52 Poems Feed

52 Poems, Week 52: The House of Christmas (Chesterton)


There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.


And so the 52 Poems series comes to an end in what I think is a very appropriate way. There is a roughly 4/5 complete list of the entries in "Here" section of the sidebar. Thanks to all who contributed to, discussed, or just quietly enjoyed this project. 

52 Poems, Week 51: Miami Woods (William Davis Gallagher)

MIAMI WOODS (excerpt)

Sage monitors of youth are wont to say
The eye grows early dim to nature’s charms,
And commerce with the world soon dulls the ear
To heavenliest sounds. It may be so; but I,
Whose feet were on the hills from earliest life,
And in the vales, and by the flashing brooks,
Have not so found it: ---deeper in my heart,
Deeper and deeper year by year, has sunk
The love of nature, in my close, and long,
And fond companionship with woods and waves,
With birds and breezes, with the starry sky,
The mountain-height, the rocky gorge, the slope
Mantled with flow’rs, and the far-reaching plain
That mingles with the heavens. It is not so –
It is not so save where the ear grows dull
To God’s own voice, and the averted eye
Thick filmed with sin, is darkened thus, and lost
To all his visible glory. The green fields
Are studded with their golden buttons still
And living with their gilded butterflies,
That pass not unobserved. The rocky pool,
In which the robin bathes his dusky plumes,
The tufted flow’rs that smile beyond, the slope
That from its margin greenly steals away
To bordering woodlands fill’d with airy tongues
Still lure us from the hot and dusty road
As in the years gone by…..

…..Years change us not so much,
Nor commerce with the world; but groveling thoughts,
Vaulting ambitions, unrepressed desires,
Whose oft-indulgence blunts the edge of youth:
These early dim the eye to nature’s charms,
And early dull the ear to heavenliest sounds.


Child of my love!
Oh, count it fortunate thou art the child
Of Nature also. To this double bond
Be faithful. Coming years will tempt thee sore –

But in the trials and the triumphs Life
May have in store for thee, forget thou not
The haunts wherein thy childhood met with love,
And peace, and beauty; where in tranquil ways
Thy chafing spirit thou didst often soothe;
And where, as thy young heart has felt, God walked
With Nature and with thee.


This is an excerpt from a long poem (roughly 1500 lines) by William Davis Gallagher (1808-1894), Miami Woods, published in 1881. I came across this poet quite by accident, while looking up another author in the Oxford Companion to American Literature. This poem was apparently quite popular in its day, and although its style is both imitative and dated, the Companion says that Gallagher’s original descriptions of nature are “among the region’s best,” the region here being the American Midwest (the “Miami” referred to is at the western edge of Ohio, north of Cincinnati, an area still known for its beauty).

The thing that struck me most, however, and something I was not expecting, was the poem's theological vision. I have no idea of Gallagher's religious background, but the occasional theological bits in the poem are reminiscent of Hopkins. They show a belief in God as present in Creation, not pantheistically as in Wordsworth, and not as a transcendent Being of whom Nature is a mere sign, as in Emerson, Whittier, etc., but as a God who is both immanent and transcendent. This comes through quite directly and unapologetically, although the poem is not "religious" verse.

The other thing that’s striking is the thread of sadness that runs through the poem. It seems that Gallagher lost a teenage daughter to a lengthy illness of some sort, one symptom of which affected her reason. The poem, written over a number of years, reflects on this loss quite movingly.

--Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies, which he's put to good use working for a medical laboratory for the past 15 years. He's published a number of book and music reviews and occasionally has gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa

52 Poems, Week 50: The Wish (Abraham Cowley)


Well then! I now do plainly see
This busy world and I shall ne'er agree.
The very honey of all earthly joy
Does of all meats the soonest cloy ;
    And they, methinks, deserve my pity
Who for it can endure the stings,
The crowd and buzz and murmurings,
    Of this great hive, the city.

Ah, yet, ere I descend to the grave
May I a small house and large garden have ;
And a few friends, and many books, both true,
Both wise, and both delightful too!
    And since love ne'er will from me flee,
A Mistress moderately fair,
And good as guardian angels are,
    Only beloved and loving me.

O fountains! when in you shall I
Myself eased of unpeaceful thoughts espy?
O fields! O woods! when, when shall I be made
The happy tenant of your shade?
    Here's the spring-head of Pleasure's flood :
Here's wealthy Nature's treasury,
Where all the riches lie that she
    Has coin'd and stamp'd for good.

Pride and ambition here
Only in far-fetch'd metaphors appear ;
Here naught but winds can hurtful murmurs scatter,
And naught but Echo flatter.
    The gods, when they descended, hither
From heaven did always choose their way :
And therefore we may boldly say
    That 'tis the way too thither.

How happy here should I
And one dear She live, and embracing die!
She who is all the world, and can exlude
In deserts solitude.
    I should have then this only fear:
Lest men, when they my pleasures see,
Should hither throng to live like me,
    And so make a city here.


I approve this message.

As I said at the beginning of this project, I knew I wouldn't have any trouble finding a poem to post every week, and I haven't. But I didn't think about how difficult it might be to pick one from the many possibilities. That difficulty became acute this week, since there were only three weeks left. I've tended to shy away from obvious Great Poems, not because I'm tired of them, because I'm not, but because I thought it would be interesting to explore roads less traveled by. I agree with Nabokov, or at least with a character in one of his novels, that "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" is one of the greatest lyrics in the English language. But I think just about everybody with the least bit of interest in literature is familiar with it, not to mention a lot of people who aren't particularly interested, but read the poem in school and found that it touched something in them.

