larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: some guy (Default)
Characters frequently appearing in this drama:

  • I - your humble narrator, sometime writer and poet (preferred pronoun: he/him/his)

  • Janni - spouse and writer (preferred pronoun: she/her/her)

  • TBD - nom de internet of our child, not yet a writer (preferred pronoun: they/them/their)
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (what tangled tales we weave)
Stepping backward again for a Poetry Monday that has a further looking back:

A Toccata of Galuppi’s, Robert Browning

Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find!
I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
But although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind!

Here you come with your old music, and here's all the good it brings.
What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings,
Where Saint Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings?

Ay, because the sea's the street there; and 'tis arched by . . . what you call
. . . Shylock's bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival:
I was never out of England—it's as if I saw it all.

Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May?
Balls and masks begun at midnight, burning ever to mid-day,
When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say?

Was a lady such a lady, cheeks so round and lips so red,—
On her neck the small face buoyant, like a bell-flower on its bed,
O'er the breast's superb abundance where a man might base his head?

Well, and it was graceful of them—they'd break talk off and afford
—She, to bite her mask's black velvet—he, to finger on his sword,
While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord?

What? Those lesser thirds so plaintive, sixths diminished, sigh on sigh,
Told them something? Those suspensions, those solutions—"Must we die?"
Those commiserating sevenths—"Life might last! we can but try!"

"Were you happy?" —"Yes."—"And are you still as happy?"—"Yes. And you?"
—"Then, more kisses!"—"Did I stop them, when a million seemed so few?"
Hark, the dominant's persistence till it must be answered to!

So, an octave struck the answer. Oh, they praised you, I dare say!
"Brave Galuppi! that was music! good alike at grave and gay!
I can always leave off talking when I hear a master play!"

Then they left you for their pleasure: till in due time, one by one,
Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well undone,
Death stepped tacitly and took them where they never see the sun.

But when I sit down to reason, think to take my stand nor swerve,
While I triumph o'er a secret wrung from nature's close reserve,
In you come with your cold music till I creep thro' every nerve.

Yes, you, like a ghostly cricket, creaking where a house was burned:
"Dust and ashes, dead and done with, Venice spent what Venice earned.
The soul, doubtless, is immortal—where a soul can be discerned.

"Yours for instance: you know physics, something of geology,
Mathematics are your pastime; souls shall rise in their degree;
Butterflies may dread extinction,—you'll not die, it cannot be!

"As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop,
Here on earth they bore their fruitage, mirth and folly were the crop:
What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?

"Dust and ashes!" So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold.
Dear dead women, with such hair, too—what's become of all the gold
Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I feel chilly and grown old.

The more I return to Browning, the more interestingly knotty I find him. The point here, under all the meditation on reality/art(ifice) and (im)mortality, is continuing on despite the knowledge of death. (Does the speaker get this? -- I don't know, but if not, it wouldn't be Browning's only illustrative failure.) Possibly unhelpful glosses: Venetian musician/composer Baldassare Galuppi (1706-85) visited England in 1741, thus making his music known there. The poem was written while living in Italy, so the speaker is not Browning himself, but rather a contemporary, parochial Englishman. Browning had sheet music for some of Galuppi's keyboard toccatas, but no one piece has been identified as the poem's inspiration, and it would be stupid if there was one. (Whatever else he might have been, Browning was not stupid.)


Subject quote from "Venus and Adonis," William Shakespeare.
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (spirals)
Three obviously related links of awesomeness:

The motion of 2 million stars over 5 million years. (via)

All of NASA's photos and videos in a single, searchable website: Aw, yisssss. (via)

Prince and Muppets. You're welcome. (via)


Subject quote from "Stanzas in Memory of the Author of "Obermann"," Matthew Arnold.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)
Reading, reading, reading -- almost all of it narrative poems. It is, apparently, what I'm needing.


