Poetic Spotlight: I have found what you are like

E.E. Cummings, full-length portrait, facing le...

E.E. Cummings, full-length portrait, facing left, wearing hat and coat / World-Telegram photo by Walter Albertin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many dabblers of the pen, poetry is a thing of strict forms and concentrated effort—a literary form of limitation that presses the writer to bear his or her most beautiful words to light through the overcoming of that struggle. Many of these forms, in turn, have been given differentiating names over the centuries–your sonnets, triolets, cinquains, etc. etc. Yet for every poet that adheres to such formulaic ventures, there is another that seems to exist to break the forms, to go their own path on the road to literature. While both are valid methods, the two sides have infuriated one another plenty over their long years together.

Few have provided more exasperation from fellow poets and the community at large than e.e. cummings. Though the man had his forms–truly, many of his poems are sonnets in fact–he also dabbled in the realms of freeverse, though it was his design and craft of his works-at-large that set brows furrowing. Words bounced about, periods interrupting sentences, commas and parentheses oh my oh my…he knew how to make the mind work for his pieces, in methods we now refer to often enough as “avant-garde.” Unconventional is about the best summary–anything more or anything less wouldn’t quite do the poet justice. He was a modernist, and often ruminated on topics of nature and death in his work. He also had something of a knack for “controversial” subject matter.

Remembered today as one of the foremost voices of the 20th century, cummings wrote somewhere in the ballpark of 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays before his death in 1962.

Today, we examine “i have found what you are like,” a piece that certainly showcases a bit of cummings unique style…

i have found what you are like

i have found what you are like
the rain,

        (Who feathers frightened fields
with the superior dust-of-sleep. wields

easily the pale club of the wind
and swirled justly souls of flower strike

the air in utterable coolness

deeds of green thrilling light
                              with thinned

newfragile yellows

                  lurch and.press

-in the woods


And the coolness of your smile is
stirringofbirds between my arms;but
i should rather than anything
have(almost when hugeness will shut
               your kiss

~ee cummings

Poetic Spotlight: Address to a Haggis

Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert burns.jpg Re...

Portrait of Robert Burns, public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well it’s getting on in the morning toward lunch now, so being the generous sort that I am, I thought it only good and right that I offer to share a wee bit of my sheep guts with you. So pull up a chair, cease your salivating, and grab yourself a bowl of haggis.

What? Was it something I said? You look a little pale. What’s a little sheep guts between friends? No? Alright, well, I suppose it’s your loss. Nevertheless, if you want to walk around the blog this week, be sure you’re doing it in a kilt.

Our showcase in the world of poetry this time around is Robert Burns, one of Scotland’s brightest sons. A poet of the later 18th century, he was one of the great proponents of romanticism, an inspiration to both the liberalist and socialist movements, and a cultural icon for the Scots. In fact, he’s so renowned in Scotland his life is still celebrated with the “Burns suppers,” typically held on or near the fellow’s birthday–January 25. There are even “Burns clubs” and whole Scottish societies dedicated to the poetry of this literary great.

In honor of these dinners (and the poet), the poem we’re about to share together is one that’s pure Scot, right down to its title: “Address to a Haggis.” Part of the fun will be seeing if you can actually follow all the Scottish dialect he laced his poem with. For those unfamiliar, it’s a tongue that can throw a person about…

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they strech an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit!’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o ‘fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

~Robert Burns

Poetic Spotlight: Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, both here and at the dVerse Poetry Pub, I showcased the tragic case of poet Sara Teasdale, and shared a few words on some of the darker aspects that often walk hand-in-hand with the creative mind. Suicide, depression…these are very real, very painful and confusing aspects of the human experience that man has faced since we first stepped upon the soil. And the real fact of these things is that it is never just one person affected.

When Teasdale died, it was only two years after another poet’s life ended. This poet–this week’s spotlight–was a friend, and a would-be lover of Teasdale in earlier years. Vachel Lindsay, a performance artist once heralded as the “Prairie Troubadour,” was the more famous of the pair in his day–the father of modern “singing” poetry (a style of poetry in which verses are meant to be sung or chanted, and as such connected to the more popular beat and spoken-word styles), and an American staple associated with other, more well-remembered greats such as Yeats and Langston Hughes. Today, however, he has by-and-large slipped into obscurity.

