One thing that literature would be greatly the better for

Here is a poem by Ogden Nash, which is very tongue-in-cheek, mockingly protesting about the pervasiveness of simile and metaphor in literature in general, and poetry in particular. Wouldn’t it be clearer, less confusing and more straightforward to always call a spade a spade. Well, I guess this would satisfy those who see literal meaning everywhere, even in the face of obvious metaphor, but it would sure make reading literature more boring.

Nash takes his title, “Very like a whale”, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, (Act 3, Scene 2) when Hamlet is telling Polonius what he sees in the clouds. One of them seems like a whale to Hamlet, and Polonius, humouring him replies, “Very like a whale” – we have t assume that Polonius doesn’t get the image at all. But then there is nothing more of this in the poem itself, which instead turns its ironic attention to Lord Byron’s poem “The Destruction of Sennacherib” in which the first two lines read “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold”.

Read on to see how Ogden Nash deconstructs this, pointing out the literal ridiculousness of Byron’s metaphor…

Very Like a Whale

Ogden Nash

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for

Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and

   metaphor.

Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,

Can’t seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to

   go out of their way to say that it is like something else.

What does it mean when we are told

That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?

In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience

To know that it probably wasn’t just one Assyrian, it was a lot of

   Assyrians.

However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and

   thus hinder longevity.

We’ll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.

Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were

   gleaming in purple and gold,

Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a

   wolf on the fold?

In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy

   there are great many things.

But I don’t imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple

   and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.

No, no, Lord Byron, before I’ll believe that this Assyrian was

   actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;

Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red

   mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?

Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,

   at the very most,

Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian

   cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.

But that wasn’t fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he

   had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,

With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers

   to people they say Oh yes, they’re the ones that a lot of

   wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.

From <https://allpoetry.com/Ogden-Nash>

Nice perspective Mr. Nash – but Byron’s poem is pleasing enough to most, and we get what he meant.

Also note the rhyming couplets in Nash’s poem – sometimes he has to craft exceedingly long lines to make the rhymes work, and then some of the rhymes are pretty outrageous. The irony is that here he is following Byron, who also wrote his poem in rhyming couplets, some of which were also quite a stretch.

But its all in good fun, so let’s enjoy.

The Poetry Dude

Une foule d’amants, que chez vous on tolère,

Posting this entry on October 15th 2016, I realise that this date corresponds to Isaac de Benserade’s birthday (unless some change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar messes up the calculation, as it always seems to with the date of the Russian revolution), and that he would be 404 years old, if he had lived to today. Having said that, he did seem to live a full and prosperous life, dying at the age of 79, after having been a court favourite in France for most of his life because of his poetry, his plays and his ballets.

This sonnet is on the theme of a particular form of disappointment in love – not the pining of a lover whose loved one disdains or rejects him, but a lover who sees his loved one welcoming the attentions of all his rivals, as well as his own. The term of art is “coquette”, so effectively resuscitated by Proust in his description of Odette de Crecy, before she became Madame Swann.

Anyway, this coquette’s behaviour is making the poet tear his hair out…This is how love transforms into jealousy, which is exactly the narrative progression of the poem.

Sur une coquette – Sonnet

Isaac de Benserade

Une foule d’amants, que chez vous on tolère,

De vos facilités cherche à s’avantager ;

La patience même en serait en colère,

Etes-vous un butin qu’il faille partager ?

N’avez-vous rien à craindre, et rien à ménager ?

Quoi ! tous également attendent leur salaire ;

Avez-vous résolu de me faire enrager

A force de vouloir éternellement plaire ?

Enfin, si je suis las de ce que cent rivaux

Se disputent le prix qu’on doit à mes travaux,

Vous devez l’être aussi de ce qu’on en caquette ;

Votre honneur est en proie aux escrocs, aux filous ;

Et si vous excellez en l’art d’être coquette,

Je n’excelle pas moins en l’art d’être jaloux.

From <http://www.wikipoemes.com/poemes/isaac-de-benserade/sur-une-coquette.php>

A cautionary tale, indeed.

The Poetry Dude

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

ee cummings was the American poet who became famous by not using capital letters or punctuation. Perhaps this was a useful gimmick to get himself established, but it should not distract from the fact that his poems convey a genuinely strong poetic impact, using words well to capture an emotion or a moment in a powerful way. This example is a love poem, and reading it you get a great sense of the poet’s condition of being in love and his ability to express his feelings forcefully and directly.

i carry your heart with me
BY E. E. CUMMINGS

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/179622&gt;

The poem is a celebration of that period in a love affair when a lover is totally consumed by his lover, getting a sense of fulfilment and union which comes with the passion and intensity of a new love, or sometimes with the peace and understanding of a long-lived relationship. The lover’s hearts are joined, their every action is only important in the effect it has on the other, and the beauty of the world only impinges on their consciousness as a reflection of the beauty of their feelings for each other. This is the love of Romeo and Juliet, impossible perhaps, almost always fleeting, but the poet captures the feelings of that moment spectacularly.

