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Thoughts on books I'm reading and occasionally poems or other writings

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This week I read Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind:


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O Thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill

(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)

With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;

Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!


Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,

Loose clouds like Earth's decaying leaves are shed,

Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread

On the blue surface of thine airy surge,

Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Mænad, even from the dim verge

Of the horizon to the zenith's height,

The locks of the approaching storm. Thou Dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night

Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,

Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere

Black rain and fire and hail will burst: O hear!


Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams

The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,

Lulled by the coil of his chrystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,

And saw in sleep old palaces and towers

Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers

So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou

For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below

The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear

The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,

And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!


If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free

Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even

I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,

As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed

Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.

Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed

One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:

What if my leaves are falling like its own!

The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,

Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,

My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,

Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth!

And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


It's hard to read this poem in the 21st century with a mind free of irony. I didn't love this poem. I was a little bored by Shelley's raptures. Section V stood out though. The idea of the wind playing on objects or people as if they are instruments is cliche now. Maybe it was old then, too. I don't know. But I enjoyed this development of that idea and Shelley's taking it beyond that to the point where the narrator implores the west wind to blow through his mouth, sending his words into the world. That's a different image.

The first four sections of the poem I have difficulty reading without wincing some. That may be because of the poets that came after Shelley (and Byron and Keats) who, following in their literary footsteps, went on rapturous flights over every damn thing they came across. Their legacy has come down to us in cartoons and other spoofs.

When I read in this poem about "bright hair uplifted from the head of some Maenad;" or night as "the dome of a vast sepulcher;" or, weirdly, "the sapless foliage of the ocean" that grow "gray with fear" and "tremble and despoil themselves" when the wind blows the waves above them, I can't help but think things like, did he really mean (see the last example) that the "ocean plants, crapped their pants"?

The thee's and thou's, the drama, the phrases or images or styles that have been overused sound silly now. To really appreciate the poetry of this time period I guess we have to try very hard to let go of all that's been written since then and also let go of the current mode of having an ironic twist to our thoughts every minute of the day.

Still, it could be that some of this poetry won't stand the test of time. Maybe it only spoke to the people of that time and a few decades after but not very far into the 20th century. New words and ways to order language began to emerge leaving these older words and ways behind.

There aren't a huge number of older texts that still get read often and most of what has been published or read or sung during the last century and this one will pass into oblivion long before the sun decays or the earth becomes lifeless for other reasons. One of the interesting things about reading the works of writers long dead though is that it lets you look into the past and try to put yourself there and feel what was being felt at the time by the writer. That's a good exercise even if you don't love what you're reading.

This week I read Il Penseroso by John Milton. The following text is copied from Project Gutenberg's The Poetical Works of John Milton. I read it in Understanding Poetry, by Cleanth Brooks, Jr. and Robert Penn Warren, in which the spelling was updated (i.e.: "joyes" to "joys"; "bright-hair'd" to "bright-haired").

The antique language and, to my ear, convoluted grammar makes this poem tough for a 20th/21st century reader. A standard dictionary is some help with the references to various ancient gods, goddesses, persons and ideas (Philomel - nightingale; Cynthia - Artemis, moon) but not always (Camball, Algarsife, Canace). Milton is a bit of a name dropper.

The title was not that helpful to me since my knowledge of the Romance languages is weak. Does it mean "the thinker"? The poem is a tour of Night from twilight to dawn using allusions to ancient ideas. The poem's speaker may be the thinker or maybe the title means something else. I haven't yet tried to find out more than I could by using a dictionary. I wanted to see how much I could understand using just that tool and what's already available in my head. When I did a quick online search, I found sites with studies of this poem and other works by Milton. Here's one that I may look at after I have read this a couple more times. One problem with the Internet is that it makes something like reading such a poem just another series of mouse clicks for those with already shortened attention spans (I include myself in that group), reading work that others have already done. I'd like to make this poem feel more personal. I think it will be worthwhile.

One thing I did learn from a quick scan of the site noted above is that this is one of a pair of poems, the other titled L'Allegro. That is helpful. I don't have that in any books here, but of course Project Gutenberg has it so I can read it also. This is my first time reading Milton. I figured I'd sometimes use Poetry Sunday to read those poets I've always been fearful of reading. Milton is one, Dante is another.


