Poetry For Our Silent Spring 2020

Robert Babbitz, historian and my college dorm room-mate from 50 years ago, sent me the following reflection of poems appropriate for our remembrances today. I have added full texts of the poems mentioned to Bob’s commentary, a few small notes, and some of my own poems at the end (probably too many) — without any intention of trying to compare myself to the luminary poets Bob has listed. My purpose is just to share some literary beauty and insightful thoughts with my fellow humans burrowed into their social isolation, hiding from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Bob —

Compared to today’s shabby, disease-riddled existence, I cannot help but think of the early 1970’s, when we were roommates, and on into our grad school years, despite the insanity of Nixon, the war, and all the rest, as a better time. Thinking of those years reminds me, somehow of Wordsworth’s lines on the French Revolution:

Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive
and to be young was very heaven.

Of course, the French Revolution didn’t turn out all that well, given the Terror and the rise of Napoleon. An interesting if flawed book is Crain Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution, in which the author compares the major revolutions. One problem is that Brinton wasn’t a historian, but more of a sociologist or political scientist, and it shows. I read it in grad school. At the time it was the only work of it’s kind.

Recently read an interesting poem by Rupert Brooke, best known as the patriotic British poet who died during the early years of WWI. But his poem “Tiare Tahiti” is not a war poem. I do not think it has racist implications. If you read it, please let me know what you think.

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Tiare Tahiti
(by Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915)

Mamua, when our laughter ends,
And hearts and bodies, brown as white,
Are dust about the doors of friends,
Or scent ablowing down the night,
Then, oh! then, the wise agree,
Comes our immortality.
Mamua, there waits a land
Hard for us to understand.
Out of time, beyond the sun,
All are one in Paradise,
You and Pupure are one,
And Taü, and the ungainly wise.
There the Eternals are, and there
The Good, the Lovely, and the True,
And Types, whose earthly copies were
The foolish broken things we knew;
There is the Face, whose ghosts we are;
The real, the never-setting Star;
And the Flower, of which we love
Faint and fading shadows here;
Never a tear, but only Grief;
Dance, but not the limbs that move;
Songs in Song shall disappear;
Instead of lovers, Love shall be;
For hearts, Immutability;
And there, on the Ideal Reef,
Thunders the Everlasting Sea!

And my laughter, and my pain,
Shall home to the Eternal Brain.
And all lovely things, they say,
Meet in Loveliness again;
Miri’s laugh, Teïpo’s feet,
And the hands of Matua,
Stars and sunlight there shall meet
Coral’s hues and rainbows there,
And Teüra’s braided hair;
And with the starred tiare’s white,
And white birds in the dark ravine,
And flamboyants ablaze at night,
And jewels, and evening’s after-green,
And dawns of pearl and gold and red,
Mamua, your lovelier head!
And there’ll no more be one who dreams
Under the ferns, of crumbling stuff,
Eyes of illusion, mouth that seems,
All time-entangled human love.
And you’ll no longer swing and sway
Divinely down the scented shade,
Where feet to Ambulation fade,
And moons are lost in endless Day.
How shall we wind these wreaths of ours,
Where there are neither heads nor flowers?
Oh, Heaven’s Heaven!—but we’ll be missing
The palms, and sunlight, and the south;
And there’s an end, I think, of kissing,
When our mouths are one with Mouth….

     Taü here, Mamua,
Crown the hair, and come away!
Hear the calling of the moon,
And the whispering scents that stray
About the idle warm lagoon.
Hasten, hand in human hand,
Down the dark, the flowered way,
Along the whiteness of the sand,
And in the water’s soft caress,
Wash the mind of foolishness,
Mamua, until the day.
Spend the glittering moonlight there
Pursuing down the soundless deep
Limbs that gleam and shadowy hair,
Or floating lazy, half-asleep.
Dive and double and follow after,
Snare in flowers, and kiss, and call,
With lips that fade, and human laughter
And faces individual,
Well this side of Paradise! ….
There’s little comfort in the wise.

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The last two lines of this poem were used by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) for the opening quote, and title, of his novel This Side Of Paradise.

