Monday, November 30, 2009

"Learning To Read" — by Franz Wright

Learning To Read

by Franz Wright

If I had to look up every fifth or sixth word,
so what. I looked them up.
I had nowhere important to be.

My father was unavailable, and my mother
looked like she was about to break,
and not into blossom, every time I spoke.

My favorite was the Iliad. True,
I had trouble pronouncing the names,
but when was I going to pronounce them, and

to whom?
My stepfather maybe?
Number one, he could barely speak English;

two, he had sufficient intent
to smirk or knock me down
without any prompting from me.

Loneliness, boredom and terror
my motivation
fiercely fuelled.

I get down on my knees and thank God for them.

Du Fu, the Psalms, Whitman, Rilke.
Life has taught me
to understand books.


By Franz Wright.

Offhand and comic, and yet intense and searching too, Franz Wright's poems present a speaker who is emotionally naked and vulnerable. They invite us into a fitful, continuing monologue in which Wright's "I" addresses a (frequently) capitalized "You," his name for God. The "I" is a shuffling, self-mocking example of "some hairy / primate's fall from grace — / one of the patients of God, / one of the orphans of light." God keeps silent, but his silence is resonant. Wright hears in it an anticipation of the end of things, an apocalyptic release (desired, not dreaded) from the tragicomic suffering and injustice that is his vision of life in America today.

When Wright won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his previous book of poetry, "Walking to Martha's Vineyard," he followed the example of his father, James Wright, who also won the award. The poet's connection to his father, who died in 1980, has made him a figure of some fascination in the poetry world. The son's poetry can sometimes seem to channel the father's poignant self-accusations and ecstatic sympathies; and like his father, he has struggled with alcoholism and depression. Wright is also known for an exchange of letters with William Logan, a famously sharp-tongued critic. When Logan called his poems "the Hallmark cards of the damned," Wright wrote to the editor of The New Criterion to complain. Logan responded by publishing a letter Wright had written to him privately, in which he warned the reviewer: "I do not wish to kill you or hurt you, and so I beg you to get away from me, without delay, if you realize we are in the same room somewhere." In the polite world of poetry criticism, trash talk is rare.

What kind of apocalypse does Wright imagine in his new poems? He is not waiting for the Rapture, but he is a Roman Catholic devotional poet of mystical hope. He is impatient with the real and visible ("concrete things stand for / invisible things"), and he pushes past them toward "real reality," "a higher unseeable / life, inconceivable / light / of which light is mere shadow." This impatience extends to people — "a human face" is "the mask / of some being no one can see" — as well as to language. Wright describes a moment of past vision in which "The mask was gone," "There was no / I," and

there was no text, only
what the words stood for;
and then

what all things stand for.

Wright's poems pursue this state of revelation, as if there were a word just out of reach, beyond the words on the page. He calls that goal "some radiantly obvious thing I need to say, though quite what that might be escapes me at the moment, as it always has, and always will."

In his best poems, Wright grasps at the "radiantly obvious thing" in short-lined short lyrics that turn and twist down the page. The urgency and calculated unsteadiness of these utterances, with their abrupt shifts of direction, jump-cuts and quips, mime the wounded openness of a speaker struggling to find faith as he recovers from addiction and despair.

At times, in his longer poems, the verbal tension drops, and, perhaps to counteract this, Wright raises his voice and loses rhetorical control. In "Delirium," we see both effects in quick succession. Here the poet says that when he dies he will become part of "the wheat, the changing light, the clouds." The catalog of clichés continues, ending in a pileup of hyphenated words when Wright suddenly brings up the question of whether God or man should be held responsible for genocide: "shimmering remoteness / the color of just barely audible / children's voices singing, the God- / did-not-allow-those-many-holocausts- / to-happen-we-did distances!"

Killing and collective guilt are often on Wright's mind. "Not all mankind will be cast into fire," he says in "Everyone's Elegy," "though / quite a number of them were / during the decade preceding my / birth and no doubt even more will be / shortly." The matter-of-factness of this sentence ("quite a number," "no doubt even more . . . shortly") may parody a murderous official announcement, but it risks giving the impression that Wright accepts cruelty as a fact of human nature. It does not help when he claims that the victims of mass murder in World War II were "burned / clean of themselves." For, he declares, "no one deserves this / and all deserve this, almost / all. . . . And only You / know which group, the spared or murdered, / represent the doomed and which / the blessed." In what sense could "all" or "almost all" possibly "deserve" to die in this way? To feel this way, one must believe that, as Wright declares in another poem, "To live is to do evil."

But it is not clear how seriously we should take this dark wit who, he admits, "was always the death of the party." He means to disturb us. His poems are full of a prophetic anger attacking American confidence and complacency. "The Sons: March 2003" marks the start of the Iraq war. "This Fourth World War with sticks and stones," Wright calls it, "This month in anesthesia history"; the poem ends when shrapnel brings a soldier to his knees, "and death was a red fog about him." Fear and anesthesia are routine at home too, in a nation divided by class and race and driven by the empty promises of consumer bliss. The bus passengers in "East Boston, 1996" know the rules: "No eye contact: the eyes of the terrified / terrify." In another poem Wright asks, "Why am I afraid / to go grocery shopping? / I suppose there is a pill for that, but / why?"

It may be that the apocalypse Wright longs for is simply freedom from that numbing pill. If so, as Wright suggests in "From a Line by Reverdy," Heaven is "not far"; in fact "a little face turns to the window / and it is there." Happily, at a moment like this, revelation does not mean the end of the world.

Langdon Hammer is chairman of the English department at Yale and poetry editor of The American Scholar.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Franz Wright, Poet and Muse" by Scott Simon

Franz Wright Bio

Franz Wright was born in Vienna in 1953 and grew up in the Northwest, the Midwest, and northern California. His most recent works include Walking to Martha's Vineyard and The Beforelife (which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and Ill Lit: Selected & New Poems. He has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Fellowship, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, among other honors. He works at the Edinburg Center for Mental Health and the Center for Grieving Children and Teenagers and lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, with his wife, Elizabeth.

"Letter" by franz Wright

Letter — Franz Wright

January 1998

I am not acquainted with anyone
there, if they spoke to me
I would not know what to do.
But so far nobody has, I know
I certainly wouldn't.
I don't participate, I'm not allowed;
I just listen, and every morning
have a moment of such happiness, I breathe
and breathe until the terror returns. About the time
when they are supposed to greet one another
two people actually look into each other's eyes
and hold hands a moment, but
the church is so big and the few who are there
are seated far apart. So this presents no real problem.
I keep my eyes fixed on the great naked corpse, the vertical
who is said to be love
and who spoke the world
into being, before coming here
to be tortured and executed by it.
I don't know what I am doing there. I do
notice the more I lose touch
with what I previously saw as my life
the more real my spot in the dark winter pew becomes—
it is infinite. What we experience
as space, the sky
that is, the sun, the stars
is intimate and rather small by comparison.
When I step outside the ugliness is so shattering
it has become dear to me, like a retarded
child, precious to me.
If only I could tell someone.
The humiliation I go through
when I think of my past
can only be described as grace.
We are created by being destroyed.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Questions for "Peace"

1. In what way is Marson the central character of the novel? Who is the next most important character? Why?

2. What does Marson mean by the "surround"? (p71) And then later on in the novel? (p.148)

3. Why does Glick's statement ("this is all one thing" p.6) echo later in the novel? (p. 151)

4. What, finally, is Peace in the novel? Where? See page 169.

5. How does Angelo develop as a character? (see page 84) Why does Bausch do this?

6. What does the incident on page 117 do for the plot? theme? characterization?

7. What role does Mario play in the novel?

8. Examine the novel's musings on God and the world. See page 47 to start.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

T. S. Eliot Bio (1888-1965)

T. S. Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in Missouri on September 26, 1888. He lived in St. Louis during the first eighteen years of his life and attended Harvard University. In 1910, he left the United States for the Sorbonne, having earned both undergraduate and masters degrees and having contributed several poems to the Harvard Advocate. After a year in Paris, he returned to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, but returned to Europe and settled in England in 1914. The following year, he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and began working in London, first as a teacher, and later for Lloyd's Bank.

