Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Very Like a Whale

Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971)

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
      go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
      thus hinder longevity,
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
      gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
      wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
      there are great many things,
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
      and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
      actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
      mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof woof woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
      at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
      cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
      had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
      to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
      wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
      from Homer to Tennyson;
They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison.
How about the man who wrote,
Her little feet stole in and out like mice beneath her petticoat?
Wouldn't anybody but a poet think twice
Before stating that his girl's feet were mice?
Then they always say things like that after a winter storm
The snow is a white blanket. Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep
      under a six-inch blanket of snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch
      blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we'll see which one
      keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.

"The title is from Hamlet (Act III, scene 2): Feigning madness, Hamlet likens the shape of a cloud to a whale. "Very like a whale," says Polonius, who, to humor his prince, will agree to the accuracy of any figure at all." (footnote in Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, ed. X.J. Kennedy)

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach

Richard Snyder (1925 - 1986)

She turns them over in her slow hands,
as did the sea sending them to her;
broken bits from the mazarine maze,
they are the calmest things on this sand.

The unbroken children splash and shout,
rough as surf, gay as their nesting towels.
But she plays soberly with the sea's
small change and hums back to it its slow vowels.

I know "Mongoloid" isn't PC any more but it was perfectly acceptable in 1971 when this poem was written, and nothing derogatory is meant by it. In fact, I sense a deep affection for the child in this poem, and wonder if she was the poet's granddaughter.

I know I promised more Donne for today, but on Saturday I got word that my sister's second bone marrow transplant will be this Wednesday, and Eldest Daughter and I are leaving tomorrow to drive to Houston to spend a few weeks with her. I'll have very limited internet access while I'm gone, so I don't think I'll be able to post much more this month.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lauda, anima mea

Psalm 146

Praise ye the LORD.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

While I live will I praise the LORD:
I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man,
in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth;
in that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in the LORD his God:

Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is:
which keepeth truth for ever:

Which executeth judgment for the oppressed:
which giveth food to the hungry.

The LORD looseth the prisoners:
The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind:

the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down:
the LORD loveth the righteous:

The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow:
but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

The LORD shall reign for ever,
even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations.
Praise ye the LORD.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dan Dunder

John Ciardi (1916 - 1986)

Dan Dunder is a blunder.
What makes Dan so loud, I wonder?
If I knew how to be that loud
I think I'd look for a big black cloud
And get a job with it -- as thunder!

[...and more Donne on Monday...]

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Valediction forbidding mourning.

John Donne (1572 - 1631)

As virtuous men passe mildly away,
    And whisper to their soules, to goe,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
    The breath goes now, and some say, no;

So let us melt, and make no noise,
    No teare-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,
T’were prophanation of our joyes
    To tell the layetie our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harmes and feares,
    Men reckon what it did and meant,
But trepidation of the speares,
    Though greater farre, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers love
    (Whose soule is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
    Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love, so much refin’d,
    That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
    Care lesse, eyes, lips, and hands to misse.

Our two soules therefore, which are one,
    Though I must goe, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
    Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate.

If they be two, they are two so
    As stiffe twin compasses are two,
Thy soule the fixt foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth, if th’ other doe.

And though it in the center sit,
    Yet when the other far doth rome,
It leanes, and hearkens after it,
    And growes erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to mee, who must
    Like th’ other foot, obliquely runne;
Thy firmnes drawes my circle just,
    And makes me end, where I begunne.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Written late in 1611, this is a companion piece to the second Song I posted on Wednesday, also written for his wife before he left on the two-month-long journey. The calm rhythm and regular rhymes give it a relatively firm structure that reinforces its message of assurance.

In The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, C.S. Lewis provides very useful information that helped me understand some of the imagery – particularly that passage about “dull sublunary lovers” in stanza four. The whole explanation would be too long, so to be brief, Donne is saying that the love between him and his wife is not just physical, “eyes, lips, and hands,” but transcends the realm of the senses into the spiritual, so physical separation can’t really separate them.

Then in stanza six he uses gold, which symbolizes perfection, as a picture of their relationship. The footnote in my Everyman edition of John Donne: The Complete Poems in English, helpfully informs me that the medieval symbol for gold was a circle with a dot in the middle. Then in the very next stanza, Donne compares their love to the two legs of a compass – the kind you draw a circle with. Anne is the “fixt foot” which doesn’t go anywhere, and he is the pencil, which, because of her fixedness, draws a perfect circle around her – their love is like gold.