The Poetry Dude

Updated Recap: Top 10 poets on this blog

On October 8th, I posted a recap of the top 10 poets posted on this blog, as adjudicated by the number of hits recorded on those poems, following a similar recap of the top 10 poems, posted on October 6th. Today I am following up by with an updated, expanded and slightly revised top 10, with more details of the postings and the top-ranking poem from each poet listed.

So here goes:

1. Anonymous Spanish romances and ballads: Of course, this is not one poet but these are ballads mostly from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with no attributed author. Many of them recount episodes from the border wars between the Castilian Spaniards and the North African Moorish invaders who settled in Spain for over 750 years. You can see these poems posted here on 11/7/2014, 12/1/2014, 1/2/2015, 2/11/2015, 3/22/2015, 5/12/2015, 7/19/2015, and 9/30/2015 (dates in US format, month, day, year). The most popular poem from this group has been the Romance de Abenamar, posted on 5/12/2015.

2. Rosalia de Castro: The late nineteenth century, post-Romantic Galician-Spanish poet, sometimes writing in Castilian Spanish, sometimes in Galician. Her poems have been posted here on 10/23/2014, 11/23/2014, 12/7/2014, 1/17/2015, 3/1/2015, 4/16/2015, 5/29/2015, 7/2/2015 and 9/26/2015. Her most popular poem here has been “Cuando sopla el norte duro”, posted on 4/16/2015.

3. WB Yeats: The great Irish poet and statesman from the first half of the nineteenth century. A wonderful poet, combining a great variety of themes with rich and rewarding language. His poems posted here were on the following dates, 10/11/2014, 11/5/2014, 11/27/2014, 1/31/2015, 2/16/2015, 4/10/2015, 6/30/2015, 8/17/2015 and 9/28/2015. His most popular poem of those posted here has been “An Irish airman foresees his death”, posted on 11/27/2014.

4. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: Sor Juana was the last of the great poets of the Spanish Golden Age, although she lived her whole life in Mexico, first at the Viceroy’s court and then as a nun. I recommend the great biography written about her by Octavio Paz, called “Sor Juana o las trampas de la fe”. Her poems have been posted here on 10/6/2014, 11/9/2014, 12/22/2014, 1/8/2015, 2/9/2015, 3/27/2015, 5/26/2015, 7/25/2015 and 9/17/2015. Her most popular poem posted here has been “Verde embeleso de la vida humana”, posted on 10/6/2014.

5. Pierre de Ronsard: The French poet of the mid to late 1500s, along with Joachim du Bellay he was credited with reviving French poetry and giving it a real identity different from the influence of the Italian poets. I find his poems to be beautiful, touching and poignant, whether they be about nature, love or his own aging. His poems have been posted here on 10/4/2014, 11/6/2014, 11/22/2014, 12/5/2014, 1/7/2015, 2/18/2015, 4/9/2015, 5/23/2015, 7/16/2015 and 9/25/2015. His most popular poem posted here has been “A la Fontaine Bellerie”, posted here on 11/22/2014.

6. Gerard de Nerval: The mid nineteenth century French romantic, famous for his flamboyance, such as taking his pet lobster for walks on a leash. His poems are a mix of the portentous/pretentious and simpler more lyrical pieces. His poems have been posted here on 10/21/2014, 11/20/2014, 1/3/2015, 2/1/2015, 3/2/2015, 4/17/2015, 5/17/2015, 7/24/2015 and 9/29/2015. His most popular poem posted here has been “El desdichado”, posted here on 10/21/2014. Despite the title, it is written in French.

7. Antonio Machado: From the first half of the twentieth century, this Spanish master is well known as the poet of Castille, although he was actually born in Andalusia and refers back to his origins quite often in his poems. His poems have been published here on 10/19/2014, 11/4/2014, 11/28/2014, 12/31/2014, 1/30/2015, 4/5/2015, 5/24/2015, 6/8/2015, 8/8/2015 and 9/22/2015. His most popular poem has been “A un olmo seco”, posted on 12/31/2014.

8. Paul Verlaine: The late nineteenth and early twentieth century is generally well known for being the older lover of teenage poet Arthur Rimbaud, but he was of course a very fine poet himself, and much more prolific. His poems have been published here on 12/2/2014, 1/5/2015, 2/27/2015, 3/29/2015, 5/19/2015, 7/20/2015, and 9/20/2015. His most popular poem posted here is ” Mon reve familier”, posted on 12/2/2014.

