Friday, August 29, 2008

We Loved Her Once

Robert Browning was a great poet, but the genius of his wife so far outshone his that he should have become Robert Browning Barrett rather than her Elizabeth Barrett Browning. At the time of their famous courtship and marriage, she was the far more admired poet, but he has since taken precidence in the public mind. Oh well.

Here, as promised, E. B. Browning gives us a different perspective on love than Housman did.

This version of the poem is from the 1853 edition of her collected poems, presumably revised from the 1844 edition. Whether she made further revisions to it in the eight years she lived afterward I do not know and the library is closed so I can't go look. I have seen it in somewhat varying versions but I do not know if they preceed or follow this version, nor if they indicate printers' follies. However I like this version better.


I classed, appraising once,
Earth's lamentable sounds, - the welladay,
The jarring yea and nay,
The fall of kisses on unanswering clay,
The sobbed farewell, the welcome mournfuller;
But all did leaven the air
With a less bitter leaven of sure despair
Than these words, 'I loved once.'

And who saith 'I loved once'?
Not angels, whose clear eyes, love, love, forsee,
Love through eternity,
Who, by To Love, do apprehend To Be.
Not God, called Love, his noble crown-name casting
A light too broad for blasting:
The great God changing not from everlasting,
Saith never, 'I loved once.'

Nor ever the 'Loved once'?
Dost THOU say Victim-Christ, misprized friend!
The cross and curse may rend;
But, having loved, thou lovest to the end!
It is man's saying, - man's. Too weak to move
One sphered star above,
Man desecrates the eternal God-word Love
With his No More and Once.

How say ye, 'We loved once,'
Blasphemers? Is your earth not cold enow,
Mourners, without that snow?
Ah, friends, and would ye wrong each other so?
And could ye say of some, whose love is known,
Whose prayers have met your own,
Whose tears have fallen for you, whose smiles have shone,
Such words, 'We loved them once'?

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'
Say calm of me, sweet friends, when out of sight?
When hearts of better right
Stand in between me and your happy light?
And when, as flowers kept too long in the shade,
Ye find my colors fade,
And all that is not love in me decayed?
Such words, - ye loved me once!

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'
Say cold of me, when further put away
In earth's sepulchral clay?
When mute the lips which depricate to-day?
Not so! Not then--least then! When Life is shriven,
And death's full joy is given,
Of those who sit and love you up in Heaven,
Say not 'We loved them once.'

Say never, ye loved once:
God is too near above, the grave, beneath,
And all our moments go
Too quickly past our souls, for saying so.
The mysteries of Life and Death avenge
Affections light of range.
There comes no change to justify that change,
Whatever comes, - Loved once!

And yet that word of once
Is humanly acceptive. Kings have said,
Shaking a discrowned head,
'We ruled once,' - dotards, 'We once taught and led;'
Cripples once danced i' the vines; and bards approved,
Were once by scornings, moved:
But love strikes one hour - LOVE! Those never loved
Who dream that they loved ONCE.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

'Tis True, 'Tis True

To continue yesterday's post, here are a couple of Housman's poems giving his take on love. Tomorrow I'll post a rebuttal to today's post, by E. B. Browning.


Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they'll say that I
Am quite myself again.


When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
'Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
'The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.


Along the field as we came by
A year ago, my love and I,
The aspen over stile and stone
Was talking to itself alone.
'Oh who are these that kiss and pass?
A country lover and his lass;
Two lovers looking to be wed;
And time shall put them both to bed,
But she shall lie with earth above,
And he beside another love.'

And sure enough beneath the tree
There walks another love with me,
And overhead the aspen heaves
Its rainy-sounding silver leaves;
And I spell nothing in their stir,
But now perhaps they speak to her,
And plain for her to understand
They talk about a time at hand
When I shall sleep with clover clad,
And she beside another lad.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lads That Will Never Be Old

If one were to make a list of the greatest works of literature in the history of the world, what would we find on that list? Certainly The Iliad and The Odyssey would be there. So would The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment would have to be included. Others might be Job and Isaiah and Lamentations from the Bible. I would include Moby Dick and Great Expectations although some others would not. The collected works of Basho, the wandering Haiku master had better make the list. Shakespeare would be there multiple times, with Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and MacBeth. Paradise Lost, certainly! There are many others, our list could go on and on. These are works that everyone should read, not out of duty, but for the joy and beauty they make available to us.

But how many of these have the average person read? These (and others that would be on such a list) are among the greatest literary works ever written, yet they are read so much more rarely than lesser works such as Stephen King novels, or John Grisham. One reason is that they seem forbidding. The size alone of many of them can be overwhelming. Until one gets some way into them one can be afraid that it will be work to finish. And then there is the fear of archaic words and of feeling dumb if we don't understand absolutely everything. We sometimes fear that a "great work" or a "classic" will be over our heads. Of course, nobody who has read them retains this fear. We all discover that the very reason they have become classics is that they are able to speak to us, normal people, in ways more powerful than lesser works can.

