Tag Archives: Poetry

Alfred Lord Tennyson 7.6.13 Thought of the Day

“I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair.” — Tennyson

Deutsch: Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809-1892 englis...

Deutsch: Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809-1892 englischer Poet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alfred Tennyson was born on this day in Somersby, Lincolnshire in 1809. Today is the 204th anniversary of his birth.

He was the fourth of 12 children born to the Reverend and Mrs. Tennyson. He began writing poetry as a child and by 12 he’d written a 6,000 line epic.  He and his brothers were home schooled by their father in the classics and modern languages. But Reverend Tennyson “suffered from depression and was notoriously absentminded” [TheLiteraryNetwork.com] problems “that were exacerbated by alcoholism.” [Poets.org]  The family struggled under Rev. Tennyson’s influence;

One of Tennyson’s brothers had violent quarrels with his father, a second was later confined to an insane asylum, and another became an opium addict. [Poets.org]
But Alfred and his brother Charles escaped to Trinity College, Cambridge. There they published Poems by Two Brothers. (1827).  The book attracted the attention of one of the school’s most popular literary clubs, the “Apostles.”And  Alfred became close friends with the group’s leader Arthur Hallam.
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, by George...

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, by George Frederic Watts (died 1904), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1895. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His next two books, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830), and Poems (1833), were dismissed by critics as “‘affected’ and ‘obscure.'” [Ibid]  Another tragedy hit in 1833 when Hallam died suddenly in Vienna. Tennyson did not publish again for 10 years.
The Lady of Shalott, based on The Lady of Shal...

The Lady of Shalott, based on The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1842 he finally released the two-volume Poems. It contained “The Lady of Shalott”, “The Lotus-eaters” “Morte d’Arthur” and “Ulysses” and “was a tremendous critical and popular success.” [TheLiteraryNetwork.com] Seventeen years after Hallam’s untimely death he immortalized his friend in the epic In Memoriam. With it “Tennyson became one of Britain’s most popular poets” [Ibid]

I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.

But who shall so forecast the years
And find in loss a gain to match?
Or reach a hand thro’ time to catch
The far-off interest of tears?

Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with death, to beat the ground,

Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
`Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn.’

                        [exerpt from In Memorium A.H.H. , Click Here to read the whole poem]
Soon after he became Britain’s Poet Laureate.
At the age of 41, Tennyson had established himself as the most popular poet of the Victorian era. The money from his poetry (at times exceeding 10,000 pounds per year) allowed him to purchase a house in the country and to write in relative seclusion. … In 1859, Tennyson published the first poems of Idylls of the Kings, which sold more than 10,000 copies in one month. In 1884, he accepted a peerage, becoming Alfred Lord Tennyson. [Ibid]
Tennyson wrote into his 80’s penning plays as well as poems, “among them the poetic dramas Queen Mary (1875) and Harold (1876)”[Poets.org]. He died at 83 in 1892. He is buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey
The monument to Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Is...

The monument to Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight (Photo credit: Anguskirk)


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:


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


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


Five Flights Up

In The Waiting Room

Thought of the Day 10.14.12 e.e.cummings

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
–e.e. cummings

E. E. Cummings, 1958 by Edward Estlin Cummings...

E. E. Cummings, 1958 by Edward Estlin Cummings, Oil on canvas (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

Edward Estlin Cummings was born on this day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA in 1894. Today is the 118th anniversary of his birth.

As a child Cummings  enjoyed art and writing, as well as the outdoors. His mother encouraged him to write. And Cummings worked at his craft by writing daily. He went to Harvard where he became interested in non conventional poetry.

First edition dustjacket of The Enormous Room

First edition dustjacket of The Enormous Room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During World War I he was an ambulance driver in France and fell in love with Paris. But he sent letters home that “holding views critical of French war effort” [e.e. cummings Biography] He was arrested and thrown in prison for three months. His book The Enormous Room is based on his experiences in the French prison.  He was later drafted into the US Army.

1st edition cover

1st edition cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His first collection of poems, Tulips and Chimneys came out in 1923. Although his poems received critical praise — he won the Dial Award for poetry in 1925 — Cummings found it hard to find a publisher. His poetry was considered too avant guard.

His my father moved through dooms of love is a tribute to his recently deceased father…

my father moved through dooms of love

by E. E. Cummings


my father moved through dooms of love 
through sames of am through haves of give, 
singing each morning out of each night 
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where 
turned at his glance to shining here; 
that if(so timid air is firm) 
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which 
floats the first who,his april touch 
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates 
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep 
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry 
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea 
my father moved through griefs of joy; 
praising a forehead called the moon 
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure 
a heart of star by him could steer 
and pure so now and now so yes 
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer's keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly(over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father's dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn't creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend 
yes humbly wealth to foe and friend 
than he to foolish and to wise  
offered immeasurable is

proudly and(by octobering flame 
beckoned)as earth will downward climb, 
so naked for immortal work 
his shoulders marched against the darkhis sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head; 
if every friend became his foe 
he'd laugh and build a world with snow.My father moved through theys of we, 
singing each new leaf out of each tree 
(and every child was sure that spring 
danced when she heard my father sing)then let men kill which cannot share, 
let blood and flesh be mud and mire, 
scheming imagine,passion willed, 
freedom a drug that's bought and soldgiving to steal and cruel kind, 
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind, 
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of amthough dull were all we taste as bright, 
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death 
all we inherit,all bequeathand nothing quite so least as truth
--i say though hate were why men breathe--
because my Father lived his soul 
love is the whole and more than all

Cummings died in 1962 from a stroke.

E.E. Cummings, full-length portrait, facing le...

E.E. Cummings, full-length portrait, facing left, wearing hat and coat / World-Telegram photo by Walter Albertin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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