Thursday, February 02, 2006

Reya's Poetry Parade

Several weeks ago Reya of Grace's Poppies asked other D.C. bloggers to enter a poem on their blog on February 2nd, then go to her blog and enter a link back, in effect giving us a parade of poems across the internet. Grace's Poppies

At first, I was going to choose a poem from anything I was currently reading, but that would mean George Herbert, a 16th-century metaphysical poet and not that accessible for a general reading population, ditto for Wallace Stevens, and I had already quoted from Dylan Thomas on Reya's blog back in January. The more I thought about this task, and about poetry, I realized that poetry had been in my life since I began reading. I may be a rarity, or this may be more common than I think, but I am in possession of all of the major poetry books that have been in my life, including the anthology that I held in the much tinier hands of my past. It was then that I decided to write about poetry throughout my life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

In looking through my first book of poems, I realized there were two poems that stood out in their significance. I was surprised to learn that they had both been written by Robert Louis Stevenson. I knew he was the author of the second poem, but I had obviously squashed the memory that he had written the first. I learned the Mother Goose rhymes, as we all did, but the first serious poem I learned was called My Shadow. My mother had set me the task of memorizing it for recitation. I suppose that's one way to get a child out of your hair when you're busy.

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow--
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up.
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

I distinctly remember returning to my mother, thinking I had "gotten it," only to have forgotten a bit and having to go back and practice some more. I also remember when I finally had it all and what a sense of accomplishment that was.

Illustration for Windy Nights from my childhood poetry book. For some reason this drawing scared me and thrilled me at the same time

At the end of the anthology, the last poem was also by Stevenson and was called Windy Nights. When I held the book last night, studying the illustration, I remembered how disturbing this image was to me as a child, but my head was already full of Rip Van Winkle and windy, tossed branches. Late nights and horse imagery pop up again in puberty, as you will see:

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highay, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he:
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.


A poem that I loved in puberty uses that same imagery of the night traveller. By Walter de la Mare, it was called The Listener. I should add that I was not one of those little girls who fell in love with horses and went cantering around the playground pretending to be one:

"Is anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Aye, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron and stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

I loved that phrase, "To that voice from the world of men." Typing this just now, "stirred and shaken" jumped out and me. Silly ghostly people. They had James Bond pounding on their door.

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

By the time I hit 9th Grade, I was reading all sorts of oddball things, including a forgotten poet named Amy Lowell. This was my favorite from her work, and it's called Patterns. You can see I am entering my swooning, romantic years:

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a
marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along
the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-
hilt and the buckles
on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-
booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my
body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon--
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider
from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly
in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broken the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have
Now he is dead.

In Summer and Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The pattern garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters,
and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown,
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded
from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Well. You can see the appeal of that to a young, virginal girl. Somewhere in the following years, my taste matured. I studied the usual things we all did in high school. Beowulf jumps out at me. The Cavalier poets. I know by 12th Grade I was bored stiff with whatever was being taught, and my English teacher, sensing my ennui, gave me special projects to work on, the largest being John Donne. Tackling Donne shut me up until I graduated.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

By the time I hit college, I was all over the place: The Beat Poets. Cool. Let's go to Germany and see what's cooking there. Ireland? Yeats? Sure. The Song of the Wandering Aengus which begins:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;

I knew all about fires in my head, and I was busy trying to put them out, or at least contain them. I read the Feminist Poets like Anne Sexton. I read my way through Russia: Pasternak, Mayakovsky, Pushkin, Anna Akhmatova. Did I read the Russians? Even their paeans to the tractor factory.

John Keats -- Life Mask

I remember sitting in an early English class, with a professor that I adored, about to tackle the Romantic Poets. After discussing this briefly with the class, he turned to me and said, "Cubie. You are going to fall in love with these men." He was right. I did. My true love became John Keats. Such a hottie...except for that nagging little cough of his. Why was he pouring out his energy on that slut Fanny Brawne when he could have had me?

