Thursday, January 29, 2009

The House Was Quiet... by Wallace Stevens

I think that anyone who loves reading will take to this one.  The poem's mood--created by the lulling music, repetition and the lack of strong verbs--complements the subject so well.

The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), a lawyer and business man for most of his life, is considered one of the great American poets of the 20th Century. More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination. Composing poems on his way to and from the office and in the evenings, Stevens continued to spend his days behind a desk at the office, and led a quiet, uneventful life.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Buck in the Snow by Edna St. Vincent Millay

"The Buck in the Snow" is a crisp, powerful poem.  Millay briefly personifies the sky and the trees, but she leans almost entirely on clear imagery and music to create the poem's impact.  The repeated O sounds call up the long lovely leaps of the deer. And notice the effect when she finally interrupts the rhyme scheme.

The Buck in the Snow

White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow,
Saw you not at the beginning of evening the antlered buck and his doe
Standing in the apple-orchard?  I saw them.  I saw them suddenly go,
Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow,
Over the stone-wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed with snow.

Now he lies here, his wild blood scalding the snow.

How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing to his antlers
The buck in the snow.
How strange a thing--a mile away by now, it may be,
Under the heavy hemlocks that as the moments pass
Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow--
Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe.

You might also enjoy "First Fig"

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, ME in 1892. Her fourth book of poetry, The Harp Weaver, earned her the Pulitzer Prize. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Little Mute Boy by Federico Garcia Lorca

Lorca may have been the most important Spanish poet of the 20th Century. His surrealist work like "The Little Mute Boy"--which sought to tap into the unconscious--had a profound impact on American poetry.

The Little Mute Boy

The little boy was looking for his voice.
(The king of the crickets had it.)
In a drop of water
the little boy was looking for his voice.
I do not want it for speaking with;
I will make a ring of it
so that he may wear my silence
on his little finger

In a drop of water
the little boy was looking for his voice.

(The captive voice, far away,
put on a cricket's clothes.)

Translated by William S. Merwin

Federico Garcia Lorca was born in Granada, Spain in 1899. He later moved to Madrid where he became part of a group of surrealists that included the painter Salvador Dali. He was killed by Franco's soldiers in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

Friday, January 09, 2009

How Many Nights by Galway Kinnell

Happy New Year from Poem of the Week! I set the blog on auto update while I was on vacation and it failed me (sigh). But we'll be back on schedule now. To start the year, here's "How Many Nights" by Galway Kinnell, who I think writes about nature as well as any living poet.

How Many Nights

How many nights
hive I lain in terror,
O Creator Spirit, Maker of night and day,

only to walk out
the next morning over the frozen world
hearing under the creaking of snow
faint, peaceful breaths . . .

bear, earthworm, ant . . .
and above me a wild crow crying 'yaw yaw yaw'
from a branch nothing cried from ever in my life.

If you want to read another, take a look at Saint Francis and the Sow.

Galway Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1927. He has won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. He was a professor of Creative Writing at NYU, but is now retired and at his home in Vermont.