So I leafed through both volumes of the Norton Anthology I used in college fifty years ago and happened on this poem (in Volume 1, which goes up to roughly 1800). If I read it back then I've forgotten both it and its author (1618-1667). The anthologist's note slights Cowley, charging that he

persuaded himself not only that he should be, but that he actually was, a poet of overpowering wit and rhapsodic genius. "The Muses' Hannibal" was his favorite epithet for himself.... [A]fter his death he quickly sank in public esteem.... "The Wish," with its modest scope and genuine appreciation of homely pleasures, suggests where his tastes and talents really lay.

I copied the text from the estimable Luminarium site.

52 Poems, Week 49: Corruption (Henry Vaughan)


SURE, it was so. Man in those early days
   Was not all stone and earth:
He shin’d a little, and by those weak rays
   Had some glimpse of his birth.
He saw heaven o’er his head, and knew from whence 5
   He came, condemnèd, thither;
And, as first love draws strongest, so from hence
   His mind sure progress’d thither.
Things here were strange unto him; sweat and till;
   All was a thorn or weed;
Nor did those last, but—like himself—died still
   As soon as they did seed;
They seem’d to quarrel with him; for that act,
   They fell him, foil’d them all;
He drew the curse upon the world, and crack’d
   The whole frame with his fall.
This made him long for home, as loth to stay
   With murmurers and foes;
He sighed for Eden, and would often say
   ‘Ah! what bright days were those!’
Nor was heav’n cold unto him; for each day
   The valley or the mountain
Afforded visits, and still Paradise lay
   In some green shade or fountain.
Angels lay leiger here; each bush, and cell,
   Each oak, and highway knew them;
Walk but the fields, or sit down at some well,
   And he was sure to view them.
Almighty Love! where art Thou now? mad man
   Sits down and freezeth on;
He raves, and swears to stir nor fire, nor fan,
   But bids the thread be spun.
I see, Thy curtains are close-drawn; Thy bow
   Looks dim too in the cloud;
Sin triumphs still, and man is sunk below
   The centre, and his shroud.
All’s in deep sleep and night: thick darkness lies
   And hatcheth o’er Thy people—
But hark! what trumpet’s that? what angel cries
   ‘Arise! thrust in Thy sickle?’


I'm told that part of this poem is an Advent selection in Elizabeth Goudge's book A Diary of Prayer, which sounds like a book worth having. The poem strikes me as more Last Judgment than Advent, but it's nevertheless applicable as a picture of the situation in which our waiting takes place.

52 Poems, Week 48: Danny Deever (Kipling)


‘What are the bugles blowin’ for?' said Files-on-Parade.
‘To turn you out, to turn you out,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What makes you look so white, so white?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
    The Regiment’s in ’ollow square—they’re hangin’ him to-day;
    They’ve taken of his buttons off an’ cut his stripes away,
    An’ they're hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

‘What makes the rear-rank breathe so ’ard?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s bitter cold, it's bitter cold,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What makes that front-rank man fall down?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of ’im round,
    They ’ave ’alted Danny Deever by ’is coffin on the ground;
    An’ ’e’ll swing in ’arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound—
    O they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin!’

‘’Is cot was right-’and cot to mine,’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘’E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘I’ve drunk ’is beer a score o’ times,’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘’E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ’im to ’is place,
    For ’e shot a comrade sleepin’—you must look ’im in the face;
    Nine ’undred of ’is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,
    While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

‘What’s that so black agin the sun?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s Danny fightin’ ’ard for life,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What’s that that whimpers over’ead?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ’ear the quickstep play,
    The Regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;
    Ho! the young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer to-day,
    After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’!


I've mostly kept to a rule in these posts of letting the poem speak first for itself without introduction from me, and put any comments I wanted to make afterwards. But I was very strongly tempted to break it in this case. It could probably have used some kind of warning, and some readers may be annoyed that I threw this grim piece in their faces without one.

I don't have any real strong reason for having chosen it--only that I happened to think of it a few days ago, so I read it, and I think it's brilliant in its grim and horrible way. Kipling has never been exactly fashionable, though he was once popular. No doubt nowadays he's considered evil--imperialist and racist and so on, which he is, though that of course is not the whole story. But I doubt there is an honest poet who wouldn't like to have written something as powerful as this.

The poem leaves you with a big question: why did he do it? Why did he shoot that sleeping comrade? Files-on-Parade doesn't seem to think he was a bad sort. I wonder if he might have been a timid person, tormented by a bully into a mad act of revenge. Or perhaps he really was just a sneakin' shootin' hound. The Colour-Sergeant seems to think so, but that doesn't stop him from pitying the man.

52 Poems, Week 47: Thanks (W.S. Merwin)


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is


This poem, like the other Merwin one I posted, is very much still under copyright and not reprinted here with anyone's permission at all.

Since I've been posting these poems on Thursdays and today happens to be Thanksgiving Day, I thought an appropriate poem would be appropriate. 


52 Poems, Week 46: The Parable of the Old Man and the Young (Wilfred Owen)


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


That last line has been reverberating in my mind over the past week or two as discussions of the armistice that temporarily ended the Great War have taken place. Wilfred Owen, as I suppose everybody knows, died in that war, leaving behind a handful of poems about it that have become classics. This is not the best known, but like I said: that last line.

Owen was killed in action on November 4, 1918. His mother received the news of his death on Armistice Day.

That war does not cast as dark a shadow over the U.S. as it does over Europe. I don't think I fully grasped the extent of the catastrophe that it was until sometime in adulthood when I saw a Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. She lost her brother and her fiance and several friends in the war. My maternal grandmother served in the Red Cross in France. And I recall a picture of my paternal grandfather in an Army uniform, and I think that also was during the war. But very little in the way of family stories about their experiences came down to my generation, and now there is no one to ask.