After his release from prison, John and Anne Donne lived with a cousin of hers until the cousin’s death in 1606. They rented a house for a few years and then another friend, Sir Robert Drewry, asked them to move into his large house in London. They were terribly grateful for his help because they still had very little to live on, and their family was increasing – a new baby nearly every year.

Then in 1611, Sir Robert decided to go to Paris with the Ambassador to France, and wanted Donne to accompany him. Anne was expecting their eighth baby at the time, and though they’d been separated before, this time she felt very uneasy about it, “saying, ‘Her divining soul boded her some ill in his absence;’ and therefore desired him not to leave her.” Donne would have stayed with her, but Sir Robert pressed him, and Donne told his wife that he felt he owed everything to Sir Robert on account of his charity to them. She finally did, “with an unwilling-willingness, give a faint consent to the journey.”

The trip to Paris took twelve days, and two days later, while he was alone one afternoon, Donne had a vision of Anne – she was walking up and down the room with her hair streaming, carrying a dead child in her arms. Twice he saw her this way, and he was so visibly upset when Sir Robert returned that he had to give an explanation. After hearing the story, Sir Robert said that he must have dozed off and dreamed it, but Donne was unconvinced. The next morning, he was still so bothered by the vision that Sir Robert sent a servant back home to get news. Twelve days later, the servant returned to say that Mrs Donne had had a long and difficult labor and that her child was delivered stillborn.

It had happened on the day, and about the same hour, that Donne had had the vision of her and the child.

Walton compares John and Anne Donne to two lute strings, tuned to the same note. Even though they are separated, when one is struck, the other will resonate.

This is part five in a series begun last Monday. Be sure to read it all, and when thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Sunne Rising

John Donne (1572 - 1631)

            Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,
            Why dost thou thus,
Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers seasons run?
            Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
            Late school boyes, and sowre prentices,
    Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
    Call countrey ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, months, which are the rags of time.

            Thy beames, so reverend, and strong
            Why shouldst thou thinke?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
            If her eyes have not blinded thine,
            Looke, and to morrow late, tell mee,
    Whether both the India’s of spice and Myne
    Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with mee.
Aske for those Kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt heare, All here in one bed lay.

            She is all States, and all Princes, I,
            Nothing else is.
Princes doe but play us; compar’d to this,
All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie.
            Thou sunne art halfe as happy’as wee,
            In that the worlds’s contracted thus;
    Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
    To warme the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

[This is the fourth in a series on John Donne begun on Monday.]

This is my favorite of favorites. I almost listed it in the number 1 position in my list of ten favorites, but Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse is about my favorite person in the world, Alfred the Great, and it's a great work itself, so it got first place.

This is what I love best about Donne -- no commonplace metaphors for him, comparing his love to a flower or something trite like that. No sir, she's India with its spices and the West Indies with their gold mines, and more.

I said before that I don't like to assume that all his poems are biographical, but there might be a clue in this one: "Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride." Donne married in 1601 during Elizabeth's reign -- James I became king a year and a half later, and I think this poem is celebrating the marriage bed.

More than that, I think it's a metonymy, celebrating marriage itself, and Donne was very happily married: "compar’d to this, All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie." That's another clue, by the way -- but more on that later.

Mr Walton tells us that Donne had inherited £3000 when his father died many years earlier. A year or so after leaving his law studies he decided to travel in Europe and, so in 1596, as part of the war with Spain, he joined the victorious expedition to Cadiz, which was led by the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh among others. He also took part in the failed expedition of 1597 to the Azores.

Walton says that Donne spent some years travelling in Europe, including Italy, and meant to go to the Holy Land but the difficulties of travel and getting money forwarded made the pilgrimage impossible, something he always regretted. By 1598 he had become very familiar with "those countries, their laws and manner of government, and returned [to England] perfect in their languages."

The same year he was noticed by Sir Thomas Egerton who was Keeper of the Great Seal and Lord Chancellor of England. He recognized Donne's wealth of talents and took him as chief secretary, intending the position to lead Donne to other greater service to the State. Sir Thomas considered Donne a friend and "did always use him with much courtesy, appointing him a place at his own table, to which he esteemed his company and discourse to be a great ornament."

It was during this time that Donne met his future wife. In 1600, Lady Egerton died and her sixteen year old neice, Anne More, became mistress of Sir Thomas's household, presiding at his table. By 1601 Donne had become a Member of Parliament in addtion to his duties to Sir Thomas, but that year, Anne's father, Sir George More, Chancellor of the Garter and Lieutenant of the Tower, become aware of the growing affection between his daughter and Donne, and brought her home again to prevent anything coming of it. Donne was rising in the world, but he'd spent most of his fortune on travelling, books, and "dear-bought experience," so it wasn't a prudent match for Sir George's daughter.

