Heaven and Hell – Brief Poems by William Blake

wblakeWilliam Blake (1757 – 1827) an English poet, painter, and printmaker was born in London to James, a hosier, and Catherine Blake. From early childhood, he spoke of his visions. When he was four, he saw God “put his head to the window”; when he was nine, while walking through the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels. At age ten, he expressed a wish to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. When he turned fourteen, he apprenticed with an engraver. After his seven-year term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy.

In 1782, he married an illiterate woman named Catherine Boucher. He taught her to read and write, and also instructed her in draftsmanship. Later, she helped him print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today. They had no children. In 1784 he set up a printshop with a friend, but this venture failed after several years. For the remainder of his life, Blake made a meagre living as an engraver and illustrator for books and magazines.

Blake’s first printed work, Poetical Sketches (1783), is a collection of apprentice verse, mostly imitating classical models. He published his most popular collection, Songs of Innocence, in 1789 and followed it, in 1794, with Songs of Experience. Both books of Songs were printed in an illustrated format reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. The text and illustrations were printed from copper plates, and each picture was finished by hand in water-colours.

Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading radical thinkers of his day. In defiance of 18th-century neoclassical conventions, he privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. He declared in one poem, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” Works such as The French Revolution (1791), America, a Prophecy” (1793), Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), and Europe, a Prophecy (1794) express his opposition to the English monarchy, and to 18th-century political and social tyranny in general. Theological tyranny is the subject of The Book of Urizen (1794). In the prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), he satirised oppressive authority in church and state.

In 1800 Blake moved to the seacoast town of Felpham, where he lived and worked until 1803. He taught himself Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian, so that he could read classical works in their original language. In Felpham he experienced profound spiritual insights that prepared him for his mature work, his great visionary epics written and etched between about 1804 and 1820. Milton (1804-08), Vala, or The Four Zoas (1797; rewritten after 1800), and Jerusalem (1804-20) have neither traditional plot, characters, rhyme, nor meter. They envision a new and higher kind of innocence, the human spirit triumphant over reason.

Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by common people, but he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to become popular. In 1808 he exhibited some of his water-colours at the Royal Academy, and in May of 1809 he exhibited his works at his brother James’s house. Blake’s final years, spent in great poverty, were cheered by the admiring friendship of a group of younger artists who called themselves “the Ancients.” In 1818 he met John Linnell, a young artist who helped him financially and also helped to create new interest in his work. It was Linnell who, in 1825, commissioned him to design illustrations for Dante‘s Divine Comedy, the cycle of drawings that Blake worked on until his death in 1827.

 

William Blake’s Shorter Poems

Many of the poems printed below, with their eccentric capitalisation and punctuation (or lack thereof)  have been taken from the Satiric Verses and Epigrams section of the Blake Archive. Others have been taken from  The Notebook of William Blake (known also as the Rossetti Manuscript from its association with its former owner Dante Gabriel Rossetti). This was used by Blake as a commonplace book from c.1787 (or 1793) to 1818.

About these poems Rossetti had this to say: “The shorter poems, and even the fragments, afford many instances of that exquisite metrical gift and rightness in point of form which constitute Blake’s special glory among his contemporaries, even more eminently perhaps than the grander command of mental resources which is also his. Such qualities of pure perfection in writing verse, as he perpetually, without effort, displayed, are to be met with among those elder poets whom he loved, and such again are now looked upon as the peculiar trophies of a school which has arisen since his time; but he alone (let it be repeated and remembered) possessed them then, and possessed them in clear completeness. Colour and metre, these are the true patents of nobility in painting and poetry, taking precedence of all intellectual claims; and it is by virtue of these, first of all, that Blake holds, in both arts, a rank which cannot be taken from him.”

 

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Brief Poems by William Blake

Me Time has Crook’d. no good Workman
Is he. Infirm is all that he does

***

An Epitaph

I was buried near this Dike
That my Friends may weep as much as they like

***

He is a Cock would
And would be a Cock if he could

***

TO HUNT

You think Fuseli is not a great Painter. I’m glad:
This is one of the best compliments he ever had.

***

P——loved me, not as he lovd his Friends
For he lovd them for gain to serve his Ends

***

To H——-

Thy Friendship oft has made my heart to ake
Do be my Enemy for Friendships sake

***

On H——- the Pick thank

I write the Rascal Thanks till he & I
With Thanks & Compliments are quite drawn dry

***

They said this mystery never shall cease:
The priest promotes war, and the soldier peace.

***

Terror in the house does roar;
But Pity stands before the door.

***

Madman I have been calld Fool they Call thee
I wonder which they Envy Thee or Me

***

He has observd the Golden Rule
Till hes become the Golden Fool

***

old acquaintance well renew
Prospero had One Caliban & I have Two

***

Cr—— loves artists as he loves his Meat
He loves the Art but tis the Art to Cheat

***

Great things are done when men and mountains meet;
This is not done by jostling in the street.

