Edna St. Vincent Millay, Geoffrey Chaucer, National Poetry Month, Poetry

The Month for Poetry

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour….

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

 Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Ferries

It all started in 1995 when the Academy of American Poets brought together a group of publishers, booksellers, librarians, literary organizations, poets and teachers.  This was no ordinary conference!  The participants had one objective, to organize a month-long commemoration of poetry.   They designated April 1996 as the inaugural celebration of National Poetry Month.     Geoffrey Chaucer would be proud!  After all, April is the time for pilgrimages.  In my experience, this embodies the essence of poetry.  Poems thrust us into a remarkable journey that demands are complete involvement.

Last year, OTR Poetry Reading Program 2013 selected, “The Voice of the Poet – Five American Women” which brings together the brilliant voices of Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louise Bogan and Muriel Rukeyser.   To celebrate this month of poetry, I want to highlight these five American Women who used poetry to define their lives and challenged us to do the same.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was a free spirit known for her bohemian lifestyle.  Her background in theatre added a dramatic flare to her poetry readings.  Recuerdo, which in Spanish means memory, is a testament to living generously, without reservation, without regret.

Reading poetry speaks to the heart.  Listening to poetry sings to the soul.

Recuerdo

Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—

But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,

We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;

And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon. Continue reading

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“In a society where the rights and potential of women are constrained, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom.”
Mary Robinson

Chatsworth

The first time I heard the name, Mary Robinson, was when I was looking into the life of Emma Hamilton, the great love of Lord Nelson. Mary, born in Bristol, England around the year 1757, had a head start on Emma, who was born in 1765. Mary appears to have come from a higher social level, given that her father was a naval captain and Emma’s was a blacksmith who died when she was two months old. One thing they had in common – they were destined to lead remarkable lives.

They met at the Drury Lane Theatre in Covent Garden when Emma became Mary’s maid. Mary had already become famous for her role of Perdita in Shakespeare’s play “A Winter’s Tale.” But that was only the beginning of her achievements. Indeed, during her short lifetime, Mary took on the role of actress, poet, dramatist, and novelist. Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire sponsored the publication of the first volume of her poems, Captivity.  Her celebrity status attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV. In later years, she became known as the “English Sappho,”

Mary Robinson was a strident voice for women’s rights in a time of transition and exponential growth. Her poem, “January, 1795,” reflects her keen awareness and understanding of the polarized class structure in which she lived. As you read the poem, the disparity between rich and poor, the social injustice, the lack of honour given to the noble pursuits of artistic expression, honest labour and patriotism, becomes obvious. Mary Robinson lived a vibrant, sometimes contradictory, lifestyle. Yet, her words continue to hold relevance in our age.

January, 1795

by Mary Robinson

Pavement slipp’ry, people sneezing,
Lords in ermine, beggars freezing;
Titled gluttons dainties carving,
Genius in a garret starving. Continue reading
Emma Hamilton, Mary Robinson, Poetry, Women in History

January, 1795

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J.R.R. Tolkien, Poetry, Poets, Remembrance Day, Wilfred Owen

A Soldier’s Voice

Vimy Ridge

Anthem for Doomed Youth

By Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

Wilfred Owen is considered to be one of the greatest of all the First World War soldier-poets. His poetry does not romanticize conflict; rather, he spoke the truth.  War is not glorious.  He wrote about the hardships endured by the soldiers – trudging in cold, wet weather carrying enormous weights on their shoulder, struggling through trenches filled with water.

Wilfred Owen was killed in a machine gun fire one week before the Armistice, November 1918. His legacy has come down in the form of poetry, mostly written over a course of one year from August 1917 to September 1918.

J.R.R. Tolkien, who also served in WWI and suffered the loss of his closest friends, wrote,

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

 

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Carl Sandburg, Halloween, Poets

There is Always a Pumpkin

Happy Pumpkin

A carved pumpkin is the quintessential symbol of Halloween.  You may be interested in knowing – as I was when I was looking up “pumpkins” – that in Ireland and Scotland, the turnip was the vegetable of choice for carving.  With the great Irish and Scottish immigration to North America in the 19th century, the turnip was soon swapped for the larger and softer native pumpkin.  Mass production followed shortly thereafter!

There is always a pumpkin at Halloween!

Theme in Yellow

Carl Sandburg

I SPOT the hills

With yellow balls in autumn.

I light the prairie cornfields

Orange and tawny gold clusters

And I am called pumpkins.

On the last of October

When dusk is fallen

Children join hands

And circle round me

Singing ghost songs

And love to the harvest moon;

I am a jack-o’-lantern

With terrible teeth

And the children know

I am fooling.

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Birthdays, T.S. Eliot

Happy Birthday, T.S. Eliot

The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man” 
T.S. Eliot

Cow Pasture

This morning, The Poetry Foundation sent me an e-mail with their featured poem of the day. It was “La Figlia che Piange,” which I translated using my limited Italian ability to mean “The Daughter who Cried” or “Daughter Crying,” by Thomas Stearns Eliot.  Today, marks his birthday.

T.S. Eliot was one of the 20th century greatest poets.  American by birth – he was born in 1888 in St. Louis Missouri – he became a British Citizen when he turned thirty-nine in 1927.  He was complex, brilliant and controversial. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, he is known for some of our best known poems in the English Language:  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, and The Hollow Men.

I am celebrating his birthday today with his poem “Cousin Nancy!”

Cousin Nancy

By T.S. Eliot

Miss Nancy Ellicott

Strode across the hills and broke them,

Rode across the hills and broke them —

The barren New England hills —

Riding to hounds

Over the cow-pasture.

  Continue reading

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