It was in London that Eliot came under the influence of his contemporary Ezra Pound, who recognized his poetic genius at once, and assisted in the publication of his work in a number of magazines, most notably "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in Poetry in 1915. His first book of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917, and immediately established him as a leading poet of the avant-garde. With the publication of The Waste Land in 1922, now considered by many to be the single most influential poetic work of the twentieth century, Eliot's reputation began to grow to nearly mythic proportions; by 1930, and for the next thirty years, he was the most dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world.

As a poet, he transmuted his affinity for the English metaphysical poets of the 17th century (most notably John Donne) and the 19th century French symbolist poets (including Baudelaire and Laforgue) into radical innovations in poetic technique and subject matter. His poems in many respects articulated the disillusionment of a younger post-World-War-I generation with the values and conventions—both literary and social—of the Victorian era. As a critic also, he had an enormous impact on contemporary literary taste, propounding views that, after his conversion to orthodox Christianity in the late thirties, were increasingly based in social and religious conservatism. His major later poems include Ash Wednesday (1930) and Four Quartets (1943); his books of literary and social criticism include The Sacred Wood (1920), The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), After Strange Gods (1934), and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1940). Eliot was also an important playwright, whose verse dramas include Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion, and The Cocktail Party.

He became a British citizen in 1927; long associated with the publishing house of Faber & Faber, he published many younger poets, and eventually became director of the firm. After a notoriously unhappy first marriage, Eliot separated from his first wife in 1933, and was remarried, to Valerie Fletcher, in 1956. T. S. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, and died in London in 1965.

A Selected Bibliography


Ash Wednesday (1930)
Burnt Norton (1941)
Collected Poems (1962)
East Coker (1940)
Four Quartets (1943)
Poems (1919)
Poems, 1909-1925 (1925)
Prufrock and Other Observations (1917)
The Complete Poems and Plays (1952)
The Dry Salvages (1941)
The Waste Land (1922)


After Strange Gods (1933)
Andrew Marvell (1922)
Dante (1929)
Elizabethan Essays (1934)
Essays Ancient and Modern (1936)
For Lancelot Andrews (1928)
John Dryden (1932)
Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1949)
Poetry and Drama (1951)
Religious Drama: Mediaeval and Modern (1954)
The Classics and The Man of Letters (1942)
The Idea of a Christian Society (1940)
The Sacred Wood (1920)
The Three Voices of Poetry (1954)
The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)
Thoughts After Lambeth (1931)
Tradition and Experimentation in Present-Day Literature (1929)


Murder in the Cathedral (1935)
Sweeney Agonistes (1932)
The Cocktail Party (1950)
The Confidential Clerk (1953)
The Elder Statesman (1958)
The Family Reunion (1939)
The Rock (1934)

Prufrock and Other Observations. 1917.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
. . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

from "Peace"--LCI

LCI 1091 - WWII Landing Craft

The last operational LCI in the United States now serves as the Humboldt Bay Naval Sea/Air Museum. She looks virtually the same as she did when in combat more than 50 years ago.

LCI 1091 can be viewed from the dock behind the Go-fish cafe on Waterfront and Commercial Streets, or else lingering in her familiar berth at the foot of "U" Street, pretty much under the Samoa Bridge.
If you're really lucky you'll catch a glimpse of her gliding through the bay on her way to one of these two docks.

Here are some LCI 1091 stats:

•One of 912 built during WWII.
•Mission was to deliver troops and their equipment, directly on shore via ramp through bow doors; now welded over.

•Troop capacity about 200 with their gear.
•158' Long, 23' beam with a draft of approximately 5'.
•Commissioned Sept 21, 1944
•Placed on the inactive reserve in 1955
•In 1960 sold to an Alaskan fish company, reconfigured as a processing ship and worked the waters of Alaska and the Yukon River.
•Purchased by Dr. Ralph Davis in 1989 she continued to be utilized for fishing.
•After being moored just north of the Samoa Bridge for 20 years, Dr. Davis donated the ship to the Humboldt Bay Naval Sea/Air Museum in 2006.
•Dedicated members of the museum continue to work on restoring "Ten Ninety-One" (civilian name) to it's original state.

Although she is not yet "officially" open, if the flag is flying and you see a hand on deck, it's most likely that they will be willing to answer your questions.

For more info on Humboldt Bay Naval Sea/Air Museum contact:
Leroy Marsh 707.442.9333 or

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stevens on "Thirteen Ways..."

"This group of poems is not meant to be a collection of epigrams or of ideas, but of sensations."--Wallace Stevens, in a letter, about his poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1879. He attended Harvard University as an undergraduate from 1897 to 1900. He planned to travel to Paris as a writer, but after a working briefly as a reporter for the New York Herald Times, he decided to study law. He graduated with a degree from New York Law School in 1903 and was admitted to the U.S. Bar in 1904. He practised law in New York City until 1916.

Though he had serious determination to become a successful lawyer, Stevens had several friends among the New York writers and painters in Greenwich Village, including the poets William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings.

In 1914, under the pseudonym "Peter Parasol," he sent a group of poems under the title "Phases" to Harriet Monroe for a war poem competition for Poetry magazine. Stevens did not win the prize, but was published by Monroe in November of that year.

Stevens moved to Connecticut in 1916, having found employment at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., of which he became vice president in 1934. He had began to establish an identity for himself outside the world of law and business, however, and his first book of poems, Harmonium, published in 1923, exhibited the influence of both the English Romantics and the French symbolists, an inclination to aesthetic philosophy, and a wholly original style and sensibility: exotic, whimsical, infused with the light and color of an Impressionist painting.

For the next several years, Stevens focused on his business life. He began to publish new poems in 1930, however, and in the following year, Knopf published an second edition of Harmonium, which included fourteen new poems and left out three of the decidedly weaker ones.

More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination. Composing poems on his way to and from the office and in the evenings, Stevens continued to spend his days behind a desk at the office, and led a quiet, uneventful life.

Though now considered one of the major American poets of the century, he did not receive widespread recognition until the publication of his Collected Poems, just a year before his death. His major works include Ideas of Order (1935), The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937), Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (1942), and a collection of essays on poetry, The Necessary Angel (1951).

Stevens died in Hartford in 1955.


"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens (1917)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the black bird.