***

A Petty sneaking Knave I knew
O Mr Cromek, how do ye do

***

The Errors of a Wise Man make your Rule
Rather than the Perfections of a Fool

***

Great things are done when Men & Mountains meet
This is not Done by jostling in the Street

xxx

If you play a Game of Chance know before you begin
If you are benevolent you will never win

xxx

Great Men & Fools do often me Inspire
But the Greater Fool the Greater Liar

***

Her whole Life is an Epigram smack smooth & nobly pend
Platted quite neat to catch applause with a sliding noose at the end

***

When a man has married a wife, he finds out whether
Her knees and elbows are only glued together.

***

Grown old in Love from Seven till Seven times Seven
I oft have wishd for Hell for Ease from Heaven

***

The Hebrew Nation did not write it
Avarice & Chastity did shite it

***

Do what you will this life’s a fiction,
And is made up of contradiction.

***

ETERNITY

He who binds himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

***

To God

If you have formd a Circle to go into
Go into it yourself & see how you would do

***

I washd them out & washd them in
And they told me it was a great Sin

***

In a wife I would desire
What in whores is always found
The lineaments of Gratified desire.

 

 

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LINKS

The William Blake Archive.

The Blake Society

The Poetry Foundation page on William Blake.

Satiric Verses and Epigrams from the Blake Archive.

Satiric verses and epigrams from Blake’s Notebook.

 

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Echoes – Brief Poems by Robert Creeley

RobertCreeleyNewBioImage_Credit-ChrisFelverRobert Creeley (1926 – 2005) was born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1926. When his father died in 1930, he was raised by his mother and sister in Acton. An accident when he was four left him blind in one eye. He attended Holderness School in Plymouth, New Hampshire. He was admitted to Harvard in 1943 but left to serve in the American Field Service in 1944 and 1945, and drove an ambulance in India and South-East Asia. Creeley returned to Harvard after the war, though he never graduated.  During the 1950s he studied and taught at the Black Mountain College, NC and later became visiting professor at a number of US universities. From 1978 he was professor of poetry at the State University of New York.

One of the originators of the Black Mountain school of poetry, he developed a spare, minimalist style evident in For Love: Poems 1950–60 (1960). He later received an MA from the University of New Mexico. He began corresponding with William Carlos Williams, who seems to have put him in touch with Charles Olson, a poet who was to have a substantial influence on the direction of his work. Excited especially by Olson’s ideas about literature, Creeley began to develop a distinctive and unique poetic style.

Of his own work he once said,  “I write to realize the world as one has come to live in it, thus to give testament. I write to move in words, a human delight. I write when no other act is possible.” He was admitted to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1988, and was the recipient of the Frost Medal (1987) and the Bollingen Prize in American poetry (1999). He died on March 30, 2005.

The Poetry of Robert Creeley

I first encountered Robert Creeley’s poetry when I bought, in a Dublin bookshop in the early 1970’s, a  copy of the expanded edition of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Donald Hall.  There were many exciting poets in that eclectic collection. One of them had a quieter voice than the others. There was something unique and entrancing about some of the poems included. I Know a Man, which now has the almost mythic status of a poem like The Red Wheelbarrow, struck me, even then, as  a wonderful mixture of slang, subtle syntax and casual understatement. The Rain  is a poignant love poem, delicately constructed and unified with a quiet subtlety. Kore is an old-fashioned ballad given a new-fashioned twist. Looking through that battered paperback, over forty years on my shelves, I see that I wrote into it another Creeley poem that meant much to me then and still has a haunting resonance, The Immoral Proposition. What unified all these poems is a quiet voice which could offer gentle subtleties even in small doses, as the poems quoted below display.

 

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Brief Poems by Robert Creeley

The Puritan Ethos

Happy the man who loves what
he has and worked for it also.

***

A Token

My lady
fair with
soft
arms, what

can I say to
you—words, words
as if all
worlds were there.

***

Walls

Walls are
relief in lifting
themselves. Let

you also
lift yourself,
selves, shelves.

***

the apology

I think to compose a sonnet
on ladies with no clothes. A

graciousness to them
of course.

***

from Gnomic Verses

echo

In the way it was in the street

it was in the back it was
in the house it was in the room
it was in the dark it was

***

fat fate

Be at That this
Come as If when
Stay or Soon then
Ever happen It will

***

look

Particular pleasures weather measures or
Dimestore delights faced with such sights.

***

here

Outstretched innocence
Implacable distance
Lend me a hand
See if it reaches

***

moral

Now the inevitable
As in tales of woe
The inexorable toll
It takes, it takes.

***

eat

Head on backwards
Face front neck’s
Pivot bunched flesh
Drops jowled brunch.

***

toffee

Little bit patted pulled
Stretched set let cool.

***

case

Whenas To for
If where From in
Past place Stated want
Gain granted Planned or

***

have a heart

Have heart Find head
Feel pattern Be wed
Smell water See sand
Oh boy Ain’t life grand

***

oh oh

Now and then
Here and there
Everywhere
On and on

***

winter

Season’s upon us
Weather alarms us
Snow riot peace
Leaves struck fist.

