Before Sleep

Before Sleep

The toil of the day is ebbing,
The quiet comes again,
In slumber deep relaxing
The limbs of tired men.

And minds with anguish shaken,
And spirits racked with grief,
The cup of all forgetting
Have drunk and found relief.

The still Lethean waters
Now steal through every vein,
And men no more remember
The meaning of their pain.

Let, the weary body
Lie sunk in slumber deep.
The heart shall still remember
Christ in its very sleep.

Prudentius trans. Helen Waddell

To the Harbormaster

To the Harbormaster

I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks, it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

Frank O’Hara

Lines Written on Visiting a Scene in Argyleshire

Lines Written on Visiting a Scene in Argyleshire

At the silence of twilight’s contemplative hour,
I have mused in a sorrowful mood,
On the wind-shaken weeds that embosom the bower,
Where the home of my forefathers stood.
All ruined and wild is their roofless abode,
And lonely the dark raven’s sheltering tree:
And travelled by few is the grass-covered road,
Where the hunter of deer and the warrior trode
To his hills that encircle the sea.

Yet wandering, I found on my ruinous walk,
By the dial-stone agèd and green,
One rose of the wilderness left on its stalk,
To mark where a garden had been
Like a brotherless hermit, the last of its race,
All wild in the silence of nature, it drew,
From each wandering sun-beam, a lonely embrace,
For the night-weed and thorn overshadowed the place,
Where the flower of my forefathers grew.

Sweet bud of the wilderness! emblem of all
That remains in this desolate heart!
The fabric of bliss to its centre may fall,
But patience shall never depart!
Though the wilds of enchantment, all vernal and bright,
In the days of delusion by fancy combined
With the vanishing phantoms of love and delight,
Abandon my soul, like a dream of the night,
And leave but a desert behind.

Be hushed, my dark spirit! for wisdom condemns
When the faint and the feeble deplore;
Be strong as the rock of the ocean that stems
A thousand wild waves on the shore!
Through the perils of chance, and the scowl of disdain,
May thy front be unaltered, thy courage elate!
Yea! even the name I have worshipped in vain
Shall awake not the sigh of remembrance again:
To bear is to conquer our fate.

Thomas Campbell

The Welcome to Sack

Sack is a sort of strong, dry wine from Spain, popular in England during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Welcome to Sack


So soft streams meet, so springs with gladder smiles
Meet after long divorcement by the isles;
When love, the child of likeness, urgeth on
Their crystal natures to a union:
So meet stolen kisses, when the moony nights
Call forth fierce lovers to their wish’d delights;
So kings and queens meet, when desire convinces
All thoughts but such as aim at getting princes,
As I meet thee. Soul of my life and fame!
Eternal lamp of love! whose radiant flame
Out-glares the heaven’s Osiris, and thy gleams
Out-shine the splendour of his mid-day beams.
Welcome, O welcome, my illustrious spouse;
Welcome as are the ends unto my vows;
Aye! far more welcome than the happy soil
The sea-scourged merchant, after all his toil,
Salutes with tears of joy, when fires betray
The smoky chimneys of his Ithaca.
Where hast thou been so long from my embraces,
Poor pitied exile? Tell me, did thy graces
Fly discontented hence, and for a time
Did rather choose to bless another clime?
Or went’st thou to this end, the more to move me,
By thy short absence, to desire and love thee?
Why frowns my sweet? Why won’t my saint confer
Favours on me, her fierce idolater?
Why are those looks, those looks the which have been
Time-past so fragrant, sickly now drawn in
Like a dull twilight? Tell me, and the fault
I’ll expiate with sulphur, hair and salt;
And, with the crystal humour of the spring,
Purge hence the guilt and kill this quarrelling.
Wo’t thou not smile or tell me what’s amiss?
Have I been cold to hug thee, too remiss,
Too temp’rate in embracing? Tell me, has desire
To thee-ward died i’ th’ embers, and no fire
Left in this rak’d-up ash-heap as a mark
To testify the glowing of a spark?
Have I divorc’d thee only to combine
In hot adult’ry with another wine?
True, I confess I left thee, and appeal
‘Twas done by me more to confirm my zeal
And double my affection on thee, as do those
Whose love grows more inflam’d by being foes.
But to forsake thee ever, could there be
A thought of such-like possibility?
When thou thyself dar’st say thy isles shall lack
Grapes before Herrick leaves canary sack.
Thou mak’st me airy, active to be borne,
Like Iphiclus, upon the tops of corn.
Thou mak’st me nimble, as the winged hours,
To dance and caper on the heads of flowers,
And ride the sunbeams. Can there be a thing
Under the heavenly Isis that can bring
More love unto my life, or can present
My genius with a fuller blandishment?
Illustrious idol! could th’ Egyptians seek
Help from the garlic, onion and the leek
And pay no vows to thee, who wast their best
God, and far more transcendent than the rest?
Had Cassius, that weak water-drinker, known
Thee in thy vine, or had but tasted one
Small chalice of thy frantic liquor, he,
As the wise Cato, had approv’d of thee.
Had not Jove’s son,that brave Tirynthian swain,
Invited to the Thesbian banquet, ta’en
Full goblets of thy gen’rous blood, his sprite
Ne’er had kept heat for fifty maids that night.
Come, come and kiss me; love and lust commends
Thee and thy beauties; kiss, we will be friends
Too strong for fate to break us. Look upon
Me with that full pride of complexion
As queens meet queens, or come thou unto me
As Cleopatra came to Anthony,
When her high carriage did at once present
To the triumvir love and wonderment.
Swell up my nerves with spirit; let my blood
Run through my veins like to a hasty flood.
Fill each part full of fire, active to do
What thy commanding soul shall put it to;
And till I turn apostate to thy love,
Which here I vow to serve, do not remove
Thy fires from me, but Apollo’s curse
Blast these-like actions, or a thing that’s worse.
When these circumstants shall but live to see
The time that I prevaricate from thee.
Call me the son of beer, and then confine
Me to the tap, the toast, the turf; let wine
Ne’er shine upon me; may my numbers all
Run to a sudden death and funeral.
And last, when thee, dear spouse, I disavow,
Ne’er may prophetic Daphne crown my brow.

