The Moon

more selections from the Oxford Book of English Verse

The Moon

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I
AND, like a dying lady lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapp’d in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The mood arose up in the murky east,
A white and shapeless mass.

II
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

Advertisements

Dirge in the Woods

Continuing the recent poetry posting.

Dirge in the Woods
George Meredith

A wind sways the pines,
         And below
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
         And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
         Even we,
         Even so.
I’m not sure why all these poems are about death.  They were not all chosen in a single reading, not even a single month, and I’m not a particularly morbid person.  nevertheless…

Unwelcome

Another poem from the Oxford Book, Unwelcome by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (great grandniece of the more famous poet).

We were young, we were merry, we were very very wise,
And the door stood open at our feast,
When there passed us a woman with the West in her eyes,
And a man with his back to the East.

O, still grew the hearts that were beating so fast,
The loudest voice was still.
The jest died away on our lips as thy passed,
And the rays of July struck chill.

The cups of red wine turned pale on the board,
The white bread black as soot.
The hound forgot the hand of her lord,
She fell down at his foot.

Low let me lie, where the dead dog lies,
Ere I sit me down again at a feast,
When there passes a woman with the West in her eyes,
And a man with his back to the East.

St. Agnes’ Eve

I’ve been (very) slowly making my way through an old edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse, inspired by the fact that Patrick Fermor carried a copy with him on his journey through Europe.  Since I’ve stalled a bit on posts lately, I thought I’d highlight some of the poems that have caught my eye on my own trip through the book.  I have no ability to describe why these appeal to me, nor to detail their poetic merits, therefore, all will be offered with minimal commentary, though, reading them, there is perhaps a theme here.  The first, St. Agnes’ Eve, by Tennyson:

Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes;
May my soul follow soon!
The shadows of the convent-towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord:
Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soil’d and dark,
To yonder shining ground;
As this pale taper’s earthly spark,
To yonder argent round;
So shows my soul before the Lamb,
My spirit before Thee;
So in mine earthly house I am,
To that I hope to be.
Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro’ all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strows her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of Eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide—
A light upon the shining sea—
The Bridegroom with his bride!

Thoughts (Borrowed) While Overlooking a Mountain Valley in Peru

The Infinite

Always dear to me was this lonely hill,
And this hedgerow, which from many sides
Bars the gaze from the utmost horizon.
But sitting and looking out, endless
Spaces beyond that hedge, and superhuman
Silences, and profoundest quietude,
I in my mind forge for myself: where the heart
Is all but terrified.  And as I hear
the wind rustle beneath these plants,
That infinite silence to this voice I go on
To compare: and I recall the eternal,
And the dead seasons, and the present, living one,
And the sound of her. So in this
Immensity my thought drowns:
And shipwreck is sweet to me in this sea.

Giacomo Leopardi, Canti, 93
trans. Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests, 192

The Listeners, Walter de la Mare

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.
Wonderfully eerie.

Annunciation

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharged from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre –
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding, IV

Never Forget that the World is Beautiful

You, and I, should read more poetry.

Your thoughts don’t have words every day
They come a single time
Like signal esoteric sips
Of the communion Wine
Which while you taste so native seems
So easy so to be
You cannot comprehend its price
Nor its infrequency

Emily Dickinson, 1452

Never forget that the world is beautiful, nor that there is more to this world than the world.

If they but knew!  They’re steeped in luck, country people,
being far removed from grinds of war, where earth that’s just
showers them with all that they could ever ask for.
So what if he hasn’t a mansion with gates designed to impress
and callers traipsing in and out all morning long.
So what if there’s not rabble gawking at the entrance with its gaudy tortoiseshell veneer,
and tapestries with gold filigree, and bronzes plundered on a march to Corinth.
So what if their wool’s merely bleached and not stained with Assyrian dyes,
and the olive oil they use hasn’t been diluted with that tint of cinnamon —
no, what they have is the quiet life — carefree and no deceit —
and wealth untold — their ease among cornucopia,
with grottoes, pools of running water and valleys cool even in warm weather,
the sounds of cattle and sweet snoozes in the shade.
There are glades and greenwoods, lairs of game,
young men wed to meagre fare but born and built for work.
Here, too, is reverence for God and holy fathers, and it was here
that Justice left her final footprints as she was taking leave of earth.
And as for me, my most ardent wish is that sweet Poetry,
whose devotee I am, smitten as I’ve been with such commitment,
would open up to me the courses of the stars in heaven,
the myriad eclipses of the sun and phases of the moon,
whence come earthquakes, which are the reason deep seas surge
to burst their bounds before receding peacefully,
and are why winter suns dash to dip themselves into the ocean
and are what causes long nights to last and linger.

Virgil, Georgics, II.458-83

Excited to Read Dante Again

I saw a sun above a thousand lamps;
it kindled all of them as does our sun
kindle the sights above us here on earth;

and through its living light the glowing Substance
appeared to me with such intensity-
my vision lacked the power to sustain it.

O Beatrice, sweet guide and dear! She said
to me: “What overwhelms you is a Power
against which nothing can defend itself.

This is the Wisdom and the Potency
that opened roads between the earth and Heaven,
the paths for which desire had long since waited.”

Even as lightning breaking from a cloud,
expanding so that it cannot be pent,
against its nature, down to earth, descends,

so did my mind, confronted by that feast,
expand; and it was carried past itself-
what it became, it cannot recollect.

Paradiso, Canto XXIII (Mandelbaum)