The Poetry Thread

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Lofgeornost

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The poem is completely different in different translations, mentions totally different mathematical objects and mathematicians. The omission that makes the biggest difference in the English version is Brouwer*. I think the English one is actually a translation of the Italian version.

Interesting. I've only ever seen the English version.
 

Lofgeornost

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Given my screen-name, posting this was inevitable: the first 50 lines or so of Beowulf, which takes us through Scyld's 'viking funeral.' It's certainly gaming-related--there's an upcoming Beowulf 5e game, and the story features in an old Pendragon supplement, and doubtless in many other gaming materials. This is Michael Alexander's translation, published by Penguin:

Attend!
We have heard of the thriving of the throne of Denmark,
how the folk-kings flourished in former days,
how those royal athelings earned that glory.

Was it not Scyld Shefing that shook the halls,
took mead-benches, taught encroaching
foes to fear him—who, found in childhood,
lacked clothing? Yet he lived and prospered,
grew in strength and stature under the heavens
until the clans settled in the sea-coasts neighboring
over the whale-road all must obey him
and give tribute. He was a good king!

A boy child was afterwards born to Scyld,
a young child in hall-yard, a hope for the people,
sent them by God; the griefs long endured
were not unknown to Him, the harshness of years
without a lord. Therefore the life-bestowing
Wielder of Glory granted them this blessing.
Through the northern lands the name of Beow,
the son of Scyld, sprang widely.

For in youth an atheling should so use his virtue,
give with a free hand while in his father's house,
that in old age, when enemies gather,
established friends shall stand by him
and serve him gladly. It is by glorious action
that a man comes by honor in any people.

At the hour shaped for him Scyld departed,
the hero crossed into the keeping of his Lord.
They carried him out to the edge of the sea,
his sworn arms-fellows, as he had himself desired them
while he wielded his words, Warden of the Scyldings,
beloved folk-founder; long had he ruled.

A boat with a ringed neck rode in the haven,
icy, out-eager, the atheling's vessel,
and there they laid out their lord and master,
dealer of wound gold, in the waist of the ship,
in majesty by the mast. A mound of treasures
from far countries was fetched aboard her,
and it is said that no boat was ever more bravely fitted out
with the weapons of a warrior, war accoutrement,
swords and body-armor; on his breast were set
treasures and trappings to travel with him
on his far faring into the flood's sway.

This hoard was not less great than the gifts he had had
from those who at the outset had adventured him
over seas, alone, a small child.

High over head they hoisted and fixed
a gold signum; gave him to the flood,
let the seas take him, with sour hearts
and mourning mood. Men under heaven’s
shifting skies, though skilled in counsel,
cannot say surely who unshipped that cargo.
 

Lofgeornost

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So, another poem with an SF/Fantasy connection: John Donne's 7th holy sonnet. It is the source of the title of the first book in Farmer's Riverworld series.


At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter'd bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace
When we are there; here on this lowly ground
Teach me how to repent; for that's as good
As if thou'hadst seal'd my pardon with thy blood.


I've always really liked the image of "the round earth's imagined corners." It would be a great title for an RPG supplement.
 

Voros

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Doesn't get much better than Donne. Sexy and spiritual in the same poem!

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning


BY JOHN DONNE

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
 

Lofgeornost

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With the debut of Osprey's Jackals, I thought maybe something from Archilochus would be in order, though of course he's an Iron Age poet, not a Bronze Age one. The translation is by Richmond Lattimore:

Poem Addressed to Himself:

Heart, my heart, so battered with misfortune far beyond your strength,
up, and face the men who hate us. Bare your chest to the assault
of the enemy and fight them off. Stand fast among the beamlike spears.
Give no ground; and if you beat them do not brag in open show,
nor, if they beat you, run home and lie down on your bed and cry.
Keep some measure in the joy you take in luck, and the degree
you give way to sorrow. All our life is up and down like this.
 

Voros

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Here is a short PWYW solo rpg based on the Viking poet Egil Skallagrimsson!


I wondered if Skallagrimsson was a real person or some kind of Norwegian inside joke but a quick Google search confirms he was probably real and the subject of an Icelandic saga and several poems attributed to him although I haven't had much luck finding them online in a quality translation.

Here is his saga in a Penguin translation, just grabbed it on Kindle:

 
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Lofgeornost

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Here is a short PWYW solo rpg based on the Viking poet Egil Skallagrimsson!


