The trees are in their autumn beauty,

This nature poem by WB Yeats has both a wonderful description of swans on the water and the surrounding scene, but also a great connection with the passage of time and its impact on the poet. Coole is a place in Western Ireland, today a park and a nature reserve, where Yeats used to go and stay early in the twentieth century. Looks like a great place to visit.

The Wild Swans at Coole

W. B. Yeats, 1865 – 1939


The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

From <;
The first stanza is purely descriptive and captures marvellously the tranquil autumn scene with the trees around the lake and the swans upon the water. The poet counts the swans up to 59. The second stanza introduces the passage of time, it is nineteen years since the poet began visiting and counting swans. The third stanza recounts how all has changed in those 19 years, presumably because the poet is that much older and has more sense and experience of the cares of the world. The fourth stanza contrasts these changes with the seeming unchanging view of the swans on the lake (although presumably this would be another generation of swans). The fifth stanza looks to the future – one day the swans will be gone and who will see them then?

In each stanza, note the rhymes, second and fourth line, fifth and sixth line, but first and third do not rhyme. Is that a standard form?

The Poetry Dude


La cour se fleurit de souci

Today we have a very interesting poem from Paul Verlaine, describing a group of men walking around a prison courtyard during their daily exercise period. This is not stated overtly but can be inferred from the descriptions of the people and of what the poet says about his own participation in this. The poem is mostly fairly sad but the final stanza seems to bring a kind of reconciliation between the poet and these unfortunate circumstances – a reconciliation which is probably helpful to coping with this situation.

The title is a bit mysterious, I can’t really make much of a connection between it and the rest of the poem.

Autre (Impression fausse)
Paul Verlaine

La cour se fleurit de souci
Comme le front
De tous ceux-ci
Qui vont en rond
En flageolant sur leur fémur
Le long du mur
Fou de clarté.

Tournez, Samsons sans Dalila,
Sans Philistin,
Tournez bien la
Meule au destin.
Vaincu risible de la loi,
Mouds tour à tour
Ton coeur, ta foi
Et ton amour !

Ils vont ! et leurs pauvres souliers
Font un bruit sec,
La pipe au bec.
Pas un mot ou bien le cachot
Pas un soupir,
Il fait si chaud
Qu’on croit mourir.

J’en suis de ce cirque effaré,
Soumis d’ailleurs
Et préparé
A tous malheurs.
Et pourquoi si j’ai contristé
Ton voeu têtu,
Me choierais-tu ?

Allons, frères, bons vieux voleurs,
Doux vagabonds,
Filous en fleurs,
Mes chers, mes bons,
Fumons philosophiquement,
Paisiblement :
Rien faire est doux.

Paul Verlaine, Parallèlement

From <;

The opening line is quite striking – “the courtyard blooms with cares” the juxtaposition of an optimistic verb with a pessimistic noun, introducing nicely the progression of the poem from misery to peace.

The first three stanzas describe the poor inmates limping forlornly around the courtyard, ragged, downcast and humiliated. If they speak they will be thrown into solitary confinement. The day is hot.

In the fourth stanza the poet puts himself into the centre of this company, willing to submit to the misery of the circumstance. But then in the final stanza the poet realises that all is not so bad – the company can have a smoke, have a gentle stroll around and in fact, doing nothing can be very agreeable.

But of course you don’t have to be locked up to be able to do nothing.

The Poetry Dude

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Here is Dylan Thomas eloquently describing the inexorable effects of the passage of time, of decay and aging, on himself, on humanity in general and on the beauties of nature. The same processes are in play whether it be a flower, a spring or a man – young, healthy, beautiful and vigorous one day, bent, withered and fading away not long after. Unlike the Baroque poets, this is purely descriptive, accepting of this reality – there is no carpe diem moralising here. Somehow, it is more powerful that way.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

From <;

The structure of the poem is to build each stanza around a different metaphor of he aging process, first describing it in nature and the making the parallel with the poet’s own, human experience. The cumulative impact of this imagery is powerful and accentuated even more by those final two lines which stand alone – the worm of decay is eating away at the lover’s tomb and the poet’s own body.

