Poetry Wednesday: Sprained Spring

I’m knocking on wood as I speak, but it looks like the March weather we’ve been enjoying through gritted teeth, frostbitten smiles, and defective windbreakers is finally over—just in time for May.

It would be a criminal shame not to spend as much time as possible outdoors on a day like today, and as the great outdoors doesn’t provide natural WiFi, all I wanted was a quick poem or two that celebrated Spring, or at least those first breathless moments of awe before we start complaining about the heat, pollen, and humidity.

I’ll tell you, the search took me a lot longer than I thought. Turns out the majority of Spring poems meant for readers over the age of six tend to run along the same lines: Enjoy the beauty of Spring while you can, suckers, ’cause the hearts of the people we love are encased in permafrost and we’re all gonna die anyway. And soon.

Exhibit A:

The Spring
(Thomas Carew)

Now that the winter’s gone, the earth hath lost
Her snow-white robes, and now no more the frost
Candies the grass, or casts an icy cream
Upon the silver lake or crystal stream;
But the warm sun thaws the benumbed earth,
And makes it tender; gives a sacred birth
To the dead swallow; wakes in hollow tree
Dust of SnowThe drowsy cuckoo, and the humble-bee.
Now do a choir of chirping minstrels bring
In triumph to the world the youthful Spring.
The valleys, hills, and woods in rich array
Welcome the coming of the long’d-for May.
Now all things smile, only my love doth lour;
Nor hath the scalding noonday sun the power
To melt that marble ice, which still doth hold
Her heart congeal’d, and makes her pity cold.
The ox, which lately did for shelter fly
Into the stall, doth now securely lie
In open fields; and love no more is made
By the fireside, but in the cooler shade
Amyntas now doth with his Chloris sleep
Under a sycamore, and all things keep
Time with the season; only she doth carry
June in her eyes, in her heart January.

Nothing like a spurned Seventeenth Century poet to make you wish for six more weeks of winter.   And who, I wonder, took a dump in Robert Herrick’s garden?

To Daffodils
(Robert Herrick)

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.Dead Daffodils
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

Remember, kids:  In Robert Herrick’s world, daffodils never dance.  They haven’t the strength.

Seriously—even Shakespeare can’t be trusted:

(William Shakespeare)

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,

English: Guira cuckoo

The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are plowmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

Really, dude?

William Cullen Bryant comes closer to what I’m looking for:

The Yellow Violet
(William Cullen Bryant)

When beechen buds begin to swell,
And woods the blue-bird’s warble know,
The yellow violet’s modest bell
Peeps from the last year’s leaves below.

Ere russet fields their green resume,
Sweet flower, I love, in forest bare,
To meet thee, when thy faint perfume
Alone is in the virgin air.

Of all her train, the hands of Spring
First plant thee in the watery mould,

English: Spring flowers, Hebden Primroses and ...

And I have seen thee blossoming
Beside the snow-bank’s edges cold.

Thy parent sun, who bade thee view
Pale skies, and chilling moisture sip,
Has bathed thee in his own bright hue,
And streaked with jet thy glowing lip.

Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,
And earthward bent thy gentle eye,
Unapt the passing view to meet
When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.

Oft, in the sunless April day,
Thy early smile has stayed my walk;
But midst the gorgeous blooms of May,
I passed thee on thy humble stalk.

So they, who climb to wealth, forget
The friends in darker fortunes tried.
I copied them—but I regret
That I should ape the ways of pride.

And when again the genial hour
Awakes the painted tribes of light,
I’ll not o’erlook the modest flower
That made the woods of April bright.

But he still sneaks a virtue or two in at the end, bless him.

Luckily, Arthur Symons is there to save the day, even if he dates it a month late, which this year is hardly his fault:

April Midnight
(Arthur Symons)

Side by side through the streets at midnight,
Roaming together,
Through the tumultuous night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.

Roaming together under the gaslight,
Day’s work over,
LoveHow the Spring calls to us, here in the city,
Calls to the heart from the heart of a lover!

Cool to the wind blows, fresh in our faces,
Cleansing, entrancing,
After the heat and the fumes and the footlights,
Where you dance and I watch your dancing.