***

gotcha

Passion’s particulars
Steamy hands
Unwashed warmth
One night stands

***

pat’s

Pat’s place
Pattern’s face
Aberrant fact
Changes that

***

words

Driving to the expected
Place in mind in
Place of mind in
Driving to the expected

***

here

You have to reach
Out more it’s
Farther away from
You it’s here

***

scatter

All that’s left of coherence.

***

echo again

Statement keep talking
Train round bend over river into distance

***

door

Everything’s before you
were here.

***

echoes

Think of the
Dance you could do
One legged man
Two legged woman.

***

echoes

Sunrise always first—
That light—is it
Round the earth—what
Simple mindedness.

 

 

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LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page on Robert Creeley

The Electronic Poetry Center’s link to on-line resources on Robert Creeley.

Paris Review interview with Robert Creeley.

The Cortland Review interview with Robert Creeley.

The PennSound page with links to readings by Robert Creeley.

Robert Creeley’s Life and Career.

A detailed and fascinating London Review of Books essay by Stephen Burt on Robert Creeley’s poetry.

The Radical Poetics of Robert Creeley, an interesting essay by Marjorie Perloff.

The Robert Creeley Foundation.

 

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Pretty Feet – Brief Poems by Robert Herrick

herrick_rRobert Herrick (1591 –1674) was an English poet and cleric, best known for his book of poems, Hesperides.  Born in London, his father died in a fall from a fourth-floor window in November 1592, when Robert was a year old (whether this was suicide remains unclear).  In 1607 he became apprenticed to his uncle, Sir William Herrick, who was a goldsmith and jeweler to the king. The apprenticeship ended after six years when Herrick, at age twenty-two, matriculated at St John’s College, Cambridge. He was ordained in 1623 and in 1629 became the vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire.

In 1647, in the wake of the English Civil War, he was ejected from his vicarage on political grounds. He returned to London, where he depended on the charity of his friends and family. When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Herrick petitioned for his own restoration to his living and became the vicar of Dean Prior again in the summer of 1662. He lived there until his death in October 1674, at the age of 83.

Herrick was a bachelor all his life, and many of the women he names in his poems are thought to be fictional.

Hesperides

Hesperides is a book of poetry published in 1648 by Robert Herrick. Herrick wrote over 2,500 poems, about half of which appear in this, his major work. (Hesperides also includes the much shorter Noble Numbers, his first book, of spiritual works, first published in 1647.) His poems dealt with English country life and its seasons, village customs, complimentary poems to various ladies and his friends, themes taken from classical writings and poems about his Christian faith. It has been said of Herrick’s style by F. T. Palgrave that ‘his directness of speech with clear and simple presentation of thought, a fine artist working with conscious knowledge of his art, of an England of his youth in which he lives and moves and loves, clearly assigns him to the first place as a lyrical poet in the strict and pure sense of the phrase’.

That is one view. Another is offered by The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). “Herrick surpasses all his contemporaries as an epigrammatist, both in variety of theme and delicacy of finish, and is almost as supreme in the epigrammatic art as in the lyric.” It does, however, take a dim view of those epigrams I have included below as Brief Coarse Poems, disdaining “his scurrilous distichs, which reflect the nastiness of Martial without his wit, and which were discharged against hapless parishioners at Dean Prior, or enemies in town.”

According to the Poetry Foundation page on him, “Herrick never married, and literary gossips have reveled in speculations about the identities of the fourteen “mistresses” …. to whom he addressed 158 poems. Whether they were flesh and blood or, as modern consensus has it, pretty fictions is of little consequence: Herrick is only conforming to the common poetic practice of the time when he addresses his uniformly young and beautiful Julias, Corinnas, and Antheas…. Herrick’s love poetry ranges from the bawdy to the neo-Petrarchan.  That range … makes “cleanly-Wantonnesse” an apt phrase to characterize his amatory verses.”

I leave it to you to make up your own mind on the merits or demerits of Robert Herrick’s brief poems, coarse, cleanly-wanton or otherwise. And the pretty feet?  Not only are they the subject of one of his poems (another is on Julia’s “pretty” legs) but they also testify to his mastery of metrics, even in such a brief space.

 

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Brief Poems by Robert Herrick

TO HIS BOOK

Take mine advice, and go not near
Those faces, sour as vinegar;
For these, and nobler numbers, can
Ne’er please the supercilious man.

***

ON HIMSELF

Lost to the world; lost to myself; alone
Here now I rest under this marble stone,
In depth of silence, heard and seen of none.

***

A VOW TO VENUS

Happily I had a sight
Of my dearest dear last night;
Make her this day smile on me,
And I’ll roses give to thee!

***

HER BED

See’st thou that cloud as silver clear,
Plump, soft, and swelling every where?
‘Tis Julia’s bed, and she sleeps there.

