Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

451 years ago this month, William Shakespeare was christened in Stratford-upon-Avon, so here is a poem to commemorate his birth.

I love this sonnet. The gist is, “Words can’t describe how beautiful you are, or how much you mean to me.” It reminds me of Darcy’s reply to Elizabeth’s accusation, that “A man who felt less might [say more].” As someone married to a relatively silent man, I know firsthand that a person can feel deeply but say little. In fact, I’ve grown so used to watching what my husband does that I almost distrust what people say. A man with a glib tongue and a quick compliment arouses my suspicion, not my approval. And although Shakespeare is known for his ability to turn a clever phrase, in the face of love, we are all tongue-tied. Anyway, enjoy.

Sonnet 83

I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set.
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet’s debt.

And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.

This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb.
For I impair not beauty, being mute,
When others would give life and bring a tomb.

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

The Moment Eternal

I love, love, love this poem by Robert Browning. Happy Weekend!

Now
by Robert Browning

Out of your whole life give but a moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it, –so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present,–condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense–
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me–
Me– sure that despite of time future, time past,–
This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet–
The moment eternal–just that and no more–
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!

Absence

I encountered this poem by Billy Collins today. I love the closing image of the poem, the chess piece moving in all the same familiar ways, even without the chessboard or the other pieces. I think that’s what it’s like, living with loss. You keep moving the same way, but something is missing. And maybe somewhere, your chessboard notices the loss of you as well. Anyway, read the poem and tell if what I’m saying makes sense.

Absence

This morning as low clouds
skidded over the spires of the city

I found next to a bench
in a park an ivory chess piece–

the white knight as it turned out–
and in the pigeon-ruffling wind

I wondered where all the others were,
lined up somewhere

on their red and black squares,
many of them feeling uneasy

about the salt shaker
that was taking his place,

and all of them secretly longing
for the moment

when the white horse
would reappear out of nowhere

and advance toward the board
with his distinctive motion,

stepping forward, then sideways
before advancing again,

the same moves I was making him do
over and over in the sunny field of my palm.

Yvain, the Knight of the Lion

God Speed,  by Edmund Blair Leighton
God Speed, by Edmund Blair Leighton

Today’s poem is an excerpt from the medieval courtly romance Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes. It is a very long poem, and strongly influenced later English Arthurian romance. In this story, Yvain, for complicated family and honor reasons, has to defeat SuperKnight Esclados, and does. His widow, Laudine, is understandably distressed, and Yvain falls for her almost immediately (as one does). The excerpt below showcases her grief and his immediate devotion. (FYI, they do eventually marry and chivalry ensues.) The intensity of their emotions may seem a little strange to contemporary readers, but it’s really no stranger than Romeo and Juliet or Twilight– admittedly problematic relationships, but then, Yvain and Laudine have problems of their own. Anyway, I love this section for the questions it raises about the circumstances under which love can bloom. Yvain wonders if Laudine can ever love him, the murderer of her husband. Can you imagine the dinner party conversation? “How did you two kids meet?” “Standing in a pool of my husband’s still-warm blood– oh, honey, you tell it.” Yet love does happen in all kinds of improbable ways– maybe not involving a magical forest or murder, but who am I to judge? As we read below, “Places [Love] has always avoided/ Are places Love sometimes seeks.” Here is the excerpt, from Burton Raffel’s translation (lines 1339-1506).

So off she [Laudine’s servant] goes, and he [Yvain] stays,
Not knowing what he ought to do.
He sees them about to bury
The corpse, and he’s had no chance
To snatch some trophy for himself,
Something to prove beyond doubt
That he’d conquered and killed the man.
Without some evidence, some proof,
He might be utterly disgraed.
For Kay is so savage, so spiteful,
So full of insults, so mean,
He could never hold him off,
And Kay would go on, forever
Sniping and insulting, exactly
As he’d done the other day.
Those taunts had never left
His heart, still beat there, fresh,
And yet a new love had softened
That rancor with its sugar and honey
A love that had hunted in his heart
And completely conquered its prey.
His enemy had captured his heart,
He loved the creature who hated
Him most. Not suspecting a thing,
The lady had avenged her lord’s death. [from Susan: Love as VENGEANCE? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?)
She’d managed a greater vengeance
Than anything she could have accomplished
By herself, without Love’s assistance,
Who came to him so gently
That it struck his heart through his eyes.
And this is a longer-lasting
Wound than a sword or a spear
Can inflict, for a sword-blow is healed
And well once a doctor has care for it,
And the wounds of Love grow worse
The nearer they are to their cure.
And thus lord Yvain is wounded
And can never again be cured,
For Love itself has conquered him.
Places she has always avoided
Are places Love sometimes seeks:
She longs for no lodging, no landlord,
But this one, and the proof is that nothing
Can be bad, or too low, so long
As Love finds herself there.
Everywhere else is empty,
She searches so hard. How shameful
For Love to act this way,
Picking the worst of all places,
The lowest, the most base, as readily
As the best, though this time she’s chosen
The best of all possible homes.
Love is most welcome, here,
And here she’ll be shown great honor,
And here she’d do well to stay.
And so Love should, a creature
Of such nobility that it seems
Incredible she could dare descend
To shameful, vulgar places.
Like someone who carefully spreads
Balm on cinders and ashes,
Who hates honor and cherishes
Shame, who mixes sugar
And bile, and honey and fat.
But this time Love was different,
Choosing a highborn home
For which no one could possibly scold her.