Hence vain deluding joyes,

The brood of folly without father bred,

How little you bested,

Or fill the fixed mind with all your toyes;

Dwell in som idle brain

And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,

As thick and numberless

As the gay motes that people the Sun Beams,

Or likest hovering dreams

The fickle Pensioners of Morpheus train. 10

But hail thou Goddess, sage and holy,

Hail divinest Melancholy

Whose Saintly visage is too bright

To hit the Sense of human sight;

And therefore to our weaker view,

Ore laid with black staid Wisdoms hue.

Black, but such as in esteem,

Prince Memnons sister might beseem,

Or that Starr'd Ethiope Queen that strove

To set her beauties praise above 20

The Sea Nymphs, and their powers offended.

Yet thou art higher far descended,

Thee bright-hair'd Vesta long of yore,

To solitary Saturn bore;

His daughter she (in Saturns raign,

Such mixture was not held a stain)

Oft in glimmering Bowres, and glades

He met her, and in secret shades

Of woody Ida's inmost grove,

While yet there was no fear of Jove. 30

Com pensive Nun, devout and pure,

Sober, stedfast, and demure,

All in a robe of darkest grain,

Flowing with majestick train,

And sable stole of Cipres Lawn,

Over thy decent shoulders drawn.

Com, but keep thy wonted state,

With eev'n step, and musing gate,

And looks commercing with the skies,

Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes: 40

There held in holy passion still,

Forget thy self to Marble, till

With a sad Leaden downward cast,

Thou fix them on the earth as fast.

And joyn with thee calm Peace, and Quiet,

Spare Fast, that oft with gods doth diet,

And hears the Muses in a ring,

Ay round about Joves Altar sing.

And adde to these retired Leasure,

That in trim Gardens takes his pleasure; 50

But first, and chiefest, with thee bring,

Him that yon soars on golden wing,

Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,

The Cherub Contemplation,

And the mute Silence hist along,

'Less Philomel will daign a Song,

In her sweetest, saddest plight,

Smoothing the rugged brow of night,

While Cynthia checks her Dragon yoke,

Gently o're th'accustom'd Oke; 60

Sweet Bird that shunn'st the noise of folly

Most musical!, most melancholy!

Thee Chauntress oft the Woods among

I woo to hear thy eeven-Song;

And missing thee, I walk unseen

On the dry smooth-shaven Green,

To behold the wandring Moon,

Riding neer her highest noon,

Like one that had bin led astray

Through the Heav'ns wide pathles way; 70

And oft, as if her head she bow'd,

Stooping through a fleecy cloud.

Oft on a Plat of rising ground,

I hear the far-off Curfeu sound,

Over som wide-water'd shoar,

Swinging slow with sullen roar;

Or if the Ayr will not permit,

Som still removed place will fit,

Where glowing Embers through the room

Teach light to counterfeit a gloom 80

Far from all resort of mirth,

Save the Cricket on the hearth,

Or the Belmans drowsie charm,

To bless the dores from nightly harm:

Or let my Lamp at midnight hour,

Be seen in som high lonely Towr,

Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,

With thrice great Hermes, or unsphear

The spirit of Plato to unfold

What Worlds, or what vast Regions hold 90

The immortal mind that hath forsook

Her mansion in this fleshly nook:

And of those Daemons that are found

In fire, air, flood, or under ground,

Whose power hath a true consent

With planet or with Element.

Som time let Gorgeous Tragedy

In Scepter'd Pall com sweeping by,

Presenting Thebs, or Pelops line,

Or the tale of Troy divine. 100

Or what (though rare) of later age,

Ennobled hath the Buskind stage.

But, O sad Virgin, that thy power

Might raise Musaeus from his bower,

Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing

Such notes as warbled to the string,

Drew Iron tears down Pluto's cheek,

And made Hell grant what Love did seek.

Or call up him that left half told

The story of Cambuscan bold, 110

Of Camball, and of Algarsife,

And who had Canace to wife,

That own'd the vertuous Ring and Glass,

And of the wondrous Hors of Brass,

On which the Tartar King did ride;

And if ought els, great Bards beside,

In sage and solemn tunes have sung,

Of Turneys and of Trophies hung;

Of Forests, and inchantments drear,

Where more is meant then meets the ear. 120

Thus night oft see me in thy pale career,

Till civil-suited Morn appeer,

Not trickt and frounc't as she was wont,

With the Attick Boy to hunt,

But Cherchef't in a comly Cloud,

While rocking Winds are Piping loud,

Or usher'd with a shower still,

When the gust hath blown his fill,

Ending on the russling Leaves,

With minute drops from off the Eaves. 130

And when the Sun begins to fling

His flaring beams, me Goddes bring

To arched walks of twilight groves,

And shadows brown that Sylvan loves

Of Pine, or monumental Oake,

Where the rude Ax with heaved stroke,

Was never heard the Nymphs to daunt,

Or fright them from their hallow'd haunt.

