Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

THE VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES

22 December 2008

This fantastic poem was written by Samuel Johnson in 1749 actually at the same time as he was working on “A Dictionary of the English Language”  (which is quite a feat, I would imagine).

The full title is “The Vanity of Human Wishes: The Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated“, and while both poems centre on human futility and humanity’s quest after greatness, Johnson departs from Classical Juvenal by stressing philosophy over politics, sympathising with people, and concluding that Christian values are important to living properly.

On the old “Freeserve” site (from which I am migrating everything slowly), I used a short portion, but here, I have decided to use the whole poem in all its heroic couplet filled magnificence.

I had to study this work intently for months and submit an essay on it way back in the 80s or 90s for some course or other.  I have to say that I grew rather fond of the old thing; it’s simply wonderful! My natural empathy was bolstered, as were my thoughts on how one ought to try to be. If you like and understand poetry, if you enjoy language, if you look past the basic and simple, and do not mind a challenge, you will be rewarded by careful consideration of the following work of art.

Let Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy Scenes of crouded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O’er spread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,
Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,
How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppres’d,
When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.
Fate wings with ev’ry Wish th’ afflictive Dart,
Each Gift of Nature, and each Grace of Art,
With fatal Heat impetuous Courage glows,
With fatal Sweetness Elocution flows,
Impeachment stops the Speaker’s pow’rful Breath,
And restless Fire precipitates on Death.

But scarce observ’d the Knowing and the Bold,
Fall in the gen’ral Massacre of Gold;
Wide-wasting Pest! that rages unconfin’d,
And crouds with Crimes the Records of Mankind,
For Gold his Sword the Hireling Ruffian draws,
For Gold the hireling Judge distorts the Laws;
Wealth heap’d on Wealth, nor Truth nor Safety buys,
The Dangers gather as the Treasures rise.

Let Hist’ry tell where rival Kings command,
And dubious Title shakes the madded Land,
When Statutes glean the Refuse of the Sword,
How much more safe the Vassal than the Lord,
Low sculks the Hind beneath the Rage of Pow’r,
And leaves the bonny Traytor in the Tow’r,
Untouch’d his Cottage, and his Slumbers sound,
Tho’ Confiscation’s Vulturs clang around.

The needy Traveller, secure and gay,
Walks the wild Heath, and sings his Toil away.
Does Envy seize thee? crush th’ upbraiding Joy,
Encrease his Riches and his Peace destroy,
New Fears in dire Vicissitude invade,
The rustling Brake alarms, and quiv’ring Shade,
Nor Light nor Darkness bring his Pain Relief,
One shews the Plunder, and one hides the Thief.

Yet still the gen’ral Cry the Skies assails
And Gain and Grandeur load the tainted Gales;
Few know the toiling Statesman’s Fear or Care,
Th’ insidious Rival and the gaping Heir.

Once more, Democritus, arise on Earth,
With chearful Wisdom and instructive Mirth,
See motley Life in modern Trappings dress’d,
And feed with varied Fools th’ eternal Jest:
Thou who couldst laugh where Want enchain’d Caprice,
Toil crush’d Conceit, and Man was of a Piece;
Where Wealth unlov’d without a Mourner dy’d;
And scarce a Sycophant was fed by Pride;
Where ne’er was known the Form of mock Debate,
Or seen a new-made Mayor’s unwieldy State;
Where change of Fav’rites made no Change of Laws,
And Senates heard before they judg’d a Cause;
How wouldst thou shake at Britain’s modish Tribe,
Dart the quick Taunt, and edge the piercing Gibe?
Attentive Truth and Nature to descry,
And pierce each Scene with Philosophic Eye.
To thee were solemn Toys or empty Shew,
The Robes of Pleasure and the Veils of Woe:
All aid the Farce, and all thy Mirth maintain,
Whose Joys are causeless, or whose Griefs are vain.

Such was the Scorn that fill’d the Sage’s Mind,
Renew’d at ev’ry Glance on Humankind;
How just that Scorn ere yet thy Voice declare,
Search every State, and canvass ev’ry Pray’r.

Unnumber’d Suppliants croud Preferment’s Gate,
Athirst for Wealth, and burning to be great;
Delusive Fortune hears th’ incessant Call,
They mount, they shine, evaporate, and fall.
On ev’ry Stage the Foes of Peace attend,
Hate dogs their Flight, and Insult mocks their End.
Love ends with Hope, the sinking Statesman’s Door
Pours in the Morning Worshiper no more;
For growing Names the weekly Scribbler lies,
To growing Wealth the Dedicator flies,
From every Room descends the painted Face,
That hung the bright Palladium of the Place,
And smoak’d in Kitchens, or in Auctions sold,
To better Features yields the Frame of Gold;
For now no more we trace in ev’ry Line
Heroic Worth, Benevolence Divine:
The Form distorted justifies the Fall,
And Detestation rids th’ indignant Wall.

