Tag Archives: Romantic

Analog

It’s at times like this,
when morning slides across in its straw-yellow light –
that I am slow enticed to rise
and invite the day into my life.

Somehow its poetry comes upon me like I dial
digits on a rotary phone-
awaiting a cyclic return to home position before moving on.

It’s where the music of my choice plays from beginning to end,
with static embellishment reminding me of conclusion.

The ticks and tocks of the clock drive me forward in time,

It’s the moment of morning glory – once asleep in darkness,
then blooming in the day.

Beauty – she sits in moments, but grows in continuum,
and the anticipation at these time-points are like dust in the shifting light,
and my heart wakes in hues of endurance and tomorrow.

onliest

A red door
with plate glass casements ’round
enclosing a deepened vestibule-
and shadows on white walls are bound.

bold-faced clouds that billow
into thunderstorms on Sundays-
woodland sunflowers that line
shadowed waterfront lanes.

alone under
a darkened rift of stars –
in wonder of their stillness,
yet know not what they are

it is the wind that blows from the shore
out to sea.

it is the light that steals from obscurity

it is the embrace of an onliest thing

it is the sum of these
that sways me on a quiet string.

A cappella Friday: To Be Sung on the Water

A cappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and a cappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, and onomatopoeia mean so much to a cappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.

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There are few things more lovely in nature than the calm surface of a body of water. The way a rowboat or canoe cuts through the still waters is direct, and appeals to one’s sight. The sounds of oars dipping into the surface and being pulled forward, leaves an echo. If there are no other sounds around, the setting is serene.

Louise Bogan (1897-1970) was a poet of the early/mid 20th century. She was born in Maine, into a family of mill workers. As a child, she was unfortunately witness to the adulterous affairs of her mother, which definitely shaped her views on love and betrayal, a common theme in her poetry. Most of her poetry was written early in her life. Later in life she worked as a poetry reviewer for the New Yorker. Bogan was fairly reclusive and reticent about sharing personal details of her life. Her poetic voice has a deep romantic resonance, and she manages to pull every bit of emotion out of minimal use of words. Among her works is a poem entitled “To be sung on the water”.

TO BE SUNG ON THE WATER
By Louise Bogan

Beautiful, my delight,
Pass, as we pass the wave.
Pass, as the mottled night
Leaves what it cannot save,
Scattering dark and bright.

Beautiful, pass and be
Less than the guiltless shade
To which our vows were said;
Less than the sound of the oar
To which our vows were made, –
Less than the sound of its blade
Dipping the stream once more.

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was a highly prolific American composer. While his best known work is arguably Adagio for Strings^, he also wrote vocal music and was highly acclaimed as a choral/vocal composer. He was an avid fan of poetry and composed works based on poems by Matthew Arnold, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and James Agee. In 1968, he composed a choral setting of Louise Bogan’s poem ” To be sung on the water.” There is no indication that Ms. Bogan ever heard a performance of this piece, but perhaps she would have nodded in agreement.

It is hauntingly beautiful.

^Adagio for Strings has been used in the soundtracks of The Elephant Man, Lorenzo’s Oil, and Platoon, as well as several other films.

in the rush

it seeps into ground beneath your bare feet
it finds the roots of fescue and zoysia
and soaks into the prickly green.

it rolls into the air and colors the sky -red-
leaving patches of deep blue where the pauses happen
and you seize a deeper breath.

it is the last bit of snow and ice
that melts like glaciers past
and feeds waters to finger lakes and other tributaries.

still waters with fantasized sounds
that linger in your ears in pitch darkness
and the swell in the silence that follows.

it lies in wait, cloaked in prairie weeds,
the feral cat on its haunches before he pounces,
flicks his tail twice and then stops.

Poet in Mind: John Clare

John Clare*, the Northamptonshire peasant poet was born on July 13, 1793. This is remarkable, because last Friday (July 13th), I was considering a Poet in Mind post, and thought of John Clare, whom I had discovered quite by accident several years ago. I was perusing the stacks of my library’s poetry section, something I enjoy because I discover new things, and I saw a collection of John Clare poetry. Out of curiosity, I checked it out and was not sorry for it.

John Clare was born into an illiterate farming family. He did receive some formal schooling, probably enough to function in a class-oriented society. He worked as a farm labourer to earn money. The fact that much of his poetry focuses on the natural world leads me to think he probably wrote much of his poetry in his head while watching nature in the fields he worked. He was also of the Romantic style.

Summer
By John Clare

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover’s breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover’s breast;
I’ll lean upon her breast and I’ll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o’sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.

The Romantic style can be summed up as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”**, with the additional work and “pain” of using strict meter and form. It’s not easy expressing your emotions in such structural forms, and the Romantic Movement recognized that as a means to develop “good” poetry.

Trial by fire, as it were.

John Clare was always a lesser known poet, perhaps because of his humble background. He actually did publish during his lifetime, though he could not make a living as a poet. He had to continue with a variety of manual labor jobs to support his wife and family. It was a struggle that contributed to poor health, heavy drinking and bouts of depression. However, he wrote rather prolifically. About love and nature, Rural life, his passions***, animals, birds, insects.

First Love
By John Clare
I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start—
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.

His depression and declining mental health eventually led him to admitting himself to an asylum where he primarily lived the last 27 years of his life. After his death in 1864, his poetry languished for the remainder of the 19th century, but Clare’s poetry was rediscovered in the late 20th century, and he was recognized for his keen descriptions of nature, the rural English countryside, and his dedicated practice of the Romantic style.

There is a John Clare Society
Several of his collections are posted online at John Clare Info.

To close, I selected two poems that juxtapose different views of hope. Both demonstrate the power of poetry, the struggles that we face, and how we can meet the challenges.

TO HOPE.
By John Clare

AH, smiling cherub! cheating Hope, adieu!

No more I’ll listen to your pleasing themes;

No more your flattering scenes with joy renew,

For ah, I’ve found them all delusive dreams:

Yes, mere delusions all; therefore, adieu!

No more shall you this aching heart beguile;

No more your fleeting joys will I pursue,

That mock’d my sorrows when they seem’d to smile,

And flatter’d tales that never will be true:

Tales, only told to aggravate distress

And make me at my fate the more repine,

By whispering joys I never can possess,

And painting scenes that never can be mine.

THE INSTINCT OF HOPE
By John Clare
Is there another world for this frail dust
To warm with life and be itself again?
Something about me daily speaks there must,
And why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?
‘Tis nature’s prophesy that such will be,
And everything seems struggling to explain
The close sealed volume of its mystery.
Time wandering onward keeps its usual pace
As seeming anxious of eternity,
To meet that calm and find a resting place.
E’en the small violet feels a future power
And waits each year renewing blooms to bring,
And surely man is no inferior flower
To die unworthy of a second spring?

*John Clare image by Edward Scriven, after William Hilton
stipple engraving, published 1821
NPG D5221
© National Portrait Gallery, London

**William Wordsworth. He knew a thing or two about Romantic poetry.

***He had a lifelong crush on his first love, Mary Joyce. She is a frequent subject of his love poetry, and obviously his muse. He was never allowed to court her formally, because they were of different classes in society. He continued to write about her throughout his life, and was apparently devastated to learn of her death in 1838. This is supposed to have contributed to his depression and eventual self-imposed admission to an asylum.