I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.


A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.


I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?


I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.


At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.


The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

"From The Frontier Of Writing" Seamus Heaney

From The Frontier Of Writing

The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover

and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration—

a little emptier, a little spent
as always by that quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road

past armor-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ezra Pound (1885 - 1972)

Ezra Pound is generally considered the poet most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry. In the early teens of the twentieth century, he opened a seminal exchange of work and ideas between British and American writers, and was famous for the generosity with which he advanced the work of such major contemporaries as W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D., James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and especially T. S. Eliot. His own significant contributions to poetry begin with his promulgation of Imagism, a movement in poetry which derived its technique from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry - stressing clarity, precision, and economy of language, and foregoing traditional rhyme and meter in order to, in Pound's words, "compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome." His later work, for nearly fifty years, focused on the encyclopedic epic poem he entitled The Cantos.

Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, in 1885. He completed two years of college at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a degree from Hamilton College in 1905. After teaching at Wabash College for two years, he travelled abroad to Spain, Italy and London, where, as the literary executor of the scholar Ernest Fenellosa, he became interested in Japanese and Chinese poetry. He married Dorothy Shakespear in 1914 and became London editor of the Little Review in 1917.

In 1924, he moved to Italy; during this period of voluntary exile, Pound became involved in Fascist politics, and did not return to the United States until 1945, when he was arrested on charges of treason for broadcasting Fascist propaganda by radio to the United States during the Second World War. In 1946, he was acquitted, but declared mentally ill and committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. During his confinement, the jury of the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award (which included a number of the most eminent writers of the time) decided to overlook Pound's political career in the interest of recognizing his poetic achievements, and awarded him the prize for the Pisan Cantos (1948). After continuous appeals from writers won his release from the hospital in 1958, Pound returned to Italy and settled in Venice, where he died, a semi-recluse, in 1972.


"Erat Hora" by Ezra Pound

Erat Hora

“Thank you, whatever comes.” And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.

Before Imagism: "Genteel" Poetry

In America in 1912, the most common and popular poetry was called genteel because it was very well-behaved. Since they were "genteel," these poems avoided controversial and realistic subject matter like sex or industrialization. Instead, genteel poetry tended to consist of short, inoffensive, traditional verse about inward feelings, written in a deliberately purified, rather vague, "poetic" language.

Take for example, Richard Watson Gilder's

The Woods that Bring the Sunset Near

The wind from out of the west is blowing
The homeward-wandering cows are lowing,
Dark grow the pine woods, dark and drear, —
The woods that bring the sunset near.

When o'er wide seas the sun declines,
Far off its fading glory shines,
Far off, sublime, and full of fear —
The pine woods bring the sunset near.

This house that looks to east, to west,
This dear one, is our home, our rest;
Yonder the stormy sea, and here
The woods that bring the sunset near.

The speaker depicts his home as a rather hazy, comfortable haven from the natural world outside, which, although he says it is "sublime, and full of fear," seems quite peaceful and non-threatening. The images presented are generic and comforting (lowing cows, pine woods, "our home") rather than specific, but not too substantial. Like the house in the poem, this kind of poetry is safe, restful, sentimental, and removed from the difficulties of life and the outside world. It's also pretty darn dull. Such poetry represents a kind of regression from the plain language of Romanticism back to the polished diction and noble sentiments of a poet like Thomas Gray.



Around 1912 in London, some British and American poets led by Ezra Pound started a poetic movement called imagism. These poets reacted against genteel poetry, which they saw as sentimental, soft-edged, and emotionally dishonest. Instead, they advised, in Ezra Pound's formulation, "1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective. 2. To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation. 3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome" (Pound 3).

In 1913, Pound published the following advice for aspiring imagist poets:
An 'Image' is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . . .
It is the presentation of such a 'complex' instantaneously which gives the sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the greatest works of art.

It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works. . . .

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something.

Don't use such an expression as 'dim lands of peace.' It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.

Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. (Pound 4-5)

But imagism for Pound did not necessarily mean description:
Don't be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a good deal more about it.
When Shakespeare talks of the 'Dawn in russet mantle clad' he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in the line nothing which can be called description; he presents. (Pound 5)

Finally, imagist poems were influenced by Japanese haiku, poems of 17 syllables which usually present only two juxtaposed images. This poetry strives to suggests more than its literal meaning, yet avoids overt figurative devices like allegory and even metaphor.

Here is perhaps the most famous imagist poem, one clearly influenced by haiku, Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro." Pound said of the composition of this work: "I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work 'of second intensity.' Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence:—

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

("Vorticism" 89)

As one can tell by Pound's use of the word hokku, he clearly had haiku in mind when writing the poem. However, according to the modernist principle of "making it new," Pound does not simply copy haiku, but adapts it to the modern world of subway stations and anonymous faces in the crowd. The form of Pound's poem differs also from classical haiku: it has only two lines and more than 17 syllables. However, like many haiku, it does juxtapose two different images. Other ancient short forms were "made new" by the imagists, most notably the four-line Chinese lyric and the short poems and fragments from ancient Greece collected in the Greek Anthology.

Perhaps because Pound began to see imagism as a "stylistic movement, a movement of criticism rather than creation"("Vorticism" 82), he soon moved beyond imagism to a new poetic movement he called vorticism. While the rules and "don'ts" of imagism were designed to improve poetic writing but not necessarily to produce complete poems, vorticism was designed as a movement whose principles would apply to all the arts and be capable of producing complete works of art. Pound also wanted to add to the image further movement, dynamism, and intensity:

Vorticism is an intensive art. I mean by this, that one is concerned with the relative intensity, or relative significance, of different sorts of expression. One desires the most intense, for certain forms of expression are "more intense" than others. They are more dynamic. I do not mean that they are more emphatic or yelled louder. ("Vorticism" 90)

To the single image, "an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time," Pound adds rushing dynamism of form and emotion:
The image is not an idea. It is a radiant node or cluster; it is what I can, and must perforce, call a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing. ("Vorticism" 92)

If this seems quite vague, perhaps it is because Pound had yet to figure out what a vorticist poem would look like. This definition does not even say whose ideas, the poet's or the reader's, are rushing from, through, and into this "cluster." How these ideas rush is also not clear. The strange collision of images and ideas that are The Cantos may be Pound's answer to what a vorticist poem might look like, but scholars are quite divided when it comes to assessing the success of the juxtaposition procedures of this long poem.



Works Cited

Jones, Peter, ed. Imagist Poetry. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
Pound, Ezra. "A Retrospect" Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. New York: New Directions, 1935. 3-14.
---. "Vorticism." Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir. New York: New Directions, 1970. 81-94.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Musee des Beaux Arts" (1940)

Musee des Beaux Arts W.H. Auden

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 Breughel'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.

Friday, November 13, 2009

William Carlos Williams Bio

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883. He began writing poetry while a student at Horace Mann High School, at which time he made the decision to become both a writer and a doctor. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he met and befriended Ezra Pound. Pound became a great influence in Williams' writing, and in 1913 arranged for the London publication of Williams's second collection, The Tempers. Returning to Rutherford, where he sustained his medical practice throughout his life, Williams began publishing in small magazines and embarked on a prolific career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright. Following Pound, he was one of the principal poets of the Imagist movement, though as time went on, he began to increasingly disagree with the values put forth in the work of Pound and especially Eliot, who he felt were too attached to European culture and traditions. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people.