But will not Britain hear the last Appeal,
Sign her Foes Doom, or guard her Fav’rites Zeal;
Through Freedom’s Sons no more Remonstrance rings,
Degrading Nobles and controuling Kings;
Our supple Tribes repress their Patriot Throats,
And ask no Questions but the Price of Votes;
With Weekly Libels and Septennial Ale,
Their Wish is full to riot and to rail.

In full-blown Dignity, see Wolsey stand,
Law in his Voice, and Fortune in his Hand:
To him the Church, the Realm, their Pow’rs consign,
Thro’ him the Rays of regal Bounty shine,
Turn’d by his Nod the Stream of Honour flows,
His Smile alone Security bestows:
Still to new Heights his restless Wishes tow’r,
Claim leads to Claim, and Pow’r advances Pow’r;
Till Conquest unresisted ceas’d to please,
And Rights submitted, left him none to seize.
At length his Sov’reign frowns — the Train of State
Mark the keen Glance, and watch the Sign to hate.
Where-e’er he turns he meets a Stranger’s Eye,
His Suppliants scorn him, and his Followers fly;
Now drops at once the Pride of aweful State,
The golden Canopy, the glitt’ring Plate,
The regal Palace, the luxurious Board,
The liv’ried Army, and the menial Lord.
With Age, with Cares, with Maladies oppress’d,
He seeks the Refuge of Monastic Rest.
Grief aids Disease, remember’d Folly stings,
And his last Sighs reproach the Faith of Kings.

Speak thou, whose Thoughts at humble Peace repine,
Shall Wolsey’s Wealth, with Wolsey’s End be thine?
Or liv’st thou now, with safer Pride content,
The richest Landlord on the Banks of Trent?
For why did Wolsey by the Steeps of Fate,
On weak Foundations raise th’ enormous Weight
Why but to sink beneath Misfortune’s Blow,
With louder Ruin to the Gulphs below?

What gave great Villiers to th’ Assassin’s Knife,
And fixed Disease on Harley’s closing life?
What murder’d Wentworth, and what exil’d Hyde,
By Kings protected and to Kings ally’d?
What but their Wish indulg’d in Courts to shine,
And Pow’r too great to keep or to resign?

When first the College Rolls receive his Name,
The young Enthusiast quits his Ease for Fame;
Resistless burns the fever of Renown,
Caught from the strong Contagion of the Gown;
O’er Bodley’s Dome his future Labours spread,
And Bacon’s Mansion trembles o’er his Head;
Are these thy Views? proceed, illustrious Youth,
And Virtue guard thee to the Throne of Truth,
Yet should thy Soul indulge the gen’rous Heat,
Till captive Science yields her last Retreat;
Should Reason guide thee with her brightest Ray,
And pour on misty Doubt resistless Day;
Should no false Kindness lure to loose Delight,
Nor Praise relax, nor Difficulty fright;
Should tempting Novelty thy Cell refrain,
And Sloth’s bland Opiates shed their Fumes in vain;
Should Beauty blunt on Fops her fatal Dart,
Nor claim the triumph of a letter’d Heart;
Should no Disease thy torpid Veins invade,
Nor Melancholy’s Phantoms haunt thy Shade;
Yet hope not Life from Grief or Danger free,
Nor think the Doom of Man revers’d for thee:
Deign on the passing World to turn thine Eyes,
And pause awhile from Learning to be wise;
There mark what Ills the Scholar’s Life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Garret, and the Jail.
See Nations slowly wise, and meanly just,
To buried Merit raise the tardy Bust.
If Dreams yet flatter, once again attend, Life, and Galileo’s End.

Nor deem, when Learning her lost Prize bestows
The glitt’ring Eminence exempt from Foes;
See when the Vulgar ‘scape despis’d or aw’d,
Rebellion’s vengeful Talons seize on Laud.
From meaner Minds, tho’ smaller Fines content
The plunder’d Palace or sequester’d Rent;
Mark’d out by dangerous Parts he meets the Shock,
And fatal Learning leads him to the Block:
Around his Tomb let Art and Genius weep,
But hear his Death, ye Blockheads, hear and sleep.