There in close covert by som Brook,

Where no profaner eye may look, 140

Hide me from Day's garish eie,

While the Bee with Honied thie,

That at her flowry work doth sing,

And the Waters murmuring

With such consort as they keep,

Entice the dewy-feather'd Sleep;

And let som strange mysterious dream,

Wave at his Wings in Airy stream,

Of lively portrature display'd,

Softly on my eye-lids laid. 150

And as I wake, sweet musick breath

Above, about, or underneath,

Sent by som spirit to mortals good,

Or th'unseen Genius of the Wood.

But let my due feet never fail,

To walk the studious Cloysters pale,

And love the high embowed Roof

With antick Pillars massy proof,

And storied Windows richly dight,

Casting a dimm religious light. 160

There let the pealing Organ blow,

To the full voic'd Quire below,

In Service high, and Anthems cleer,

As may with sweetnes, through mine ear,

Dissolve me into extasies,

And bring all Heav'n before mine eyes.

And may at last my weary age

Find out the peacefull hermitage,

The Hairy Gown and Mossy Cell,

Where I may sit and rightly spell 170

Of every Star that Heav'n doth shew,

And every Herb that sips the dew;

Till old experience do attain

To somthing like prophetic strain.

These pleasures Melancholy give,

And I with thee will choose to live.


Updated, same day:

Okay, I've tried to understand this first section:

Hence vain deluding joyes,

The brood of folly without father bred,

How little you bested,

Or fill the fixed mind with all your toyes;

Dwell in som idle brain

And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,

As thick and numberless

As the gay motes that people the Sun Beams,

Or likest hovering dreams

The fickle Pensioners of Morpheus train.

My interpretation is of the ideas and isn't poetic:

Go away, happy thoughts.

You're nothing but foolish.

You're hardly better than nothing.

You're toys for those not able to really think.

Go to someone who doesn't think much,

Who'll love your many foolish "incarnations,"

Much like dreams, that will fade.


Later still, same day:

The rest of the poem is an ode to Melancholy sometimes using aspects of night as metaphor. A cult of melancholy was a feature of arts and letters beginning in the 17th century.

I read through this several times today. It is dense with imagery and allusions and to really make it be something I know well, I'll need to read it more times and also read the other poem mentioned above. I'm going to try to do that this week and hopefully add more information here as I do.

Also, I've been trying to insert an image of Albrecht Durer's Melencolia but haven't been successful. Here's a link to it if you'd like to see it.

Poetry Sundays

By AllBlue,

A few weeks ago I decided to read poetry on Sunday mornings. I'm trying to get to the library each week to pick a poet or poets whose work I've never read before or maybe read a long time ago. A couple of weeks ago I came across Billy Collins. He wrote a couple of poems about artists. Here's an excerpt from one about Goya:

from Candle Hat


But once you see this hat there is no need to read

any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him

lighting the candles one by one, then placing

the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,

then laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house

with all the shadows flying across the walls.


Francisco Goya, self-portrait with candle hat


Here's an excerpt from a poem about John Constable:

from Student of Clouds

The emotion is to be found in the clouds,

not in the green solids of the sloping hills

or even in the gray signatures of rivers,

according to Constable, who was a student of clouds

and filled shelves of sketchbooks with their motion,

their lofty gesturing and sudden implication of weather.


John Constable, Weymouth Bay


Another poem by Mr. Collins, Walking Across the Atlantic,ends with the stanza:

But for now I try to imagine what

this must look like to the fish below,

the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.


I don't want to interpret or evaluate these at this point. I just wanted to mention the poet who seems worth reading.

da fire wanted me to go on. Let me just say, it's slow going.