His influence as a poet spread slowly during the twenties and thirties, overshadowed, he felt, by the immense popularity of Eliot's "The Waste Land"; however, his work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. His major works include Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992), and Imaginations (1970). Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey in 1963.

"Landscape With The Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning


Preface to Some Imagist Poets (1915) by Amy Lowell

The Imagist movement began in 1908, when poet T.E. Hulme formed a group of poets, including Ezra Pound, as the “School of Images.” Hulme brought these poets together to discuss elements of poetic craft, with particular attention to the vers libre of the French Symbolists and Japanese haiku. Pound soon assumed control of the group, preferring the term Imagiste. In 1914 Pound edited the anthology Des Imagistes, which contained the work of a wide range of writers, including Amy Lowell. This anthology was met with considerable critical discussion, and in response Lowell published her own anthology, Some Imagist Poets (1915), which she restricted to solely Imagist poets, four of whom had been included in Pound’s anthology. Her take on imagism differs greatly from Pounds, which he lays out in “A Retrospect.” In her preface, Lowell lays out the six guiding principles of the movement, with the aim of clarifying the movement’s focus on precision and cadence, and providing a historical context for the practices. After Lowell’s essay and anthology, Pound abandoned his own notion of Imagism as a poetic group.

Lowell published two additional volumes of her anthology, in 1916 and 1917. While imagism as a concept continues to inform poetry, most critics mark the close of the Imagist movement by the final volume of Lowell’s anthology.

In March, 1914, a volume appeared entitled “Des Imagistes.” It was a collection of the work of various young poets, presented together as a school. This school has been widely discussed by those interested in new movements in the arts, and has already become a household word. Differences of taste and judgment, however, have arisen among the contributors to that book; growing tendencies are forcing them along different paths. Those of us whose work appears in this volume have therefore decided to publish our collection under a new title, and we have been joined by two or three poets who did not contribute to the first volume, our wider scope making this possible.

In this new book we have followed a slightly different arrangement to that of our former Anthology. Instead of an arbitrary selection by an editor, each poet has been permitted to represent himself by the work he considers his best, the only stipulation being that it should not yet have appeared in book form. A sort of informal committee—consisting of more than half the authors here represented—have arranged the book and decided what should be printed and what omitted, but, as a general rule, the poets have been allowed absolute freedom in this direction, limitations of space only being imposed upon them. Also, to avoid any appearance of precedence, they have been put in alphabetical order.

As it has been suggested that much of the misunderstanding of the former volume was due to the fact that we did not explain ourselves in a preface, we have thought it wise to tell the public what our aims are, and why we are banded together between one set of covers.

The poets in this volume do not represent a clique. Several of them are personally unknown to the others, but they are united by certain common principles, arrived at independently. These principles are not new; they have fallen into desuetude. They are the essentials of all great poetry, indeed of all great literature, and they are simply these:—

1.To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.

2.To create new rhythms—as the expression of new moods—and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist on “free-verse” as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.

3.To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.

4.To present an image (hence the name: “Imagist”). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of art.

5.To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.

6.Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry. The subject of free-verse is too complicated to be discussed here. We may say briefly, that we attach the term to all that increasing amount of writing whose cadence is more marked, more definite, and closer knit than that of prose, but which is not so violently nor so obviously accented as the so-called “regular verse.” We refer those interested in the question to the Greek Melic poets, and to the many excellent French studies on the subject by such distinguished and well-equipped authors as Remy de Gourmont, Gustave Hahn, Georges Duhamel, Charles Vildrac, Henri Ghéon, Robert de Souze, André Spire, etc.

We wish it to be clearly understood that we do not represent an exclusive artistic sect; we publish our work together because of a mutual artistic sympathy, and we propose to bring out our coöperative volume each year for a short term of years, until we have made a place for ourselves and our principles such as we desire.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Glory" part 1

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Robert Lowell Bio

Robert Lowell was born in 1917 into one of Boston's oldest and most prominent families. He attended Harvard College for two years before transferring to Kenyon College, where he studied poetry under John Crowe Ransom and received an undergraduate degree in 1940. He took graduate courses at Louisiana State University where he studied with Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks. His first and second books, Land of Unlikeness (1944) and Lord Weary's Castle (for which he received a Pulitzer Prize in 1947, at the age of thirty), were influenced by his conversion from Episcopalianism to Catholicism and explored the dark side of America's Puritan legacy. Under the influence of Allen Tate and the New Critics, he wrote rigorously formal poetry that drew praise for its exceptionally powerful handling of meter and rhyme. Lowell was politically involved—he became a conscientious objector during the Second World War and was imprisoned as a result, and actively protested against the war in Vietnam—and his personal life was full of marital and psychological turmoil. He suffered from severe episodes of manic depression, for which he was repeatedly hospitalized.

Partly in response to his frequent breakdowns, and partly due to the influence of such younger poets as W. D. Snodgrass and Allen Ginsberg, Lowell in the mid-fifties began to write more directly from personal experience, and loosened his adherence to traditional meter and form. The result was a watershed collection, Life Studies (1959), which forever changed the landscape of modern poetry, much as Eliot's The Waste Land had three decades before. Considered by many to be the most important poet in English of the second half of the twentieth century, Lowell continued to develop his work with sometimes uneven results, all along defining the restless center of American poetry, until his sudden death from a heart attack at age 60. Robert Lowell served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1962 until his death in 1977.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Born 1848 in Dublin, Ireland
Died 1907 in Cornish, New Hampshire

Sculptor of over 200 works in marble and bronze, Augustus Saint-Gaudens had an international reputation and clientele for his portrait reliefs, decorative projects, and public monuments. His long career in New York, Paris, and Rome began as an apprentice to a cameo maker, and ended with a request from the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to design gold coins for the nation. In between these landmarks -- humble and exalted -- lay Saint-Gaudens' life as a sculptor of portraits, memorials, and architectural decorations. He was inspired by the golden age of Renaissance bronze statuary, committed to the overall relationships of architecture, design, and sculpture advocated by the Aesthetic Movement, and blessed by a personal genius for painstakingly researched yet astoundingly fluid imagery.