***

HER LEGS

Fain would I kiss my Julia’s dainty leg,
Which is s white and hairless as an egg.

***

UPON HER FEET

Her pretty feet
Like snails did creep
A little out, and then,
As if they played at Bo-peep,
Did soon draw in again.

***

ANOTHER UPON HER WEEPING

She by the river sat, and sitting there,
She wept, and made it deeper by a tear.

***

HIS LOSS

All has been plunder’d from me but my wit:
Fortune herself can lay no claim to it.

***

THINGS MORTAL STILL MUTABLE

Things are uncertain; and the more we get,
The more on icy pavements we are set.

***

UPON TEARS

Tears, though they’re here below the sinner’s brine,
Above, they are the Angels’ spiced wine.

***

ON LOVE

Love’s of itself too sweet; the best of all
Is, when love’s honey has a dash of gall.

***

UPON PRUE, HIS MAID

In this little urn is laid
Prudence Baldwin, once my maid,
From whose happy spark here let
Spring the purple violet.

***

MONEY MAKES THE MIRTH

When all birds else do of their music fail,
Money’s the still-sweet-singing nightingale.

***

DREAMS

Here we are all, by day: by night we’re hurled
By dreams, each one into a several world.

***

SAFETY ON THE SHORE

What though the sea be calm?  Trust to the shore;
Ships have been drown’d, where late they danced before.

***

UPON A PAINTED GENTLEWOMAN

Men say you’re fair; and fair ye are, ’tis true;
But, hark!  we praise the painter now, not you.

***

UPON WRINKLES

Wrinkles no more are, or no less,
Than beauty turn’d to sourness.

***

UPON A CHILD

Here a pretty baby lies
Sung asleep with lullabies;
Pray be silent, and not stir
Th’ easy earth that covers her.

***

HIS WISH TO PRIVACY

Give me a cell
To dwell,
Where no foot hath
A path;
There will I spend,
And end,
My wearied years
In tears.

***

To his Book’s end this last line he’d have plac’t,
Jocund his Muse was; but his Life was chast.

***

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Brief Coarse Poems by Robert Herrick

Upon Jolly’s Wife

First, Jolly’s wife is lame; then next loose-hipp’d:
Squint-ey’d, hook-nos’d; and lastly, kidney-lipp’d.

***

Upon Batt

Batt he gets children, not for love to rear ’em;
But out of hope his wife might die to bear ’em.

***

Upon a Blear-Ey’d Woman

Wither’d with years, and bed-rid Mumma lies;
Dry-roasted all, but raw yet in her eyes.

***

Upon a Crooked Maid

Crooked you are, but that dislikes not me:
So you be straight where virgins straight should be.

***

Long and Lazy

That was the proverb. Let my mistress be
Lazy to others, but be long to me.

***

Upon Doll

Doll, she so soon began the wanton trade,
She ne’er remembers that she was a maid.

***

Upon Skinns

Skinns, he dined well today: how do you think?
His nails they were his meat, his rheum the drink.

***

Upon Bridget

Of four teeth only Bridget was possest;
Two she spat out, a cough forced out the rest.

***

Putrefaction

Putrefaction is the end
Of all that nature doth intend.

***

Jack and Jill

Since Jack and Jill both wicked be;
It seems a wonder unto me,
That they, no better do agree.

***

Upon One who Said she was Always Young

You say you’re young; but when your teeth are told
To be but three, black-ey’d, we’ll think you old.

***

On Joan

Joan would go tell her hairs; and well she might,
Having but seven in all: three black, four white.

***

Upon a Free Maid, with a Foul Breath

You say you’ll kiss me, and I thank you for it;
But stinking breath, I do as hell abhor it.

***

Upon Pearch

Thou writes in prose how sweet all virgins be;
But there’s not one, doth praise the smell of thee.

***

Upon Lulls

Lulls swears he is all heart; but you’ll suppose
By his proboscis that he is all nose.

***

Upon Blisse

Blisse, last night drunk, did kiss his mother’s knee;
Where will he kiss, next drunk, conjecture ye.

***

Upon Vinegar.

Vinegar is no other, I define,
Than the dead corps, or carcase of the wine.

***

Upon Gut

Science puffs up, says Gut, when either pease
Make him thus swell, or windy cabbages.

 

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LINKS

The Poetry Foundation Page on Robert Herrick

A Selection From The Lyrical Poems Of Robert Herrick (Editor: Francis Turner Palgrave)

The Hesperides and Noble Numbers by Robert Herrick. (Complete text.)

An appendix of the coarser epigrams and poems.

