Favorite Poets?

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Corlyss_D
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Favorite Poets?

Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Oct 07, 2006 1:07 pm

Image
Rumi

I don't go in much for poetry because it's too precious and lacks muscularity. What I do like has a strong self-mocking strain in it. My long term favs have been Pope and Nash. For the last 10 years, Whitman, haiku, and Rumi, the 13th century founder of the dervish branch of the Sufis, have led the list. It's ironic that even after 9/11, Rumi continues to reign as the most popular poet in the US, thanks largely to Coleman Barks' translations, especially in The Essential Rumi. I used to have a copy at work, one in my briefcase, and one on my nightstand. Open it at random, and you are likely to find some of the most imaginative writings ever. Often the verses remind me of haiku in their capacity to capture vivid images in a lean handful of words.

"Thirst drove me down to the water
where I drank the moon's reflection."

So who are yours?
Last edited by Corlyss_D on Mon Oct 30, 2006 8:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Panzerfaust » Sat Oct 07, 2006 2:12 pm

My favorite is poet Shelley, my favorite poem is Ozymandias.
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Post by miranda » Sat Oct 07, 2006 3:38 pm

Some of Shakespeare's sonnets, some of Keats' poems, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, some of Catullus' poems, some of Ovid's work, Baudelaire, Pasolini, Dorothy Parker.
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Post by Lark Ascending » Sat Oct 07, 2006 3:47 pm

Please excuse my ignorance - I don't actually recall learning any poetry at school so its charms have mainly passed me by, although I have made a point of looking up George Meredith's The Lark Ascending :).
"Look here, I have given up my time, my work, my friends and my career to come here and learn from you, and I am not going to write a petit menuet dans le style de Mozart." - Ralph Vaughan Williams to Maurice Ravel

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Post by Ralph » Sat Oct 07, 2006 4:31 pm

Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Give me "The Charge of the Light Brigade" any day.

And I'm a big fan of Kipling too.
Image

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Oct 07, 2006 5:43 pm

Ralph wrote:Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Give me "The Charge of the Light Brigade" any day.
Yes, as I have always suspected. (Tennyson is a great poet who wrote many wonderful poems, but this is not one of them.)

I have never even heard of Rumi.

The greatest poet by common consent in English and probably of all time is Shakespeare. We might not think of him as a poet because he wrote dramatic verse, but he is without compare.

The Old Testament of the Bible has huge passages of great poetry, some of which even come across in translation.

English is the greatest poetic language of all time and we should be proud of it. Goethe, a very great poet, was once compared to Shakespeare andl laughed, for he considered Shakespeare a being of a different order. Other great poetry exists in Greek, Latin, and German. I read French better than I read German but have never been able to appreciate French poets. Obviously there is Dante, but I don't read Italian at all. Poetry is famously defined as that which is lost in translation.

Not a great poem, but ok:

"Tell brave deads of war"

Then they recounted tales.

"There were stern stands, and bitter runs for glory."

Ah, I think there were braver deeds.

Stephen Crane, if you must know.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Teresa B » Sat Oct 07, 2006 6:20 pm

Corlyss, somewhere in the Pub I posted my efforts at poetry--I think it was in Simkin's thread that was making some sport of the "Spectric" poets. You might like my poem, because it--well, it's not Shakespeare, I'll confess.

Anyway, I am fairly ignorant of poetry in general (I am going to check out Rumi), but I like Robert Frost, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Teresa
"We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." ~ The Cheshire Cat

Author of the novel "Creating Will"

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Post by anasazi » Sun Oct 08, 2006 1:09 am

Poetry or prose, literature has long been a catalyst, even at times a crutch for composers. It's difficult to not pay attention to the words, unless you never listen to oratorios, leider or opera.

But I'm pretty much in the dark as far as any favorites or any kind of ability to make judgements other than I like the Psalms (translated though they may be to English), William Shakespeare and Walt Whitman. I guess most of my poetic favorites have more to do with their use with music and being fond of Vaughan Williams has kept me on my toes. He rather liked the non-strophic nature of Whitman's work to set to music, and a lot of that has rubbed off on me over the years.
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Sun Oct 08, 2006 5:14 pm

Too numerous to mention all names, so I'll mention some who haven't rated thus far that I've seen: Hopkins, Byron, Donne, Chaucer, Wordsworth and Milton. Don't really have the Greek or Latin for a full appreciation of Pindar and Virgil.