9. Charles Baudelaire: The mid nineteenth century French romantic poet is in my view one of the finest poets of any time and any tradition. His poems have been posted here on 10/8/2014. 10/29/2014, 11/15/2014, 12/11/2014, 1/29/2015, 3/3/2015, 4/14/2015, 5/10/2015, 7/1/2015 and 9/21/2015. His most popular poem posted here has been “Harmonie du Soir”, posted on 1/29/2015.

10. Francisco de Quevedo: One of the great Spanish Golden Age poets of the sixteenth century, mixing satire, social commentary along with the more conventional themes of love and nature. His poems have been posted here on 11/21/2014, 12/4/2014, 1/4/2015, 2/15/2015, 3/19/2015, 4/25/2015, 6/17/2015, 8/22/2015 and 9/27/2015. His most popular poem published here has been “Definicion del amor”, posted on 1/4/2015.

 
The Poetry Dude

Recap of top poets featured on this blog

Here is another recap from the posts on this blog from September 2014 to September 2015, when I met my  objective of posting a poem every day, mainly from my own collection and personal tastes.I have featured a variety of poets, from either the English/American, French or Hispanic cultures. They span from the 9th century to the 20th. There has been one king (Richard 1 of England); one President (Leopold Senghor of Senegal); several soldier-poets (Charles d’Orleans, Boscan, Garcilaso, Sassoon, Apollinaire, John Cornford); at least one criminal (Francois Villon) and two saints (San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Teresa de Avila); and of course a great assortment of other poets of diverse backgrounds and styles.

 

A couple of days ago I posted a recap of the top 12 poems, in terms of the number of hits they have received (assuming that is some measure of their popularity). So now I will similarly post the top 12 poets, assessed by the number of hits they received for all their poems featured here. Again, make of it what you will. I found it interesting.

 

1.Anonymous Spanish ballads – of course, this is not one poet, but a series of poems from the oral and written tradition of Spain from the 13th to the 15th centuries, many of which deal with events and personalities from the long conflict between Moorish Spain and Christian Spain, a conflict which lasted almost 800 years. These are fascinating poems, and I could easily have featured many more of them.

2. Pierre de Ronsard – the French poet of nature and contemplation from the 16th century, his poems are delicate, gently joyful and wonderfully well-written. A real pleasure to read.

=3. WB Yeats – the great Irish poet from early in the 20th century, covering many themes of love, war, nature and humanity.

=3. Rosalia de Castro – Writing in the late 19th century in both Castilian Spanish and Galician, her poetry reveals a love of her homeland and its people, and a great sense of social justice

5. Gerard de Nerval – the French dandy and flaneur, he wrote both extravagantly obscure poetry and also some more simple, accessible and beautiful pieces

6. Antonio Machado – the poet of Castille, who was actually born in Andalucia, humble, observant and quite prolific, gives a great sense of Spanish life in the first third of the 20th century

7. TS Eliot – brilliant, poignant, funny and versatile, I always find something fresh and interesting in Eliot’s work. I also like the fact that he could easily switch from writing in English to French.

8. Charles Baudelaire – the master of post Romantic French verse, one of my all-time favourites for sensual imagery and language of all types

9. Paul Verlaine – often known as being the older lover of the teenage prodigy Arthur Rimbaud, Verlaine was actually a much more serious poet, and well worth exploring his work, of which I have two volumes on my bookshelf.

10. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz – from Mexico, a female poet from the seventeenth century, probably the last great poet in Spanish from the Golden Age, one of the essentials.

=11. Francisco de Quevedo – From the height of the Spanish Golden Age, dealing with love, politics, satire, money, power – one of the true greats.

=11. Siegfried Sassoon – mainly represented here as a First World War poet, of which he was one of the leading exponents, using poetry to expose the folly and suffering of that war and the terrible fate of the ordinary soldiers. Although of its time, his poetry has resonance wherever there is war and conflict.

 

Perhaps this will inspire readers to go back and revisit some of the poems by these or other poets.

 

Enjoy.