Good it is to be here together,
Good to be roaming,
Even in London, even at midnight,
Lover-like in a lover’s gloaming.

You the dancer and I the dreamer,
Children together,
Wandering lost in the night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.

That’s better!

And just as I stopped looking, Mr. Shelley had to have his brilliant, gorgeous say, just this side of fashionably late:

The Question
(Percy Bysshe Shelley)

I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,
Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring,
And gentle odours led my steps astray,
Mixed with a sound of waters murmuring
Along a shelving bank of turf, which lay
Under a copse, and hardly dared to fling
Its green arms round the bosom of the stream,
But kissed it and then fled, as thou mightest in dream.

There grew pied wind-flowers and violets,
Daisies, those pearled Arcturi of the earth,
The constellated flower that never sets;
Faint oxlips; tender bluebells, at whose birth

English: Daffodils Below Breakheart Hill Grass...

The sod scarce heaved; and that tall flower that wets—
Like a child, half in tenderness and mirth—
Its mother’s face with Heaven’s collected tears,
When the low wind, its playmate’s voice, it hears.

And in the warm hedge grew lush eglantine,
Green cowbind and the moonlight-coloured may,
And cherry-blossoms, and white cups, whose wine
Was the bright dew, yet drained not by the day;
And wild roses, and ivy serpentine,
With its dark buds and leaves, wandering astray;
And flowers azure, black, and streaked with gold,
Fairer than any wakened eyes behold.

And nearer to the river’s trembling edge
There grew broad flag-flowers, purple pranked with white,
And starry river buds among the sedge,
And floating water-lilies, broad and bright,
Which lit the oak that overhung the hedge
With moonlight beams of their own watery light;
And bulrushes, and reeds of such deep green
As soothed the dazzled eye with sober sheen.

Methought that of these visionary flowers
I made a nosegay, bound in such a way
That the same hues, which in their natural bowers
Were mingled or opposed, the like array
Kept these imprisoned children of the Hours
Within my hand,—and then, elate and gay,
I hastened to the spot whence I had come,
That I might there present it!—Oh! to whom?

Oh!  Me!  Me! Over here,  Mr. Shelley!

That’s what I’m talking about.

How’s the weather where you are?

Poetry Wednesday: All the Poetry I can Carew

Fear not, dear love, that I’ll reveal
Those hours of pleasure we two steal ;
No eye shall see, nor yet the sunCarew
Descry, what thou and I have done.

No ear shall hear our love, but we
Silent as the night will be ;
The god of love himself (whose dart
Did first wound mine and then thy heart),
Shall never know that we can tell
What sweets in stol’n embraces dwell.
This only means may find it out ;
If, when I die, physicians doubt
What caused my death, and there to view
Of all their judgments which was true,
Rip up my heart, oh ! then, I fear,
The world will see thy picture there.
—“Secrecy Protested”

Thomas Carew interests me.

Part of this is because he’s a 17th Century poet, friends with my beloved Ben Jonson and John Donne, and also because his name is pronounced “Carey,” which tripped me up in college more than once and proves that English is a wretched patchwork language and being born to it doesn’t always offer an advantage.

But mostly it’s because so little is actually known about him—no one is even sure exactly when he died, or what got him in the end*—that everything we do know seems that much more important.

Or maybe that’s just me. Or his methods of persuasion.


I do not love thee for those soft
Red coral lips I’ve kissed so oft,
Nor teeth of pearl, the double guard
To speech whence music still is heard;
Though from those lips a kiss being taken
Mighty tyrants melt, and death awaken.

—“I Do Not Love Thee For That Fair”

Carew was born in London around 1595 to a respectably well-off family—his grandfather had been the Lord Mayor. He earned an academic degree at the age of sixteen and joined the household of the Ambassador to Italy as a secretary.
He was dismissed for “levity and slander” a few years later—and I can’t say I’m much surprised. Even before he and Donne became good friends—and probably co-wingmen, who are we kidding?—Carew had an attitude that was both blunt and insouciant:

Boldness in Love
(Thomas Carew)

Mark how the bashful morn in vain
Courts the amorous marigold,
With sighing blasts and weeping rain,Yellow Flowers
Yet she refuses to unfold.
But when the planet of the day
Approacheth with his powerful ray,
The she spreads, then she receives
His warmer beams into her virgin leaves.