However, before she was removed, Donne and Anne had made promises to each other and the time apart did not change their minds. They were secretly married at the end of 1601, but Sir George soon found out, and in his understandable fury convinced Sir Thomas to fire Donne. When Donne wrote to his wife to tell her this news, he signed his letter "John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done."

Not satisfied with this, Sir George had Donne imprisoned until the marriage was proven valid. Donne attempted a reconciliation with his father-in-law, and while Sir George eventually forgave and grew to love him as a son, it was many years before he gave his daughter her dowry, and the couple lived in poverty.

Walton says that this imprudent marriage was the greatest mistake of Donne's life and that Donne himself recognized it, "and doubtless it had been attended with an heavy repentance, if God had not blessed them with so mutual and cordial affections, as in the midst of their sufferings made their bread of sorrow taste more pleasantly, than the banquets of dull and low-spirited people."

            She is all States, and all Princes, I,
            Nothing else is.
Princes doe but play us; compar’d to this,
All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie.
            Thou sunne art halfe as happy’as wee,
            In that the worlds’s contracted thus;
    Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
    To warme the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


John Donne (1572 - 1631)

Go and catch a falling star,
    Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
    Or who cleft the Devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
                        And find
                        What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be’st born to strange sights,
    Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
    Till age snow white hairs on thee;
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
                        And swear
                        No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou find’st one, let me know,
    Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
    Though at next door we might meet:
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
                        Yet she
                        Will be
False, ere I come, to two or three.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

[By the way, this poem plays a crucial role in Diana Wynne Jones’ book Howl’s Moving Castle. If you haven’t read that book, stop right now and put it on your TBR list. If you've seen the movie, it's a good movie and all that, but it DOES NOT COUNT. You must read the book, O Best Beloved. You’ll thank me this summer when you need some light reading. Jones is the one who put me onto Donne in the first place (he’s quoted or alluded to in many of her stories), and I like many of her books, but I don’t recommend them all -- she’s sort of like the girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead.]

Since I’m writing about Donne’s early life, this poem seems more in keeping with the popular idea of him as a young man, doesn’t it? A ladies’ man made cynical by so many disappointments in love. But I hope by describing his religious upbringing and his desire to be a good Christian in my two earlier posts to counter-balance that idea. There’s an illuminating passage from Mr Walton’s biography that I think is worth quoting at length:

About the nineteenth year of his age, he, being then unresolved what religion to adhere to, and considering how much it concerned his soul to choose the most orthodox, did therefore, – though his youth and health promised him a long life – to rectify all scruples that might concern that, presently laid aside all study of the Law, and of all other sciences that might give him a denomination; and began seriously to survey and consider the body of Divinity, as it was then controverted betwixt the Reformed and the Roman Church. And, as God’s blessed Spirit did then awaken him to the search, and in that industry did never forsake him – they be his own words [in his preface to Pseudo-Martyr] – so he calls the same Holy Spirit to witness his protestation; that in that disquisition and search, he proceeded with humility and diffidence in himself; and by that which he took to be the safest way; namely, frequent prayers, and an indifferent affection to both parties; and indeed, Truth had too much light about her to be hid from so sharp an enquirer; and he had too much ingenuity, not to acknowledge he had found her.

Note that when Walton says “being then unresolved what religion to adhere to,” he doesn’t mean Donne was trying to decide whether to be a Christian. There was no question of that. He was trying to decide which church, or as we would say, which denomination, to join as an adult, and I think this is a testimony of a young man who desired to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith he was called, however imperfectly.

It is well known that during his years in London, Donne spent a lot of time at Queen Elizabeth’s court, and that couldn’t have been a good influence on anyone’s morals. But I hesitate to assume that all of his Disappointed in Love poems are biographical. The one quoted above was set to music, as were several others, and courtly love ala Eleanor of Aquitaine was the mode of Elizabeth’s court. Nearly all of his early poetry was distributed among his friends for their amusement, as Walton says:

The recreations of his youth were poetry, in which he was so happy, as if nature and all her varieties had been made only to exercise his sharp wit and high fancy; and in those pieces which were facetiously composed and carelessly scattered, – most of them being written before the twentieth year of his age – it may appear by his choice metaphors, that both nature and all the arts joined to assist him with their utmost skill.

I don’t want to excuse what Donne himself called “irregularities of [his] life,” but I do want to place it into its proper context. Flirtation was an expected part of life at court, and so was the poetry of disappointed love. It was as common to Elizabethan poetry as it is to our country western music. Even though Donne felt he had much to repent of, I don’t think we have to assume that he was completely dissipated, the way he’s often portrayed.