The following is a quote from a passage that made me just a little mad, and by that I mean a combination of angry and crazy:

The next step in the analysis of the notion of a material thing is to show how these separate groups of visual and tactual sense-contents are correlated. And this may be effected by saying that any two of one's visual and tactual groups belong to the same material thing when every element of the visual group which is of minimal visual depth forms part of the same sense-experience as an element of the tactual group which is of minimal tactual depth. We cannot here define visual or tactual depth otherwise than ostensively. The depth of a visual or tactual sense-content is as much a sensible property of it as its length or breadth. But we may describe it by saying that one visual or tactual sense-content has a greater depth than another when it is farther from the observer's body, provided that we make it clear that this is not intended to be a definition. For it would clearly vitiate any "reduction" of material things to sense-contents if the defining sentences contained references to human bodies, which are themselves material things. We, however, are obliged to mention material things when we wish to describe certain sense-contents because the poverty of our language is such that we have no other verbal means of explaining what their properties are.

Here are a couple of notes I made in the margins:

- Maybe Ayer is not saying we've been using language incorrectly since its inception, like I thought he was. Rather, he's just trying to explain how it works. But so far his explanations haven't cleared anything up for me.

- It is true that people miscommunicate with each other on a regular basis, but how does Ayer's analysis help with that problem? I don't see how renaming ideas "sense-contents" clarifies anything.

- I disagree with his sentence with the clause, "because the poverty of our language is such that we have no other verbal means of explaining what their properties are."

Am I totally missing Ayer's point? I wouldn't be surprised in the least. As I read the pages of this book it's as though I am peering at the words through a spiderweb that I can't brush away. I'll be thrilled to begin to feel as though this makes more sense than it currently does to me.

And The Heretic said this was the shallow end of the pool. Apparently I need to be actually out of the pool, standing in a small puddle. ;-)

I won’t be going through the entire work trying to summarize it all. Nothing that all-encompassing. I’m just going to quote some passages I found interesting, sometimes commenting on them, sometimes not. I’ll also include questions that the text brought to mind that maybe some people will have ideas about. I’m hoping to get a good grasp of what Ayer was saying. I’ll appreciate any help anyone can provide.

Chapter titles in this book:

  • Ch. I. The Elimination of Metaphysics
  • Ch. II. The Function of Philosophy
  • Ch. III. The Nature of Philosophical Analysis
  • Ch. IV. The A Priori
  • Ch. V. Truth and Probability
  • Ch. VI. Critique of Ethics and Theology
  • Ch. VII. The Self and the Common World
  • Ch. VIII. Solutions of Outstanding Philosophical Disputes


A quote from Ch. I, pg. 37:

It seems to me that if we adopt conclusive verifiability as our criterion of significance, as some positivists have proposed, our argument will prove too much. Consider, for example, the case of general propositions of law–such propositions, namely, as “arsenic is poisonous”; “all men are mortal”; “a body tends to expand when heated.” It is of the very nature of these propositions that their truth cannot be established with certainty by any finite series of observations.

This didn’t seem correct at first. I was thinking that you can test the effects of arsenic and verify that it is poisonous. The same is true with the expansion of a body when heated. Then I thought about the middle statement, “all men are mortal.” You can’t really verify this.There could be a long term study done using a random group of people. If they all die at some point, then the statistical probability that all people die is high, but it doesn't prove that all people will die.

After getting to this point, I thought again about the other two statements. Arsenic is poisonous to some organisms but no doubt it is not always poisonous to all organisms in all situations, and any study that could be done could not cover all organisms or all situations, so you can only make a tentative, statistically-based claim. The same is true of the third statement since possibly not all bodies expand when heated and you could only say that this is always true if you tested all bodies, an impossible task.

So I thought it through and made it to Ayer's position.

When I write about poetry in this blog, it’s usually about standard poems that end up in books, not about pop songs. That’s not really because of any snobbery on my part. I think there are some very well-written songs out there. I just hadn’t thought of it before today.

So here are a few paragraphs about, a song that came out in 1967. I've linked to a live performance (at least she's singing it live - I think the music is canned) from The Smothers Brothers Show.

I’ve always like this song. It’s a snapshot of life in the American South with a mystery thrown in. The tune is hypnotic and the place names sound exotic to my northern ear.

Bobby Gentry was pretty good at listening to the way people talk and reproducing conversation in rhyme that sounds realistic. I highlighted in red the lines I think exemplify this.

The whole piece hangs together in feeling, the music creating a langorous mood that the words mirror. The first few lines and notes land us in a summer afternoon with the kids just knocking off from what sounds likes strenuous work and not running (too hot, no doubt) but walking back to a heavy Southern meal that includes blackeyed peas and biscuits and apple pie for dessert.