But for short and savage I've always liked Coleridge's postcard from the Rhine:

Cologne

In Koln, a town of monks and bones,
And pavement fang'd with murderous stones,
And rags and hags, and hideous wenches,
I counted two-and-seventy stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks!
Ye nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
The River Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne;
But tell me, nymphs! what power divine
Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?

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Post by Madame » Sun Oct 08, 2006 6:42 pm

I remember favorite po-EMs more than po-ETS, though I have collected some works by Dorothy Parker, enjoyed Pablo Neruda's poems, not sure what makes a poem so memorable, perhaps the context when I read/heard it as well as the work itself. I was blessed with passionate lit teachers in school, I'll always remember Nash's 'the one-L lama is a priest, the two-L llama is a beast ...', Frost's 'the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep' ... Noyes' 'Bess, the landlord's daughter, plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair' ... Lowell's 'not what we give, but what we share, ---for the gift without the giver is bare' from The Vision of Sir Launfal, which is probably the most stirring poem I have ever read. I have Hazel Felleman's "Poems That Live Forever" and "The Best Loved Poems of the American People", they are treasures to own and to give.

Corlyss, thank you for this thread, now I know what I am going to give some loved ones for Christmas.

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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Oct 08, 2006 7:11 pm

Brendan wrote:Too numerous to mention all names, so I'll mention some who haven't rated thus far that I've seen: Hopkins, Byron, Donne, Chaucer, Wordsworth and Milton. Don't really have the Greek or Latin for a full appreciation of Pindar and Virgil.

But for short and savage I've always liked Coleridge's postcard from the Rhine:

Cologne

In Koln, a town of monks and bones,
And pavement fang'd with murderous stones,
And rags and hags, and hideous wenches,
I counted two-and-seventy stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks!
Ye nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
The River Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne;
But tell me, nymphs! what power divine
Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?
Excellent, Brendan. Excellent.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Madame
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Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:56 am

Post by Madame » Sun Oct 08, 2006 7:26 pm

Brendan wrote:
But for short and savage I've always liked Coleridge's postcard from the Rhine:

Cologne

In Koln, a town of monks and bones,
And pavement fang'd with murderous stones,
And rags and hags, and hideous wenches,
I counted two-and-seventy stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks!
Ye nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
The River Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne;
But tell me, nymphs! what power divine
Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?
Whooaa, I've never read that poem, savage is right, but GOOD savage! It assaults all the senses, didn't realize I was kinda into that :)

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Post by lmpower » Mon Oct 09, 2006 11:03 am

I like to read poetry in the original language whenever possible, because it doesn't translate as well as prose. I have read most of the great poems in Enlgish, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German and Swedish. My favorite poets are Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, Blake, Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Robinson Jeffers, Frost, Baudelaire, Goethe, Ruckert, Hesse, Lorca, Ruben Dario, Gustaf Froding, Erik Axel Karlfeldt etc. It's a shame the language barrier doesn't permit wider appreciation of foreign poets. Music transcends that obstacle. My favorite female poet is Edith Sodergran. She was born in St. Petersburg but wrote in Swedish. Her life was very short, but some of her work is quite impressive. My favorite very short poem is by 1959 Nobel laureate, Salvatore Quasimodo. "Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra, traffitto da un raggio di sole: ed e subito sera." I agree with John that Shakespeare was the greatest of all. I have heard of Rumi, but I must confess that I have never read him.

Ted

Post by Ted » Mon Oct 09, 2006 11:15 am

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

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Post by lmpower » Mon Oct 09, 2006 12:05 pm

That poem by Frost is one of my very favorites since it applies so well to my life.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Oct 09, 2006 2:54 pm

Don't read too much poetry, but like Wallace Stevens and Lorca. Lorca has inspired some great music, includReginald Smith Brindle's El Polifemo de Oro and Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children:
(for original Spanish see http://www.georgecrumb.net/comp/ancien-t.html)

I 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.