Charmides by Oscar Wilde, his longest poem and apparently his only sustained narrative in verse -- for he was a poet before turning novelist and then playwright. The descriptions are awesomely lush (he learned a lot from Keats) and the decadence amusing (ditto from Swinburne), and the stanza looks to be deliberately evoking Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis. I am delighted by Wilde's ability to carry sentences across multiple stanzas -- I think one managed to go on for eight. Whether it works as a story probably depends on whether the lush and the decadent work for you, as well as how you feel about dubcon. (Other content warnings: ravishment (for lack of a better word) of a statue of Athena; necrophilia.)

The Witch of Atlas by Percy Shelley in a sportive mood. How gender-bendy and otherwise non-straight is this? Well, for starters, the witch herself is beautiful enough she brings all the nymphs as well as satyrs to her yard, is asexual, and creates an intersex companion (called Hermaphroditus) who's just as ace -- and I'm sure I'm missing stuff. The story itself is fluff, the verse is as beautiful as the best of Shelley's works, and the tale ends without the promised continuing adventures (hmph!). Mary didn't like it, and apparently almost didn't publish it with his posthumous poems (?!).

Lamia by John Keats -- hrm. Well then. It's been a while since I read this -- and the disjoint between remembered and present experience was stronger than usual. The casual noncon is par for the course with Greek mythology, but Lamia's deliberately throwing a nymph under that bus is, um, unsympathetic. The plot's otherwise okay, but the craft, not so much. It's not just that the pacing is as wonky as a gimbal with a chip on one edge -- the verse is also not under his control, especially the rhythm, to the point that some lines, his meter is discordantly rocky. Many of his words used in not-quite-standard ways aren't successful -- done well and to deliberate effect, such coinages can be dazzling (see Keats's best stuff) but here they weren't, often enough to be distracting.

The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats, which was a good corrective example of his best stuff. The coinages here work well (except the "agues in her brain"), and more importantly, he rides like a master the rhythm and pace of each stanza. It's like he was at a stage where blank verse or couplets didn't give him enough constraint to work against (see also: Endymion). The pace of story is, stanza-by-stanza, languid, but that matches the tone of this admittedly rather thin story.

The Culprit Fay by Joseph Rodman Drake, a talented Romantic poet who, like Keats, died too young. A century ago, this was still a known, popular poem (it had been added to American high school curricula as an unembarrassing native work) but it's largely forgotten now, more's the pity. The tale itself is a quest fantasy using European fairy lore charmingly nativized to the Hudson River valley, with delightful details and a decent adventure. Fair warning: the first half of the quest, with the hero working on his own, is better than the second half, which is furthered by an unjustified unrequited love-interest. (Unfair warning: possibly this should not be read soon after The Loves of the Angels.)

Admetus by Emma Lazarus (hat tip to [personal profile] sovay for pointing me to this and the next), a blank verse narrative that would have been better named "Alcestis," as she's the real focus of the story: a relatively straight-up telling of her myth with a few interesting touches. The verse uses a very plain style, and as poem goes on the transitions get more abrupt and elliptical, and the narrative turns to almost pure dialog -- to the point I suspect that if I didn't know the original tale I'd have a hard time following the resolution. Interestingly, there's a somewhat defensive note at the end of the next poem explaining that they were both written before William Morris published his versions in The Earthly Paradise, and so not plagiarized from him -- which invites unfortunate comparisons, and Morris is overall (for all his flaws) a stronger talespinner as well as versifier, as far as this is concerned. (Reviewers at the time commented that the note wasn't needed as anyone with an ear could tell she hadn't cribbed from Morris.)

