po·e·sy n. pl. po·e·sies 1. Poetical works; poetry. 2. The art or practice of composing poems. 3. The inspiration involved in composing poetry. [Middle English poesie, from Old French, from Latin posis, from Greek poisis, from poiein, to create; see kwei-2 in Indo-European roots.]

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Oct. 31 John Keats

One of the great Romantic Poets, John Keats was born in London on October 31, 1795. He died in Rome of tuberculosis at the age of 25, on February 23, 1821.

Keats told his friend Joseph Severn that he wanted on his grave just the line, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

Percy Bysshe Shelley, who admired Keats' work, celebrated Keats' greatness in his magnificent long elegy, Adonais --

He has outsoared the shadow of the night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again.

--excerpt from Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Best known perhaps for his beautiful Odes (To a Nightingale, On a Grecian Urn...), here are some sonnets by Keats:

When I Have Fears that I may Cease to be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast As Thou Art

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

O Solitude! If I Must With Thee Dwell

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings: climb with me the steep,—
Nature's observatory—whence the dell,
In flowery slopes, its river's crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
'Mongst boughs pavilioned, where the deer's swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.
But though I'll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refined,
Is my soul's pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

--John Keats



Saturday, October 21, 2006

Oct 21 - Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge October 21, 1772 - July 25, 1834

Coleridge, with all his talent, was never able to get his life together. Plagued by poor health, he began using laudanum, then progressed to opium, which became a lifelong addiction.

Best known for his poetry, eg The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he was a brilliant essayist and critic. He was considered the greatest Shakespeare critic.

Often on the verge of suicide, he sums up his life in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by : Stop, child of God,
And read, with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seem'd he--
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.--
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death:
Mercy for praise--to be forgiven for fame--
He ask'd, and hoped through Christ. Do thou the same.

Nov. 9, 1833.


Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

~said to have been the result of a opium dream:

Kubla Khan (1797)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

--Samuel Taylor Coleridge



Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Robinson Jeffers

Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, July 9, 1937

John Robinson Jeffers, the top of my list of favorite poets, was born January 10, 1887 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died Jan 20, 1962 in Carmel, California.

Obviously it isn't his birthday today, but I was browsing his poetry, as I often do, and came across some works that, though written more than forty years ago, seem to speak of the times. All times, it seems.

Jeffers was immensely popular, an unwilling "darling" of the literati of the twenties and thirties. But his intense antiwar sentiments, his criticism of America's entering WWII tossed him from favor. Although he later published several books of poetry, he never regained his initial acclaim.

These poems were published in 1963, one year after his death:

Birth And Death

I am old and in the ordinary course of nature
shall die soon, but the human race is not old
But rather childish, it is an infant and acts
like one,
And now it has captured the keys of the kingdoms
of unearthly violence. Will it use them? It
loves destruction you know.
And the earth is too small to feed us, we must
have room.
It seems expedient that not as of old one man,
but many nations and races die for the people.
Have you noticed meanwhile the population
Of man on earth, the torrents of new-born babies,
the bursting schools? Astonishing. It saps
man's dignity.
We used to be individuals, not populations.
Perhaps we are now preparing for the great
slaughter. No reason to be alarmed; stone-dead
is dead;
Breeding like rabbits we hasten to meet the day.

Shine, Perishing Republic

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and deca-
dence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stub-
bornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thick-
ening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there
are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught--they say--
God, when he walked on earth.

--Robinson Jeffers

~Perhaps, like Jeffers must have felt, today I'm simply depressed about the state of things in the world, this grand old beautiful world which seems yet again on a collision course with a man-made apocalypse.

I'll skulk off now and return with some of Jeffers' wonderful nature poetry on his birthday.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

In Memoriam - K F Hartwell

Kevan F. Hartwell Dec. 21, 1920 - Oct. 3, 2001

I immediately thought of my father when I came across this quote by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). These words so aptly describe the way Kevan Hartwell lived, how he eagerly met life head on:

"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing on to future generations."

In Memoriam

Five years, Dad, since you’ve been gone.
And here’s a new October dawn.

Five years passed like one moment in time, the blink of an eye,
a solemn whisper, a small sad sigh.

We miss your music, miss your voice, your wisdom and your cheer.
The world has changed since you’ve been gone, for you’re no longer here.

The space is dark and empty you once so brightly filled,
but we are not forsaken; you're here beside us still.

Your words still clearly echo, your hands, with love, still guide
As we reflect upon the past with tears, with smiles, with pride.

Five years now since you’ve been gone,
And we, the living, must live on.

To you, to the "splendid torch" that you passed.