 

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Breviary – Brief Poems by Dennis O’Driscoll

Dennis300Dennis O’Driscoll (1954 – 2012) was an Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor. Regarded as one of the best European poets of his time, the book critic of The Irish Times, Eileen Battersby, considered him “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor” and a better poet “by far” than Raymond Carver. He was born in Thurles, County Tipperary where he was educated  by the Christian Brothers and then studied Law at University College, Dublin. After completing his secondary education, at age sixteen (1970), O’Driscoll was offered a job at Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the internal revenue and customs service. Specializing in “death duties, stamp duties, and customs,”  he was employed for over thirty years full-time. He relished the sobriety of his role as a public servant, in one poem crowning himself “Lord of the Files”

Reviewing the work of Dennis O’Driscoll in Slate, Adam Kirsch had this to say: “In addition to being a poet, O’Driscoll is a career civil servant, and his years working in offices have given him a disabused perspective on the daily life of the average citizen of Dublin—or Denver, for that matter. No poet since Philip Larkin, a famously effective librarian, has made sharper observations about the nature of contemporary work: the jargon, the boredom, the small compensations.”

From 1987 he had an entertaining column, Pickings and Choosings, in Poetry Ireland Review, which metamorphosed into The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006). This anthology of quotations about poetry which contains nearly two thousand smart sayings obsessively gleaned from six hundred poetry sources is published in the United States by Copper Canyon Press (2008) as Quote Poet Unquote. Nicholas Lezard praised it as “an anthology that aims to recharge its subject, to demarginalise it, or at least to demystify it, in the sense of showing that poetry is a human activity, but not in the sense of making the finished product any less mysterious”.

His book on Seamus Heaney, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney is regarded as the definitive biography of the Nobel laureate. In  Stepping Stones, it was Dennis O’Driscoll’s bold idea to trace the Nobel laureate’s life through conversation. “Is there a more wise, profound and eloquent interviewee in poetry than Seamus Heaney? I wanted to capture his ideas at much greater length than other interviews had; to rescue reflections or recollections that would be absent from the record otherwise. My hope was that the book would present a three-dimensional portrait of the artist, a biography in all but name; by doing so in his own words, it would amount to a Heaney autobiography also.”

Breviary

Dennis O’Driscoll wrote nine books of poetry, three chapbooks, and two collections of essays and reviews. The majority of his works were characterised by the use of economic language and the recurring motifs of mortality and the fragility of the everyday commuter life. He wrote with the clarity of the eastern European poets he admired, poets such as the Czech poets, Czesław Miłosz and Miroslav Holub, and the Polish poets, Zbigniew Herbert and Wislawa Szymborska. He was also attracted to brevity. In each of his collections he has a set of short poems he has called Breviary. Some of these poems are printed below.

 

Breviary, Interior

Brief Poems by Dennis O’Driscoll

Dusk

blue jeans fade
she slips
into a sequined gown

***

Snow

earth is plaster cast
a red fox trickles
down the mountain path

***

HOSPITAL

between pre-natal and mortuary
the research unit

***

NIGHT WATCH

to get to sleep
he started to count sheep
but they too were
being led to the slaughter

***

PERSEPHONE

with sweaters
striped as deckchairs
unseasonable hockey skirts
schoolgirls surprise
the winter streets
like spring

***

Off-duty

reclining in the garden overnight
your deckchair soaking up the moonlight

***

Floods

Water under the bridge
flows from the tears of those
who cried their eyes out
over spilt milk.

***

Fame

The bells your
name once rang
no longer toll,
their clappers
fallen silent.

***

Summer

The pickaxe plop
of a lobbed-back shot
all summer from
the tennis club.

***

All poems © Dennis O’Driscoll
Publisher: Anvil Press Poetry, London.

 

Breviary, Interior

 

LINKS

The Dennis O’Driscoll website which includes a biography, a bibliography, selected poems and some interviews.

Afterthoughts on Contemporary Poetry in English, an essay by Dennis O’Driscoll.

Irish poet Peter Sirr writes a tribute to Dennis O’Driscoll.

Seamus Heaney’s tribute to Dennis O’Driscoll.

Seamus Heaney in conversation with Dennis O’Driscoll on Vimeo.

George Szirtes reviews the New and Selected Poems of Dennis O’Driscoll.

Review of Dennis O’Driscoll  by Adam Kirsch in Slate magazine.

Gerald Dawe’s memoir and review of the critical and autobiographical essays of Dennis O’Driscoll, The Outnumbered Poet.

 

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All poems © Dennis O’Driscoll
Publisher: Anvil Press Poetry, London.

Slates – One-line poems (Monostich)

slatestone2lgemonostich, according to Wikipedia, as good a place as any to start, is a poem which consists of a single line. It goes on to attempt to define the form: A monostich has been described as ‘a startling fragment that has its own integrity’ and ‘if a monostich has an argument, it is necessarily more subtle.’ A monostich, it continues, could be also titled; due to the brevity of the form, the title is invariably as important a part of the poem as the line itself. Some one-line poems, we are told, have ‘the characteristics of not exceeding one line of a normal page, to be read as one unbroken line without forced pauses or the poetics of ceasura’, and others having ‘ a rhythm, (as with one-line haiku), dividing easily into three phrases’.

