Friday, April 28, 2017

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Dulce Et Decorum Est 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)


(The Latin means, 'It is sweet and honourable to die for one's country'.)



It's just been Anzac Day here in Australia (and in New Zealand too). So at present I am particularly conscious of war and its aftermath. The Anzac Day tradition began as a commemoration of particular events in World War I. Wilfred Owen – who was not Australian but English – served in World War I and was killed shortly before it ended, at the age of 25. 

It's generally agreed that, as Poetry Foundation observes, he 'wrote some of the best British poetry on World War I.' The article goes on to say that Owen 

composed nearly all of his poems in slightly over a year, from August 1917 to September 1918. In November 1918 he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice. Only five poems were published in his lifetime—three in the Nation and two that appeared anonymously in the Hydra, a journal he edited in 1917 when he was a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. 

Almost all his poems appeared posthumously, with the good graces of other poets: in particular his friend and sometime mentor Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell, Edmund Blunden and C. Day Lewis.

Owen's experiences at the front made him anti-war, and a purposefully anti-war poet. He and Sassoon were both notable for writing realistic war poetry rather than patriotic pieces about honour and glory, as other war poets were doing at the time. In fact they wanted the war stopped, on the grounds that the only thing it could achieve was further suffering.

Today, opinion is not so polarised. Most of us don't think there's much glory in war, but with the hindsight of history we perceive some wars as having been unfortunately necessary. At least we haven't yet worked out what else to do when diplomacy and/or economic sanctions fail. 

Yesterday I watched a TV program in which a group of disabled veterans (both physically and mentally damaged from  their years of active service) answered anonymous questions – the sorts of things people are curious about but don't usually ask because it would be rude. They were very straightforward and honest in their answers. It emerged that, whatever their reasons for joining the military, all included the intention to help other people.

But when they were asked whether they thought war did any good, at first each of them said a regretful no. Then some admitted that in small ways they thought they had done some good in the particular time and place – but not long-term. In our era, the enemy is not in the opposite trenches; it is much more difficult to fight terrorists. And the veterans see, with regard to the very long engagements in places like Afghanistan, the gains they once helped make being eroded and reversed over time.

Though we haven't found the answer yet, it's good that we no longer glorify war, and important that it's never entered into lightly, or as anything but a last resort. Poems like this one of Wilfred Owen's have played their part in waking us up. (Today the TV news does a good job of it, too. We can't remain ignorant.)

That wasn't Owen's only importance as a poet, though. He was also technically innovative for his time (in ways that he himself doesn't seem to have appreciated fully, though his peers did) e.g in his use of slant rhyme. We, who do all sorts of things that once would not have been considered poetry, probably owe him a debt (along with others whose experiments we're more aware of). I'll quote Poetry Foundation again (same link) for more detail:

Sassoon called “Strange Meeting” Owen’s masterpiece, the finest elegy by a soldier who fought in World War I. T.S. Eliot, who praised it as “one of the most moving pieces of verse inspired by the war,” recognized that its emotional power lies in Owen’s “technical achievement of great originality.” In “Strange Meeting,” Owen sustains the dreamlike quality by a complex musical pattern, which unifies the poem and leads to an overwhelming sense of war’s waste and a sense of pity that such conditions should continue to exist. John Middleton Murry in 1920 noted the extreme subtlety in Owen’s use of couplets employing assonance and dissonance. Most readers, he said, assumed the poem was in blank verse but wondered why the sound of the words produced in them a cumulative sadness and inexorable uneasiness and why such effects lingered. Owen’s use of slant-rhyme produces, in Murry’s words, a “subterranean ... forged unity, a welded, inexorable massiveness.”


'Strange Meeting' is probably Owen's best-known poem. For those who haven't encountered it yet and are now curious, it's here.

And you can find others at PoemHunter. (Just remember to turn off the sound, so as not to get the awful, mechanical voice they use on that site.)

