Category Archives: Sunday Poem

Sunday Poem

This week’s “poem” is actually several, since haiku are so short. These are taken from Lips Too Chilled, a selection of the work of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) taken from the anthology On Love and Barley, which was translated by Lucien Stryk and published in 1985 by Penguin. Basho is thought to be the originator of this meticulous and pristine form. A haiku simply has three lines of 7, 5 and 7 syllables, although the translation into English often means this structure is lost. However, the vivid tableaux of life in 17th century Japan are not.

1.

Year by year,

the monkey’s mask

reveals the monkey.

2.

Waterfall garlands –

tell

that to revellers.

3.

Cormorant fishing:

how stirring,

how saddening.

4.

Skylark sings all

day, and day

not long enough.

5.

Moonlit plum tree –

wait,

spring will come.

6.

Come, see real

flowers

of this painful world.

7.

Birth or art –

song of rice planters,

chorus from nowhere.

8.

From moon-wreathed

bamboo grove,

cuckoo song.

9.

Violets –

how precious on

a mountain path.

10.

Wake, butterfly –

it’s late, we’ve miles

to go together.

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Sunday Poem

Today is International Women’s Day and so this week’s poem comes from Emily Brontë (1818 – 1848), author of Wuthering Heights and one of literature’s most tragic real-life heroines, dying of TB at the age of 30. Her poetry is not as well-known as her perennially popular novel but is striking in its own right. I toyed with choosing Sylvia Plath’s Tulips for today, in which a woman in a mental hospital is tortured by the redness of some tulips that have been brought for her, but decided there is too much of a link between women and madness as it is, so that can wait for another time.

This poem is pretty enough taken at face value, but if you want to look at it metaphorically it offers even more interesting nuances.

A Little Budding Rose by Emily Brontë

It was a little budding rose,
Round like a fairy globe,
And shyly did its leaves unclose
Hid in their mossy robe,
But sweet was the slight and spicy smell
It breathed from its heart invisible.

The rose is blasted, withered, blighted,
Its root has felt a worm,
And like a heart beloved and slighted,
Failed, faded, shrunk its form.
Bud of beauty, bonnie flower,
I stole thee from thy natal bower.

I was the worm that withered thee,
Thy tears of dew all fell for me;
Leaf and stalk and rose are gone,
Exile earth they died upon.
Yes, that last breath of balmy scent
With alien breezes sadly blent!

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Sunday Poem

This week’s poem comes from Carol Ann Duffy’s 1999 collection, The World’s Wife, a reimagining of many ingrained stories from female perspectives. Some are fiendishly clever and funny, like the one below; some I found slightly naïve (the reimagining of the Kray twins as female – that simply would never, could never have happened and didn’t make sense to me) but in all it is a clever and worthwhile anthology that twists our accepted perspectives on stories we’ve known since childhood – from Classical myths to the myths of real people (Elvis, Shakespeare…)  Duffy (1955-) is the first woman to be appointed Poet Laureate in the institution’s 400 year history. I saw her perform this poem at Latitude in 2013. My friends immediately fell asleep, lulled by the warmth of the tent, but I was kind of entranced by her clipped, soft delivery of mighty stanzas.

Mrs Midas

It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun
to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen
filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath
gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,
then with my fingers wiped the other’s glass like a brow.
He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig.

Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch. – we grew Fondante d’Automne –
and it sat in his palm, like a lightbulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree?

He came into the house. The doorknobs gleamed.
He drew the blinds. You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne.
The look on his face was strange, wild, vain. I said,
What in the name of God is going on? He started to laugh.

I served up the meal. For starters, corn on the cob.
Within seconds he was spitting out the teeth of the rich.
He toyed with his spoon, then mine, then with the knives, the forks.
He asked where was the wine. I poured with a shaking hand,
a fragrant, bone-dry white from Italy, then watched
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank.

It was then that I started to scream. He sank to his knees.
After we’d both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:

how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst. He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you’ll be able to give up smoking for good.

Separate beds. in fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art.

And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So he had to move out. We’d a caravan
in the wilds, in a glade of its own. I drove him up
under the cover of dark. He sat in the back.
And then I came home, the woman who married the fool
who wished for gold. At first, I visited, odd times,
parking the car a good way off, then walking.

You knew you were getting close. Golden trout
on the grass. One day, a hare hung from a larch,
a beautiful lemon mistake.  And then his footprints,
glistening next to the river’s path. He was thin,
delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan
from the woods. Listen. That was the last straw.

What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.

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Sunday Poem

A translation from the German of X by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1929) from his Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two. It defeats the point of poetry for me to tell you what I think it’s about, as you may interpret it totally differently, but I will say that what Rilke was writing of the Industrial Revolution still feels relevant to today’s world.

X

The machine will forever imperil all human creation

while it presumes to direct us rather than serve.

Lost is the hand of the Master, its fine hesitation:

rational buildings nowadays aske to be made of

rigidly accurate cuts of identical stone.

Nowhere that can escape it.In the deserted

factory, self-lubricating, self-serving, alone

it stands, omniscient, alive as the life-force incarnate;

at one resolve it designs, manufactures, destroys.

Our lives retain their enchantments; everywhere still

magical forces appear when we worship and gaze.

Words still continue to tiptoe past the Unsayable.

Music, ever renewed in inviolable Space

builds of precarious stones its celestial house.

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