Tag Archives: Poetry

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, poet plus

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a well renowned Victorian poet was born on March 6, 1806 in Durham, England, the eldest of 12 siblings, to a wealthy family. She is well known for many of her works, not the least of which being Sonnet 43, How do I love thee.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

At the age of twenty, she published the volume entitled An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems anonymously which led to her friendship with Hugh Stuart Boyd, a middle aged dilettante scholar, affording her access to extensive reading materials and friendship. Though it was in 1838 on the publication of The Seraphim and Other Poems that she established herself within literary circles.

Shortly after she suffered a series of health complications and personal tragedy that result in a hiatus from her writings for several years. When she eventually returned to life with her family and resumed her writing. In 1844 she contributed anonymously to A New Spirit of the Age, written in collaboration with the playwright Richard Hengist Horne.

Her works eventually found their way to Robert Browning and in January 1845 he began corresponding with her. Their courtship continued despite the objections of Elizabeth’s father and they were married in secret on September 12, 1846 at St Marylebone Parish Church.

During the early years of their marriage, her literary reputation far exceeded that of her husband’s and remained high throughout her life and after. A portrait of her was even hanging in the home of Emily Dickinson.

She passed away on June 29, 1861, leaving behind a legacy far too great for such a short piece. If you would like to know more about her, take your pick of sources. If you are looking for something a little deeper but still short, check to her biography on PoetryFoundation.org.

Phillis Wheatley, first female black poet

Phillis Wheatley, the first known published female black poet in the United States, was born 1753 in West Africa.  In 1761, against her will she brought to New England and sold to John Wheatley of Boston.  The Wheatley’s, taking an interest in her education and her precocious nature, allowed her to learn to read and write, in which she became proficient by the age of nine. 

Modelling her works after John Milton, Thomas Gray, and Alexander Pope, she began writing poetry at the age of thirteen.  Her first published poem “On the Death the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield” was published in many major cities including Boston, New York, Philadelphia and London.  Over the course of the next few years, she continued to print a number of such broadsides elegizing prominent British and colonial leaders.

In 1771, at the suggestion of her doctor, she accompanied Nathalie Wheatley to London where she was well received.  Two years later, in 1773, she published thirty-nine of her poems in London as Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.  The book included some of her elegies, but also poems treating race such as “On Being Brought from Africa to America”.

She returned to America later the same year, where she was emancipated shortly after*.  In 1776, she wrote a letter and a poem in support of George Washington to which he responded with an invitation to visit him at Cambridge, stating that he would be “happy to see a person so favoured by the muses.”

In 1778, she married John Peters, a grocer, and had three children, all of whom died young.  She continued to write, producing a second volume that would include thirty-three new poems and thirteen letters, but was unable to raise enough money to publish them.  Many of the poems for this volume have been lost to time.

She died alone in a boarding house on December 5, 1784 at the age of thirty-one.

* There is some debate as to the exact timing of her emancipation.  Scholars believe it to be somewhere between 1774-78, corresponding to the passing of Mrs. Wheatley (1774) and Mr. Wheatley (1778).

To Posterity by Bertolt Brecht

1.

Indeed I live in the dark ages!
A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens
A hard heart. He who laughs
Has not yet heard
The terrible tidings.

Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
And he who walks calmly across the street,
Is he not out of reach of his friends
In trouble?

It is true: I earn my living
But, believe me, it is only an accident.
Nothing that I do entitles me to eat my fill.
By chance I was spared. (If my luck leaves me
I am lost.)

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink
When my food is snatched from the hungry
And my glass of water belongs to the thirsty?
And yet I eat and drink.

I would gladly be wise.
The old books tell us what wisdom is:
Avoid the strife of the world
Live out your little time
Fearing no one
Using no violence
Returning good for evil —
Not fulfillment of desire but forgetfulness
Passes for wisdom.
I can do none of this:
Indeed I live in the dark ages!

2.

I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger ruled.
I came among men in a time of uprising
And I revolted with them.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

I ate my food between massacres.
The shadow of murder lay upon my sleep.
And when I loved, I loved with indifference.
I looked upon nature with impatience.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

In my time streets led to the quicksand.
Speech betrayed me to the slaughterer.
There was little I could do. But without me
The rulers would have been more secure. This was my hope.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

3.

You, who shall emerge from the flood
In which we are sinking,
Think —
When you speak of our weaknesses,
Also of the dark time
That brought them forth.

For we went,changing our country more often than our shoes.
In the class war, despairing
When there was only injustice and no resistance.

For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.

But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do no judge us
Too harshly.

written by Bertolt Brecht
translated by H. R. Hays

Two poems for the road

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

If
by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

“Museum Piece” by Hayden Carruth

One of the things I love most about reading literary non-fiction is that the works become cryptic maps to other great works.  Thanks to Wendell Berry (WHAT ARE People FOR?, (1990)) for the introduction.

I’ve only just started exploring his works, but this one touched me deeply this morning.  Good poetry does that…touches you where you don’t know you are raw.

0327 poet 1-cny-by al campanie 3/27/97 poet Hayden Carruth stands outside an old barn on his property near Munnsville soaking up some spring time sunshine.

Museum Piece

The eye that made this saw no pallor,
But golden and blue paint;
Now on the dry wood the color
Is tenuous and faint.

Yet under the scratches our close study
Retrieves for our curious eyes
God raising the small from the larger body,
And there the new Eve lies.

Would we smile fondly in our pride?
Ours is a long descent,
Worked in the flesh of a tiny bride
Scarce fit for ravishment,

And she, discovering she was woman,
Measured her strength of will,
By which we estimate the human
And sorrow and courage still.

But listen.  Beneath the veiling scratches,
Time’s ancientest filigree,
Eve in a little girl’s voice beseeches
Someone to set her free.

Poem available originally available in The Crow and The Heart (1959) as well as in The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth (1985).

Want to learn more about the poet?  Read Hayden Carruth’s bio on the Poetry Foundation’s website