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My favorite poet of The Great War is Wilfred Owen, who served in the British army and was sent back to Great Britain to be treated for PTSD, then, of course, known as “shell shock”. Owen was treated at Craiglockhart hospital in Scotland and eventually sent back to the front, where he was killed just days before the Armistice. His antiwar poem “Dulce et Decorum est” is, in my opinion, brilliant.

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Dulce et Decorum est
(by Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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Ironic then, and now:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country.

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Some of my favorite poems: Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”, and many others. What are some of your favorites?

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The Lake Isle of Innisfree
(by William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
(by T. S. Eliot, 1888-1965)

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.*

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 towards 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.

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*From Ella García:
Roughly translated, it says:

If I believed that my response were
To a person who would never return to this world,
This flame would be no more shaken.
But alternatively if for some reason
I don’t return alive–yes, I hate the truth–
Without theme of infamy I will respond to you.

This is pretty old Italian. It’s hard to understand and translate poetically because some of the phrases are colloquialisms from that time. It sounds like a love poem involving the afterlife. Italian flows beautifully, but most of the phrases are very exaggerated and long. I may have misunderstood some passages, but I think I got the basic theme.

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Dover Beach
(by Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888)

The sea is calm tonight.
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 Ægean, 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.

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Though I am in no way religious, since Toni passed, I find myself rereading the 23rd Psalm. Make of that what you will.

Toni Jean Crouse (Mrs. Robert Babbitz) 1950-2015, in 1972

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23rd Psalm (King James Bible version)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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Based on your recommendation, I will look for the book “Cadillac Desert.” Unfortunately, there’s probably not much chance I will catch up with the Disney movie about Cape Cod [The Finest Hours, a movie about the 1952 rescue, by Bernard C. Webber and three other volunteers, of the 32 survivors of a busted tanker off Cape Cod during a nor’easter]. However, I remembered the correct name of the book about the brutal 1929 Nor’Easter at the Cape. It’s “The Outermost House”, by Henry Beston. Obscure and difficult to find, but IMO, worth reading.

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I add the following items to Bob’s thoughtful letter.

Begrenzt ist das Leben, doch unendlich ist die Erinnerung.
Life is limited, but unending is the memory.

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Why does the Buddha smile?
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

Autumn light falls on the leaves
and makes them luminous against the blue,
it falls upon a woman’s form
and chisels breath to beauty –
even desire.
Breeze percolates through the light,
quivering leaves;
life is sweet.

Like a lotus, radiant, blooming
above the fetid pond it roots in,
so the luminous beauty and joy of life
flower in every corner of time and place.
Whether we find ourselves in war or peace,
satisfied or desolated,
the honeyed light
dims not its warming grace
to match the hue of our anxiety.

Somewhere in this world,
at this moment
for some individual
there is no personal God,
there is only loss, abandonment, despair.
We each will have this moment.
Yet, the light falls,
the lotus blooms,
the grace is there
amidst the wreckage we feel entangled by.
Tranquil beauty and stark terror are all one in this world.
The lotus blooms over the stench of death,
but it blooms – daily.
And so, the Buddha smiles.

27 October 2001

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That poem is not a great nor clever work, just a personal and heartfelt one.

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Ghosts
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

Ghosts crowd the mind,
living flesh only mirrors images cast by memory —
realities lost to dust —
scattered into wind.
A woman, alive only in fantasies of desire,
an aroma in the mind, gardenias?
How is it I can feel the palpitations
under a receptive embrace
now not even a breath from butterfly wings?
Motionless life fills thought
while lifeless motion crowds vision of the street.
Who are these people?
They appear real but they are castaways
boring through their mutual unconscious
with blaring determination,
their horizons close,
filled with illusions but free of ghosts.

I sit in a eucalyptus grove,
the afternoon sun cascading down tiers of leaves
shimmering to the eddies,
the streaming air shushing
through swaying fronds, against vaulting trunks;
a weaving dance of light and shadow,
the shifting of veils hung from a dome of light.
Spirit brushes along quivering green,
the caress of light warming earth’s uplifted hands,
massaging warmth down eager limbs
drawing the milk of life deep into folds
below the darkness of all birthing,
beneath the gravity we rise from.