Gacela of the flight

I have lost myself in the sea many times
with my ear full of freshly cut flowers,
with my tongue full of love and agony.
I have lost myself in the sea many times
as I lose myself in the heart of certain children.


III
Yerma's Song from Yerma

From where do you come, my love, my child?
From the ridge of hard frost.
What do you need, my love, my child?
The warm cloth of your dress.
Let the branches ruffle in the sun
and the fountains leap all around!
In the courtyard a dog barks,
in the trees the wind sings.
The oxen low to the ox-herd
and the moon curls my hair.
What do you ask for, my child, from so far away?
The white mountains of your breast.
Let the branches ruffle in the sun
and the fountains leap all around!
I'll tell you, my child, yes,
I am torn and broken for you.

How painful is this waist
where you will have your first cradle!
When, my child, will you come?
When your flesh smells of jasmine-flowers.
Let the branches ruffle in the sun
and the fountains leap all around!

IV

Gacela of the dead child

Each afternoon in Granada,
a child dies each afternoon.


Ballad of the little square

My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with lilies, and with bees,
and I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to ask Christ the Lord
to give me back
my ancient soul of a child.

Ted

Post by Ted » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:26 pm

lmpower wrote:
That poem by Frost is one of my very favorites since it applies so well to my life.
That's art at its very best

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Post by Teresa B » Mon Oct 09, 2006 4:31 pm

Ted wrote:Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
One of my very favorites! It has an amazing layered ambiguity that I love. There's an air of wistful regret in knowing the poet will not make it back to try the other path. But what does "And that has made all the difference" mean? At first he concludes the paths look about the same, and then says he took the one less traveled by--but wait, they were really about the same--so how could that make all the difference?

Maybe a bit of the self-delusion all us humans engage in?

All the best,
Teresa
"We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." ~ The Cheshire Cat

Author of the novel "Creating Will"

Madame
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Post by Madame » Mon Oct 09, 2006 6:57 pm

Ted wrote:Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
Yes. And yes. Thank you.

BWV 1080
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Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Oct 09, 2006 7:02 pm

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Ted

Post by Ted » Mon Oct 09, 2006 7:48 pm

Teresa Writes:
At first he concludes the paths look about the same, and then says he took the one less traveled by--but wait, they were really about the same--so how could that make all the difference?
Ah yes......Beautifully queried


Madame Writes
Thank you.
Prego!

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Post by Wallingford » Mon Oct 09, 2006 8:59 pm

FRANK JACOBS.

.......a.k.a., MAD's "Verse" Writer, a.k.a., MAD's Poet Lauriet.

Jacobs penned all the memorable poem parodies and song satires in MAD Magazine during its heyday, the late 50s to the early 80s. He did many a great take-off of "Gunga Din," "The Raven," "The Pleasure Dome Of Kubla Khan," and others. Jacobs was one of my biggest inspirations as a writer, and he & I had a nice exchange of letters some years ago.

In the Jan. '77 issue of MAD, Jacobs did an assortment of the GREATEST Christmas song parodies ever, like the following, sung to the tune of "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing":
Yawn! The TV networks bring
Shows that do their Christmas thing:
Kotter carols with his class,
Rhoda goes to midnight mass;
John-Boy Walton aids a stranger,
Fonzie's found inside a manger,
Ar-chie Bunker says a prayer--
Son-ny des-troys....a hymn with Cher.
If you miss their Christmas cheer,
Don't be up-set--just wait a year
.
This article used other sacred carols as well, but the issue of sacrilege is neatly sidestepped by the parodies' inner message: how commerce and greed long since destroyed the simplicity & original meaning of the occasion.