Some examples of monostich (one-line poems) were created by such classic ancient authors as Martial in Latin. According to Edward Hirsh in his  A Poet’s Glossary,   “As the Greek Anthology (tenth century) illustrates, the monostich can be a proverb, an aphorism, an enigma, a fragment, an image, an enigma.” Modern monostich was started in Russia in 1894 when Valery Bryusov published this single line of pretty absurd poetry :

О закрой свои бледные ноги.

(Oh, cover your pale legs.)

The first poet to produce monostich in the modern Western tradition  was Guillaume Apollinaire, who included this poem in his 1913 book Alcools:

Chantre

Et l’unique cordeau des trompettes marines (5)

(Singer

And the single string of the sea trumpets)

An early English example is a one-line poem without a title by Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962):

‘Skunks,’ the squirrel said, ‘are sent to try us.’

A monostich can, however,  be titled; due to the brevity of the form, the title is invariably as important a part of the poem as the line itself, as in this example from A. R. Ammons:

COWARD

Bravery runs in my family.

Yvor Winters may be well-known as a formal and conservative poet, but he began his career as an experimental poet, influenced by American Indian songs, imagist poetry and Japanese haiku. He told his friend, Kenneth Fields, “I was trying to beat the haiku poets at their own game.” Many of his early poems are examples of monostich. A sample is included below. More are available on the Yvor Winters Brief Poems post.

John Ashbery has been attracted to the monostich in two of his collections.  In A Wave (1984) he has a poem or, more likely, a sequence of individual and individuised poems called “37 Haiku” . Of more interest to me are a few monostiches with capitalised titles contained in an earlier collection, As We Know (1979). Samples from both collections are included below.

William Matthews’ collection, An Oar in the Old Water (1976) contains a few poems in the monostich form that are witty and bounce off their titles. See below.

Allen Ginsberg, in the mid-1980′s, created his own version of the monostich as a response to the Japanese form, the haiku. He called these poems American Sentences. If haiku involved seventeen syllables down the page, he reasoned, American Sentences would be seventeen syllables across the page. It was his attempt, successful at times, to “Americanize” a Japanese form. Like (rough) English approximations of the haiku, American Sentences work closely with concision of line and sharpness of detail.  Unlike its literary predecessor, however, it is compressed into a single line of poetry and often included a reference to a month and year (or alternatively, a location) rather than a season. Some of his more interesting examples are posted below.

Ian McBryde, an avant-garde, Canadian-born poet who lives in Melbourne, Australia, has a collection called Slivers (2005) which consists almost entirely of one-line poems. See below for a few examples.

Whether a textless poem, a poem with a title and no text, can be called a monostich is a moot point. I have come across two interesting examples, one from the American poet, James Wright, and one from the Scottish poet, Don Paterson. I include them in a final, separate section below.

 

 

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Monostich – Martial

2.73

Quid faciat volt scire Lyris; quod sobria; fellat.

Lyris wants to know what she is doing; the same thing she does when sober; sucking dick.

***

7.98

Omni,  Castor, emis:  sic fiet, ut omnia vendas.

You buy everything, Castor. This way you’ll end up selling everything.

***

8.19

Pauper videri Cinna vult; et est pauper.

Cinna wants to seem poor and he is.

______

Other translations of this one-line poem and other translations of Martial are available on the Bedside Lamps – Brief Poems by Martial post.

 

 

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Monostich – Yvor Winters

Winter Echo

Thin air! My mind is gone.

***

Spring Song

My doorframe smells of leaves.

***

God of Roads

I, peregrine of noon.

***

Noon

Did you move, in the sun?

 

 

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Monostich – John Ashbery

THE CATHEDRAL IS

slated for demolition.

***

I HAD THOUGHT THINGS WERE GOING ALONG WELL

But I was mistaken.

***

OUT OVER THE BAY THE RATTLE OF FIRECRACKERS

And, in the adjacent waters, calm.

***

WE WERE ON THE TERRACE DRINKING GIN AND TONICS

When the squall hit.

These four poems are from As We Know  (1979)

***

from 37 HAIKU

Night occurs dimmer each time with the pieces of light smaller and squarer

A blue anchor grains of grit in a tall sky sewing

The wedding was enchanted everyone was glad to be in it

 

 

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Monostich – William Matthews

Sleep

border with no country

***

“To Thine Own Self Be True”

As if you had a choice

***

Premature Ejaculation

I’m sorry this poem’s already finished

***

Physics

Is death curved, like the universe?

***

Silence

All bells hate their clappers

***

Snow

The dead are dreaming of breathing

 

 

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Monostich – Allen Ginsberg

Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.

Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella.

***

Taxi ghosts at dusk pass Monoprix in Paris 20 years ago.

***:

Crescent moon, girls chatter at twilight on the bus ride to Ankara.

***

Put on my tie in a taxi, short of  breath, rushing to meditate.

***

That grey-haired man in business suit and black turtleneck thinks he’s still young.