Is some of the air you once breathed
now drifting in this stream?
Is some of the force of your life
now rippled by waves of birdsong?
Is some of the heat of your passion
now a whisper of love
absorbed imperceptibly from this day?
Am I as much a ghost as you?
Yes, of course;
this breath is what matters,
this kiss is what matters,
this love is the vessel of life.

I hear the voice of Maria Callas —
la divina
an echo preserved to rekindle sensations of presence,
to relive our own times of transcendence,
to feel life.
And yet, what of hers?,
less than the whisper of sunlight on seafoam,
now as much part of the Aegean wind
as the smile of Helen of Troy.

And, so it must be,
as we loose our last breath
we melt into the earth’s breathing.
Perhaps our bones will imprint future rocks,
perhaps our ashes will trail the last eddy of our body’s heat
like spent candle soot coiling up into darkness.
Is that your memory, a lingering warmth in the darkness?
And now you mingle with so many,
my mind a country of spirits,
new immigrants arriving daily;
a land I can know yet never visit.

Shall I tell you about it?
There is a wonderful bar, top shelf in the well,
jazz trio backing Ella;
all the many Jesus drinking wine, relaxed,
dancing with Mary, Martha, Salome,
the intense political debates resolved.
Down by the river, the poets convene,
and I listen as their word plays
wrap around the fire and lift into velvety night
twinkling unseen with the chirping of crickets.
At dawn we stretch to greet the sun,
naked bodies flushed with warmth, washed of time.
At night in the city
I will hear sopranos and drink white Burgundy,
I will see Don Giovanni and drink Médoc.
The once ambitious wander the streets bewildered —
harmlessly deranged —
there will be no order, only peace.
At the shore, a poet will say of the dawning light
“It is as bright as the love left behind.”
I hear the voice — love is an art.

29 October 2006

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Variation of parameters
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

Perhaps it was a change in the weather
that caused things to happen.
I remember warm winds
blowing up from the south in early spring,
and yellow moons in blue glazed nights.
The melting of the cell phones was first.
Overnight,
they were just frozen puddles of plastic and metal,
nothing seen, no heat felt,
just stone-cold carbonized slag heaps
in their hundred millions.
None have been made since –
they all dissolve –
as if the very form, even the concept
had been banished by some capricious god.
Soon after, every fifth spark plug failed,
crankshafts and turbine blades
inexplicably disintegrate.
No cause can be found, no process observed,
large gasoline motors rarely run, now,
there was much fearful whispering about gremlins.
Still, we all adjusted reasonably soon,
and then the great shock arrived –
all the money disappeared.
One morning,
no account could be found with a balance,
all bills showed zero totals,
all currency had vanished.
Everyone is penniless and free of debt,
work has no pay, selling has no buyers –
no obligations, no inducements.
At first, there was chaos, riots, death,
many went insane or took their lives,
“He’s gone back to look for his money,”
we say now –
our phrase for the departed.
Yet, soon enough, most people found occupations,
either from habit, inclination,
or simply to shake off boredom,
like a group of children
picking through a pile of costumes
to take on roles in a game.
In this game, we trade
for food, for our chores, for our entertainment.
With so much use of time,
and no easy accounting,
no one can accumulate
beyond the stores for a winter.
Our leaders bemoan the fall of civilization,
and, as they are ignored,
it must be so.
Our evangelicals howl in ecstasy,
dancing naked around bonfires through the night.
The children are delighted,
now, with so many schools close by,
and always elders, and relatives in attendance
along with their teachers,
so joyous, compared to what now seems imprisonment
in the old moneyed days.
I think it is the learning joy of children everywhere
that makes one feel as if always walking in a village,
even as it stretches between the oceans.
The young easily try on any role,
experimenting with great fervor,
adding such sparkle to the daily routines,
and reminding us to keep our perspective,
for they can leave without notice
for vacations of unknown length,
to satisfy the needs of the spirit.
Yet, in this ebb and flow,
all social needs are filled,
like the hollows children dig out at the beach;
our social lives are smoothed
by the washing of tides from an unseen ocean.
While the fortunes of many have tumbled,
most have tasted liberation, by now,
and those who have lost are left to their own devices.
Shortly after the money left,
the wars erupted – somebody had to pay.
By two years the shooting sputtered to a halt,
all the bullets were turning out to be duds –
plutonium turned to salt, rockets crumbled to powder –
and so they remain.
No explanations.
Our armies are helpless, vulnerable,
unable to attack, and unassailable.
The great migrations began when the guns died,
but soon quelled
when gold was found dissolved in the oceans,
and laced through the sand underfoot.
It is so common, now, it is worthless,
though most beautiful,
and a warm metal to replace broken teeth.
And so, we live under a mysterious power
we cannot explain.
We are people with a broken history
and a continuously randomized future,
liberated from our parallel lives of isolation,
and the apprehension of survival.
Around here, we each hoe our gardens
while spending long afternoons watching clouds curl,
or walking into town to carry home a gallon of milk.
Just this afternoon,
I heard the pub switched from sports on TV to poetry –
for a change.
Maybe I’ll go down and have a few, tonight.