Or in his first paperback MAD For Better Or Verse, filled with gems like the following excerpt from the chapter, "If Famous Poets Were In Other Occupations"--showing what it would be like, for example, if Kipling were a cookbook editor:
You may talk of beef and spuds
When you're frocked in fancy duds,
Just a-sittin' there as cozy as you please.
But when some heathen demon
In your stomach starts a-screamin,
Then you'll sell your bloomin' soul for buttered peas.
For it's Peas! Peas! Peas!
There's no finer dish in all the seven seas;
It's for you I give my pay for,
Walk the road to Mandalay for--
To dear God above I pray for buttered peas.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

Simkin
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Post by Simkin » Mon Oct 09, 2006 9:19 pm

With a beaded fern you waved away a gnat...

And maidens, hung with vivid beads of green,

One of them bearing in her arms an orange cat,

Held palms about a queen.


Emanuel Morgan

Madame
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Post by Madame » Tue Oct 10, 2006 3:20 am

The Little Old Lady in Lavender Silk


I was seventy-seven, come August,
I shall shortly be losing my bloom;
I've experienced zephyr and raw gust
And (symbolical) flood and simoom.

When you come to this time of abatement,
To this passing from Summer to Fall,
It is manners to issue a statement
As to what you got out of it all.

So I'll say, though reflection unnerves me
And pronouncements I dodge as I can,
That I think (if my memory serves me)
There was nothing more fun than a man!

In my youth, when the crescent was too wan
To embarrass with beams from above,
By the aid of some local Don Juan
I fell into the habit of love.

And I learned how to kiss and be merry- an
Education left better unsung.
My neglect of the waters Pierian
Was a scandal, when Grandma was young.

Though the shabby unbalanced the splendid,
And the bitter outmeasured the sweet,
I should certainly do as I then did,
Were I given the chance to repeat.

For contrition is hollow and wraithful,
And regret is no part of my plan,
And I think (if my memory's faithful)
There was nothing more fun than a man!

Dorothy Parker

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Post by Teresa B » Tue Oct 10, 2006 7:50 am

Thanks, Madame--

I love Dorothy Parker. In fact, thanks to Corlyss and everyone who is posting on this thread--I had almost forgotten how much I really enjoy poetry!

Teresa
"We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." ~ The Cheshire Cat

Author of the novel "Creating Will"

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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Oct 10, 2006 8:21 am

LO I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.

Helpe then, ô holy Virgin chiefe of nine,
Thy weaker Nouice to performe thy will,
Lay forth out of thine euerlasting scryne
The antique rolles, which there lye hidden still,
Of Faerie knights and fairest Tanaquill,
Whom that most noble Briton Prince so long
Sought through the world, and suffered so much ill,
That I must rue his vndeserued wrong:
O helpe thou my weake wit, and sharpen my dull tong.

--Spenser, in my opinion a negleceted poet and one greater than Milton.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Ted

Post by Ted » Tue Oct 10, 2006 8:37 am

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
See the primitive wallflower freeze
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
Hear the one with the mustache say, "Jeeze
I can't find my knees"
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel
Need I say yet another great American poet

jack stowaway
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Joined: Tue Feb 07, 2006 9:17 pm

Post by jack stowaway » Tue Oct 10, 2006 5:14 pm

Teresa B wrote:
Ted wrote:Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
One of my very favorites! It has an amazing layered ambiguity that I love. There's an air of wistful regret in knowing the poet will not make it back to try the other path. But what does "And that has made all the difference" mean? At first he concludes the paths look about the same, and then says he took the one less traveled by--but wait, they were really about the same--so how could that make all the difference?

Maybe a bit of the self-delusion all us humans engage in?

All the best,
Teresa
Your percipient question hits the nail squarely on the head, Teresa. The poem is one of the most misunderstood in the English language. It is commonly read as a sentimental 'what if?' poem. In fact, the message is quite the opposite.

In the poem, Frost is gently mocking that sentimental frame of mind which attributes major outcomes to incidental things. The point is precisely that it makes no difference which road you choose. All roads are the same. It is the traveller who makes the difference.

Frost is targeting the tendency to engage in wistful regret over life choices and to blame these choices on some twist of fate. 'And that has made all the difference' is a telling comment on our capacity for self-delusion. We are who we are, he suggests, regardless of which path we take. A truth which I have found applies very much to my own life.

