Poem-A-Day: John Donne (Oh look, another one by that guy.)

I just saw Infinity War and frankly cannot even. Srsly. Marvel’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.

So I’m going to cheer myself up by switching moods completely with another poem by John Donne. For an interesting analysis of this poem, click here.

***

To His Mistress Going to Bed

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime,
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and shew
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Received by men; Thou Angel bringst with thee
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a Gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus array’d;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know;
As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

***

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his contemporaries.

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Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

If you’ve read my National Poetry Month series before, you know that I like to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth- and deathday with one of his poems. This year it’s with one of my favorite of his sonnets, number 116. This poem has been read at many a literary wedding (mine included) and earned a well-deserved jolt of popularity after Emma Thompson’s utterly brilliant adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility came out in theaters.

Romantics everywhere, enjoy.

***

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
.     If this be error and upon me proved,
.     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

***

When looking for an image of Shakespeare, I found several, and one was even of a reasonably good-looking man, but there’s no guarantee it’s accurate. In fact, this engraving and the funerary monument on The Bard’s grave are the only two likenesses of him that can be verified as accurate. So.

William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptized) – 23 April 1616) was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. You can learn more on his Wikipedia page, which is where I got the rest of this paragraph, because — like John Donne — Shakespeare is not in any realistic position to email me his bio.

Poem-A-Day: John Donne

First, let me apologize for not posting a Poem-A-Day yesterday or last night. I fully intended to, but we had a birthday party for our aforementioned newly minted teenager last night, and it ran a bit longer than expected, and I was already wrecked from this week at work, so I just sort of forgot and went to bed before I could post. Oops.

So today, I will post TWO Poems-A-Day! Yes, you read that correctly —  a bonus poem is your reward for suffering through my error. I’ll post one this morning and another one later today so they don’t crowd up on each other.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time — or if you just follow along every April — you know that I’m a big fan of the poetry of John Donne. He writes about love in an extremely frank way: not with the formality one might expect of the Seventeenth Century, nor with the reservedness one might expect of someone who later became a priest. His thoughts on the matter are raw and passionate and earnest and — occasionally — mischievous. I also like that Donne’s language requires the reader to wrestle with it just a bit. It’s not like Gerard Manly Hopkins or anything, but you do have to be thinking while you read Donne’s work if you want to get anything out of it.

His love poetry is not the only work of his I like, of course; “Holy Sonnet X” is maybe one of my favorite poems in the entire historical pageant of literature. Today I’m sharing with you one of his love poems, though. It’s a poem that embraces the ferocity of desire within the limits of propriety. If you’d like to read an incisive critical analysis of it, click here.

***

The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best;

Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;

So to’ intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As ’twixt two equal armies fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
Were gone out) hung ’twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refin’d
That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex,
We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move;

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
And makes both one, each this and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But O alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though they are not we; we are
The intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven’s influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot which makes us man,

So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.

***

Since Donne couldn’t provide me with an author bio himself, I snagged this from Wikipedia:

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his contemporaries.

Poem-A-Day: John Donne (again)

John Donne wrote his fair share of love poetry, some of it racy. If you saw yesterday’s poem by him, you know that even his spirituality could be infused with passion of more than one sort. It’s no great stretch to imagine that anyone who feels things so deeply might also feel deep pain, deep anger, even deep resentment.

In the poem “Witchcraft By A Picture,” Donne expresses the leavings of trauma from a failed affair, but I invite your commentary on what’s happening in this poem. What witchcraft? Why witchcraft? How does he leave things?

***

Witchcraft By A Picture

 

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform thy will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.

 

Women Writer’s Wednesday 4/8/15

Shortly after I’d graduated from college and was teaching, one of my coworkers at Houston Community College, Eddie Gallaher, introduced me to the poetry of Leslie Adrienne Miller. “She’s good,” he said. “You’ll like her.”

He spoke of her as if he knew her personally. She was a contemporary poet, still producing work. He handed me her book Yesterday Had A Man In It. The author photo on the back cover was of a beautiful, young looking woman.

I had never read Miller’s work before and was happy to take it home and give it a look. “Thank you,” I told him and slipped it into my briefcase.

That night I opened up to a random page and started reading. After that poem was finished, I flipped to another random page and started reading again. And again. Soon I just went to page one and dug in, then read the entire volume in a single night. Miller’s poems imprinted upon me in a way that other poems, other poets, simply hadn’t. I couldn’t explain why — and to this day, I’m not sure I can. I just read them and love them. I don’t flag them to teach one day, I don’t recommend them to people obsessively for two weeks after I’ve read them, I don’t leave her books out on my coffee table. I just read them and love them.

And sometimes they make me want to write.