I wondered if Skallagrimsson was a real person or some kind of Norwegian inside joke but a quick Google search confirms he was probably real and the subject of an Icelandic saga and several poems attributed to him although I haven't had much luck finding them online in a quality translation.

Here is his saga in a Penguin translation, just grabbed it on Kindle:


Egil's Saga is one of the great ones. There's some speculation that Egil himself may have suffered from Paget's disease, which affects the skull--Jesse Byock, an expert in Icelandic literature and society, discusses it here.
 
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Lofgeornost

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So, some real Bronze Age poetry this time, part of the Enuma Elish, or Epic of Creation:

Tablet VI

When Marduk heard the speech of the gods,
He made up his mind to perform miracles.
He spoke his utterance to Ea,
And communicated to him the plan that he was considering.
“Let me put blood together, and make bones too.
Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.
Let me create a primeval man.
The work of the gods shall be imposed on him and so they shall be at leisure.
Let me change the ways of the gods miraculously,
So they are gathered as one yet divided in two.”

Marduk assembled the great gods,
Gave instructions pleasantly, gave orders.
The gods paid attention to what he said.
The king addressed his words to the Anunnaki,
“Your election of me shall be firm and foremost.
I shall declare the laws, the edicts within my power.
Whoever started the war,
And incited Tiamat, and gathered an army,
Let the one who started the war be given up to me.
And he shall bear the penalty for his crime, that you may dwell in peace.”

The Igigi, the great gods, answered him,
Their lord Lugal-Dimmer-Ankia, counselor of the gods,
“It was Qingu who started the war,
He who incited Tiamat and gathered an army.”

They bound him and held him in front of Ea,
Imposed the penalty on him and cut off his blood.
He created mankind from his blood,
Imposed the toil of the gods on man and released the gods from it.
When Ea the wise had created mankind,
Had imposed the toil of the gods on them…
Then Marduk the king divided the gods,
The Anunnaki, all of them, above and below.
He assigned his decrees to Anu to guard,
Established three hundred as a guard in the sky;
Did the same again when he designed the conventions of earth,
And made the six hundred dwell in both heaven and earth.
When he had directed all the decrees,
Had divided lots for the Anunnaki, of heaven and of earth,
The Annunaki made their voices heard
And addressed Marduk, their lord,
“Now, O lord, that you have set us free,
What are our favors from you?
We would like to make a shrine with its own name.
We would like our night’s resting place to be in your private quarters, and to rest there.
Let us found a shrine, a sanctuary there.
Whenever we arrive, let us rest within it.”

When Marduk heard this,
His face lit up greatly, like daylight.
“Create Babylon, whose construction you requested!
Let its mud bricks be molded, and build high the shrine!”
 

Lofgeornost

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Another poem whose lines have furnished a number of titles for SF or fantasy works: a Dr. Who episode (World Enough and Time), an Ursula K. Leguin story (Vaster than Empires and More Slow), a Peter Lancaster story (Deserts of Vast Eternity), and a Peter S. Beagle novel (A Fine and Private Place). Some tale of Arthur C. Clarke's cites the lines about 'time's winged chariot,' too, but I can't remember which. As far as I can see, no-one has used "Iron Gates of Life" yet.

Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
 

Lofgeornost

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So, in honor of the (semi-)announcement of Mythic Gwynedd for Mythras, a Welsh poem. This is an elegy for Hywel, son of Owain Gwynedd, who died at the battle of Pentraeth in Anglesey in November, 1170. This was part of a struggle over the succession to Owain: Hywel's opponent in the battle was his half-brother Dafydd, son of Owain by his final wife, Christina. The poem was written by Peryf ab Cedifor, a foster-brother of Hywel and part of his teulu or warband. The translation is by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson in A Celtic Miscellany; I've re-introduced line breaks.

The Killing of Hywel ab Owein

While we were seven, thrice seven dared not attack us,
Nor made us retreat while we lived;
Alas, there are now but three of the seven,
Men unflinching in fight.

Seven men were we who were faultless,
Undaunted, irresistible in attack,
Seven mighty men from whom flight gave no protection,
Seven who would brook no wrong till now.

Since Hywel is gone, who bore battle gladly,
By whom we used to stand,
We are all avowedly lost,
And the host of Heaven is the fairer.