I want to leave you with another song he wrote, this one to his wife when he was facing an absence of two months from her, after ten years of marriage.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~


Sweetest love, I do not go,
    For weariness of thee,
Nor in hope the world can show
    A fitter love for me;
        But since that I
At the last must part, ’tis best,
Thus to use myself in jest
    By feigned deaths to die.

Yesternight the sun went hence,
    And yet is here to-day;
He hath no desire nor sense,
    Nor half so short a way;
        Then fear not me,
But believe that I shall make
Speedier journeys, since I take
    More wings and spurs than he.

O how feeble is man’s power,
    That if good fortune fall,
Cannot add another hour,
    Nor a lost hour recall;
        But come bad chance,
And we join to it our strength,
And we teach it art and length,
    Itself o’er us to advance.

When thou sigh’st, thou sigh’st not wind,
    But sigh’st my soul away;
When thou weep’st, unkindly kind,
    My life’s blood doth decay.
        It cannot be
That thou lovest me as thou say’st,
If in thine my life thou waste,
    That art the best of me.

Let not thy divining heart
    Forethink me any ill;
Destiny may take thy part,
    And may thy fears fulfil.
        But think that we
Are but turn’d aside to sleep.
They who one another keep
    Alive, ne'er parted be.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


A Sheaf of Snakes used heretofore to be my Seal, which is the Crest of our poor family

Adopted in God’s family, and so
My old coat lost, into new Arms I go.
The Cross, my Seal in Baptism, spread below,
Does by that form into an Anchor grow.
Crosses grow Anchors, bear as thou shouldst do
Thy Cross, and that Cross grows an Anchor too.
But he that makes our Crosses Anchors thus,
Is Christ, who there is crucified for us.
Yet with this I may my first Serpents hold; –
God gives new blessings, and yet leaves the old –
The Serpent, may, as wise, my pattern be;
My poison, as he feeds on dust, that’s me.
And, as he rounds the earth to murder, sure
He is my death; but on the Cross, my cure,
Crucify nature then; and then implore
All grace from him, crucified there before.
When all is Cross, and that Cross Anchor grown
This Seal’s a Catechism, not a Seal alone.
Under that little Seal great gifts I send,
Both works and prayes, pawns and fruits of a friend.
Oh! may that Saint that rides on our Great Seal,
To you that bear his name, large bounty deal.
                                                                        JOHN DONNE.



[Translated from Latin, presumably by Mr. Walton. Shortly before his death, Donne had a miniature of Christ on an anchor, in the manner of a crucifix, engraved in bloodstone and set in gold. Several copies were made and given to his closest friends as tokens of his affection.]

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

[... continued from yesterday...]

After a couple of years in London, Donne had reached the age when it was usual to be confirmed in the Church, but hadn’t yet decided which denomination to join. Out of love and respect for his parents and not wishing to cause a breach with his family, he was inclined to join the Roman Catholic church, but knowing how important a decision he was making he decided to study the best apologists for the Roman and Reformed faiths to find out which one was the more orthodox.

Walton says that Donne eventually left the study of the law in order to devote himself to prayerful study of this question and that he did come to the truth, but he never states when Donne was confirmed in the Anglican church, and I haven’t been able to find out from the few other sources I’ve looked into.

Donne was nineteen years old when he began this study.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Holy Sonnet XIV

John Donne (1572 - 1631)

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
As yet but knocke; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you,'and would be lov'd faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie;
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish mee.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

"Master John Donne was born in London, in the year 1573*, of good and virtuous parents," says his biographer and friend, Izaak Walton, who wrote The Life of Dr. Donne in 1640. His parents were devout Roman Catholics and Donne was initally educated at home by Jesuits, becoming fluent in both French and Latin before entering Oxford at the age of eleven.

He studied there for three years and then was transferred to Cambridge, "that he might have nourishment of both soils," where he studied until he was seventeen. Although he was a diligent student he never took a degree at either university since in order to do so he would have had to swear the Oath of Supremacy, declaring Queen Elizabeth to be the head of the Church in England, which would have gone against his Catholic upbringing. In fact, his mother was the great-niece of Sir Thomas More, who was beheaded for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the Church.

[to be continued...]

