief in the inherent TRUTH of mythology, Tolkien had laid bare the center of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heart of ‘The Silmarillion’.

 

The account of this conversation is based on Tolkiens poem Mythopoeia, to which he also gave the titles ‘Misomythos’ and ‘Philomythos and Misomythos’.  One manuscript is marked ‘for C.S.L.’.

~ Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien.  A Biography.

Poesie: Ben Johnson’s Carol

A Martyr born in our defence, /
Can man forget the story?

Carol

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And, like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed our soul from danger,
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father’s wisdom willed it so,
The Son’s obedience knew no No;
Both wills were in one stature,
And, as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win,
Who made Himself the price of sin,
To make us heirs of glory!
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defence,
Can man forget the story?

~ Ben Jonson (1573-1637)

nativity scene.jpeg

Featured a detail from the Nativity scene on the side facing the apse of the so-called “Sarcofago di Stilicone” (“Stilicho’s sarcophagus”), an Ancient Roman Christian sarcophagus dating from the 4th century.  It can be admired in Milan, Italy, beneath the pulpit of Sant’Ambrogio basilica.

Poesie: Tennyson’s Eagle

An old favorite, learned by heart long ago.

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

bald-eagle

A brief, flawless, heraldic realization of a creature in all the spikily tangible properties of his creatureliness…  Poetry can do that, you know, much like painting, and even good photography.  I did not take these photos, but found them on pixabay.  While we see bald eagles in the sky regularly and they even land in the yard from time to time, you’d be hard pressed to find either sea or crag around here, and hence very little chance to capture in a different medium what Tennyson expressed so aptly.

 

Poesie: Tolkien’s Shadow Bride

‘Tis a perilous realm, indeed, the Realm of Faerie.

Shadow Bride

There was a man who dwelt alone,
as day and night went past
he sat as still as carven stone,
and yet no shadow cast.
The white owls perched upon his head
beneath the winter moon;
they wiped their beaks and thought him dead
under the stars of June.

There came a lady clad in grey
in the twilight shining:
one moment she would stand and stay,
her hair with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung of stone,
and broke the spell that bound him;
he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone,
and wrapped her shadow round him.

There nevermore she walks her ways
by sun or moon or star;
she dwells below where neither days
nor any nights there are.
But once a year when caverns yawn
and hidden things awake,
they dance together then till dawn
and a single shadow make.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien had a thing about “shadow”, and this poem (here in its newer version from 1962) gives a good example.  Shadow beings are wraiths, identified more by their shape than by their substance.  They are both present and absent, or rather, they tend to be an absence that can become a presence.  In this poem, a man without a shadow who appears to be dead (and hence absent) becomes a presence, to steal both girl and shadow.  Now they both are elsewhere, in a realm on the edge of human experience.

Got to wonder which night it is when the caverns yawn.  All Hallow’s Eve?

J.R.R._Tolkien_-_The_Shores_of_Faery
The Shores of Faerie – J.R.R Tolkien
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