And now the dead knight was buried,
And the crowds of his people were gone,
No priests, no knights, no soldiers,
No ladies remained, only
That lady who continued to grieve.
She stayed alone, often
Clutching at her throat, wringing
Her hands, beating her palms,
Reading psalms from a prayerbook
Illumined in letters of gold.
And lord Yvain still stands
At the window, watching her, staring,
And the more he watches the more
He loves her and the more she charms him.
She wept and she read, but he wishes
She would give them up, and turn
To him, and give him leave to speak.
Love had caught him at the window
And put this desire in his heart.
But his desire is foolish, and he knows it:
He could he believe, how
Could he trust it to happen? And he says:
“What a fool I am, to want
What I’ll never have. Her lord
Is dead of his wounds, and can I
Believe in peace between us?
By God, I understand nothing! [from Susan: I love this line]
She loathes me, now, and not
For nothing, and not wrongly.
But ‘now’ is the crucial word,
For a woman’s mind has a thousand
Directions. And perhaps that ‘now’
Will change. Oh, surely it will change,
And how stupid of me to stand here
Lost in despair. God grant
That she changes soon! For Love
Has decided to put me forever
In her power, and Love takes what it wants!
Not to accept Love’s wish
When Love comes, and Love asks, is more
Than wicked, it is treachery. And I say,
And whoever worships Love
Let him listen, that a deserter from Love
Deserves no happiness. I may lose,
But I’ll always love my enemy.
How could I ever hate her,
If I wish to loyal to Love?
What Love wants, I want. But she,
Should she accept me as a lover?
She should, for it is she I love.
I call her my enemy: she hates me,
And has reason to hate me, remembering
How I killed the man she loved.
And I, am I her enemy?
Never, but only her lover,
For who have I loved like this?
I feel pain, seeing her beautiful
Hair, finer than gold,
And gleaming. Pain and anger
Fill me, when she twists and breaks
That hair. I know nothing can dry
The tears falling from her eyes.
And all of it makes me miserable.
Her eyes are forever full
Of tears, tears without end,
And yet no eyes were ever
Lovelier. I weep because
She weeps, but my greatest pain
Is seeing how she wounds her face,
Though it can’t deserve it. I’ve never
Beheld such a perfect face,
So glowing and intense, so vividly
Colored. And how it afflicts me
To see her clutching at her throat!
Surely, she cannot help
Herself, she does the worst
She can. And yet no crystal,
No mirror, is as clear or as smooth.
Lord! Why is she so
Obsessed, why can’t she hurt herself
Less? Why wring those beautiful
Hands, and beat and scratch
At her breast? How wonderfully fine
To see her, in some happy mood,
If her beauty shines in such anger!
Oh yes, I can swear to that:
Never before has Nature
So outdone herself in beauty,
For here all boundaries are exceeded.
And how could it possibly have happened?
How could such beauty exist?
Where could such beauty have come from?
God must have made her Himself,
With His own bare hands, to make Nature
Gape. And it’s all used up,
Nature could not make another,
She’d only be wasting her time.
God Himself, if He wanted
To try, could not do it again,
No matter how hard He tried,
For it could not be done, not ever.”

One Good Turn Deserves Another

"Louise Nursing Her Child," Mary Cassatt
“Louise Nursing Her Child,” Mary Cassatt

Aforementioned good friend Shanna sent me this poem this other day, thinking I would appreciate it, and she was right. She claims she and her roommate were “surprisingly moved by a poem about lactation,” but I find nothing about lactation surprises me anymore. Seriously, though, I love the notion of innate kindness. Like, even at the biological level, we know we need to care for each other. What do you think of this poem?

Milk
by Moya Cannon

Could he have known
that any stranger’s baby
crying out loud in a street
can start the flow?
A stain that spreads
on fustian
or denim.

This is kindness
which in all our human time
has refused to learn propriety,
which still knows nothing
but the depth of kinship,
the depth of thirst.

A Blessing

shannatigger
Shanna and her “blessing,” Tigger. He likes her coat.

My friend Shanna is prepping for her own academic three ring circus over the next few weeks, and she loves horses. So here is a poem featuring horses for Shanna. Note: To be enjoyed, not analyzed, if you can help it.

The last three lines are my favorite.

A Blessing
by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friends and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

One

Here is a poem by Mary Oliver, from her collection Why I Wake Early. I love it love it love it.

One

The mosquito is so small
it takes almost nothing to ruin it.
Each leaf, the same.
And the black ant, hurrying.
So many lives, so many fortunes!
Every morning, I walk softly and with forward glances
down to the ponds and through the pinewoods.
Mushrooms, even, have but a brief hour
before the slug creeps to the feast,
before the pine needles hustle down
under the bundles of harsh, beneficent rain.

How many, how many, how many
make up a world!
And then I think of that old idea: the singular
and the eternal.
One cup, in which everything is swirled
back to the color of the sea and the sky.
Imagine it!

A shining cup, surely!
In the moment in which there is no wind
over your shoulder,
you stare down into it,
and there you are,
your own darling face, your own eyes.
And then the wind, not thinking of you, just passes by,
touching the ant, the mosquito, the leaf,
and you know what else!
How blue is the sea, how blue is the sky,
how blue and tiny and redeemable everything is, even you,
even your eyes, even your imagination.