***

Rainy night on Union Square, full moon.  Want more poems? Wait till I’m dead.

 

 

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Monostich – Ian McBryde

White noise carries too many messages.

***

Night gathers across the river.

***

Relax. I kept my word, burned the negatives.

***

Memories of the bomb still mushroom within us.

***

Somewhere in Texas, farmhouses are burning.

***

I have climbed inside Siberia, and now await you.

***

Hours later, the ashes stirring by themselves.

***

There are more than fourteen stations of the cross.

***

Ravens outdate us, but we still forget.

 

 

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Monostich – Assorted Examples

Down the long desolate street of stars.

T. E. Hulme

***

The bloom of the grape has gone.

T. E. Hulme

***

COWARD

Bravery runs in my family.

A. R. Ammons

***

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Ernest Hemingway

***

EPIDEMIC

Streamers of crepe idling before doors. 

Charles Reznikoff

***

APHRODITE VRANIA

The ceaseless weaving of the uneven water. 

Charles Reznikoff

***

Someone I tell you will remember us.

Sappho (translated by J. V. Cunningham)

***

HILL

Top

Ian Hamilton Finlay

***

LOST

my lost lamb lovelier than all the wool.

Michael Longley

***

SIESTA OF A HUNGARIAN SNAKE

s sz sz SZ sz SZ sz ZS zs Zs zs zs z

Edwin Morgan

***

WILTED TULIPS

split little puppet pulpits tilted spilling dew

Craig Dworkin

***

Now I love you again because of these roosters

Ron Padgett

***

If only you knew how to ignore me.

Ron Padgett

***

The clanking and wanking of Her Majesty’s Prison.

Gavin Ewart

***

THE LOVER WRITES A ONE-WORD POEM

You!

Gavin Ewart

***

A PERSON

She’s mean and full of minge-water.

Gavin Ewart

***

SCATTER

All that’s left of coherence.

Robert Creeley

***

3 Minims

EPITAPH ON A SCHOOL OF FICTION

They wrote about what they knew. It didn’t take long.

SPRING

Bees to the Flowers, Flies to Shit.

A LONG FAREWELL

Goodbye, said the river, I’m going downstream.

Howard Nemerov

***

ELEGY

 Who would I show it to

W. S. Merwin

***

CELL PHONE BITCH SLAP

The end of the world may require some lifestyle changes

Joel Dailey

***

a dixie cup floats down the Nile

Cor van den Heuvel 

***

scatter

All that’s left of coherence.

Robert Creeley

***

University Days

this book has been removed for further study

Tom Raworth

***

8.06pm June 10 1970

poem

Tom Raworth

***

FOUND

These sleeping tablets may cause drowsiness.

Peter Reading

***

t w i l i g h t b l u e & p a l e g r e e n l e a v e s e v e r y w h e r e s c e n t o f w a t e r m e l o n s

Anita Virgil

**

LOSER

He was at the airport when his ship came in.

Joe Brainard

***

shadows darkening three-sevenths of her face in sunlight

Elizabeth Searle Lamb

***

Forgive these words, they are not birds.

Cora Brooks

***

GHOST STORY

‘Listen hard enough and you wake the dead.’

Mark Granier

***

after the garden party the garden

Ruth Yarrow

***

starrynightIenteryourmirror

Alexis Rotella

***

swans stir of his breath against my hair

Alexis Rotella

***

COMING HOME

Even the sunlight is a smell you remembered.

Fred Chappell

***

i hope i’m right where the river ice ends

Jim Kacian

***

the thyme-scented morning lizard’s tongue flicking out

Martin Lucas

***

SIMPLES

What do I want? Well, I want to get better.

Marie Ponsot

***

BLISS AND GRIEF

No one is here right now.

Marie Ponsot

***

ON THE INEVITABLE DECLINE INTO MEDIOCRITY OF THE POPULAR MUSICIAN WHO ATTAINS A COMFORTABLE MIDDLE AGE

O Sting, where is thy death?

David Musgrave

 

 

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Textless Poems – Two Examples

IN MEMORY OF THE HORSE DAVID, WHO ATE ONE OF MY POEMS

James Wright

***

ON GOING TO MEET A ZEN MASTER IN THE KYUSHU MOUNTAINS AND NOT FINDING HIM (FOR A.G.)

Don Paterson

 

 

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LINKS

Camille Martin’s interesting and informative article on The Humble Monostich from her Rogue Embryo post.

Some monostich from Yvor Winters on the Brief Poems site.

“Short Poems: Mini, Micro and Nano” from the Illustrated Poetry blog.

“From one line poems to one line haiku” on the Simply Haiku site.

Paul E. Nelson’s site, created to present and foster a poetic form created by Allen Ginsberg, known as American Sentences.

 

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Snuff – Brief Poems by Sir Walter Raleigh

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Walter Raleigh (also spelled Ralegh) (c. 1552–1618) was born into a well-connected gentry family  in Devon. At the age of 17, he left England for France to fight with the Huguenots (French Protestants) in the Wars of Religion. Upon his return, he studied law in London. During this time, he began his life-long interest in writing poetry.