The sons of Cedifor, an ample band of offspring,
In the dale above Pentraeth
They were fierce and full of bold purpose,
And they were cut down alongside their foster-brother.

Because of the treason hatched by Cristin and her sons
—un-Christian Britons—
May no man of the bald freckled descendants of Brochfael
Be left alive in Anglesey.

Come what may of wealth from land domain
Yet this world is a deceptive dwelling-place;
With a spear (woe to false Dafydd!)
Hywel the Tall, the hawk of war, was pierced.



There's an interesting discussion of the battle and the sources for it--including an alternative translation of this poem--on the Historic Battlefields of Wales site: http://battlefields.rcahmw.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Pentraeth-1170-Gildas-2013.pdf
 
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Lofgeornost

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This is pretty low-hanging fruit, but the older I get the more I find myself thinking about this poem by Tennyson. Re-reading it this morning I was surprised by how many phrases from it had imprinted themselves on my memory, though I'd not looked at the poem in years, or maybe decades.

Ulysses, by Alfred, lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
 

Lofgeornost

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I missed International Women's Day (3/8) when I meant to post this. It's by a 16th-century poet named Anna Bijns; the translation is by Kristiaan Aercke:

Unyoked is Best!

How good to be a woman, how much better to be a man!
Maidens and wenches, remember the lesson you’re about to hear.
Don’t hurtle yourself into marriage far too soon.
The saying goes: “Where’s your spouse? Where’s your honor?”
But one who earns her board and clothes
Shouldn’t scurry to suffer a man’s rod.
So much for my advice, because I suspect—
Nay, see it sadly proven day by day—
It happens all the time!
However rich in goods a girl might be,
Her marriage ring will shackle her for life.
If however she stays single
With purity and spotlessness foremost,
Then she is lord as well as lady. Fantastic, not?
Though, wedlock I do not decry:
Unyoked is best! Happy the woman without a man.

Fine girls turning into loathly hags—
‘Tis true! Poor sluts! Poor tramps! Cruel marriage!
Which makes me deaf to wedding bells.
Huh! First they marry the guy, luckless dears,
Thinking their love just too hot to cool.
Well, they’re sorry and sad within a single year.
Wedlock’s burden is far too heavy.
They know best whom it harnessed.
So often is a wife distressed, afraid.
When after troubles hither and thither he goes
In search of dice and liquor, night and day,
She’ll curse herself for that initial “yes.”
So, beware ere you begin.
Just listen, don’t get yourself into it.
Unyoked is best! Happy the woman without a man.

A man oft comes home all drunk and pissed
Just when his wife had worked her fingers to the bone
(So many chores to keep a decent house!),
But if she wants to get in a word or two,
She gets to taste his fist—no more.
And that besotted keg she is supposed to obey?
Why, yelling and scolding is all she gets,
Such are his ways-and hapless his victim.
And if the nymphs of Venus he chooses to frequent,
What hearty welcome will await him home.
Maidens, young ladies: learn from another’s doom,
Ere you, too, end up in fetters and chains.
Please don’t argue with me on this,
No matter who contradicts, I stick to it:
Unyoked is best! Happy the woman without a man.

A single lady has a single income,
But likewise, isn’t bothered by another’s whims,
And I think: that freedom is worth a lot.
Who’ll scoff at her, regardless what she does,
And though every penny she makes herself,
Just think of how much less she spends!
An independent lady is an extraordinary prize—
All right, of a man’s boon she is deprived,
But she’s lord and lady of her very own hearth.
To do one’s business and no explaining sure is lots of fun!
Go to bed when she list, rise when she list, all as she will,
And no one to comment! Grab tight your independence then.
Freedom is such a blessed thing.
To all girls: though the right Guy might come along:
Unyoked is best! Happy the woman without a man.

Prince,
Regardless of the fortune a woman might bring,
Many men consider her a slave, that’s all.
Don’t let a honeyed tongue catch you off guard,
Refrain from gulping it all down. Let them rave,
For, I guess, decent men resemble white ravens.
Abandon the airy castles they will build for you.
Once their tongue has limed a bird:
Bye bye love—and love just flies away.
To women marriage comes to mean betrayal
And the condemnation to a very awful fate.
All her own is spent, her lord impossible to bear.
It’s peine forte et dure instead of fun and games.
Oft it was the money, and not the man
Which goaded so many into their fate.
Unyoked is best! Happy the woman without a man.
 