But there is another book that would make my list that fits none of these objections: A Shropshire Lad, by A. E. Housman. It is a very small book, less than 100 pages, with plenty of white space even then. Very few of its words will be difficult to anyone. "Mind" is used for "remember." A "jonquil" is a daffodil. But none of them require looking up because the context supplies what we need.

Housman is a poet. I say this because he is not a philosopher or a theologian. He is disoriented by death, and by love. He can't quite make them meet. He can't quite make them make sense in the same universe. He is puzzled by young men in their graves just at the time when they should be flirting with young women. But he is not a philosopher; if he were he would not be able to resist attempting to "explain" the meaning of death. He would try to make sense of love and death. A theologian would start with a doctrine of sin . . .

But the wisdom of Housman is that he instead spends his time being perplexed by death. It somehow doesn't fit. Seeing a young man from his country town going off to war, he puts the phrase, "Come you home a hero, or don't come home at all," into the mouths of the townspeople. He honors brave soldiers, but seems to somewhat envy the heroic slain. Yet in the same breath he seems to be asking what the rural English folk have to do with Egypt or Turkey that their young men are sent there to die. How incongruous it all is.

When the young men from outlying areas come into town for the county fair, his mind is again perplexed: "The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there, and there with the rest are the lads that will never be old." "I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell . . ."

While in the abstract a theologian can help us to better understand death, in particular instances of death (such as a parent, a child, a friend) understanding can prove a poor comfort. Even theology has its limits. With or without understanding, with or without faith, sadness remains, and fear and perplexity. And while I contemplate my own death, though there is little fear, there is still a strong sense that it doesn't quite make sense.

That is what Housman captures.


Twice a week the winter thorough
Here stood I to keep the goal:
Football then was fighting sorrow
For the young man's soul.

Now in Maytime to the wicket
Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
Trying to be glad.

Try I will; no harm in trying:
Wonder 'tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
On the bed of earth.


With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I've had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.


From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again.

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because 'tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.

Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we'll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night:
Themselves they could not save.

It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn's dead.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

'God save the Queen' we living sing,
From height to height 'tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you've been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

Tomorrow I will post a couple more from this book that deal with his parallel theme of the briefness of love. Then the next day I will post a wonderful counter-argument from Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Out of the Woods

Sidney Lanier managed to do just about everything, but nothing for long. He was a soldier in the Civil War, a teacher, a school administrator, a hotel clerk, a lawyer, a professional musician, ship's pilot, a prisoner of war, professor, and Anglo-Saxon scholar. And he did it all while caring for his wife and three kids and battling the tuberculosis that finally defeated him before he turned forty.

Add to the list a novel, books on scholarly topics, and the development of a theory of poetry based on musical notation. He may not have found his niche as far as a job went, seems to have changed careers every year or two, but he was no rambler like W. H. Davies. Consider the years of preparation required for many of his jobs, lawyer, professor, musician, etc. He must have been an intense man!

Yet his poems do not sound like the work of a man gnawed with fever to accomplish. They have a quiet meditative feel to them, more like one would expect from a recluse like Emily Dickinson or a peripatetic poet/teacher like Basho. He is one man I would like to know more about, for I can't reconcile what little I know of his life with the at-peace-with-the-world quality of his poems.

I would like to post the whole of The Marshes of Glynn, for it is a beauty, but for now I'll only post the ending stanza, along with a short poem.


And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep
Roll in on the souls of men,
But who will reveal to our waking ken
The forms that swim and the shapes that creep
Under the waters of sleep?
And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.


Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, forspent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.

Out of the woods my Master went,
And He was well content.
Out of the woods my Master came,
Content with death and shame.
When Death and Shame would woo Him last,
From under the trees they drew Him last:
'Twas on a tree they slew Him--last
When out of the woods He came.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Grass Blade's No Easier to Make than an Oak

A couple of thoughts from James Russell Lowell on the art of writing. He is thinking particularly of Ralph Waldo Emerson.


They're not epics, but that doesn't matter a pin,
In creating, the only hard thing's to begin;
A grass blade's no easier to make than an oak;
If you've once found the way, you've achieved the grand stroke;
In the worst of his poems are mines of rich matter,
But thrown in a heap with a crash and a clatter;
Now it is not one thing nor another alone
Makes a poem, but rather the general tone,
The something pervading, uniting the whole,
The before unconceived, unconceivable soul,
So that just in removing this trifle or that, you
Take away, as it were, a chief limb of the statue;
Roots, wood, bark, and leaves singly perfect may be,
But clapt hodge-podge together, they don't make a tree.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Prison Amusements

James Montgomery wrote some rather long poems. A few were travelogues, full of description of the landscape of places unfamiliar to most Londoners in the early 1800's. They were among his most popular during his lifetime, for much the same reason that the very long description of a bird's eye view of Paris was exciting to the first readers of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. They gave great opportunity to expand and alter the way one viewed the world. But for just this reason they bore us, to us the West Indies, Pelican Islands, and Greenland do not seem any more exotic than seeing a picture of Paris taken from an airplane does. Pretty maybe, but I'm not eager to read thirty pages (double collumned) of it.

He also wrote a good deal of religious verse some of which was used in teaching children for many years. Some of it is very good, but not so much that we would remember his name almost two hundred years later.

