Monday, August 24, 2015

favorite poems... August 17

III from Tristan (Edna St. Vincent Millay) (from Judith)
ITHAKA by C. P. Cavafy (from Carmin)
Inniskeen Road: July Evening by Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) (from Paul)
The Faces at Braga - David Whyte (from Bernie)
When Death Comes - Mary Oliver (also from Bernie)

in the email: mentioned
Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver

And looked at a file which had Elizabeth Bishop’s “Something I’ve meant to write about for 30 years”
Linda Gregg, “The Problem of Sentences”
Wislawa Szymborska, “Could Have”
And “Some Trees” by John Ashbery written when he was a student at Harvard,

With Al Filreis’ comment: “just attend to the words… the relationship is formed by arbitrary connection… we have left the world and how have connection in the poem…”

What makes a “favorite” — which poems do we return to… and what connections have we made to poems tucked away in a special place because they tug at our being? Feel free to make a list and share!

Judith shared with us a different aspect Millay, so often described as “twee” (excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental.)
(the first Fig in Figs and Thistles
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Source: Poetry (June 1918)

Here, Tristan is speaking... and Millay, as poet of the outdoors brings us wonderful names--
"alkanet" and "costmary"-- they were fresh and brash and fragrant, but a man
can forget / All names but one. I was not alone in the room.
A "heady" setting for a night with Isolde... It's the sort of poem where you can't miss the building and binding passion. Then the sudden shift... Tristan back on his boat (late)...
"Women there,
With sea-wind slashing their hair into their eyes, were drying
Long net and long net and long net.

like the herbs Tristan and Isolde meant to have tied... and the two other association in the repeated monosyllables, a sense of long net cast into the sea of the story, capturing the
rhythm of waves...

I love how myth captures the universal placing it in perfectly modern settings. Such it is with Ithaca and the return of Odysseus to regain his kingdom. As opposed to the passion/pressure in the room containing Tristan and Isolde, this poem captures a journey, and a bit of well-wishing to make the most of it. Perhaps, as one person brought up, Odysseus is the symbol of the spiritual incomplete,but substitute "Ithaca" for the there: "Arriving there is what you are destined for." Without the Trojan War, Odysseus would never have had the ten years of difficulties to return home. The poem encourages us to accept all that comes on our path as we set out and return in our birth-death trajectory...
Let go... allow experience its due... and enjoy the ride.
"Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean."

I love how Graves trusts that by the end of our lives will will have accumulated enough experience to understand what Ithaca means, as Kingdom before the war, kingdom to return to, and all that might not be Ithaca when you do. How do you find your haven?

Paul shared the liveliness of language with Kavanagh's Inniskeen Road: July Evening. He sums up his pick this way: "
This is not my favorite, but a favorite of the moment. Kavanagh's poetry, here, reflects an inner loneliness he felt throughout his life and he pictures in this work the motion of bicycles, the coming fellowship and expectation of the joy of a Saturday night barn that he is not going to, and then, the solitude of the empty road: not even a shadow thrown. Alexander Selkirk was the model for Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. What better example of being cut off from one's fellow men."

This little sonnet indeed shares "the wink-and-elbow language of delight" but the question for me is why the poet could not also join in the fun? What does "A footfall tapping secrecies of stone" mean for him. Who is the audience?

Bernie's pick: The Faces at Braga - David Whyte from Many Rivers Meet. (1960’s)
From the Medieval realms of Britain to antiquity in the Mediterranean, to perhaps mid-20th century Ireland, we arrive in Nepal, and a Buddhist parable about carving.
"If only we could give ourselves
to the blows of the carver's hands,
the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers"...
how wood contains imperfections, yet can be carved into something beautiful -- how the world carves us, and how we respond ... When we fight with our failing...
we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself.
Wonderful poem about letting go... the importance of "Ithaca" as experience, the starting point and an opportunity.

The world as our carver... and our choices in understanding what might feel as blows.
Do we fight, hide, or use the blows as opportunities?

The final poem by Mary Oliver "When Death Comes" ends with "I don't want to have felt I have just visited this world."

It reminded Judith of this poem by Millay:
An Ancient Gesture

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can't keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don't know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried.

Favorite poems remind us of what tugs at our hearts, reminds us we have only one life, and encourage us to keep on going, remembering there is always amazement.

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