Lofgeornost

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I've been reading Darrell Schweitzer's collection Tom O'Bedlam's Night Out and Other Stories, which makes use of the famous Tom O'Bedlam's Song. It has been the inspiration for a number of other genre works, both whole books and just titles. Here is most of it (I've left out one less interesting stanza). The final stanza is justly famous, but I like the rest as well.

Tom O'Bedlam's Song (Anonymous, c. 1610)

From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye,
The spirit that stands
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye.
That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from
Your selves with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon,
While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
Feeding, drink or clothing;
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.


Of thirty bare years have I
Twice twenty been enragèd,
And of forty been
Three times fifteen
In durance soundly cagèd.
On the lordly lofts of Bedlam
With stubble soft and dainty,
Brave bracelets strong,
Sweet whips, ding-dong,
With wholesome hunger plenty,
And now I sing, etc.

With a thought I took for Maudlin,
And a cruse of cockle pottage,
With a thing thus tall,
Sky bless you all,
I befell into this dotage.
I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never wakèd,
Till the roguish boy
Of love where I lay
Me found and stript me nakèd.
While I do sing, etc.

When I short have shorn my sow's face
And swigged my horny barrel,
In an oaken inn,
I pound my skin
As a suit of gilt apparel;
The moon's my constant mistress,
And the lovely owl my marrow;
The flaming drake
And the night crow make
Me music to my sorrow.
While I do sing, etc.

I know more than Apollo,
For oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars
At mortal wars
In the wounded welkin weeping.
The moon embrace her shepherd,
And the Queen of Love her warrior,
While the first doth horn
The star of morn,
And the next the heavenly Farrier.
While I do sing, etc.

The Gypsies, Snap and Pedro,
Are none of Tom's comradoes,
The punk I scorn,
And the cutpurse sworn
And the roaring boy's bravadoes.
The meek, the white, the gentle,
Me handle not nor spare not;
But those that cross
Tom Rynosseross
Do what the panther dare not.
Although I sing, etc.

With an host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear
And a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world's end:
Methinks it is no journey.
Yet I will sing, etc.
 

Giganotosaurus

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The Calf-Path
by: Sam Foss

I.
One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.

II.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.

III.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

IV.
This forest path became a lane,
that bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

V.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

VI.
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A Hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.

VII.
A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach—
But I am not ordained to preach.
 

Lofgeornost

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The Calf-Path
by: Sam Foss

I.
One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead...

This reminds me of another poem, which has a very different 'moral,' being in favor of winding and traditional ways. I'll only give the first two stanzas:

"The Rolling English Road," by G.K. Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands...
 

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Since it is March 15, I thought we needed some Caesar-related poetry. What better than Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 1:

Brutus speaks:
It must be by his death. And for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crowned:
How that might change his nature, there’s the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder,
And that craves wary walking. Crown him that,
And then I grant we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power. And, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections swayed
More than his reason. But ’tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But, when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities.
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.
 

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Since it is March 15, I thought we needed some Caesar-related poetry. What better than Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 1:

Brutus speaks:
It must be by his death. And for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crowned:
How that might change his nature, there’s the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder,
And that craves wary walking. Crown him that,
And then I grant we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power. And, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections swayed
More than his reason. But ’tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But, when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities.
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.

Brando's performance of Marc Antony's speech at Julius Caesar's funeral is classic.

 

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So, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, Yeats' "September, 1913." The O'Leary mentioned in it is John O'Leary, a poet, Irish nationalist, and something of a mentor to Yeats, who had died in 1907.

"September, 1913" by William Butler Yeats

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the ha’pence to the pence,
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone,
For men were born to pray and save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone—
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play;
They have gone about the world like wind.
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun;
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone—
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide?
For this that all that blood was shed?
For this Edward Fitzgerald died?
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone—
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were,
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry, ‘Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’—
They weighed so lightly what they gave
But let them be, they’re dead and gone:
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.
 

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"I am Raftery," by Antoine Raftery (c. 1830), translated by Douglas Hyde

I am Raftery the poet,
Full of hope and love,
With eyes that have no light,
With gentleness that has no misery.

Going west upon my pilgrimage
Guided by the light of my heart,
Feeble and tired,
To the end of my road.

