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: 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

Poesie: Tolkien’s Little Princess Mee

Little Princess Mee is a Hobbit poem that was among those written in the margins of the Red Book of Westmarch.

Little Princess Mee

Little Princess Mee
Lovely was she
As in elven-song is told:
She had pearls in hair
All threaded fair;
Of gossamer shot with gold
Was her kerchief made,
And a silver braid
Of stars above her throat.
Of moth-web light
All moonlit-white
She wore a woven coat,
And round her kirtle
Was bound a girdle
Sewn with diamond dew.

She walked by day
Under mantle grey
And hood of clouded blue;
But she went by night
All glittering bright
Under the starlit sky,
And her slippers frail
Of fishes’ mail
Flashed as she went by
To her dancing-pool,
And on mirror cool
Of windless water played.
As a mist of light
In whirling flight
A glint like glass she made
Wherever her feet
Of silver fleet
Flicked the dancing-floor.

She looked on high
To the roofless sky
And she looked to the shadowy shore;
Then round she went,
And her eyes she bent
And saw beneath her go
A Princess Shee
As fair as Mee:
They were dancing toe to toe!

Shee was as light
As Mee, and as bright;
But Shee was, strange to tell,
Hanging down
With starry crown
Into a bottomless well!
Her gleaming eyes
In great surprise
Looked upon to the eyes of Mee:
A marvellous thing,
Head-down to swing
Above a starry sea!

Only their feet
Could ever meet;
For where the ways might lie
To find a land
Where they do not stand
But hang down in the sky
No one could tell
Nor learn in spell
In all the elven-lore.

So still on her own
An elf alone
Dancing as before
With pearls in hair
And kirtle fair
And slippers frail
Of fishes’ mail went Mee:
Of fishes’ mail
And slippers frail
And kirtle fair
With pearls in hair went Shee!

J.R.R. Tolkien

IMG_2300

Illustrations by Alan Lee; taken from “Tales from the Perilous Realm”

Poesie: Stevenson’s Requiem

Well known, for good reason. If you are mourning, it helps to think of things this way.

Requiem

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
“Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea
And the hunter home from the hill.”

~ Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

cemetery2

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: 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

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: From The Battle of the Trees

The word ‘poetry’ also derives from the Greek ‘poiein’, which has the same meaning as the Sanskrit root ‘kri’, whence comes ‘karma’.

This is also why the sacred books are written in rhythmic language, clearly making of them something altogether different from mere ‘poems’ in the purely profane sense, which the anti-traditional bias of the modern ‘critics’ would have them be; and besides, in its origins poetry was by no means the vain ‘literature’ which it has become owing to a degeneration resulting from the downward march of the human cycle, and it had a truly sacred character.  Traces of this can be found as late as Western classical antiquity, where poetry was still called the ‘language of the Gods’, an expression equivalent to those we have indicated, since the Gods, that is, the ‘Devas’, are, like the angels, representations of higher states.  (The Sanskrit ‘Deva’ and the Latin ‘Deus’ are but one and the same word.)

~ René Guénon: Symbols of Sacred Science

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Indifferent bards pretend,
They pretend a monstrous beast,
With a hundred heads,
And a grievous combat
At the root of the tongue.
And another fight there is
At the back of the head.
(…)
There shall be a black darkness,
There shall be a shaking of the mountain,
There shall be a purifying furnace,
There shall first be a great wave,
And when the shout shall be heard –
Putting forth new leaves are the tops of the beech,
Changing form and being renewed from a whithered state;
Entangled are the tops of the oak.

From: ‘The Battle of the Trees’, translation by D.W. Nash, a Victorian author who also wrote ‘Taliesin or The Bards and Druids of Britain’; quoted after Robert Graves: ‘The White Goddess’

 

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