What shines out now is what was largely ignored during his lifetime: his poems drawing attention to the evils of his society, and his poems written from prison.

The former focussed on the evils of slavery, both negro and orphan slavery that flourished in his day. His poems on the evils of the slave trade, largely ignored by the masses, were a goad that helped to motivate the Christian church to support Wilberforce in his very long fight to outlaw the English slave trade in her colonies. Lesser known is that Montgomeries poems also drew a great deal of attention to how very evil was the white slavery practiced on orphans in London. His CLIMBING BOY SOLILOQUIES gave detailed accounts of what it was like to be a chimney sweep, climbing up from the bottom with the fire still going below you. They generally died very young, but if they didn't they were cast out by their owners to starve as soon as they were too big to climb chimneys. His poems began a crusade that ended in the outlawing of the practice and in the establishment of homes for such children.

But it is his PRISON AMUSEMENTS as he called them that I will quote from here. They are Montgomery at his least pretensious, and most endearing.


Welcome, pretty little stranger!
Welcome to my lone retreat!
Here, secure from every danger,
Hop about, and chirp, and eat:
Robin! how I envy thee,
Happy child of Liberty!

Now, though tyrant Winter, howling,
Shakes the world with tempests round,
Heaven above with vapours scowling,
Frost imprisons all the ground;
Robin! what are these to thee?
Thou art blessed with liberty.

Though you fair majestic river
Mourns in solid icy chains,
Though you flocks and cattle shiver
On teh desolated plains;
Robin! thou art gay and free,
Happy in thy liberty.

Hunger never shall distress thee
While my cates one crumb afford;
Cold nor cramps shall ne'er oppress thee;
Come and share my humble board:
Robin! come and live with me,
Live--yet still at liberty.

Soon shall Spring in smiles and blushes
steal upon the blooming year;
Then, amid the enamour'd bushes,
Thy sweet song shall warble clear:
Then shall I, too, join with thee,
Swell the Hymn of LIberty.

Should some rough unfeeling Dobbin,
In this iron-hearted age,
Seize thee on they nest, my Robin!
And confine thee in a cage,
Then, poor prisoner! think of me,
Think--and sigh for liberty.

Where Are You Pointing?

In Covenant and Community I make a case for understanding God's image not as any part of the blueprint by which God designed us. God's image is not in us. Nowhere. Rather God's image is the purpose for which we were made, the role that we play in the universe and beyond, and the plan toward which God is bringing us in Christ.

But others see it differently. The different locations for God's image in the poem below are all proposals from eminent theologians. Most of them I respect highly in general but disagree with on this question.

Written slightly in imitation of William Cowper and presented with no serious disrespect intended.

Where Are You Pointing?
or I Can’t See It Yet

God built his image into man
The theologians say
Thus his inscrutibeautiful self
In skin and bone display.

But where in us this image lies
They never can decide;
Is it in your gorgeous eyes?
Or hidden deep inside?

Is it our brains, which think like his
And make us good/bad seeing?
He surely would be proud that we
His conscience are displaying.

Or that we on our hind legs stand
And gaze into the sky
Longing for the land from which
Our spirits Hellward fly.

Or that we do in part excel
The kingdom animalia
And plan our murders in advance
A fiendish foreordalia?

Perhaps we show his image in
Our most angelic parts,
Omnipotentest sovereignty
Unveiled in shriveled hearts.

Or was it only once in us?
We left its shards in Eden?
And now for blood to glue them back
The Spirit’s intercedin’?

God dropped his image into man
His drop into our ocean?
Or wiped it on and rubbed it in:
Our holy suntan lotion?

God built his image into man,
But where, we are not sure!
It seems to me the teachers have
The cart the horse before.

Stand and Stare

Having ridden my thumb extensively when a younger man, I am proud to post a poem from a child of the road.

W.H. Davies was a wanderer. He was a tramp and a hitchhiker and a train jumper. He was a hobo of the old school, working on cattle boats to come to America, jumping a train and riding off to new places. And along the way he took the time to notice the wonder of all that was around him, both the people and the environment.

He was infatuated with the romance of his lifestyle, and wrote four or five autobiographies, each time catching up to the point in his travels at which he was writing. And along the way he wrote poems, twenty-some books full of them, including even the Tramps Opera in Three Acts.


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Final Exam, American Lit

Cleaning out my storage in my "My Documents" folder in the computer I came across the final exam that I gave to the kids (ages 12-18) at the end of a year of reading American Literature. Their job was to tell me the author and the name of the piece (story, poem, essay, etc) for each quote. As I recal, no one missed more than two authors, but it is more difficult to name the source of the quote. How many can you name? I admit that even having taught the class I had to look up two of the authors names just now.

I know this is very unfair to my non-American friends. Sorry! I'll make it up to you soon.

1 A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

2 “Don’t know how old you are? Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Who was your mother?” “Never had none!” said the child, with another grin. “Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you born?” “Never was born!” persisted Topsy.

3 “All right then, I’ll go to hell”−and I tore it up. It was awful thought, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.

4 Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while the used key is always bright.

5 Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known. The dog sat facing him and waiting. The brief day drew to a close in a long, slow twilight.