Below, however, follows one of his works: “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.”

Like Teasdale, he was a victim of his own hand, committing suicide in the grips of a deep depression, in the wake of financial and health-related woes. He left a wife and two children behind when he did.

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

IT is portentous, and a thing of state

That here at midnight, in our little town

A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,

Near the old court-house pacing up and down,

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards

He lingers where his children used to play,

Or through the market, on the well-worn stones

He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,

A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl

Make him the quaint great figure that men love,

The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.

He is among us:—as in times before!

And we who toss and lie awake for long,

Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks of men and kings.

Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?

Too many peasants fight, they know not why;

Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.

He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.

He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now

The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn

Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free:

A league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,

Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that things must murder still,

That all his hours of travail here for men

Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace

That he may sleep upon his hill again?

~Vachel Lindsay

Poetic Spotlight: I Am Not Yours

English: Filsinger, Sara Teasdale, Mrs., portr...

Public Domain image of Sara Teasdale. Image itself care of Wikimedia Commons.

This week, the spotlight falls on one Sara Teasdale, a lyrical poet of the early 20th century.

Sara Teasdale is a fine example of a tribulation many poets, writers, and other creative sorts have faced throughout history: depression. Many that pursue the arts seem to fall into it, as they fall into all emotions–heavily, for it seems often enough, this is the trade-off they must face for being able to tap those emotions and draw their power into their words, their art.

As such, Teasdale was a lonely woman. She found herself gripped by that, and by the darkness of her depression–it ate at her, and shone through in her works as often as the topic of love and the heart. There was such an undercurrent of longing…it should come as no surprise things ended for her the way they did.

Though a master of language, her words apparently were not enough to reach the world, and Teasdale committed suicide in 1933 by overdose on sleeping pills, just two years after the suicide of another famous poet–and friend of hers–that shall form next week’s spotlight. She is immortalized today in St. Louis’s Walk of Fame.

But today’s poem of hers showcases the heart, the love, and yes, that longing…the quality in her works that makes her so very human.

I Am Not Yours
I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.
You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.
Oh plunge me deep in love — put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.
~Sara Teasdale

Poetic Spotlight: The Cobbler

Jean de La Fontaine

Some men are ground so readily in our own world they cannot hope to look beyond; some seem to scrape the boundaries of the imagination for all its worth. Jean de la Fontaine was one of the latter men, a poet of the 17th century and one of France’s most famed “fabulists.” A fabulist, by the by, is simply a writer of fables–one of those strange yet talented sorts capable of mixing the mythical, the animal, and morals into a succinct and often cautionary tale. It is, in many cases, folk literature at its finest.

While it is the Fables or the Contes–the former, more internationally; the latter, more nationally–that are oft-remembered today when Fontaine is summoned forth from the shelves, it hardly does the man justice to constrict his literary capabilities to these works. Many of the man’s poems, once widely read, have fallen by the wayside today, scarcely to be mentioned.

So this week, let’s say I’m working to bring you not only a poetic treat, but to restore a piece of history to its place. Hopefully it was a quality translation (not done by me, of course–French remains quite elusive to me).

