Poetry Wednesday: Simple Dreams of Avarice

I asked for people’s favorite poems to help out this month, and this one hit my inbox about ten minutes later from my friend Siobhan,* who says, “There’s a reason they don’t call day-dreaming ‘building council flats in the air.'”
(Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.)

Mansion Facade

Little I ask; my wants are few;
I only wish a hut of stone,
(A very plain brown stone will do,)
That I may call my own;—
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;
Three courses are as good as ten;—
If Nature can subsist on three,
Thank Heaven for three. Amen!
I always thought cold victual nice;—
My choice would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land;—
Give me a mortgage here and there,—
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
Or trifling railroad share,—
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.

C5 company offers beautiful, sustainable jewel...

Honors are silly toys, I know,
And titles are but empty names;
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo,—
But only near St. James;
I’m very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator’s chair.

Jewels are baubles; ’t is a sin
To care for such unfruitful things;—
One good-sized diamond in a pin,—
Some, not so large, in rings,—
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me;—I laugh at show.


My dame should dress in cheap attire;
(Good, heavy silks are never dear;)—
I own perhaps I might desire
Some shawls of true Cashmere,—
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

English: BMW E90 near Fatijärvi.

I would not have the horse I drive
So fast that folks must stop and stare;
An easy gait—two forty-five—
Suits me; I do not care;—
Perhaps, for just a single spurt,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.

Of pictures, I should like to own
Titians and Raphaels three or four,—
I love so much their style and tone,
One Turner, and no more,
(A landscape,—foreground golden dirt,—
The sunshine painted with a squirt.)

Bookcases in the King's Library, The British M...

Of books but few,—some fifty score
For daily use, and bound for wear;
The rest upon an upper floor;—
Some little luxury there
Of red morocco’s gilded gleam
And vellum rich as country cream.

Busts, cameos, gems,—such things as these,
Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
And selfish churls deride;—
One Stradivarius, I confess,
Two Meerschaums, I would fain possess.

English: Polish throne at Warsaw Royal Castle

Wealth’s wasteful tricks I will not learn,
Nor ape the glittering upstart fool;—
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share,—
I ask but one recumbent chair.

Thus humble let me live and die,
Nor long for Midas’ golden touch;
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
I shall not miss them much,—
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!

English: Daguerreotype of Oliver Wendell Holme...

You wouldn’t expect someone like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.—law student, medical doctor, innovator of medical practices, Harvard alum and professor, Fireside poet, author of “Old Ironsides” and descendant of Anne Bradstreet**—to have such a terrific sense of humor.

Um . . . he was joking right?


*The same one who makes me write weird lyrics to Katy Perry songs and loves to remind me I’m seven months older than she is.  You just wait, missy . . .

**Who, come to think, had a wry wit about her for a lady of her time.

(Image of Mr. Holmes courtesy of the Harvard University Library)
(Hobnobs image courtesy of teacherz)

Poetry Wednesday: Anne Bradstreet and Queen Bess

In 1630, at the age of eighteen, Anne Dudley Bradstreet emigrated to the New World with her parents and husband of two years, Simon Bradstreet.

Anne was not in the best of health—she suffered from the aftereffects of smallpox for most of her life—but still managed to bear, raise, and educate eight healthy children and manage both household and estate while her husband—who had become the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, like his father-in-law before him—was away on Colony business.

She also wrote poetry.

Very, very good poetry.

In fact, the only collection of poems published during her lifetime—succinctly titled The Tenth Muse, lately Sprung up in America, or Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight, Wherein especially is Contained a Complete Discourse and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year, together with an exact Epitome of the Four Monarchies, viz., The Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman, Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasant and serious Poems, By a Gentlewoman in those parts* (1650)–was the first book published by a woman in the New World, though she wasn’t free to acknowledge it as her work at the time.

Her best known poems are mostly about how much she loved her children** and her husband, as well as other appropriate subject matter for a “Gentlewoman of those parts.”

Anne always put her own stamp on things, though, and her work shows flashes of intuition, earthiness, and impatience that don’t quite fit with our modern ideas of the Puritan wifely mindset.***

And occasionally, she lets herself go, and you realize that this was a woman who never allowed outward restrictions to bind her.

I shared one of these amazing poems way the heck back in April.   It’s about the frustrations of writing and releasing a manuscript and while I didn’t know who exactly Anne Bradstreet was when I first read it, I knew I liked her.

Another favorite is an ode to Queen Elizabeth the First, who died nine years before Anne was born.   Anne wrote several smaller epitaphs to Her Majesty as well, and she doesn’t hide her admiration of a woman who did a man’s job, and did it very, very well.

I believe that like called to like and strong called to strong.

I’m not sharing the Prologue here, because this is already a long poem for a blog.^  But I’m also not going to italicize the parts that I think rock hardest because—unlike a certain 1844 reviewer of Irish poetry—I trust that you’ll know ’em when you read ’em.

