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Claire

Poetic Wanderings

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Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

 

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

 

W.H. Auden - 'Refugee Blues'

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Over Babiy Yar

rustle of the wild grass

The trees look threatening, look like judges.

And everything is one silent cry.

Taking my hat off

I feel myself slowly going grey.

And I am one silent cry

over the many thousands of the buried;

am every old man killed here,

every child killed here.

 

from Babiy Yar by Yevgeny Yevtushenko ( tr: Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Lev) 

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A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

 

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

 

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

 

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

 

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
 
Walt Whitman - from 'Song of Myself'

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He left the office where he’d taken up

a trivial, poorly paid job

(eight pounds a month, including bonuses)—

left at the end of the dreary work

that kept him bent all afternoon,

came out at seven and walked off slowly,

idling his way down the street. Good-looking;

and interesting: showing as he did that he’d reached

his full sensual capacity.

He’d turned twenty-nine the month before.

 

He idled his way down the main street

and the poor side-streets that led to his home.

 

Passing in front of a small shop

that sold cheap and flimsy things for workers,

he saw a face inside there, saw a figure

that compelled him to go in, and he pretended

he wanted to look at some colored handkerchiefs.

 

He asked about the quality of the handkerchiefs

and how much they cost, his voice choking,

almost silenced by desire.

And the answers came back the same way,

distracted, the voice hushed,

offering hidden consent.

 

They kept on talking about the merchandise—but

the only purpose: that their hands might touch

over the handkerchiefs, that their faces, their lips,

might move close together as though by chance—

a moment’s meeting of limb against limb.

 

Quickly, secretly, so the shopowner sitting at the back

wouldn’t realize what was going on.

 

He Asked About The Quality by C.P. Cavafy, Tr: Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

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BRUTUS

Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar:
Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar;
And in the spirit of men there is no blood:
O, that we then could come by Caesar's spirit,
And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
Caesar must bleed for it! And, gentle friends,
Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;
Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds:
And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,
Stir up their servants to an act of rage,
And after seem to chide 'em. This shall make
Our purpose necessary and not envious:
Which so appearing to the common eyes,
We shall be call'd purgers, not murderers.
And for Mark Antony, think not of him;
For he can do no more than Caesar's arm
When Caesar's head is off.

 

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar II/i

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Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Dylan Thomas - 'Do not go gentle into that good night'

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FRIAR LAURENCE

Go, get thee to thy love, as was decreed,
Ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her:
But look thou stay not till the watch be set,
For then thou canst not pass to Mantua;
Where thou shalt live, till we can find a time
To blaze your marriage, reconcile your friends,
Beg pardon of the prince, and call thee back
With twenty hundred thousand times more joy
Than thou went'st forth in lamentation.
Go before, nurse: commend me to thy lady;
And bid her hasten all the house to bed,
Which heavy sorrow makes them apt unto:
Romeo is coming.

 

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet III/iii

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Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
 
William Wordsworth - 'Surprised by Joy'
 

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The difficult part of love

Is being selfish enough,

Is having the blind persistence

To upset an existence

Just for your own sake.

What cheek it must take.

 

And then the unselfish side -

How can you be satisfied,

Putting someone else first

So that you come off worst?

My life is for me.

As well ignore gravity.

 

Still, vicious or virtuous,

Love suits most of us.

Only the bleeder found

Selfish this wrong way round

Is ever wholly rebuffed,

And he can get stuffed.

 

Phililp LARKIN, "Love"

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"Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
   The five unmistakable marks
By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
   The warranted genuine Snarks.
 
"Let us take them in order. The first is the taste,
   Which is meagre and hollow, but crisp:
Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist,
   With a flavour of Will-o'-the-wisp.
 
"Its habit of getting up late you'll agree
   That it carries too far, when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o'clock tea,
   And dines on the following day.
 
"The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
   Should you happen to venture on one,
It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
   And it always looks grave at a pun.
 
"The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
   Which it constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes—
   A sentiment open to doubt.
 
"The fifth is ambition. It next will be right
   To describe each particular batch:
Distinguishing those that have feathers, and bite,
   From those that have whiskers, and scratch.
 
"For, although common Snarks do no manner of harm,
   Yet, I feel it my duty to say,
Some are Boojums—" The Bellman broke off in alarm,
   For the Baker had fainted away.
 
Lewis Carroll - from 'The Hunting of the Snark'

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The languages, especially the dead,
The sciences, and most of all the abstruse,
The arts, at least all such as could be said
To be the most remote from common use,
In all these he was much and deeply read;
But not a page of any thing that 's loose,
Or hints continuation of the species,
Was ever suffer'd, lest he should grow vicious.