Tannhäuser by Emma Lazarus, also blank verse but in a lusher style appropriate for the subject matter: Tannhäuser's easy seduction by Venus and repentance after his return from under Venusberg. In the comparison with Morris invited by the end-note, Lazarus fares better -- this is much stronger than Admetus. (Neither of them hold a candle to Swinburne's Laus Veneris, mind, as ACS attempts -- and largely succeeds at -- something more ambitious than either Lazarus or Morris.) I can't help but think that ambivalence over Lazarus's Jewishness worked fruitful tensions into this story of Christianized Paganism, and also that parts of this are actually aimed at critiquing "Thomas the Rhymer." (That last seems a bit of a leap, as I write this now, but that was my reaction while reading.) I especially liked the small touch of Venus's motivation. OTOH, the touches of moralizing aimed at Tannhäuser during his disenchantment are the main discordant note.


More bug poems.


Andromeda by Charles Kingsley -- while retconning the inhabitants of the coast of Libya into not following the gods of Olympus is laudable, his dactylic hexameters were too grating to stay with it. Only Longfellow and Clough, that I've met, have managed that line well enough to read at length. (If anyone gets far enough into it, let me know how his female characters are.)


More of this stuff, I suspect.

(Is it time to reread The Earthly Paradise? It may be time to reread The Earthly Paradise.)


Subject quote from "Lamia," John Keats, who still rang out great lines in problematic poems.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)
For Poetry Monday, another something on the contemporary side:

The Villanelle is What?, John M. Ford

Enter Mr Jno. Ford (the Elizabethan one) as King Edward the Fourth

I am the King now, and I want a sandwich.
This monarch business makes a fellow hungry.
I wonder where my brother Richard is.

What happened to the kippers left from breakfast?
Or maybe there's a bit of cold roast pheasant.
I am the King now, and I want a sandwich.

A civil war is such an awful bother.
We fought at Tewksbury and still ran out of mustard.
I wonder where my brother Richard is.

Speak not to me of pasta marinara.
I know we laid in lots of boar last Tuesday.
I am the King now, and I want a sandwich.

The pantry seems entirely full of Woodvilles
And Clarence has drunk two-thirds of the cellar.
I wonder where my brother Richard is.

If I ran England like I run that kitchen
You'd half expect somebody to usurp it.
I am the King now, and I want a sandwich.
I wonder where my brother Richard is.

Think of this, possibly, as a pre-canon fic for Shakespeare's Richard III. It does explain, compellingly, some of the history of that confusing time. If the lack of rhymes in this otherwise strict villanelle bugs you, I refer you to the title.


Subject quote by Abraham Cowley after Anacreon.
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (revolutions)
More links:

Why shoelaces eventually come undone. Short answer: when your foot comes down, the sudden stop tugs a very tiny bit on the free ends of the bow, and the tiny tugs build up. (via)

A solar-powered device that condenses water out of low-humidity air. Mind you, that 20% humidity is pretty moist for a desert: our evaporative cooler works effectively only below that, which is most of the time outside of rainy season. Good stuff anyway.

There is heat below the surface of Enceladus. (via)


Subject quote from "Dirge for Two Veterans," Walt Whitman.
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (what tangled tales we weave)
Meanwhile, have some linkies:

A complete rotation of the moon, stitching together high-resolution photos from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.* So you can see the back side in HD. (via)

Making a dugout canoe by hand. (via)

Beautiful trolling. Feel free to poke around at some of the other explanations.

* One of the few robots in space that TBD isn't interested in ... the name is not exactly small-child-friendly.


Subject quote from "Solsbury Hill," Peter Gabriel.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)
For Reading Wednesday, there's … actually quite a lot to mention. Huh. Part of it is that narrative poems, even longer ones, are rather shorter than novels, so I can do more of them.


A Castaway by Augusta Webster, in which a kept woman anatomizes the hypocrisy of the Victorian social system that cuts women off from all but a few respectable life options then punishes them for that. Now here is rage in pentameters. Ouch. I find it especially telling that the speaker's cutting sarcasm abruptly ceases when talking about her brother -- that's the one relationship that still matters to her, for all he unbrothered himself, and the sister relationship was an important anchor for that system. Despite being a dramatic monologue, this is not very Browningesque: the writer's focus is societal rather than psychological.