The festal Blazes, the triumphal Show,
The ravish’d Standard, and the captive Foe,
The Senate’s Thanks, the Gazette’s pompous Tale,
With Force resistless o’er the Brave prevail.
Such Bribes the rapid Greek o’er Asia whirl’d,
For such the steady Romans shook the World;
For such in distant Lands the Britons shine,
And stain with Blood the Danube or the Rhine;
This Pow’r has Praise, that Virtue scarce can warm,
Till Fame supplies the universal Charm.
Yet Reason frowns on War’s unequal Game,
Where wasted Nations raise a single Name,
And mortgag’d States their Grandsires Wreaths regret
From Age to Age in everlasting Debt;
Wreaths which at last the dear-bought Right convey
To rust on Medals, or on Stones decay.

On what Foundation stands the Warrior’s Pride?
How just his Hopes let Swedish Charles decide;
A Frame of Adamant, a Soul of Fire,
No Dangers fright him, and no Labours tire;
O’er Love, o’er Force, extends his wide Domain,
Unconquer’d Lord of Pleasure and of Pain;
No Joys to him pacific Scepters yield,
War sounds the Trump, he rushes to the Field;
Behold surrounding Kings their Pow’r combine,
And One capitulate, and One resign;
Peace courts his Hand, but spread her Charms in vain;
“Think Nothing gain’d, he cries, till nought remain,
“On Moscow’s Walls till Gothic Standards fly,
“And all is Mine beneath the Polar Sky.”
The March begins in Military State,
And Nations on his Eye suspended wait;
Stern Famine guards the solitary Coast,
And Winter barricades the Realms of Frost;
He comes, nor Want nor Cold his Course delay;—
Hide, blushing Glory, hide Pultowa’s Day:
The vanquish’d Hero leaves his broken Bands,
And shews his Miseries in distant Lands;
Condemn’d a needy Supplicant to wait,
While Ladies interpose, and Slaves debate.
But did not Chance at length her Error mend?
Did no subverted Empire mark his End?
Did rival Monarchs give the fatal Wound?
Or hostile Millions press him to the Ground?
His Fall was destin’d to a barren Strand,
A petty Fortress, and a dubious Hand;
He left the Name, at which the World grew pale,
To point a Moral, or adorn a Tale.

All Times their Scenes of pompous Woes afford,
From Persia’s Tyrant to Bavaria’s Lord.
In gay Hostility, and barb’rous Pride,
With half Mankind embattled at his Side,
Great Xerxes comes to seize the certain Prey,
And starves exhausted Regions in his Way;
Attendant Flatt’ry counts his Myriads o’er,
Till counted Myriads sooth his Pride no more;
Fresh Praise is try’d till Madness fires his Mind,
The Waves he lashes, and enchains the Wind;
New Pow’rs are claim’d, new Pow’rs are still bestowed,
Till rude Resistance lops the spreading God;
The daring Greeks deride the Martial Shew,
And heap their Vallies with the gaudy Foe;
Th’ insulted Sea with humbler Thoughts he gains,
A single Skiff to speed his Flight remains;
Th’ incumber’d Oar scarce leaves the dreaded Coast
Through purple Billows and a floating Host.

The bold Bavarian, in a luckless Hour,
Tries the dread Summits of Cesarean Pow’r,
With unexpected Legions bursts away,
And sees defenceless Realms receive his Sway;
Short Sway! fair Austria spreads her mournful Charms,
The Queen, the Beauty, sets the World in Arms;
From Hill to Hill the Beacons rousing Blaze
Spreads wide the Hope of Plunder and of Praise;
The fierce Croatian, and the wild Hussar,
And all the Sons of Ravage croud the War;
The baffled Prince in Honour’s flatt’ring Bloom
Of hasty Greatness finds the fatal Doom,
His foes Derision, and his Subjects Blame,
And steals to Death from Anguish and from Shame.

Enlarge my Life with Multitude of Days,
In Health, in Sickness, thus the Suppliant prays;
Hides from himself his State, and shuns to know,
That Life protracted is protracted Woe.
Time hovers o’er, impatient to destroy,
And shuts up all the Passages of Joy:
In vain their Gifts the bounteous Seasons pour,
The Fruit autumnal, and the Vernal Flow’r,
With listless Eyes the Dotard views the Store,
He views, and wonders that they please no more;
Now pall the tastless Meats, and joyless Wines,
And Luxury with Sighs her Slave resigns.
Approach, ye Minstrels, try the soothing Strain,
And yield the tuneful Lenitives of Pain:
No Sounds alas would touch th’ impervious Ear,
Though dancing Mountains witness’d Orpheus near;
Nor Lute nor Lyre his feeble Pow’rs attend,
Nor sweeter Musick of a virtuous Friend,
But everlasting Dictates croud his Tongue,
Perversely grave, or positively wrong.
The still returning Tale, and ling’ring Jest,
Perplex the fawning Niece and pamper’d Guest,
While growing Hopes scarce awe the gath’ring Sneer,
And scarce a Legacy can bribe to hear;
The watchful Guests still hint the last Offence,
The Daughter’s Petulance, the Son’s Expence,
Improve his heady Rage with treach’rous Skill,
And mould his Passions till they make his Will.