There is also his author page at Amazon, which includes a volume of 'Selected Letters'. I remember hearing, years ago, on a TV program about war, a letter read out which had been written from a young World War I soldier to his mother. It was so beautifully (albeit simply) worded, I said to my husband, 'That was written by a poet!' And sure enough, it turned out to be one of Owen's letters home.



Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ A Grain Of Sand

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” — Robert W. Service


Source


“Faith as tiny as a grain of sand allows us to move mountains”— Paulo Coelho

“In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles in every grain of sand”— Bob Dylan

“Individually, every grain of sand brushing against my hands represents a story, an experience, and a block for me to build upon for the next generation.”— Raquel Cepeda, Bird of Paradise: How I became Latina



Midweek Motif ~ A Grain of Sand 


 I read somewhere, “Sand is serious and entertaining”.

In fact sands could be fascinating story tellers of the distant past.

In 1922, a famous necklace with a scarab beetle carved from a glowing, yellow-green, gem-like material which could not be recognized at the time discovered from Tutankhamun’s tomb, came to be known as a unique silica glass (28 million years old and 98% pure, from a particular part of the Libyan desert) in the 1990’s.

There’s a realm of fantasy under our feet when we walk on a beach. We are unaware how the meiofauna there, are striving hard to stop the beach going anoxic [starved of oxygen], in their home of a grain of sand. For them only the sparkling shores have not yet turned into a sticky, stinking mudflat.

A single grain of sand matters in this grand scheme of our universe.

Let A Grain of Sand find its way into your lines today J


Auguries of Innocence
by William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage 
Puts all Heaven in a Rage 
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons 
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions 
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate 
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road 
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 
Each outcry of the hunted Hare 
A fibre from the Brain does tear 
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing  

The rest of the poem is here 

   

 View With A Grain Of Sand
by Wislawa Szymborska

We call it a grain of sand,


but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.

It does just fine, without a name,

whether general, particular,

permanent, passing,

incorrect, or apt.

Our glance, our touch means nothing to it.


It doesn’t feel itself seen and touched.

And that it fell on the windowsill

is only our experience, not its.

For it, it is not different from falling on anything else

with no assurance that it has finished falling

or that it is falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,


but the view doesn’t view itself.

It exists in this world

colorless, shapeless,

soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake’s floor exists floorlessly,


and its shore exists shorelessly.

The water feels itself neither wet nor dry

and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.

They splash deaf to their own noise

on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beheath a sky by nature skyless


in which the sun sets without setting at all

and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.

The wind ruffles it, its only reason being

that it blows.

A second passes.


A second second.

A third.

But they’re three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like courier with urgent news.


But that’s just our simile.

The character is inverted, his hasts is make believe,

his news inhuman.    



A Grain of Sand
by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
'Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.



Just think! A million gods or so

To guide each vital stream,

With over all to boss the show

A Deity supreme.

Such magnitudes oppress my mind;

From cosmic space it swings;

So ultimately glad to find

Relief in little things.




For look! Within my hollow hand,

While round the earth careens,

I hold a single grain of sand

And wonder what it means.

Ah! If I had the eyes to see,

And brain to understand,

I think Life's mystery might be

Solved in this grain of sand.  






Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—

                (Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ News Media)


. . . . 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Blog of the Week ~ Bjorn Rudberg and the Aged Librarian


I am sure you have all come across Bjorn Rudberg's series of poems about the Aged Librarian, which he has been writing all winter at Bjorn Rudberg's Writings. This is a series that has interested me very much, and I thought you might like to hear more about it as well. Pour yourself a nice cup of afternoon tea and draw your chairs in close. Let's find out about this intriguing character, and the poet who created him!





Sherry: Bjorn, I have been so intrigued by the series you have been writing about the aged librarian.  How and why did he appear, the first time? Tell us about him.

Bjorn: My very first idea of the aged librarian came from a prompt about Jorge Louis Borges. One of his more famous short stories called “The Library of Babel” has always been close to my heart. I don’t think it was so much the library itself but the sense of a librarian that fascinated me. The idea or a concept of an ancient scholar is a great attraction to me. I think many people reading about him recognize themselves in him. 