6 Two roads diverged in a wood, and I−I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

7 She put her arms under her head and lay back, looking up at the sky. “If I live here, like you, that is different. Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.”

8 If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were loved by wife, then thee; If ever wife was happy in a man, compare with me, ye women, if you can.

9 “Why do you tremble at me alone?" cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. "Tremble also at each other.”

10 'tis strange that an Indian should understand white sounds better than a man who, his very enemies will own, has no cross in his blood, although he may have lived with the red skins long enough to be suspected!

11 There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of, there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

12 were we lead all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

13 So on we worked, and waited for the light, and went without the meat, and cursed the bread; and Richard Cory, one calm summer night, went home and put a bullet through his head.

14 Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code. In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.

15 “I” is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be We, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer to the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but fine.

16 Because I could not stop for Death−He kindly stopped for me−The Carriage held but just Ourselves−And Immortality.

17 And if this had been all, it had been less, though too much; but the church must also be divided, and those that had lived so long together in Christian and comfortable fellowship must now part and suffer many divisions. And this I fear will be the ruin of New England, at least of the churches of God there, and will provoke the Lord’s displeasure against them.

18 These are the Wants of mortal Man, I cannot want them long, For life itself is but a span, and earthly bliss a son, My last great Want−absorbing all− Is, when beneath the sod, And summoned to my final call, The Mercy of my God.

19 The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.

20 I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea; but we loved with a love that was more than love− I and my Annabel Lee−with a love that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted her and me.

21 Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

22 The murmur of the pine’s green branches is in her ears, she remembers how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sea and the morning together, and Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away.

23 "They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions," said Atticus, "but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

24 I suppose I shall have to go back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!

25 All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event-- in the living act, the undoubted deed-- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing put forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is the wall, shoved near to me.

26 What matter how the night behaved? What matter how the northwind raved? Blow high, blow low, not all its snow could quench our hearthfire’s ruddy glow.

27 That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom−and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

28 O Thou who made those heroes dare To die, and leave their children free, --Bid Time and Nature gently spare The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

29 So live, that when thy summons comes to join the innumerable caravan, that moves to the pale realms of shade, where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death, thou go not, like the quarry slave at night, scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.

30 We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights.

31 Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land, taught my benighted soul to understand that there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too.

32 The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour.

Rather Stranger Than the Rest

John Clare spent thirty of his seventy years in an asylum, leaving his family destitute. It also left him cut off from those whom he loved, abandoned, alone. The line below, "And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest" is wrenching. It points to the frightened realization that the people who had been dearest to him have now become strangers, even stranger to him than these strange lunatics (he calls them shadows) with whom he is incarcerated.

"I Am" underlines much of what I meant to express in my posts about prisons/asylums/nursing homes. The next two poems are included just because they are lovely! He wrote these all while living in Northampton County Asylum.

I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost'
And yet I am, and live with shadows tost.

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.


The fir trees taper into twigs and wear
The rich blue green of summer all the year,
Softening the roughest tempest almost calm
And offering shelter even still and warm
To the small path that towels underneath,
Where loudest winds--almost as summer's breath--
Scarce fan the weed that lingers green below,
When others out of doors are lost in frost and snow.
And sweet the music trembles on the ear
As the wind suthers through each tiny spear,
Makeshifts for leaves; and yet, so rich they show,
Winter is almost summer where they grow.

Evening Primrose

When once the sun sinks in the west,
And dew-drops pearl the evening's breast,
Almost as pale as moonbeams are,
Or its companionable star,
The evening primrose opes anew
Its delicate blossoms to the dew;
And, shunning-hermit of the light,
Wastes its fair bloom upon the night,
Who, blindfold to its fond caresses,
Knows not the beauty she possesses.
Thus it blooms on till night is by
And day looks out with open eye,
Abashed at the gaze it cannot shun,
It faints and withers, and is done.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Discarded Sock

Cui Jian is a Chinese rock star, and a really great singer. I would post the lyrics to one of his songs here, but I can't understand them at all. So instead here is a poem that mentions him.

The Discarded Sock

as the delicate dandelion shoves the rock aside seeking her father the sun
as Cui Jian chops soft Chinese words so short and crisp, like cabbage for eggrolls
as the butterfly’s fragile wings rip open the womb cocoon of strong parachute thread
as the soft light of dawn sneaks silent through the crack in the door, piercing my lids with its fire

so is our love, so delicately held out on quivering fingers, eyes not daring to meet eyes
so soft, uncertain, seen and unseen − faerie-like, seeming little more than the breath of a word
yet breathing life into dust, making soldiers weep like babies, making babies into men,
binding Sampsons, shaven, eyes gouged, lashing them to threshing machines

yet the dandelion that shoves the rock is soft and tart on the little lamb’s tongue
and Cui Jian’s words, both sweet and sour, are pleasant nonsense to my ear
and if the merest thorn touch the butterfly’s wing it will fly in circles ‘til it dies
and a discarded sock pulled over my eyes will foil all the morning’s maneuvers

so our love, so soft and strong, the mighty tremulous conquering cowering
death dealing, life giving, theme of all Shakespeare all poems all scripture
is brought to nothing by the merest turn of the head, the slightest of shrugs
brought down by the inattentive sigh on the other end of the line

Reason and Imagination

Jacob Douvier claims that "Good rhetoric ought to appeal to good reason. Bad rhetoric rests on emotional manipulation."