In 1578, Raleigh set out with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert on a voyage to North America to find the Northwest Passage. Never reaching its destination, the mission degenerated into a privateering foray against Spanish shipping. His brash actions were not well received by the Privy Council, the monarch’s advisors, and he was briefly imprisoned.

Between 1579 and 1583, Raleigh fought in the service of Queen Elizabeth I in Ireland, distinguishing himself (or demeaning his character if , like me, you are Irish) with his ruthlessness at the siege of Smerwick. He established settlements for English and Scottish Protestants in Munster. Tall, handsome, and superbly self-confident, Raleigh rose rapidly at Elizabeth I’s court, upon his return, and quickly became a favourite. She rewarded him with a large estate in Youghal in Ireland, monopolies, trade privileges, knighthood, and the right to colonize North America. In 1586, he was appointed captain of the Queen’s Guard. Extravagant in dress and conduct, the legend that he spread his expensive cloak over a puddle for the Queen has never been documented, but many historians believe him capable of such a gesture.

Between 1585 and 1588, he invested in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, attempting to establish a colony near Roanoke, now North Carolina, and name it “Virginia” in honor of the virgin queen, Elizabeth. Delays, quarrels, disorganization, and hostile Indians forced some of the colonists to eventually return to England. Raleigh has been credited with bringing potatoes and tobacco back to Britain, although both of these were already known via the Spanish. He did help to make smoking popular at court.

In 1592, the queen discovered Raleigh’s secret marriage to one of her maids of honour, Elizabeth Throckmorton. This threw Elizabeth into a jealous rage and Raleigh and his wife were imprisoned in the Tower. On his release, in an attempt to find favour with the queen, he set off on an unsuccessful expedition to find El Dorado, the fabled ‘Golden Land’, rumoured to be situated somewhere beyond the mouth of the Orinoco river in Guiana (now Venezuela). The expedition produced a little gold, but subsequent forays to Cadiz and the Azores reinstated him with the queen.

Elizabeth’s successor, James I of England and VI of Scotland, disliked Raleigh, and in 1603 he was accused of plotting against the king and sentenced to death. That sentence was commuted to imprisonment in the Tower. There Raleigh lived with his wife and servants and wrote his History of the World in 1614. In 1616, Raleigh was released to lead a second expedition to search for El Dorado. The expedition was a failure, and Raleigh also defied the king’s instructions by attacking the Spanish. On his return to England, the death sentence was reinstated and Raleigh’s execution took place on 29 October 1618. He conducted himself with admirable courage throughout the formal procedure of that execution.

 

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The Poetry of Sir Walter Raleigh

My source for Raleigh’s poems comes from a long treasured book, first published in 1951 – The Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh, edited by Agnes Latham in The Muses Library series. There are less than fifty poems definitively attributed to Raleigh in the book, yet they contain some of the best poems of the Renaissance period in English literature. Not many of them are short enough to tweet, yet I have reserved a post for Raleigh because of two: the remarkable and remarkably brave epigram he wrote the night before his execution and the wonderful translation from Catullus that is included in the “Metrical Translations” section of the book. I have included other translations, not just to pad out the post, but because they have a genuine eloquence.

 

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Brief Poems by Sir Walter Raleigh

SIR W. RALEIGH ON THE SNUFF OF A CANDLE THE NIGHT BEFORE HE DIED

COWARDS [may] fear to die; but courage stout,
Rather than live in snuff, will be put out.

***

An Epigram On Henry Noel

The word of denial and the letter of fifty
Makes the gentleman’s name that will never be thrifty.

***

Translation from Catullus

The sun may set and rise;
But we, contrariwise,
Sleep after our short light
One everlasting night.

***

Translations from Ovid

The joyful spring did ever last, and Zephyrus did breed
Sweet flowers by his gentle blast, without the help of seed.

***

No man was better nor more just than he,
Nor any woman godlier than she.

***

The ancients called me Chaos; my great years
By those old times of which I sing appears

***

While fury gallops on the way,
Let no man fury’s gallop stay.

***

Translation from Tibullus

Nine furlongs stretched lies Tityus, who for his wicked deeds
The hungry birds with his renewing liver daily feeds.

***

Translation from Juvenal

Even they that have no murderous will
Would have it in their power to kill.

***

Translation from Horace

Seldom the villain, though much haste he make,
Lame-footed vengeance fails to overtake.

 

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LINKS

Robert Pinsky’s interesting comments on a Walter Raleigh poem, Nature That washed Her Hands in Milk.

An interesting essay on Raleigh by Henry David Thoreau.

Selected Poetry and Prose of SirWalter Raleigh on the Luminarium site.

Metrical Translations occurring in Sir W. Raleigh’s History of the World, 1614.

Fragments and Epigrams by Sir Walter Raleigh.

 

 

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