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflected love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

He died in Rome when he was 26 years old. I studied his life inside and out: read every biography I could get my hands on. I read his letters. Not only did he have a death mask, he had a life mask. The power of youth and good cheekbones. I am sure there are young women out there today, still wishing they had known him.

While I was in college, I studied French for many years, and I "think" around the third year, we started writing lengthy analytical pieces and poetry, in French. I will try and recreate my first effort. I know I have a copy of it at home somewhere, but since I couldn't readily lay my hands on it, this is from memory, and don't fault me on missing accent marks, or wrong tense. I always worked in college. Part-time during semesters, and full-time every summer. One year I ran the language laboratory. My French professor walked by the lab door one night, and she came in and asked what I was working on. "My next assignment for you," I told her. She picked up the poem, and she had a little smile on her face. "This is French haiku," she said. She didn't mean it literally, of course, but I got the drift. She made a minor change in the tense of a word and left. Thank you, Professor Gray, for all that you taught me:

Le grand mur de Chine
Austere, vieux
Touts les pierres lamentent
A tout ce qu'ils sont vu.

There is no truly accurate translation for "vieux" other than it means extremely old. It's one of those words like "gentil" that doesn't really mean gentle or kind, but oh so much more. It's translation?

The Great Wall of China
Austere, Extremely Old
All of the stones weep
At everything they have seen.

Give me a break. I was young. Later, I won the poetry prize in my graduating year, for a interlocking Terza Rima that I wrote. I am not going to repeat it here, because I've burdened you enough with my sophomoric efforts.

Since then, poetry continues to sound in my life. I've enjoyed learning about new poets and their work. Styles come and go. Does anyone read Sara Teasdale anymore? I think I'll throw her out to you since her poem is called February, and there is that missing man, and the wind, and the trees and that silence that beat and repeat throughout my life:

They spoke of him I love
With cruel words and gay;
My lips kept silent guard
On all I could not say.

I heard, and down the street
The lonely trees in the square
Stood in the winter wind
Patient and bare.

I heard...oh voiceless trees
Under the wind, I knew
The eager terrible spring
Hidden in you.


Blogger Blue Dog Art said...

Reya should be very proud of you. Well done. I always learn so much from reading your blog. Thank you.

2:43 PM  
Blogger East-West Girl said...

Thank you so much for this post! I sometimes forget how much I love poetry. I could use some of it right now. So thanks. And you really are well read and quite knowledgable. Bravo.

3:09 PM  
Blogger VP of Dior said...

Professor Cube - I love that you included poems from different parts of your life.

I hope to never grow out of the "swooning" stage, especially if it's a young man with stellar cheekbones :)

3:12 PM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

So. Erudite.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Asian Mistress said...

GOD that must have taken forever cubie! :)

But enjoyed it!

3:38 PM  
Blogger Merujo said...

What a lovely tribute to verse! Come by National Geographic and join me for lunch sometime. I'll take you to see the N.C. Wyeth paintings in Founders Hall - whenever I think of Robert Louis Stevenson, I think of his paintings decorating the adventures of my childhood. And we have three marvelous, huge paintings of his, celebrating that adventurous spirit. When I'm having a crazy day - I make a point of going over to look at those guys...

3:49 PM  
Blogger Rob Lowe said...

To think all the money I wasted in UCLA lit classes. I could have just come to this blog.

Seriously, this is the first time in a while I haven't winced at the thought of reading poetry. Thanks for the re-introduction, hotcakes.


4:50 PM  
Blogger Complacent Chase said...

WOW!! Well done!

6:28 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

There is definitely a fire in my head this evening, as I begin my stroll through the Bloggers' choice poetry. I'm fighting the urge to try to read ALL POEMS ASAP. That's not what poetry is for. Still the feast of poetry from today is truly mind boggling, something for everyone.

Your post, including the graphics, is something I could spend many hours contemplating, and probably will.

I love the shadow poem - my mother used to recite it to us.

How amazing to pour so much beauty into the world of Blog. Wow.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Blue Dog: Thank you. I feel like I am blessed to be part of the Washington writing community. I don't think there is such a talented band anywhere else in the country...well maybe California, but I don't think they are as united as we are. I am hoping they will be. They need their version of a L.A. Blogs.