The 'tell' is found in Frost's corpus of work with its incomparable use of irony. In this particular poem, that irony operates not only in the sentiments employed, but in the half-rhyme 'In ages hence, I shall be telling this with a sigh'

And so shall we all.

As a postscript, one of the most perceptive comments ever made about Frost was uttered by the distinguished literary critic Lionel Trilling, who wrote that Frost was a 'terrifying poet'. Trilling meant that beneath the affable veneer of the poetry beat a heart of....frost.

Teresa B
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Location: Tampa, Florida

Post by Teresa B » Tue Oct 10, 2006 7:38 pm

Hi Jack, Thanks for the great take on the Frost poem. One of the things I think I love about Frost is the irony and ambiguity hidden in a lot of his works.

"Mending fences" seems to always mean patching up relationships, but the poem Mending Wall doesn't really seem to say that at all, for example.

Happy reading!
Teresa
"We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." ~ The Cheshire Cat

Author of the novel "Creating Will"

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Oct 11, 2006 10:26 am

BWV 1080 wrote:The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
That is Wallace Stevens, in case anyone did not know, a fantastically difficult poet whom many literary critics consider the greatest American poet of the 20th century.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

jbuck919
Military Band Specialist
Posts: 26867
Joined: Wed Jan 28, 2004 10:15 pm
Location: Stony Creek, New York

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Oct 11, 2006 10:26 am

BWV 1080 wrote:The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
That is Wallace Stevens, in case anyone did not know, a fantastically difficult poet whom many literary critics consider the greatest American poet of the 20th century. LIke Charles Ives, he made his money in insurance.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

BWV 1080
Posts: 4451
Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 10:05 pm

Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Oct 11, 2006 11:45 am

jbuck919 wrote:
BWV 1080 wrote:The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
That is Wallace Stevens, in case anyone did not know, a fantastically difficult poet whom many literary critics consider the greatest American poet of the 20th century. LIke Charles Ives, he made his money in insurance.
Indeed, and Stevens can be quite impenetrable. Here is a take on the poem, which is really a very stark picture of life and death:
"For purposes of experiment, I have put the details the poem gives us into the form of a first-person narrative; I see the poem as a rewritten form of this ur-narrative, in which the narrative has been changed into an impersonal form, and the linear temporal structure of narrative form has been replaced by a strict geometric spatial construction – two rooms juxtaposed. Here (with apologies) is my conjectural narrative ur-form of the poem, constructed purely as an explanatory device:

I went, as a neighbor, to a house to help lay out the corpse of an old woman who had died alone; I was helping to prepare for the home wake. I entered, familiarly, not by the front door but by the kitchen door. I was shocked and repelled as I went into the kitchen by the disorderly festival going on inside: a big muscular neighbor who worked at the cigar-factory had been called in to crank the ice-cream machine, various neighbors had sent over their scullery-girls to help out and their yard-boys bearing newspaper-wrapped flowers from their yards to decorate the house and the bier: the scullery-girls were taking advantage of the occasion to dawdle around the kitchen and flirt with the yard-boys, and they were all waiting around to have a taste of the ice cream when it was finished. It all seemed to me crude and boisterous and squalid and unfeeling in the house of the dead – all that appetite, all that concupiscence.

Then I left the sexuality and gluttony of the kitchen, and went in to the death in the bedroom. The corpse of the old woman was lying exposed on the bed. My first impulse was to find a sheet to cover the corpse; I went to the cheap old pine dresser, but it was hard to get the sheet out of it because each of the three drawers was lacking a drawer-pull; she must have been too infirm to get to the store to get new glass knobs. But I got a sheet out, noticing that she had hand-embroidered a fantail border on it; she wanted to make it beautiful, even though she was so poor that she made her own sheets, and cut them as minimally as she could so as to get as many as possible out of a length of cloth. She cut them so short, in fact, that when I pulled the sheet up far enough to cover her face, it was too short to cover her feet. It was almost worse to have to look at her old calloused feet than to look at her face; somehow her feet were more dead, more mute, than her face had been

She is dead, and the fact cannot be hidden by any sheet. What remains after death, in the cold light of reality, is life – all of that life, with its coarse muscularity and crude hunger and greedy concupiscence, that is going on in the kitchen. The only god of this world is the cold god of persistent life and appetite; and I must look steadily at this repellent but true tableau – the animal life in the kitchen, the corpse in the back bedroom. Life offers no other tableaus of reality, once we pierce beneath appearances.