UNTITLED (WAITING FOR METAPHORS)


The aged librarian collects ideals:
he’s saving fragments, bulbs and seeds
of scribbled shorthand, notes and antidotes.
He shuffles words and stanzas
tries to set them juxtaposed against his memory of youth:
the boisterous marketplace before he closed the doors;
the recollections of the lips he never dared to kiss,
her breasts, her hair and music that he failed to play.

He’s lacking soil and sun of conversations,
Stiff from loneliness and books his life is hushed,
it’s slow and collected possibilities have withered in a corner.
Ideas gather dust and resolutions rust
as the aged librarian is waiting for a crust of metaphors
to grow, connect his dreams.
The aged librarian closes his eyes, sighs.
December 22, 2016

Sherry: I can see him, and he looks a bit like my dream man. Smiles.

Bjorn: Thank you. I think he lacks some social skills in dealing with women. An influence for me is Stoner from the great book with the same name by John Williams about a man who is lost to the world, but still survives with his words. There is something tender and vulnerable with him, yet something very strong. I often draw inspiration from opposites in my poetry, and I think I have poured a little bit of that into the character.






READING SPINES


His finger traces spines; blind
he reads the gilded letters
embossed as braille
he’s forming stanzas in his mind.
Heart of darkness, beating.
Wanting.
Craving fleur de mal.
But the aged librarian can only dream in sepia
of nyloned legs
her heels, mischievous curls she’d kept hidden;
the way she used to eyelash him;
loins were longing.

his lips are parchment (dry from poetry)
forever reaching
back in time to the moment she moved out and left him pressed
between the pages
as a bookmark (one of many) in her books unread
January 5, 2017

Sherry: A lonely librarian, pressed between the pages of a book. How poignant!


Bjorn: I always think of the librarian becoming indistinguishable from the books. I think he represents our collective memories, so I also wanted to use him as a character talking about the end of times. Some of the scenes are apocalyptic, and I think the library can be the last refuge of humanity. That's why I refer to Plato and Atlantis in a few of my poems. He only sees the shadows on the wall through his books, but yet I think he sees much more than most of us. I want to capture him as a metaphor about everything we are about to lose.

Sherry: I love that description, and insight. It is hard to see the writing on the wall of these times we live in. I love the idea of the library (books) as the last refuge. Certainly, books have always been mine.



The Stockholm Library



HE CAN ONLY SPEAK IN POETRY


He always thought that
bridges
could be built as essays (unabridged).
That if he listened — after-
wards he’d be allowed to speak his mind.
“It’s like crossing ridges —
once you reach the highest point it’s downhill
to the valley below”
But timeslots slips; the aged librarian
waits,
and builds his thesis,
breath by breath,
strong with reason — walled with words
and punctuated,
it’s perfected
juxtaposed to synthesis;
“My mouth is filled with pebbles”.
He believes that chasms of treason
can be closed
if just once
he’d be allowed to speak his mind.

He lights a candle. Sighs.
Cause bridges crumble and his pens run dry.
That’s why
the aged librarian just makes sense in
poetry.
January 10, 2017

Sherry: This has been a wonderful unfolding, with great development of character. Once he was here, what kept him coming back?

Bjorn: Already from my first poem I felt that he can be my spokesperson. Not an alter ego, but maybe a persona that is only part of me. He has begun to appear in my thoughts, and whenever I feel lost for inspiration I think… what my aged librarian wants to say. He has become a voice that whispers words of sorrow, and a bit of hope.

Sherry: That’s pretty cool, Bjorn, "a voice that whispers words of sorrow, and a bit of hope”. We can all use an inner voice like that. Or maybe we all have aged librarians inside us. What are you seeking to express in this series of poems?

Bjorn: I think I want to say many things, but to a large extent he is a metaphor for everything that we are losing. He stands up against stupidity (though he has his own stupidity). I feel that libraries are changing, that the written word has lost its ground. This is why he is often alone, by himself in his large library. I think he has lost a lot of things in his life, but he has gained some things as well.