* Everyone else lists his birth date as 1572; I don't know why the discrepancy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pascha nostrum


Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, *
    therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with old leaven,
neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, *
    but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; *
    death hath no more dominion over him.
For in that he died, he died unto sin once; *
    but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, *
    but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ is risen from the dead, *
    and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, *
    by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
    even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

From the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer I, this canticle, which is taken from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Romans 6:9-11; and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, is the one we use during Morning Prayers on Sundays when we've had to miss church for some reason (except during Lent, of course). It can be sung or spoken. The 1980 Episcopal hymnal has several musical settings for it but we haven't learned any of them. When it's spoken, the leader reads up to the asterisk and the congregation reads all the indented lines.

I can't tell you how beautiful it is to read Scriptures responsively during prayers -- there's a different quality to it than when you read things in unison, as with the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed. I think it's because it's more like a conversation -- encouraging each other with God's word. If your family doesn't normally do this, I'd suggest adding a Psalm a day to your family's prayer time, reading responsively by the verse or the half verse, and ending with the Gloria Patri.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Conclusion

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552? - 1618)

Even such is Time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
      Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wander'd all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

Friday, April 9, 2010

His Pilgrimage

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552? - 1618)

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,
    My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
    My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope's true gage;
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage.

Blood must be my body's balmer;
    No other balm will there be given;
Whilst my soul, like quiet palmer,
    Travelleth towards the land of heaven;
Over the silver mountains,
Where spring the nectar fountains;
            There will I kiss
            The bowl of bliss;
            And drink mine everlasting fill
            Upon every milken hill.
            My soul will be a-dry before;
            But, after, it will thirst no more.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Once I read that Sir Walter Raleigh wrote this poem during his imprisonment as he was awaiting his execution.

Here is the beautiful letter he wrote to his wife on the eve of his death.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898)

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
    Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
    He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.



On everyone's list of favorite poems, Jabberwocky was one of the first I memorized, to be recited for a speech or drama class (I've forgotten which) in high school, and is one of the few I can still quote from memory.

Here's a gem from Pentamom: Christopher Lee reading Jabberwocky.

And here's another: the crazy kids of a friend of mine, doing a hilarious Jabberwocky Rap of their own composition for their dad's birhtday, who, incidentally, hates rap music.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We are...

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

                                      We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

(Prospero in The Tempest, Act IV, Scene I)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955)

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.




[... for we sorrow not, as others which have no hope...]

Monday, April 5, 2010

in Just--

E.E. Cummings * (1894 - 1962)

in Just-
spring                 when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles         far         and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far         and         wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan         whistles

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Christus vincit!


Christus vincit! Christus regnat!
Christus, Christus imperat!





[This hymn is traditionally associated with Christ the King Sunday -- the last Sunday before the new Church year begins at Advent -- but it perfectly expresses my feelings on this resurrection day.]

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Hymne to God the Father

John Donne (1572 - 1631)

Wilt thou forgive that sinne where I begunne,
    Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sinne, through which I runne,
    And do run still: though still I do deplore?
        When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
                    For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sinne which I have wonne
    Others to sinne? and, made my sinne their doore?
Wilt thou forgive that sinne which I did shunne
    A yeare, or two: but wallowed in, a score?
        When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
                        For I have more.

I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spunne
    My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;
But sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy sonne
    Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
        And, having done that, Thou hast done,
                        I feare no more.

Friday, April 2, 2010


George Herbert (1593 - 1633)

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
            Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
            And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought:
            They told me there, that he was lately gone
            About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight return’d, and knowing his great birth,
            Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
            In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
            Of thieves and murderers: there I him espied,
            Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Later Life: A Double Sonnet of Sonnets

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)


Thou Who didst make and knowest whereof we are made,
      Oh bear in mind our dust and nothingness,
      Our wordless tearless dumbness of distress:
Bear Thou in mind the burden Thou hast laid
Upon us, and our feebleness unstayed
      Except Thou stay us: for the long long race
      Which stretches far and far before our face
Thou knowest,–remember Thou whereof we are made.
If making makes us Thine, then Thine we are;
      And if redemption, we are twice Thine own:
If once Thou didst come down from heaven afar
      To seek us and to find us, how not save?
  Comfort us, save us, leave us not alone,
      Thou Who didst die our death and fill our grave.

So tired am I, so weary of to-day,
      So unrefreshed from foregone weariness,
      So overburdened by foreseen distress,
So lagging and so stumbling on my way,
I scarce can rouse myself to watch or pray,
      To hope, or aim, or toil for more or less,—
      Ah, always less and less, even while I press
Forward and toil and aim as best I may.
Half-starved of soul and heartsick utterly,
      Yet lift I up my heart and soul and eyes
      (Which fail in looking upward) toward the prize:
Me, Lord, Thou seest though I see not Thee;
      Me now, as once the Thief in Paradise,
Even me, O Lord my Lord, remember me.