17 February 2003

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Footprints in the river, handprints on the sky
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

My life is as dewdrops on a lotus leaf
spread above the quiet of Walden Pond,
disappearing slowly, inexorably, in the warmth of the sun
birthing an unending present – my unknowable future;
evaporating my sufferings
into the buzz of hummingbird wings
and the laughter of children playing,
no different today than in the days of Pericles and Gautama,
and certainly no different in those days to come
when my forgotten name will be half as old as theirs.
The American Ryōkan, the Japanese Thoreau,
how glad I am of their gifts,
examples of living by principle –
content, enlightened, generous, humane, calm, funny,
engaging me with their words
the way their living engaged their neighbors,
waking so many from torpid lives of expediency
by the sheer force of example –
without exhortation,
their tangible traces, now, pure art.
And when I am gone what will be my legacy?:
the impish glee of a child laughing on the swings,
hands furrowing the warmth of the sand,
plunging through sweet air reaching for the higher bar,
watching ripples of light on the water.

24 November 2002

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I love the collection of Ryōkan poetry, One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan, translated by John Stevens.

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Horizon
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

I drank from a hidden fountain:
everything stopped,
sound froze,
cracked, fell to the ground as powder;
light melted,
dripped, clung to the skin like sweat,
sank in.
I breathed in cold darkness
and exhaled puffs of light,
my eyes illuminated everything,
my vision bore through steel,
rocks, smoke;
mirrors evaporated.
I closed my eyes
and saw a brilliant azure sea
caressing a band of dazzling white
stretching away past the edges of sight,
fringing the toes of flower strewn dunes;
the air alive, vibrant, yet light as grace,
and all in a shower of warmth
under the luminous dome of sky.
My eyes opened,
I saw my other cell mates,
“We can get out,” I said,
“You must leave,” they replied,
“Come, let me show you,”
I said, leading them to the great iron door,
it was unlocked, as always.
I opened it, walked out,
calling for them to follow, saying
“We are always free.”

They closed the door behind me,
pushing hard to keep it sealed,
“Go, do not come back, do not speak,”
they screamed without speaking,
“Wolves will eat your flesh,
your bones will lie in the open,”
they cried in fearful anger
and returned to their cells.
I can see them,
each staring at the texture of the bricks
in the walls of their cells,
pining for freedom,
clinging to the certainty of parallel isolation.
And I am cast out, left to die,
wandering the dunes, eating wild strawberries,
watching the flight of birds,
the unfolding of clouds,
listening to the hymn of wind across sand,
the fall of water into the embrace of surf,
sheets of water wiping the face of the beach,
the hissing kiss of foam on wet sand.
Mountains have grown and been ground flat,
washed into the sea –
and still, I am here.

17 April 2002

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An American Prayer
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

God, let me experience life without thought of profit, preference or death.

