Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Angels Keep Their Ancient Places

Homeless, friendless, hopelessly addicted to opium, half naked in the cold rain of a London night as he tried to sleep on a bench beside the Thames, Francis Thompson was perhaps not an uncommon sight either then or now. But who that saw him could have guessed what brilliance his bloodshot eyes beheld as he lay there staring through his tears out over the river?


O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The One Who Is Dirty

I came across the following story while doing research for a story I'm working on. I love the way the Talmud scholar answers questions with questions that seem to not bear on the initial question. Jesus did the same, many times, though he praised the answers he got as often as he knocked them down.

A goy insisted that a Talmudist explain to him what the Talmud was. The sage finally consented and asked the goy the following question:

"Two men climb down a chimney.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Imparadis't In One Another's Arms

John Milton was a poet first and last, with lots of other things in the middle, such as making enemies in the government, in the Church, and among the normal work-a-day folk. He was such a man of opinions, and he seemed bound to express them all no matter what their reception would be.

But his big work was always poetry. Yet he did not rush into the work of being a poet. After college he dedicated six years to concentrated study in preparation for writing, and then he continued studying heavily for the rest of his life. And Paradise Lost, his greatest work, was decades in the preparation

Sunday, December 7, 2008

They Don't Know How To Rest

The Men that Don’t Fit In
by Robert Service

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Trail Has Its Own Stern Code

The Cremation of Sam McGeeby Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Send Not Your Foolish And Feeble

Snow is falling, making me think of Alaska and the wonders that are there. It is a great land: mountains, rivers, whales and eagles. It is a violent land, with bears, huge storms and more bars than churches. In fact, when I lived in Kodiak there were about thirty bars and two churches. It is a lovely frightening place, where you can walk for a week and see no other person. There is now one person per square mile, and that is crowded compared to when Robert Service was there. It is a glorious land, and a glorious ocean, but neither the land nor the Alaskan ocean are to be trifled with. Robert Service explains:

Law Of The Yukon
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
“Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane−

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Its Breathing And Thick Hair

Elizabeth Bishop generally wrote about specific people and incidents. (She also wrote often from her dreams, but I am going to ignore that fact because I don't believe the following poem is from a dream.)

For instance I recently learned that her amazing poem, Visits To St. Elizabeth's, was about visiting Ezra Pound during his time in that mental hospital. I had always thought that it came from her visits to her mother who had lived in a mental hospital until her death after Bishop was out of college. (Yes, I know the poem says a "man" but I still thought it was about visiting her mother.) But now I learn that she never once (or so they say) visited her mother there.