Monday, December 9, 2013
He chose to long for her by envying
the candle that glowed upon her
beautiful face, the shadow
that followed in her every move... (more)
~ From "Careless Perfection" by Daniel Halpern
The complete poem is at Poetry Foundation
Nude woman with a fan, Henri Lebasque (1865-1937)
Sunday, December 8, 2013
The dancing ape is whirling round the beds
Of all the coupled animals; they, sleeping there
In warmth of sex, ignore his fur and fuss
And feel no terror in his gait of loneliness.
Quaint though the dancer is, his furry fists
Are locked like lightning over all their heads.
His legs are thrashing out in discontent
As if they were the lightning's strict embodiment.
But let the dancing stop, the apish face go shut in sleep,
The hands unclench, the trembling legs go loose—
And let some curious animal bend and touch that face
With nuzzling mouth, would not the storm break—
And that ape kiss?
~ Jack Spicer, "The Dancing Ape."
You can hear Spicer read the poem here.
Monkey before Skeleton, Gabriel von Max, c.1900
Saturday, December 7, 2013
by George Garrett
Lord, but I do dearly love
these, your large, slow reedy messengers,
your spies clad in shiny feathers,
sentinels of high places squawking
and cawing arrivals and departures,
raggedy fliers rising in a black caucus
or, grounded, the shifty epitome
of pure swagger and bravado.
Old crows, noisy flock,
we came through bad weather together
when all the trees were a cruel glitter
of ice and earth was a hard-hearted stranger
who wished only catastrophe upon us,
you and I, shabby and insufferably proud,
perched here to witness the robins' return.
Rooks have returned, Aleksey Savrasov, 1871
Friday, December 6, 2013
The present state of the world is so miserable and degraded that if anyone were to say to the poet: "For God's sake, stop humming and put the kettle on or fetch bandages. The patient's dying," I do not know how he could justifiably refuse. (There is, of course, an inner voice which says exactly this to most of us, and our only reply is to pretend to be extremely hard of hearing.) But no one says this. The self-appointed unqualified Nurse says: "Stop humming this instant and sing the Patient a song which will make him fall in love with me. In return I'll give you extra ration-cards and a passport"; and the poor Patient in his delirium cries: "Please stop humming and sing me a song which will make me believe I am free from pain and perfectly well. In return I'll give you a penthouse apartment in New York and a ranch in Arizona."
To such requests and to the bribes that go with them, the poet can only pray that he will always have the courage to stick out his tongue, say, like Olaf the conscientious objector in Cummings' poem—"There is some shit I will not eat,"—and go on humming quietly to himself.
~ W.H. Auden, from Squares and Oblongs
Portrait of a Poet, Pablo Picasso, 1902
Thursday, October 3, 2013
I Dreamed That I Was Old
by Stanley Kunitz
I dreamed that I was old: in stale declension
Fallen from my prime, when company
Was mine, cat-nimbleness, and green invention,
Before time took my leafy hours away.
My wisdom, ripe with body’s ruin, found
Itself tart recompense for what was lost
In false exchange: since wisdom in the ground
Has no apocalypse or pentecost.
I wept for my youth, sweet passionate young thought,
And cozy women dead that by my side
Once lay: I wept with bitter longing, not
Remembering how in my youth I cried.
*For the past few days I've been sorting through a mess of very old files, stuff I haven't touched in more than 20 years. It's like excavating my life, and it has been enlightening. Age looking back at youth is a cliché — one that Kunitz is toying with in his poem — but familiarity with the cliché did not prepare me for the shock of the actual experience. It is shocking to see how I have misremembered who I was, shocking to see how thoroughly I have revised the story of my life in the course of living it. Do we all hypnotize ourselves with a private fiction? Is it a gift or a loss to be shown what sort of person you truly are?
Allegory of Prudence by Titian, c.1570
Sunday, May 20, 2012
In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.
~ "Art" by Herman Melville
Fantasia, Antonio Parreiras, 1909
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Travelers in Erewhon
by Kenneth Rexroth
You open your
Dress on the dusty
Bed where no one
Has slept for years
An owl moans on the roof
My dear my
In the smoky light of the old
Oil lamp your shoulders
Belly breasts buttocks
Are all like peach blossoms
Huge stars far away far apart
Outside the cracked window pane
Immense immortal animals
Each one only an eye
You open your body
No end to the night
No end to the forest
House abandoned for a lifetime
In the forest in the night
No one will ever come
To the house
In the black world
In the country of eyes
From The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth
Missionnaires, Gustav Klimt, 1914
Saturday, May 12, 2012
This timeless blood was here before begat.
Infinity runs in your veins—
Not mine, nor yours,
Nor Eve’s, not Adam’s—
Gat of God,
And spinning like taffy Godwards back again.
Sapped through the centuries to us—
Grafting a limb there for the Jesse tree—
From heart to heart tick-pulsed,
Ill clad, ill fed, ill fit—
Here, child, do what you can with it.
"Mother's Blessing" by Eleanor Ross Taylor. Text from Poetry Foundation
Friday, May 11, 2012
Deep in me you go on growing, unfathomable
In your origin, I cannot touch your eyes
Without burning my fingernails on their petals,
The flames of your form which burn in my thirst,
The leaves of your face which build your absence.
I ask, “Who is there? Who is there?” as if very late,
Very late, somebody knocked
On my door, and then in the middle
Of emptiness there was nothing but air,
Water, trees, the dying daily fire,
As if there was nothing there but everything which exists,
Nothing but all the earth which had rapped on my door.
So, nameless, vague as life, turbid
As the burgeoning mud and vegetation,
You awake in my breast whenever I shut my eyes.
When I lie on the earth you come into being
Like the flowing dust, the river deepening its bed,
Guarding a tangle of naked roots
Which grows as grows your presence in me,
Which accompanies their darkness as you accompany me.
So, here, blood or wheat, earth or fire, we live
Like a single plant which cannot explain its leaves.
From "Serenade" by Pablo Neruda, translated by Kenneth Rexroth
Femme nue, assise de dos, Albert Dagnaux (1861-1933)
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Give ear unto the gentle lay
That's only sad that it may please;
It is discreet, and light it is:
A whiff of wind o'er buds in May.
The voice was known to you (and dear?),
But it is muffled latterly
As is a widow--still as she
It doth its sorrow proudly bear,
And through the sweeping mourning veil
That in the gusts of Autumn blows,
Unto the heart that wonders, shows
Truth like a star now flash, now fail.
It says--the voice you knew again!--
That kindness, goodness is our life,
And that of envy, hatred, strife,
When death is come, shall naught remain.
It says how glorious to be
Like children, without more delay,
The tender gladness it doth say
Of peace not bought with victory.
Accept the voice--ah, hear the whole
Of its persistent, artless strain:
Naught so can soothe a soul's own pain,
As making glad another soul!
It pines in bonds but for a day,
The soul that without murmur bears...
How unperplexed, how free it fares!
Oh, listen to the gentle lay!
~ Paul Verlaine, translated by Gertrude Hall
Female nude, Lovis Corinth, 1885