Tag Archives: poetry.

Auden’s “Refugee Blues”

A powerful poem, written in 1939, about the plight of European Jews.

REFUGEE BLUES

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Really lovely – and yes, late for Easter – by John Updike.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

W.S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin died about a month ago – I was late to discover his work. Maybe five years ago I picked up a collection of his in a second-hand bookstore and have been hooked since. Here is a favourite:

The Wonder of the Imperfect

Nothing that I do is finished
so I keep returning to it
lured by the notion that I long
to see the whole of it at last
completed and estranged from me

but no the unfinished is what
I return to as it leads me on
I am made whole by what has just
escaped me as it always does
I am made of incompleteness
the words are not there in words

oh gossamer gossamer breath
moment daylight life untouchable
by no name with no beginning

what do we think we recognize

Do yourselves a favour and read more of his poems.

National Poetry Day

So today is National Poetry Day. Last year I posted a poem I wrote for more or less the same occasion – you can read it here. And for today I am posting this – inspired by a conversation Significant Other and I had during our recent trip to Italy. Are we not deep? Shall I send it to the New Yorker?

Ode to the Banana

You truly are the King of Fruit and so inspired

Your merry yellow countenance is nature’s perfect wrapping, no polluting-our-seas plastic required

I carry you without a Kleenex and my fingers don’t feel sticky and icky

Like when I hold grapes

And when I carry you about, I feel very much at one with our cousin apes.

 

When peeled you still aren’t a sticky and icky kind of loot

At least as much as, say, your brothers in fruitdom, the orange, the apple and the grapefruit

Your potassium picks me up after illness and your sugar picks me up when I’m lackadaisical

You are inexpensive too

And ubiquitous, available in France and probably Timbuktu and Kalamazoo.

 

Oh, they say you are gross when you get all mushy

With black spots and inconsistency and feeling all squishy

But you can be the proud foundation of a smoothie

Or better yet, the reason to make that comfort food known as banana bread

From a recipe used to often I no longer need to read it, it is stuck in my head.

 

Oh, they say people slip and fall on you – is this what Sir Joseph Paxton wanted?

Your peels discarded on sidewalks, streets and paths leave some daunted

But if it wasn’t beneath Ethel Merman, Buster Keaton and Woody Allen

Then why treat it as some sort of evil plan

Better yet, you lazy souls, take those peels and put them in a garbage can.

 

Oh, they besmirch your name: Cavendish, Chiquita (top banana in the world today!) or Dole

By using it as a synonym for crazy, nutty and out-of-control

When their own names would better do the trick

How about the name of an actual nut to replace such words?

For “macadamia” and “pistachio” are two of the craziest-sounding words I have ever heard.

 

Cherries have pits, so much effort required to eat them

To open a durian you need a team of engineers on standby, and peaches have fur, biting into them

the gourmet equivalent of nails down a blackboard

You are also easy to draw. What is your flaw? Your only one as far as I can see

Is that you hide the deadly black tarantula, as sang Harry Belafonte.

 

But even scary, hairy spiders need a place to sleep

And dear banana, you give them that, a place to sleep deeply

And you give us B6, C, folate, manganese, on top of the aforementioned

So please dear banana, take a bow

And I mean right now.

I Shall But Love Thee Better After Death

And when thou hast learned to spell my name correctly! This is a photograph I took in Florence, Italy, recently, and it is an “Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived here” plaque, with some poetic writing about her-heart-of-a-woman, et cetera. That said, it spells her second name incorrectly – without a double T. Doppia T, Italians!

What I love about it, as a student of the Italian language, is the use of the passato remoto and the imperfect. I took a translation course in Italy in February and it was really hard to get the hang of when to use those two together.
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Mary Oliver

She passed away – loved so many of her poems, especially this one:

I Worried
by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.  And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Beryl O’Links

Or, barrel o’ links. (Beryl O’Links is an Irish lass, she is!)

As we wind down 2018, a few links of interest: the death of Georges Loinger, may his memory be a blessing; trove of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems found; kitties domesticated themselves; and, Hijab in the House, by the brilliant Bruce Bawer. In regards this last story, I mentioned to one of my sisters this summer that I was concerned about the anti-Semitism of some of the rising young “stars” of the Democratic Party, and she insisted that anyone openly espousing contempt for Jews would never be elected. I was like, yeah, we’ll see. Cough.

“Villanelle” for Vera Brittain

Beautiful poem written by Roland Leighton for Vera Brittain. It was April 1915 and he was serving in France. He was killed by a sniper eight months later. (I dearly wish I had some of my uncle’s poems to his fiancee, Christine, but any letters she received, of course, stayed with her. If she kept them, perhaps her children have them – I have a hope one of her kids will see my other site and contact me, but it is possible she may never have told them about Norman.)

Violets from Plug Street Wood,
Sweet, I send you oversea.
(It is strange they should be blue,
Blue, when his soaked blood was red,
For they grew around his head:
It is strange they should be blue.)

Think what they have meant to me –
Life and hope and Love and You
(and you did not see them grow
Where his mangled body lay
Hiding horrors from the day;
Sweetest, it was better so.)

Violets from oversea,
To your dear, far, forgetting land
These I send in memory
Knowing you will understand.