Library in the Rijks Museum of Amsterdam


PLATO AND DUST


On new year’s eve he lets the ancient sunshine in
to dust beloved shelves.
He sits beside the window drinking tea
and watches specks of dust transform from books to stars.
He notices their subtle scintillation
before they fall to rest.
Seemingly so random
dust becomes
(in Brownian movements)
the harbinger of matter,
a silent voice of molecules, an echo of what’s real.
The aged librarian (used to reading shadows)
finds how close to Plato’s cave this daylight really is.
‘It’s like my youth’, he mumbles,
‘I harvest now in aftermath of thoughts,
the random movement
that I once attributed to hormones’.

The aged librarian sighs:
‘I think that Plato knew that only
when you’ve aged with books,
you know how little you have seen
and tomorrow yet another year has passed.’
And in the setting sun the aged librarian
waits; his tea is growing cold.
December 31, 2016

Sherry: You identify with him in some ways, it is clear.

Bjorn: As I said, I think there are things I identify with, but many other things are just the opposite of me. While he is shy and silent, I am loud and boisterous. He would probably like me way less that I would like him. Part of him is an ideal, part of him is a fear of what I once could be.



The tea set by Claude Monet


OOLONG TEA


“Is the library like woods or sea?
Do books resemble trees or waves?”
Maybe they are both, the aged librarian ponders
as he stirs his Oolong tea
while sifting through his childhood memories.
He recalls his mother’s hand in his,
still warm with spring
she taught him trees,
how boughs had voice,
how leaves were syllables
each tree a changing poesy,
each path a syllabus to follow.
The library is woods.
He feels his father’s hand in his,
callous, salt with brine
he taught him of the sails and waves,
how sea is meter, wind the strings
of songs; each wave another iamb.
He taught him
how the stanzas can be storms or doldrums,
how a lighthouse is another path to shore;
another syllabus.
Hence library is sea.

He sips his Oolong tea; he smiles;
his world is woods and sea;
his words are waves and trees;
his home the library, as he was taught.

Sherry: Sigh. I love this poem the best of all. You have developed this character so well, I feel I know him. To wrap up,  I would love to include "Books and Gardens" here, just because it is beautiful and fits so well with the librarian. Let's read:



Books and Gardens


My garden is a library, my books are flowerbeds.
When leafing through my books I find how flowers
in my garden are like poems. A few are buds,
in splash of color, shy, still sparked from hope;
they need my care and warmth of voice before
they bloom. But books are also thistles, thorned
unwanted, proud and wonderful in purpleness.
My garden bulbs are words, my garden is a place
for poesy and posies, for sense and sentences
and even in the winter I can hear a voice of violas.
Words can be like fir-trees, stern but comfort givers,
my shelter when the winds have teeth and claws,
My garden has a hermit’s cave with walls of books
and there I am alone librarian: I am gardener of
willows; I am the caretaker of growth and spelling.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
November 15, 2016

Sherry: This is lovely, Bjorn. I completely agree with Cicero: with a garden and a library, we have all we need. I have been rich in both this lifetime.

In closing, would you like to tell us your plans for this series? Do you foresee a book?


Bjorn: One of the reasons I keep writing about my aged librarian is that I had a vague idea of making him a character in a poetry book. I would really love to do a book that is not a chap book, but a poetry book that you can read from start to finish.  I would probably add information between the poems, and poems yet unwritten. At some point I will write about the library itself as well. But I am open to any ideas on how such a book would be.

Sherry: Your outline sounds absolutely wonderful to me. I am a big proponent of self-publishing our own books, as it is easy and affordable. But your series sounds so original and intriguing, I think a publisher would be very interested. We'll watch with interest for the book to appear. We can launch it here!

Thank you, Bjorn, for telling us more about your aged librarian. Since we have been enjoying this series so much, it is nice to get a more in-depth look at him. I have developed a little crush on him. LOL.

Wasn't this interesting, my friends? I look forward to reading more about this appealing character. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!