November 24, 2003

In a Disused Graveyard [Filed under: Frost, Robert]

Its worth contrasting Auden’s cemetary with Frost’s graveyard:

In a Disused Graveyard

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
“The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay.”
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can’t help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

Island Cemetery [Filed under: Auden, W.H.]

I have mentioned a couple of Auden poems from Homage to Clio, the book from which came The More Loving One. Here is one of them that I like a lot. My only trouble with it is the “thank our lucky star” line. Was this less of a cliche when the poem was written or was he just in a rush?

An Island Cemetery

This graveyard with its umbrella pines
Is inferior in status to the vines
And, though new guests keep crowding in,
Must stay the size it’s always been.

Where men are many, acres few,
The dead must be cultivated too,
Like seeds in any farmer’s field
Are planted for the bones they yield.

It takes about eighteen months for one
To ripen into a skeleton,
To be washed, folded, packed in a small
Niche hollowed out of the cemetery wall.

Curiousity made me stop
While sextons were digging up a crop:
Bards have taken it too amiss
That Alexanders come to this.

Wherever our personalities go
(And, to tell the truth, we do not know),
The solid structures they leave behind
Are no discredit to our kind.

Mourners may miss, and they do, a face,
But at least they cannot detect a trace
Of those fishlike hungers, mammalian heats,
That kin our flesh to the coarser meats.

And who would be ashamed to own
To a patience that we share with stone,
This underlying thing in us
Which never at any time made a fuss?

Considering what our motives are,
We ought to thank our lucky star
That Love must ride to reach his ends
A mount which has no need of friends.

November 21, 2003

Poet: 1935 [Filed under: Thomas, Dylan]

Poet: 1935

See, on gravel paths under the harpstrung trees
He steps so near the water that a swan’s wing
Might play upon his lank locks with its wind,
The lake’s voice and the rolling of mock waves
Make discord with the voice within his ribs
That thunders as heart thunders, slows as heart slows.
Is not his heart imprisoned by the summer
Snaring the whistles of the birds
And fastening in its cage the flower’s colour?
No, he’s a stranger, outside the season’s humour,
Moves, among men caught by the sun,
With heart unlocked upon the gigantic earth.
He alone is free, and, free, moans to the sky.
He, too, could touch the season’s lips and smile,
But he is left. Summer to him
Is the unbosoming of the sun.

So shall he step till summer loosens its hold
On the canvas sky, and all hot colours melt
Into the browns of autumn and the sharp whites of winter,
And so complain, in a vain voice, to the stars.

Even among his own kin is he lost,
Is love a shadow on the wall,
Among all living men is a sad ghost.
He is not man’s nor woman’s man,
Leper among a clean people
Walks with the hills for company,
And has the mad trees’ talk by heart.

An image of decay disturbs the crocus
Opening its iris mouth upon the sill
Where fifty flowers breed in a fruit box,
And washing water spilt upon their necks
Cools any ardour they may have
And he destroys, though flowers are his loves,
If love he can being no woman’s man.
An image born out of the uproarious spring
Hastens the time of the geranium to breathe;
Life, till the change of mood, forks
From the unwatered leaves and the stiff stalks,
The old flowers’ legs too taut to dance,
But he makes them dance, cut capers
Choreographed on paper.
The image changes, and the flowers drop
Into their prison with a slack sound,
Fresh images surround the tremendous moon,
Or catch all death that’s in the air.

O lonely among many, the gods’ man
Knowing exceeding grief and the gods’ sorrow
That, like a razor, skims, cuts, and turns,
Aches till the metal meets the marrow,
You, too, know the exceeding joy
And the triumphant crow of laughter.
Out of a bird’s wing writing on a cloud
You capture more than man or woman guesses;
Rarer delight shoots in the blood
At the deft movements of the irises
Growing in public places than man knows.

See, on gravel paths under the harpstrung trees
Feeling the summer wind, hearing the swans,
Leaning from windows over a length of lawns,
On tumbling hills admiring the sea,
I am alone, alone complain to the stars.
Who are his friends? The wind is his friend,
The glow-worm lights his darkness, and
The snail tells of coming rain.

November 20, 2003

Unfortunate [Filed under: Brooke, Rupert]

Unfortunate

Heart, you are as restless as a paper scrap
  That’s tossed down dusty pavements by the wind ;
  Saying, ‘She is most wise, patient and kind.
Between the small hands folded in her lap
Surely a shamed head may bow down at length,
  And find forgiveness where the shadows stir
About her lips, and wisdom in her strength,
  Peace in her peace. Come to her, come to her !’ …

She will not care. She’ll smile to see me come,
  So that I think all Heaven in flower to fold me.
  She’ll give me all I ask, kiss me and hold me,
    And open wide upon that holy air
The gates of peace, and take my tiredness home,
    Kinder than God. But, heart, she will not care.

From my law school applications:

Lines Written Upon Reading the Caption Below a Picture of Natalie Portman with Her Hand Down the Back of Her Jeans, which Said Something about Ants in Her Pants

Let us make haste, depart ; she will not dance.
Let us quaff our drinks and leave for France.
She would not pluck the fruit from off the vine,
Nor help our Bacchanal one step advance.
How humourless she is ! like hemlock wine ;
Yea, though we poured a thousand ants into her pants,
   She would not dance.

To atone for the assault on your sensibilities that must have been, I offer also a snippet from a poem by Swinburne called “Félise,” which I was reading on the Metro coming home. It’s a longer piece, quite beautiful in places, but in the latter half he decries the godless world at some length. The stars make an indifferent appearance:

from Félise

Do the stars answer ? in the night
  Have ye found comfort ? or by day
Have ye seen gods ? What hope, what light,
  Falls from the farthest starriest way
  On you that pray?

Are the skies wet because we weep,
  Or fair because of any mirth ?
Cry out ; they are gods ; perchance they sleep ;
  Cry ; thou shalt know what prayers are worth,
  Thou dust and earth.