East-West: I am the one that gained in that I discovered your blog today. So. We're even. :)

VP: Amen. You and I both know women could (and have) written VOLUMES on their blogs about a man's neck, or his hands, or his wrist, or his...well, you know. I hope I can always appreciate beauty in a man. They hate the word "beauty" applied to them. I should say "handsome."

Momentary: I'm glad you liked it. I was so happy to see so many people responding back to Reya with really unique things.

Miss Asian? It did. Hours. Sigh.
& thanks.

Merujo: There is so much I didn't write about Stevenson, like his abandoning his life in Europe and dying in Samoa.

Rob: I've had a lot of nicknames from men including "doll," "baby," and "toots," but never "hotcakes." Me likee.

Chase: Thanks you. I can't tell you how much I've been enjoying your own serial fiction.

Reya: Your project. Your doing. Give people the proper inspiration and motivation and they will produce. You've done a service to Washington in banding us together today toward one goal, and I loved (and love) being part of that writing community.

8:02 PM  
Anonymous DRFS aka Sue said...

Cube...I have always loved Robert Louis Stevenson...The Land Of Counterpane was a favorite as a child....and as for Beats...well...I fell in love with Paul Blackburn. Not a beat (he was a member of the Black Mountain movement) but so "avant garde" as my friends and I said in college...when we thought we WERE avant garde but we were more like poseurs...

No image
is decisive argument
and it cuts me loose
to feel, the roots set down
into rock, even
strained by this.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Chairborne Stranger said...

That was an awesome post, Cubie.

PS nice pic. very well done.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Spicy Cauldron said...

This is an incredible post - informative and entertaining, quite amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to produce it, must have taken you hours! One thing, though, it's not just Washington DC bloggers who took part. People from all over the world did (me, UK). It's become quite a phenomenon, and an opportunity for people to encounter some new blogs. x

9:05 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Sue: I really do thank Reya for this project, because it got me thinking about poetry again, something I hadn't given much attention to in my life for a while.

Chair: Thanks. My favorite soldier, and hopefully you are in Australia now on your R&R and away and safe from that horrible war.

Spicy: I know it was worldwide, because Reya told me she had heard from so many countries. I know she is going to settle down and go through everything to create an overview blog piece about what occurred and the responses received. It did take hours, which I didn't mind, because I approached it the way I chose to. What was a tad disappointing to me was having my friends say, "Oh, I'll be reading it later, when I have the time." Ouch. Yanno? Bottom line. I did it for me, and I enjoyed the process.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Mataz said...

Although On the Road remains one of my all-time favortie books, I tried the Beat Poetry thing in college as well, but it never took hold. Mostly, it just ended up annoying me.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Mataz: Here is my favorite passage (one of, anyway) from On The Road where Kerouac describes "Dean Moriarty," (Neal Cassady):
"But they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all of my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"

11:01 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

You get an A+ for both length and substance. I wouldn't have expected anything less from you though! We're all very lucky that Reya inspired us to immerse ourselves in poetry in this darkest time of the year.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Mataz said...

My favorite from On the Road: "It was always manana. For the next week that was all I heard - manana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven."

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emily Dickinson, Cube?


3:52 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Barbara: Reya was definitely the catalyst behind all of this. I know I wouldn't normally be blogging about poetry, with her impetus.

Grince: Emily? I would have written volumes on Emily so I stayed away from her. I may still post on her sometime, but the really offbeat stuff about her adulterous brother, etc.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous adelaide said...

I still read Sara Teasdale. I didn't think anyone else did. I'm glad I was wrong.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Adelaide: I didn't think anyone read her anymore. Seriously.

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

This entry is such good reading and so good looking that commenting makes me feel like a bad kid carving misspelled graffiti into the library table.
"dave wuz her"

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Wrethcat said...

