Poet of the Month

June’s Poet: Robert Frost

Photographic Records 4-59-31 Robert Frost in 1892     This month’s poet is Robert Frost. Last month’s poetess was Louise Glück and while I liked a few of her poems (my favorite was her eight part poem on Moses “Day Without Night”) and really enjoyed reading her thoughts on  poetry  in her introductions, I found her difficult to dig into. There were many poems I just outright disliked (mocked orange comes to mind). In general I was never quite sure where she was going with it all. The poet Robert Hass has called her, “one of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing,” All I have to say to that is, I hope not. Ah, well,  I am being harsh. At least I know her name,  have an idea of her work and if someone mentions her in conversation, I won’t be completely lost. Perhaps I will come back to her in a few years with  a greater appreciation. I am, of course,  more familiar with Robert Frost and have always liked his poetry.  I needed a familiar poet to fall into after Glück.

Louise Glück

 

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The daffodils are in bloom. The tulips now droop. A new month is upon us. This month’s poet is Louise Glück. An American poet who has won all sorts of awards. I haven’t read her poetry yet. However, I do have a few of her books about the house- I have more books than shelves. Join me in another month of study.

 

The Triumph Of Achilles

In the story of Patroclus
no one survives, not even Achilles
who was nearly a god.
Patroclus resembled him; they wore
the same armor.

Always in these friendships
one serves the other, one is less than the other:
the hierarchy
is always apparant, though the legends
cannot be trusted–
their source is the survivor,
the one who has been abandoned.

What were the Greek ships on fire
compared to this loss?

In his tent, Achilles
grieved with his whole being
and the gods saw
he was a man already dead, a victim
of the part that loved,
the part that was mortal.

A Lenten Reflection

     When I was a little girl, I remember going to my mother telling her I was afraid to die. She tried to reassure me, “Don’t worry, God knows your heart.” But, of course, that was what I was afraid of.

O Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.
T.S. Eliot.

II. A Game of Chess

vintage birth controlI read The Waste Land the other day this struck me,

Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
  He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
  To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
  You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
  He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
  And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
  He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
  And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said.
  Oh is there, she said. Something o' that, I said.                       150
  Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
  HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
  If you don't like it you can get on with it, I said.
  Others can pick and choose if you can't.
  But if Albert makes off, it won't be for lack of telling.
  You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
  (And her only thirty-one.)
  I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
  It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
  (She's had five already, and nearly died of young George.)              160
  The chemist said it would be alright, but I've never been the same.
  You are a proper fool, I said.
  Well, if Albert won't leave you alone, there it is, I said,
  What you get married for if you don't want children?
  HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
  Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
  And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—
  HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
  HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME
  Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.                    170
  Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
  Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

April is the Cruelest Month

NPG x88526,Thomas Stearns ('T.S.') Eliot,by Ida Kar

T.S. Eliot is this month’s poet. Last month’s poet was Milosz and it was a great success that is,  I learned a great deal. I am more familiar with Eliot but just couldn’t resist dedicating the month of April to studying his works.  Where to begin? I suppose The Waste Land or The Four Quartets would be a good start.

Milosz, Precision and Storybooks.

Preface

First, plain speech in the mother tongue.
Hearing it, you should be able to see
Apple trees, a river, the bend of a road,
As if in a flash of summer lightning.

And it should contain more than images.
It has been lured by singsong,
A daydream, melody. Defenseless,
It was bypassed by the sharp, dry world.

You often ask yourself why you feel shame
Whenever you look through a book of poetry.
As if the author, for reasons unclear to you,
Addressed the worse side of your nature,
Pushing aside thought, cheating thought.

Seasoned with jokes, clowning, satire,
Poetry still knows how to please.
Then its excellence is much admired.
But the grave combats where life is at stake
Are fought in prose. It was not always so.

And our regret has remained unconfessed.
Novels and essays serve but will not last.
One clear stanza can take more weight
Than a whole wagon of elaborate prose.

Czeslaw Milosz
reading1
There is a lot going on within this poem-  I especially love the last stanza. The importance of precision seems to be a reoccurring theme of his and as a mother, who is preoccupied with diapers, children, laundry and storybooks, I began to relate this theme to Children’s Literature.
    Lack of precision irritates me and seems to be a problem in children’s story books. When I read to my children, some books just D-R-A-G on.  The reader shouldn’t be muttering to himself, “how much longer?”  A poem or story should move forward without being too wordy; Quick and crisp details carrying it forward. The reader should desire to read on.
I am guilty of abridging poorly written storybooks just to get it over with. When I find myself doing this, I look at the book and think, ‘why do I have this on my shelf?’ And if it doesn’t have excellent illustrations that stand on its own-out it goes.
At times, when I am pressed for time and don’t feel like reading a lengthy book, I get Beatrix Potter’s little tale, “The Story of the Fierce Bad Rabbit.” It’s very concise, minimalistic even and my children love it.
Another problem of children’s literature, which Tolkien touches on in some of his writings, is “sniggering” tones. But, of course, that’s another story entirely.

Toads and Ashes

Here’s a poem for you on this Ash Wed:

At A Certain Age

We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
White clouds refused to accept them, and the wind
Was too busy visiting sea after sea.
We did not succeed in interesting the animals.
Dogs, disappointed, expected an order,
A cat, as always immoral, was falling asleep.
A person seemingly very close
Did not care to hear of things long past.
Conversations with friends over vodka or coffee
Ought not be prolonged beyond the first sign of boredom.
It would be humiliating to pay by the hour
A man with a diploma, just for listening.
Churches. Perhaps churches. But to confess there what?
That we used to see ourselves as handsome and noble
Yet later in our place an ugly toad
Half-opens its thick eyelid
And one sees clearly: “That’s me.”

Czeslaw Milosz
toad
Some quick thoughts:
I love the movement of this poem: It begins with inner turmoil and quickly moves to the sky and wind. The sinner finding no rest in the clouds, turns to the land and its creatures. The description of the dog and cat brings the poem to earth in one quick sweep and invoke the domestic life. They are uninterested and disappointed. He moves to humanity. Friends are indifferent and how humiliating and sterile it would be to pay someone!
We have a turning point – Churches – Clouds, animals, friends, professionals – Churches.  The tone seems to shift a bit with the turning point. The examination of conscience begins. What is this unrest? “But to confess what?” The poet seems unsatisfied with what he knows he should confess. Pride. He thought himself noble but now he is no more than a  toad. His description is so perfect! Slit eyes -half open. The image of the toad brings to mind both land and sea, the mythical fairy tales and the factual, the scientific- both body and soul. The poem ends with knowledge of self- seeing oneself as is, and not what’s thought to be. And so, this Ash Wed, let us remember what we really are – Toads and Ashes.