Convinces, overcomes.
Ithaca, the home of the wanderer Ulysses.
Iphiclus won the foot-race at the funeral games of Pelias.
Circumstants, surroundings.

Robert Herrick

Cousin Kate

Cousin Kate

I was a cottage maiden
Hardened by sun and air
Contented with my cottage mates,
Not mindful I was fair.
Why did a great lord find me out,
And praise my flaxen hair?
Why did a great lord find me out,
To fill my heart with care?

He lured me to his palace home –
Woe’s me for joy thereof-
To lead a shameless shameful life,
His plaything and his love.
He wore me like a silken knot,
He changed me like a glove;
So now I moan, an unclean thing,
Who might have been a dove.

O Lady kate, my cousin Kate,
You grew more fair than I:
He saw you at your father’s gate,
Chose you, and cast me by.
He watched your steps along the lane,
Your work among the rye;
He lifted you from mean estate
To sit with him on high.

Because you were so good and pure
He bound you with his ring:
The neighbors call you good and pure,
Call me an outcast thing.
Even so I sit and howl in dust,
You sit in gold and sing:
Now which of us has tenderer heart?
You had the stronger wing.

O cousin Kate, my love was true,
Your love was writ in sand:
If he had fooled not me but you,
If you stood where I stand,
He’d not have won me with his love
Nor bought me with his land;
I would have spit into his face
And not have taken his hand.

Yet I’ve a gift you have not got,
And seem not like to get:
For all your clothes and wedding-ring
I’ve little doubt you fret.
My fair-haired son, my shame, my pride,
Cling closer, closer yet:
Your father would give his lands for one
To wear his coronet.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

The Power of the Dog

Another by Kipling.

The Power of the Dog

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie —
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find — it’s your own affair —
But . . . you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit hat answered your every mood
Is gone — wherever it goes — for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept’em, the more do we grieve;

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long —
So why in — Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Rudyard Kipling

Awake, My Soul

Awake, my soul

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Thy precious time mispent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem ;
Improve thy talent with due care,
For the great day thyself prepare.

In conversation be sincere,
Keep conscience as the noon-tide clear :
Think how all-seing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

By influence of the light divine,
Let thy own light to others shine,
Reflect all heaven’s propitious rays,
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

I wake, I wake; ye heavenly choir,
May your devotion me inspire,
That I like you my age may spend,
Like you may on my God attend.

May I like you in God delight,
Have all day long my God in sight,
Perform like you my Maker’s will,
O may I never more do ill.

Had I your Wings, to Heaven I’d fly,
But God shall that defect supply,
And my Soul wing’d with warm desire,
Shall all day long to Heav’n aspire.

All praise to Thee who safe hast kept,
And hast refresh’d me whilst I slept.
Grant Lord, when I from death shall wake,
I may of endless Light partake.