Unnumber’d Maladies each Joint invade,
Lay Siege to Life and press the dire Blockade;
But unextinguish’d Av’rice still remains,
And dreaded Losses aggravate his Pains;
He turns, with anxious Heart and cripled Hands,
His Bonds of Debt, and Mortgages of Lands;
Or views his Coffers with suspicious Eyes,
Unlocks his Gold, and counts it till he dies.

But grant, the Virtues of a temp’rate Prime
Bless with an Age exempt from Scorn or Crime;
An Age that melts in unperceiv’d Decay,
And glides in modest Innocence away;
Whose peaceful Day Benevolence endears,
Whose Night congratulating Conscience cheers;
The gen’ral Fav’rite as the gen’ral Friend:
Such Age there is, and who could wish its end?

Yet ev’n on this her Load Misfortune flings,
To press the weary Minutes flagging Wings:
New Sorrow rises as the Day returns,
A Sister sickens, or a Daughter mourns.
Now Kindred Merit fills the sable Bier,
Now lacerated Friendship claims a Tear.
Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away;
New Forms arise, and diff’rent Views engage,
Superfluous lags the Vet’ran on the Stage,
Till pitying Nature signs the last Release,
And bids afflicted Worth retire to Peace.

But few there are whom Hours like these await,
Who set unclouded in the Gulphs of fate.
From Lydia’s monarch should the Search descend,
By Solon caution’d to regard his End,
In Life’s last Scene what Prodigies surprise,
Fears of the Brave, and Follies of the Wise?
From Marlb’rough’s Eyes the Streams of Dotage flow,
And Swift expires a Driv’ler and a Show.

The teeming Mother, anxious for her Race,
Begs for each Birth the Fortune of a Face:
Yet Vane could tell what Ills from Beauty spring;
And Sedley curs’d the Form that pleas’d a King.
Ye Nymphs of rosy Lips and radiant Eyes,
Whom Pleasure keeps too busy to be wise,
Whom Joys with soft Varieties invite
By Day the Frolick, and the Dance by Night,
Who frown with Vanity, who smile with Art,
And ask the latest Fashion of the Heart,
What Care, what Rules your heedless Charms shall save,
Each Nymph your Rival, and each Youth your Slave?
An envious Breast with certain Mischief glows,
And Slaves, the Maxim tells, are always Foes.
Against your Fame with Fondness Hate combines,
The Rival batters, and the Lover mines.
With distant Voice neglected Virtue calls,
Less heard, and less the faint Remonstrance falls;
Tir’d with Contempt, she quits the slipp’ry Reign,
And Pride and Prudence take her Seat in vain.
In croud at once, where none the Pass defend,
The harmless Freedom, and the private Friend.
The Guardians yield, by Force superior ply’d;
By Int’rest, Prudence; and by Flatt’ry, Pride.
Here Beauty falls betray’d, despis’d, distress’d,
And hissing Infamy proclaims the rest.

Where then shall Hope and Fear their Objects find?
Must dull Suspence corrupt the stagnant Mind?
Must helpless Man, in Ignorance sedate,
Swim darkling down the Current of his Fate?
Must no Dislike alarm, no Wishes rise,
No Cries attempt the Mercies of the Skies?
Enquirer, cease, Petitions yet remain,
Which Heav’n may hear, nor deem Religion vain.
Still raise for Good the supplicating Voice,
But leave to Heav’n the Measure and the Choice.
Safe in his Pow’r, whose Eyes discern afar
The secret Ambush of a specious Pray’r.
Implore his Aid, in his Decisions rest,
Secure whate’er he gives, he gives the best.
Yet with the Sense of sacred Presence prest,
When strong Devotion fills thy glowing Brest,
Pour forth thy Fervours for a healthful Mind,
Obedient Passions, and a Will resign’d;
For Love, which scarce collective Man can fill;
For Patience sov’reign o’er transmuted Ill;
For Faith, that panting for a happier Seat,
Thinks Death kind Nature’s Signal of Retreat:
These Goods for Man the Laws of Heav’n ordain,
These Goods he grants, who grants the Pow’r to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the Mind,
And makes the Happiness she does not find.

