Come to me in the silence of the night;

Today’s poem is by Christina Rossetti. Although you cannot really tell from the body of the poem, I take the title to indicate that it is inspired by the Greek mythological tale of Echo, and her ill-fated love for Narcissus. But it could also stand for anyone, approaching death, thinking back to the loves of their youth and trying to capture a last glimpse or memory of long-lost feelings.

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.

O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low
As long ago, my love, how long ago.

From <;

The first stanza is striking by the repetition of “come” in the first, second, third and fifth lines – the fact that it is repeated so much reinforces the impression that it is a forlorn plea – what must come, memory, lost love, paradis perdu, will, of course, not appear.

In the second stanza, we have repetition again in the first line of the word “sweet”, each time reinforced by another adjective, and then repetition of words beginning with “w”, ” whose wakening”, “where”, “where”, “watch”, which bind the stanza together in a sense of wistful longing. Is it a dream, or is it the approach of death which is referred to here?

The third stanza gets to the heart of the longing for a dream or a hint of the long-lost lover, from many years ago, just as Echo might have wept remembering Narcissus. Again, there are several repetitions which reinforce the sense of almost desperation and longing in the poet’s feelings – “come to me in dreams”, “pulse for pulse”, “breath for breath”, ” speak low, lean low”, “long ago”. It is almost a hypnotic effect and feels like an inner voice, as in a dream or as in the final moments of a life.

A beautiful, haunting poem…

The Poetry Dude

En Amerique, professeur;

TS Eliot wrote a few poems in French, and here is one of them. It is about the different identities or personas that he felt he adopted according to place or circumstance. Anybody who travels a lot or has multiple roles in life can empathise with this. Which is the “real” Eliot? The question itself probably has no neat answer – of course he is an adulterous mixture of everything.
Mélange Adultère de Tout
En Amerique, professeur;

En Angleterre, journaliste;

C’est à grands pas et en sueur

Que vous suivrez à peine ma piste.

En Yorkshire, conferencier;

A Londres, un peu banquier,

Vous me paierez bien la tête.

C’est à Paris que je me coiffe

Casque noir de jemenfoutiste.

En Allemagne, philosophe

Surexcité par Emporheben

Au grand air de Bergsteigleben;

J’erre toujours de-ci de-là

A divers coups de tra la la

De Damas jusqu’à Omaha.

Je celebrai mon jour de fête

Dans une oasis d’Afrique

Vêtu d’une peau de girafe.

On montrera mon cénotaphe

Aux côtes brûlantes de Mozambique.
From <;

Eliot gives a picture of himself popping up in different places around the world, each time in a different role, with a different purpose – America, England, Yorkshire, London, Paris, Germany, Damascus, Omaha, an African oasis, Mozambique. If you try to keep up you will make yourself dizzy. He is teacher, journalist, lecturer, banker, philosopher – but he goes to Paris for a haircut and to Africa for his birthday. Maybe his memorial will be in Mozambique – that can’t be more absurd than the activities of the rest of his life…

This is a fun poem from Eliot, it doesn’t have the intense anxiety of some of his work, but is more playful and allusive. The short lines reinforce the sense of transitoriness that he is trying to convey. And it’s a pretty good effort at writing in French for an Anglo-American poet.
The Poetry Dude

Chose italienne où Shakspeare a passé

Without counting, I suppose the most common form of poem that I have posted on this blog is the sonnet, that incredibly versatile and powerful, elegant and intellectually satisfying 14 line verse form. Well, as they say, every new generation of creators and innovators is standing on the shoulders of the giants that went before, so here is Verlaine, writing as the nineteenth century rolled over into the twentieth, paying tribute to those giants. And, of course, it is a sonnet.

So from Petrarch to Verlaine to the present day, poets use the sonnet to compose some of their finest verse. Here is Verlaine looking back to Petrarch and reminding us of the continuity of this poetic tradition.

A la louange de Laure et de Pétrarque

Chose italienne où Shakspeare a passé
Mais que Ronsard fit superbement française,
Fine basilique au large diocèse,
Saint-Pierre-des-Vers, immense et condensé,

Elle, ta marraine, et Lui qui t’a pensé,
Dogme entier toujours debout sous l’exégèse
Même edmondschéresque ou francisquesarceyse,
Sonnet, force acquise et trésor amassé,

Ceux-là sont très bons et toujours vénérables,
Ayant procuré leur luxe aux misérables
Et l’or fou qui sied aux pauvres glorieux,

Aux poètes fiers comme les gueux d’Espagne,
Aux vierges qu’exalte un rhythme exact, aux yeux
Epris d’ordre, aux coeurs qu’un voeu chaste accompagne.

Paul Verlaine, Jadis et naguère

From <;

The first two lines immediately bring out the universality of the appeal of the sonnet. The “chose italienne” is, of course, the sonnet form itself, as developed by Petrarch, but then we go straight into Shakespeare and Ronsard, two of the masters of the form, as we have seen in a number of posts on this blog. Lines 3 and 4 relate the form to the great basilica of St. Peter, both immense and concise – the sonnet dominates poetry as St. Peter’s in Rome towers over the Catholic church.

We then go back to Petrarch – in the fifth line “elle, ta marrraine” is Laura, the great Italian poet’s muse and “Lui qui t’a pense” is Petrarch himself. The sonnets indeed comparable to religious dogma, enduring over time, robust to being used by many different poets, and cumulatively yielding a massive treasure.

The power of the sonnet is captured in the final six lines – its enduring appeal, its ability to enrich poor and miserable lives, its rhythm and order which can be brought to bear by many different poets.

The sonnet is indeed one of the wonders of human creativity, like the pyramids, the steam engine and the paper clip.