Beppo and Mazeppa by George the Byron, rereads. Still love the former, not the least for how he makes every digression, no matter how superficially irrelevant to the story, solidly on point. The latter is both a ripping yarn and interestingly knotty -- 'specially around what, ultimately, we are to make of title character. (Note that the historical Ivan Mazepa (so usually spelled) remains a politically charged figure, with Ukraine and Russia taking different sides.) If you want to try Byron but have limited stomach for Byronism, these are good ones to try.

The Loves of the Angels by Thomas Moore, which is an odd duck. For a controversial work, I was expecting something a little more spicy, what with the whole angels of God looking on the daughters of Man and finding them beautiful thing (thank you, Genesis 6:1-4). And it's not like Moore never wrote racy (see some of his songs). Possibly my standards for the genre was set too high by Byron's Heaven and Earth, from around the same time. Regardless, the ruffling of doctrinal feathers was enough to force him revise the Christian angels (with a thin layer of Rabbinic tradition varnished on) into Muhammadian ones in revised edition. (FWIW, I read the pre-orientalized, or rather less orientalized, version linked above.) The plot, such as it is, is three angels recounting to each other his own story of falling in love with a mortal woman (all three angels are male and heterosexual -- a whole 'nother layer of problems on top of the orientalizing)(yes, I know, following the pronouns of Genesis -- but still) and so falling from blessed communion with God. It's not clear how aware the angels are at how self-deceptive they are being, or even whether the writer is. The verse is smooth and the speakers' emotions are surprisingly well-handled, but overall not really successful. Or as I said: odd duck. Head over to Moore's Lalla Rookh instead (which wears its orientalizing on its sleeves of BLAZING NEON PAISLEY PRINT).

The Two Broken Hearts by Catherine Gore, being her first publication, before she turned from verse to highly successful novelist (one of the best "silver fork" novelists, writing about high society of the 1830s). It was instructive to read this soon after Jacqueline, as it has another paterfamilias protagonist whose child has married against his wishes. The tale itself is inventing a backstory for a historical incident tossed off by Montaigne (the fanfic impulse, as we all know, is as old as storytelling), but this is mostly an excuse for melodrama in a medieval Black Forest setting -- with, let it be said, surprisingly little Gothic given said setting and time of writing. The verse is serviceable but rarely exciting, and the tale starts with a double-flashback rendered with too much tell instead of show, so it takes a while to establish good tension. Meh, especially compared to Jacqueline -- but Sherwood, you might be interested anyway.

* False Colors by Georgette Heyer, which is not the best Heyer ever but good enough I should probably move it into the pile of books to reach for when I want a dose of Heyer. (This was only my second reading.) After all, Twin Impersonation is a fun trope, especially when combined with Courtship While Impersonating.

In progress:

* The Poetry Bug edited by John Tennent, a British entomologist who happens to love poetry and has unearthed a hella lot of poems about insects (with spiders given honorary insect status for anthology purposes). Not only am I enjoying it, but TBD is interested -- though I have to pick and chose what to read aloud, as many have a lot of big words for an almost-four-year-old, or are longer than attention span. Will report more when I get further along.

And other verse, both anthology and narrative. Scattered. As one does.


Subject quote from "What is life?" Henrik Ibson (tr. Fydell Garrett).
larryhammer: a symbol used in a traditional Iceland magic spell of protection (protection)
Poetry Monday:

Black Country Coal, 1868, Taylor Graham

This whole town’s built on under-tunneled ground
where coal pays wages. Here’s the collier’s door –-
it sinks so gently, you don’t hear a sound.

Beneath, they dig with pick; with sledge they pound
a way toward deeper-buried seams: black ore.
This whole town’s built on under-tunneled ground

where roofs that settle, day by day, astound.
The steeple’s lost another inch or more;
it sinks so gently, you don’t hear a sound.