There isn’t anything sappy or hokey in this poem/song/short story. Bobby Gentry has more in common here with Flannery O’Connor than with Jeannie C. Riley.

Because Billie Joe’s suicide wasn’t explained, nor what was thrown off the bridge, people wanted to know what “really” happened. From Wikipedia, here’s what Bobby had to say about this song:

Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of peoples' reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown when both women experience a common loss (first Billie Joe, and later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief.

Pretty bleak assessment. But I hadn’t thought about that and it adds another dimension to this ode.

Ode to Billie Joe

Bobby Gentry

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day

I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay

And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat

And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet"

And then she said "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge"

"Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas

"Well, Billie Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"

"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"

And Mama said it was shame about Billie Joe, anyhow

Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge

And now Billie Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe

Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show

And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?

"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right"

"I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge"

"And now you tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?"

"I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite"

"That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today"

"Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way"

"He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge"

"And she and Billie Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billie Joe

And Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo

There was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring

And now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything

And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge

And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

In Ch. 17, Passing the Torch, from John R. Hale's Lords of the Sea, discussing the years 397 to 371 B.C.E., Chabrias and Timotheus caught my interest. I hope to find more information on them. A couple of quotes:

Chabrias, the son of an affluent Athenian trierarch and horse breeder, took an interest in the technical side of naval operations. He invented new foul-weather fittings that improved his triremes' performance on rough seas, including extra steering oars and an extension of thick screens that completely enclosed the rowing frames. To train inexperienced oarsmen, Chabrias built wooden rowing frames on shore where beginners could learn technique and timing before they went on board ship.

His fellow citizens saw in Timotheus a small and unprepossessing fellow who could not exhibit the strong physique expected of a war hero. But his lack of brawn was offset by an excess of intelligence, energy, and honor.

Timotheus' unmatched record of bringing twenty-four cities over to the Athenian alliance with apparently little trouble made him the good humored target of the world's first known political cartoon. The anonymous artist depicted Timotheus as a fisherman dozing beside his lobster pot, as city after city crawled up to the trap and fell in. Above the scene floated the goddess Tyche ("Fortune"). She was directing the procession of lobsters while Timotheus enjoyed his nap.

The writing in this book is very engaging. I wondered when I chose it if it would sustain my interest and it has. There's a lengthy section on the author's sources, so I should be able to find more on these two very interesting generals, I think.

This is a sad song and is sung to a melancholy melody. It's been done countless times and there is even a CD with different versions of it that I'd like to get. I first heard an Irish version of it, maybe done by Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers, many years ago. I memorized it then and would sing it at the top of my lungs while driving.

Here's a great version by Doc Watson. [This version is gone from youtube and I haven't found one near as good. When I do I'll put the link here again.]

but still the great Doc singing and playing it.] I listened to this today while watching the wind toss the branches of the trees against a cloudy sky.


As I was a-walking down by St. James' Hospital,

I was a-walking down by there one day,

What should I spy but one of my comrades

All wrapped up in flannel though warm was the day.

I asked him what ailed him, I asked him what failed him,

I asked him the cause of all his complaint.

"It's all on account of some handsome young woman,

'Tis she that has caused me to weep and lament.

"And had she but told me before she disordered me,

Had she but told me of it in time,

I might have got pills and salts of white mercury,

But now I'm cut down in the height of my prime.

"Get six young soldiers to carry my coffin,

Six young girls to sing me a song,

And each of them carry a bunch of green laurel

So they don't smell me as they bear me along.

"Don't muffle your drums and play your fifes merrily,

Play a quick march as you carry me along,

And fire your bright muskets all over my coffin,

Saying: There goes an unfortunate lad to his home."


By AllBlue,

There is a stack of books on my kitchen table that just keeps growing and I can't seem to finish reading a single one. They're an interesting group, poetry, fiction and non, contemporary and ancient. They have seductive covers in colors that for an unknown reason tend almost overwhelmingly to red or reddish orange and black.

The titles are seductive too: Book of Longing; The Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks; The Golden Ass; Shop Class as Soulcraft; Metomorphoses; Athenian Red Figure Vases; The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass; Lords of the Sea; History of the Peloponnesian War; The Omnivore's Dilemma.

