Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "Ode to a Nightingale' by John Keats


MY heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,      
  But being too happy in thine happiness,
    That thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees,
          In some melodious plot
  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
  Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,
  Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South!
  Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
          And purple-stainèd mouth;
  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
  What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
  Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
          And leaden-eyed despairs;
  Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
    Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays
          But here there is no light,
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
    Fast-fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
          And mid-May's eldest child,
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
  I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
  To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
  To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
          In such an ecstasy!
  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
    To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
  No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
  In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
          The same that ofttimes hath
  Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
  To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
  As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
    Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
          In the next valley-glades:
  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
    Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep?


by John Keats

This poem is still as lovely as when I first encountered it in my fifth-form (Year 11 in the modern school parlance) English class.


Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation UK

For more information about John Keats, see:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Keats



Actor Ben Whishaw doing his best John Keats impression



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday Poem: " The Children's Hour" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Between the dark and the daylight,
   When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
   That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
   The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
   And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
   Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
   And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
   Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
   To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
   A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
   They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
   O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
   They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
   Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
   In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
   Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
   Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
   And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
   In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
   Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
   And moulder in dust away!


by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


In the early 1980s, there was a New Zealand band called Children's Hour, but apparently they didn't take their name from this poem.



Longfellow is probably fairly well known to most English students in English-speaking countries, but for more on this poet, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow

You have to be a jolly famous poet to feature on a Postage Stamp:


I aspire to be on a Postage Stamp someday, but with the decline of snail mail, will anyone still be licking the backs of poets in ten years time?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "Braided River" (In memory of Norris Hickey)


Love and family
are the twin tributaries that flowed into your heart
like a braided river.
Somewhat of a paradox, a sociable man
who often preferred to be alone
on some braided river,
basking in the peace of the wilderness,
hearing only the song of the birds
and the gentle whirr of the fly line,
its nylon whipping to that spot
where you hoped the fish would rise.
Patience comes more easily in
peaceful surroundings,
but not so easy waiting for the blessing
of grandchildren.
Like awaiting the trout and salmon,
your patience was rewarded
when the spawning started.
Five blessings eventually
and you always said what a lucky man you were.
What you would have been too modest to say
was that we were all lucky too.
For you filled all our lives with your love,
your boxing tales
and your big, generous heart.

POET'S NOTE: My father-in-law, Norris Hickey, died on Saturday 27 September 2014, after a protracted battle with prostate cancer. He was fortunate in that he died in his home where he had brought up his family for the past 40 years and his beloved wife and his much-loved four daughters were around his bedside when he breathed his last breath. RIP Norris.

Norris Hickey in 1998 at the Wedding of his second daughter
Photo Credit: Bronwyn Evans

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "We Two On The Still Strand" by Christian Matras


It was in a world of fair-weather fog
the islands out there had gone
and soft small waves came back and forth to shore,
they hardly wanted to break.
We two alone on the foreshore
waded quietly out
and began to play with the cool wavelets quietly, 
yes, with the whole unspoiled world
that God had made in the first days. 

     -- Christian Matras (translated from the Faroese by George Johnston)


To find out more about this poet:





Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Poem: "Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower" by Taha Muhammad Ali


In his life
he neither wrote nor read.
In his life he
didn’t cut down a single tree,
didn’t slit the throat
of a single calf.
In his life he did not speak
of the New York Times
behind its back,
didn’t raise
his voice to a soul
except in his saying:
“Come in, please,
by God, you can’t refuse.”

Nevertheless—
his case is hopeless,
his situation
desperate.
His God-given rights are a grain of salt
tossed into the sea.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
about his enemies
my client knows not a thing.
And I can assure you,
were he to encounter
the entire crew
of the aircraft carrier Enterprise,
he’d serve them eggs
sunny-side up,
and labneh
fresh from the bag.



by Taha Muhammad Ali 
(translated from the Arabic by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin)

Photo Credit: Nina Subin

For more about this poet, see:


If we take the time to study the modern history of the Middle East and not just see the region in terms of a simplistic Arab versus Jew dualism, we can see that colonial powers have meddled with the Middle Eastern countries and territories for reasons of power, influence, military posturing and exploitation of the area's resources, such as oil.

If you would like to have more in-depth knowledge of this Western interference, I highly recommend reading Robert Fisk's collection of columns for The Independent which is called Age of the Warrior:




http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-age-of-the-warrior-by-robert-fisk-832693.html

I think this poem by Taha Muhammad Ali accurately portrays the plight of the average Palestinian, indeed the plight of many poor Arab people throughout the Arab region who have no thoughts of Jihad because they are too busy just getting by with the details of everyday life. This might seem like sacrilege to George W. Bush and Tony Blair, but the majority of Muslim Arabs, I suspect, want much the same as any citizen of this planet, to give their children better food, better housing, better education and generally better lives than they themselves have had.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

NEW ZEALAND ELECTION DAY POEM: "Looking Backwards" by Kendrick Smithyman


The first Labour Government was in office.
A fait accompli, without consulting us
Mother went into time payment, again we had
a radio. We were in touch,
                                         broadcasts from the House,
Eb and Zeb, Fred and Maggie, Father's good ear pressed
to the Speaker (this was better than Hansard)
and Gordon Hutter. Sense of purpose -
everything being built all over,
they hadn't yet started quite to fall apart?
On the horizon a shimmering like a pearl.

Au fond du temple saint:
soon I was getting into opera, would rather
had been girls but girls were difficult.
Even so after Evensong I ratted on Maury,
left him with both choirgirls on his hands,
scuttling home to hear the latest tenor,
Jussi Björling.
                      Mother closed her eyes, Father leaned
against E lucevan le stelle, to La donna è mobile.
How right. "As good as Caruso, or better,
when I heard him in Philadelphia."
"Like Melba," Mum declared, "you don't know
whether to laugh or cry." We'd missed
Uncle Scrim.

                         Along skies westward stars were
shining, a flickering like not so distant gunfire.


     -- Kendrick Smithyman


Photo Credit: www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz

For more on this often underrated New Zealand poet, see:



Friday, September 19, 2014

BUGGER!!!


As you are all probably aware, the NO vote won and poor old Scotland is still tied to England...and so, for that matter, are our Gaelic cousins in Wales and Northern Ireland.

People (often English people and conservative Scots) were so horrified at the thought of an Independent Scotland, but how is it any different from an Independent France or Germany or Spain?

I'm disappointed, but that's democracy, I guess. You win some, you lose some.

Let's try again soon, Scotland! Don't give up, Glasgow, you wanted to go free and clear, but the rest of the country weren't with you this time.