Through passages by torchlight, ironbound,
the miners delve toward hell, or planet’s core.
This whole town’s built on under-tunneled ground

that can not hold. Though greening hills surround,
their roots can’t stay the tide, nor timbers shore
what sinks so gently, you don’t hear a sound –-

no word of outrage, just earth’s sigh profound
at what our tools have wrought and can’t restore.
The whole town’s built on under-tunneled ground
that sinks so gently, you don’t hear a sound.

Found in Villanelles ed. by Finch & Mali.


Subject quote from "Pollution," Tom Lehrer.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)
Reading, reading, who's got the reading? Aside from the usual truckload of early readers and picture books, of course, there's been:


Enoch Arden by Alfred the Tennyson, whose plain style here only highlights how much he goes out of his way to avoid calling Enoch a fishmonger. The love triangle is believable and handled sympathetically, even if Victorian sentimentality, but the resolution is ... not convincing -- Enoch's behavior, I mean. And the final two lines are just awful. I'm still wincing. (That he was very defensive about those lines suggests he knew just how bad an idea they were.)

The Widow's Tale by Caroline Bowles (I use that name because she published this well before she married Robert Southey, but most editions use her married name). Meh. Were it not for touches of High Romanticism in the descriptions, this would not be out of place in an anthology of Victorian sentimental tales. It's instructive to compare it to Enoch Arden -- for one thing, despite all his faults, Tennyson's sentimentality is more restrained, and his plain-style poetry better controlled. This is good for its type, but when I want to wallow in glurge, I prefer it romantic over sentimental.

Three Chinese Poets trans. by Vikram Seth (yes, he of A Suitable Boy), being translations of a dozen-odd poems each by Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu. It's good to see a translator not just acknowledge the importance of Chinese rhyme, but follow through by reproducing it. As usual when this happens, what then gets lost is some end-stopping and the strict syntactic parallelism of regulated verse. For the common anthology pieces, Seth's versions are generally pretty good but rarely the best I've seen. (Unfortunately, the collection starts yet another version of Wang Wei's "Deer Park" that doesn't quite come up to snuff. Ah well.) It's probably telling that the piece I remember best is Seth's verse dedication to his Chinese professor.

Gertrude of Wyoming by Thomas Campbell, a reread. Very pretty, but seriously, the transitions are horrible to the point of incoherent. That it was written by someone without local knowledge doesn't help (hint: flamingos do not visit, let alone inhabit, northeastern Pennsylvania).

Jacqueline by Samuel Rogers, a Romantic romantic tale originally published anonymously together with Byron's Lara (also anonymously). Rogers is an interesting figure: he started as a Late Augustan but successfully made the transition to Romantic poet. The story is slight, but the Romantic manner is well-handled. The focus is not on Jacqueline herself, who elopes in the opening lines, but her father's anger and, increasingly, regret, ending with forgiveness and reconciliation. I rather like this one.

On Hold:

I Shall Seal the Heavens by Er Gen at chapter 1361, which is where the translator was the day I caught up -- in the middle of an intense battle against the protagonist's hardest foe yet. I am amused that the title-phrase incantation finally showed up about a hundred chapters back. Anyway, this is on pause till enough there's enough new stuff to binge on.

In Progress:

False Colors by Georgette Heyer, a reread. This is the one with the twin impersonating a brother gone AWOL right before meeting his future in-laws. Bouncy, bouncy, solid Heyer hijinx.


Subject quote from "Be Prepared," Tom Lehrer.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)
For a poetry Monday:

"O you whom I often and silently come," Walt Whitman

O you whom I often and silently come where you are, that I may be with you;
As I walk by your side, or sit near, or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing within me.

Yes, Whitman also wrote short. Deal.


Subject quote from "Atalanta in Calydon," Algernon Charles Swinburne.
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (twirls)
TBD is three years and eleven months old, also known as "almost four" and "cannot wait to turn four."

