The Letter
by Amy Lowell

Little cramped words scrawling all over
the paper
Like draggled fly’s legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the
bare floor

Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing
in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth,
virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart
against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

One of the most amazing lines I have ever read: “I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against the want of you.”

Who hasn’t felt that pain? Who has realized how futile a situation is?

This is a great mixture of image, sound, and words.

Sorrow

BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

Sorrow like a ceaseless rain
Beats upon my heart.
People twist and scream in pain, —
Dawn will find them still again;
This has neither wax nor wane,
Neither stop nor start.

People dress and go to town;
I sit in my chair.
All my thoughts are slow and brown:
Standing up or sitting down
Little matters, or what gown
Or what shoes I wear.

Since I just read all that early feminist theory, I thought I would post some of my favorite poems by some of my favorite females:

Amy Lowell – Absence

My cup is empty to-night,
Cold and dry are its sides,
Chilled by the wind from the open window.
Empty and void, it sparkles white in the moonlight.
The room is filled with the strange scent
Of wistaria blossoms.
They sway in the moon’s radiance
And tap against the wall.
But the cup of my heart is still,
And cold, and empty.
When you come, it brims
Red and trembling with blood,
Heart’s blood for your drinking;
To fill your mouth with love
And the bitter-sweet taste of a soul.

– Fragment
What is poetry? Is it a mosaic
Of coloured stones which curiously are wrought
Into a pattern? Rather glass that’s taught
By patient labor any hue to take
And glowing with a sumptuous splendor, make
Beauty a thing of awe; where sunbeams caught,
Transmuted fall in sheafs of rainbows fraught
With storied meaning for religion’s sake.

The Fish
Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
–the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly–
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
–It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
–if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels–until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

For the sake of space, I’ll leave it at that for now…

I am not sure how I feel about Summers-Brenmer’s essay, so I will leave it on the back burner for now.

I do want to look at Hughes’s poetry in light of Henry Louis Gates Jr. essay “Talking Black: Critical Signs of the Time.” At the beginning of that essay, Gates relates an anecdote of Alexander Crummell, where Crummell overheard soon to be vice president John Calhoun say “the the effect–‘that if he could find a Negro who knew the Greek syntax, he would then believe that the Negro was a human…”(2425)

Gates uses this to show how he would go on to master the master’s language, but that maybe it didn’t matter because “Calhoun, we suspect, was not impressed” (2426), but Gates uses this to argue that African-american intellectuals and readers should not be afraid of theory, stating “We must redefine theory itself from within our own black cultures, refusing to grant the racist premise that theory is something that white people”– and I believe this is also seen in Hughes’s poetry.

And I also believe that rather than (or maybe along with) Brenmer’s contention that Bebop is used as “…poetry specific to a time” that it is also used in this way that Gates wants to use theory: this is Hughes showing the master that he can master poetry and Latin and be just as erudite using Harlem as Eliot is in using England.

As I was surprised when Brenmer makes no connection between Eliot (Dante) and Hughes when she looks at Hughes line:

I never knew/ that many Negros/were on Earth/ did you?/ I never knew

Which seems to echoes Eliot eluding to Dante:

” so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.”

And it seems to be that Hughes is taking up the charge that Gates argues for. He can be just as clever as the canonical white men with his allusions and erudition. As Gates wants a critical language that is grounded in/ that springs from a Black vernacular, Hughes here is giving a poetry in such a way. Isn’t the first poem voicing this dichotomy? Juxtaposed to the literary African-americans writing about the black experience is the illiterate African-american relating that experience through song.

And this seems to be the center of “Theme for English B” where the language is displayed as a communal property, and not just the white man’s: “so will the page be colored that I write?/ Being me, it will not be white” because the language that the Black student learns in class will always be the hegemonic language of the white man, but if the Black student is mastering the language, then won’t the language be “colored”?

But is this the crux? Eliot is white from Boston living in London, reading Dante, so his language, his poetry, will be “white” and Hughes is in Harlem, living in the city, surrounded by the Blues and Jazz so his language will always be colored by these experiences. Although, maybe it is too simplistic to say that the only real difference here is actual, physical location.

The Ninth Elegy
Rainer Maria Rilke

Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)–: why then
have to be human–and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate? . . .

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart, which
would exist in the laurel too. . . . .