So shalt thou thrive in love, fond boy;
If thy tears and sighs discover
Thy grief, thou never shalt enjoy
The just reward of a bold lover.
But when with moving accents thou
Shalt constant faith and service vow,
Thy Celia shall receive those charms
With open ears, and with unfolded arms.

He eventually found a position with the Baron of Cherbury, lived in France for half a decade or so, and returned to England to hang around the Royal Court until it took notice of him and was allowed to attend the Royal Chambers.

There’s a terrific story about how, as he led Charles I into the Queen’s room one night, he glimpsed a certain Lord taking liberties with Her Majesty’s person and quickly pretended to stumble and drop his candle. History does not record what His Majesty thought of his clumsy courtier, but Queen Henrietta immediately decided that Carew was one of her favorite people.

Timing, as they say, is everything.

Carew was one of the first Cavalier poets—one of those well-spoken wits who were able to see the court for exactly who they were, and write so beautifully about their foibles and follies that the subjects themselves applauded them for it, mostly. His fellow poets admired him for his wit and lyrical descriptions—but even they thought that he occasionally edged over the line. “Levity and slander” appears to have been his métier.

This is especially evident in his “Rapture,” which is approximately 166 lines discussing society’s artificial and arbitrary notions of chastity talking his lady-love into bed. Here’s his closing argument:

Come then, my Celia, we’ll no more forbear
To taste our joys, struck with a panic fear,
But will depose from his imperious sway
This proud usurper, and walk as free as they,
With necks unyoked ; nor is it just that heBetween the Sheets
Should fetter your soft sex with chastity,
Whom Nature made unapt for abstinence ;
When yet this false impostor can dispense
With human justice and with sacred right
And, maugre both their laws, command me fight
With rivals or with emulous loves that dare
Equal with thine their mistress’ eyes or hair.
If thou complain of wrong, and call my sword
To carve out thy revenge, upon that word
He bids me fight and kill ; or else he brands
With marks of infamy my coward hands.
And yet religion bids from blood-shed fly,
And damns me for that act. Then tell me why
This goblin Honour, which the world adores,
Should make men atheists, and not women whores?

His readership and popularity fell after his death,** which was probably no later than 1653,*** and no one much paid attention to him until his poetry was unearthed some three hundred years later and several critics decided that this Thomas Carew dude had some serious writing chops.

Murdering Beauty
(Thomas Carew)

I’ll gaze no more on her bewitching face,
Mysterious Face Since ruin harbours there in every place ;
For my enchanted soul alike she drowns
With calms and tempests of her smiles and frowns.
I’ll love no more those cruel eyes of hers,
Which, pleased or anger’d, still are murderers :
For if she dart, like lightning, through the air
Her beams of wrath, she kills me with despair :
If she behold me with a pleasing eye,
I surfeit with excess of joy, and die.

I’m kind of glad they did.
*Though odds are it was something lingering and lung-y. With a few exceptions, pre-20th century poets appear to have tended towards respiratory illnesses, often exacerbated by poverty and/or livers like wine-soaked lace.

**Which honestly isn’t that big a surprise considering the relative flamboyance of his contemporaries and the sheer number of poets who followed him.

***Because additions and revisions to his last collection of verse stopped around then. They could have been done posthumously, I suppose, but as far as I know, no one ever claimed editing credit.

Poetry Wednesday: Mediocrity in Rejection

I received this poem a couple days ago with this note:

This is for all of us who’ve queried a manuscript, submitted an article proposal, auditioned for a role, sent art to a jury, or picked up a microphone and had to wait for a verdict.

Mediocrity in Love Rejected
(Thomas Carew)

Give me more love or more disdain;
The torrid, or the frozen zone,
Bring equal ease unto my pain;
The temperate affords me none;
Either extreme, of love, or hate,
Is sweeter than a calm estate.

Give me a storm; if it be love,
Like Danae in that golden show’r
I swim in pleasure; if it prove
Disdain, that torrent will devour
My vulture-hopes; and he’s possess’d
Of heaven, that’s but from hell releas’d.

Then crown my joys, or cure my pain;
Give me more love, or more disdain.


Poetry Wednesday: On Beauty and Mirrors

First, thanks to the eight people who entered the Reverse Poetry Contest! Your poems were amazing and if I could give extra points for creativity and talent and in one case for reversing birth trauma I would . . . and since it’s my contest, I guess I can. So everyone is entered twice.

The winner of the drawing will be announced Friday because I couldn’t find Sunny’s pink cowgirl hat this morning.

This is my husband’s busiest time of year. In the past eleven days, his yoga classes have doubled, if not tripled. He’s exhausted, but he doesn’t mind much.* Resolutions are good for business.

What he does mind, or will, is the inevitable drop in attendance once the mad rush towards self-improvement slows down. Yoga isn’t a quick fix, it’s a serene one, and a lot of his new clients are trying so hard to look better, they don’t notice, or care, that they might be feeling better.

The Quest for Beauty begins anew each and every January.**

But what, exactly, is the goal here?

What is beauty, anyway.

I’m pretty sure I read something somewhere about beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and considering you can’t turn around without being mugged by before-and-after photos while being told with great enthusiasm that you really do deserve to look better than you do—gosh, thanks—it appears that we’ve all letting the media get away with being the major beholder for far too long.

I know that sounds a bit hypocritical from someone who has always claimed to have a face for radio and a voice for mime,*** but I’m not against self-improvement.

It’s your body, do what you want—you’re welcome.

But I think we could all use a little less self-disgust while we’re about it.  A little less self-hatred.

A little more gilding of an already beautiful lily—or for the gentlemen among you, fresh detailing of the Jaguar^—instead of seeing ourselves as mistakes that need fixing.

Seriously—why do we do this to ourselves?

And again, what is beauty?

Let’s ask a couple—or more than a couple, got carried away, sorry—of experts who, come to think, were the media of their day.

Unfading Beauty
(Thomas Carew)

He that loves a rosy cheek,
Or a coral lip admires,
Or from star-like eyes doth seek
Fuel to maintain his fires:
As old Time makes these decay,
So his flames must waste away.

But a smooth and steadfast mind,
Gentle thoughts and calm desires,
Hearts with equal love combined,
Kindle never-dying fires.
Where these are not, I despise
Lovely cheeks or lips or eyes.

Okay, yeah, inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, no question, heard it^^—but that’s little comfort to a woman with the skin of a sixteen year old and the body of a forty year old who can’t help wishing it was the other way around.

But Carew does make good points about the transience of popular ideals of beauty—plus he’s fun when he forgets himself and gets all snarky:^^^

Ingrateful Beauty Threatened
(Thomas Carew)

Know Celia, since thou art so proud,
‘Twas I that gave thee thy renown;
Thou hadst, in the forgotten crowd
Of common beauties, liv’d unknown,
Had not my verse exhal’d thy name,
And with it imp’d the wings of fame.

That killing power is none of thine,
I gave it to thy voice, and eyes;
Thy sweets, thy graces, all are mine;
Thou art my star, shin’st in my skies;
Then dart not from thy borrow’d sphere
Lightning on him that fix’d thee there.

Tempt me with such affrights no more,
Lest what I made, I uncreate;
Let fools thy mystic forms adore,
I’ll know thee in thy mortal state;
Wise poets that wrapp’d Truth in tales,
Knew her themselves, through all her veils.

The poet giveth and the poet taketh away.  Beat that, Simon Cowell.

Lord Byron, of course, has his own ideas about what qualifies as beautiful—but even he doesn’t focus entirely on the physical, or if he does, he gives credit where credit is due for what he sees.

I know this is the Byron Standard Poem, but it’s still one of my favorites of all time, and not just because it’s one of the few I can recite by heart without visiting Wine Country:

She Walks In Beauty
(Lord Byron)

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

John Keats has a couple of lines from his “Ode to a Grecian Urn” that everyone likes to trot out every once in a while to show off, and I supposed they could be helpful, if you  squint a little, and read into ‘em like a student who has three more double-spaced pages to fill:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

I’d like to see this as a statement against Spanx and liposuction . . . But that might be stretching things a bit.^^^

My apologies.  Moving on.

Walt Whitman proves that only a couple of lines are needed—no twisting (or horrible puns) required:

Beautiful Women
(Walt Whitman)

Women sit, or move to and fro—some old, some young;
The young are beautiful—but the old are more beautiful than the young.

Yawp, y’all—I have always liked that man.

But the question of beauty isn’t always that simple and the answers aren’t always what you expect. You can hear Edward Thomas—whose work I would love even if he wasn’t a librarian—getting downright cranky, until he comes to grips with the concept:

(Edward Thomas)

What does it mean? Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now. And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph–
“Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one.” Then in a trice that whim
Has wearied. But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening when it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through a window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale;
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unanswering to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there.

Kind of puts NutriSystem in its place, doesn’t it?

This is where I was going to wrap up with a bit of the Bard, as he wrote two of the best subjective comparisons of beauty I’ve ever read° and it doesn’t matter if everyone and their English teacher has already read them, too, because it’s Shakespeare and in my opinion Shakespeare defies over-repetition.

But then . . . I found something, quite by accident.  And the tone of my search changed from ranting humor (I hope) to quiet contemplation.

Because this poem might actually hold the answer.

I don’t know how many of you remember the Rumi post I did when I first started these Wednesdays, but this poem makes me feel a lot like that one did, if for different reasons.

As with that one, this poem simply is and the feelings are, and the whisper is there, in my ear:

Beauty XXV
(Khalil Gibran)

And a poet said, “Speak to us of Beauty.”
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?
The aggrieved and the injured say, “Beauty is kind and gentle.
Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.”
And the passionate say, “Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.”
The tired and the weary say, “beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.
Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.”
But the restless say, “We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.”
At night the watchmen of the city say, “Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.”
And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, “we have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.”
In winter say the snow-bound, “She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.”
And in the summer heat the reapers say, “We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.”
All these things have you said of beauty.
Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden forever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.
People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

So . . .

What say we make a different kind of quest this year, in which the goal is to see ourselves for exactly who we are.

If we don’t like what we see, we can try adjusting the mirror.

Which, as it happens, is us.

That might be all the truth about beauty we ever need to know.

And that, my friends, is poetry.

*He used to be a bank manager. January isn’t the happiest time of year for bank staff, who have to deal with clients who have no idea how they could be that overdrawn after Christmas and there must be some mistake and they weren’t told about all these fees and never received any letters or e-mails or texts or phone calls about it and they were going to bring their children into this branch so they could take a good look at the mean person who was taking away the toys that Santa gave them for Christmas.  I’m not making this up.

**And is reinforced when the swimsuits hit the stores in late March. But that’s a whole ‘nother post, which is probably better suited to an Apoplectic Saturday. Stay tuned.

*** I don’t look much like my avatar, either, in case you were wondering.

^ Slight digression here: a friend sent me a video of UK Jaguar adverts voiced-over by one Benedict Cumberbatch. I rolled my eyes—admiring the man is one thing, but compiling fourteen minutes of car commercials is entering Cumberbunny territory at some speed—but decided to listen to the first one. Fourteen minutes later . . . It’s a truly handsome piece of machinery, is what I’m saying (cough).

^^ Actually, every time I read this, Carew sounds one step closer to a scorned paparazzi or a stalker who didn’t get the expected “preplanned signal” from his favorite weather girl . . . Is it wrong that this makes him seem more interesting?

^^^ HEY-o!

° Sonnet 18, in which the poet finds his love far more beautiful than a Summer’s Day, and Sonnet 130, in which his mistress is decidedly far less beautiful than a summer’s day, or even one of the grey icky November ones, but finishes with a couplet that pays for all: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare. He obviously learned a little something writing Sonnets 19 through 129.