When I first read Yesterday Had A Man In It, I finished it in the middle of the night after a long work day. At the time I was on a sestina kick; that was my favorite and go-to form back then. (I confess I still enjoy writing them.) At that time I was trying to process a relationship that had sort of maybe ended but not for any identifiable reason other than distance. It had been with a good man whom I loved, who wouldn’t say he loved me but sometimes really acted like it. And the relationship didn’t appear to have truly ended. It was in a weird place, and I was willing to allow that without complaint because of the possibility of something more our current friendship promised.

It’s possible I may have been emotionally delirious.

At any rate, I picked up a pen and a legal pad and, in response to Miller’s book, wrote this poem. It first appeared in my chapbook Barefoot on Marble: Twenty Poems, 1995-2001.

 

***

 

Bleeding the Sky

 

In the time when my fingernails
were painted to perfection with a color
called “Granite” (poorly named, for proudly I wore it), I wished
for perfection poetic like the sky’s and knew as do the sage
gods (with wisdom buried and hard to recognize) it did not exist, could not
exist, as long as I thought about, wished for it.

 

I understood finally that it
was no small thing, that I could not drag my fingernails
across the sky (dark as a blackboard) and not
expect it to bleed with a dark color,
the color of wild primrose and sage
bound together with the strings of a deep red wish.

 

And I read the other poems, the wishes
of people who had scraped past its
perfection, beyond the sky where stars (like sage
old nuns) lay embedded like granite pebbles, breaking my thin fingernails
when I disagreed and tried to scrape them away to write their pale colors
out of the sky. And those other poems were not

 

gentle! Their words twisted my heart into knots
and turned my brain onto its side, wishing
for darkness to overpower their colors:
fear and passion and shame and anger, and love so deep it
grows outward from myself until its reach is longer than my fingertips’ –
even after I’ve stretched my arms out to touch the sagging

 

sky. And those other words were the sky, painted in colors (sage
and wild primrose and granite and black and red) and not
forgiving of my inept, fumbling fingers.
But I wanted to write! And even so I wished
a paradox: for you to hold my impulse down, to keep it
from spilling the perfect sky’s blood-colors

 

on my hands… but even now I do not know how to keep the colors
from their heaviness, to stop them from their sagging.
Had you been there you’d have had no small task holding it,
that fire-out-of-bounds impulse, and I could not
have been responsible for my actions or my wishes…
But I might have held you down with the sky (saved from my nails

 

by the exquisite distraction of you), my fingers dipped in the colors
of sage and wild primrose red (the hues of wishes
never before filled), not ashamed to paint granite words all over you and love it.

 

 

 

In Praise of Love Notes

I was nineteen, almost twenty. We were on the glorious five-week hiatus our university called Winter Break. My college friends all hailed from different states, and everyone had gone home for vacation. And one of them wanted me to go out with him, so to make sure I thought about him while we were on opposite sides of the country, he wrote me a letter. He was an English major and I liked Shakespeare so the prose was filled with archaic forms of “you”: thou and thee and thy sprinkled everywhere like inky blossoms trying really hard.

 

We all wrote letters in those days, honest-to-goodness personal notes written on paper and folded into envelopes, with stamps and ink and licking the whole thing. Stamps and envelopes weren’t self-adhesive, the paper was real stationery, email was not a thing we’d even heard of, only drug dealers and doctors carried cell phones. We had long-distance phone cards, but it cost a lot more money to talk on the phone than it did to write a letter, so we wrote. The more romantically-minded of us even used sealing wax for fun, for special occasions, though often it had cracked and crumbled by the time it left the post office.

 

Letters are so much fun to receive. When I was a child, any piece of mail I might receive was a treasure. Birthday cards, letters from pen-pals, Highlights magazine. When I was in high school, the flood of brochures from colleges and universities that started in tenth grade filled a filing cabinet before I ever sat down to write my first application essay. In college, the mail was letters from friends at faraway schools and bills. Now it’s mostly junk mail and bills. Things that must go into the recycling or into the file, things that take up mental energy but give little of value in return. I miss correspondence and, frankly, wish I were better at it.

 

The one thing I always manage to accomplish, though, is love letters. Certainly for my husband, and a different sort for my children. If I’m going on a trip without them, I leave them letters on the kitchen table to find when I’m gone. If my husband has to go on a business trip, there’s always something tucked away in his suitcase, slipped in while he’s rushing around and not paying attention, a letter or card or heart-shaped stone waiting in the pocket of his dress shirt or rolled into his socks. Other than the holiday greetings we try to send out almost every year, Valentines and anniversary cards for my husband are the only cards I still give.

 

I love letters. I adore love letters. We need, in such a busy and disjointed world, those tactile reminders, those tangible artifacts of human interaction and loving connectedness. Write a love letter today, and someone can read it every tomorrow.

 

What is the most interesting love letter you’ve ever given or received?

A Film I Hope Everyone Will See

Recently a friend and colleague of mine, director Mike Akel, released his latest project:  An Ordinary Family.  This is a movie I would like for everyone to see.  It deals with a sensitive, timely, and important subject in a funny yet poignant way, a manner which Continue reading “A Film I Hope Everyone Will See”