§

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‘BYE MAMA

22 November 2008

It was mama’s funeral this morning.  At least it was dry; I hate rainy funerals — there’s too much slippery mud for a start, but the wet and grey just makes the whole thing such an ordeal. For mama, it was dry, but freezing cold Arctic winds from the north chilled us all to the core.  There were a few scattered flakes of snow, but nothing came of it.

It’s a lovely graveyard, as graveyards go.  Small, and rural — and pretty old, pastoral is the right word for it.  Hardly anyone seems to know about it. I picked it for my Dad’s plot some 20 years ago, I knew of it because a friend of mine’s Dad is buried there.

It was strange this morning, being back at my father’s grave.  It was big enough for dad, mama and me because my sister was married with kids when our dad died, and it seemed unlikely that I would bother to get married!  Being there this morning made me realise that I’d better come up with a new plan now that I am married with kids; there’s no way I’m being buried with my parents now.

The kids were really well behaved, and everyone was so nice and the minister’s words were really touching, especially this poem:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.

I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.

I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.

I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.

I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

It struck me as really lovely, and I remembered so much of it that after the food, when we got home, I searched the internet and found out that it was by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004).

Funny how the religious stuff didn’t “take” as well as this wee poem! Anyway, it was a beautiful and proper send-off. “Bye, bye mama”.

§

RUTH – THOMAS HOOD

1 November 2006

When I began my relationship with the woman who became my wife, I searched for a poem that summed up at least a bit of what I was feeling.  If I found a suitable poem, I had half a mind to print it on a card, perhaps on invitations, engagement notices or something!

Anyway, after an age of looking without success, I half-heartedly searched the library for “Ruth”, and I couldn’t believe it when I came across a poem called “Ruth” that was perfect.

She stood breast high amid the corn
Clasp’d by the golden light of morn,
Like the sweetheart of the sun,
Who many a glowing kiss had won.

On her cheek an autumn flush,
Deeply ripen’d;— such a blush
In the midst of brown was born,
Like red poppies grown with corn.

Round her eyes her tresses fell,
Which were blackest none could tell,
But long lashes veil’d a light,
That had else been all too bright,

And her hat, with shady brim,
Made her tressy forehead dim;—
Thus she stood amid the stooks,
Praising God with sweetest looks:—

Sure, I said, Heav’n did not mean,
Where I reap thou shouldst but glean,
Lay thy sheaf adown and come,
Share my harvest and my home.

‘Ruth’ — Thomas Hood ( 1862-1863)

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THE SERENADE – PERCIVAL

7 November 2004

Now, it has to be said that Percival is not widely thought-of as a “top poet”.  I “got his” served to me during a poetry course because he was American and because he was excellently sentimental.  He had talent; he was renowned for his ability to write in any style and meter.

Anyway, I do not mind sentimentality and innocent romance; this is the stuff of poetry, everyday poetry — as opposed to epic or important pieces.  This is simple, enjoyable, and I just like it. I would be fairly pleased with myself had I written it.

Softly the moonlight
Is shed on the lake,
Cool is the summer night,—
Wake! O awake!
Faintly the curfew
Is heard from afar,
List ye! O list!
To the lively guitar.

Trees cast a mellow shade
Over the vale,
Sweetly the serenade
Breathes in the gale,
Softly and tenderly
Over the lake,
Gayly and cheerily,—
Wake! O awake!

See the light pinnace
Draws nigh to the shore,
Swiftly it glides
At the heave of the oar,
Cheerily plays
On its buoyant car,
Nearer and nearer,
The lively guitar.

Now the wind rises
And ruffles the pine,
Ripples foam-crested
Like diamonds shine,
They flash, where the waters
The white pebbles lave,
In the wake of the moon,
As it crosses the wave.

Bounding from billow
To billow, the boat
Like a wild swan is seen
On the waters to float;
And the light dripping oars
Bear it smoothly along
In time to the air
Of the gondolier’s song.

And high on the stern
Stands the young and the brave,
As love-led he crosses
The star-spangled wave,
And blends with the murmur
Of water and grove
The tones of the night,
That are sacred to love.

His gold-hilted sword
At his bright belt is hung,
His mantle of silk
On his shoulder is flung,
And high waves the feather,
That dances and plays
On his cap where the buckle
And rosary blaze.

The maid from her lattice
Looks down on the lake,
To see the foam sparkle,
The bright billow break,
And to hear in his boat,
Where he shines like a star,
Her lover so tenderly
Touch his guitar.