Leonard Cohen's song "Story of Isaac" makes similar use of Abraham and Isaac.

I've always thought the song would be better without that last verse, and ended on "...beauty of the word." I don't know exactly what the peacock means, though, and perhaps I would like that verse better if I did. But it's a great song anyway.

I also have a bit of a theological quarrel with this:

A scheme is not a vision,
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.

That suggests that there would be something grand about the demon's approach. But nasty little schemes are very much in the demonic line.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 45: Bridge Morning (Sally Thomas)


The child outside the swinging door
Heard her mother say,
I won't make something of myself
Stuck at home all day.

Honey, said a languid voice,
Some days I'm so depressed
By toilet bowls and groceries
I almost can't get dressed.

Another friend remarked, I told
My husband that, I said,
'Lanier, you hear me out. I am
Too young to feel this dead.'

I saw my doctor, cried a third.
He said to me, 'Miz Wade,
You get a little job and leave
That child home with the maid.'

All the while, the pattering cards
Were shuffled, dealt, and drawn.
Ice rattled in the glasses. Outside,
S.E. mowed the lawn.

The child sat on her leather stool
Behind the swinging door
And watched Princetta move across
The chessboard of the floor.

Princetta's hands were black and broad,
Their palms pale-pink as lips
Before the public smile's drawn on
In red. Around her hips

White apron strings, crisscrossed and tied,
Strained as she bent to see
Light biscuits rising, and to sieve
Black silted leaves from tea.

Child, Princetta said, you scoot.
You in Princetta's way.

She backed out through the swinging door
With her heavy silver tray.


"Bridge Morning" first appeared in Modern Age and is reproduced here with the permission of the poet.


The name is pronounced "Prinsetta," by the way.

This poem is pretty close to perfect. The "pretty close" is really just a formality, a legalistic gesture of acknowledgement that nothing in this world is truly perfect. I guess it helps if you know the world depicted here, but, just as with John Betjeman's Extremely English work, I don't think it's necessary. 

That last line is what makes it, gesturing, or maybe just glancing significantly, away from the domestic scene to a wider world of injustice and tragic history--and more, discernment of which I will leave to your insight. The tray is heavy, the tray is silver: those two words do so much. And they sound so well together there, a perfect exemplar of the "sound and sense" motto. But that line only works as well as it does because everything leading up to it is so precisely convincing.

Sally Thomas--I almost said "is a real person." What I mean is that she's not a name in a book, an alleged person who wrote some poems long ago and far away, but someone who lives in the same world I do. I've never actually met her but she's a good friend of a good friend and we've met online.  Some years ago, before Facebook, when blogs were more popular and this one in particular hosted more conversation than it presently does, she sometimes commented here. 

Here is her web site. She also writes excellent fiction. This poem is from her collection Fallen Water, and if you like "Bridge Morning" I strongly recommend the book. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 44: Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? (Yeats)


Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell,
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.


I've been trying to avoid posting more than one poem by any poet in this series, and there are a number of people who should be included but haven't yet been. So why am I doing another one by Yeats? The problem with some of the not-included--and I'm thinking primarily of Shakespeare, Keats, and Eliot here--is that their great work is lengthy, and I don't want to do excerpts. I guess one of Keats's odes might do for a blog post, but the one I really want is "The Eve of St. Agnes," which is several hundred lines.  

I really wish Yeats had come up with something better than "social welfare dream" with which to praise the woman whom I assume to be his great unrequited love, Maud Gonne. I wonder what the description meant to him. To me and I suspect to many of our time it conjures up a social worker, which may be a praiseworthy occupation, or in some cases may not, but in any case isn't an image that makes the heart beat faster, and doesn't seem at all compatible with "Helen." (See "No Second Troy" for comparison.)

I'm also a little puzzled by the "lighted screen." Something on which insects are examined, maybe? Anyway, the idea is plain enough.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.


52 Poems, Week 43: Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind (Carl Sandburg)


The past is a bucket of ashes.


The woman named Tomorrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead.


The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.

The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation,
  nothing like us ever was.


It has happened before.
Strong men put up a city and got
a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women
to warble: We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation,
  nothing like us ever was.

And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
there were rats and lizards who listened
  … and the only listeners left now
  … are … the rats … and the lizards.

And there are black crows
crying, “Caw, caw,"
bringing mud and sticks
building a nest
over the words carved
on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.

The only singers now are crows crying, “Caw, caw,"
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards.


The feet of the rats
scribble on the door sills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats.

And the wind shifts
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.


We've discussed this poem here before. I read it in high school and although I don't think it's exactly a great poem its basic idea and imagery have stayed with me. The applicability to our own civilization is perhaps greater now. Or perhaps not. In the mid''60s our cultural confidence was considerably higher than it is now. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 42: The Latest Decalogue (Arthur Hugh Clough)


Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipped, except the currency.
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse.
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend.
Honor thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall.
Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive.
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it.
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it’s so lucrative to cheat.
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly.
Thou shalt not covet, but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.


Clough (my teacher pronounced it "cluff") was one of those unhappily disillusioned (or so they thought) Victorians of whom I'm fond. I don't see a need to add anything to this poem.


Note that this is week 42, leaving 10 in the year. If you had any intention of submitting a(nother) poem for this series, now's the time.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 41: House of Rest (John Betjeman)


Now all the world she knew is dead
  In this small room she lives her days
The wash-hand stand and single bed
  Screened from the public gaze.

The horse-brass shines, the kettle sings,
  The cup of China tea
Is tasted among cared-for thing
  Ranged round for me to see—

Lincoln, by Valentine and Co.,
  Now yellowish brown and stained,
But there some fifty years ago
  Her Harry was ordained;

Outside the Church at Woodhall Spa
  The smiling groom and bride,
And here's his old tobacco jar
  Dried lavender inside.