But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

And so we keep pressing on, trying to achieve it,
trying to hold it firmly in our simple hands,
in our overcrowded gaze, in our speechless heart.
Trying to become it.–Whom can we give it to? We would
hold on to it all, forever . . . Ah, but what can we take along
into that other realm? Not the art of looking,
which is learned so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.
The sufferings, then. And above all, the heaviness,
and the long experience of love,– just what is wholly
unsayable. But later, among the stars,
what good is it–they are better as they are: unsayable.
For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,
he bings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window–
at most: column, tower. . . . But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing. Isn’t the secret intent
of this taciturn earth, when it forces lovers together,
that inside their boundless emotion all things may shudder with joy?
Threshold: what it means for two lovers
to be wearing down, imperceptibly, the ancient threshold of their door–
they too, after the many who came before them
and before those to come. . . . ., lightly.

Here is the time for the sayable, here is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness. More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise.

Praise this world to the angel, not the unsayable one,
you can’t impress him with glorious emotion; in the universe
where he feels more powerfully, you are a novice. So show him
something simple which, formed over generations,
lives as our own, near our hand and within our gaze.
Tell him of Things. He will stand astonished; as you stood
by the ropemaker in Rome or the potter along the Nile.
Show him how happy a Thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even lamenting grief purely decides to take form,
serves as a Thing, or dies into a Thing–, and blissfully
escapes far beyond the violin.–And these Things,
which live by perishing, know you are praising them; transient,
they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all.
They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart,
within–oh endlessly–within us! Whoever we may be at last.

Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us,
invisible? Isn’t it your dream
to be wholly invisible someday?–O Earth: invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your urgent command?
Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh believe me, you no longer
need your springtimes to win me over–one of them,
ah, even one, is already too much for my blood.
Unspeakably I have belonged to you, from the first.
You were always right, and your holiest inspiration
is our intimate companion, Death.

Look, I am living. On what? Neither childhood nor future
grows any smaller . . . . . Superabundant being
wells up in my heart.

translated by Stephen Mitchell

Dada reminds me of Buddhism, as Tzara says. the rest is sauce. But language gets in the way here, as it does in Buddhism, as it does in postmodernism, as it does with ethics. Once we put something into words it is as if we make a system of it, and Like Kierkegaard and DaDa contend, “I am against systems, the most acceptable system is on principle to have none.”

It is because we can only know the world through words (or more generally any kind of sign system) which is why the DaDA manifesto is so inspiring and makes me want to drop out of school and go line on New York City streets and be an artist of the absurd because, “I detest greasy objectivity, and harmony, the science that finds everything in order.. . . Science says we are the servants of nature”

But then I read Eliot and I am reminded that I want to study literature instead.

These DaDa ideals don’t seem too much of a stretch from the Imagist idea of wanting (like the Haiku) to have poetry that paints a picture with words, a picture of the thing itself using words without decoration, without any kind of flair, but rather to use words to simply describe the object, objectively, which is noble, but then we are back to the problem with words, which are always already in slippage and can never simply just describe an object. In terms of DaDa, the use of simplistic language might be appealing, but I would guess that DaDa would think that the Imagist use of language was too “rational”—and sp, of course, they would cut up the words, put them in a hat, and pick the words out at random to make a new poem.

To go back to Eliot, I believe that in light of “Journey of the Magi” that “Prufrock” can be read as a Christian poem about a man vacillating about telling society the religious message he has. For me though, personally, I keep going back to the poem because for me, on a simpler level, the poem has always been about the vacillation itself. I remember first reading this poem and being so confused, and in a way, this poem led me to be an English major.

Now, as I read the poem, I relate to it. It seems a real existential dilemma: how do I make sense of life as I grow old ( I grow old/ I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled… and Do I dare to eat a peach), of a life I have ‘measured out in coffee spoons’? For Kierkegaard, every choice we make is a leap (because every choice is ultimately just as “rational” as any other choice we make); therefore, for Kierkegaard, the leap is in making a choice, and there is always anxiety in all choices because we can never know how things would have turned out if we made the opposite choice, and this seems to be Prufrock’s anxiety in the poem; this is the reason he can’t even feel as if he is the star of his own life since he is “not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.”

I believe this is why I am constantly drawn to this poem—because, especially as an English major, sometimes I wonder if I haven’t lingered in the chambers of the sea too long, and I am worried that human voices are going to wake me and drown me, but this again brings me back to the DaDa-ist, who remind me not to take life too seriously, and that literature is what matters because “the rest is sauce.”