This is suddenly a hefty child -- one not so easily tossed onto the bed. Or carried in arms for longer distances.

Achievements unlocked this last month: counting to forty-ten (and higher two-digit numbers with occasional assists with the names of the tens), trolling with science, more strategies for managing disappointment even with low emotional resources.

Shortly after the last update, during alphabet drill, TBD confused K and Q -- first sign of phonological association. There's also been some M/N and I/Y confusion. Most capital letters are recognized now except N (often called Z) and V (often U or Y). A couple all-cap words are recognized, including STOP and TAXI, even out of usual contexts. Lowercase letters are still very iffy -- we've all tacitly agreed to get uppercase down more solid before returning to that complication.

Career aspirations have returned to bus driver or tow-truck driver -- that astronauts have to be brave is a source of ambivalence.

Recent obsessive reading includes the Princess in Black series, Richard Scarry, Curious George tie-ins, and books about nature and the planets. I have had to memorize the names of all currently active space probes robot explorers (plus as many as I can of those that have crashed or had their batteries die) for daily recital, often at bedtime. I tend to fudge the ones orbiting Mars because six is a lot to keep straight. Of most interest are Opportunity, New Horizons, and Voyager 2 (who is traveling through outer space calling out "I am a robot").

Bedtime storytelling has gotten interesting again: TBD chooses a couple elements, usually the animal main characters and sometimes a premise or an event, and the parent on point has to spin out something. Those that reflect an anxiety, or recapitulate/anticipate a daily-life event, are appreciated, but not wanted all the time.

Talking, talking, I didn't get down much -- a week of flying solo while Janni was at a conference reduced my note-taking ability:

Janni: "I'll love you forever ever ever."
TBD: "Never never ever."
"Forever and ever."
"But you can't forever, because I will die."

(a few minutes after asking whether Saturn and Mars are hot)
TBD: "Is Mercury the hottest?"
Me: "It is."
(sly look) "It's the Sun."
(trolling with science!) (and anyway, I was wrong: Venus is hotter)

"How do cars work? How does EVERYTHING work?"
(while failing to wind down for bedtime)

TBD: "Maybe you could walk and I run."
Janni: "But then you'll always win."
"That's okay."
(said cheerfully)

"I want shoulders all over my body."

*holds up an Ariel-branded toy* "Is she part of the Princess Team that has Elsa?"

I got the impression the Princess Team is thought of as a unit much like the Avengers. Which is not actually wrong.


Subject quote from "The High Road," Broken Bells.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)
Short shameful confession: “Tee hee!” quoth she, and clapped the window to is my favorite line from any poem ever.


Subject quote from "Titanium," Sia, David Guetta, Giorgio Tuinfort, & Afrojack.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (poetry)
A Monday for a Poetry. Er, poem. Something like that.

Remonstrance with the Snails, Anonymous

        Ye little snails,
        With slippery tails,
        Who noiselessly travel
        Along this gravel,
By a silvery path of slime unsightly,
I learn that you visit my pea-rows nightly.
        Felonious your visit, I guess!
            And I give you this warning,
            That, every morning,
                I’ll strictly examine the pods;
            And if one I hit on,
            With slaver or spit on,
                Your next meal will be with the gods.

I own you’re a very ancient race,
    And Greece and Babylon were amid;
You have tenanted many a royal dome,
    And dwelt in the oldest pyramid;
The source of the Nile!—O, you have been there!
    In the ark was your floodless bed;
On the moonless night of Marathon
    You crawled o’er the mighty dead;
        But still, though I reverence your ancestries,
        I don’t see why you should nibble my peas.

The meadows are yours,—the hedgerow and brook,
    You may bathe in their dews at morn;
By the agèd sea you may sound your shells,
    On the mountains erect your horn;
The fruits and the flowers are your rightful dowers.
    Then why—in the name of wonder—
Should my six pea-rows be the only cause
    To excite your midnight plunder?