I do not like to ask if he
  Was "High" or "Low" or "Broad"
Lest such a question seem to be
  A mockery of Our Lord.

Her full grey eyes look far beyond
  The little room and me
To village church and village pond
  And ample rectory.

She sees her children each in place
  Eyes downcast as they wait,
She hears her Harry murmur Grace,
  Then heaps the porridge plate.

Aroused at seven, to bed by ten,
  They fully lived each day,
Dead sons, so motor-bike-mad then,
  And daughters far away.

Now when the bells for Eucharist
  Sound in the Market Square,
With sunshine struggling through the mist
  And Sunday in the air,

The veil between her and her dead
  Dissolves and shows them clear,
The Consecration Prayer is said
  And all of them are near.


I'm a big Betjeman fan, and you can read about my reasons for being so in this post from 2006. He's one of the poets I knew I would include in this series when I started it, but I hadn't read him for a while and didn't remember any specific poem worthy of special notice. And then of course when it came time to pick one there wasn't much time, so I just opened up the book (Collected Poems of) and read at random. This one seemed pretty ordinary until the last stanza.

All the links in that old post seem to be dead, by the way. Twelve years is a long time on the Internet. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 40: The Windows (George Herbert)

(Note: the reference is to church windows; this poem is part of Herbert's long sequence The Church, which in turn is part of The Temple, which contains most of his English poetry.)


LORD, how can man preach thy eternall word ? 
        He is a brittle crazie glasse : 
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford 
        This glorious and transcendent place, 
        To be a window, through thy grace. 

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie, 
        Making thy life to shine within 
The holy Preachers, then the light and glorie 
        More rev'rend grows, and more doth win; 
        Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin. 

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one 
        When they combine and mingle, bring 
A strong regard and aw:  but speech alone 
        Doth vanish like a flaring thing, 
        And in the eare, not conscience ring. 


This poem seems relevant to much that is happening in the Church today. I got the text from the excellent Luminarium, which is a repository of a huge amount of English literature. The link is to the editor's account of how and why she began and continues the site.

Herbert's parish church:

St._Andrew's_Church _Bemerton _July_2012(By Busterweb at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52490091)

Interior views of the church, and a good deal of information about Herbert, here.


52 Poems, Week 39: Epistle To Be Left In the Earth (Archibald MacLeish)


...It is colder now,
      there are many stars,
        we are drifting
North by the Great Bear,
      the leaves are falling,
The water is stone in the scooped rocks,
      to southward
Red sun grey air:
      the crows are
Slow on their crooked wings,
      the jays have left us:
Long since we passed the flares of Orion.
Each man believes in his heart he will die.
Many have written last thoughts and last letters.
None know if our deaths are now or forever:
None know if this wandering earth will be found.

We lie down and the snow covers our garments.
I pray you,
      you (if any open this writing)
Make in your mouths the words that were our names.
I will tell you all we have learned,
I will tell you everything:
The earth is round,
      there are springs under the orchards,
The loam cuts with a blunt knife,
      beware of
Elms in thunder,
      the lights in the sky are stars——
We think they do not see,
      we think also
The trees do not know nor the leaves of the grasses hear us:
The birds too are ignorant.
Do not listen.
Do not stand at dark in the open windows.
We before you have heard this:
      they are voices:
They are not words at all but the wind rising.
Also none among us has seen God.
(...We have thought often
The flaws of sun in the late and driving weather
Pointed to one tree but it was not so.)
As for the nights I warn you the nights are dangerous:
The wind changes at night and the dreams come.

It is very cold,
      there are strange stars near Arcturus,

Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky


I can't say that I have the formatting and punctuation of this poem correct. As far as I remember I don't have it in any of my books, and I don't want to take time to search. So I looked for it online, and found several versions. Some did not have the indentation as I have it here, and I vaguely (very vaguely) recall that it looked something like this when I first encountered it in a high school textbook. I decided to use this copy.

I doubt that MacLeish's reputation is very high these days, and I think he wrote a lot of poetry that was mediocre or worse. But I thought this one was haunting and beautiful and fascinating when I read it in that textbook. As far as I can remember I hadn't read it since then and am pleased to find that it's as good as I recall. Maybe better, never mind that it's full of physical impossibilities. I was very much into science fiction at that age, and this is a somewhat science-fiction-y poem. That was certainly some of its appeal for me at age sixteen or whatever it was. I think there is a sci-fi novel called The Lights In the Sky Are Stars

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.


52 Poems, Week 38: For the Anniversary of My Death (W.S. Merwin)


Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what


I'm excessively busy and don't have time to say anything much about this poem, which is probably Merwin's most well-known, which of course is not saying all that much. Merwin was Poet Laureate at one time, but it's a sad comment on the regard in which that office is held that even someone like myself who's interested in poetry doesn't know who currently occupies it. But I just remembered that I wrote about Merwin three years ago in the 52 Authors series (and that in turn was a reprint from 2011), so you can read what I had to say there. You will observe that I also included this poem in that post. I like it a lot.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 37: First Ode for a Very Young Lady (Anselm Hollo)


Shamming accuracy
I was going to say
    that she is spherical...

She is not,
she consists of
    two spheres

joined together
by not much of a neck
and six
    symmetrical protuberances
ears, arms, legs--

plus a small knob
in the centre
    of the smaller sphere,
the one on top.

But this
description of her shape
gives you no idea.
    She's round!