The very first serious poem I wrote was when I was 13 although I had a love affair with Shakespeare at quite an early age. I used to write small poems and stories ever since I was 4 using the cardboard inserts from my mother's pantyhose packages. I would bind them together likes books using yarn.

One of my favorite poems has always been "Tyger! Tyger!" by William Blake (What a surprise coming from a kitty.)

Although I was especially NOT boy crazy at that age, unlike most girls, I ended up drawing on that romantic deepness and actually wrote a love poem. Cubie often makes me feel compelled to share, so here is the poem that began my poetry "career":

"I Send My Love To Thee"

Of breathless wind
And stormy sea
Through all,
I send my love to thee.

Through petal bloom
And Autumn death,
My feelings told
With lusty breath.

Two ivory doves
Glide high in flight
Pale Moon reveals
Desire's light

Deep Passion bids
Cruel Darkness part
Intense Inferno
Burns My heart.

These words I speak
From lips of mine
Do now await
Soft kiss of thine

Of breathless wind
And stormy sea
Through all,
I Send my love to thee.

>^, ,^<

9:36 PM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

So many choices, it's like trying to select the ONE movie you'd want if you were stranded on a desert island.

And for that reason I choose one that I've always found interesting:

I love little Pussy.
Her coat is so warm,
And if I don't hurt her,
She'll do me no harm.
So I'll not pull her tail,
Or drive her away,
But Pussy and I
Very gently will play,
She will sit by my side,
And I'll give her her food,
And she'll like me because
I am gentle and good.

I'll pat little Pussy,
And then she will purr,
And thus show her thanks
For my kindness to her;
I'll not pinch her ears,
Nor tread on her paws,
Lest I should provoke her
To use her sharp claws;
I never will vex her,
Nor nake her displeased,
For Pussy can't bear
To be worried or teased.
- Jane Taylor

9:47 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Dave: You're sweet.

Wrethy: I love it, but then you are so gifted.

Thai: ::::glare:::

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like god to airy thinness beat.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
John Donne

True wit is Nature to advantage dressed,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed;
Something whose truth convices at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
So modest plainness sets off the sprightly wit;
For works may have more wit than does them good,
As bodies perish through excess of blood.

An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope


12:04 PM  
Anonymous adelaide said...

OK, Cube. Let's see if we can get anyone else interested in good old Sara Teasdale.


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

Both entertaining and educational as per usual. This is a tremendous contribution for many reasons, not the least of which is your willingness to share it with a wide and largely anonymous audience. Although this morning I was finally able to give it the time it deserved (I traded some of the Pepperidge Farm cookies for a little extra internet time), I suspect I may need to pop back in to visit it again someday. That's the problem with you supercomputers you know - always making us human bloggers learn stuff when all we really want to do is write posts about how much the curly fries sucked at half-price burger night.

Funny that you should mention Wallace Stevens. "A Postcard from the Volcano" came this close to being my submission. 'Cuz we pira... errr... I mean "legitimate seafaring businessmen" are down with the moderns yo, and I've been known to anchor off Tehuantepec from time to time...

12:43 PM  
Blogger kan said...

such a longgggggggggg post. wanted to say hi, before I began to your avatar! vert cool

2:04 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I've been reading and re-reading this piece. It is so rich, so full of ... everything ... To comment on it is really important, but what to say? I have thoughts about the poems, your accompanying stories, and I even want to comment about the contour of this piece, the way you've moved back and forth in time.

I believe one of the reasons poetry is so powerful is that is somehow changes time, or the perception of time, at least whenever I'm reading or listening. Good poems leave a lingering sense of altered time.

Your piece has this quality. You're a real artist, also a great magician.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Should also have said: thank you.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Patterns! Wow.

8:56 PM  
Blogger playfulinnc said...

A thesis no less.

You are something else.

9:03 PM  
Blogger mysterygirl! said...

"Such a little hottie... except for that nagging cough..."

Fabulous! Who doesn't love tuberculosis humor?

7:16 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

TB humor, yes, but even better is when Cube recognizes James Bond's ghost ("shaken, not stirred") intruding into one of her poems. Heh. I love that.

9:31 PM  

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