Helen Vendler

At the heart of many of Stevens's poems are harsh and unpalatable experiences revealed only gradually through his intense stylization. The famous poem, "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," resisted explication for some decades, perhaps because no one took the trouble to deduce its implicit narrative from its stylized plot. (The Russian formalist distinction between "story" and "plot" is often useful for this and other Stevens poems.) The basic "story " of "The Emperor" is that of a person who goes to the house of a neighbor, a poor old woman, who has died; the person is to help "lay out" (arrange for decent viewing) the corpse in the bedroom, while other neighbors are sending over homegrown flowers, and yet others are preparing food, including ice cream, for the wake.

Stevens "plots" this story into two equal stanzas: one for the kitchen where the ice cream is being made, one for the bedroom where the corpse awaits decent covering. He "plots" it further by structuring the poem as a series of commands from an unknown master of ceremonies, directing--in a diction of extreme oddness--the neighbors in their funeral duties: "Call the roller of big cigars, / The muscular one, and bid him whip / In kitchen cups concupiscent curds. /. . . / / Take from the dresser ... / ... that sheet /... / And spread it so as to cover her face." Both the symbolic kitchen stanza (life as concupiscence) and the symbolic bedroom stanza (death as final) end with the same third-order refrain echoed by the title: "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream." Faced with life (however slovenly and appetitive) in the kitchen and death (with its protruding horny feet) on the bed, one must, however unwillingly, acquiesce in the reign of life.

We cannot know what personal events prompted this 1922 poem, apparently set in Key West (so the poet Elizabeth Bishop conjectured, who knew Key West, where Cubans worked at the machines in cigar factories, where blacks always had ice cream at funerals), but it derives resonance from Stevens's mother's death ten years earlier. What is certain is that it represents symbolically, with the Procrustean bed of its two rooms, the bitter moment of choosing life over death, at a time when life seems particularly lonely, self-serving, lustful, and sordid. Art is exposed as too scanty in its powers to cover up death; the embroidered sheet (a figure for the embellished page), if it is pulled up to cover the dead woman's face, reveals her "horny feet," which show "how cold she is, and dumb." In choosing to "let the lamp affix its beam," as in a morgue, and in acquiescing to the command, "Let be be finale of seem," Stevens makes his momentous choice for reality over appearance.

From The Columbia History of American Poetry. Ed. Jay Parini and Brett C. Miller. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. Copyright © 1993 by Columbia UP.

jbuck919
Military Band Specialist
Posts: 26867
Joined: Wed Jan 28, 2004 10:15 pm
Location: Stony Creek, New York

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Oct 11, 2006 12:24 pm

There is a certain analogy among the arts. You can't write "It was a dark and stormy night" anymore, not that you ever could. You have to be a poet on the level of Stevens to make it happen at all, just as you have to be a composer on the level of Roger Sessions. In visual art, it helps to be Roger Bacon or Julian Freud, not Robert Kincade. There has never been anything easy about art, and to have an artist at all in these days in any medium is quite remarkable.

Architecture is a bit harder to deal with. We don't have to have modern art at all, but we do have to have buildings. As you know, I happen to have had the privilege to attend two great universities. At Yale, two of the colleges (Morse and Ezra Stiles) plus the skating rink were masterpieces designed by the Finnish architect Eiro Sarrinen. At Princeton, the newest college is designed in the traditional collegiate gothic style, which does not make it a horror, but which is absolutely unimaginative and unartistic.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

jserraglio
Posts: 6746
Joined: Sun May 29, 2005 7:06 am
Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Post by jserraglio » Wed Oct 11, 2006 6:20 pm

I admire Wislawa Szymborska... if only i could read her in the original Polish....
  • Photograph from September 11

    They jumped from the burning floors—
    one, two, a few more,
    higher, lower.