She's simply
round, and moves
in a manner
    not unlike rolling--
while remaining seated
very upright

what attracts her
    attention, right now
the silent
    television set;

and there she is,
on the screen--
in full
    though slightly muted

It is
    without question
the best programme
    of the day.

Of course,
I am thirty years older
and so
    our relationship
is deceptively easy:

will follow--

I hope
    they will,
I wish for decades
    of trouble with you
my daughter

wish it
    in the teeth of
        our monstrous days:

that the screen's
daily images
    of incessant war
and destruction

will fade
    and be superseded
by faces and forms
of another degree

worthy of you, your
happy geometry.


Anselm Hollo? Who?! you ask. Well, if you read his Wikipedia entry you will know about as much as I do. He was born in Finland in 1934, lived in England for most of the '60s, then moved to the U.S. and lived here until his death in 2013. 

The time he spent in England is the reason I know of his existence. Back in the '70s I had a Penguin paperback anthology called British Poetry Since 1945. I never did more than browse in it, but I liked some of what I read. It includes dozens of poets, only a few of whose names anyone but a very avid student of 20th century British poetry would recognize. Hollo was one of them, though I don't remember either his name or this poem from that time.

Somewhere along the line that book got away from me. Several months ago I saw a reference to it and thought I'd like to have a look at it again. I was able to find a used copy in very good shape online and have kept it on my bedside table, reading a poem or two or three every night.

This poem is Hollo's only presence in the anthology. I don't think it's a great poem by any means, but it gave me a smile and I marked it as worth returning to. It's that last line that makes it.

If we take the "thirty years" literally, the very young lady was born around 1964, and so is now, if she's still alive, well into her fifties. I hope the countless complications and the possible decades of trouble weren't too bad, and she's having a good life.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 36: Song of the Ents and Entwives (Tolkien)

Ent. When spring unfolds the beechen-leaf and sap is in the bough,
When light is on the wild-wood stream, and wind is on the brow,
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain air,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!
Entwife. When Spring is come to garth and field, and corn is in the blade,
When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard laid,
When sun and shower upon the earth with fragrance fill the air,
I'll linger here, and will not come, because my land is fair.
Ent. When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold,
When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is best!
Entwife. When Summer warms the hanging fruit and burns the berry brown;
When straw is gold, and ear is white, and harvest comes to town;
When honey spills, and apple swells, though wind be in the West,
I'll linger here beneath the Sun, because my land is best!
Ent. When Winter comes, the winter wild that hill and wood shall slay;
When trees shall fall and starless night devour the sunless day;
When wind is in the deadly East, then in the bitter rain
I'll look for thee, and call to thee; I'll come to thee again!
Entwife. When Winter comes, and singing ends; when darkness falls at last;
When broken is the barren bough, and light and labour past;
I'll look for thee, and wait for thee, until we meet again:
Together we will take the road beneath the bitter rain!
Both. Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.


There's a lot of verse in The Lord of the Rings. I enjoy most of it but for me it mainly serves a sort of decorative function. This poem, though, really struck me the last time I read the book. I think it stands alone, except maybe for the fact that you need to know who the Ents and the Entwives are. I guess everybody does at least know the Ents from the movies, but I don't think the poignant story of their lost wives made it into those. It's only a few pages in the "Treebeard" chapter, but it's too long to quote here, and too good to quote an excerpt. Suffice to say that the Ents wanted to wander the forests, and the Entwives wanted to tend their gardens, and gradually they lost each other. 

As Treebeard explains to Merry and Pippin, the song was actually made by the Elves:

The Elves made many songs concerning the Search of the Ents, and some of the songs passed into the tongues of Men. But we made no songs about it, being content to chant their beautiful names when we thought of the Entwives....

It is Elvish, of course: lighthearted, quickworded, and soon over. I daresay it is fair enough. But the Ents could say more on their side, if they had time!

I think it's a beautiful, profound, and poignant comment on man and woman and marriage and Christian hope. Not exactly lighthearted, though, except from an Ent's perspective. 

By the way this is the poem I mentioned last week, that I had intended to post but couldn't figure out how to format. I could have just done it the easy way and put the "Ent:" / "Entiwife:" notes on a line by themselves, but I stubbornly wanted to lay it out the way it is in the book. The solution was an HTML table. But the lines didn't quite fit in the text column. So I expanded that column a bit. I'm not sure if that helps or hinders reading normal paragraphs. I may or may not leave it that way. I did it yesterday morning. Has anyone noticed?

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 35: The Lantern Out of Doors (Hopkins)


Sometimes a lantern moves along the light,
   That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
   I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
   In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
   They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
   What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: Christ's interest, what to avow or amend
   There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kind,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.


Hopkins has a note (written to his friend and editor Robert Bridges I think) about his use of "wind" in this poem:

I mean that the eye winds only in the sense that its focus or point of sight winds and that coincides with a point of the object and winds with that. For the object, a lantern passing further and further away and bearing now east now west of one right line, is truly and properly described as winding.

This kind of precision is typical of him. If you get the Penguin Classics Poems and Prose, you can read selections from his notebooks which are full of extremely detailed descriptions, mainly of nature. I mean extremely. I would quote one, but I've discovered in the process of doing this series that there are a lot of books which it is nearly impossible to lay flat and hold there with some object so that you can see the page and type at the same time.

Hopkins is another one whom I expected from the first to include in this series. But I wanted to do one of his lesser-known poems. I think every Catholic with any literary inclination has probably read "God's Grandeur" and/or "Pied Beauty" ("Glory be to God for dappled things..."). And maybe "The Windhover." I like this one as well as any of those, though it isn't as immediately striking. It occurs to me that this image of a single small light moving through general darkness is not something most of us see very often at all. There are in fact probably millions of people who never have seen it. 