"For the Union Dead" (1960)

For the Union Dead
by Robert Lowell

"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

"In Memory of W. B. Yeats" by Auden

In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

"The Unknown Citizen" by Auden

The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"The Writer" sample paragraph

In "The Writer", Richard Wilbur remembers an incident that helped him understand anew the travails of his daughter who is upstairs in her room, trying to compose a story. He uses two distinct but contrasting metaphors. First, he overhears his daughter typing in the "prow" of their house, the sound of her typewriter like "a chain hauled over a gunwale". Her life has "great cargo", some "heavy". The speaker concludes this moment with a wistful hoping she has a "lucky passage". Then, remembering how a starling once got caught in the same room, and fought for its life to escape, the speaker rejects his first metaphor--of the writing life as some kind of journey--and reaffirms, by the image of the persistent, trapped starling, that writing is more like a life-or-death attempt to break free from that which would confine us than a long journey to someplace else.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Satelitte Image of Congo Republic

Map of Congo River

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Picnic, Lightning" by Billy Collins

Picnic, Lightning

by Billy Collins

It is possible to be struck by a
meteor or a single-engine plane while
reading in a chair at home. Pedestrians
are flattened by safes falling from
rooftops mostly within the panels of
the comics, but still, we know it is
possible, as well as the flash of
summer lightning, the thermos toppling
over, spilling out on the grass.
And we know the message can be
delivered from within. The heart, no
valentine, decides to quit after
lunch, the power shut off like a
switch, or a tiny dark ship is
unmoored into the flow of the body's
rivers, the brain a monastery,
defenseless on the shore. This is
what I think about when I shovel
compost into a wheelbarrow, and when
I fill the long flower boxes, then
press into rows the limp roots of red
impatiens -- the instant hand of Death
always ready to burst forth from the
sleeve of his voluminous cloak. Then
the soil is full of marvels, bits of
leaf like flakes off a fresco,
red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick
to burrow back under the loam. Then
the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue, the
clouds a brighter white, and all I
hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone, the small
plants singing with lifted faces, and
the click of the sundial as one hour
sweeps into the next.

Short Biography of Lord Byron

Known as a romantic poet for his rendition of Don Juan and his travelogue poem called Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Lord Byron would become one of Europe’s most captivating artists. His satire mixed with an ironic ego brought freshness to literature that was wholeheartedly accepted.

Born to a Scottish Heiress, Lord Byron’s father squandered away the family’s wealth, which meant that for some time of his childhood he would be brought up in meager conditions. However, at around the age of 10, the young Byron inherited the estates of a great uncle. Bryon went to England’s top school in Newstead. And, at Trinity College, in Cambridge, Byron admitted he had fallen in love with one John Edleston. But, even with his homosexual tendencies, Lord Byron had a greater attraction in his heterosexual undertakings. While there, he also became good friends with John Cam Hobhouse.

Soon after his studies, Byron released his first book of poetry called Hours of Idleness, which did not receive the best reviews. In vengeance, he wrote another satire called English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which actually won him great recognition. Bryon in 1809 became a member of the House of Lords. With his friend Hobhouse, the two traveled through Portugal, Spain, and onward through Greece. During this voyage, he began one of his most famous works, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Back in London, with the poem’s publication, Lord Byron found himself famous.

Even after his pilgrimage abroad, Lord Byron began to have relationships with his half sister, named Augusta. With Lady Frances Webster, however, he also carried on a relationship. His remorse can be seen in the publication of his next three volumes of poetry, including his most famous, The Corsair. In 1815, Lord Byron married Anne Milbanke and the two conceived a daughter together. The marriage was nothing more than a cover up from Byron’s real sexual interests. However, with greater public pressure about his sexuality and especially about his relationship with his sister, he left England permanently.

In Geneva, he settled and wrote another volume of Childe Harold. In Italy, after several more relationships, he wrote the fourth volume to the book of poetry. He then released a poem called Beppo and thereafter began working on his greatest work, Don Juan. Following, Lord Byron became involved with a periodical in The Liberal. By the mid 1820s, Bryon got involved in the politics of Greece and looked for adventure amongst the islands that had brought him his most poignant stories. Thereafter, he passed away after contracting an illness from which he didn’t recover. He would later be recognized as one of England’s most prominent poets.

Byron Letter to Shelley, 1821

to Percy Bysshe Shelley,
Ravenna, April 26, 1821

The child continues doing well, and the accounts are regular and favorable. It is gratifying to me that you and Mrs Shelley do not disapprove of the step which I have taken, which is merely temporary.

I am very sorry to hear what you say of Keats - is it actually true? I did not think criticism had been so killing. Though I differ from you essentially in your estimate of his performances, I so much abhor all unnecessary pain, that I would rather he had been seated on the highest peak of Parnassus than have perished in such a manner. Poor fellow! though with such inordinate self-love he would probably have not been very happy. I read the review of "Endymion" in the Quarterly. It was severe, - but surely not so severe as many reviews in that and other journals upon others.

I recollect the effect on me of the Edinburgh on my first poem; it was rage, and resistance, and redress - but not despondency nor despair. I grant that those are not amiable feelings; but, in this world of bustle and broil, and especially in the career of writing, a man should calculate upon his powers of resistance before he goes into the arena.

"Expect not life from pain nor danger free,
Nor deem the doom of man reversed for thee."

You know my opinion of that second-hand school of poetry. You also know my high opinion of your own poetry, - because it is of no school. I read Cenci - but, besides that I think the subject essentially undramatic, I am not an admirer of our old dramatists, as models. I deny that the English have hitherto had a drama at all. Your Cenci, however, was a work of power, and poetry. As to my drama, pray revenge yourself upon it, by being as free as I have been with yours.

I have not yet got your Prometheus, which I long to see. I have heard nothing of mine, and do not know if it is yet published. I have published a pamphlet on the Pope controversy, which you will not like. Had I known that Keats was dead - or that he was alive and so sensitive - I should have omitted some remarks upon his poetry, to which I was provoked by his attack upon Pope, and my disapprobation of his own style of writing.

You want me to undertake a great Poem - I have not the inclination nor the power. As I grow older, the indifference - not to life, for we love it by instinct - but to the stimuli of life, increases. Besides, this late failure of the Italians has latterly disappointed me for many reasons, - some public, some personal. My respects to Mrs S.
Yours ever.
P.S. Could not you and I contrive to meet this summer? Could not you take a run here alone?


The child Byron refers to was Allegra, his daughter with Shelley's sister-in-law Claire Clairmont.

"When I Have Fears" by Keats

When I Have Fears
by John Keats

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 unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats

"When We Two Parted" by Lord Byron

When We Two Parted
by Lord Byron

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted,
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sank chill on my brow—
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:—
Long, long shall I rue thee
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met—
In silence I grieve
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?—
With silence and tears.

"Oh! Snatched Away In Beauty's Bloom" by Lord Byron

Oh! Snatched Away In Beauty's Bloom

Oh! snatched away in beauty's bloom,
On thee shall press no ponderous tomb;
But on thy turf shall roses rear
Their leaves, the earliest of the year;
And the wild cypress wave in tender gloom:

And oft by yon blue gushing stream
Shall Sorrow lean her drooping head,
And feed deep thought with many a dream,
And lingering pause and lightly tread;
Fond wretch! as if her step disturbed the dead!

Away! ye know that tears are vain,
That death nor heeds nor hears distress:
Will this unteach us to complain?
Or make one mourner weep the less?
And thou -who tell'st me to forget,
Thy looks are wan, thine eyes are wet.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Ode on Melancholy", by Keats

Ode on Melancholy

NO, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolfs-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries, 5
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul. 10


But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, 15
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes. 20


She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight 25
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung. 30

Thursday, November 5, 2009


The MAENADS or Bacchants are women sacred to Dionysus, maddened by his inspiring power.

