Poetry Fetter’d Fetters the Human Race. Nations are Destroy’d or Flourish in proportion as Their Poetry, Painting and Music are Destroy’d or Flourish! The Primeval State of Man was Wisdom, Art and Science.
The question before me, now that I
am old, is not how to be dead,
which I know from enough practice,
but how to be alive, as these worn
hills still tell, and some paintings
of Paul Cézanne, and this mere
singing wren, who thinks he’s alive
forever, this instant, and may be.
We come to the garden,
surrounded by unwatching eyes
set in grimacing frozen faces,
ears that do not tremble
to the vibration of birdsong in the air,
rigid hands that reach out
but can never grasp or even touch,
riven noses (why are they always
first to go?) unable to enjoy
the fragrance of the gentlest flower.
And what to say about the tongues?
Stonestill as if caught mid-word
with no way to finish the thought,
complete the image, not one, not one
of them to sing the mystery,
except by what can only be called
the greatest of all miracles,
a warming to life.
Written for dVerse on the occasion of their third anniversary. Dedicated to poets everywhere who are attempting to see, hear, smell, touch, and speak of what we experience.
Today is the anniversary of John Milton’s death. What’s there to say about Milton? An incredible mind–after he became blind he composed his verse in his head and dictated it later to his amanuensis. I also recall hearing or reading somewhere that there is good evidence that he had learned all of the accumulated human knowledge up to his time (at least knowledge in the Western tradition). The following is an excerpt from his most famous work, Paradise Lost. The illustration is from William Blake, whose thoughts on Milton are most interesting.
. . . her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat.
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.
–John Milton, Paradise Lost, IX.780-784
Today is the anniversary of W. H. Auden’s death (Sept. 29, 1973). In this poem, Auden refers to several paintings by the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel. Hopefully the images I downloaded will come out clear enough. Even without the paintings, the poem is remarkable.
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.