I need to pick one. There are reasons for each. A couple of them are due back at the library soon; another I'm already more than halfway through and it's been very interesting so I should just finish it; etc... Reasons, but apparently not true motivation.

The Prediction

By AllBlue,

The Prediction - Mark Strand

That night the moon drifted over the pond,

turning the water to milk, and under

the boughs of the trees, the blue trees,

a young woman walked, and for an instant

the future came to her:

rain falling on her husband's grave, rain falling

on the lawns of her children, her own mouth

filling with cold air, strangers moving into her house,

a man in her room writing a poem, the moon drifting into it,

a woman strolling under its trees, thinking of death,

thinking of him thinking of her, and the wind rising

and taking the moon and leaving the paper dark.


This melancholic poem, rich in imagery, attracts me. It pulls me into its breathless scene which has the tense quiet of a Bergman film.

There is a whisper of the rhythm of a Patti Smith poem for me or somehow her presence. She is the young woman, but I see her young and old in my mind and both incarnations fit.

I think also of the long scene in To the Lighthouse when time passes and the house slowly falls to ruin.

I Must Go Down to the Sea - John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.


I came across this poem today and it occurred to me that I'd like to have this read at my wake. Remember the Star Trek: TNG episode where Capt. Picard is suddenly immersed in the life of a family of a long-gone civilization on another planet? This is a poem which can do that briefly, albeit on a small scale. It has the feel of being a plein air poem, perhaps partially written on the spot, denoting the human experience of exhilaration. The last line makes it a bit funereal which is why it would be especially well-suited to a wake reading.

Boundaries and Intersections

One thing pierces another:

something is taken away,

or given;

something invades,

and is then invaded.

Or a stable thing shifts,

and creates destruction.

This theory that All is One,

that boundaries are illusory,

intersections, imaginary,

that I don't end where you begin --

how does that square

with the bullet

that scrambles the brain

in my skull

as it passes through?

Short poem

By AllBlue,

January 9, 2008

Hear the year begin

with a harsh and damaging wind,

a dangerous dark groan.

History is wrenched

from its towering edifice

to splinter in the gale.


Every so often I write poetry. I'm not able to do it with regularity. When I try to, the poems seem to increase in mediocrity and I leave off. Usually something I read or see gets me started but then I am unable to sustain the energy involved.

I wrote the above after reading He Held Radical Light that I found in a book I came across titled "The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry" that has the work of 65 poets from the 20th century. Each poem I've read from this book so far has been subtle and interesting. Poets like Howard Nemerov, Richard Wilber, Anne Sexton, Donald Justice.

What makes for a compelling poem is the poet's ability to take an idea and connect it with something unexpected so it can be seen as an idea, maybe for the first time. That is our best feature I think. We make connections that other animals and our computing machines can't do, at least so far.


Howard Nemerov

Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle

That while you watched turned into pieces of snow

Riding a gradient invisible

From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn't tell.

And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

A.R. Ammons

He Held Radical Light

He held radical light

as music in his skull: music

turned, as

over ridges immanences of evening light

rise, turned

back over the furrows of his brain

into the dark, shuddered,

shot out again

in long swaying swirls of sound:

reality had little weight in his transcendence so he

had trouble keeping

his feet on the ground, was

terrified by that

and liked himself, and others, mostly

under roofs:

nevertheless, when the

light churned and changed

his head to music, nothing could keep him

off the mountains, his

head back, mouth working,

wrestling to say, to cut loose

from the high, unimaginable hook:

released, hidden from stars, he ate,

burped, said he was like any one

of us: demanded he

was like any one of us.


The dark side of brilliance.

A small yet complex segment of the universe, my backyard. I tried to find something simple to draw this evening. I took a leaf from a columbine plant. The leaf, though small and entirely green, was so complex that all I could draw was the outline and a few veins. It seemed that I was peering at something massive from a very long way away. I read a quote from Isaac Asimov last week the substance of which was that no matter how closely you've looked at something, the amount still left to be seen is as great as when you began your investigation.

The sun had sent out tendrils that briefly wrapped around various objects, reddening the leaves in a crabapple tree, gilding the dying pepper plant in a pot on the tree stump, pointing out the intricacy around me. Then the earth, continuing its roll around the galaxy, rolled me out of the sun's path, and here I am trying to hold within that feeling of the immensity without.