 

The Poetry Dude

 

 

Recap: Top poems posted on this blog

Having completed my objective of posting a poem a day for a year, this is the first of several recaps on the selections I made. Today, I list the top 12 poems from the year, determined by the number of hits recorded. It makes for interesting reading, because they are not necessarily the poems I would have thought might rise to the top. The wisdom of crowds I guess…

Here they are:

1. “The General” by Siegfried Sassoon, posted October 5th, 2014
This first world war poem is Sassoon’s contribution to the “lions led by donkeys” theory of World War 1 leadership, under which the poet himself sufferred as an infantry captain in France. Poignant.
2. “Romance de Abenamar”, an Anonymous mediaeval Spanish ballad, posted on May 5th, 2015
A ballad of the centuries-long struggle between Moors and Christians in Spain, evoking the places and divided loyalties of those turbulent times. A true window on history
3. “A une damoyselle malade” by Clement Marot, posted on October 12th 2014
Marot’s great poem to a sick young girl to cheer her up on her sickbed. Funny, empathetic, witty, poetically skilled, what better pick me up could anyone ask for
=4. “Mon reve familier” by Paul Verlaine, posted on December 2 2014
Verlaine describing his dream woman, a fantasy, and why not?
=4. ” The definition of love” by Andrew Marvell, posted on November 30th 2014
Under the promise of a poem on the meaning of love, we get mathematics, geography and cosmology all rolled in – science and poetry wrapped up together
=6 ” An Irish Airman foresees his death” by WB Yeats, posted on November 27, 2014
Another World War 1 poem from Yeats, mixing fatalism, nostalgia and patriotism in a heady and poignant mix.
=6 ” Une allee du Luxembourg” by Gerard de Nerval, posted on March 2nd, 2015
Older man likes watching the young ladies walk in the park on Sunday.
8 ” A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas, posted on December 25th, 2014
Maybe this is prose rather than poetry, but Thomas’s language is always poetic. A wonderful description of Christmasses past.
9 ” Song” by Christina Rossetti, posted on January 6th, 2015
Christina Rossetti on death and being forgotten. No longing for immortality here…
=10 ” A la Fontaine Bellerie”, by Pierre de Ronsard, posted on November 22nd, 2014
Ronsard’s beautiful celebration of the countryside in the region of his birth around the Loire valley, a great description of the beauties of nature.
=10 ” Soneto 29: Pasando el mar, Leandro el animoso”, by Garcilaso de la Vega posted on December 24th, 2014
Garcilaso’s sonnet on the classical tale of Hero and Leander, well worth revisiting
12 ” Bel aubepin, florissant”, by Pierre de Ronsard, posted on December 5th, 2014
Another great nature poem from Ronsard. Enjoy.

In the next day or so I will recap the top poets featured on this blog.

The Poetry Dude

Recap of first 300 poems on this blog

As I have done previously, after posting, 50, 100 and 150 poems and 200 poems, this post is to take stock of the poems set out here after keeping to my schedule of posting a poem a day for 300 days, since September 27 2014.
The most popular poems so far, in terms of the number of times they have been viewed by visitors to this blog, are as follows.

1. Siegfried Sassoon – “The General”, from 20th century England (blog post Oct 5, 2014)
2. Clement Marot – “A Une Damoyselle Malade”, from 16th century France (blog post Oct 12, 2014)
3. Paul Verlaine – “Mon rêve familier”, from 19th century France (blog post Dec 2, 2014)
4. Dylan Thomas – “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, from 20th century England (blog post Dec 25, 2014)
5. Christina Rossetti- ” Song”, from 19th century England (blog post Jan 6, 2015)
6. Garcilaso de la Vega – “Soneto XXIX”, from 16th century Spain (blog post Dec 26, 2014)
7. Pierre de Ronsard – “Bel aubepin”, from 16th century France (blog post Dec 5, 2014)
8. TS Eliot – “Hysteria”, from 20th century England (blog post Nov 19, 2014)
9. WB Yeats – “An Irish Airman foresees his Death” from 20th century England (blog post Nov 27, 2014)
10. Gerard de Nerval – “Une allée du Luxembourg” from 19th century France (blog post March 2, 2015)

To get to 300 poems, I have so far chosen from the works of 60 named poets, plus some anonymous medieval ballads from Spain and Ireland. Of the 60, 22 wrote in English, 20 in French and 18 in Spanish . ( I include Galician and Catalan verse in the Spanish category)

In terms of the number of poems in each language, yje tally is almost equal between 101 French poems, 100 English poems ad 99 poems in Spanish.

In terms of when these poems were written, here is the distribution by century:

9th: 1 poet, 1 poem
12th: 1 poet, 1 poem
14th: 1 poet, 4 poem
15th – 3 poets, 20 poems
16th – 9 poets, 61 poems
17th – 5 poets, 37 poems
18th -1 poet, 5 poems
19th – 9 poets, 58 poems
20th – 19 poets, 113 poems

And once again I have compiled the top 10 poets, in terms of the numbers of views for all their poems combined, posted so far.

1. Francisco de Quevedo
2. Charles Baudelaire
3. Gerard de Nerval
4. Pierre de Ronsard
5. Spanish anonymous medieval ballads
6. TS Eliot
7. Antonio Machado
8. Rosalia de Castro
9. Clement Marot
10. WB Yeats

The Poetry Dude