Hmm, sounds too simplistic to me, and too mechanical. Here is how I responded to him.

While I agree in part I am uneasy about juxtaposing reason and emotion. True, you qualify it as manipulation, but would you go on to say that pure appeals to emotion are intrinsically manipulative? From what you say I would guess that you are more comfortable with Paul's letter to the Romans than with the extravagantly emotional Psalms of David or of Korah's sons.

I am glad that you use the word "reason" rather than "logic," but still I would maintain that good rhetoric is generally rife with emotion and with imagery. Its roots in the speaker and its fruit in the hearer lie more in the imagination than in logic.

No one ever made any great decision based on logic. Are you married? Did you marry because logic convinced you that it was in your best interest to marry, and to marry that particular woman? No, of course not. Your imagination carried you away as you played with all of the possibilities that such a marriage might open up.

So it is always: the imagination plays with possibilities and we find ourselves convinced of what we must do. Did Jesus appeal only to reason? Did he not paint word pictures of life and death, of life in the Kingdom, death without? And weren't these blatantly appeals to the listeners' imaginations and their emotions?

Of course, a wise imagination must be tutored by reason and accurate information. Imagination must study. Imagination without reason is folly. But reason alone will never make a decision, it will never be a hero, it will never bear children.Good rhetoric is reasonable, emotional, imaginative, honest and passionate.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spotted Teeth and Lepers Cleansed

John Collop wrote in the mid 1600's what I think to be one of the greatest prayer poems outside of the Bible. Its halting, jumping, eager rush and fearful stop perfectly reflect the tears with which he calls out to his God.

The tone, intimacy and vehemence, and the writhing/evolving pace of the poem put one in mind of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Francis Thompson, but it is almost certain that neither of them ever read him (very unlikely they read each other either, although it is slightly possible that Hopkins late in his life may have read some Thompson). Collop simply wasn't known during their lifetimes. In fact he wasn't known in his own lifetime.

He was a doctor and many of his poems are medical lessons set to verse. Rather dull! Others are a mockery of the fashion of writing poems in praise of beautiful women; ie, "There is a garden in your face where roses and white lillies grow. . ."


The wiseman Teeth call'd flocks of sheep;
Sure Jacob's speckled flocks here keep.
Where teeth are checker'd black and white,
Nay gilt too to inrich delight:
Her mouth ope, you at Chesse may play,
With teeth resembling night and day.
Each fondling reach will praise what's white;
Is there in Choak such strange delight?
Give me the mouth like th' Temple floor,
With speckled Marble paved o're,
Or oh more rich in gold thus set,
A row of pearl then one of jet.

Still other of Collop's poems are diatribes against the state of politics or the state of the Church. These are really a mixed bag, sometimes pointed and sharp, witty jabs with his pen, sometimes they descend into what seems to be juvenile name calling.

But in his personal religious verse he shines.


Hear, Lord, hear
The rhetoric of a tear.
Hear, hear my breast;
While I knock there, Lord, take no rest.

Open! ah, open wide!
Thou art the door, Lord! Open! hide
My sin; a spear once entered at thy side.

See! ah, see
A Naaman's leprosy!
Yet here appears
A cleansing Jordan in my tears.

Lord, let the faithless see
Miracles ceased, revive in me.
The leper cleansed, blind healed, dead raised by thee.

Whither! ah, whither shall I fly?
To heaven? my sins, ah, sins there cry!
Yet mercy, Lord, O mercy! hear
Th'attoning incense of my prayer.
A broken heart thou'lt not despise.
See! see a contrite's sacrifice!

Keep, keep, vials of wrath, keep still!
I'll vials, Lord, of odors fill:
Of prayers, sighs, groans, and tears a shower;
I'll 'noint, wash, wipe, kiss, wash, wipe, weep.
My tears, Lord, in thy bottle keep,
Lest flames of lust, and fond desire,
Kindle fresh fuel for thine ire,
Which tears must quench; like Magdalene
I'll wash thee, Lord, till I be clean.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Prison Walls

Just a short postscript to the post a few days ago about prisons.

Paul says that Jesus destroyed the "dividing wall" between Jews and Gentiles. Or as the NET translation has it, "For he is our peace, the one who turned both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition . . . He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace . . ." Eph 2:14-15. He seems to be talking about Jews and Gentiles, but then he turns immediately to using the same figure to refer to the bringing together of humanity and God. Jesus came to draw us together, and together to draw us to himself and with himself to draw us to his Father. In Collosians the analogy is extended from Jew/Gentile, to circumcised/uncircumcised, barbarian/Scythian, slave/free. All walls come down in Christ. Jesus came to destroy the walls that separate us.