There's an excellent biographical sketch of Hopkins at the Poetry Foundation. I started reading it and realized that although I've been reading Hopkins since I was in college I really knew almost nothing about his life, apart from the fact that he was a Jesuit, and nothing at all about his family and upbringing. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 34: The Country Clergy (R.S. Thomas)


I see them working in old rectories
By the sun's light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men's hearts and in the minds
Of young children the sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.


R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) was a Welsh poet and an Anglican priest. You can read all about him at the Poetry Foundation. His poems tend to be rather grim--see, for instance, "Evans." Wales, in his eyes, seems to be a pretty grim place. But his is the sort of low-key unostentatious work that appeals to me.

I had planned to post a different poem this week. But first I let the time get away from me and didn't remember till late last night that this post was due. And then, when I started working on it this morning, I discovered that the poem I'd meant to post presents some serious formatting problems, so I decided to do this one instead. I've had in mind from the beginning that I'd include something by R.S. Thomas, and since I didn't have much time to browse chose this one, the first of his I read and the one that made me go out and buy his Selected Poems in the Phoenix Poetry Series, a very nice little hardback which unfortunately seems to be out of print, though used copies seem to be easy to find (Amazon link).

I will admit that I've probably not read more than a third of it. But when I flipped through it just now I found something curious, a little sheet of paper with some scraps of a poem I was apparently working when I was last reading the book. I'm pretty sure that was at least fifteen, perhaps twenty, years ago. The first line on the sheet is:

Assurance that things are well somewhere

That may be an appropriate comment on "The Country Clergy," and a qualification of the general darkness of Thomas's work. 



--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 33: Thrice Toss These Oaken Ashes (Thomas Campion)

Thrice toss these oaken ashes in the air,
Thrice sit thou mute in this enchanted chair,
Then thrice three times tie up this true love's knot,
And murmur soft "She will, or she will not."

Go burn these pois'nous weeds in yon blue fire,
These screech-owl's feathers and this prickling briar,
This cypress gathered at a dead man's grave,
That all my fears and cares an end may have.

Then come, you fairies! dance with me a round;
Melt her hard heart with your melodious sound.
In vain are all the charms I can devise:
She hath an art to break them with her eyes.


In case you're wondering, I don't think this is a great poem. It's a conventional love poem from around 1600, relatively slight compared to most of the poems we've had in this series. But it's very well done. And by "conventional" I mean that it isn't a straight-from-the-heart cry of the sort that came in with the Romantics (more or less), but that it's in the courtly love tradition which involved certain conventions in the lover's words to or about the "mistress" with whom the song or poem is concerned. There's a certain detachment involved.

The reason I'm posting it is that Campion (1567-1620) was an accomplished poet-musician whose poems work equally well on the page or with their tunes. I regard him as some kind of ideal in that way.

I usually get a little impatient when someone says that the lyrics of this or that contemporary songwriter can stand alone as poetry. I'm not sure I've ever seen one of which that is really true. I love Dylan's work (a lot of it anyway), but I don't think he should have gotten the Nobel prize for literature. This is not a disparagement of his best work, or anyone else's--and there are a good many songwriters around now who are doing better work than Dylan has done since his early peak. I would in fact be willing to sacrifice some non-essential body part to have written some of their songs. Many of them are so good precisely because the lyrics are brilliant. But they're song lyrics, dependent on their musical settings for a great deal of their power, most of which they lose when read in isolation.

Here is "Thrice Tosse..." sung to the tune Campion wrote for it.

See what I mean? It's as good a song as it is a poem.

I'm actually not entirely sure precisely what the charms in the first two stanzas are supposed to do. The first suggests fortune-telling, the second...I don't know...it sounds like suicide, but maybe something to bend her will to his? I guess it would have been obvious to people of his time.

By the way I have not seen anything to indicate that Thomas Campion was related to Edmund Campion, S.J. Here's his Wikipedia entry.

I promise this is not an attempt to turn 52 Poems into a music series.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 32: The "Cynara" poem (Ernest Dowson)


Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind,
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.


According to this article in The Guardian the title is from Horace and means "I am not as I was in the reign of good Cinara." 

If you had asked me I would have sworn that the refrain was "I have been true to thee..." And I don't have the excuse that it's been a long time since I read it, since it was no earlier than last winter (I think). Moreover, I think "true" sounds better. So one of us, Dowson or I, has a better ear than the other. I guess it's probably not me.

Dowson is another one-hit wonder. Well, no, two hits. The other one is very short, so I think I'll include it. I'm not sure whether the Latin sentence is meant to be a title or an introductory quotation. The poem itself seems to be an epigraph for the others. It's at the beginning of the edition I have, before the preface, and is in mixed case, whereas the titles of all the others are upper-case. So I'll follow that example. The quotation, also from Horace, according to this article at the BBC, is "The shortness of life prevents us from entertaining far-off hopes."


Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.


A year or two ago I picked up, cheap or free, a nice hardback volume of Dyson's collected poems. I read them all, and there weren't any others as memorable as these two. But I did mark a dozen or so as worth re-reading. I wouldn't argue with someone who thinks that these two, especially "Cynara," are on the overwrought and adolescent side. But I think they're very good, and also that they're among the saddest poems in the English language, though maybe that's partly because Days of Wine and Roses is one of the saddest films ever made. You'll notice several phrases in them that have become part of our culture. Cole Porter has a song called "Always True to You In My Fashion," which I assume borrows the notion from Dowson, but it's a light, silly song. And I think there's a novel title in there somewhere.

I have a little fragment of memory from early adolescence (I think) in which a character in a movie quotes "Cynara." I found it very touching at the time without really understanding why. A few years ago I tried to find out from the Internet what movie it was, but never located it.

