Friday, August 29, 2008

The Waking by Theodore Roethke

This week, Roethke's beautiful and mysterious poem, The Waking. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on what it means. I don't believe there's one right answer.

Notice the poem's form--the villanelle. You may recognize it from Dylan Thomas's famous poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. The villanelle form enhances this poem's content brilliantly.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) was born in Saginaw, Michigan. Stylistically his work ranged from witty poems in strict meter and regular stanzas to free verse poems full of mystical and surrealistic imagery. At all times, however, the natural world in all its mystery, beauty, fierceness, and sensuality, is close by, and the poems are possessed of an intense lyricism.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Song of Wandering Aengus

The Song of Wandering Aengus is among the best of Yeats's early poems. His voice is very different from the powerful, more modern voice of his later years, but the poem enchants the ear and Yeats's imagination glimmers. The Song foreshadows the obsession with ideals that fueled and haunted Yeats throughout his life.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865. He is remembered as an important cultural leader, a major playwright (he was one of the founders of the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin), and as one of the very greatest poets—in any language—of the century. W. B. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 and died in 1939 at the age of 73.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World by Richard Wilbur

Here's one of my favorite Richard Wilbur poems. It's a great read to start your morning.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.
Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
And cries,
``Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.''

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter loveTo accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

``Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.''

Richard Wilbur was born in 1921 in New York City.  He is the author of numerous books of poetry and is a former poet laureate of the United States.  He currently lives in Cummingham, Massachusetts. 

Friday, August 08, 2008

Slam Poets

The National Poetry Slam is taking place this week in Madison, Wisconsin, so I thought I'd post a few links to slam performances.

In case you aren’t familiar with slam poetry, it occupies a middle ground between traditional poetry and rap, and your ability as a performer is at least as important as your ability as a poet. Slam is rhythmic, spirited and contemporary. It often deals with young, urban themes and it can be very, very funny. You have to see it to appreciate it.

Here are some links to some of this week's preliminary bouts:

A clip of Chicago’s “Mental Graffiti” performing is available here.

Here’s “Hips for the Hop"

Finally, here’s Anis Mojgani—a two-time national poetry slam champion. He’s pretty fantastic. (A warning--he uses some colorful language.)

Friday, August 01, 2008

To Roosevelt by Ruben Dario

Ruben Dario wrote "To Roosevelt" (for Teddy) shortly after the Spanish American War, when the rest of the Americas feared U.S. imperialism. It remains a strong statement about American power and the potential abuse of that power.

To Roosevelt

The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.
You are the United States,
future invader of our naive America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.
You are strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.

(You are a Professor of Energy,
as current lunatics say).
You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an eruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.

The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.

--Translated by Lysander Kemp

Ruben Dario, a native of Nicaragua, is considered one of the great poets of Spanish Literature, and was the leader of its Modernist movement. Dario's admirers included Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, Jorge Louis Borges and Octavio Paz.