Let me know justice, by allowing me to experience the consequences of my acts as others experience them.

Let me know You for what You are: the life in all, the knower, the known and the unknown.

Let me be curious without fear of thought.

Let me be expressive without thought of fear.

Let me be forgiving, an instrument of compassion.

Let me be alert, an instrument of knowledge.

Let me be humane, an instrument of peace.

Let me know truth.

Let me be grateful.

5 July 2004

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The Buried Rainbow
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

His mind is a graveyard of memories
of young and beautiful faces,
utopian dreams,
transformative art
unseen in this island world of blind cyclopses
bumbling into each other with hurtling ambition
in the shadowed canyon bottoms.
He tosses pearls of protein, lipids and carbohydrates
on the frozen ground, and they erupt
as fluttering clouds of rock doves
rising into the clear air
to wheel about the shafts of light
streaming onto the canyon walls,
and carrying his gaze up into
the buried rainbow of an undiscovered country,
where fields of energy emanate
from fingertips of generosity
to unfurl a mesh of loving care
that cradles a race of poets.

25 January 2015

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Night Sail
(original, in Chinese, by Tu Fu, 712-770)

Soft wind gently through shore grass waving,
Alone by the tall mast sailing at night.
Fields of stars stretch far beyond seeing,
The great river flow is quavering moonlight.

All my writing is born for oblivion,
Myself, aged past thought by people today.
Heaven, Earth and I are sounding the One
Out of sand-gull wings fluttering away.

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MG,Jr. version (19 July 2016) of Tu Fu’s poem Nocturnal Reflections While Travelling.

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Love at Dawn
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

I still can feel your dawn-window eyes
as I walk through this night,
and I still can smell your long, dark hair
softly catching the light.
The sweet taste of your tender lips
I still can savor with care,
and the warming voice of your soft, soft skin
still glides upon my face.
I still can feel your dawn-window eyes
as I walk through this night,
this night though but a wisp of the past
is an eternal delight.

7 October 1969

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As the bee takes the essence of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty and perfume, so let the sage wander in this life.

— The Dhammapada, 49 (translation by Juan Mascaró)

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Coiling Oak Smoke
(a song by Manuel García, Jr.)

Dewdrop jewels on the berries of spring
Golden grain waves in the fresh wind that brings
Crystal fresh rains that wells once again fills
And moistens the fields, the woods and the hills
Vibrant green shoots coat with radiance our land
Nature’s benev’lence again is at hand
Clear light infuses warm breath through the trees
Dispelling the mists by dawning degrees

Our gardens now lush emerge from shadow
Birds rustle and flit by rivulets low
Mayhaps our boatmen will hook us some fish
To grill tonight for a savory dish
Maybe our cider cooled down in the creek
Will loosen spirits to merriment seek
Round the oak fire that pulls us all in
As our tribe of foundlings now becomes kin

Let the young children seek sparkly rocks
Treasures and playthings their dreams to unlock
Delighting in games with imagined friends
Out in the clearings and where the beach ends
Hiding and seeking and scurrying ‘round
Learning each corner of our tribal ground
While we tend to patching houses and clothes
To keep out the rains and cold wintery blows

In afternoon balm I’ll auger flute-holes
And string my guitar to serenade those
Who ring round the fire as dusk closes in
As we rim the warmth that centers our being
And I might think back to times long ago
When my world froze up and melted like snow
And then burnt away in long hopeless wars
When all that I was became nothing more

We each disappeared into private ends
Abandoned alone by fate and by friends
Emerging alive by luck some would say
Finding each other by chance day by day
Intimate strangers now braided as tribe
Castaways now on this earth that abides
Each guarding mem’ries of those that they lost
Each guarding a soul or’whelmed by grief’s cost

Tomorrow I take Young Buck up the hill
To teach him the bow and of deers to kill
We’ll seek cedar stalks to make arrow shafts
Talk about fletching and archery crafts
To ready ourselves for hunting to come
When fall chills the days and fog shrouds the sun
In time he’ll move off with borns of his own
As I once had before being alone

When young Buck’s become the man he must be
I will be feeding my gone away tree
Returning my spirit to these deep woods
Content I suppose I did what I could
We old men and women work so to fill
Young bellies with food and young lives fulfill
With savory scents coiled up in oak smoke
That bind us together as tribal folk.