"The Writer" by Wilbur

The Writer
by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY was born at Field Place, near Horsham, in Sussex, August 4, 1792; and his eventful life came suddenly to a sad termination. He had gone out in a boat to Leghorn to welcome Leigh Hunt to Italy, and while returning on the eighth of July, 1822, the boat sank in the Bay of Spezia, and all on board perished. When his body floated to shore a volume of Keats' poetry was found open in Shelley's coat pocket. The remains were reduced to ashes and deposited in the Protestant burial ground at Rome, near those of a child he had lost in that city.

His father was a member of the House of Commons. The family line could be traced back to one of the followers of William of Normandy. Thus in noble blood Shelley was more fortunate than most of his brother poets, considering the estimate that England placed upon the distinction of caste. He had all the advantages of wealth and rank, and hence much was expected of him.

At the age of ten Shelley was placed in the public school of Sion House, but the harsh treatment of instructors and school-fellows rendered his life most unpleasant. Such treatment might have been called out by his fondness for wild romances and his devotion to reading instead of more solid school work. While very young he wrote two novels, "Zastrozzi" and "St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian," works of some merit. Shelley was next sent to Eton, where his sensitive nature was again deeply wounded by ill usage. He finally revolted against all authority, and this disposition manifested itself strongly in Eton.

Shelley next went to Oxford, but he studied irregularly, except in his peculiar views, where he seemed to be constant in his thought and speculations. At the age of fifteen, he wrote two short romances, threw off various political effusions, and published a volume of political rhymes entitled "Posthumous Poems of My Aunt Margaret Nicholson," the said Margaret being the unhappy maniac who attempted to stab George III. He also issued a syllabus of Hume's "Essays," and at the same time challenged the authorities of Oxford to a public discussion of the subject. He was only seventeen at the time. In company with Mr. Hogg, a fellow-student, he composed a treatise entitled "The Necessity of Atheism." For this publication, both of the heterodox students were expelled from the college in 1811. Mr. Hogg removed to York, while Shelley went to London, where he still received support from his family.

His expulsion from Oxford led also to an inexcusable confusion in his social life. He had become strongly attached to Miss Grove, an accomplished young lady, but after he was driven from college her father prohibited communication between them. He next became strongly attached to Miss Harriet Westbrook, a beautiful lady of sixteen, but of social position inferior to his. An elopement soon followed, and a marriage in August, 1811. Shelley's father was so enraged at this act that he cut off his son's allowance. "An uncle, Captain Pilfold--one of Nelson's captains at the Nile and Trafalgar--generously supplied the youthful pair with money, and they lived for some time in Cumberland, where Shelley made the acquaintance of Southey, Wordsworth, De Quincey and Wilson. His literary ambition must have been excited by this intercourse; but he suddenly departed for Dublin, whence he again removed to the Isle of Man, and afterward to Wales. After they had been married three years and two children were born to them they separated. In March, 1814, Shelley was married a second time to Harriet Westbrook, the ceremony taking place in St. George's Church, Hanover Square. Unfortunately, about this time the poet became enamored of the daughter of Mr. Godwin, a young lady who could `feel poetry and understand philosophy,' which he thought his wife was incapable of, and Harriet refusing to agree to a separation, Shelley, at the end of July in the same year, left England in the company of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin."

Upon his return to London, it was found that by the deed, the fee-simple of the Shelley estate would pass to the poet upon his father's death. Accordingly he was enabled to raise money with which he purchased an annuity from his father. He again repaired to the continent in 1816, when he met Lord Byron at Lake Geneva. Later he returned to England and settled at Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. His unfortunate wife committed suicide by drowning herself in the Serpentine River in December, 1816, and Shelley married Miss Godwin a few weeks afterward (December 30).

Leaving his unfortunate social career, we come now to consider his poetical works. At the age of eighteen he wrote "Queen Mab," a poem containing passages of great power and melody. In 1818 he produced "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude," full of almost unexcelled descriptive passages; also the "Revolt of Islam." Shelley was most earnest in his attentions to the poor. A severe spell of sickness was brought on by visiting the poor cottages in winter. Poor health induced him to go to Italy, accordingly on the twelfth of March, 1818, he left England forever.

In 1819 appeared "Rosalind and Helen," and "The Council," a tragedy dedicated to Leigh Hunt. "As an effort of intellectual strength and an embodiment of human passion it may challenge a comparison with any dramatic work since Otway, and is incomparably the best of the poet's productions." In 1821 was published "Prometheus Unbound," which he had written while resident in Rome. "This poem," he says, "was chiefly written upon the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, among the flowery glades and thickets of odoriferous blossoming trees, which are extended in ever-winding labyrinths upon its immense platforms and dizzy arches suspended in the air. The bright blue sky of Rome, and the effect of the vigorous awakening of spring in that divinest climate, and the new life with which it drenches the spirits even to inspiration, were the inspiration of this drama." Shelley also produced "Hellas," "The Witch of Atlas," "Adonais," "Epipsychidion," and several short works with scenes translated from Calderon and the "Faust of Goethe." These closed his literary labors, for he died as described in the beginning of this sketch, in 1822.

A complete edition of "Shelley's Poetical Works" with notes by his widow was published in four volumes in 1839, and the same lady gave to the world two volumes of his prose "Essays," "Letters from Abroad," "Translations and Fragments." Shelley's was a dream of romance--a tale of mystery and grief. That he was sincere in his opinions and benevolent in his intentions is now undoubted. He looked upon the world with the eyes of a visionary bent on unattainable schemes of intellectual excellence and supremacy. His delusion led to misery and made him, for a time, unjust to others. It alienated him from his family and friends, blasted his prospects in life, and distempered all his views and opinions. It is probable that, had he lived to a riper age, he might have modified some of those extreme speculative and pernicious tenets, and we have no doubt that he would have risen into a purer atmosphere of poetical imagination.

The troubled and stormy dawn was fast yielding to the calm noonday brightness. He had worn out some of his fierce antipathies and morbid affections; a happy domestic circle was gathered around him, and the refined simplicity of his tastes and habits, joined to wider and juster views of human life, would imperceptibly have given a new tone to his thoughts and studies. The splendor of his lyrical verse--so full, rich and melodious--and the grandeur of some of his conceptions, stamp him a great poet. His influence on the succession of English poets since his time has been inferior only to that of Wordsworth. Macaulay doubted whether any modern poet possessed in an equal degree the "highest qualities of the great ancient masters." His diction is singularly classical and imposing in sound and structure. He was a close student of the Greek and Italian poets. The descriptive passages in "Alastor" and the river-voyage at the conclusion of the "Revolt of Islam," are among the most finished of his productions. His better genius leads him to the pure waters and the depth of forest shades, which none of his contemporaries knew so well how to describe. Some of the minor poems, "The Cloud," "The Skylark," etc., are imbued with a fine lyrical and poetic spirit.


I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet birds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother's breast,
As she dances about the sun,
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under;
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

Biography from:

"Ode to the West Wind" by Shelley (1820)

Ode to the West Wind


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odors plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!


Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aery surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapors, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh, hear!


Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh, hear!


If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


1. According to Shelley's note, "this poem was conceived and chiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence, and on a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating, was collecting the vapours which pour down the autumnal rains. They began, as I foresaw, at sunset with a violent tempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder and lightning peculiar to the Cisalpine regions" (188). Florence was the home of Dante Alighieri, creator of terza rima, the form of his Divine Comedy. Zephyrus was the west wind, son of Astrœus and Aurora.