Not so much carpe diem as memento mori, in poetic form.

The Poetry Dude

Con el dolor de la mortal herida,

Back to the late 1600s in Mexico for today’s poem from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, It is a sonnet on the subject of the emotional disturbances of being in love, so presumably it is one of the poems that got her into trouble with her religious superiors. The title, “On a sensible reflection”, describes the end point of the poet’s emotional journey, but most of the poem describes the heartache and confusion leading up to the moment of illumination.

De Una Reflexion Cuerda

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Con el dolor de la mortal herida,
de un agravio de amor me lamentaba,
y por ver si la muerte se llegaba
procuraba que fuese más crecida.

Toda en el mal el alma divertida,
pena por pena su dolor sumaba,
y en cada circunstancia ponderaba
que sobraban mil muertes a una vida.

Y cuando, al golpe de uno y otro tiro
rendido el corazón, daba penoso
señas de dar el último suspiro,

no sé con qué destino prodigioso
volví a mi acuerdo y dije: ¿qué me admiro?
¿Quién en amor ha sido más dichoso?

From <;

So the poem kicks off with the poet feeling mortally wounded by some lover’s tiff and wants nothing more than death to ease the pain. Her soul is overwhelmed with pain and suffering, such that she feels like her one life is nothing more than a thousand deaths. Her last breath must be coming soon, and her heart is giving out (such are the joys of being in love for a Baroque poet).

And then in the final three lines she comes to her senses, through some prodigious act of destiny and realises that nobody is as lucky in love as she. This is the sensible reflection of the title.

The Poetry Dude

¡Oh hermosura que excedéis

This is a fabulous poem from Santa Teresa de Avila, the seventeenth century Spanish mystic poet and saint. We have to assume that it is a poem of religious ecstasy, but it conveys wonderfully any sense of being overwhelmed by beauty and transcendence from any source. The beauty that goes beyond is the title, and it really does take the reader beyond any conventional notions of beauty with its accelerating rhythm, its tightly compact sequences of paradoxical opposites all leading up to the powerful final conclusion in the last line.

¡Oh hermosura que excedéis!

Santa Teresa de Ávila

¡Oh hermosura que excedéis
a todas las hermosuras!
Sin herir dolor hacéis,
y sin dolor deshacéis,
el amor de las criaturas.

Oh ñudo que así juntáis
dos cosas tan desiguales,
no sé por qué os desatáis,
pues atado fuerza dais
a tener por bien los males.

Juntáis quien no tiene ser
con el Ser que no se acaba;
sin acabar acabáis,
sin tener que amar amáis,
engrandecéis nuestra nada.

From <;

You have to marvel at how much Santa Teresa packs in to such a short poem, fifteen brief lines (short but not a sonnet, for once). The first stanza elevates the beauty that is the subject of the poem above all other beauties and reinforces the notion with a couple of opposing paradoxes on pain and injury. The second stanza describes the binding together of two unequal things and again there is a tour de force of wordplay around the notions of tying and untying the knots that bind. The final stanza contrasts the human with the divine being as completely apart but joined by the beauty that is experienced. The final three lines are especially masterful with the double paradox and then the magnificent final line – “you magnify our nothingness” – a resounding climax to the fabulous build up that precedes it.

Seventeenth century baroque poetry at its best.

The Poetry Dude

Somewhere or other there must surely be

A wistful poem of longing for love by Christina Rossetti, expressing the feeling or hope that someone to love must exist somewhere in the world if only he or she could be found.

Somewhere or Other

Somewhere or other there must surely be
The face not seen, the voice not heard,
The heart that not yet—never yet—ah me!
Made answer to my word.

Somewhere or other, may be near or far;
Past land and sea, clean out of sight;
Beyond the wandering moon, beyond the star
That tracks her night by night.