His classic studies made a little puzzle,
Because of filthy loves of gods and goddesses,
Who in the earlier ages raised a bustle,
But never put on pantaloons or bodices;
His reverend tutors had at times a tussle,
And for their Aeneids, Iliads, and Odysseys,
Were forced to make an odd sort of apology,
For Donna Inez dreaded the Mythology.
 

Lord BYRON, Don Juan, canto I

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I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,
In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,
In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,
And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

 

T.S. Eliot - from 'The Dry Salvages'

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HAMLET

'Seems', madam? Nay, it is. I know not 'seems'.
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed 'seem';
For they are actions that a man might play.
But I have that within which passeth show -
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

 

Shakespeare, Hamlet I/ii

Edited by jfp

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The iron band, the iron clasp,

Resisted long the elfin grasp:

For when the first he had undone

It closed as he the next begun.

Those iron chlsps, that iron band,

Would not yield to unchristen'd hand

Till he smear'd the cover o'er

With the Borderer's curdled gore;

A moment then the volume spread,

And one short spell therein he read:

It had much of glamour might;

Could make a ladye seem a knight;

The cobwebs on a dungeon wall

Seem tapestry in lordly hall;

A nut-shell seem a gilded barge,

A sheeling seem a palace large,

And youth seem age, and age seem youth:

All was delusion, nought was truth.

 

He had not read another spell,

When on his cheek a buffet fell,

So fierce, it stretch'd him on the plain

Beside the wounded Deloraine.

From the ground he rose dismay'd,

And shook his huge and matted head;

One word he mutter'd, and no more,

"Man of age, thou smitest sore!"

No more the Elfin Page durst try

Into the wondrous Book to pry;

The clasps, though smear'd with Christian gore,

Shut faster than they were before.

He hid it underneath his cloak.

Now, if you ask who gave the stroke,

I cannot tell, so mot I thrive;

It was not given by man alive.

 

Sir Walter Scott - from 'The Lay of the Last Minstrel'

Edited by Heather

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                                                That very day,
From a bare ridge we also first beheld
Unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved
To have a soulless image on the eye
That had usurped upon a living thought
That never more could be. The wondrous Vale
Of Chamouny stretched far below, and soon
With its dumb cataracts and streams of ice,
A motionless array of mighty waves,
Five rivers broad and vast, made rich amends,
And reconciled us to realities;
There small birds warble from the leafy trees,
The eagle soars high in the element,
There doth the reaper bind the yellow sheaf,
The maiden spread the haycock in the sun,
While Winter like a well-tamed lion walks,
Descending from the mountain to make sport
Among the cottages by beds of flowers.

 

William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book VI

Edited by jfp

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Marrying left your maiden name disused. 
Its five light sounds no longer mean your face, 
Your voice, and all your variants of grace; 
For since you were so thankfully confused 
By law with someone else, you cannot be 
Semantically the same as that young beauty: 
It was of her that these two words were used. 

Now it's a phrase applicable to no one, 
Lying just where you left it, scattered through 
Old lists, old programmes, a school prize or two, 
Packets of letters tied with tartan ribbon - 
Then is it secentless, weightless, strengthless wholly 
Untruthful? Try whispering it slowly. 
No, it means you. Or, since your past and gone, 

It means what we feel now about you then: 
How beautiful you were, and near, and young, 
So vivid, you might still be there among 
Those first few days, unfingermarked again. 
So your old name shelters our faithfulness, 
Instead of losing shape and meaning less 
With your depreciating luggage laiden.
 
Maiden Name by Philip Larkin
 
 

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She kept a journal, where his faults were noted,
     And open'd certain trunks of books and letters,
All which might, if occasion served, be quoted;
     And then she had all Seville for abettors,
Besides her good old grandmother (who doted);
     The hearers of her case became repeaters,
Then advocates, inquisitors, and judges,
Some for amusement, others for old grudges.

 

And then this best and weakest woman bore
     With such serenity her husband's woes,
Just as the Spartan ladies did of yore,
     Who saw their spouses kill'd, and nobly chose
Never to say a word about them more—
     Calmly she heard each calumny that rose,
And saw his agonies with such sublimity,
That all the world exclaim'd, "What magnanimity!"
 

Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto I, stanzas XXVIII & XXIX

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’Tis mute, the word they went to hear on high Dodona mountain
  When winds were in the oakenshaws and all the cauldrons tolled,
And mute’s the midland navel-stone beside the singing fountain,
  And echoes list to silence now where gods told lies of old.