You will say, "But there is still a wall between saved and unsaved; all of those walls only come down for those who are in Christ." Yes, but don't be so content in that answer! Jesus died to destroy such barriers, shouldn't we also be more than eager to see them fall? On the night before his crucifiction when Jesus prayed so fervently for his disciples, what exactly did he pray for? The heart of his prayer was that his disciples (which includes us) would be one as he and his Father are one. He came to earth and went to the cross to make us one. To give us a life that mirrored the unity of the three who are one. To make us one as they are one. That is a big thought!

That is the goal toward which God was working from before creation, and toward which he is still bringing us. It will be fulfilled when he brings us, as a single bride, to the wedding feast. The barriers between us are all to be destroyed.

So what does this have to do with prisons? As I said in the earlier post, the function of prisons is primarily to insulate us from some of the unpleasant realities of life. In this way they are similar to nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals. Of course this is not the only purpose of any of them. They each to some measure attempt to help those in their care. But their primary function in society seems to me to be protecting the comfort of those who are not in them.

I am far from ready to open the prison doors and let everyone out, but I am getting less and less comfortable with the complacency with which we allow and aid society in separating us all further and further. I don't know what the answer is, but it seems that we are just finding an easy way to get out of actually being our brother's keeper. We are reinforcing walls when Jesus died to obliterate walls.

I don't have the answers. But I am uneasy.

Francis Thompson at Bay

Francis Thompson never became the priest that he had hoped to become when still a young man. One wonders how things might have played out if his father had not insisted that Francis train to follow in his footsteps as a physician. Thompson failed the exam three times, probably on purpose, or at least by not trying. Then he moved to London.

There he found little he could do, and he sank into abject poverty and drug addiction. The addiction was likely started by prescriptions during an illness, but it plagued him for years. Homeless, jobless, nearly naked and starving almost to the point of death on the cold wet streets of London, he was rescued by a prostitute.

In her room he began to write. He sent some poems to a paper and was immediately accepted. But the problem was, where was his payment to be sent? The editor's search for Thompson is one of the legends of literary history. "A genius greater than Milton is among us, and nobody knows his address!" he exclaimed in an editorial.

The following is excerpts from The Hound of Heaven. He wrote this while in drug rehab to which the editor sent him when he finally located Thompson. It is a longish poem, slightly less than half is here presented. This is the first section and then the end, when the Hound brings its quarry to bay. I have omitted the middle section of the quarry fleeing from hiding place to hiding place, finding them all unsuited and useless to him.

If you find unfamiliar words, don't bother looking them up. Many are archaic, or even Middle English. Others are simply words that Thompson invented himself. But that presents no difficulty at all, in the magic of the poem. The sense is carried over the obscurity of some of the words by the flow of the poem.


I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat -- and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet --
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of his approach would clash it to:
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
. . .
Naked I wait Thy Love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years--
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must--
Designer infinite!--
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
"And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest me!
"Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught" (He said),
"And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited--
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Typical Cowper

Having posted a poem that seems very out of character for William Cowper, I will now post a poem in which we hear the voice of the man much more distinctly. This is Cowper at his Cowperest.

"Ouse" is a river near Olney along which Cowper used to take his walks.


The poplars are felled, farewell to the shade,
And the whispering sound of the cool colonnade;
The winds play no longer and sing in the leaves,
Nor Ouse on his bosom their image receives.

Twelve years have elaps'd, since I last took a view
Of my favorite field, and the bank where they grew;
And now in the grass behold they are laid,
And the tree is my seat, that once lent me shade.

The blackbird has fled to another retreat,
Where the hazels afford him a screen from the heat,
And the scene, where his melody charm'd me before,
Resounds with his sweet-flowing ditty no more.

My fugitive years are all hasting away,
And I must ere long lie as lowly as they,
With a turf on my breast, and a stone at my head,
Ere another such grove shall arise in its stead.

The change both my heart and my fancy employs,
I reflect on the frailty of man, and his joys;
Short-lived as we are, yet our pleasures, we see,
Have a still shorter date, and die sooner than we.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cowper the Revolutionary?

William Cowper is now probably mostly remembered for his comic poem "John Gilpin's Ride." Early on though, it was "Task," his epic poem of the evolution of the sofa--from stools into hardbacked chairs into the sitting room sofa--that was most admired.

Although technically Cowper preceeds the Romantic era, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Blake were all infatuated with him, Task in particular, during the years that they were working out the style that would eventually be collectively called Romantic. And one hears echoes of Cowper in some of the work of each of them. In fact William Blake published his own edition of the poetical works of William Cowper, complete with his own engravings.

Together with his pastor and close friend John Newton, he wrote an entire hymnal: the Ulney Hymnal. At the outset they were to be equal partners in the work. But when Cowper fell into a depression for a few years and failed to complete more than a handful of hymns, John Newton took up the slack and wrote most of Cowper's allotment for the hymnal. This was very much in character for each of them.

From that hymnal very few are now used, but you may have sung "Amazing Grace" (Newton) a time or two, and maybe even "God Works in a Mysterious Way" (Cowper). Though rarely now sung, the hymnal is an exquisite testimony to the passionate faith and friendship of these two extraordinary men.

