Category Archives: Poetry

T.S.Eliot 9.26.13 Thought of the Day

Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. De...

Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. Deutsch: T. S. Eliot, gezeichnet von Simon Fieldhouse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You are the music while the music lasts.” — T.S.Eliot

“In the room women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.” — T.S.Eliot

“In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.” — T.S.Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on this day in St. Louis, Missouri, USA in 1888. Today is the 125th anniversary of his birth.

He was the youngest of six surviving children born to Charlotte and Henry Ware Eliot. He was definitely the baby of the family. His closest sibling was 8 years old when Tom was born. “Afflicted with a congenital double hernia, he was in the constant eye of his mother and five older sisters.” [English.Illinois.edu] The inguinal hernia kept him from playing sports and largely from interacting with children his own age. He took refuge in books.

Tom (the family called him Tom) attended Smith Academy in St. Louis then Milton Academy (a prep school near Boston) before entering Harvard. He earned a B.A. in Philosophy from Harvard  in 1909.

It was at Harvard that Eliot read The Symbolist Movement in Literature by Arthur Symons. It…

introduced him to the poetry of Jules Laforgue, and Laforgue’s combination of ironic elegance and psychological nuance gave his juvenile literary efforts a voice. By 1909-1910 his poetic vocation had been confirmed: he joined the board and was briefly secretary of Harvard’s literary magazine, the Advocate. [Ibid]

In 1910 he moved to Paris to study Philosophy at the Sorbonne for a year. Then he came back to Harvard to study Indian Philosphy and Sanskrit.

In 1914 he went to Merton College, Oxford, England on scholarship. He was disenchanted with life in a university town and moved to London where he worked as a teacher,  for a bank, and continued to write. He soon met poet Ezra Pound.

Book by T. S. Eliot

Book by T. S. Eliot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pound…

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. [Poets.org]

Other major poems include:
  • Ash Wednesday (1930)
  • Four Quartets (1943)
Literary and social criticism include:
  • The Sacred Wood (1920)
  • The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)
  • After Strange Gods (1934)
  • Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1940).
Plays include:
  • Murder in the Cathedral
  • The Family Reunion
  • The Cocktail Party
[See Poets.org for more information]
English: T. S. Eliot, photographed one Sunday ...

English: T. S. Eliot, photographed one Sunday afternoon in 1923 by Lady Ottoline Morrell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eliot took British citizenship in 1927. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. He was a heavy smoker and he suffered from bronchitis and tachycardia for many years, in the end he died of emphysema in London in 1965.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized 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!]
Is it 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.

[Ibid]


Xin QiJi 5.28.13 Thought of the Day

Precious hairpin, broken, halved
At the Peach-Leaf Ferry where
We parted; darkening mist and willow shroud the place.
I dread to climb the tower-top stair;
Nine days out of ten wind raves, rain torrents race:
It breaks my heart to see the scarlet petals scatter one by one.
All this with nobody to care
Above it – who is there
Will bid the oriole’s singing cease?
Xin QiJi

[Image courtesy: OnePlaceTravel.com]

[Image courtesy: OnePieceTravel.com]

Xin QiJi was born on this day in Licheng (now Jinan) in the Shandong Province  of China in  1140. Today is the 873rd anniversary of his birth.

He was born to an age of conflict. Northern China was occupied by a nomadic “horde” from north-east China called the Jin or Jurchen.

