December 26, 2017

Swinburne on Swinburne [Filed under: General Discussion.Swinburne, Algernon Charles]

Swinburne has long been my favorite poet, and on winter nights like tonight, I love to curl up with a small glass of some choice intoxicating liquor and read some intoxicating Swinburne verse. But I am aware that there are some who do not think, as I do, that Swinburne was the greatest English poet of the 19th century. Swinburne himself was also aware of his critics, and had a singular response to them: he outdid them. His “Poeta Loquitur” is hard to find on the internet (and strangely, it is one of a handful of poems that was omitted from my copy of his “complete” works), so I have had to piece this version together from various snippets—it may well not be entirely accurate. Still, I want to share with the world this lovely bit of Swinburne’s self-criticism, warts and all.

Poeta Loquitur

If a person conceives an opinion
  That my verses are stuff that will wash,
Or my Muse has one plume on her pinion,
  That person’s opinion is bosh.
My philosophy, politics, free-thought!
  Are worth not three skips of a flea,
And the emptiest of thoughts that can be thought
  Are mine on the sea.

In a maze of monotonous murmur
  Where reason roves ruined by rhyme,
In a voice neither graver nor firmer
  Than the bells on a fool’s cap chime,
A partly pretentiously pensive,
  With a Muse that deserves to be skinned,
Makes language and metre offensive
  With rhymes on the wind.

A perennial procession of phrases
  Pranked primly, though pruriently prime,
Precipitates preaching on praises
  In a ruffianly riot of rhyme
Through the pressure of print on my pages:
  But reckless the reader must be
Who imagines me one of the sages
  That steer through Time’s sea.

Mad mixtures of Frenchified offal
  With insults to Christendom’s creed,
Blind blasphemy, schoolboylike scoff, all
  These blazon me blockhead indeed.
I conceive myself obviously some one
  Whose audience will never be thinned,
But the pupil must needs be a rum one
  Whose teacher is wind.

In my poems, with ravishing rapture
  Storm strikes me and strokes me and stings:
But I’m scarcely the bird you might capture
  Out of doors in the thick of such things.
I prefer to be well out of harm’s way
  When tempest makes tremble the tree,
And the wind with armipotent arm-sway
  Makes soap of the sea.

Hanging hard on the rent rags of others,
  Who before me did better, I try
To believe them my sisters and brothers,
  Though I know what a low lot am I.
The mere sight of a church sets me yelping
  Like a boy that at football is shinned!
But the cause must indeed be past helping
  Whose gospel is wind!

All the pale past’s red record of history
  Is dusty with damnable deeds;
But the future’s mild motherly mystery
  Peers pure of all crowns and all creeds.
Truth dawns on time’s resonant ruin,
  Frank, fulminant, fragrant and free
And apparently this is the doing
  Of wind on the sea.

Fame flutters in front of pretension
  Whose flagstaff is flagrantly fine
And it cannot be needful to mention
  That such beyond question is mine.
Some singers indulging in curses,
  Though sinful, have splendidly sinned:
But my would-be maleficent verses
  Are nothing but wind.

Interestingly, I did find one other person who appears to have appreciated Swinburne’s work almost as much as I do: a book reviewer for New Zealand’s Otago Daily Times writing under the name “Constant Reader” (presumably notDorothy Parker). Here is a review of a pocket volume of Swinburne’s verse that this Constant Reader wrote in 1918.

January 1, 2017

Reading Poetry [Filed under: General Discussion.Yeats, William Butler]

Excerpt from Adam’s Curse

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’

Let us articulate sweet sounds together! It is not now the summer’s end, but come, meet for an old-fashioned talk of poetry. We can talk over brunch, we can talk over mimosas, we can talk over the internet, we can talk over each other. Unstitch a verse with me, then stitch it back together. If you are interested, please send me an email to register for the site.

May 27, 2015

Plus ça change… [Filed under: General Discussion]

Penned some 18 years ago:


My thoughts unfold, the air grows cold
As if it knows I’ll need the snows
To quench my mental fire:
My future turns—ignites and burns
Through hope and fear—but leaves me here,
Alas, with no desire!

January 13, 2006

Boredom [Filed under: Collins, Billy.General Discussion]

The other day, I decided to try my hand at composing a more modern piece of poetry, but the results were dismal:

A Meta-Analysis of Free Verse in Free Verse
Ode on Itself

    how beautiful
    this poem could have been
    had you but written it

I was struck today, however, when I read a review of Billy Collins’ newest book in the NYT [registration may be required]. It turns out that Collins’ book begins with a poem that starts thusly:

from The Trouble with Poetry

I wonder how you are going to feel
when you find out
that I wrote this instead of you

I wrote my piece having Billy Collins particularly in mind, though I did not mean it to be an homage or an imitation, strictly speaking. I haven’t read the rest of the Collins poem, but just looking at the first stanza, I like mine better. [Some less than friendly discussion of the NYT review may be found at MetaFilter.]

Also, I tried to compose a pwoermd today:


…but it turns out someone beat me to it.

I think I’m giving up my career ambitions in poetry. I’ll stick to law school.

November 20, 2005

The Poet of Ceder St. [Filed under: Carrier, Warren.General Discussion]

Never mind the long silence, I have enjoyed Hoke’s posts and thoughts on Nietzsche. I plan to take some time with him and his solitudes and renunciations.

I have recently been spending some evenings with a fine poet named Warren Carrier, father of Wintry-Minded Ethan. Conversations with him have inspired me to try again to memorize poems – an effort that I was rather serious about for a time right after graduating St. Johns. My plan is to memorize one from each poet who I admire. Perhaps, as my view of each poet changes, I will switch to a new poem of theirs… Plans, plans, treacherous plans.

I want to post two poems to commemorate my new resolve. One from Warren (which I have not yet tried to memorize) and one from Louis MacNeice, which I have. I’ll post the MacNeice separately in case anyone wants to comment on one poem and not the other.


He gazed beyond the rocky edge where turning
maples stretched for miles, particulars
of his mind, a village, a white spire.
Above the turquoise atmosphere, an unseen
gravity held all light within itself,
burst like a melon, scattering galaxies.
He thought of the momentary hues of maples,
of human generations, the same, and never
the same, of randomness, of order as change.
The black that cracked into its separate stars,
bloomed from bent and distant light, had come
to this: himself here, gazing and musing,
maples the tint of the sun, a village of beings
unseen under leaves, their immaculate spire.