Archive for October, 2009


The first night at the monastery,
a moth lit on my sleeve by firelight,
long after the first frost.

A short stick of incense burns
thirty minutes, fresh thread of pine
rising through the old pine of the hours.

Summer is trapped under the thin
glass on the brook, making
the sound of an emptying bottle.

Before the long silence,
the monks make a long soft rustling,
adjusting their robes.

The deer are safe now. Their tracks
are made of snow. The wind has dragged
its branches over their history.
by Chase Twichell (born 1950)

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Margaret Widdemer (1884-1978) won the prize for her book "Old Road to Paradise"

Margaret Widdemer (1884-1978) won the prize for her book "The Old Road to Paradise"

The Singing Wood

I followed far from the roadway
After my golden ball
(How could I tell the way it went
Where it might lie or fall?)

And coaxing vines from the Singing Wood
Came twining around my feet
And scent of flowers from the Singing Wood
Oh, it was sweet, was sweet!

Once I met a satyr,
Once I was with a faun,
Once I spoke with a woman o’ doom
Spinning from dusk till dawn,

Once I followed a will-o’-the-wisp
Dancing along the fen . . .
Never the sun in the Singing Wood
Never a bird-loud glen!

All the trees were sighing,
All of the brooks were tears,
All of the flowers were bleeding-hearts
Scarlet with hopes and fears,

All of the vines were hands that clung
Twisting about my heart . . .
Oh, the thorns of the Singing Wood
Sharp they can tear and smart!

I might have won to the rainbow’s end,
But never for all o’ me
Shall my feet stray into the Singing Wood
For any fair things that flee . . .

Here on earth are the day and night,
Human women and men–
And oh, ’tis good to be out o’ the wood,
Into the world again!

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Over the next few months, I will be posting poems by Pulitzer Prize winners in poetry, beginning with Sara Teasdale in 1918. When I am able, I will post poems from the books for which they won the prize. Teasdale won the prize for her book Love Songs.

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

The River

I came from the sunny valleys
And sought for the open sea,

For I thought in its gray expanses
My peace would come to me.

I came at last to the ocean
And found it wild and black,

And I cried to the windless valleys,
“Be kind and take me back!”

But the thirsty tide ran inland,
And the salt waves drank of me,

And I who was fresh as the rainfall
Am bitter as the sea.

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Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Sweden, 1864-1931)

Here are remarks by Charles Wharton Stork on Karlfeldt’s poetry from the forward to Arcadia Borealis: Selected Poems:

The most striking characteristic of this poet’s production as a whole is its unity. At eighteen Karlfeldt was contributing verse to newspapers and magazines, at sixty-five he brought out the last six volumes published in his lifetime; and throughout this period the subject matter, even to a considerable degree the style, were the same. He always wrote in rhyme and in fairly regular meters; he always wrote of the landscape, the animals, the plants, the people of his native Dalecarlia. In the interval he had risen from a poor country boy of the wilds to an accomplished scholar, head of the Swedish Literary Academy. Surely few writers, least of all in modern times, can show similar tenacity of purpose.

And yet, I think, few lovers of poetry will be inclined to complain of monotony in Karlfeldt. Is it true that he has written no long poems and but few narratives in verse, and that, in contrast with Froding, he has created no individual characters. He does not as a rule tell stories or paint portraits; he interprets a way of life, but this he does with a richness of color and an intimacy of feeling that are well-nigh inexhaustible in charm….

Is it, it then, wholly fanciful to speak of Dalecarlia as a northern Arcadia? Karlfeldt himself did not think so. He felt more keenly the idyllic character of his homeland, the nature piety of its people. He delighted in the legended long-ago. And to him the past was not a vague memory, it was a living force. Fridolin, the peasant of today, who can talk in Latin to men of degree, is full of the berry’s juice and the wheat field’s dower. When he dances at the harvest home, he is at one with

… his sire and his grandsire who danced there long
Before to that old melody.

For he is a man of that stalwart mold. When he sings of

The surge of the storm, the cataract’s fall,
Or a sigh of the woodland vast,

he is impelled to add,

You sang in silence through ages past
That song by your cart and your plough.

The tradition has not broke off, it is continuous. Karlfeldt thus realized the dream of Keats by

Leaving great verse until a little . . .
Right in the simple worship of a day.

In him, as in Theocritus and the Vergil of the eclogues, the classicist and the pastoral warbler of native woodnotes wild were again united.

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If I Were Paul

Consider how you were made.

Consider the loving geometry that sketched your bones, the passionate symmetry that sewed
flesh to your skeleton, and the cloudy zenith whence your soul descended in shimmering rivulets
across pure granite to pour as a single braided stream into the skull’s cup.

Consider the first time you conceived of justice, engendered mercy, brought parity into being,
coaxed liberty like a marten from its den to uncoil its limber spine in a sunny clearing, how you
understood the inheritance of first principles, the legacy of noble thought, and built a city like a
forest in the forest, and erected temples like thunderheads.

Consider, as if it were penicillin or the speed of light, the discovery of another’s hands, his oval
field of vision, her muscular back and hips, his nerve-jarred neck and shoulders, her bleeding
gums and dry elbows and knees, his baldness and cauterized skin cancers, her lucid and
forgiving gaze, his healing touch, her mind like a prairie. Consider the first knowledge of
otherness. How it felt.

Consider what you were meant to be in the egg, in your parents’ arms, under a sky full of stars.

Now imagine what I have to say when I learn of your enterprising viciousness, the discipline
with which one of you turns another into a robot or a parasite or a maniac or a body strapped to a
chair. Imagine what I have to say.

Do the impossible. Restore life to those you have killed, wholeness to those you have maimed,
goodness to what you have poisoned, trust to those you have betrayed.

Bless each other with the heart and soul, the hand and eye, the head and foot, the lips, tongue,
and teeth, the inner ear and the outer ear, the flesh and spirit, the brain and bowels, the blood and
lymph, the heel and toe, the muscle and bone, the waist and hips, the chest and shoulders, the
whole body, clothed and naked, young and old, aging and growing up.

I send you this not knowing if you will receive it, or if having received it, you will read it, or if
having read it, you will know that it contains my blessing.
by Mark Jarman (born 1952)

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Persephone The Wanderer

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone’s initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne—

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
“home” to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother’s
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?
Louise Gluck (born 1943)

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When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
by Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

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