Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Tuesday Poem: "O Black and Unknown Bards" by by James Weldon Johnson

O black and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?

How, in your darkness, did you come to know

The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre?

Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?

Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,

Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise

Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?


Heart of what slave poured out such melody

As “Steal away to Jesus”? On its strains

His spirit must have nightly floated free,

Though still about his hands he felt his chains.

Who heard great “Jordan roll”? Whose starward eye

Saw chariot “swing low”? And who was he

That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,

“Nobody knows de trouble I see”?


What merely living clod, what captive thing,

Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,

And find within its deadened heart to sing

These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?

How did it catch that subtle undertone,

That note in music heard not with the ears?

How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,

Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.


Not that great German master in his dream

Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars

At the creation, ever heard a theme

Nobler than “Go down, Moses.” Mark its bars

How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir

The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung

Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were

That helped make history when Time was young.


There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,

That from degraded rest and servile toil

The fiery spirit of the seer should call

These simple children of the sun and soil.

O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,

You—you alone, of all the long, long line

Of those who’ve sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,

Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.


You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;

No chant of bloody war, no exulting pean

Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings

You touched in chord with music empyrean.

You sang far better than you knew; the songs

That for your listeners’ hungry hearts sufficed

Still live,—but more than this to you belongs:

You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.

by James Weldon Johnson

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Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Tuesday Poem: "Aubade" by William Empson

Hours before dawn we were woken by the quake.
My house was on a cliff. The thing could take

Bookloads off shelves, break bottles in a row.

Then the long pause and then the bigger shake.

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

And far too large for my feet to step by.

I hoped that various buildings were brought low.

The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

It seemed quite safe till she got up and dressed.

The guardest tourist makes the guide the test.

Then I said The Garden? Laughing she said No.

Taxi for her and for me healthy rest.

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

The language problem but you have to try.

Some solid ground for lying could she show?

The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

None of these deaths were her point at all.

The thing was that being woken he would bawl

And finding her not in earshot he would know.

I tried saying Half an Hour to pay this call.

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

I slept, and blank as that I would yet lie.

Till you have seen what a threat holds below,

The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me again about Europe and her pains,

Who’s tortured by the drought, who by the rains.

Glut me with floods where only the swine can row

Who cuts his throat and let him count his gains.

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

A bedshift flight to a Far Eastern sky.

Only the same war on a stronger toe.

The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me more quickly what I lost by this,

Or tell me with less drama what they miss

Who call no die a god for a good throw,

Who say after two aliens had one kiss

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

But as to risings, I can tell you why.

It is on contradiction that they grow.

It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

Up was the heartening and strong reply.

The heart of standing is we cannot fly.

by William Empson 

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Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Tuesday Poem: "Happiness" by Raymond Carver

So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

by Raymond Carver

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