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February 26, 2009

Rats and The Wall

While browsing through the 1920 edition of the "Granite Monthly", I ran across some poems by Albert Annett, a historian and sometimes poet. One of them, Anarchism (http://theotherpages.org/poems/part2/annett01.html) struck me as dramatic, pointed, and undeniably relevant, nearly 90 years later.

In particular, the last four lines seemed to sum up the current worldwide financial crisis and all of its collateral damage more succinctly than anything I've seen in today's mass media or among all the ranting talking heads of our day:

RATS undermined the wall,
And while men slept
The floods that basined in the hills, smiled at the day,
Crept in by stealth and tore their bounds away:
And onward swept
Where busy towns in tranquil beauty kept
The peace; and with the power of many waters pent
Homes were engulfed and hills in twain were rent.
Steeple and tower
Fell toppling down, and in a breath
When happiness had dwelt, were devastation, woe and death,
And these few words were written of the fall:
While watchman slept
Rats undermined the wall.

Annett's metaphor is a simple and powerful, and could apply to several different worries of our day or of his. Annett wrote in a post-war era where physical acts of anarchism (terrorism in today's lexicon) were widely reported in the papers, and where the rich and powerful of Europe and America looked on the recent Russian Revolution with fear and apprehension. I haven't read enough by Annett to know his 'politics' well enough to infer which 'flood' Annett intended as the primary target for his metaphor. There were waves of immigration, of socialist and communist politics, loosening of moral stigmas as the U.S. moved from the war era into the 'Roaring 20's", and of course the same kinds of corruption and profiteering that come to light in every era.

Who knows? Annett may have simply been a baeball fan upset about the 'Black Sox' scandal.

Regardless of Annett's target, the poem is still highly charged and highly effective in our day. Feel free to forward this to the local bank regulator, sports commissioner, or government watchdog agency of your choice.....


February 24, 2009

Harold Vinal

I didn’t know much about Harold Vinal, though looking through our collection and looking through the Web it seems as if he did quite a bit. He was a publisher, editing and publishing many books of poetry, and edited Voices: A Magazine of Verse for over 40 years. I was surprised to find how many authors I know (and books I own) were published by Harold Vinal.

As a publisher (and a poet), Vinal was somewhat of a traditionalist. Most of the mentions you see of him online comment on an incident with e.e. cummings. After receiving a rejection from Vinal, cummings retaliated by including a poem in his book  No.5,  titled "Poem, or Beauty hurts Mr. Vinal", suggesting Vinal's judgement was fit only for editing the advertising jingles that were becoming omnipresent on the radio at the time.
Vinal does not seem to have embraced many ‘Modern’ trends in poetry that were becoming common in the time period. His own poems tended towards conventional subjects and simple forms and rhyme schemes.  I’ve found Vinal’s poems appearing in regional journals around 1920 and noted that he published his first book of poetry, White April, (http://theotherpages.org/poems/books/vinal/vinal01.html) in 1922.  
 In short, Vinal was no cummings. However, like many poetry magazine editors of his period, Vindal did help give voice to many aspiring writers - including Langston Hughes, who Vinal also tapped to edit an anthology of African-American verse. He served as secretary and later president of the Poetry Society of America, and was anthologized inseveral collections.

Vinal’s poems are readable enough, but generally not outstanding. I added them to Poet’s Corner mainly to recognize how difficult it is sometimes for an editor to be himself good at creating the art form he helps shape. Hopefully that’s not too esoteric a point.  This adds 43 works that are new to the collection. Among them are quite a few sonnets and shorter works, including Persephone, for which I chose Rossetti's exquisite painting for the book cover.  



February 19, 2009

Vivaldi's Seasonal Poetry

One of the comments my friend and co-editor Bob Blair often used to make in his editorials years ago was that certain poets who were widely published and read, and veritable celebities in their day, often faded into obscurity. Being stylish, someone also once said, simply means that you are more likely to go out of style. This has been true among authors and artists, musicians and playwrights, political (and economic) theorists, and, of course, poets. I was listening to Alex Trebek quizzing his daily panel of Jeopardy contestants the other day, when he gave a clue about a baroque composer whose 'seasonal' music was published with a set of accompanying poems written by the composer. Vivaldi was an easy guess (The Four Seasons - Le Quattro Stagioni) for the musician, but I didn't know about the poems - so of course I had to look them up.