    The photograph halted them in life,
    and now keeps them
    above the earth toward the earth.

    Each is still complete,
    with a particular face
    and blood well hidden.

    There’s enough time
    for hair to come loose,
    for keys and coins
    to fall from pockets.

    They’re still within the air’s reach,
    within the compass of places
    that have just now opened.

    I can do only two things for them—
    describe this flight
    and not add a last line.
And Maestro Alexander Pope.....
  • You know where you did despise

    You know where you did despise
    (Tother day) my little Eyes,
    Little Legs, and little Thighs,
    And some things, of little Size,
    You know where.

    You, tis true, have fine black eyes,
    Taper legs, and tempting Thighs,
    Yet what more than all we prize
    Is a Thing of little Size,
    You know where.

.... Abe Lincoln is not half bad:
  • Abraham Lincoln

    Abraham Lincoln,
    His hand and pen:
    He will be good but
    God knows When.

favorites? maybe just the ones I happen to be reading,
right now--this one by Robert Fitzgerald:
  • Lightness in Autumn

    The rake is like a wand or fan,
    With bamboo springing in a span
    To catch the leaves that I amass
    In bushels on the evening grass.

    I reckon how the wind behaves
    And rake them lightly into waves
    And rake the waves upon a pile,
    Then stop my raking for a while.

    The sun is down, the air is blue,
    And soon the fingers will be, too,
    But there are children to appease
    With ducking in those leafy seas.

    So loudly rummaging their bed
    On the dry billows of the dead,
    They are not warned at four and three
    Of natural mortality.

    Before their supper they require
    A dragon field of yellow fire
    To light and toast them in the gloom.
    So much for old earth’s ashen doom.


. . . and this by Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
  • Underwear

    I didn’t get much sleep last night
    thinking about underwear
    Have you ever stopped to consider
    underwear in the abstract
    When you really dig into it
    some shocking problems are raised
    Underwear is something
    we all have to deal with
    Everyone wears
    some kind of underwear
    The Pope wears underwear I hope
    The Governor of Louisiana
    wears underwear
    I saw him on TV
    He must have had tight underwear
    He squirmed a lot
    Underwear can really get you in a bind
    You have seen the underwear ads
    for men and women
    so alike but so different
    Women’s underwear holds things up
    Men’s underwear holds things down
    Underwear is one thing
    men and women have in common
    Underwear is all we have between us
    You have seen the three-color pictures
    with crotches encircled
    to show the areas of extra strength
    and three-way stretch
    promising full freedom of action
    Don’t be deceived
    It’s all based on the two-party system
    which doesn’t allow much freedom of choice
    the way things are set up
    America in its Underwear
    struggles thru the night
    Underwear controls everything in the end
    Take foundation garments for instance
    They are really fascist forms
    of underground government
    making people believe
    something but the truth
    telling you what you can or can’t do
    Did you ever try to get around a girdle
    Perhaps Non-Violent Action
    is the only answer
    Did Gandhi wear a girdle?
    Did Lady Macbeth wear a girdle?
    Was that why Macbeth murdered sleep?
    And that spot she was always rubbing—
    Was it really in her underwear?
    Modern anglosaxon ladies
    must have huge guilt complexes
    always washing and washing and washing
    Out damned spot
    Underwear with spots very suspicious
    Underwear with bulges very shocking
    Underwear on clothesline a great flag of freedom
    Someone has escaped his Underwear
    May be naked somewhere
    Help!
    But don’t worry
    Everybody’s still hung up in it
    There won’t be no real revolution
    And poetry still the underwear of the soul
    And underwear still covering
    a multitude of faults
    in the geological sense—
    strange sedimentary stones, inscrutable cracks!
    If I were you I’d keep aside
    an oversize pair of winter underwear
    Do not go naked into that good night
    And in the meantime
    keep calm and warm and dry
    No use stirring ourselves up prematurely
    ‘over Nothing’
    Move forward with dignity
    hand in vest
    Don’t get emotional
    And death shall have no dominion
    There’s plenty of time my darling
    Are we not still young and easy
    Don’t shout

Madame
Posts: 3552
Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:56 am

Post by Madame » Wed Oct 11, 2006 8:16 pm

jack stowaway wrote:
Teresa wrote: One of my very favorites! It has an amazing layered ambiguity that I love. There's an air of wistful regret in knowing the poet will not make it back to try the other path. But what does "And that has made all the difference" mean? At first he concludes the paths look about the same, and then says he took the one less traveled by--but wait, they were really about the same--so how could that make all the difference?