Behold me now,
And my face to a wall,
Playing music
Unto empty pockets.

 

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It first appears in an article by Seán Ó Ceallaigh in New York for the Manhattan Gaelic newspaper "An Gaodhal". As we're not sure if Rafferty/Ua Raibhtrighe wrote it, we don't know whether it's an honest complaint or a send up of the classist nature of Bards, of which Rafferty was one. The dialect it appears in is "funny" and specific to New York.
 

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It first appears in an article by Seán Ó Ceallaigh in New York for the Manhattan Gaelic newspaper "An Gaodhal". As we're not sure if Rafferty/Ua Raibhtrighe wrote it, we don't know whether it's an honest complaint or a send up of the classist nature of Bards, of which Rafferty was one. The dialect it appears in is "funny" and specific to New York.

That's very interesting. Hyde's comment on the poem suggests he collected the text he printed from oral performance.
 

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That's very interesting. Hyde's comment on the poem suggests he collected the text he printed from oral performance.
Most of the poetry of the last Bards were very popular as campfire and home entertainment stuff in the late 19th and early 20th century. I like Hyde's version more as the dialect is closer to Rafferty's so it flows better. Hyde's a cool dude, I own one of his personal letters and his big book of folklore (that I'd like to translate into English someday).
 
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Since it's women's history month, how about some Sappho, here translated by Julia Dubnoff:

Some say an army of horsemen,
some of footsoldiers, some of ships,
is the fairest thing on the black earth,
but I say it is what one loves.

It’s very easy to make this clear
to everyone, for Helen,
by far surpassing mortals in beauty,
left the best of all husbands

and sailed to Troy,
mindful of neither her child
nor her dear parents, but
with one glimpse she was seduced by

Aphrodite. For easily bent …
and nimbly ... [missing text] ...
has reminded me now
of Anactoria who is not here;

I would much prefer to see the lovely
way she walks and the radiant glance of her face
than the war-chariots of the Lydians or
their footsoldiers in arms.
 

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I just got this, it is a collection of feminist erasure poems using Bram Stoker's Dracula. It is such a great idea I had to check it out.

39391808.jpg
 

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François Villon, “Ballade of the Hanged,” translated by A.S. Kline

My brothers who live after us,
Don’t harden you hearts against us too,
If you have mercy now on us,
God may have mercy upon you.
Five, six, you see us, hung out to view.
When the flesh that nourished us well
Is eaten piecemeal, ah, see it swell,
And we, the bones, are dust and gall,
Let no one make fun of our ill,
But pray that God absolves us all.

No need, if we cry out to you, brothers,
To show disdain, if we’re in suspense
For justice’s sake. How few of the others,
Are men equipped with common sense.
Pray for us, now beyond violence,
To the Son of the Virgin Mary,
So of grace to us she’s not chary,
Shields us from Hell’s lightning fall.
We’re dead: the souls let no man harry,
But pray that God absolves us all.

The rain has soaked us, washed us: skies
Of hot suns blacken us, scorch us: crows
And magpies have gouged out our eyes,
Plucked at our beards, and our eyebrows.
There’s never a moment’s rest allowed:
Now here, now there, the changing breeze
Swings us, as it wishes, ceaselessly,
Beaks pricking us more than a cobbler’s awl.
So don’t you join our fraternity,
But pray that God absolves us all.

Prince Jesus, who has all sovereignty,
Preserve us from Hell’s mastery.
We’ve no business down there at all.
Men, you’ve no time for mockery.
But pray to God to absolve us all.
 

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Rilke is one of those genius poets that when I encountered him was just as great as his reputation.

His most famous poem 'Archaic Torso of Apollo' moved me tremendously when I first read it and all these years later I still remember it whenever I feel down or stuck: it reminds me that I always have the power to change my life without the facile positivity of so much of our modern self-help culture.

Here is the original German and an excellent translation with really good use of line breaks in the English, it doesn't copy and paste well so I'll link to the article discussing the many translations of the poem, the poem(s) are at the end:

 

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Reading this new edition of translated poems by the great Russian poet Osip Mandlestam. Will post one here after I've dug in.

