Friday, May 30, 2008

Quarantine by Eavan Boland

Here's a tough, brilliant poem from one of our finest contemporary poets. I love the turn at the start of the fourth stanza.


In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking – they were both walking – north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1944. She is the author of many books and currently teaches at Stanford University.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Tay Bridge Disaster by William McGonagall

For a little fun this week, here's a poem by William Topaz McGonagall, whom many consider to have been the worst poet ever. A folio of McGonagall's poems recently sold for $13,000 at auction because the poems are so laughably bad.

McGonagall wrote "The Tay Bridge Disaster" to memorialize a tragic bridge collapse near his hometown of Dundee, Scotland. Here are some excerpts (the rest is here). As you'll see, the poem itself is a disaster.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay.

I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

William Topaz McGonagall was born in 1830 in Edinburgh, Scotland. An actor, weaver and most notably a poet, McGonagall was a tragic figure. He seemed convinced of his poetic greatness, but was universally mocked. He died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

Your PW editor is off to a wedding this weekend (and a much needed vacation). In that spirit, here's one of my favorite Shakespeare sonnets.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no, it is an ever-fixèd mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his heighth be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Hand by Mary Ruefle

This week, a quiet, beautiful poem by Mary Ruefle.

The Hand

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

Mary Ruefle is the author of several books of poetry. She currently teaches at Vermont College.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Acrobats by Shel Silverstein

Just in time for allergy season...

The Acrobats

I'll swing
By my ankles,
She'll cling
To your knees
As you hang
By your nose
From a high-up
Just one thing, please,
As we float through the breeze--
Don't sneeze.

Silverstein's work, which he illustrated himself, is characterized by a deft mixing of the sly and the serious, the macabre and the just plain silly. His wicked, giddy humor is beloved by countless adults as well as by children. He died in May 1999.