Maybe a bit of the self-delusion all us humans engage in?

All the best,
Teresa
Your percipient question hits the nail squarely on the head, Teresa. The poem is one of the most misunderstood in the English language. It is commonly read as a sentimental 'what if?' poem. In fact, the message is quite the opposite.

In the poem, Frost is gently mocking that sentimental frame of mind which attributes major outcomes to incidental things. The point is precisely that it makes no difference which road you choose. All roads are the same. It is the traveller who makes the difference.

Frost is targeting the tendency to engage in wistful regret over life choices and to blame these choices on some twist of fate. 'And that has made all the difference' is a telling comment on our capacity for self-delusion. We are who we are, he suggests, regardless of which path we take. A truth which I have found applies very much to my own life.

The 'tell' is found in Frost's corpus of work with its incomparable use of irony. In this particular poem, that irony operates not only in the sentiments employed, but in the half-rhyme 'In ages hence, I shall be telling this with a sigh'

And so shall we all.
Thank you. I truly do believe there are certain points in our lives where we go off in one direction or another ... for a time ... but being who we are, we are not necessarily locked into something. Whatever we choose, we can make it the right decision. I've recently experienced this myself, having regretted making a major change, and when people ask me whether I'm happy with it, have to stop and think ... and finally answer, I will make it work for me. And having said that, I feel a sense of freedom, of being in control. All the unexpended options still ahead of me, including re-opening previously closed doors.

I'm going to put Corlyss on the spot here, ask her to share her perspective on "parallel universe".

miranda
Posts: 355
Joined: Tue Sep 13, 2005 5:13 pm

Post by miranda » Mon Oct 30, 2006 8:16 am

I'm reviving this thread. I believe that certain song lyrics can be poetry; this is one of my favorite songs, by the great Italian singer/songwriter Paolo Conte.

Canto tutto e niente
Una musica senza musica
Dove tutto e niente
Come musica nella musica...

Suona tutto e niente.
Una musica nella musica
Dove tutto e niente
Come polvere sulla polvere.

Dove tutto e niente
solo musica, brava musica
E la danza splende
Come un diavolo in un fulmine.

I sing everything and nothing.
Music without music.
Where everything is nothing
Like music in music.

Play everything and nothing
Music in music.
Where everything is nothing
Like dust on dust.

Where everything is nothing,
only music, brave music.
And the dance flashes,
like a devil in lightning.


And this has always been one of my very favorite poems; I found it years ago, in the New Yorker:

Hour

The extra hour given back to eternity
The hour gained by traveling west
The hour of imagined empire
The deepest hour of the darkest sea
The guilty hour that precedes catastrophe
The hour that it takes to go from here to there
The haunted hour of the knowledge of death
The hour in which the moon darkens
The hour that moves through the mind like cloud shadow
The blue hour that rests on the roof of the house
The hour that is the mother of minutes and the grandmother of seconds
The swollen hour of pain, enough, enough
The hour when mice run through the walls
The bronze hour of electrical weather
The cloistered hour of the nun's great moment
The necklace of hours the widow wears
The numbing hours of a night in Nome
The sound of hours in the breathing of plants
The central hour that exists without you
The hour in which the universe begins to die
The hallucinatory hour that hangs forever
The hour of excess that equal two of self-examination
The hour that flashed upon the skin
The hour of final music
The hour of painless solitude
The hour of moonlight upon her body

~Mark Strand


And finally, my favorite sonnet of Shakespeare's, #75.....

So are you to my thoughts as food to life
Or as sweet seasoned showers are to the ground,
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found:
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by, clean starved for a look,
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had, or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit, day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

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