9 December 2019

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Soar Hawk Soar
(a song by Manuel García, Jr.)

I walked beneath a freeing sky
A soaring hawk wings thoughts up high
The calmed remembrance of old dreams
And clouds aglow in silent streams
That drift on by the mountain peaks
Of stories I will never speak
The light of day unfurling space
Illuminates my winding pace
Unshadowed hills of grit and green
The finest landscapes I have seen
A fading wake of memories
That seep out softly as eddies
All so common and all so mine
Connecting ever each ‘cross time
By light on silent distant themes
Adrift alone on warped time’s seas
Beyond horizons of each one
So mind hawklike soars to the sun
To look to where experience ends
Perhaps to catch a glimpse friends
So very long ago with you
When warmth was shared between us two
Till now forgotten urgencies
Cast us adrift to families
That drew our lives out as we’ve seen
Remote from those that now are keen
As my regards go out so fleet
With hope your journey has been sweet
For mine was good despite the storms
And I survived to now inform
This freeing sky with soaring hawk
And see descending light past dark
To bask so warmly as so true
Reflections burnish life anew.

9 December 2019

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1 thought on “Poetry For Our Silent Spring 2020

  1. Bob,

    After reading Rupert Brooke’s poem carefully, I don’t see any racism. I have to say I am much less literary than you and have much less reading and understanding of really classic and classical literature. So, I can be slow to pick up on what such authors, especially poetic ones, are conveying. To me, Brooke’s poem sounds like a white man’s words (a white man like Paul Gauguin, or Maugham’s fictional Charles Strickland) speaking to his female Tahitian lover, and saying that the wise people of this earth have told us of the paradise in life-after-death, and of its homogenizing bliss, but that can never compare with the particularity of blissful, loving and erotic experience between individual humans here on earth during actual life, and that we should go enjoy that while the earthly paradise is available to us, and we to each other. “Well this side of Paradise [in the afterlife], there’s little comfort in the wise.” I am biased to this interpretation knowing that F. Scott Fitzgerald used those two last lines for the opening epigram of his first, and most boyishly enthusiastic (as he would get) of his novels. It all recalls Andrew Marvell, “To The Virgins To Make Much Of Time” (or “gather ye rosebuds as ye may,” or whatever). Yes, a good poem.

    I recommend “The Moon and Sixpence,” the 1919 novel by W. Somerset Maugham, a fictional story inspired by the real Paul Gauguin. To me, this novel is as richly epigrammatic as Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” I could easily imagine Wilde writing it, but he had died in 1900. It is my favorite work of Maugham’s (so far). The 1942 Hollywood movie “The Moon and Sixpence” (by Albert Lewin), starring George Sanders (born to play the role of Strickland) is excellent. Lewin also made the classic Hollywood movie of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945), with George Sanders in the supporting role of the wickedly arch tempter of initially innocent Dorian Gray.

    Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est” is stark, searing, and brilliant: one of the supreme anti-war works of art. Late last year, I collected web-links to a bunch of antiwar songs, and collected them all on my blog posting:

    Heartrending Antiwar Songs
    15 November 2019
    https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/15/heartrending-antiwar-songs/

    That’s Ella in her head bandana (the picture at the blog page, above), little miss hippy, singing (California Dreaming) in her froshman year in high school at the big end-of-the-year music show. I got quite a few e-mails in response to that article (as it appeared on Counterpunch), and from the suggestions received added a number of songs to the list, in the comments section. Most of the songs I found had been suggested by war veterans, on various internet sites.

    Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” of course is good; I can easily visualize the peaceful remote setting. When I read it I find the last lines of the stanza to be too short for the rhythm I’ve fallen into, and those endings seem too abrupt. However, on matters of poetic choices, I would always defer to Yeats. I own a big volume of his poetry. I have been intending to return to reading classic poetry in my older years, assuming I’d have the time in peace and calm. I had done more poetry reading during Ella’s infancy, but her growth and the family dynamic associated with that wiped away poetry reading for years. I’m hoping to get back to it, and have stocked up on Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Dylan Thomas. Basically, I want to read in thoughtful calm what I winged through during high school, and more, and also the poets who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to become a writer (the English Romantic Poets). I bought a copy of “Under Milkwood” the word/play by Dylan Thomas and hope to burrow into that tome; I saw the 1972 movie made of it with Richard Burton (appearing and narrating the work) along with Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole. It’ll be heavy going, but reading such work can only improve my awareness and my efforts at art.

    T. S. Eliot’s poem is a slog for me. Starts out with a man asking – in his mind – his presumably female potential lover to tryst, to pass through dreary late-night ennui. Nearby, society women yak with put-on culture. It is a wet, foggy, sooty (London?) fall evening. There will be time during seemingly boring days to consider, reject, decide and undecided many things, to put on some kind of persona, some kind of face, before making the mandatory appearance at social tea. And the social cows will keep blabbering. And he wonders should he dare to make the advance? He’s getting old, physically unattractive and not attractively rich, so there lurks the fear of rejection, or ridicule. Indecision. He’s waited, and waited, “measured out his life with coffee spoons,” polite, socially visible and ever lonely. He is always stereotyped, “pinned” by others’ social assumptions; how can he spit out his desires while so trapped? And he has daydreamed for so long of actually erotically touching the physicality of fragrant female bodies he has seen for so long. He straggles through the dank nighttime street, watching lonely men smoking leaning out their windows; and he is scraping the bottom of the barrel (actually, ocean) without finding any catch. And so, though he’s imagined the tryst so many times, he’s fearful of actually broaching his plea, he feels like a hapless John The Baptist, whose unconsummated head will be lopped off with disdain by his wished-for Salome. Would it be worthwhile for him to come out with it, after all the socially correct silent waiting, to come out seeking his resurrection? And anticipating his groveling excuses after embarrassing rejection in plain view. Endless repeating doubts, would inevitable rejection have been worthwhile to suffer for have actually given it a go, to have finally broken out of self-repression? But, he just can’t bring himself to be the daring hero, to launch his attack, he is instead the retiring shadow on the wall: a fool. He’s just old, past his prime, past the pleasures of this life. Why not just give up and dress the part of the dodderer? He can just wander at the beach, abandoned even by the sirens’ songs that so captivated Odysseus, and he can visualize those sultry lithesome mermaids frolicking, but not for him. Human chatter will awaken him from his dreams of love, and there will drown all his hopeful illusions of embrace with his imagined lover. So put crudely, to me this poem is about the longing of a lovesick loser. It sounds like T. S. Eliot went to too many unproductive cocktail parties. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to take my English classes for credit/grades.

    “Dover Beach,” which is excellent, is a melancholy reflection on existential loneliness, only to be relieved by the company of a loved one. The surf at night seems to recall ancient times, perhaps the beach before Troy on which the Achaeans had beached their boats, a “darkling plain… where ignorant armies clash by night.” (Though the Achaeans and Trojans waited till daylight to fight their long war.) Dover Beach seems like existentialism expressed in the language of English Romantic Poetry. Very good.

    My own effort at something somewhat related is this:

    A meditation on Cassandra
    29 April 2002 (originally)
    https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/06/30/a-meditation-on-cassandra/

    As to the 23rd Psalm, I have nothing really similar (my “American Prayer” may have some vague glimmers of it). That psalm is an expression of solace, comfort for being within and benevolence of a greater power, or a deep and comforting memory. That’s what I make of it; and that is good, souls need solace and poetic sensibility such as this can provide it. Beautiful.

    Well, that’s my take on the poems you pointed me too. Thank you for such an excellent array to consider, I’ve enjoyed exploring these varieties of beauty. Have you tried writing your own poetry, just letting the heart go and not letting the head get in the way? I think you would be good.

    That’s all for now. Stay well; I send you good thoughts.

    MG,Jr.

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