A face that launched 1000 ships

Atwood

 

Today is the birthday of Margaret Atwood, born 1939 and still going strong.  If you read my blog regularly you will know I love her poetry and she features regularly on these pages.  Atwood is more than a poet, she is a wordsmith, a crafter of meaning through the manipulation of letter signs.  He poems are finely wrought pieces of jewelry.  They shine in the darkness of ignorance and light up our small lives like beacons of hope and beauty. Guides to a better life.

 

Helen Of Troy Does Countertop Dancing: by Margaret Atwood

The world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.

I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look–my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn.

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Happy Birthday Chinua Achebe

Achebe

Featuring on today’s Google Doodle for his 87th Birthday Chinua Achebe (RIP, 2013 age 82) was a Man Booker Prize winning Novelist and also a Poet, Professor, Ambassador, Chieftain and all round African Renaissance man. His first novel, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is the most widely read novel in African literature.

 

Refugee Mother And Child :by Chinua Achebe

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours

of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most
mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –

singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she

did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

Happy birthday Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Ship in port

 

Today I choose a poem by Aldrich, born today 1836,  which captures the sense of adventure that used to exist in every sea port of the world in the age of sail.  Any young adventurer could run away to sea and find himself storm-tossed across the globe with risks of wealth, danger, romance and death.  A suitable topic for this blog, a true Mindship theme.

Outward Bound became the name of a youth training movement in Britain during the 1940’s, now known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  I have no proof that the name Outward Bound came from the Aldrich poem, but I suspect it may have.  The founders were certainly interested enough in poetry.  Their motto “To Serve, To Strive and not to Yield” is taken from Ulysses, the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

 

Outward Bound: by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far —
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun;
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!

 

Happy Birthday Roger McGough

mcGough.jpg

A beat poet from Liverpool, born this day 1937.  A man who worked with the Beatles, writing dialogue for their movie Yellow Submarine.  I love the brutal northern honesty and truth of his poetry.  His approach to death is both real and funny.

 

Soil; by Roger McGough

we’ve ignored eachother for a long time
and I’m strictly an indoor man
anytime to call would be the wrong time
I’ll avoid you as long as I can

When I was a boy we were good friends
I made pies out of you when you were wet
and in childhood’s remembered summer weather
we roughandtumbled together
we were very close

just you and me and the sun
the world a place for having fun
always so much to be done

But gradually I grew away from you
Of course you were still there
during my earliest sexcapades
when I roughandfumbled
not very well after bedtime
but suddenly it was winter
and you seemed so cold and dirty
that I stayed indoors and acquired
a taste for girls and clean clothes

we found less and less to say
you were jealous so one day
I simply upped and moved away

I still called to see you on occasions
but we had little now in common
and my visits grew less frequent
until finally
une coldbright April morning
a handful of you drummed
on my fathers waxworked coffin

at last it all made sense
there was no need for pretence
you said nothing in defence

And now recently
while travelling from town to town
past where you live
I have become increasingly aware
of you watching me out there.
patient and unforgiving
toying with the trees.

we’ve avoided eachother for a long time
and I’m strictly a city man
anytime to call would be the wrong time
I’ll avoid you as long as I can

Plump, plumb, plum.

HayamiGyoshu

Tea Bowl & Fruits by Hayami Gyoshu

Plump comes from a dutch word meaning blunt, not sharp, rounded.  It now means full with fruits or overweight with people.  It has become something of an insult, equating with being fat.  You can plump up cushions or pillows to make them fuller and more rounded.

Plum, the fruit, may be plump, but the origin of their name is not dutch.   It seems that the ancient Greek proumnon (prune) evolved into Plum by the time it reached here as Old English.

A plumb may be shaped like a plum, but the word derives from the latin for lead; plumbum.  A plumb is a lead weight attached to a line used in building to measure if a vertical is true.   It is also used in sailing to measure the depth of water beneath a vessel.

 

This Is Just To Say: by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Happy Birthday John Keats

Greek vase.jpg

 

Ode on a Grecian Urn: by John Keats (born 1795)

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Happy 103rd birthday Dylan Thomas

Raven

What strikes me most about the poetry of Dylan Thomas is how he speaks of simple daily things but elevates them to religious heights through the power of his words.  That’s pure poetry.

 

October Wind ; by Dylan Thomas

Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
and cast a shadow crab upon the land,
by the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,
hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
my busy heart who shudders as she talks
sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
on the horizon walking like the trees
the wordy shapes of women, and the rows
of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
some of the oaken voices, from the roots
of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
tells me the hour’s word, the neural meaning
flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
and tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow’s signs;
the signal grass that tells me all I know
breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins.

Especially when the October wind
(some let me make you of autumnal spells,
the spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
with fists of turnips punishes the land,
some let me make you of the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea’s side hear the dark-vowelled birds.