I would not wake, nor rise again,
And Heav’n itself I would disdain ;
Were’t not Thou there to be enjoy’d,
And I in Hymns to be employ’d.

Heav’n is, dear Lord, where e’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart ;
For to my Soul, ’tis Hell to be,
But for one moment void of Thee.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew,
Disperse my sins as Morning dew,
Guard my first springs of Thought and Will,
And with Thy self my Spirit fill.

Direct, controul, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my Powers with all their might,
In Thy sole Glory may unite.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all Creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye Heavenly Host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Thomas Ken

Moonlight Memorandum

Moonlight Memorandum

Machines are no longer
slowly combing the red earth.

There is no one left to explain
the cones in my eyes to me.

I have been given my sentence
& it is not a long one

though it does include the word
quintessential which pleases me.

Accordingly, I am no relation
to the sky but to the mechanical

dragon wrapped in tissue paper
with plastic flames poking

through. I never told you
that if I were born a suitcase

I would want a trailer
with red curtains so I could

pretend to be a lion. But being
matter-of-fact is like a meatpie in

the pocket. It is the way to go.

Matthea Harvey

I have no idea what it means, but I like it.

The Waking

A quiet poem about noise.

The Waking
I strolled across
An open field;
The sun was out;
Heat was happy.

This way! This way!
The wren’s throat shimmered,
Either to other,
The blossoms sang.

The stones sang,
The little ones did,
And flowers jumped
Like small goats.

A ragged fringe
Of daisies waved;
I wasn’t alone
In a grove of apples.

Far in the wood
A nestling sighed;
The dew loosened
Its morning smells.

I came where the river
Ran over stones:
My ears knew
An early joy.

And all the waters
Of all the streams
Sang in my veins
That summer day.

Theodore Roethke

Sussex

Restarting my regular poetry posts. I’ve been reading more single-author collections lately, so they’ll likely be less variety, and I also might try to add some commentary on individual poems from time to time.

To begin again, a poem about home, which, as Kipling notes, ought to be loved even in its unlovableness.

Sussex

God gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Belovèd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
And see that it is good.
So one shall Baltic pines content,
As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
Before Levuka’s Trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea!

No tender-hearted garden crowns,
No bosomed woods adorn
Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs,
But gnarled and writhen thorn—
Bare slopes where chasing shadows skim,
And, through the gaps revealed,
Belt upon belt, the wooded, dim,
Blue goodness of the Weald.

Clean of officious fence or hedge,
Half-wild and wholly tame,
The wise turf cloaks the white cliff edge
As when the Romans came.
What sign of those that fought and died
At shift of sword and sword?
The barrow and the camp abide,
The sunlight and the sward.

Here leaps ashore the full Sou’west
All heavy-winged with brine,
Here lies above the folded crest
The Channel’s leaden line;
And here the sea-fogs lap and cling,
And here, each warning each,
The sheep-bells and the ship-bells ring
Along the hidden beach.

We have no waters to delight
Our broad and brookless vales—
Only the dewpond on the height
Unfed, that never fails—
Whereby no tattered herbage tells
Which way the season flies—
Only our close-bit thyme that smells
Like dawn in Paradise.

Here through the strong and shadeless days
The tinkling silence thrills;
Or little, lost, Down churches praise
The Lord who made the hills:
But here the Old Gods guard their round,
And, in her secret heart,
The heathen kingdom Wilfrid found
Dreams, as she dwells, apart.

Though all the rest were all my share,
With equal soul I’d see
Her nine-and-thirty sisters fair,
Yet none more fair than she.
Choose ye your need from Thames to Tweed,
And I will choose instead
Such lands as lie ’twixt Rake and Rye,
Black Down and Beachy Head.

I will go out against the sun
Where the rolled scarp retires,
And the Long Man of Wilmington
Looks naked toward the shires;
And east till doubling Rother crawls
To find the fickle tide,
By dry and sea-forgotten walls,
Our ports of stranded pride.

I will go north about the shaws
And the deep ghylls that breed
Huge oaks and old, the which we hold
No more than Sussex weed;
Or south where windy Piddinghoe’s
Begilded dolphin veers
And red beside wide-bankèd Ouse
Lie down our Sussex steers.

So to the land our hearts we give
Till the sure magic strike,
And Memory, Use, and Love make live
Us and our fields alike—
That deeper than our speech and thought,
Beyond our reason’s sway,
Clay of the pit whence we were wrought
Yearns to its fellow-clay.

God gives all men all earth to love,
But since man’s heart is small,
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
Beloved over all.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea!

Rudyard Kipling