I have never disturbed your slender shells;
    You have hung round my agèd walk;
And each might have sat, till he died in his fat,
    Beneath his own cabbage-stalk:
But now you must fly from the soil of your sires;
    Then put on your liveliest crawl,
And think of your poor little snails at home,
    Now orphans or emigrants all.

Utensils domestic and civil and social
    I give you an evening to pack up;
But if the moon of this night does not rise on your flight,
    To-morrow I’ll hang each man Jack up.
You’ll think of my peas and your thievish tricks,
With tears of slime, when crossing the Styx.

See also Considering the Snail by Thom Gunn and For a Five-Year-Old by Fleur Adcock. And other snail poems I'm sure some of you will link to.


Subject quote from "The Wreck," John Ruskin.
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (spirals)
Reading meme day. And I've been reading. Some.


Great Short Poems from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century ed. Dorothy Belle Pollack, who translated the Greek and Latin selections (and I suspect at least some of the uncredited translations from French and German). I want to like this, especially given how many unfamiliar poems it has. And yet ... the cumulative result is a bit thin, almost monotonous. The book's large trim size for presenting small poems does not help, nor the arbitrary arrangement (alphabetical by author within period). Possibly it's the tight focus on lyrics, with minimal epigrams? Dunno. Regardless, the result is not what I hoped for.

The Improvatrice by Letitia Elizabeth Landon, an intriguing but not entirely successful verse tale. It has some excellent elements, including a female protagonist from Renaissance Florence who is both musician and painter, and some of the songs she improvises are quite appealing. There are interesting signs that what Landon's actually doing is a critique of Romanticism. And yet ... and yet ... the tale is so episodic that I found myself skimming the last third, only to find that ultimately our titular heroine dies of a broken heart -- over a guy named Lorenzo. (My reactions to that last may be more personal than yours.)


I Shall Seal the Heavens by Er Gen continues on -- I'm up to around chapter 1180, approaching the sum of what's been translated. Which is part of the reason for my slowing down -- another part being, the initial new venue of book 7 did not excite me, though what was made of it did indeed turn out tasty. (No "and yet" for this one ... yet.)

Plus various rounds of poetry both lyric and narrative.


Subject quote from "Time After Time," Cyndi Lauper.
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (twirls)
More poetry for a Monday:

Origami, Bob Newman

One coloured square of paper has untold
Potential which an expert can release.
Whole zoos for those well-versed in how to fold
One coloured square.

Seals, whales, storks, elephants, bears, monkeys, geese,
And more, can all be made by young and old.
Menageries on your own mantelpiece!

The creatures you can make are manifold.
The size of your collection will increase.
What do you get from each when you unfold?
One coloured square!

Almost all internet sources attribute this to Swinburne, which it patently cannot be. Leaving aside the issues that it sounds completely unlike Swinburne and that it doesn't appear in his collected works, it is anachronistic for a Victorian poet to talk about origami animals that are not traditional Japanese models. (Yes, I did notice this issue first. Origami geek, much?) I think all of these come from a misreading of this page, which correctly cites Swinburne as the inventor of the form. The page does not attribute the sample verse to the site owner, but other on the site, for other forms, do -- so assigning to him with 90% confidence.

Subject quote is because it's an origami poem, that's good enough for me.


Subject quote from "C Is for Cookie", Joe Raposo.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)
In lieu of a Wednesday reading post, a more in depth report on Guy Vernon (see also) by John Townsend Trowbridge, a novelette in verse per the subtitle, and a shockingly overlooked gem:
                    After many tears, and blind,
Swift gusts of passion, she accepted Guy.—
    All which sounds commonplace enough, I find.
    But somehow it seems better, to my mind,
The muse should be a trifle too familiar,
Than pompous, adipose, and atrabiliar,

Singing the past in those false tones I loathe.
    Some poets seem oppressed with the conviction,
That to be classic, they must still re-clothe
    The venerable forms of antique fiction
    In what they deem approved poetic diction;
And so they let their unpruned fancies roll
Round some old theme, like hop-vines round a pole.