View attachment 26052
I'm too lazy to transcribe a poem directly from this book but here is an excellent translation of one of Mandelstam's more political poems. The purposeful ugliness of the diction here is in stark contrast to the direct lyricism of his more personal poems.

from Poems of the Thirties: 286 [The Stalin Epigram]​


BY OSIP MANDELSTAM

TRANSLATED BY CLARENCE BROWN AND W. S. MERWIN


Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.

One whistles, another meouws, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.


Osip Mandelstam, "from Poems of the Thirties #286 [The Stalin Epigram]" from Selected Poems. Translation copyright © 1973 by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc..
 
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An anti-Stalin poem by Naum Mandel Korzhavin:

There in Moscow, in whirling darkness,
Wrapped in a military coat,
Not understanding Pasternak,
A hard and cruel man stared at the snow.
 

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Since we're almost done with March, how about the "Waters of March," by Antonio Carlos Jobim? These are the English lyrics he wrote, which purposefully recast the song to fit with March in the Northern hemisphere--in the Portuguese original, the 'waters of March' mark the end of summer, not winter. Oddly, in translating the song Jobim added some verses. It's better as a song, but I still like it as a poem.

"The Waters of March," (English version) by Antonio Carlos Jobim

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road,
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

It's a sliver of glass,
It is life, it's the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It's a trap, it's a gun

The oak when it blooms,
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush

The wood of the wind,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

It's the wind blowing free,
It's the end of the slope,
It's a beam, it's a void,
It's a hunch, it's a hope

And the river bank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of the strain,
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The beat of the road,
A slingshot's stone

A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow

The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in the face,
It's a loss, it's a find

A spear, a spike,
A point, a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale

A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

A mile, a must,
A thrust, a bump,
It's a girl, it's a rhyme,
It's a cold, it's the mumps

The plan of the house,
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck,
It's the mud, it's the mud

Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
It's the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It's a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of all strain,
It's the joy in your heart.
 

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Since it's April now, it's time for:

Canterbury Tales, General Prologue, by Geoffrey Chaucer (modern version by Larry Benson)

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

When April with its sweet-smelling showers
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
By the power of which the flower is created;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
In every holt and heath, has breathed life into
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
The tender crops, and the young sun
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
Has run its half course in Aries,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
And small fowls make melody,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
Those that sleep all the night with open eyes
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
(So Nature incites them in their hearts),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
And professional pilgrims (long) to seek foreign shores,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
To (go to) distant shrines, known in various lands;
And specially from every shires ende
And specially from every shire’s end
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
Of England to Canterbury they travel,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
To seek the holy blessed martyr,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Who helped them when they were sick.


As one of my teachers pointed out, March isn't noted for its droughts in England; that seems to be a borrowing from poetry with a Mediterranean setting.
 

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How about a little of the Odyssey? This is from book 15, beginning with line 415. The speaker is Eumaeus, an Ithacan swineherd.

Odyssey, book 15, translated by Robert Fagles.

There is an island, Syrie—you may have heard of it—
off above Ortygia, out where the sun wheels around.
Not so packed with people, still a good place, though,
fine for sheep and cattle, rich in wine and wheat…
Two cities there are that split that land in half,
and over them both my father ruled in force—
Ormenus’ son Ctesias, a man like a deathless god.

One day
a band of Phoenicians landed there. The famous sea-dogs,
sharp bargainers too, the holds of their black ship
brimful with a hoard of flashy baubles. Now,
my father kept a Phoenician woman in his house,
beautiful, tall, and skilled at weaving lovely things,
and her rascal countrymen lusted to seduce her, yes,
and lost no time—she was washing clothes when one of them
waylaid her beside their ship, in a long deep embrace
that can break a woman’s will, even the best alive.
And then he asked her questions,
her name, who she was, where did she come from?

She waved at once to my father’s high-roofed house—
‘But I’m proud to hail from Sidon paved in bronze,’ she said,
‘and Arybas was my father, a man who rolled in wealth.
I was heading home from the fields when Taphian pirates
snatched me away, and they shipped and sold me here
to this man’s house. He paid a good stiff price!’

The sailor, her secret lover, lured her on:
‘Well then, why don’t you sail back home with us?—
See your own high house, your father and mother there.
They’re still alive, and people say they’re rich!’

‘Now there’s a tempting offer,’ she said in haste,
‘if only you sailors here would swear an oath
you’ll land me safe at home without a scratch.’