A Venetian, Antonio Vivaldi was a priest, composer, and a virtuoso on violin. He seems to have been an exceptionally prolific composer, with 46 operas, over 500 concertos, 73 sonatas and a variety of sacred music. In the early part of the 18th century his works were very well known, and much anticipated. The Four Seasons, written around 1723 and published as the first four violin sonatas from "The Contest Between Harmony and Invention" (1925). His career included performances before the Pope and for the royalty of continental europe, who also commissioned him to compose a variety of special compositions.


With all of those operas under his belt, Vivaldi must have written more lyrics than you can shake a stick at (feel free to insert your own favorite equivalent euphemism here), but I can only find reference to one set of poems - the sonatas that describe, movement by movement, what scenes his violins are immitating in The Four Seasons. The suprising thing to me, is that, for as well known as Vivaldi has been for the last half century, and as well known and influential as he was in his own day, he was largely unknown for much of the intervening two centuries. Despite the fact that he was prolific, a favorite of Charles IV, and a major influence on J.S. Bach and other Baroque composers, his music was forgotten and lost until several fortunate discoveries in the 20th century.

Sorry, the English tramnslations are litteral, and a little stilted. I'll ask Nick to work on them if he gets tired of Chinese and wants to go back to Italian for a while.


February 14, 2009

Poems for the Season (St. Valentine's Day)

While I rarely manage to be timely or topical (or relelvant, for that matter), I noticed it is still Valentines Day (at least in the Americas), so , since our collection has a seemingly endless supply of love poems, here is a sampling. Note that most of these selections are quite old - the tradition of St. Valentine's day appears to date at least from the time of Chaucer, in the 14th century, and Shakespeare mentions it in Hamlet, around 1600. --Steve

To His Fairest Valentine, Mrs. A.L.

"Come, pretty birds, present your lays,
And learn to chaunt a goddess praise;
Ye wood-nymphs, let your voices be
Employ'd to serve her deity:
And warble forth, ye virgins nine,
Some music to my Valentine.

"Her bosom is love's paradise,
There is no heav'n but in her eyes;
She's chaster than the turtle-dove,
And fairer than the queen of love:
Yet all perfections do combine
To beautifie my Valentine.

"She's Nature's choicest cabinet,
Where honour, beauty, worth and wit
Are all united in her breast.
The graces claim an interest:
All virtues that are most divine
Shine clearest in my Valentine."

--Richard Lovelace, from Lucasta, 1649

To My Dear and Loving Husband

IF ever two were one then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife were happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor aught but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so perservere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

--Anne Bradstreet, mid-17th century


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

--Elizabeth Barret Browning, from Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1850


Thou sovereign beauty which I do admire,
Witness the world how worthy to be praised:
The light whereof hath kindled heavenly fire,
In my frail spirit by her from baseness raised.
That being now with her huge brightness dazed,
Base things I can no more endure to view;
But looking still on her I stand amazed,
At wondrous sight of so celestial hew.
So when my tongue would speak her praises due,
It stopped is with thought's astonishment:
And when my pen would write her titles true,
It ravished is with fancy's wonderment:
Yet in my heart I then both speak and write
The wonder that my wit cannot endite.

--Edmund Spenser, from Amoretti, 1595

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

COME live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of th purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love,

Christopher Marlowe, 1589

February 11, 2009

Poems of the Bronte Sisters

Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë wrote novels and poetry in the middle of the 19th century. In 1846, while still unknown, they published a combined volume of poems, "Poems, by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell " - using pseudonyms because they thought women as poets would not be taken seriously at the time. The publication cost most of Anne's annual salary as a governess, but was a financial faiure. Not long afterwards, however, all three sisters had success in getting novels published. Agnes Grey, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre were all well recieved, Anne, additionally began to have success getting her poems publishde in magazines and journals.