Somewhat later in adolescence (I think) I read a book of short stories by John Anthony West called Roses, Roses Riotously. It must have received some sort of favorable publicity because I found it in the fairly small library in the fairly small town of Decatur, Alabama. I remember fragments of some of the stories, and I think they were somewhat cynical, and perhaps they were a bit romantic, too, and I would have found them appealing on both counts. One odd little thing that I recall from them is a character saying to his girlfriend "How many times must I tell you?--there's been no music written since Scarlatti." I'm sure I didn't know who Scarlatti was but I thought that was sort of a cool thing to say, though I think I also recognized that it wasn't intended to make the character look good. Years later when I did know who Scarlatti was I thought the character had half a point.

Dowson was one of the artists counted among the "Decadents" of the late 19th century. He was a mess (see Wikipedia bio), and he died young. He was also a Catholic convert. So even if he was a mess, we can suppose, in absence of reason to think otherwise, that he died in God's grace. And two of his poems, at least, are remembered. One could do worse.

Ernest_DowsonImage from The Poems of Ernest Dowson (London: John Lane, 1905): Public Domain

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 31: In the Time of the Tumult of Nations (Samuel Hazo)


We thought that the worst was behind us
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We planned and we saved for the future
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
The crowds in the streets were uneasy
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We murdered our annual victims
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We were fined if we smoked in the cities
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We gave and deducted our givings
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We kept the bad news from the children
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We wakened from nightmares with headaches
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We voted for men we distrusted
    in the time, in the time, in the time,
    in the time of the tumult of nations.

In the time of the tumult of nations
    the ones who were wrong were the loudest.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the poets were thought to be crazy.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the President answered no questions.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    protesters were treated like traitors.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the airports were guarded by soldiers.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    young women kept mace in their purses.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    the rich were exempt in their mansions.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    we waited for trouble to happen.
In the time of the tumult of nations
    we lived for the weekends like children.

Like children we clung to our playthings
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We huddled in burglar-proof houses
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We said that the poor had it coming
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We readied our handguns for trouble
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We tuned in to war every evening
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We watched as the bombs burned the cities
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
The name of the game was destruction
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We knew we were once better people
    in the time of the tumult of nations.
We pretend we are still the same people
    in the time, in the time, in the time,
    in the time of the tumult of nations.


I had the great pleasure of hearing Samuel Hazo recite this poem from memory at a meeting of a small Catholic writers group in Pittsburgh. I’d heard his name off and on over the years but had never looked at his poetry until he began attending the group earlier this year, and thus I did not know he was a practicing Catholic whose faith informs his poetry. When I heard this poem for the first time I was struck by the way that its simplicity of form masks its rather solemn profundity – I really like the way that they work almost counter to each other.

Mr. Hazo has published over 30 books of poetry, fiction, essays and translations. Most recently CUA Press published his The World within the Word: Maritain and the Poet, a book Hazo originally wrote in 1957 and the only book about Maritain for which Maritain himself wrote a foreword. Hazo turned 90 on July 19th.

--Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies, which he's put to good use working for a medical laboratory for the past 15 years. He's published a number of book and music reviews and occasionally has gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa

52 Poems, Week 30: The Horses (Edwin Muir)


Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs, no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, headed north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.

The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters crouched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
"They'll molder away and be like other loam."
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers' land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers' time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.


Leafing through Sound and Sense I've come across several poems that I had read back in freshman English, fifty years ago, and since forgotten. And I was very happy to rediscover them. This is not one of them; this is one I never forgot.

Edwin Muir is not a widely known poet, and I've never read much of his work. In fact two or three poems in another anthology are the whole of it. Several times over the years, thinking of this poem, I've looked for a collection, but anything I found was out of print and quite expensive. Looking for the text online, to save myself the trouble of typing it in, I found it posted at Slate and read by Robert Pinsky, who describes Muir as "a mysteriously neglected, gorgeous, and emotionally penetrating poet." I think I'll check again to see if there's a book available...yes, there are used copies of Selected Poems (edited by T.S. Eliot!) available for less than $5 at ABE Books.

Anyway, I think this is a terrific poem in every way. Stylistically it makes me think of some of Frost's blank verse narrative poems. It does more with the theme of nuclear apocalypse than any number of movies and novels. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 29: Naming of Parts (Henry Reed)


Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighboring gardens,
    And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
    Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
    Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
    They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
    For today we have naming of parts.


Henry Reed could perhaps also be described, like Stevie Smith, as a one-hit wonder as far as his general reputation is concerned. In addition, his name is similar to that of the better-known Sir Herbert Read, who sometimes gets credit for this poem. In fact it was the latter name I had in mind when I went looking for information on the poem and the poet, which caused me a couple of minutes' confusion. 

I probably wouldn't know of the existence of this poem if it wasn't in the Sound and Sense anthology/textbook which I used in freshman English fifty years ago and which is still in print, I hope not too much deformed by recent academic fashion. "Naming of Parts" is one of a set of poems about Reed's experience as a British Army recruit in World War II. I am a little embarrassed and a lot surprised to find that I had completely forgotten about another poem from the set which is also in Sound and Sense and which is just as good: "Judging Distances." 

...the point of balance
Which in our case we have not got.


—Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 28: Not Waving but Drowning (Stevie Smith)


Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.


If Stevie Smith were a band, she would be considered a one-hit wonder, and this poem the one hit. Anyone who's read much 20th century poetry has probably encountered it. It makes a good many appearances in anthologies. But as with many bands known to the public for only one hit song, there is a great deal more to her work. I haven't read much more of it than this, but from what little I have read I'd say it's not unusual: sharp, dispassionate, dark, somewhat or more than somewhat bitter. As it happens I recently read several others in an anthology I re-discovered (of which more in another post). There's one relatively long one which is sort of a mock letter which seems to contain nothing but very mundane sentences from a letter, but which somehow ends up having an odd and powerful punch. I'm thinking I may order her Selected Poems.