In his childhood his grandfather told him about the time when the Han Chinese ruled the north and told him to be an honorable man and seek revenge against the barbarian for the nation. It was then when he developed his patriotic feelings. [Cultural China.com]

At 22 he began his military career with a group of fifty men under his command. He fought along side Geng Jing with his 10,000 strong army. After some success in 1161 Xin QiJi convinced Geng Jing to …

 …Join forces with the Southern Song army in order to fight the Jurchen more effectively. … but just as Xin finished a meeting with the Southern Song Emperor… Xin learned that Geng Jing had been assassinated by their former friend-turned-traitor, Zhang Anguo (张安国). With merely fifty men, Xin fought his way through the Jurchen camp and captured Zhang Anguo. Xin then led his men safely back across the border and had Zhang Anguo decapitated by the emperor. [Ibid]

His bravery, military prowless, and loyality to Geng Jing, his men and the Emperor “gained him a place in the Southern Song court.” [Ibid]

He was frustrated by the courts appeasement policy toward the invaders, and kept from a position of influence by being given “a series of minor posts” [Ibid] in the court.

[Image courtesy: ibid]

[Image courtesy: Cultural China.com]

Although he was an effective ruler on the district level (where he improved the irrigation system, helped poverty-struck peasants and maintained  well trained troops) it is through the  poetry that he began to write when he moved to the South that is known for today.

Xin Qiji’s Song poems are “powerful and sonorous , embracing the world and history”. As a patriotic lyricist , he sang of the sorrows and joys of the time , and the indignation and hope of the nation , pushing the Song poems up a new peak . [Ibid]

When young, I knew not the taste of sorrow,
But loved to mount the high towers;
I loved to mount the hight towers
To compose a new song,urging myself to talk about sorrow.
Now that I have known all the taste of sorrow,
I would like to talk about it, but refrain;
I would like to talk about it, but refrain,

And say merely: “It is chilly; what a fine autumn!” [Ibid]

-Xin QiJi

[Image courtesy: Cultural China.com]

[Image courtesy: Cultural China.com]


Elizabeth Bishop 2.8.13 Thought of the Day

“The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.”–Elizabeth Bishop

[Image courtesy: Poetry Foundation.org]

[Image courtesy: Poetry Foundation.org]

Elizabeth Bishop was born on this day in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA in 1911 .  Today is the 102nd anniversary of her birth.

She was an only child whose father died when she was 8 moths old. Her mother suffered a series of mental breakdowns and was “permanently committed to an institution when Elizabeth was only five years old.” [Poetry Foundation]

[Image courtesy: The Elizabeth Bishop Legacy]

[Image courtesy: The Elizabeth Bishop Legacy]

Bishop, who went to live with her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia, never saw her mother again. After several years her paternal grandparents took her to live with them in Massachusetts. The Bishops were well to do  and could afford a first class education for the little girl. They sent her to “Walnut Hills School for Girls and to Vassar College.” [Ibid]

[Image courtesy Elizabeth Bishop Society]

[Image courtesy Elizabeth Bishop Society]

After graduating Vassar Bishop, who was independently wealthy traveled extensively in Europe and North Africa. She lived for four years in Key West Florida where she wrote of her travels.  In 1946 those poems were compiled into her first book, North and South.  (The book won a Pulitzer Prize.) In 1951 she received a traveling fellowship and decided to circumnavigate South America. She made it as far as Santo, Brazil. Her intended stay of 2 weeks lasted over fifteen years. Upon returning to the United States she lived in New York, San Francisco, and New England.

Her style “focuses … with great subtlety on her impressions of the physical world… Her images are precise and true to life, and they reflect her own sharp wit and moral sense.” [Poets.org] The New York Times Called Bishop “One of the most important American poets” of the 20th Century. Bishop wrote slowly and precisely. She didn’t write a huge volume of poems, but each was measured perfection.

Here is my favorite Bishop poem, The Map:

map

The Map

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

Elizabeth Bishop

compass

Bishop died  at age 68 in October of 1979 in Boston. Besides her Pulitzer she won a National Book Award for Poetry in 1970, the Neustadt Internaional Prize in 1976 and two Guggenheim Fellowships (1947 & 1978).

[Image courtesy: Poets.org]

[Image courtesy: Poets.org]

Other Bishop poems I highly recommend:

A Visit to St. Elizabeths

Conversation

Five Flights Up

In The Waiting Room


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