Give me the living theme, and living speech—
    The native stem and its spontaneous shoots,
Fibres and foliage of the soul that reach
    Deep down in human life their thrilling roots,
    And mould the sunshine into golden fruits,
Not ashes to the taste, but fit to feed
The highest and the humblest human need!

O singers of the sunset! is there naught
    Remaining for the muse, but just to fill
Old skins of fable with weak wine of thought?
    The child, Imagination, at his will
    Reshakes to wondrous forms of beauty still
A few bright shards of common joy and hope,
And turns the world in his kaleidoscope.
While I can't say for certain that Byron's Beppo was the most influential poem of the 19th century, especially given Marmion, it was by gum the most fruitful influence.

Fair warning to those who attempt this: set just before the Civil War, it has period-typical racism, only some of which is directly questioned by the story. And the resolution is … a muddled disappointment -- at least the title character's part, as the arcs of his wife and her former beau are handled perfectly a la genre's mode. But along the way, we get a marriage of North and South, a Grub Street writer, pointed satire of period manners, and a deft hand with the verse. Not to mention deft hand with the manner, as every digression (fewer than Byron's) is spot on the point.

This was not a success when first published, and Trowbridge never again attempted anything like this -- he is best known as a hack writer of adventure stories. I can only whimper in frustration -- but at least we have this.

(Historical trivia: it was published anonymously in an anthology that had one few poems of Emily Dickinson's published in her lifetime.)


Subject quote from, well, "Guy Vernon."
larryhammer: a whisp of smoke, label: it comes in curlicues, spirals as it twirls (twirls)
For Poetry Monday:

August à la Poussin, Louis MacNeice

The shutter of time darkening ceaselessly
Has whisked away the foam of may and elder
And I realise how now, as every year before,
Once again the gay months have eluded me.

For the mind, by nature stagey, welds its frame
Tomb-like around each little world of a day;
We jump from picture to picture and cannot follow
The living curve that is breathlessly the same.

While the lawn-mower sings moving up and down
Spirting its little fountain of vivid green,
I, like Poussin, make a still-bound fête of us
Suspending every noise, of insect or machine.

Garlands at a set angle that do not slip,
Theatrically (and as if for ever) grace
You and me and the stone god in the garden
And Time who also is shown with a stone face.

But all this is a dilettante’s lie,
Time’s face is not stone nor still his wings;
Our mind, being dead, wishes to have time die,
For we, being ghosts, cannot catch hold of things.

Titled as first published in 1933, later called just "August" in his collected poems. Poussin is, of course, the French Baroque painter, frequently of historical subjects and landscapes. I'm not finding a painting with that title, but the details suggest the speaker is thinking of A Dance to the Music of Time (formerly known as The Dance of the Seasons). MacNeice is, of course, is the too-often overlooked friend and collaborator of Auden, who was never as radical as others of the Auden Group ("MacSpaunday") but stayed liberal to the end.


Subject quote from "Take a Picture," Filter.
larryhammer: a naked woman lying prone with Greek text painted on her back, label: Greek poetry is sexy (greek poetry is sexy)

Lullabies and Poems for Children ed. by Diana Secker Larson, another Everyman's Library anthology that's pretty tasty -- lots of traditional wind-down songs, well-known and obscure, including additional verses for some usually heard in curtailed form. Pity lullabies have been pretty much nixed in our household for almost a year. The slimmer second half is disappointing, however: heavy on nonsense, making the couple selections of Blake a breath of fresh air. Recommended for the lullabies only.


I Shall Seal the Heavens through chapter 1004, finishing book 6 -- so about ⅝ done. Whew!


Subject quote from "New-Mexican Love Song," Mary Austin.

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