She seems to have had her career mostly outside of the literary-academic world. You can read more about her here, at the Poetry Foundation (which is a great site), and at her Wikipedia page. I note with interest that there is a film based on her life in which Glenda Jackson plays her. That seems just about perfect. You can read several more of her poems at the Poetry Foundation page. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 27: Musée des Beaux Arts (W.H. Auden)


About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster: the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Auden is a poet whom I don't think I've ever gotten to know as well as I should. That's partly a result of having kept a little Modern Library Selected Poetry of W.H. Auden on my bedside table for a long time, thus reading it only when I was sleepy, thus neglecting or not grasping the longer or difficult poems. The selection was made by Auden himself in the late '50s, and includes 100 poems. His Collected runs over 900 pages and I don't know how much good work may be missing from the Selected. I've sometimes wondered why one of his most famous poems, "September 1, 1939", is not included in the latter, and found to my surprise that Auden had disavowed it and mostly refused to allow it to be reprinted. (See Wikipedia.)

Anyway, this is another of the Poems That Often Come To My Mind. Especially those last two lines. This is the picture that Auden is referring to.

1200px-Pieter_Bruegel_de_Oude_-_De_val_van_IcarusWeb Gallery of Art, The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 3675, Public Domain

The poem's Wikipedia page has information on two other paintings that may have suggested the images in the first part of the poem, which clearly don't refer to the Icarus painting.

 --Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 26: Adlestrop (Edward Thomas)


Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.


[Editor's note: it has been pointed out to me that if there is no intervening discussion between the poem and the byline at the end of these posts, it looks like at a glance like the person who contributed it wrote it. Not so.]

—Paul has been reading the blog since 2008, when Janet drew his attention to a discussion about Brideshead Revisited. He currently trains translators in Brussels.

52 Poems, Week 25: When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer (Walt Whitman)

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


I'm not all that much of a Whitman fan, but I've always liked this since I read it in high school--or was it even earlier? It may have been the first Whitman I encountered.

—Mac is the proprietor of this blog

52 Poems, Week 24: An Old Man's Winter Night (Robert Frost)


All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping here, he scared it once again
In clomping off—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and cracks of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned the moon—such as she was,
So late-arising—to the broken moon,
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.


Apart from being, as one of my grandchildren put it, "sort of old," and being very familiar with the phenomenon of walking into a room and being unable to remember why I went there, this is not a scene I've ever experienced. But this poem makes me feel that I have.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

52 Poems, Week 23: The Prophet (Alexander Pushkin)


(translated by Maurice Baring)

With fainting soul athirst for Grace,
I wandered in a desert place,
And at the crossing of the ways
I saw the sixfold Seraph blaze:
He touched mine eyes with fingers light
As sleep that cometh in the night:
And like a frighted eagle’s eyes,
They opened wide with prophecies.
He touched mine ears, and they were drowned
With tumult and a roaring sound:
I heard convulsion in the sky,
And flights of angel hosts on high,
And beasts that move beneath the sea
And the sap creeping in the tree.
And bending to my mouth he wrung
From out of it my sinful tongue,
And all its lies and idle rust,
And ‘twixt my lips a-perishing
A subtle serpent’s forked sting
With right hand wet with blood he thrust.
And with his sword my breast he cleft,
My quaking heart thereout he reft,
And in the yawning of my breast
A coal of living fire he pressed.
Then in the desert I lay dead,
And God called unto me and said:
“Arise, and let My voice be heard,
Charged with My Will go forth and span
The land and sea, and let My Word
Lay waste with fire the heart of man.”

In my effort to read the hundreds of books that have been moldering on my shelves for lo these many years, I am currently reading Have You Anything to Declare by Maurice Baring. Baring was a late 19th/early 20th century author and Catholic convert who wrote plays, novels, non-fiction, and poems. He was also, as you can see, a translator.

Being quite indolent, I looked around the internet to see if I could find Baring’s translation so that I wouldn’t have to type it. I had no luck, but I did find this YouTube video of a Russian reading the translation.

I wanted to compare it to another translation and here is one by A. Z. Foreman.


My spirit wracked with thirst for grace,
I wandered in a gloomy place
Till at a crossing of the ways
I saw a six-wing'd Seraph blaze.
With fingers light as dream at night
He brushed my eyes and they grew bright
Opening unto prophecies
Wild as a startled eagle's eyes.
He touched my ears, and noise and sound
Poured into me from all around:
I heard the shudders of the sky,
The sweep of angel hosts on high,
The creep of beasts below in the seas,
The seep of sap in valley trees.
And leaning to my lips he wrung
Thereout my sinful slithered tongue
Of guile and idle caviling;
And with his right hand bloodied wet
In through my wasting lips he set
A Serpent's wise and forkèd sting.
And with his sword he cleft my chest,
And reft my quaking heart out whole,
And thrust inside my sundered breast
A blazing shard of living coal.
There in the desert I lay dead
Until the voice from heaven said:
"Arise O Prophet! Work My will,
Thou that hast now perceived and heard.
On land and sea thy charge fulfill
And burn Man's heart with this My Word."

And here is another video with an actor reciting the poem in Russia. I found it rather good.

I don’t really have much to say about the poem, except that I wonder how the Soviets managed to suppress all this passion and fire for so long.


—Janet Cupo is a great-grandmother (and a great grandmother) on temporary (maybe) sabbatical from the workaday world.