(from) INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY FROM RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD (by William Wordsworth)

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

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HANK (by Cliff Yates)

for Brendan Cleary

Woke up this morning in Arizona,
a filling station on the highway,
under someone’s pick-up, dismantling the gearbox
which is a joke
because I’m the kind of bloke
who starts looking for the left-handed hammer.

My name is Hank, I smoke roll-ups,
call you ‘Bud’ and have a wife called Gloria
who hangs endless items of clothing
on the washing line out front
when she’s not in the kitchen
singing along to Country and Western
on the radio.

Men just turn up and say, ‘How’s it going Hank?’
I hammer repeatedly on the silencer
pretending I can’t hear,
hoping they will go away
and thinking, ‘Who the hell is this?
What does he know
about me that I don’t know?’

I inspected the washing, worked out
that we have eight children
between two and sixteen. Also,
judging from the patches
on the jeans and shirts
and the state of repair of the house,
we’re not rich. And, judging from the way
I’m going at this gear box with a monkey wrench,
not likely to be.

CROSSING THE BAR (by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

SAILING TO BYZANTIUM (by W. B. Yeats)

The other Yeats poem that I mentioned in my post yesterday: 

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is bgotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore have I sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

IN MY LAST LIFE I WAS A WOMAN (by James Munro)

“that little yard where I squatted in the dust”

In my last life I was a woman.
I lived in India. Uttar Pradesh.

Sometimes I still feel like
a woman who lives in Uttar Pradesh

speaks Hindi, worships Siva
and the local goddess, Lalita as Candika.

Her man went to the city, never came back.
My man. He died. No one told her but she knew.

Her two sons followed him. My sons. Me,
I never left the village. Hardly ever left

that little yard where I squatted in the dust
and ground the meal, thrusting away the hen –

The lurki – the name comes back –
that I would never kill. I never saw traffic, not like now, here,

crowded streets, traffic lights, people thrusting and swirling,
clucking like a thousand greedy hens

pouring down into the underground and onto the train
locked in and rocketing beneath the city like in a submarine.

I want to get out. I want to get back to
my Indian roots. Or my submarine roots.

I never saw the sea then, either,
except in my dreams. In my dreams

I was a fish.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS – A Glance at John Donne

This phrase, For Whom the Bell Tolls, kept coming into my head this morning while I was doing my yoga and, as happens, set off a train of thought …

It is, of course, the title of Hemingway’s great novel of the Spanish Civil War. If you haven’t read it, do. And while we’re on that subject, let me mention another unforgettable Spanish Civil War novel, Winter In Madrid, this one by a contemporary British author, C.J. Sansom.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway’s title, is a quotation from John Donne, the English poet and younger contemporary of William Shakespeare. Some think the character of Hamlet was at least partly based on Donne.

Now what Donne actually wrote was: Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

Donne was a great poet, one of the greatest in the English language, but these words do not come from a poem, they come from a sermon he delivered late in life when he was Dean of St Paul’s in the City of London. For Donne could not decide whether he was a bohemian poet – on the lines of the French poet Francois Villon – a lover of wine, women and song (which he was), or a devout Anglican priest  (which he became). No doubt a lot of soul-searching and vacillation went on  in The Mermaid Tavern and around the City and Southwark as he gradually gave up the former life-style and devoted himself to the latter. Soul-searching and vacillation which would have afforded Shakespeare and his fellow-actors and writers much amusement. And no one vacillates and soul-searches like Hamlet!

Those lines, as I say, do not come from a poem; but scan them:

Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

The first line is a perfect pentameter, and the whole is something Shakespeare would have been proud to have penned.

You can’t keep a great poet down.

But what did Donne mean?

Immediately before these lines comes another much quoted line: No man is an island entire unto himself …

What happens to one, happens to all.

This is not the cold and soulless, so-called scientific, world view. This is the world view of the visionary and mystic. The world view of our ancestors. The view that mind is primary, that matter is a function of  mind, not mind of matter. And minds are, mind is, interconnected. As above, so below. As here, so there. As then, so now.

The bell that Donne heard all those years ago across the roofs of the old city tolls for us.

* * *

I’ll post a couple of Donne’s poems (one of each!) tomorrow and Monday.

from THE FLOWER (by George Herbert)

This beautiful poem was written by George Herbert in 1633 and was described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as “a delicious poem.”

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing …

Truly delicious!

How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

* * *

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my onely light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.