So shy that, having studied years to become a lawyer, he was unable to complete the final step of an oral examination. When he attempted to stand in front of an audience his mind collapsed and he became quite literally mad, nearly dying from the experience. His recovery from the episode took years, and it was never really complete. Moving from London to a country town to avoid crowds, we was addicted to long lonely walks in the drizzly English countryside and to his private sitting room. There he would paint and write. And be alone. Very quiet and physically soft, I can not picture him even holding a dirty rock, let alone throwing it through a window.

Written while England was losing the war to her American colonies, the poem that follows is, I think, the most uncharacteristic poem that could be presented in terms of violent sentiment, yet it is entirely Cowper in sound and feel. And the love of freedom is also entirely Cowper. It must have been somewhat controversial, maybe even illegal, to write such a thing during the war.


Rebellion is my theme all day;
I only wish 'twould come
(As who knows but perhaps it may!)
A little nearer home.

Yon roaring boys, who rave and fight
On t'other side th'Atlantic,
I always held them in the right,
But most so when most frantic.

When lawless mobs insult the court,
That man shall be my toast,
If breaking windows be the sport,
Who bravely breaks the most.

But O! for him my fancy culls
The choicest flow'rs she bears,
Who constitutionally pulls
Your house about your ears.

Such civil broils are my delight,
Though some folks can't endure them,
Who say the mob are mad outright,
And that a rope must cure them.

A rope! I wish we partiots had
Such strings for all who need 'em--
What! hang a man for going mad!
Then farewell British freedom.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bucketfuls of Experience

Most of my reading in the past month has been in philosophy, pleasant in its way, but since some of the books were rather difficult I decided to switch gears for a moment to catch my breath before beginning the last few on my list. So I am re-reading Mykhalo Osadchy's CATARACT. It is the account of his arrest, trial and imprisonment for the crime of reading an article written in his native tongue of Ukranian. The "internationalist" policy at the time required those in all Soviet lands to use Russian.

Despite the horror of the situation, his account so wonderfully mocks the mediocrity of a system that imprisons poets that the whole tenor of the book is uplifting rather than depressing. One comes away outraged at the powers, but thoroughly encouraged by the persistence of beauty even in brutality and squalor and rotten cabbage soup.

In the following episode he relates the reaction of the Jewish/Russian poet Yuli Daniel to a vicious mauling by a group of guards.

"They're afraid I'll complain and they'll get hell. They think I'll complain." Daniel is cradling his injured hand on his breast. "Those cowards are afraid. They couldn't control the animal that's inside them. It would be ridiculous to go and complain. I have suffered, but I will bear my pain alone. I don't want to lessen it with a pitiful gesture of revenge. The pain will go away the way your love for a woman goes away when you find her in bed with another man. I need this pain as much as I need those odd zeks [prisoners] who ask me to recite poetry and who doze off when I begin to read. Laughter in paradise. I'll be free someday, and I don't want to come out empty-handed. I'd rather be carrying two bucketfuls of experience when I meet people."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

American Prisons

Taking numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and from the US Census Bureau, I calculate that more than 1.4% of males in the US are sleeping tonight in small smelly cells. If we assume that the vast majority of those are 18 years old or over (which may not be a valid assumption), that would lead us to a figure of between 1.75% and 1.8% of adult males in the US being locked down.

Sound bad?

US population is growing at about .9% each year. Prison population growth ranges between 1.8% (2007) and 2.7% (2005) in recent years, and 2.6% on average since 2000. In other words the incarcerated population is growning 2 to 3 times as fast as the total population.

Is that a problem?

I'm no mathmetician, but it seem clear that if this continues, at some point the whole of the US population will be behind bars.

Should we be worried?

According to the US Department of Justice, more than 2/3 of those released from prison are back behind bars (prison or jail) within three years. So should we just not release them? If we didn't, then the number behind bars would also include those currently on parole and probation, putting it somewhere over 8% of the US population.


Does the system of imprisoning criminals work? Does it reduce crime? Is it really a deterrent beforehand? Does it discourage repeat crimes? It used to seem to. But one begins to wonder whether that seeming was really an illusion. Perhaps there were other even stronger motives in the past that helped keep people out of prison, motives that are less strong today, such as fear of embarrassing one's family, fear of God, a sense of social responsibility.

But it would be totally inauthentic to ask this question just from the perspective of what criminals do to get into the justice system. How have those of us who are on the outside stood by while our incarceration industry grows to double our military, more than triples our postal service? I suspect that most of us don't much care about prisons or prisoners as long as they are kept out of our way.

The purpose (and danger) of prisons is not much different than that of nursing homes. They insulate the rest of us from some of the unpleasant aspects of life. But we may be too well insulated, from the ill, the aging, the insane, and from our criminal brothers.

We have built such a fine complex of prisons, nursing homes, mental health facilities, etc., that we no longer need to be told to love our enemies. We need to be taught to love our friends and family.

They might be murderers, but they are still our brothers and we are still our brother's keeper. In some way we remain responsible for them and to them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Hope Deferred

After her death, Christina Rossetti's brother wrote an introduction for a collected volume of her works. In it he made a statement that has been often quoted, and that I think is entirely wrong. He said that her poetry is often morbid. This, together with his assessment that she was Roman Catholic at heart, has led me to think that while he knew his sister, he had little understanding of her faith.