There was little time to enjoy success, however. Their older brother Branwell died of tuberculosis in September of 1848 after bouts of drug and alcohol addiction following a series of unsuccessful careers and an affair with his employer's wife (the original "Mrs. Robinson"). Within eight months Anne and Emily would also succumb to respiratory illnesses, leaving Charlotte as the only survivor of the original six children.

In 1850 Charlotte re-published the 1846 book of poems, adding her personal comments and additional poems by sisters. While she refers to Emily and Charlotte by name in her comments, their pseudonyms were still used in the title pages. The book can be read in its entirety at http://theotherpages.org/poems/books/bronte/bronte11.html

Ann was the most successful in her brief career as a published poet, though I have a preference for some of Emily's works. Choose for yourself. This edition is based on galley from PG, re-structured into Poets' Corner's Bookshelf II format. The actual poets' names are used in place of the pseudonyms to minimize confusion for modern readers. Italicization should be correct - it is missing from the Wikipedia edition. This version also facilitates browsing, I think, moreso than the other avaialble formats. Nearly 80 of these poems are new to the PC collection.


A sampling:

A Little While, A Little While

A LITTLE while, a little while,
The weary task is put away,
And I can sing and I can smile,
Alike, while I have holiday.

Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart--
What thought, what scene invites thee now
What spot, or near or far apart,
Has rest for thee, my weary brow?

There is a spot, 'mid barren hills,
Where winter howls, and driving rain;
But, if the dreary tempest chills,
There is a light that warms again.

The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight's dome;
But what on earth is half so dear--
So longed for--as the hearth of home?

The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o'ergrown,
I love them--how I love them all!

Still, as I mused, the naked room,
The alien firelight died away;
And from the midst of cheerless gloom,
I passed to bright, unclouded day.

A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide;
A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain
Of mountains circling every side.

A heaven so clear, an earth so calm,
So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air;
And, deepening still the dream-like charm,
Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.

That was the scene, I knew it well;
I knew the turfy pathway's sweep,
That, winding o'er each billowy swell,
Marked out the tracks of wandering sheep.

Could I have lingered but an hour,
It well had paid a week of toil;
But Truth has banished Fancy's power:
Restraint and heavy task recoil.

Even as I stood with raptured eye,
Absorbed in bliss so deep and dear,
My hour of rest had fleeted by,
And back came labour, bondage, care.

Emily Bronte

Evening Solace

THE human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;--
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame's or Wealth's illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart's best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back--a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others' sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress--
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

Charlotte Bronte

In Memory of a Happy Day in February

BLESSED be Thou for all the joy
My soul has felt to-day!
Oh, let its memory stay with me,
And never pass away!

I was alone, for those I loved
Were far away from me;
The sun shone on the withered grass,
The wind blew fresh and free.

Was it the smile of early spring
That made my bosom glow?
'Twas sweet; but neither sun nor wind
Could cheer my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight
All vague and undefined?
No; 'twas a rapture deep and strong,
Expanding in the mind.

Was it a sanguine view of life,
And all its transient bliss,
A hope of bright prosperity?
Oh, no! it was not this.

It was a glimpse of truth divine
Unto my spirit given,
Illumined by a ray of light
That shone direct from heaven.

I felt there was a God on high,
By whom all things were made;
I saw His wisdom and His power
In all his works displayed.

But most throughout the moral world,
I saw his glory shine;
I saw His wisdom infinite,
His mercy all divine.

Deep secrets of His providence,
In darkness long concealed,
Unto the vision of my soul
Were graciously revealed.

But while I wondered and adored
His Majesty divine,
I did not tremble at His power:
I felt that God was mine;

I knew that my Redeemer lived;
I did not fear to die;
Full sure that I should rise again
To immortality.

I longed to view that bliss divine,
Which eye hath never seen;
Like Moses, I would see His face
Without the veil between.

Anne Bronte

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