The Cobbler

We’re told that once a cobbler, BLASE by name;
A wife had got, whose charms so high in fame;
But as it happened, that their cash was spent,
The honest couple to a neighbour went,
A corn-factor by trade, not overwise
To whom they stated facts without disguise;
And begged, with falt’ring voice denoting care,
That he, of wheat, would half a measure spare,
Upon their note, which readily he gave,
And all advantages desired to wave.
The time for payment came; the money used;
The cash our factor would not be refused;
Of writs he talked, attorneys, and distress;
The reason:–heav’n can tell, and you may guess;
In short, ’twas clear our gay gallant desired,
To cheer the wife, whose beauty all admired.
Said he, what anxiously I wish to get,
You’ve plenty stored, and never wanted yet;
You surely know my meaning?–Yes, she cried;
I’ll turn it in my mind, and we’ll decide
How best to act. Away she quickly flew,
And Blase informed, what Ninny had in view.
Zounds! said the cobbler, we must see, my dear,
To hook this little sum:–the way is clear;
No risk I’m confident; for prithee run
And tell him I’ve a journey just begun;
That he may hither come and have his will;
But ‘ere he touch thy lips, demand the bill;
He’ll not refuse the boon I’m very sure;
Meantime, myself I’ll hide and all secure.
The note obtained, cough loudly, strong, and clear;
Twice let it be, that I may plainly hear;
Then forth I’ll sally from my lurking place,
And, spite of folly’s frowns, prevent disgrace.
The, plot succeeded as the pair desired;
The cobbler laughed, and ALL his scheme admired:
A purse-proud cit thereon observed and swore;
‘Twere better to have coughed when all was o’er;
Then you, all three, would have enjoyed your wish,
And been in future all as mute as fish.
OH! sir, replied the cobbler’s wife at ease,
Do you suppose that use can hope to please,
And like your ladies full of sense appear?
(For two were seated with his wedded dear)
Perhaps my lady ‘d act as you describe,
But ev’ry one such prudence don’t imbibe…

~Jean de la Fontaine

Poetic Spotlight: A Poison Tree


The artist and poet William Blake, who lived i...

Portrait of William Blake. Public domain, image care of Wikimedia Commons.

Well, if you missed it at Pretzels and Bullfights Monday, today we’re nestling ourselves rather nicely under the literary boughs of the great William Blake.

Blake was an English poet, painter and playwright of one of the most recognized and explored poetic periods today: the Romantic Age. An engaging and expressive man by all accounts, since his death he has become recognized as one of England‘s most skilled poets.

Blake’s works are often notable for their thoughtful, if tricky, use of symbolism and allegory in addressing their respective themes and issues. The man himself is also notable in that, while like many of the day, he held a great reverence for the Bible and for his faith (it factored into many of his writings), Blake also held a certain vehemence toward the concept of the organized religion. In his day it was at best considered a shocking view. In addition, his paintings often dabbled in biblical and mythical themes, to unique and beautiful ends…

A Poison Tree:

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole.
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see,
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

~William Blake

Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clo...

"The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun," one of Blake's artistic beauties. Public domain, image care of wikimedia commons.

Poetic Spotlight: Kisses

Yes, I’m sure the the title has you wondering, but let me assure you there’s no reason for worry: I’m not handing out kisses for the crowd. Awkward moment: evaded. At least, it’s not my kisses I’m handing out, and probably not the sort you’re thinking of. Rather, this week, I’m marking the blogosphere with a delicate literary touch from one of the Netherlands’ finest: Johannes Secundus.

Secundus was a poet of the 16th century, one of many of the time that wrote his works in Latin rather than his own native tongue–a fact stemming from the reality that, in those days, “New Latin” was the language of all things scientific and scholarly. Though his work ran from elegies to epistles, his most prominent contribution to the literary is today known as the collection of Johannes’s kisses (Yes, you see how this is all tying in now, don’t you? Clever devils, you are…). The Kisses–19 poems in all–are all joined in that they explore various matters through the theme of the kiss itself. Fertility, death, healing…the poems run the gamut, just as the emotions they follow.

But I won’t be offering up all 19 today. That would probably be a slight bit of overkill. Rather, the spotlight’s swinging round to the translation of Kiss XII. It should give a fair taste of Secundus’s classic skill:

Kiss XII

Modest Matrons, Maidens, say,
Why thus turn your looks away?
Frolic feats of lawless love,
Of the lustful pow’rs above;
Forms obscene, that shock the sight,
In my verse I ne’er recite;
Verse! where nought indecent reigns;
Guiltless are my tender strains;
Such as pedagogues austere
Might with strict decorum hear,
Might, with no licentious speech,
To their youth reproachless teach.
I, chaste vot’ry of the Nine!
Kisses sing of chaste design:
Maids and Matrons yet, with rage,
Frown upon my blameless page;
Frown, because some wanton word
Here and there by chance occurr’d,
Or the cheated fancy caught
Some obscure, tho’ harmless thought
Hence, ye prudish Matrons! hence,
Squeamish Maids devoid of sense!
And shall these in virtue dare
With my virtuous maid compare?
She! who in the bard will prize
What she’ll in his lays despise;
Wantonness with love agrees,
But reserve in verse must please.

