“I knew I hadn’t written in vain!”

A friend of mine, Dorothy Day, had been put in the women’s prison at 6th Avenue and 8th Street, for her part in a protest. Well, once a week at this place, on a Saturday, the girls were marched down for a shower. A group were being ushered in when one, a whore, loudly proclaimed:

Hundreds have lived without love,
But none without water

A line from a poem of mine which had just appeared in The New Yorker. When I heard this I knew I hadn’t written in vain!

W.H. Auden

Dirge in Woods

A wind sways the pines,
And below
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
Even we,
Even so

George Meredith
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44698/dirge-in-woods

Lucifer in Starlight

On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o’er Afric’s sands careened,
Now the black planet shadowed Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

George Meredith
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44701/lucifer-in-starlight

Soldier from the Wars Returning – A. E. Housman

Soldier from the wars returning,
Spoiler of the taken town,
Here is ease that asks not earning;
Turn you in and sit you down.

Peace is come and wars are over,
Welcome you and welcome all,
While the charger crops the clover
And his bridle hangs in stall.

Now no more of winters biting,
Filth in trench from tall to spring,
Summers full of sweat and fighting
For the Kesar or the King.

Rest you, charger, rust you, bridle;
Kings and kesars, keep your pay;
Soldier, sit you down and idle
At the inn of night for aye.

Thinking Shakespeare

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 82

How do actors breathe life into Shakespeare’s texts? How do they take language that’s centuries old and make it sound so real and immediate?
Barry Edelstein, the Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director at The Old Globe in San Diego, is one of the nation’s most experienced Shakespeare directors. Twice a year, The Old Globe holds an event called Thinking Shakespeare Live! – a master class where you get to watch actors act and Edelstein direct – in essence, pulling back the curtain on the rehearsal room.

 

EDELSTEIN: It depends on the guy playing Marcellus doing a take after you say, “The air bites shrewdly.” So, your listeners will have to imagine that in the beat between the two halves of the line that the other guy is looking at you with a look of perplexity on his face and then you’ll get it. Go ahead.

BOGAEV: “The air bites shrewdly.”

EDELSTEIN: Huh?

BOGAEV: “It is very cold.”

EDELSTEIN: Oh. Right, so that’s, right he doesn’t say “huh” and he doesn’t say, “oh,” but there you go, that’s the idea.

BOGAEV: [LAUGH] Well, I can see it.

EDELSTEIN: Very good, see that’s it, you’re now a Shakespearean actor because we are asking ourselves, “Why am I talking this way?” And it’s never good enough to simply say, “Well, because it’s a Shakespeare play, and that’s how Shakespeare writes.” In the rehearsal room we’re trying to create human reality.

BOGAEV: So, it is this marriage of “Why am I saying these words now?” and “How is the language built?” because this is how you organize your master class, and your teaching, and I think we just talked about heightened language. You also include in these four categories “antithesis.” Now remind us what antithesis in rhetoric is.

EDELSTEIN: Antithesis is… sure. Antithesis is the big, big, big, big thing of Shakespeare. That’s the technique that he relies on really most. And antithesis is very simply opposition.

Concord Hymn

Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
   Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
   Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
   We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
   When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
   To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
   The shaft we raise to them and thee.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

via https://www.poetryfoundation.org/

Summertime – The Sundays

Do some people wind up with the one that they adore
In a heart-shaped hotel room it’s what a heart is for
The bubble floats so madly will it stay sky-high?
Hello partner
Kiss your name bye-bye
Sometimes…
Romantic Piscean seeks angel in disguise
Chinese-speaking girlfriend big brown eyes
Liverpudlian lady sophisticated male
Hello partner
Tell me love can’t fail
& it’s you & me in the summertime
We’ll be hand in hand down in the park
With a squeeze & a sigh & that twinkle in your eye
& all the sunshine banishes the dark
Do some people wind up with the one that they abhor
In a distant hell-hole room third world war
But all I see is films where a colourless despair
Meant angry young men with immaculate hair
Sometimes…
Get up a voice inside says there’s no time for looking down
Only a pound a word & you’re talking to the town
But how do you coin the phrase though that will set your soul apart?
Just to touch
A lonely heart
& it’s you & me in the summertime
We’ll be hand in hand down in the park
With a squeeze & a sigh & that twinkle in your eye
& all the sunshine banishes the dark
& it’s you I need in the summertime
As I turn my white skin red
Two peas from the same pod yes we are
Or have I read too much fiction?
Is this how it happens?
David Gavurin / Harriet Wheeler

Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Ode to Failure – Allen Ginsberg

Many prophets have failed, their voices silent
ghost-shouts in basements nobody heard dusty laughter in family attics
nor glanced them on park benches weeping with relief under empty sky
Walt Whitman viva’d local losers——courage to Fat Ladies in the Freak Show!
nervous prisoners whose mustached lips dripped sweat on chow lines——
Mayakovsky cried, Then die! my verse, die like the workers’ rank & file fusilladed in Petersburg!
Prospero burned his Power books & plummeted his magic wand to the bottom of dragon seas
Alexander the Great failed to find more worlds to conquer!
O Failure I chant your terrifying name, accept me your 54 years old Prophet
epicking Eternal Flop! I join your Pantheon of mortal bards, & hasten this ode with high blood pressure
rushing to the top of my skull as I if I wouldn’t last another minute, like the Dying Gaul! to You, Lord of blind Monet, deaf Beethoven, armless Venus de Milo, headless Winged Victory!
I failed to sleep with every bearded rosy-cheeked boy I jacked off over
My tirades destroyed no Intellectual Unions of KGB & CIA in turtlenecks & underpants, their woolen suits and tweeds
I never dissolved Plutonium or dismantled the nuclear Bomb before my skull lost hair
I have not yet stopped the Armies of entire Mankind in their march toward World War III
I never got to Heaven, Nirvana, X, Whatchamacallit, I never left Earth,
I never learned to die.

Allen Ginsberg

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth

Life Is Fine

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.

But it was High up there! It was high!

So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love–
But for livin’ I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry–
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!

– Langston Hughes

Best day in the year…

Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

MCMXIV – Phillip Larkin

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Borges and I – Jorge Luis Borges

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

A Noiseless Patient Spider, Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.