Yesterday, I picked up a book of all the poems of Elizabeth Bishop. This is one I read today for the first time. It seems appropriate for TGL, talking about arguements with time and distance.


Days that cannot bring you near

or will not,

Distance trying to appear

something more obstinate,

argue argue argue with me


neither proving you less wanted nor less dear.

Distance: Remember all that land

beneath the plane;

that coastline

of dim beaches deep in sand

stretching indistinguishably

all the way,

all the way to where my reasons end?

Days: And think

of all those cluttered instruments,

one to a fact,

canceling each other's experience;

how they were

like some hideous calendar

"Compliments of Never & Forever, Inc."

The intimidating sound

of these voices

we must separately find

can and shall be vanquished:

Days and Distance disarrayed again

and gone...

Croesus asked Solon if he thought him (Croesus) a happy man, arrayed as he was in his kingly best. According to Plutarch, as quoted in The Life of Greece, here's Solon's reply:

The gods, O King, have given the Greeks all other gifts in moderate degree; and so our wisdom, too, is a cheerful and a homely, not a noble and kingly, wisdom; and this, observing the numerous misfortunes that attend all conditions, forbids us to grow insolent upon present enjoyment, or to admire any man's happiness that may yet, in course of time, suffer change. For the uncertain future has yet to come, with every possible variety of fortune; and him only to whom the divinity has continued happiness unto the end do we call happy; to salute as happy one that is still in the midst of life and hazard we think as little safe and conclusive as to crown and proclaim as victorious the wrestler that is as yet in the ring.

The above reminded me of Shelley:


I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Philosophy Talk is a radio show out of San Francisco that is hosted by two philosophy professors from Stanford. They did a show this past year on Hannah Arendt. Michael is doing the thread on his reading of Between Past and Future so I thought this might be a helpful adjunct. The Philosophy Talk page on the Arendt show has a list of resources and books.

Iliad by Homer

Stanley Lombardo translation

In Book V a battle is joined between the Trojans and the Greeks and there is a good dose of blood and gore. There are often complaints that tv shows and movies are too violent these days. Recitation of the Iliad would have been a somewhat comparable form of entertainment back then, and the graphic descriptions of gory injuries and deaths seem to fit right in with our modern desire to see these kinds of things portrayed. Some of the descriptions of deaths are repetitious which could be because the Iliad comes from the oral tradition and tricks would have been employed to aid the poet

Two poems

By AllBlue,

These are two poems I wrote maybe a year or so ago. I don't think I ever posted them on TGL before. (If I did, sorry!) I was thinking about elemental things with these and a few other poems I wrote at that time. Desire is pretty self explanatory. Explain The Sound was my effort to think about how sound affects thoughts and emotions.


Have just this.

Just one.


Book II

Section 16

Marcus: The soul of a man does violence to itself, first and foremost when it becomes so far as in it lies, a separate growth, a blain as it were upon the Universe. For to turn against anything that comes to pass is a separation from Nature, by which the natures of each of the rest are severally comprehended. Secondly, when it turns away from any human being or is swept counter to him, meaning to injure him, as is the case with the natures of those who are enraged. It violates itself, thirdly, when it is the victim of pleasure or pain; fourthly, when it acts a part, and says or does anything both feignedly and falsely. Fifthly, when, failing to direct any act or impulse of its own upon a mark, it behaves in any matter without a plan or conscious purpose, whereas even the smallest act ought to have a reference to the end. Now the the end of reasonable creatures is this: to obey the rule and ordinance of the most venerable of all cities and governments.

Me: A person does herself injury when, firstly, she strives against or abhors anything that's happened. This goes against nature and will incur the pain of separation from reality. Secondly, by being always angry at others, blaming them and wanting to hurt them, she will cause herself pain. A person who, thirdly, allows either pain or pleasure to overcome her and, fourthly, says or does to others what she doesn't believe in or knows to be false, does herself and injury. Fifthly, she hurts herself when she behaves carelessly or impulsively and doesn't adhere to goals. She should always keep to her plan. Finally, a reasonable person will follow her area's customs and the government's laws.

See also this entry.

Book II

Section 15

Marcus: 'Everything is what you judge it to be.' While the retort made to the Cynic philosopher Monimus is plain enough, plain too is the use of the saying, if one only take the gist of it, so far as it is true.

Me: We operate on the idea that what's true for us is true. It's the only way we can behave. But doing this may not serve us well if the way we see things is not how they really are.

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