She opens her lattice,
And sits in the glow
Of the moonlight and starlight,
A statue of snow;
And she sings in a voice
That is broken with sighs,
And she darts on her lover
The light of her eyes.

His love-speaking pantomime
Tells her his soul,—
How wild in that sunny clime
Hearts and eyes roll.
She waves with her white hand
Her white fazzolet,
And her burning thoughts flash
From her eyes’ living jet.

The moonlight is hid
In a vapor of snow;
Her voice and his rebeck
Alternately flow;
Re-echoed they swell
From the rock on the hill;
They sing their farewell,
And the music is still.

‘The Serenade’ James Gates Percival, 1859

§

SONNET 18 – SHAKESPEARE

7 April 2004

Shakespeare is so brilliant that it is quite amazing.  I experimented with a little Shakespeare at school, nothing too serious — but I am afraid that this did eventually lead to more and harder Shakespeare.  It was a slippery slope to the sonnets.

Who hasn’t heard of “The Darling Buds of May”? and “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”;  these are stock phrases today.  But just read the 18th, read and enjoy the language, savour the words, and be enriched by what it evokes.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d:
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

‘Sonnet XVIII’ William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

I recall that when first I read this poem, I got confused by the word “fair” until I realised he was writing about beauty.

And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d.

Just read this as

And everything beautiful will fade either because of
chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d.

As such I have always taken Shakespeare to be talking about a snapshot — a picture or possibly a sculpture, rather than an actual living woman (whose looks will naturally fade). I can even understand this as being about a building, from the architect’s point of view, or a song or piece of music — or even a play.

A man on the radio one day suggested it might be about unrequited love, either through separation or platonic love, and be about the memory induced. What do you think?

§

SHAKESPEARE – JULIUS CAESAR III/II

26 March 2003

I was served Shakespeare at High School as part of a subject called “English”, which is strange for all sorts of reasons when you dwell on it.  Anyway, I struggled with the material until Julius Caesar and the following excerpt.

This was the the tipping point for me, after which I “got” Shakespeare.  The rhetoric is poetic here, and I each time I read through even just this piece of text, I discover more.  It is true to say that Shakespeare keeps on giving.

This excerpt is from Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ Act III Scene II – Rome. The Forum. Brutus, Cassius, and a throng of Citizens enter, Brutus speaks from the Rostrum (Romans, countrymen, and lovers! …), Cassius leaves, then Antony and others arrive carrying Caesar’s body. At this point everyone hates Caesar and loves Brutus. Antony’s fabulous rhetorical argument and wonderful oration soon persuades the crowd to reverse their view…

BRUTUS
Good countrymen, let me depart alone,
And, for my sake, stay here with Antony:
Do grace to Caesar’s corpse, and grace his speech
Tending to Caesar’s glories; which Mark Antony,
By our permission, is allow’d to make.
I do entreat you, not a man depart,
Save I alone, till Antony have spoke.

Exit

First Citizen
Stay, ho! and let us hear Mark Antony.

Third Citizen
Let him go up into the public chair;
We’ll hear him. Noble Antony, go up.

ANTONY
For Brutus’s sake, I am beholding to you.

Goes into the pulpit

Fourth Citizen
What does he say of Brutus?

Third Citizen
He says, for Brutus’s sake,
He finds himself beholding to us all.

Fourth Citizen
‘Twere best he speak no harm of Brutus here.

First Citizen
This Caesar was a tyrant.

Third Citizen
Nay, that’s certain:
We are blest that Rome is rid of him.

Second Citizen
Peace! let us hear what Antony can say.

ANTONY
You gentle Romans,–

Citizens
Peace, ho! let us hear him.

ANTONY
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

First Citizen
Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.

Second Citizen
If thou consider rightly of the matter,
Caesar has had great wrong.

Third Citizen
Has he, masters?
I fear there will a worse come in his place.

Fourth Citizen
Mark’d ye his words? He would not take the crown;
Therefore ’tis certain he was not ambitious.

First Citizen
If it be found so, some will dear abide it.

Second Citizen
Poor soul! his eyes are red as fire with weeping.

Third Citizen
There’s not a nobler man in Rome than Antony.

Fourth Citizen
Now mark him, he begins again to speak.

ANTONY
But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there.
And none so poor to do him reverence.
O masters, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honourable men:
I will not do them wrong; I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honourable men.
But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar;
I found it in his closet, ’tis his will:
Let but the commons hear this testament–
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read–
And they would go and kiss dead Caesar’s wounds
And dip their napkins in his sacred blood,
Yea, beg a hair of him for memory,
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.

Fourth Citizen
We’ll hear the will: read it, Mark Antony.

