Poetry Writings Artwork and stories from Neil Furby

Apr 21, 2010 at 01:00 o\clock

THE SHORE OF THE SKY by Tatsuji Miyosh


Where are you from, traveler from afar,
resting in treetops bared by the winter?
The treetops are lithe
in the haze, arching, rustling, whispering
crossing their swords on the shore of the sky
I look up and hear the distant sounds
Dry leaves are piled on fallen leaves
in the warm sunlight
hard buds have already formed
but those tight packages will unfold on their own
The midday wind pauses at the deep ends of alleys, under trees, over stones
being a traveler it coils around my clasped fingers
poised thus on the tip of my little finger to point to today's journey

© Tatsuji Miyoshi
© Translation: 2010, Takako Lento

Apr 13, 2010 at 23:30 o\clock

On the Grasshopper and Cricket" by John Keats (1795-1821)

On the Grasshopper and Cricket"
by John Keats (1795-1821)

The poetry of earth is never dead:
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper's-he takes the lead
  In summer luxury,-he has never done
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun,
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
    The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.

* John Koethe Comments:
John Keats' poems are of course some of the most magnificent in the language, yet sometimes that magnificence can seem almost overwhelming, and you wish you could experience some of their glories on a smaller and more intimate scale. That's when you might turn to "On the Grasshopper and Cricket," the product of a sonnet-writing contest Keats had with Leigh Hunt in 1816 on the theme of two insects (Hunt cheerfully conceded that Keats' sonnet was infinitely superior to his own). The poem has some of the mellow sweetness of "To Autumn," but is a true miniature, and the anachronistic connotations of "... when tired out with fun / He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed" even give the grasshopper's recreations a slangy contemporary air. And then it turns to the cricket, whose winter chirps effect a beautiful and almost Proustian recollection of the grasshopper's summer song.

About John Koethe:
John Koethe has just retired as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and is spending this semester at Princeton as the Bain-Swiggett Professor of Poetry. He has published eight books of poetry including, most recently, Ninety-fifth Street. His collection Falling Water won the Kingsley Tufts Award. North Point North: New and Selected Poems was a finalist 

Apr 11, 2010 at 23:21 o\clock

To Earthward by Robert Frost

To Earthward"
by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of-was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Down hill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough

To all my length.

* What I first loved about this poem, when I read it young, was the way the initial lines tumbled and waterfalled down the rhymes, the first two stanzas setting an exhilarated pace; the next two slowing down, as if to capture in slow motion "the swirl and ache/from sprays of honeysuckle" and the sting of rose petal. Is there a better description than these four stanzas provide of the exquisite sensitivity of youth, that takes so little to become enflamed and can't tolerate more? When, in the fifth stanza, at the halfway mark of the poem, the perspective shifts to the present, the lightness is replaced by a gravitas: the lines, though in the same meter, no longer tumble; the words enter the ear one by one as if accompanied by the stab of a walking stick (though it is not a matter of their being largely monosyllabic-so was what came before). Joy now is not lost, but not so easily provoked, nor ever again unmixed or simple. I love the images that follow this change, "... the aftermark / Of almost too much love, / The sweet of bitter bark / And burning clove." In terms of placement, those lines, in the second stanza of the second half, correspond to  "... was it musk / From hidden grapevine springs / Down hill at dusk," both sets engaging our sense of smell, the sweetness of grape musk now deepened into something darker, more complex, but still sweet. It is the fourth and last time that a variant of "sweet" is used in the poem, and its transformation takes "sweet" as far as it can go-before, at the end, it is transformed again, into another word altogether, "weight."

Throughout the poem, there is a fertile cross-pollination of sounds and rhyme. You can trace the vowel sound in the rhymes "touch" and "much" as it is transplanted into the words "musk," "honeysuckle," "stung," "enough," and "rough"; in the 7th stanza, you feel the tautness, the bow being drawn for the poem's final arrow, as "hand" is rhymed with "sand" but paired with an assonantal head rhymed partner "hard,"-itself rhymed with "scarred," an assonantal and head rhymed partner to "sand." To my mind, the lyric richness of this poem embodies and mirrors the sensate richness of life.

With hindsight, we know that Frost wrote this nowhere near the end of his life, and in fact it doesn't seem like a poem of late age, of debilitation and impending mortality. While the stated longing at poem's end is for death-"To feel the earth as rough / To all my length"-it is a death nowhere near at hand. We know that at this point in his life Frost already had suffered enormous losses and pressures; many more were to come. But "To Earthward" is a fully alive poem; its vantage point a moment when the sensations of both youth and old age are in sight, to be measured and compared, savored and only ostensibly-in  a death envisioned as sensual as life-let go. 

Apr 3, 2010 at 21:25 o\clock

"Having Reddened the Plum Blossoms"by Yosa Buson (1716-1783)

Having reddened the plum blossoms
      the sunset attacks
               oaks and pines