This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
“Preface to Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman.
Even if Linda Gregg had not written many other fine poems, “Gnostics on Trial” would assure her a place among the poets who have written seriously about our moral dilemmas. Technically, it is hard to imagine a better put-together poem, its compact form packing a terrific moral & aesthetic (which the poem argues are the same) wallop. Gregg’s poem is a faultless example of the short lyric as practiced since the mid-twentieth century. And there is not much on the horizon, I think, likely to take the place of this now venerable form, or mode, of poetry. The short lyric remains essential even as new & hybrid forms proliferate around it & it seems to be holding its own, occupying the place–the evolutionary niche–formerly occupied by the sonnet.
Gratitude: A Sentence
With the trees in full leaf in high summer
I can only see a little patch of the river
through the lower branches reflecting the sky
with its drifting cumulus & altocumulus,
but like a fragment of mirror, that patch
of river intensifies what it reflects—
especially the hues & values of sunrise
(orange) & sunset (yellow), with every shade
of every other color passing across
the smooth or ruffled surface every day.
There is now a great deal of poetry available legally under copyright on the internet, good sources being the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Magazine, Poem Hunter, along with those repositories of older public domain literature, Bartleby.com & Project Guttenburg. There are also an increasing number of sites like Pennsound with audio archives of modern & contemporary literature. Drawing on these sources, I am going to begin a regular feature of the blog–a kind of commonplace book for me–called Favorite Poems. I will link to the full text of the poem & usually make a brief comment, personal rather than critical, about the poem. These will be my favorites, so I invite comments on other readers reactions, suggestions, etc. Join me in taking advantage of the rich resources available for our pleasure & edification. Note: I will soon begin a feature of favorite “bad” country songs in order to counteract the rather high-toned presumptions of the Favorite Poems series.
I begin today with William Carlos Williams’ “To Elsie,” which astonishes by its clear seeing and unsentimental view of the world & its people. Williams has the ability to say things that are not conventionally “kind” out of a deep reservoir of love for the world & its things. Follow the link to the Poets.org site & read the poem. Here is audio of WCW reading the poem.
I’ve been reading John Donne this week & consequently thinking about religious poetry. It took several years of Zen practice to enable me to go back to the Christian tradition of religious poetry. I’m writing a longer piece about these matters, but thought I’d post this song by rock & roller John Hiatt as an example of good religious poetry. One doesn’t expect to find a religious on a rock album, but there you have it.
Through Your Hands
You were dreaming on a park bench
‘Bout a broad highway somewhere
When the music from the carillon
Seemed to hurl your heart out there
Past the scientific darkness
Past the fireflies that float
To an angel bending down
To wrap you in her warmest coat
And you ask, “What am I not doing?”
She says “Your voice cannot command.
In time, you will move mountains,
And it will come through your hands.”
Still you argue for an option
Still you angle for your case
Like you wouldn’t know a burning bush
If it blew up in your face
Yeah, we scheme about the future
And we dream about the past
When just a simple reaching out
Might build a bridge that lasts
So whatever your hands find to do
You must do with all your heart
There are thoughts enough
To blow men’s minds and tear great worlds apart
There’s a healing touch to find you
On that broad highway somewhere
To lift you high
As music flying
Through the angel’s hair.
I could see the full moon at 10:42 tonight through the tangle of maple branches heavy with leaves. It will be at least another hour before the moon clears the top of the tallest maple, by which time I hope to be asleep, though perhaps a little awake inside my sleep. That’s how I experienced the huge thunderstorm that passed through last night about 1:00 in the morning, & the robins’ dawn chorus as well.
Two Lucid Sleep Haiku
The robins began at four-thirty but did not
wake me up with their dawn singing.
How do I know the time?
They woke me inside of sleep.
Before the birds there was a violent
thunderstorm that woke me briefly—
it crashed & blasted inches from my face
on the other side of my window.