Pulida claridad de piedra diáfana,

The Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, has been referenced a number of times on this blog for his fabulous biography of the seventeenth century Mexican poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. But this is the first time I have posted one of Paz’s own poems. This poem sees the poet contemplating the arrival of spring from what appears to be a winter setting. You could interpret it as a poem of optimism, which I appreciate. Spring is in sight, we are reassured, even in the depths of winter.

Primavera a la Vista

Pulida claridad de piedra diáfana,
lisa frente de estatua sin memoria:
cielo de invierno, espacio reflejado
en otro más profundo y más vacío.

El mar respira apenas, brilla apenas.
Se ha parado la luz entre los árboles,
ejército dormido. Los despierta
el viento con banderas de follajes.

Nace del mar, asalta la colina,
oleaje sin cuerpo que revienta
contra los eucaliptos amarillos
y se derrama en ecos por el llano.

El día abre los ojos y penetra
en una primavera anticipada.
Todo lo que mis manos tocan, vuela.
Está lleno de pájaros el mundo

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/h/paz1.htm&gt;

The light, the sea, the wind and the waves are bright and clear as on a cold winter’s day, you can almost feel the chill off the page; and then at the end of the poem the birds fly up as precursors of spring, announcing better days ahead.

A good seasonal poem for early January.

The Poetry Dude

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What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

On this blog over the past year, we have seen quite a number of First World poems, from such as Siegfried Sassoon, WB Yeats and Guillaume Apollinaire. Most evoke the futility of the war, the doltish obstination of the generals and the suffering and misery of the soldiers. Today’s poem from Wilfred Owen stands squarely with these themes and has the added poignancy that the poet was killed in a pointless skirmish when the war was almost over. The poem’s title could indeed be referring to the poet himself.

Anthem for Doomed Youth
BY WILFRED OWEN

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176831&gt;

The point of the poem lies in the repeated contrast between the supposedly uplifting ceremonies of death – bells, prayers and choirs in the first stanza, candles and flowers in the second stanza – and the squalor and misery of the actual soldiers’ deaths on the battlefields, under constant, demoralising fire from guns and shells.

Despite the ceremonies, the poet is underscoring that there is no nobility or heroism in this real lives of the soldiers – their deaths are pointless, demeaning and miserable, as is most of their experience of war. We need the poets perhaps to remind us of this.

The Poetry Dude

Sing, gentle maid — reform my breast,

A poem testifying to the healing and soothing powers of song and music, by Lady Mary Montagu. She is feeling down for some reason, and the sound of a young lady singing cheers her up. Isn’t music wonderful?

Impromptu, To A Young Lady Singing
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Sing, gentle maid — reform my breast,
And soften all my care;
Thus may I be some moments blest,
And easy in despair.
The pow’r of Orpheus lives in you;
You can the passions of my soul subdue,
And tame the lions and the tigers there.

 
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/impromptu-to-a-young-lady-singing/&gt;

This poet by the way, led a very interesting life. Apart from writing some fine poems, she was the wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the 1700s and wrote many letters about life in Turkey. She also campaigned for smallpox inoculation and advocated women’s education.

The Poetry Dude

What ho! sickly people of high and low degree

I think this is an appropriate posting for New Year’s Day, particularly for anybody who celebrated over-exuberantly on New Year’s Eve. It is a hybrid poem cum commercial jingle from the Scottish bard William McGonagall. The poem is written in praise of Beecham’s Pills an all purpose pick-me-up and cure. I assume these are a predecessor of Beecham’s Powder, which I have used myself many times, and which you can still by They dissolve in water and are great for colds, headaches and hangovers.
So I am in agreement with the poet about the benefits of his subject matter.
Beecham’s Pills

William McGonagall
What ho! sickly people of high and low degree
I pray ye all be warned by me;
No matter what may be your bodily ills
The safest and quickest cure is Beecham’s Pills.

They are admitted to be worth a guinea a box
For bilious and nervous disorders, also smallpox,
And dizziness and drowsiness, also cold chills,
And for such diseases nothing else can equal Beecham’s Pills

They have been proved by thousands that have tried them
So that the people cannot them condemn.
Be advised by me one and all
Is the advice of Poet McGonagall.

From <http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/gems/beechams-pills&gt;

The opening of this poem, “What ho!” draws the reader in right away in conversational style, to hear the praises of Beecham’s Pills. We learn that they are an effective and accessible cure for all classes of people and for all ills. In the second stanza there is a bit of a conundrum, the poet states that the pills are held to be worth a guinea a box, This would be about ninety UK pounds or 125 US dollars in today’s money. Of course we do not know how many pills are in a box, but if this was a retail size it would be very expensive, contradicting the first line that they could be used by people of low degree. But perhaps the poet means that they are worth a lot because of their effectiveness, rather than this being the retail price, For after all, the stanza goes on to list the multiple illnesses which can be treated, from cold chills to smallpox (I don’t think I would take Beecham’s Powders today for smallpox.

The final stanza reinforces the recommendation by leaning on the authority and experience not only of thousands of users, but, perhaps more importantly, of the poet himself. I’m convinced.

Happy New Year 2016 to all readers of this blog.

The Poetry Dude