All
The will, the will! we will hear Caesar’s will.

ANTONY
Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it;
It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!

Fourth Citizen
Read the will; we’ll hear it, Antony;
You shall read us the will, Caesar’s will.

ANTONY
Will you be patient? will you stay awhile?
I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it:
I fear I wrong the honourable men
Whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar; I do fear it.

Fourth Citizen
They were traitors: honourable men!

All
The will! the testament!

Second Citizen
They were villains, murderers: the will! read the will.

ANTONY
You will compel me, then, to read the will?
Then make a ring about the corpse of Caesar,
And let me show you him that made the will.
Shall I descend? and will you give me leave?

Several Citizens
Come down.

Second Citizen
Descend.

Third Citizen
You shall have leave.

ANTONY comes down

Fourth Citizen
A ring; stand round.

First Citizen
Stand from the hearse, stand from the body.

Second Citizen
Room for Antony, most noble Antony.

ANTONY
Nay, press not so upon me; stand far off.

Several Citizens
Stand back; room; bear back.

ANTONY
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’s dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it,
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock’d, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquish’d him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey’s statua,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourish’d over us.
O, now you weep; and, I perceive, you feel
The dint of pity: these are gracious drops.
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar’s vesture wounded? Look you here,
Here is himself, marr’d, as you see, with traitors.

First Citizen
O piteous spectacle!

Second Citizen
O noble Caesar!

Third Citizen
O woful day!

Fourth Citizen
O traitors, villains!

First Citizen
O most bloody sight!

Second Citizen
We will be revenged.

All
Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay!
Let not a traitor live!

ANTONY
Stay, countrymen.

First Citizen
Peace there! hear the noble Antony.

Second Citizen
We’ll hear him, we’ll follow him, we’ll die with him.

ANTONY
Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honourable:
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it: they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts:
I am no orator, as Brutus is;
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man,
That love my friend; and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of him:
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

All
We’ll mutiny.

First Citizen
We’ll burn the house of Brutus.

Third Citizen
Away, then! come, seek the conspirators.

ANTONY
Yet hear me, countrymen; yet hear me speak.

All
Peace, ho! Hear Antony. Most noble Antony!

ANTONY
Why, friends, you go to do you know not what:
Wherein hath Caesar thus deserved your loves?
Alas, you know not: I must tell you then:
You have forgot the will I told you of.

All
Most true. The will! Let’s stay and hear the will.

ANTONY
Here is the will, and under Caesar’s seal.
To every Roman citizen he gives,
To every several man, seventy-five drachmas.

Second Citizen
Most noble Caesar! We’ll revenge his death.

Third Citizen
O royal Caesar!

ANTONY
Hear me with patience.

All
Peace, ho!

ANTONY
Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,
And to your heirs for ever, common pleasures,
To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?

First Citizen
Never, never. Come, away, away!
We’ll burn his body in the holy place,
And with the brands fire the traitors’ houses.
Take up the body.

Second Citizen
Go fetch fire.

Third Citizen
Pluck down benches.

Fourth Citizen
Pluck down forms, windows, any thing.

Exeunt Citizens with the body

ANTONY
Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt!

‘Julius Caesar’ Act III Scene II, William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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THE LADY’S DRESSING ROOM

25 March 2003

I came across Johnathan Swift, no doubt like many others, by virtue of “Gulliver’s Travels”.  I had to study “Gulliver” as set work during a course, and I found it fascinating and very rewarding (and not merely a kid’s story).  I was surprised to see him named elsewhere as the Reverend Johnathan Swift, and then I came across “The Lady’s Dressing Room”!

A Religious man wrote this! How marvellous! This is an amazing piece if work for that, but also for being written such a long time ago! It’s an amazing piece for a whole barrow-load of reasons.  Enjoy!

Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in lace, brocade and tissues:
Strephon, who found the room was void,
And Betty otherwise employed,
Stole in, and took a strict survey,
Of all the litter as it lay:
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
An inventory follows here.

And first, a dirty smock appeared,
Beneath the arm-pits well besmeared;
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide,
And turned it round on every side.
In such a case few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest;
But swears how damnably the men lie,
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.

Now listen while he next produces,
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixed,
No brush could force a way betwixt;
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;
A forehead cloth with oil upon’t
To smooth the wrinkles on her front;
Here alum flower to stop the steams,
Exhaled from sour unsavoury streams;
There night-gloves made of Tripsy’s hide,
Bequeathed by Tripsy when she died:
With puppy water, beauty’s help,
Distilled from Tripsy’s darling whelp.
Here gallipots and vials placed,
Some filled with washes, some with paste;
Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy basin stands,
Fouled with the scouring of her hands;
The basin takes whatever comes,
The scraping of her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.

