13 poems (to find out acceptable words)
Arbitrary order, haphazard choices. (Not a substitute for actually buying books of poetry).
1. Kubla Khan: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many and incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests, ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
Of the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honeydew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
2. The Necessity: Denise Levertov
From love one takes
petal to rock and blesséd
one took thought
for frail tint and spectral
from way back that stillness,
that heart of fire, rose
at the core of gold glow,
could go down undiminished,
for love and
or if in fear knowing
the risk, knowing
what one is touching, one does it,
of speech a spark
awaiting redemption, each
a virtue, a power
in abeyance unless we
give it care our need designs in us. Then
all we have led away returns to us.
3. Alma to her sister: Linda Gregg
alone no loneliness in the dream in the quiet
in the sunrise in the sunset Louise.
in the dream on loneliness in the dream
in the sunrise in the sunset just the two of us
alone no loneliness done. in the dream
in the quiet of the day done in the sunrise
Louise, in the dream in the dream
in the sunrise in the sunset.
alone no loneliness done. no loneliness
in the dream in the quiet
in the sunrise in the sunset. Louise
in the dream. in the sunrise in the sunset.
4. Dover beach: Matthew Arnold
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
5. A contemporary: W.S. Merwin
What if I came down now out of these
solid dark clouds that build up against the mountain
day after day with no rain in them
and lived as one blade of grass
in a garden in the south when the clouds part in winter
from the beginning I would be older than all the animals
and to the last I would be simpler
frost would design me and dew would disappear on me
sun would shine through me
I would be green with white roots
feel worms touch my feet as a bounty
have no name and no fear
turn naturally to the light
know how to spend the day and night
climbing out of myself
all my life
6. Sailing to Byzantium: W.B. Yeats
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
7. The Idea of Order at Key West: Wallace Stevens
She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.
The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.
For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.
If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.
Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.
Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.
8. La primavera: Pablo Neruda
El pájaro ha venido
a dar la luz:
de cada trino suyo
nace el agua.
Y entre agua y luz que el aire desarrollan
ya está la primavera inaugurada,
ya sabe la semilla que ha crecido,
la raíz se retrata en la corola,
se abren por fin los párpados del polen.
Todo lo hizo un pájaro sencillo
desde una rama verde.
____________ (English translation I modified from Alistair Read's in the bilingual "Fully Empowered")
The bird has come
to give light.
From each of his trills,
water is born.
And between water and light which unwind the air,
now the spring is inaugurated,
now the seed is aware of its own growth;
the root is portrayed in the corolla,
at last, the eyelids of the pollen open.
All this, accomplished by a simple bird
from a green branch.
9. Thinking about being called simple by a critic: William Stafford
I wanted the plums, but I waited.
The sun went down. The fire
went out. With no lights on
I waited. From the night again—
those words: how stupid I was.
And I closed my eyes to listen.
The words all sank down, deep
and rich. I felt their truth
and began to live them. They were mine
to enjoy. Who but a friend
could give so sternly what the sky
feels for everyone but few learn to
cherish? In the dark with the truth
I began the sentence of my life
and found it so simple there was no way
back into qualifying my thoughts
with irony or anything like that.
I went to the fridge and opened it—
sure enough the light was on.
I reached in and got the plums.
10. Adlestrop: Edward Thomas
Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
(Included, because it remained unfinished -- no attribution to poet, and missing the last 13 words -- in my book of copied and memorized poems from British boarding school. Memorizing poetry did make up for some of the ... And Google can be amazing.)
11. On first looking into Chapman's Homer: John Keats
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
12. Ecclesiastes 12 (King James Version): Anonymous
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.
The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13. L'escargot par Paul Claudel
Le colimaçon quand on
lui adresse une critique
rentre a l'interieur de son
Un amant a moitié fou
pour une femme sans mérite
criait "Passion maudite!"
L'escargot lui dit : "J'm'en fous,
moi, je suis hermaphrodite"
Tout au fond de l'escargot vide
Se trouve un palais splendide
Orné d'un miroir si petit
Que pour y voir comme on est mis
Il faut être une fourmi.
"Le poème n'est point fait de ces lettres que je plante comme des clous mais du blanc qui reste sur le papier."
[Colimaçon: Normand word for snail and the spiral staircase in the tower of a castle]
English translation by Dave McDonald
The snail, low spiral of the soil
when confronted by a carping critic
retreats into its stairway coil
of convoluted system theoretic...
Freshly by his woman slammed,
a lover, reeling still with spite,
cried out that passion could be damned.
The snail replied "Not so my plight,
I am a born hermaphrodite!"
If snail coil round you wend
Find splendid castle at the end
Adorned by tiny mirror that you can't
See in its lovely setting's slant
Unless you morph yourself to ant
"The poem is made, not of the letters that I set like nails, but of the white that remains on the paper." Paul Claudel
And possibly my favorite quotation ...
"Le coeur humain a une fâcheuse tendance à appeler destin seulement ce qui l'écrase. Mais le bonheur aussi, a sa manière, est sans raison, puisqu'il est inévitable." Camus. Appendice de Le Mythe de Sisyphe, p. 178.
"The human heart has a tiresome tendency to label as fate only what crushes it. But happiness, too, in its way is without reason, because it is inevitable."
13 favorite novels (haphazard, top of my head choices)
A Dance to the Music of Time. Anthony Powell (you are unlikely to like this one; I've read all 12 novels twice and will read them again.
Nothing happens, but what doesn't is so interesting. Narrator as camera rather than protagonist.)
Rule of the Bone. Russell Banks (Holden Caulfield for the 21st century)
The Bone People. Keri Hulme ("help for pain")
Remains of the Day. Kazuo Ishiguro
The Once and Future King. T.H. White (I wanted to do my senior thesis on it, but Harvard was too snobby ...)
Not the End of the World. Christopher Brookmyre (Scottish pulp; good antidote for Anthony Powell, if you tried and heated it)
Morvern Callar. Alan Warner (I hated the movie, I'm afraid. When I bought a second copy, it came with a very good reader's guide
by Sophy Dale, published by Continuum Contemporaries)
No Great Mischief. Alistair MacLeod (His "Island" is the best book of short stories I have ever read)
Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen (no accounting for tastes, you say. If you love Austen, you might like Powell.
Tossup with Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre)
Middlemarch. George Eliot
Briefing for a Descent into Hell. Doris Lessing (unlikely choice of her books? The Golden Notebook. There, do you feel better?)
Martin Chuzzlewit. Charles Dickens (Mark Tapley is my favorite Dickens character)
A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess (but I'm tempted to pick one of his other novels. My alcoholic boarding school English
teacher reccomended this and others that I didn't read until I was in college – and then I was amazed.)
Best Wyoming novel – The Meadow. James Galvin
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