2. Having taken a boat trip from Naples west to the Bay of Baiae on December 8, 1818 Shelley wrote to T. L. Peacock about sailing over a sea "so translucent that you could see the hollow caverns clothed with glaucous sea-moss, and the leaves and branches of those delicate weeds that pave the unequal bottom of the water," and about "passing the Bay of Baiae, and observing the ruins of its antique grandeur standing like rocks in the transparent sea under our boat" (Letters, II, 61). Baiae is the site of ruined underwater Roman villas. pumice: lava cooled into a porous, foam-like stone.

3. "Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration, the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present, the words which express what they understand not, the trumpets which sing to battle and feel not what they inspire: the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World."--"Defence of Poetry", Shelley

4. "Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre; which move it, by their motion, to ever-changing melody."--"Defence of Poetry"

5. "Language is vitally metaphorical; that is it marks the before unapprehended relations of things"."--"Defence of Poetry"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Bio

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1772 - 1834
English romantic poet, philosopher and critic. His works include Poems on Various Subjects (1796), Lyrical Ballads (1798) written with Wordsworth and which includes The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, conversation poems Fears in Solitude, Frost at Midnight, This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, The Nightingale and the "dream" poem Kubla Khan (1797-8). His love poems include Love (1799); Dejection: an Ode (1902) was about his addiction to opium. Sibylline Leaves (1817) was the first of his collected works. His major work the Biographia Literaria was written after his rediscovery of Christianity and Aids to Reflection (1825) and Church and State (1830) are religious prose. Along with Wordsworth, Coleridge was one of the founders of the Romantic movement. Other romantic poets include Byron, Keats, Burns and Wordsworth.

"Frost At Midnight", Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Frost At Midnight

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud--and hark, again ! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings : save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed ! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village ! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams ! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not ;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O ! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come !
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams !
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book :
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike !

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought !
My babe so beautiful ! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes ! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe ! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags : so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher ! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw ; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

"Ode To A Nightingale" by Keats

Ode To A Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness,---
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O for a draught of vintage, that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Clustered around by all her starry fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast-fading violets covered up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain---
To thy high requiem become a sod

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:---do I wake or sleep?

Monday, November 2, 2009

"He is gone..." Keats' Death

In the film we get only the briefest shot of the house at the Piazza di Spagna, where Keats died, and Severn's letter bearing the news is read out by Charles Brown, Keats's best friend, to the distraught Fanny:

My dear Brown,

He is gone - he died with the most perfect ease - he seemed to go to sleep. On the 23rd, about 4, the approaches of death came on. "Severn - I - lift me up - I am dying - I shall die easy - don't be frightened - be firm, and thank God it has come!" I lifted him up in my arms. The phlegm seemed boiling in his throat, and increased until 11, when he gradually sunk into death - so quiet - that I still thought he slept. I cannot say now - I am broken down from four nights' watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone. Three days since, the body was opened; the lungs were completely gone. The Doctors could not conceive by what means he had lived these two months. I followed his poor body to the grave on Monday ...

J. S.

A window to the soul of John Keats

A window to the soul of John Keats

As the Romantic poet is celebrated in a major film, our writer searches for his spirit in the city in which he diedStefanie Marsh

It is 12.30pm on the Piazza di Spagna and a trail of English literature students are stumbling up the stairs of No 26. They had arranged to meet here at noon, but either the sheer excitement of Rome or its nightmarish public transport system has sabotaged any attempt at punctuality: befuddled and lightly sweating, they are led into an ante-chamber, a small wood-panelled library wheretake their seats, slump-shouldered, gormless as a herd of cattle.

Where are we? In one of Rome’s “better kept secrets” as the travel guides like to refer to the third-floor apartment where John Keats spent the final months of his life. Officially this is a sort of a museum, but it feels more like a sanctuary, a place of literary pilgrimage where Keats-lovers have been known to shed tears when they are confronted by the tiny wooden sleigh-bed where the great Romantic poet finally succumbed, at the age of 25, to tuberculosis.

A few personal notes in the visitors’ book convey the meaning of Keats to his many admirers: “I’ve wanted to come here for 40 years. All my life,” reads one. Another chronicles the death of a woman’s husband, himself a poet. The woman has found, she says, great comfort in reading Keats’s work and visiting his home in Rome.

It’s not clear, though, that the students know what they’re doing here, and when the head curator of the Keats-Shelley house interrupts their teenage reverie with an impatient harrumph, a little tremor of apprehension passes through the room.Katherine Payling, who has worked here for 12 years, is one of those passionate academics with that rare ability to convey phenomenal knowledge in just a few well-chosen sentences. Even in her casual attire, she is imperious.

A window is open and for a while the noise of the Piazza di Spagna threatens to demolish what’s left of the students’ concentration. Of course, it’s a more modern sort of a noise than Keats would have heard — more mobile phones, fewer horses hooves — and the view from the window has also changed since the early 19th century when the Piazza was dominated by artisans and flowersellers. Nowadays this is where you come to shop at Dior or the shirtmaker “Byron”. Competing for attention with the church of Trinità dei Monti some clever advertisers have hung a gigantic advertisement for yellow neon gloves. But the fundamentals are still in place as Keats would have seen them: the scalinita, of course, and the Pincian Hill behind it. The splashing of the Fontana della Baraccia remains just about audible above the din of hundreds of tourists that are sprawled over the Spanish Steps.

Payling closes the window. “I’ll make a start or else we won’t get anything done,” she says. “OK — what have you read?”

After an excruciating silence, a trembling pimply boy volunteers: “Ode to a Grecian Urn?” Payling says: “Good,” and, encouraged, a girl in a yellow cardigan blurts, “To a Skylark!” Payling shoots back: “No. That’s Shelley,” and the students lower their heads in embarrassment.

It’s always shaming to be confronted by your own ignorance. I spent the flight here trying to get to grips with Andrew Motion’s brick of a Keats biography. Halfway through the introduction it struck me that I couldn’t name a single Keats poem.

“This is like a pub quiz,” says Payling with some exasperation. Eventually, it is established that most of her audience have read Bright Star, or at least heard of Bright Star, as Jane Campion’s forthcoming Keats biopic bears the same name. “So it’s fresh in your mind,” she says, generously. And then she gets on to the good stuff. It’s Keats’s life that often draws people to his poetry. And it’s only when Payling asks: “Do you know how Keats died?” that the roomful of students finally begins to come alive.

“Tuberculosis!” beams one girl.

“That’s right,” Payling says. “How about Shelley?”

“He drowned,” chorus more voices.

“Right. He drowned a week before his 30th birthday. Byron, as you know, died of fever three years later. Which means Keats, Shelley and Byron all died within three years of each other. By 1824 all the second-generation Romantic poets were dead.” The room ponders the possible significance of this. Then Payling lobs the students another grenade: “Can you tell me who the first generation were?” Another ghastly silence.

“Words . . . Worth?” One girl finally ventures, pronouncing the former poet laureate’s name as if he were a discount supermarket chain. “Yes,” Payling says. “Anyone else? Who wrote Kubla Khan?” She is forced to answer her own question: “Coleridge. And there is one other early Romantic, who was an illustrator as well.”