In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth
(Anne Bradstreet)

No Phoenix Pen, nor Spenser’s Poetry, 
No Speed’s, nor Camden’s learned History; 
Eliza’s works, wars, praise, can e’re compact, 
The World’s the Theater where she did act. 
No memories, nor volumes can contain, 
The nine Olymp’ades of her happy reign, 
Who was so good, so just, so learn’d, so wise, 
From all the Kings on earth she won the prize. 
Nor say I more than truly is her due. 
Millions will testify that this is true. 
She hath wip’d off th’ aspersion of her Sex, 
That women wisdom lack to play the Rex. 
Spain’s Monarch sa’s not so, not yet his Host: 
She taught them better manners to their cost. 
The Salic Law had not in force now been, 
If France had ever hop’d for such a Queen. 
But can you Doctors now this point dispute, 
She’s argument enough to make you mute, 
Since first the Sun did run, his ne’er runn’d race, 
And earth had twice a year, a new old face; 
Since time was time, and man unmanly man, 
Come shew me such a Phoenix if you can. 
Was ever people better rul’d than hers? 
Was ever Land more happy, freed from stirs? 
Did ever wealth in England so abound? 
Her Victories in foreign Coasts resound? 
Ships more invincible than Spain’s, her foe
She rack’t, she sack’d, she sunk his Armadoe. 
Her stately Troops advanc’d to Lisbon’s wall, 
Don Anthony in’s right for to install. 
She frankly help’d Franks’ brave distressed King, 
The States united now her fame do sing. 
She their Protectrix was, they well do know, 
Unto our dread Virago, what they owe. 
Her Nobles sacrific’d their noble blood, 
Nor men, nor coin she shap’d, to do them good. 
The rude untamed Irish she did quell, 
And Tiron bound, before her picture fell. 
Had ever Prince such Counsellors as she? 
Her self Minerva caus’d them so to be. 
Such Soldiers, and such Captains never seen, 
As were the subjects of our (Pallas) Queen: 
Her Sea-men through all straits the world did round, 
Terra incognitæ might know her sound. 
Her Drake came laded home with Spanish gold, 
Her Essex took Cadiz, their Herculean hold. 
But time would fail me, so my wit would too, 
To tell of half she did, or she could do. 
Semiramis to her is but obscure; 
More infamy than fame she did procure. 
She plac’d her glory but on Babel’s walls, 
World’s wonder for a time, but yet it falls. 
Fierce Tomris (Cirus’ Heads-man, Sythians’ Queen) 
Had put her Harness off, had she but seen
Our Amazon i’ th’ Camp at Tilbury,
(Judging all valour, and all Majesty) 
Within that Princess to have residence, 
And prostrate yielded to her Excellence. 
Dido first Foundress of proud Carthage walls 
(Who living consummates her Funerals), 
A great Eliza, but compar’d with ours, 
How vanisheth her glory, wealth, and powers.
Proud profuse Cleopatra, whose wrong name, 
Instead of glory, prov’d her Country’s shame: 
Of her what worth in Story’s to be seen, 
But that she was a rich Ægyptian Queen. 
Zenobia, potent Empress of the East, 
And of all these without compare the best 
(Whom none but great Aurelius could quell) 
Yet for our Queen is no fit parallel: 
She was a Ph{oe}nix Queen, so shall she be, 
Her ashes not reviv’d more Ph{oe}nix she. 
Her personal perfections, who would tell, 
Must dip his Pen i’ th’ Heliconian Well, 
Which I may not, my pride doth but aspire 
To read what others write and then admire. 
Now say, have women worth, or have they none? 
Or had they some, but with our Queen is’t gone? 
Nay Masculines, you have thus tax’d us long, 
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong. 
Let such as say our sex is void of reason 
Know ’tis a slander now, but once was treason. 
But happy England, which had such a Queen, 
O happy, happy, had those days still been, 
But happiness lies in a higher sphere. 
Then wonder not, Eliza moves not here. 
Full fraught with honour, riches, and with days, 
She set, she set, like Titan in his rays. 
No more shall rise or set such glorious Sun, 
Until the heaven’s great revolution: 
If then new things, their old form must retain, 
Eliza shall rule Albian once again. 

Sing it, sister.


*Titles became somewhat shorter once book flaps were invented, and if someone can find the name of the person who first decided to move the blurbs undercover, I’d like to put up a statue or a plaque somewhere on behalf of all librarians and bookstore clerks everywhere because Holy Cow.

**Which for me are bracketed by a rather grim one written just prior to the birth of one of her children—proving what a strange place one’s mind becomes those last few weeks—and a wistful one that might very well be the first empty-nest poem on record (e-mail me if I’m wrong).

***Ideas that, I’m thinking, would have had Anne grinding her teeth and writing quite a pointed poem indeed.

^I know it’s never stopped me before.  Hush and count your blessings.

Poetry Wednesday: The Author to her Book

It’s National Poetry Month in the States, so I thought I’d post a favorite poem or two each Wednesday until we run out of April.

My favorite course in college was 17th Century Poetry and Prose—and not just because the professor had me pegged as a wiseass from the first class and then egged me on for the rest of the semester.*

I love this stuff, I really do—the couplets, the sonnets, the free-flow within the structure, the rhythm and the rhyme.  Plus, the seventeenth century was chock-full of cynical, mischievous, brilliant, and often libidinous wiseasses.

And some of ’em were women:

The Author to her Book

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, of so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam,
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

—Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

See? Amiright?


*Academics get bored, too.