~Johannes Secundus

Poetic Spotlight: Fast rode the knight

Formal portrait of Stephen Crane, taken in Was...

Public Domain portrait of Stephen Crane; image itself via Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s poetic spotlight falls on an ode to the changing of an age, to the death of the dream-like chivalry to which man once clung, and the rise of the horror of grim reality. “Fast rode the knight” is a famous work by one Stephen Crane, an American novelist, short story writer, poet and (this journalist’s heart be still) journalist. He was a hallmark of the late 19th century, and one of the foremost examples of the rise of the realist tradition in literature. He is perhaps best known, however, for his novel, The Red Badge of Courage, which is still wide-read in classrooms today.

But then, this little poem has a special place in my heart. This particular work, capturing as it does so perfectly the death of romanticism, once inspired and spawned from a more modern inspiration/incarnation by my own hand titled “Beside the Trenches,” a poem revolving around another great waking moment in man’s history: WWI. But now, without further adieu, I give you Crane’s original:

“Fast rode the knight”

Fast rode the knight
With spurs, hot and reeking,
Ever waving an eager sword,
“To save my lady!”
Fast rode the knight,
And leaped from saddle to war.
Men of steel flickered and gleamed
Like riot of silver lights,
And the gold of the knight’s good banner
Still waved on a castle wall.
. . . . .
A horse,
Blowing, staggering, bloody thing,
Forgotten at foot of castle wall.
A horse
Dead at foot of castle wall.

~Stephen Crane

Poetic Spotlight: Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein, or “Uncle Shel” to any of the legions of children that grew up on his literary works, was another case of something I seem to produce rather often here: a writer of many outlets, and many talents. A poet, songwriter, musician, composer, cartoonist, screenwriter and, yes, a children’s book author, Shel was an artist that crafted to the tune of many songs, and captured the hearts of millions in his time.

He is, also, one of the more modern poets I’ve chosen to highlight here thus far, his life having ended as the turn of the century loomed.

Today I offer up a work of his that came to be dubbed a children’s classic in its own time. Published in 1974, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is a real beauty, a good introductory piece for children, but with a lot of messages for adults, a verbal journey between the two worlds…

“Where the Sidewalk Ends”

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

 ~Shel Silverstein

Poetic Spotlight: Several reactions of his heart…

Don Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas After a pa...

Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

Last week on this little poetic spotlight segment I offered up a healthy dose of Spanish cuisine, in the form of  Luis de Góngora, master of the aged Spanish poetic style of Culteranismo. This week, I find it only fitting to contrast Luis with his most bitter rival, in personage and in poetry: Francisco Gómez de Quevedo, proponent of the art of Conceptismo.

Quevedo was an intelligent man, but one possessed of a potentially vicious humor, and abrupt action. He was also–rather importantly to the understanding of the man–possessed of a number of physical handicaps that might have held back other men. It is not surprising, then, that the style he developed was often developed in an almost sardonic expression…a forward, witty realism to observing the world.

A part of the Baroque literary movement of the 16th and 17th centuries, Conceptismo was a poetic style that emphasized quick rhythms and simple, to the point turns of phrase. Though some might call it simple, its tones were possessed of a nevertheless playful sort of air, concise yet engaging, intricate yet easy to engage. Conciseness was key in this form, for all the wit that often comprised it, unlike its rival form.

What follows remains one of Quevedo’s more popular works…

Several reactions of his heart,
bobbing on the waves of Lisi’s hair

Within a curly storm of wavy gold
must swim great gulfs of pure and blazing light
my heart, for beauty eagerly athirst,
when your abundant tresses you unbind.

Just like Leander in a fire-tossed sea,
its love displays, extinguishes its life;
like Icarus, its golden path unsure,
its wings catch fire — in glorious flames it dies.

So very like the Phoenix, with its hopes
all burnt, whose expiration I lament,
it wants its death to make new lives from old.

So miserly and rich, in treasure poor,
in trials and hunger Midas imitates;
Tantalus in a fleeting fount of gold.

~Written by Francisco de Quevedo,
Translated by Professor Alix Ingber