A girl with a heavy cold and heavier eyeliner whispers: “Blake?” Satisfied, Payling says: “Which means the first generation of Romantic poets outlived the second.”

It is the tragedy of the second generation that fascinates the young. And most appallingly, no, catastrophically, tragic of all, was the life of Keats, a man pursued by bad luck from the start. Payling told me earlier that she still feels great sadness about the poet’s life: “He is so easy to like; you can’t say that of all writers. It’s easy to admire his aspiration, but his hopes were all dashed.”

As Payling now tells the room: “There is a clear distinction between Shelley, Byron and Keats that would have affected how reviewers received Keats’s work. Shelley and Byron were the sons of aristocrats while Keats was the son of an innkeeper. He was to become, no, not a doctor. An apothecarist.” She goes on to explain that the snobbery within Britain’s literary establishment at the time meant that many critics felt that Keats could not be taken seriously as a poet and reviewed the first two volumes of his work with deliberate spite.

Keats’s origins counted as his first stroke of bad luck. When he decided to abandon a career in medicine to concentrate on writing poetry, it meant that any love affair was unlikely to end in marriage. So it was the poet’s bad fortune to fall deeply in love with 18-year-old Fanny Brawne, who lived next door when Keats moved to Hampstead in his twenties: the posthumous publication of his love letters to her was to scandalise Victorian society.

Had he been a more roguish character, the impossibility of this relationship might have not caused him such pain, especially at the end of his life when it became clear that he would never see Fanny again.

Keats’s life was not merely bookended by tragedy but invaded by it at every turn: when he was 8 his father was killed in a riding accident. His mother’s second marriage collapsed, but not before her husband took possession of most of her wealth. She returned to her children but died when Keats was 10. His brother Tom succumbed to tuberculosis and the poet diagnosed the same fatal disease in himself not long after: one night, having coughed up some blood he is recorded as saying: “I know the colour of this blood: it is arterial blood . . . that drop of blood is my death-warrant. I must die.”

His doctor prescribed starvation and bloodletting, which only exaggerated his symptoms. On July 5, 1820, he was ordered to travel to Italy. The country fascinated him; he had mastered the language well enough to read Dante, but the circumstances of his journey robbed it of any pleasure.

That September, he sailed from Gravesend with his friend, the artist Joseph Severn. The journey was a minor catastrophe — storms broke out followed by a dead calm that slowed the ship’s progress. When it finally docked in Naples, the ship was held in quarantine for ten days because of a suspected outbreak of cholera in Britain. Keats reached Rome on November 14 by which time all hope of a warmer climate had evaporated. He rallied briefly, wrote his last known letter on November 30 and relapsed on December 10. Agonised by his separation from Fanny, thwarted by the literary establishment and close to death, he never left the apartment in Piazza di Spagna again. He had wanted to take his own life but Severn confiscated a bottle of laudanum, a decision the artist later partially regretted. On February 23, disillusioned and in great emotional and physical turmoil Keats died. It was 11pm, his final words were, famously: “Severn, I, lift me up, I am dying — I shall die easy; don’t be frightened, be firm, and thank God it has come.”

Once you have visited Keats’s apartment in Rome it is impossible not to be drawn farther south, on a 15-minute metro ride, to the Protestant Cemetery. Like the apartment, it is presided over by a dedicatedex-pat, Amanda Thursfield, who is justly proud of this unexpectedly peaceful spot, flanked though it is by a boisterous Italian roundabout. Germans come here to see where Goethe’s only son, August, is buried; Americans to admire The Angel of Grief, an exquisite tomb carved by the sculptor William Story, or Daisy Miller, the heroine of Henry James’s novella. Italians rarely visit, says Thursfield, though members of the country’s Left will drop in to see the tomb of Antonio Gramsci, Italy’s Marxist luminary. “We live more alongside our dead in Britain.”

In the old part of the graveyard, barely a field when Keats was buried here, there are now umbrella pines, myrtle shrubs, roses, and carpets of wild violets. Keats wanted an anonymous headstone. During his lifetime, the reviewers had never ceased their sniping and even Wordsworth had dismissed his poetry as “a pretty piece of paganism”. Famously, the epitaph that Keats chose for himself was: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

“It is a pentameter,” Thursfield says. “There is a sense there of impermanence, that his name wouldn’t survive. He wanted to be a great poet, that’s what he felt was the whole purpose of his life.” There is something terrible about the image of the young Keats, talented and brave, cooped up in a room in the centre of what was then Europe’s most culturally vibrant city, helpless against his disease.

Severn and his friend Charles Brown later added a lyre with broken strings to his headstone, and words explaining how the poet chose his epitaph “on his Death Bed in the Bitterness of his heart at the Malicious Power of his enemies”.

Beside the grave you’ll often find epistles, teenage attempts at romantic poetry scrawled on notepaper, and lovingly dedicated letters. The grass in front of the grave is worn down to the soil. “People spend a lot of time here,” says Thursfield. “They’re mainly sensitive types. Academics, young people, who’ve been touched by his poetry.”

Though Shelley, one of Keats’s most fervent champions, is also buried here, “people seem more drawn to Keats’s”. When Oscar Wilde visited he was so moved that he prostrated himself on the grass beside it. Severn often came to see his friend. “Poor Keats has now his wish — his humble wish,” he wrote, ”he is at peace in the quiet grave. I walked there a few days ago and found the daisies had grown all over it. It is one of the most lovely retired spots in Rome. You cannot have such a place in England . I visit it with a delicious melancholy which relieves my sadness.”

It is sad still. A whimsical-looking girl is hovering about with a note in her hand. The English-lit class will visit tomorrow, a little less preoccupied by their mobile phones now that they have heard this young poet’s extraordinary life story.

La belle damned

Keats’s friends did not like Fanny Brawne and critics and biographers have not been kind to her since. This is partly because of the way half-truths about the poet developed after his death. His friends quarrelled over who had the right to compose his biography. Fanny, who did not want to have any part in this ugly dogfight, wrote that “the kindest act would be to let him rest for ever in the obscurity to which unhappy circumstances have condemned him”. It was a big mistake on her part, even if made with the best of intentions, as her critics used it as evidence of her unfeeling heart. She showed, they said, “so little belief in his poetic reputation”; she was “no mate for the poet either in heart or mind”.

Most importantly, Keats’s friends believed that Fanny did not love him as much as he did her and that his crazy obsession had served only to hasten his death from TB. Some thought that the blood vessel in his lungs had burst under the stress of sexual frustration, living so close to Fanny but unable to consummate his love. Leigh Hunt told the story of going for a walk with Keats on Hampstead Heath, and sitting on the bench in Well Walk while the poet told him, “with unaccustomed tears in his eyes” that “his heart was breaking”.

Caricatured and hated, Fanny was the unprepossessing femme fatale of the Keats story. Unable to fight back because of the potential scandal that the revelation of her relationship with Keats might cause, she kept silent, secretly holding on to the poet’s letters, which were published after her death. Her letters to Keats were lost for ever. The emotional upheaval of reading her letters sent to him in Rome was too great for the dying poet, and he preferred simply to clutch them to his chest unopened, requesting that they be buried with him in his coffin.
Jennifer Wallace

The author directs Studies in English at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge