Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Ragged Wood

by William Butler Yeats

O hurry where by water among the trees
The delicate-stepping stag and his lady sigh,
When they have but looked upon their images -
Would none had ever loved but you and I!

Or have you heard that sliding silver-shoed
Pale silver-proud queen-woman of the sky,
When the sun looked out of his golden hood? -
O that none ever loved but you and I!

O hurry to the ragged wood, for there
I will drive all those lovers out and cry -
O my share of the world, O yellow hair!
No one has ever loved but you and I.

* * *

I don't have time to say much about this poem. At first I thought it was rather selfish to wish that none had ever loved but the two of them. But the last stanza, when it says that no one has ever loved but them, shows something else. This is a poem for the times when the lovers can withdraw from the world and be only with each other. She is his "share of the world" -- the rest of the world is not necessary during these special times.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


by George Herbert

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to your Mother, what you would allow
To every Corporation.

* * *

It 's true, we cannot reach Christ's fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior's purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev'n as he.
In both let 's do our best.

Who goes in the way which Christ has gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
Who travels the by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

* * *

I am not a good faster at all. I would rather do almost any sacrifice than fast. Yet this poem helps me remember that fasting is about banqueting my poor soul. I'm afraid my body tends to get way more attention, just because my stomach growls while my soul sits quietly waiting for me to feed it. Somehow going without food makes me feel more in control of "brother Ass," my body, and more inclined to prayer.

I wish you all a happy and holy Lent, the boot camp of all the year. May we come out of it leaner, stronger, and closer to God.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


by William Wordsworth

A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seem'd a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.

* * *

For St. Valentine's Day. Here at Christendom it's been a tad disappointing, so I guess that's why I did a sad poem.

It just reminds me of the way we take people for granted until they're gone. We always imagine the other person will always be there when we want them, but before we know it, they're gone, and we wonder if we were there for them as much as we should have been. I'm not sure that's exactly what Wordsworth meant, but it's certainly a truth: if we knew the hour of our friends' departing, we might have held them more dearly to our hearts.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

No Second Troy

by William Butler Yeats

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

* * *

Taking the Poetry and Poetics course at Christendom (a lovely course; I don't know why people complain about having to take it) is getting me to read a lot more good poetry -- and also to understand what's so great about it.

This poem is almost a sonnet, but not quite: it's only 12 lines, three quatrains each rhyming abab. But Yeats keeps out of the curse that haunts any modern who tries to write in a form -- the curse of sounding stilted and archaic. He doesn't mix up any natural sentence orders, and his use of enjambment contributes to the natural tone of the poem. But the tone isn't casual, either -- it's a noble uplifting of contemporary speech, which is what poetry, in my opinion, does at its best. Phrases like "beauty like a tightened bow," "high and solitary and most stern," give an almost epic sound to the poem. It makes me want to see this woman, who even in "an age like this" possesses an ancient beauty like Helen of Troy.

I started out not liking Yeats at all, but this poem, among a few others I've read in the past year or two, is doing its best to convert me. I will at least admit that Yeats sometimes produced masterpieces.

Monday, February 05, 2007

From St. Agnes' Eve

by John Keats

St. Agnes' Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:
The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,
He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.

Northward he turneth through a little door,
And scarce three steps, ere Music’s golden tongue
Flatter’d to tears this aged man and poor;
But no—already had his deathbell rung;
The joys of all his life were said and sung:
His was harsh penance on St. Agnes’ Eve:
Another way he went, and soon among
Rough ashes sat he for his soul’s reprieve,
And all night kept awake, for sinners’ sake to grieve.

* * *

It is so cold here today. The highs were supposed to be in the single digits. I don't know if it really got that high or not; my internal thermometer breaks down at these temperatures. All I know is that it wasn't this cold back home . . .

But take a look at the first stanza of this poem especially. The first six lines each have at least one word implying cold. Doesn't it make you feel cold just to read it? Keats is a master of descriptive language.

As well as of other things. This stanza form, borrowed from Spencer, is perfect for narrative poetry, laying down each stanza softly with an extra-long line. Between the imagery and the prosodic mastery, Keats hardly needs to have a meaning to his poems -- but of course he has one all the same.