 

I took my question to the shrine that has not ceased from speaking,
  The heart within, that tells the truth and tells it twice as plain;
And from the cave of oracles I hear the priestess shrieking
  That she and I should surely die and never live again.

 

Oh priestess, what you cry is clear, and sound good sense I think it;
  But let the screaming echoes rest, and froth your mouth no more.
’Tis true there’s better boose than brine, but he that drowns must drink it;
  And oh, my lass, the news is news that men have heard before.

 

The king with half the East at heel is marched from lands of morning;
  Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air.
And he that stands must die for nought, and home there’s no returning.
  The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.

 

A.E. Housman - 'The Oracles'

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'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft, now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature. Let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural;
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.
How in my words somever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!

 

Shakespeare, Hamlet III/ii

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My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
 
Henry Vaughan - 'Peace'

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’Thus Evil triumphed, and the Spirit of Evil,
One Power of many shapes which none may know,
One Shape of many names; the Fiend did revel
In victory, reigning o’er a world of woe,
For the new race of man went to and fro,
Famished and homeless, loathed and loathing, wild,
And hating good--for his immortal foe,
He changed from starry shape, beauteous and mild,
      To a dire Snake, with man and beast unreconciled.
 
’The darkness lingering o’er the dawn of things
Was Evil’s breath and life; this made him strong
To soar aloft with overshadowing wings;
And the great Spirit of Good did creep among
The nations of mankind, and every tongue
Cursed and blasphemed him as he passed; for none
Knew good from evil, though their names were hung
In mockery o’er the fane where many a groan,
      As King, and Lord, and God, the conquering Fiend did own.
 
Shelley, The Revolt of Islam, canto I, stanzas XXVII & XXVIII
Edited by jfp

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He lookèd from his loft one day
To where his slighted garden lay;
Nettles and hemlock hid each lawn,
And every flower was starved and gone.

He fainted in his heart, whereon
He rose, and sought his plighted one,
Resolved to loose her bond withal,
Lest she should perish in his fall.

He met her with a careless air,
As though he'd ceased to find her fair,
And said: "True love is dust to me;
I cannot kiss: I tire of thee!"

(That she might scorn him was he fain,
To put her sooner out of pain;
For incensed love breathes quick and dies,
When famished love a-lingering lies.)

Once done, his soul was so betossed,
It found no more the force it lost:
Hope was his only drink and food,
And hope extinct, decay ensued.

And, living long so closely penned,
He had not kept a single friend;
He dwindled thin as phantoms be,
And drooped to death in poverty....

 

Taken from the middle  of The Two Men by Thomas Hardy
 

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Riches I hold in light esteem,
And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream,
That vanished with the morn:

 

And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is, “Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty!”

 

Yes, as my swift days near their goal:
’Tis all that I implore;
In life and death a chainless soul,
With courage to endure.

 

Emily Bronte - 'The Old Stoic'

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Meantime his schoolmate had gone out

To join the fortune-finding rout;

He liked the winnings of the mart,

But wearied of the working part.

 

He turned to seek a privy lair,

Neglecting note of garb and hair,

And day by day reclined and thought

How he might live by doing nought.

 

"I plan a valued scheme," he said

To some. "But lend me of your bread,

And when the vast result looms nigh,

In profit you shall stand as I."

 

Yet they took counsel to restrain

Their kindness till they saw the gain;

And, since his substance now had run,

He rose to do what might be done.

 

He went unto his Love by night,

And said: "My Love, I faint in fight:

Deserving as thou dost a crown,

My cares shall never drag thee down."

 

(He had descried a maid whose line

Would hand her on much corn and wine,

And held her far in worth above

One who could only pray and love.)

 

But this Fair read him; whence he failed

To do the deed so blithely hailed;

He saw his projects wholly marred,

And gloom and want oppressed him hard;

 

Till, living to so mean an end,

Whereby he'd lost his every friend,

He perished in a pauper sty,

His mate the dying pauper nigh.

 

And here's the section about the second of the two friends in Thomas Hardy's The Two Men  

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The leprous corpse, touch'd by this spirit tender,
       Exhales itself in flowers of gentle breath;
       Like incarnations of the stars, when splendour
       Is chang'd to fragrance, they illumine death
       And mock the merry worm that wakes beneath;
       Nought we know, dies. Shall that alone which knows
       Be as a sword consum'd before the sheath
       By sightless lightning?—the intense atom glows
A moment, then is quench'd in a most cold repose.
 
Shelley, "Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats", stanza XX

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