The Poetry Dude

The piers are pummelled by the waves;

Poems inspired by the fall of Rome are not new to this blog. I have already posted examples from du Bellay from the 16th century and Quevedo, from the 17th century. This poem from WH Auden, written in the 20th century has another take on this destruction of a great civilisation by making it more timeless, resonating with the collapse of societies in other times. Even today, such a collapse of order and societal structure is too often repeated in places like Syria, Yemen, Libya (themselves great Roman provinces with the remnants of Roman culture still existing). Auden’s Fall of Rome brings home the misery and helplessness induced by the disappearance of government and security. And if this could happen in Rome, the greatest power on earth, nowhere is safe.

The Fall of Rome
W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973
(for Cyril Connolly)

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.
Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.
Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.
Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.
Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.
Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.
Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

From <;

The scenes successively depicted here are of desolation and disintegration, abandonment and the struggle for survival. All except the elite intellectual classes who delude themselves that all is well, through their imaginary friends and their trust, like Cato, in the enduring power of Roman virtue. But all else is falling apart, and it is the birds and animals who begin to take over, better adapted as they are to a constant imperative for survival. Just like in the Chernobyl exclusion zone…

The Poetry Dude

Este amoroso tormento 

Today’s poem, by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz seems to me to be a nice riposte to yesterday’s posting from Clement Marot. In yesterday’s poem, Marot lamented his fate at the hands of a young woman who spurns his amorous advances and declares he will never love again. Here, Sor Juana’s poem gives insight into the hesitations, uncertainties and anxieties of the woman who thinks she might be in love. All this explains why a woman might resist the courting of a man, for fear of making a mistake, and gives Marot an explanation for his rejection, from over 100 years later, and from the other side of the Atlantic ocean, where Sor Juana served in the court of the Viceroy of Mexico before taking religious vows.

The Lovers Torment (universal and contagious)….


Este amoroso tormento
que en mi corazón se ve,
se que lo siento y no se
la causa porque lo siento

Siento una grave agonía
por lograr un devaneo,
que empieza como deseo
y para en melancolía.

y cuando con mas terneza
mi infeliz estado lloro
se que estoy triste e ignoro
la causa de mi tristeza.

Siento un anhelo tirano
por la ocasión a que aspiro,
y cuando cerca la miro
yo misma aparto la mano.

Porque si acaso se ofrece,
después de tanto desvelo
la desazona el recelo
o el susto la desvanece.

Y si alguna vez sin susto
consigo tal posesión
(cualquiera) leve ocasión
me malogra todo el gusto.

Siento mal del mismo bien
con receloso temor
y me obliga el mismo amor
tal vez a mostrar desdén.

From <;

Torture, agony, melancholy, sadness, tyranny and fear are some of the attributes of being in love, according to Sor Juana. And, since these lead to scorn, in the final line, rejection of love is an obvious conclusion. I think this poem is not just a Baroque exercize in wordplay, reconciling opposites and embracing paradox, bit there is also a deeper psychological truth which does, indeed, resonate with anyone who has been in love. Successful lovers push past this phase, but many fall by the wayside as perpetrators or victims, as Marot’s poem from yesterday shows.

The Poetry Dude

D’être amoureux n’ai plus intention,

Please enjoy this lighthearted poem of scorned love from Clement Marot. Who hasn’t been there? This should be paired with a poem about drowning his sorrows… Ah the perfidy of women.

Clément MAROT   (1497-1544)

Du mal content d’amour

D’être amoureux n’ai plus intention,
C’est maintenant ma moindre affection,
Car celle-là, de qui je cuidais être
Le bien-aimé, m’a bien fait apparaître
Qu’au fait d’amour n’y a que fiction.

Je la pensais sans imperfection,
Mais d’autre ami a pris possession :
Et pour ce, plus ne me veux entremettre
D’être amoureux.

Au temps présent par toute nation
Les dames sont comme un petit scion,
Qui toujours ploie à dextre et à senestre.
Bref, les plus fins ne s’y savent connaître :
Parquoi conclus que c’est abusion
D’être amoureux.

From <;

The Poetry Dude

Does it matter? -losing your legs?

Today we have another World War 1 poem, from Siegfried Sassoon. But unlike the other poems from this time posted here, from such as Sassoon himself, Yeats and Apollinaire, this poem is not so much about the immediate horror and absurdity of life in the trenches. Instead it draws attention to the aftermath of war and the fate of those who come home wounded and incapacitated in some way. They are a constant and permanent reminder of the effects of war, both to themselves and to those around them. This is very relevant today as wounded veterans continue to come back from such places as Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course, their wound might not be just physical – the psychological impact of war is now better understood than it was in Sassoon’s day, when shell-shock was too often interpreted as cowardice.

The title of the poem “Does it Matter” seems to be a direct reference to the absurdity of the situation which led to the horrific injuries described.

Does It Matter?

Does it matter? -losing your legs?
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter? -losing your sight?
There’s such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter-those dreams in the pit?
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won’t say that you’re mad;
For they know that you’ve fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

From <;

The poem seems to be written from the point of view of an ex-soldier who has lost his legs or his eyes. He cannot participate in the activities of normal life – such as hunting, but people will be kind and you can spend your time drinking and remembering. People will tolerate your behaviour as an ex-soldier who has served his country. Sassoon himself must have experienced this type of reaction, as, although not physically wounded, he was severely psychologically scarred by his time in the war. The idea is that these ex-soldiers are no longer part of mainstream society, they are marginalised and tolerated, rather than re-integrated. Just one more reason for these soldiers to question whether it was all worthwhile.

The Poetry Dude