But Oh! it turned poor Strephon’s bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the towels;
Begummed, be mattered, and beslimed;
With dirt, and sweat, and ear-wax grimed.
No object Strephon’s eye escapes,
Here petticoats in frowzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot,
All varnished o’er with snuff and snot.
The stockings who should I expose,
Stained with the moisture of her toes;
Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,
Which Celia slept at least a week in?
A pair of tweezers next he found
To pluck her brows in arches round,
Or hairs that sink the forehead low,
Or on her chin like bristles grow.

The virtues we must not let pass,
Of Celia’s magnifying glass;
When frighted Strephon cast his eye on’t,
It showed the visage of a giant:
A glass that can to sight disclose
The smallest worm in Celia’s nose,
And faithfully direct her nail
To squeeze it out from head to tail;
For catch it nicely by the head,
It must come out alive or dead.

Why, Strephon, will you tell the rest?
And must you needs describe the chest?
That careless wench! no creature warn her
To move it out from yonder corner,
But leave it standing full in sight,
For you to exercise your spite!
In vain the workman showed his wit
With rings and hinges counterfeit
To make it seem in this disguise,
A cabinet to vulgar eyes;
Which Strephon ventured to look in,
Resolving to go through thick and thin;
He lifts the lid: there need no more,
He smelt it all the time before.

As from within Pandora’s box,
When Epimethus oped the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of human evils upward flew;
He still was comforted to find
That hope at least remained behind.

So, Strephon, lifting up the lid,
To view what in the chest was hid,
The vapours flew from out the vent,
But Strephon cautious never meant
The bottom of the pan to grope,
And foul his hands in search of hope.

O! ne’er may such a vile machine
Be once in Celia’s chamber seen!
O! may she better learn to keep
‘Those secrets of the hoary deep.’

As mutton cutlets, prime of meat,
Which though with art you salt and beat,
As laws of cookery require,
And roast them at the clearest fire;
If from adown the hopeful chops
The fat upon a cinder drops,
To stinking smoke it turns the flame
Poisoning the flesh from whence it came;
And up exhales a greasy stench,
For which you curse the careless wench:
So things which must not be expressed,
When plumped into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from which they fell:
The petticoats and gown perfume,
And waft a stink round every room.

Thus finished his grand survey,
The swain disgusted slunk away,
Repeating in his amorous fits,
‘Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!’

But vengeance, goddess never sleeping,
Soon punished Strephon for his peeping.
His foul imagination links
Each dame he sees with all her stinks:
And, if unsavoury odours fly,
Conceives a lady standing by:
All women his description fits,
And both ideas jump like wits,
By vicious fancy coupled fast,
And still appearing in contrast.

I pity wretched Strephon, blind
To all the charms of womankind;
Should I the queen of love refuse,
Because she rose from stinking ooze?
To him that looks behind the scene,
Statira’s but some pocky quean.

When Celia in her glory shows,
If Strephon would but stop his nose,
Who now so impiously blasphemes
Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams;
Her washes, slops, and every clout,
With which she makes so foul a rout;
He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravished eyes to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) wr. 1730 pub. 1732

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TO HIS MISTRESS GOING TO BED

25 March 2003

Some things never change — human nature is obviously like that. Can you believe this poem is so old? This was a favourite for me at school because it made the girls (and the teacher) blush and fluster! Ah! Adolescence!
Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’ eyes of busy fools may be stopt there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you, that now is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowry meads th’ hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and show
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Receiv’d by men; thou Angel bring’st with thee
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and through
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empery,
How blest am I in discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.

To his Mistress Going to Bed’ John Donne (1572-1631)

DYLAN THOMAS – UNDER MILKWOOD

25 March 2003

It is spring, moonless night
in the small town, starless and
bible-black, the cobblestreets
silent and the hunched,
courters ‘-and-rabbits’ wood
limping invisible down to the
sloeback, slow, black, crowblack,
fishingboat-bobbing sea.

Dylan Thomas Under Milkwood 1954 (Narrator’s introduction)

I was attracted to this poem initially because of “Starless and Bible Black” — which is the title of a King Crimson album — and I loved the phrase’s imagery, starless black and also “Bible black” — which is clever as it invokes a black bound bible, but black is usually associated with evil, and white with good, making a bible black a good play on words.  But — Oh — just look at the wonderful poem here — sloeback, slow black crowblack — it’s fabulous!  Like James Joyce on steroids! Class!

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