Friday, February 7, 2014

Powerful Poetry

Asalamu Alaykom and Jummah Mabrook,

Yesterday, I was teaching poetry.  Truly, it is a blessing to have a job so meaningful to you that you learn and grow as you work for pay.  As I woke this morning, I asked myself if I could actually leave this place to work in America once more because I would have to leave the land of literature as well.  Without a valid teacher's license, I could never teach Sara Teasdale.

There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white:

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
if mankind perishes utterly;

And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

The students liked that poem so I added one of my Teasdale favorite.

The Look
Sara Teasdale

Strephon kissed me in the spring
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,
Robin's lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin's eyes
Haunts me night and day.

I also taught Gautier.  It's long, but if you like Egypt, it's a must-read.

Nostalgia of the Obelisks
Theophile Gautier

The Obelisk in Paris

Distant from my native land,
Ever dull with ennui's pain,
Lonely monolith I stand,
In the snow and frost and rain.

And my shaft, once burnt to red
In a flaming heaven's glare,
Taketh on a pallor dead
In this never azure air.

Oh, to stand again before
Luxor's pylons, and the dear,
Grim Colossi!—be once more
My vermilion brother near!

Oh, to pierce the changeless blue,
Where of old my peak upwon,
With my shadow sharp and true
Trace the footsteps of the sun!

Once, O Rameses! my tall mass
Not the ages could destroy.
But it fell cut down like grass.
Paris took it for a toy.

Now my granite form behold:
Sentinel the livelong day
Twixt a spurious temple old,
And the Chambre des Députés!

On the spot where Louis SeizeDied, 
they set me, meaningless,
With my secret which outweighs
Cycles of forgetfulness.

Sparrows lean defile my head,
Where the ibis used to light,
And the fierce gypaetus spread
Talons gold and plumage white.

And the Seine, the drip of street,
Unclean river, crime's abyss,
Now befouls mine ancient feet,
Which the Nile was wont to kiss:

Hoary Nile that, crowned and stern,
To its lotus-laden shores
From its ever bended urn
Crocodiles for gudgeon pours!

Golden chariots gem-belit
Of the Pharaohs' pageanting
Grazed my side the cab-wheels hit,
Bearing out the last poor king.

By my granite shape of yore
Passed the priests, with stately pschent,
And the mystic boat upbore,
Emblemed and magnificent.

But to-day, profane and wan,
Camped between two fountains wide,
I behold the courtesan
In her carriage lounge with pride.

From the first of year to last
I must see the vulgar show—
Solons to the Council passed,
Lovers to the woods that go!

Oh, what skeletons abhorred,
Hence, an hundred years, this race!
Couched, unbandaged, on a board,
In a nailed coffin's place.

Never hypogeum kind,
Safe from foul corruption's fear;
Never hall where century-lined
Generations disappear!

Sacred soil of hieroglyph,
And of sacerdotal laws,
Where the Sphinx is waiting stiff,
Sharpening on the stone its claws,—

Soil of crypt where echoes part,
Where the vulture swoopeth free,
All my being,—all my heart,
O mine Egypt, weeps for thee!

I find it interesting that I only taught the first poem.  Until I searched for it now, I had no idea there even was an accompanying poem.  See how the way we view art is changed by the framing of it?

The photograph below was from our January, 2011 trip to Luxor.


The Obelisk in Luxor

Where the wasted columns brood,
Lonely sentinel stand I,
In eternal solitude
Facing all infinity.

Dumb, with beauty unendowed,
To the horizon limitless
Spreads earth's desert like a shroud
Stained by yellow suns that press.

While above it, blue and clean,
Is another desert cast—
Sky where cloud is never seen,
Pure, implacable, and vast.

And the Nile's great water-course
Glazed with leaden pellicle
Wrinkled by the river-horse
Gleameth dead, unlustreful.

All about the flaming isles,
By a turbid water spanned,
Hot, rapacious crocodiles
Swoon and sob upon the sand.

Perching motionless, alone,
Ibis, bird of classic fame,
From a carven slab of stone
Reads the moon-god's sacred name.

Jackals howl, hyenas grin,
Famished hawks descend and cry.
Down the heavy air they spin,
Commas black against the sky.

These the sounds of solitude,
Where the sphinxes yawn and doze,
Dull and passionless of mood,
Weary of their endless pose.

Child of sand's reflected shine,
And of sun-rays fiercely bent,
Is there ennui like to thine,
Spleen of luminous Orient?

Thou it was cried "Halt!" of yore
To satiety of kings.
Thou hast crushed me more and more
With thine awful weight of wings.

Here no zephyr of the sea
Wipes the tears from skies that fill.
Time himself leans wearily
On the palaces long still.

Naught shall touch the features terse
Of this dull, eternal spot.
In this changing universe,
Only Egypt changeth not!

When the ennui never ends,
And I yearn a friend to hold,
I've the fellahs, mummies, friends,
Of the dynasties of old.

I behold a pillar pale,
Or a chipped Colossus note,
Watch a distant, gleaming sail
Up and down the Nile afloat.

Oh, to seek my brother's side,
In a Paris wondrous, grand,
With his stately form to bide,
In the public place to stand!

For he looks on living men,
And they scan his pictures wrought
By an hieratic pen,
To be read by vision-thought.

Fountains fair as amethyst
On his granite lightly pour
All their irisated mist.
He is growing young once more.

Ah! yet he and I had birth
From Syene's veins of red.
But I keep my spot of earth.
He is living. I am dead.

Lastly, I taught Longfellow while I was subbing for a sick teacher.

The Village Blacksmith
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
 The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
 With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
 Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
 His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
 He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face
 For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn to night,
 You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
 With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
 When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
 Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge
 And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
 Like chaff from a threshing floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
 And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
 He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
 And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
 How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
 A tear out of his eyes.

 Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
 Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
 Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee my worthy friend,
 For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
 Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
 Each burning deed and thought. 

What a joy to impart the layers of meaning within poetry to young minds!  How fun for me to enjoy myself at work and have the effect last all the way into the next day.

Today, on my day off, I started reading a story about Mia Farrow.  Her story led once again to poetry since she took the name of her memoir from a poem.  Have a look:

The Waking
Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.  
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?  
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?  
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,  
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?  
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do  
To you and me; so take the lively air,  
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.  
What falls away is always. And is near.  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  
I learn by going where I have to go.

Enjoy more than the status quo.  Read poetry.  Reach out and revel in the deep feelings and thoughts you still have swimming inside you.

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