Poesie: Jeffers’ To an Old Square Piano

Tor is a term for a craggy outcrop or lookout.

To an Old Square Piano

(Purchased from the caretaker of an estate in Monterey)

Whose fingers wore your ivory keys
So thin – as tempest and tide flow
some pearly shell, the castaway
of indefatigable seas
on a low shingle far away –
You will not tell, we cannot know.

Only, we know that you are come,
Full of strange ghosts melodious
The old years forget the echoes of,
From the ancient house into our home;
And you will sing of old-world love,
And of ours too, and live with us.

Sweet sounds will feed you here: our woods
are vocal with the seawind’s breath;
Nor want they wing-born choristers,
Nor the ocean’s organ interludes.
– Be true beneath her hands, even hers
Who is more to me than life or death.

~ Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962)

robinson jeffers

Poesie: Frost’s Birches

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Birches

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

~ Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

birches

Poesie: Roethke’s In a Dark Time

Although thoroughly postmodern, the American poet Theodore Roethke would have been at home with almost any of the lyric poets of the 16th and 17th centuries.

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

~ Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

IMG_2451 - Edited

Poesie: Burgess’ Purple Cow

Some poets live to regret having written wildly successful poems…

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope so see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

1895

About two years later, Burgess offered the following in the same journal in which the Purple Cow had first appeared, his “The Lark”:

Ah, yes!, I wrote the ‘Purple Cow” –
I’m Sorry now, I Wrote it!
But I can Tell you, Anyhow,
I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!

1897

~ Gelett Burgess (1866 – 1951)

Burgess-lark-cover-2

Our Own Dear John Ronald: Tuor

Tuor happens to be my favorite among Tolkien’s characters. He was born in the wake of battle, both in Middle-Earth and in France.

Rían, wife of Huor, dwelt with the people of the house of Hador; but when rumor came to Dor-Lómin of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad [the Battle of Unnumbered Tears], and yet she could hear no news of her lord, she became distraught and wandered forth into the wild alone.  There she would have perished but the Grey-elves came to her aid.  For there was a dwelling of this people in the mountains westward of Lake Mithrim; and thither they led her, and she was there delivered of a son before the end of the Year of Lamentation.

And Rían said to the Elves: ‘Let him be called TUOR, for that name his father chose, ere war came between us.  And I beg of you to foster him, and keep him hidden in your care; for I forebode that great good, for Elves and Men, shall come from him.  But I must go in search for Huor, my Lord.’

Tuor and Ulmo
Alan Lee: The Meeting of Tuor and Ulmo. “In this manner the Dweller of the Deep, whom the Noldor name Ulmo, Lord of Waters, showed himself to Tuor son of Huor of the House of Hador beneath Vinyamar.”

My father said more than once that ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ was the first of the tales of the First Age to be composed, and there is no evidence to set against his recollection.  In a letter of 1964 he declared that he wrote it ‘ “out of my head” during sick-leave from the army in 1917’ (…).  In a letter written to me in 1944 he said: ‘I first began to write [THE SILMARILLION] in army huts, crowded, filled with the noise of gramophones’; and indeed some lines of verse in which appear the Seven Names of Gondolin are scribbled on the back of a piece of paper setting out ‘the chain of responsibility in a battalion’.  The earliest manuscript is still in existence, filling two small school exercise books; it was rapidly written in pencil (…).  In the spring of 1920 he was invited to read a paper to the Essay Club of his college (Exeter) ; and he read ‘The Fall of Gondolin’.  (…) By way of introduction (…) he apologized for not having been able to produce a critical paper, and went on: ‘Therefore I have fallen back on this Tale.  It has of course never seen the light before….  A complete cycle of events in an Elfinesse of my own imagining has for some time past grown up (rather, has been constructed) in my mind.  Some of the episodes have been scribbled down….”

Ulmo Appears before Tuor, by Ted Nasmith
Ted Nasmith’s version of the meeting of Ulmo and Tuor.

And Tuor grew up among them [the Grey-elves]; and he was fair of face, and golden-haired after the manner of his father’s kin, and he became strong and tall and valiant, and being fostered by the Elves he had lore and skill no less than the princes of the Edain, ere ruin came upon the North.

All quotes taken from: J.R.R. Tolkien: Unfinished Tales. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. 2006.  The featured image is cropped; the original was painted by Ted Nasmith.

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)

Poesie: Tolkien’s The Last Ship

‘I cannot come!’ they heard her cry. / ‘I was born Earth’s daughter!’

The Last Ship is a poem of the lore of the Shire, originating in the Fourth Age.  It speaks about Fíriel, a woman who was so beautiful that the Elves offered to carry her over the Straight Road to Valinor, but she, not being of elvenkind, decided not to accompany them.  It is a sad poem in a way, and then again it isn’t, for the young woman knows where she belongs, and death is a boon granted, after all.  Besides, it has my favorite bird in it!