He is quite right that her poems deal extensively with the subject of death, and they continue in this vein for around five decades. Not that death is her only, or even her main topic, but it does pop up more often in her works than in most writers of her time period.

But consider her life and faith. As a child she became very ill and was periodically confined to bed for months at a time. From this illness neither she nor her doctors expected her to recover. Religious before her illness, it was during her illness that the future hope of life in Christ became absolutely focal in her mind. While her body largely recovered (although she remained weak and somewhat sickly for the next fifty years) she herself was unwilling to give up the comfort that she had found in keeping the future life always before her. To a large extent she felt that recovery had robbed her of the goal that she had almost reached; it had shut the door (temporarily) on her foot that had been eagerly stepping into eternity.

Was she imperfectly satisfied with life here and now? Yes, absolutely. But it was not a morbid desire for death, a desire to "end it all" as people dramatically say. It was much more a longing for what she saw as the true beginning of life. And for her the door to that real life, life with Jesus in a world of no more illness or pain, the door to that was death here. So, yes, she longed fervently for her own death. That sounds morbid, but when understood in the context of her life, her faith and her poetry I think it is actually very far removed from morbidity.

She lived constantly in the hope of finally gaining what for now was to her a hope deferred.

Now I confess that I have some problems with a life so utterly focussed on the future that the present loses its own peculiar glory. And this does indeed appear to have been the case with Rossetti, at least intermittently.

However, I think most of us do much worse than to have the radiance of heaven outshining our desires here and now.

And her future focus did not hold her back from working here and now, for she devoted herself to helping prostitutes regain their lives. She wrote prolifically in more different styles than any other writer of her time, including even a commentary on the book of Revelation (is that the first by a woman?). And despite being rather bashful she was very social and was at the center of a very large body of friends. So her life was not simply a waiting to die. She eagerly anticipated the inauguration to life that lay through her own death. Meanwhile, she lived.


Treasure plies a feather,
Pleasure spreadeth wings,
Taking flight together,-
Ah! my cherished things.

Fly away, poor pleasure,
That art so brief a thing:
Fly away, poor treasure,
That hast so swift a wing.

Pleasure, to be pleasure,
Must come without a wing:
Treasure, to be treasure,
Must be a stable thing.

Treasure without feather,
Pleasure without wings,
Elsewhere dwell together
And are heavenly things.


Who would wish back the saints upon our rough
Wearisome road?
Wish back a breathless soul
Just at the goal?
My soul, praise God
For all dear souls which have enough.

I would not fetch one back to hope with me
A hope deferred,
To taste a cup that slips
From thirsting lips:-
Hath he not heard
And seen what was to hear and see?

How could I stand to answer the rebuke
If one should say:
"O friend of little faith,
Good was my death,
And good my day
Of rest, and good the sleep I took"?


Why should I call Thee Lord, Who art my God?
Why should I call Thee Friend, Who art my Love?
Or King, Who art my very Spouse above?
Or call Thy Sceptre on my heart Thy rod?
Lo, now Thy banner over me is love,
All heaven flies open to me at Thy nod:
For Thou hast lit Thy flame in me a clod,
Made me a nest for dwelling of Thy Dove.
What wilt Thou call me in our home above,
Who now hast called me friend? how will it be
When Thou for good wine settest forth the best?
Now Thou dost bid me come and sup with Thee,
Now Thou dost make me lean upon Thy breast:
How will it be with me in time of love?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins only published a couple of poems during his lifetime. Perhaps they would not have found a home in many publications because they were so far out of the ordinary. Some people say that he was fifty years ahead of his time, a Modern poet before Modernism had arrived.

Much of it is difficult to read. One does not skim through a Hopkins poem. "Light," "playful," and "funny" are words that have never been used in any review of his poems. Yet, if light is taken not as fluffyness but as brilliance, then there is in many of his poems a blinding glare that startles us as it pierces through between the words. It is the glare as "the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."

And there is a joyful freedom and playfulness throughout his poetry. It is far from the goofiness of Edward Lear or Shel Silverstien; it is not childish, though in a way it is childlike. Hopkins plays extravagantly with sounds (as young children also do), mixing them up and turning them around. And his verse is heavy with alliteration, taking it to new extremes never before seen and never since done successfully. "Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind Off hér once skéined stained véined variety."

And while the word funny does not describe his poems, there is in them what would once have been called "Wit." It is difficult to describe how it comes about, but often in reading them they evoke a warm mother's-arms glow. They give a sense that although all is not right in the world, still all is right beyond the world and that beyond the world is where we really live , despite appearances to the contrary.

Yet don't take that to mean that they exalt the "spiritual" and denegrate the "physical." Far from it! His poems are extremely physical, in their themes, images, and even in the work to which he puts our tongues, teeth and vocal cords in trying to read them aloud. Hopkins exulted in the meat and dirt of our earthly lives, but in it all he saw sparkles of more than an earthly sun.

His poem Inversnaid contains all of the elements: brilliant light, playfulness, wit, and the glory of the physical.


THIS darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.