Archive for December, 2009

Archibald McLeish (1892-1982) won the Pultizer for his book of Collected Poems

Dr. Sigmund Freud Discovers the Sea Shell

Science, that simple saint, cannot be bothered
Figuring what anything is for:
Enough for her devotions that things are
And can be contemplated soon as gathered.

She knows how every living thing was fathered,
She calculates the climate of each star,
She counts the fish at sea, but cannot care
Why any one of them exists, fish, fire or feathered.

Why should she? Her religion is to tell
By rote her rosary of perfect answers.
she can leave to man:
She never wakes at night in heaven or hell

Staring at darkness. In her holy cell
There is no darkness ever: the pure candle
Burns, the beads drop briskly from her hand.

Who dares to offer Her the curled sea shell!
She will not touch it!–knows the world she sees
Is all the world there is! Her faith is perfect!

And still he offers the sea shell . . .

What surf
Of what far sea upon what unknown ground
Troubles forever with that asking sound?
What surge is this whose question never ceases?

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Marianne Moore (1887-1972) won the Pulitzer for her book of Collected Poems

Marianne Moore (1887-1972) won the Pulitzer for her book of Collected Poems


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–
nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”–above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,”
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

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René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist painter who lived from 1898 to 1967. He was concerned with the “sensation of mystery” in art and was in his own words, “the son of the woman who drowned herself.” As a child, he lived with his father and brothers, who were entrusted to the care of nurses and governesses. As a boy, he was said to have an “already strongly marked sense of the bizarre.” Here are three of his paintings:

The Therapist (1937), Le thérapeute, oil on canvas, 92 x 65 cm

The Companions of Fear (1942), Les compagnons de la peur, oil on canvas 70.4 x 92 cm

The Human Condition (1935), La condition humaine, oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm

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Pär Fabian Lagerkvist (Sweden, 1891-1974)

Among Lagerkvist’s central themes is the question of good and evil, examined through Biblical figures like Barabbas, the man freed from crucifixion instead of Jesus. Below are two scenes from the movie based on Lagerkvist’s novel Barabbas, published in 1950.

The story of Barabbas can be found Mark 15:6-15:

6 Now it was the custom at the Festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. 12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Here are two clips from the 1961 movie starring Anthony Quinn:

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Carl Sandburg won the Pulitzer for his book of Complete Poems.

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Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) won the Pulitzer for her book: Annie Allen

Here are two poems by Gwendolyn Brooks:

my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

Kitchenette Building

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” mate, a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent”, “feeding a wife”, “satisfying a man”.

But could a dream sent up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

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Peter Viereck (1916-2006) won the Pulitzer for his book: Terror and Decorum

Which Of Us Two?

When both are strong with tenderness, too wild
With oneness to be severance-reconciled;
When even the touch of fingertips can shock
Both to such seesaw mutuality
Of hot-pressed opposites as smelts a tree
Tighter to its dryad than to its own tight bark;
When neither jokes or mopes or hates alone
Or wakes untangled from the other; when
More-warm-than-soul, more-deep-than-flesh are one
In marriage of the very skeleton;–

When, then, soil peels mere flesh off half this love
And locks it from the unstripped half above,
Who’s ever sure which side of soil he’s on?
Have I lain seconds here, or years like this?
I’m sure of nothing else but loneliness
And darkness. Here’s such black as stuffs a tomb,
Or merely midnight in an unshared room.
Holding my breath for fear my breath is gone,
Unmoving and afraid to try to move,
Knowing only you have somehow left my side,

I lie here, wondering which of us has died.

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