The Last Ship

Fíriel looked out at three o’clock:
the gray night was going;
far away a golden cock
clear and shrill was crowing.
The trees were dark, and the dawn pale,
waking birds were cheeping,
a wind moved cool and frail
through dim leaves creeping.

She watched the gleam at window grow,
till the long light was shimmering
on land and leaf; on grass below
grey dew was glimmering.
Over the floor her white feet crept,
down the stair they twinkled,
through the grass they dancing stepped
all with dew besprinkled.

Her gown had jewels upon its hem,
as she ran down to the river,
and leaned upon a willow-stem,
and watched the water quiver.
A kingfisher plunged down like a stone
in a blue flash falling,
bending reeds were softly blown,
lily-leaves were sprawling.

A sudden music to her came,
as she stood there gleaming
with free hair in the morning’s flame
on her shoulders streaming.
Flutes there were, and harps were wrung,
and there was sound of singing,
like wind-voices, keen and young
and far bells ringing.

A ship with golden beak and oar
and timbers white came gliding;
swans went sailing on before,
her tall prow guiding.
Fair folk out of Elvenland
in silver-grey were rowing,
and three with crowns she saw there stand
with bright hair flowing.

With harp in hand they sang their song
to the slow oars swinging;
‘Green is the land, the leaves are long,
and the birds are singing.
Many a day with dawn of gold
this earth will lighten,
many a flower will yet unfold,
ere the cornfields whiten.

‘Then whither go ye, boatmen fair,
down the river gliding?
To twilight and to secret lair
in the great forest hiding?
To Northern isles and shores of stone
on strong swans flying,
by cold waves to dwell alone
with the white gulls crying?’

‘Nay!’ they answered. ‘Far away
on the last road faring,
leaving western havens grey,
the sea of shadow daring,
we go back to Elvenhome,
where the White Tree is growing,
and the Star shines upon the foam
on the last shore flowing.

‘To mortal fields say farewell,
Middle-earth forsaking!
In Elvenhome a clear bell
in the high tower is shaking.
Here grass fades and leaves fall,
and sun and moon whither,
and we have heard the far call
that bids us journey thither’.

The oars were stayed.  They turned aside:
‘Do you hear the call, Earth-maiden?
Fíriel! Fíriel!’ they cried.
‘Our ship is not full-laden.
One more only may we bear.
Come! For your days are speeding.
Come! Earth-maiden elven-fair,
our last call heeding.’

Fíriel looked from the river bank,
one step daring;
then deep in clay her feet sank,
and she halted, staring.
Slowly the elven-ship went by
whispering through the water:
‘I cannot come!’ they heard her cry.
‘I was born Earth’s daughter!’

No jewels white her gown bore,
as she walked back from the meadow
under roof and dark door,
under the house-shadow.
She donned her smock of russet-brown,
her long hair braided,
and to her work came stepping down.
Soon the sunlight faded.

Year still after year flows
down the Seven Rivers;
cloud passes, sunlight glows,
reed and willow quivers
as morn and eve, but never more
westward ships have waded
in mortal waters as before,
and their song has faded.

J.R.R. Tolkien

reeds

Poesie: Merton’s Epitaph for John Paul

This is possibly the saddest poem I have ever read.

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveler

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrow lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed –
Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring;
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
and buy your back to your own land:
The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: They call you home.

~ Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968)

Thomas Merton wrote the above poem after learning of the death of his brother John Paul, who had been in the American Air force in WWII, and stationed in Oxfordshire at the time:

Reverend Father (…) read me the telegram that Sergeant J. P. Merton, my brother, had been reported missing in action on April 17th [1943].

I have never understood why it took them so long to get the telegram through.  April 17th was already ten days ago – the End of Passion Week.

Some more days went by, letters of confirmation came, and finally, after a few weeks, I learned that John Paul was definitely dead.

The story was simply this.  On the night of Friday the sixteenth, which had been the Feast if Our Lady of Sorrows, he and his crew had taken off their bomber with Mannheim as their objective.  I never discovered whether they crashed on the way out or on the way home, but the plane came down in the North Sea.  John Paul was severely injured in the crash, but he managed to keep himself afloat, and even tried to support the pilot, who was already dead.  His companions managed to float their rubber dinghy and pulled him in.

He was very badly hurt: maybe his neck was broken,  He lay in the bottom of the dinghy in a delirium.

He was terribly thirsty.  He kept asking for water.  But they didn’t have any.  The water tank had broken in the crash, and the water was all gone.

It did not last too long.  He had three hours of it, and then he died.  Something of the three ours of the thirst of Christ Who loved him, and died for him many centuries ago, and had been offered again that very day, too, on many altars.

His companions had more of it to suffer, but they were finally picked up and brought to safety.  But that was some five days later.

On the fourth day they had buried John Paul in the sea.

~ Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain

Poesie: Frost’s Fire and Ice

The truth is that Frost was the first American who could be honestly reckoned as a master-poet by world standards. – Robert Graves

This is a well-known poem indeed, and for good reason.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

~ Robert Frost

 

%d bloggers like this: