Poetry Wednesday: Dedications

This one is for my six-year old, who wandered up to my desk last night, a full hour after her bedtime, to tell me with grave sadness that her sleeping bag  had a loose thread hanging from it. 

It should be noted that her sleeping bag had been rolled up tight and tucked into her closet when I’d kissed her goodnight.

Bed in Summer
(Robert Louis Stevenson)Crazy Sunny

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

And this one is dedicated to that bullhorned bird who sits outside my window every morning to practice the only two notes he knows, one of which is flat. I don’t care what Mr. Frost says—you’d best not break camouflage where I can see you, because I have a shoe with your name on it, bucko.

The Oven Bird
(Robert Frost)

There is a singer everyone has heard,Burdie
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

And that one little kid two Saturdays ago, who took to the library like an untrained puppy takes to the Abyssinian rug:

On the Gift of a Book to a Child
(Hilaire Belloc)

Child! do not throw this book about!
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
Of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

Child, have you never heard it saidcarved book
That you are heir to all the ages?
Why, then, your hands were never made
To tear these beautiful thick pages!

Your little hands were made to take
The better things and leave the worse ones:
They also may be used to shake
The Massive Paws of Elder Persons.

And when your prayers complete the day,
Darling, your little tiny hands
Were also made, I think, to pray
For men that lose their fairylands.

This is for those of us with Leaning Towers of Literacy on our bedside tables—and in our living rooms and bathrooms and kitchens and, and, and—who might complain about the length of their To Be Read lists, but have no intention of stopping until the Domino Effect buries us alive:

Of Modern Books
(Carolyn Wells)

A Pantoum

Of making many books there is no end,
Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone;
Each day new manuscripts are being penned,
And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on.

Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone,
New volumes daily issue from the press;
And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on—
The prospect is disheartening, I confess.

New volumes daily issue from the press;
My pile of unread books I view aghast.
The prospect is disheartening, I confess;
Why will these modern authors write so fast?

My pile of unread books I view aghast—
Of course I must keep fairly up to date—
Why will these modern authors write so fast?Drawers
They seem to get ahead of me of late.

Of course I must keep fairly up to date;
The books of special merit I must read;
They seem to get ahead of me of late,
Although I skim them very fast indeed.

The books of special merit I must read;
And then the magazines come round again;
Although I skim them very fast indeed,
I can’t get through with more than eight or ten.

And then the magazines come round again!
How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
I can’t get through with more than eight or ten—
It is appalling when I stop to think.

How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
Of making many books there is no end.
It is appalling when I stop to think
Each day new manuscripts are being penned!

And this one is dedicated to my dear friend who interrupted a perfectly good bout of anxiety and told me to write what I want to write, because I want to write it.  Now.

Lines on Nonsense
(Eliza Lee Follen)

Yes, nonsense is a treasure!
I love it from my heart;Duck!2
The only earthly pleasure
That never will depart.

But, as for stupid reason,
That stalking, ten-foot rule,
She’s always out of season,
A tedious, testy fool.

She’s like a walking steeple,
With a clock for face and eyes,
Still bawling to all people,
Time bids us to be wise.

While nonsense on the spire
A weathercock you’ll find,
Than reason soaring higher,
And changing with the wind.

The clock too oft deceives,
Says what it cannot prove;
While every one believes
The vane that turns above.

Reason oft speaks unbidden,
And chides us to our face;
For which she should be chidden,
And taught to know her place.

While nonsense smiles and chatters,Inside a Book
And says such charming things,
Like youthful hope she flatters;
And like a syren sings.

Her charm’s from fancy borrowed,
For she is fancy’s pet;
Her name is on her forehead,
In rainbow colors set.

Then, nonsense let us cherish,
Far, far from reason’s light;
Lest in her light she perish,
And vanish from our sight.

Thanks.  I needed that.

Got any dedications?

Poetry Wednesday: The Poems of Summer

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
Fireflies in the woods near Nuremberg, Germany... And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

—“Fireflies in the Garden,” Robert Frost

After a week of blue skies and high temperatures—and two weeks of underfoot children—I’m ready to tentatively concede that Summer is finally, finally here.  For real.

This calls for a poem or two, y’all.

In slight concession to indy clause, who challenged me to a Poem-Off as a birthday present, I’ve chosen a couple favorites from the 19th Century. including the one above, which proves that Robert Frost did have a whimsical side.

John Keats . . . didn’t, much, but when someone writes stuff as good as this, who cares?*

On the Grasshopper and Cricket
(John Keats)

The Poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run

Cricket From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

George Moses Horton will get his own post soon—poets work hard, but few have ever worked as hard as he did—but for today, I’ll just share his description of summer:

On Summer
(George Moses Horton)

Esteville begins to burn;
The auburn fields of harvest rise;
The torrid flames again return,
And thunders roll along the skies.

Perspiring Cancer lifts his head,
And roars terrific from on high;
Whose voice the timid creatures dread;
From which they strive with awe to fly.


The night-hawk ventures from his cell,
And starts his note in evening air;
He feels the heat his bosom swell,
Which drives away the gloom of fear.

Thou noisy insect, start thy drum;
Rise lamp-like bugs to light the train;
And bid sweet Philomela come,
And sound in front the nightly strain.

The bee begins her ceaseless hum,
And doth with sweet exertions rise;
And with delight she stores her comb,
And well her rising stock supplies.

Let sportive children well beware,
While sprightly frisking o’er the green;
And carefully avoid the snare,
Which lurks beneath the smiling scene.

The mistress bird assumes her nest,
And broods in silence on the tree,
Her note to cease, her wings at rest,
She patient waits her young to see.


I may not be able to post next Wednesday, due to imminent vacation.  I’m sure you’re all heartbroken, but I hope indy will pick up the slack over at her place with more contemporary summer offerings.


*This also gives Christina Rosetti a pass, in my opinion—and also because her few attempts at childlike whimsy remind me of Morticia Addams reading “The Cat in the Hat” to preschoolers.  I’m saving her for Halloween.  Thomas Hardy does not get a pass—which should surprise no one who knows me—because Ms. Rosetti, like Emily Dickenson—and Morticia Addams—can examine death from all angles (or angle-worms, for that matter) without depressing the living hell out of me.

Poetry Wednesday: Poetry Goes Hollywood

Movies have to do a lot in a short amount of time: tell a story, create sympathy—or the opposite—for characters, make the audience laugh, cry, cringe, etc.

Aside from the whole range of visual effects, which are the entire point of the medium, movies use plenty of other shortcuts to get the job done: music, sound effects, linguistics, cultural assumptions—and, of course, poetry.

Poetry also tells stories, creates sympathy—or the opposite—and evokes any emotion you can name, sometimes in only a few short lines and especially if the poem is so well known that the audience automatically fills in the rest.

Twanging heartstrings in five seconds of screen-time or less—what’s not to like?

Movies know that we know they do this.  But if it’s done well, we don’t mind at all—in fact, that’s why we go in the first place.

The Outsiders is probably the best example of poetry for poetry’s sake in the movies—Ponyboy is a reader and a writer and it’s perfectly natural that he would share poetry with Johnny, because he knows Johnny won’t give him grief for it.  We get the characters, we get their friendship, and we’re completely set up for what comes next—the choice of poem, in retrospect,  is also foreshadowing:

But not all movies have S.E. Hinton source material lining up the shots. Most of them use poetry as a spoken soundtrack, which can work really, really well:

This poem usually has me reaching for the tissue box, anyway,  but John Hannah’s delivery is absolutely. . . he’s just so . . . Excuse me for a second, please . . .


There’s a moment in Sense and Sensibility—the 1995 version, which is my favorite, despite Hugh Grant being . . . Hugh Grant*—that assumes audience recognition, which is safe because this is one of the most overused sonnets ever and people like this character are the reason why.

Though I have to admit that she gives it a different interpretation.  It’s often been used as a warning and an admonishment—especially at weddings—but rarely as an actual lament:

While Marianne is kind of a nitwit through the first three-fourths of the story—book and movie versions—and Willoughby is hardly a prize, I have to admit that Sonnet 116 does help me sympathize with her profoundly wounded disappointment in a way repeating his name wouldn’t.

I have no quips for this next one—it’s a powerful scene done very well. I will say that if anyone other than Mr. Mandela himself had to recite Mr. Henley’s immortal poem in this movie, Mr. Freeman is the absolute right choice:

Then again, eight times out of ten,** Mr. Freeman is the right choice to read anything.

After all these poignant moments, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that some movies use poetry for straight out, and even slightly slimy, laughs:

I’m told that this poem is by Danny Rubin—something about fine wine and the girl of his dreams—but if the movie had intended for this to be a genuinely romantic interlude, they wouldn’t have had Bill Murray speaking French.***

Anyone else have a favorite cinematic poetry experience to share?


*Don’t get me wrong—he’s not a bad actor and he clearly didn’t ruin the two of his that are included here.  But while he’s essentially playing himself in Four Weddings and a Funeral, I expect a little more fortitude and a little less fumbling  from Edward Ferrars.  Just sayin’.

**Accounting, of course, for certain gender-specific  literature, Benedict Cumberbatch (who can double for Alan Rickman), Tom Hardy, Matthew Macfadyn, and allowing for some inevitable overlap.  What?

***Mr. Murray could have pulled it off in Lost in Translation, but French poetry didn’t belong in that movie.  I knew he was talented, but damn, did I underestimate his range.

Poetry Wednesday: A touch of Frost less traveled by

Robert Frost is one of those poets whom almost everyone has read, but usually in small doses of roads less traveled and stopping on snowy evenings.

But the man clearly wrote more than that—four Pulitzer’s worth over his lifetime.  His first poem, “My Butterfly, an Elegy,” was published when he was twenty*, although he didn’t start writing full-time until he was thirty-eight** and moved his family to England, or more specifically, the small village of Dymock in Gloucestershire, which was already the stomping grounds of several influential poets,  including Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Ezra Pound, an American who helped promote Mr. Frost.***

Mr. Frost prudently returned to America at the start of the first World War and settled in New Hampshire, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the natural images in most of his poems, though his sense of whimsy is often overlooked:

A Dust of Snow
(Robert Frost)

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

As a genealogist and confessed taphophile,^ I’m also fond of this one:

In a Disused Graveyard
(Robert Frost)

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
“The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay.”
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can’t help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones:
Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

Even when his poems have urban settings, one gets the sense that he doesn’t particularly want to be there:

Acquainted by the Night
(Robert Frost)

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

And he didn’t much care for urban sprawl, either:

A Brook in the City
(Robert Frost)

The firm house lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in.
But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearth-stone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force No longer needed?
Staunch it at its source With cinder loads dumped down?
The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run –
And all for nothing it had ever done
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water.
But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.

There’s obviously more to Robert Frost than a couple of inspirational poems—not that I’m knocking anything that has such universal, timeless resonance.

I’m just saying that it might be worth it to check out some of his poems less traveled and see which ones speak to you, personally.


Sheldon® is the property of the remarkable, brilliant, and ultimately non-litigious Dave Kellett.

*It’s here if you’d like to read it.  The only comment I’m going to make about it is that it’s reassuring to know that we all have to start somewhere . . . and the man shed a lot of purple over the years.

**Something else I find reassuring.

***Until Frost asked him to stop—the reasons aren’t entirely clear, though he may have feared that the reviews weren’t describing his work accurately. Despite this, they remained lifelong friends, which says a lot about Robert Frost’s loyalty and patience, as Ezra Pound was certifiably unstable.  I’m not just saying this because I don’t care for most of his stuff—he was at one point arrested for treason and declared mentally unfit for trial. I heard a recording of Pound reading “With Usura,” before I was told his history, and I can’t say I was much surprised that he was institutionalized. He reminds me of a library patron who sounds perfectly sane until he asks you to proofread a letter to his congressman that explains his beliefs that the president was born in Osama bin Laden’s mansion in Paris because they’re secretly second cousins—and when you hand it back, he gives you a special tin foil hat because you’re the only person who understands him.

^Yes, it’s true . . . I like cemeteries. What did you think it meant?