Somewhere or other, may be far or near;
With just a wall, a hedge, between;
With just the last leaves of the dying year
Fallen on a turf grown green.

From <;

There is a pleasing symmetry and progression in this poem. The first stanza focuses on the potential lover and the enigma of their existence or non-existence, ” the face not seen, the voice not heard” etc. In the second stanza the poet wonders where her lover might be found, near or far, but emphasizing the far, while in the third stanza, she explores the same question, but here wondering about the near. Of course, both far and near locations are impossibly inaccessible to the poet as she sits and muses.

So perhaps there is n love at the end of the story, but there is a fine poem.

The Poetry Dude

Place de la Gare, à Charleville.

This poem by the teen prodigy poet, Arthur Rimbaud has both a title, “To Music” and the identification of a place, Charleville, the town in northern France near the Belgian border where the poet was born. There is plenty of description in the poem, of the town square with grass, trees and flowers, of the local gentry promenading in the evening, of the military band playing in the middle of the garden, and of the local young people, boys and girls, eyeing each other up. But there is more than local colour in the poem, there is also an interesting progression from a disdainful, mocking description of the local tradesmen and well-to-do folk in the first half of the poem, to an account of the poet himself getting caught up in the temptations of the pretty girls in the second half of the poem, which is a bit ironic when we consider what we know about his subsequent affair with the poet Verlaine.

So plenty to enjoy in this poem, not least the fact that it is straightforward and accessible, more so than many of Rimbaud’s later poems.

A la musique
Arthur Rimbaud

Place de la Gare, à Charleville.

Sur la place taillée en mesquines pelouses,
Square où tout est correct, les arbres et les fleurs,
Tous les bourgeois poussifs qu’étranglent les chaleurs
Portent, les jeudis soirs, leurs bêtises jalouses.

– L’orchestre militaire, au milieu du jardin,
Balance ses schakos dans la Valse des fifres :
Autour, aux premiers rangs, parade le gandin ;
Le notaire pend à ses breloques à chiffres.

Des rentiers à lorgnons soulignent tous les couacs :
Les gros bureaux bouffis traînant leurs grosses dames
Auprès desquelles vont, officieux cornacs,
Celles dont les volants ont des airs de réclames ;

Sur les bancs verts, des clubs d’épiciers retraités
Qui tisonnent le sable avec leur canne à pomme,
Fort sérieusement discutent les traités,
Puis prisent en argent, et reprennent :  » En somme !… «

Épatant sur son banc les rondeurs de ses reins,
Un bourgeois à boutons clairs, bedaine flamande,
Savoure son onnaing d’où le tabac par brins
Déborde – vous savez, c’est de la contrebande ; –

Le long des gazons verts ricanent les voyous ;
Et, rendus amoureux par le chant des trombones,
Très naïfs, et fumant des roses, les pioupious
Caressent les bébés pour enjôler les bonnes…

– Moi, je suis, débraillé comme un étudiant,
Sous les marronniers verts les alertes fillettes :
Elles le savent bien ; et tournent en riant,
Vers moi, leurs yeux tout pleins de choses indiscrètes.

Je ne dis pas un mot : je regarde toujours
La chair de leurs cous blancs brodés de mèches folles :
Je suis, sous le corsage et les frêles atours,
Le dos divin après la courbe des épaules.

J’ai bientôt déniché la bottine, le bas…
– Je reconstruis les corps, brûlé de belles fièvres.
Elles me trouvent drôle et se parlent tout bas…
– Et je sens les baisers qui me viennent aux lèvres…

Arthur Rimbaud, Poésies

From <;

There is some great vocabulary also – what about “onnaing”? This is a style of porcelain from a town of the same name in northern France, and from the context it is a tobacco jar. Also “pioupiou”, which is a young chicken, but here used comically to refer to the young lads of the town, noisy but naïve and ineffectual.

A fun poem indeed

The Poetry Dude