Those were her terms, and once they vowed to keep them,
swore their oaths they’d never do her harm,
the woman hatched a plan: ‘Now not a word!’
Let none of your shipmates say a thing to me,
meeting me on the street or at the springs.
Someone might go running off to the house
and tell the old king—he’d think the worst,
clap me in cruel chains and find a way to kill you.
So keep it a secret, down deep, get on with buying
your home cargo, quickly. But once your holds
are loaded up with goods, then fast as you can
you send the word to me over there at the palace.
I’ll bring you all the gold I can lay my hands on
and something else I’ll give you in the bargain,
fare for passage home.'

'I’m nurse to my master’s son in the palace now—
such a precious toddler, scampering round outside,
always at my heels. I’ll bring him aboard as well.
Wherever you sell him off, whatever foreign parts,
he’ll fetch you quite a price!’

Bargain struck
back the woman went to our lofty halls
and the rovers stayed on with us one whole year
bartering, piling up big hoards in their hollow ship,
and once their holds were loaded full for sailing
they sent a messenger, fast, to alert the woman.

This crafty bandit came to my father’s house,
dangling a golden choker linked with amber beads,
and while the maids at hall and my noble mother
kept on fondling it—dazzled, feasting their eyes
and making bids—he gave a quiet nod to my nurse,
he gave her the nod and slunk back to his ship.

Grabbing my hand, she swept me through the house
and there in the porch she came on cups and tables
left by the latest feasters, father’s men of council
just gone off to the meeting grounds for full debate—
and quick as a flash she snatched up three goblets,
tucked them in her bosom, whisked them off
and I tagged along, lost in all my innocence!

The sun sank, the roads of the world grew dark
and both on the run, we reached the bay at once
where the swift Phoenician ship lay set to sail.
Handing us up on board, the crewmen launched out
on the foaming lanes…
 

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For whatever reason, I found myself thinking of e.e. cummings today. Much of his poetry wouldn't work in this medium, since it relies on precise placement of words on a page, with lots of white space, which I can't replicate here. So here's a poem rather more traditional in its form. Roupy is a village in the Aisne.

"The bigness of cannon," by e.e. cummings

the bigness of cannon
is skilful,

but i have seen
death’s clever enormous voice
which hides in a fragility
of poppies. . . .

i say that sometimes
on these long talkative animals
are laid fists of huger silence.

I have seen all the silence
filled with vivid noiseless boys

at Roupy
i have seen
between barrages,

the night utter ripe unspeaking girls.
 

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Dream-Land​

Edgar Allan Poe - 1809-1849

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE— out of TIME.

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the tears that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Lakes that endlessly outspread
Their lone waters— lone and dead,—
Their still waters— still and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily.

By the lakes that thus outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead,—
Their sad waters, sad and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily,—
By the mountains— near the river
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—
By the grey woods,— by the swamp
Where the toad and the newt encamp—
By the dismal tarns and pools


Where dwell the Ghouls,—
By each spot the most unholy—
In each nook most melancholy—
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the Past—
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by—
White—robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the Earth— and Heaven.

For the heart whose woes are legion
'Tis a peaceful, soothing region—
For the spirit that walks in shadow
'Tis— oh, 'tis an Eldorado!
But the traveller, travelling through it,
May not— dare not openly view it!
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;
So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fringed lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have wandered home but newly
From this ultimate dim Thule.
 

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Here's my favourite Poe.

THE LAKE —— TO ——​

Edgar Allan Poe - 1809-1849

In spring of youth it was my lot
To haunt of the wide earth a spot
The which I could not love the less—
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that tower’d around.

But when the Night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody—
Then—ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.

Yet that terror was not fright,
But a tremulous delight—
A feeling not the jewelled mine
Could teach or bribe me to define—
Nor Love—although the Love were thine.

Death was in that poisonous wave,
And in its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his lone imagining—
Whose solitary soul could make
An Eden of that dim lake.

1827.

And an amazing performance of the poem set to music by Antony and the Johnsons.

 

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Beast

On stilt-long legs it walks
'cross cerulean plains of grass
languid breezes ruffle
its startling mane
sending skyward
sparks of golden flame.

In time with the winds
it opens its great maw
needle fangs of steel gleam
and rose petals tumble
forth, honey sweet
they burn at a touch.

In a high clear voice
it sings of loss
an age of wandering.
 
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