Beech Leaves – Brief Poems by Richard Aldington

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Richard Aldington (8 July 1892 – 27 July 1962), born Edward Godfree Aldington, was an English writer and poet. He was born in Portsmouth, the son of a solicitor, and educated at Dover College, and for a year at the University of London. He was unable to complete his degree because of the financial circumstances of his family. By the age of 19 he was capable of reading Greek, Latin, French and Italian. Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry magazine,  said he looked like a footballer. He met the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) in 1911 and they married two years later. In 1915, Aldington and H. D. relocated within London. Their relationship became strained by external romantic interests and the stillborn birth of their child. He joined the army in 1916 and was wounded on the Western Front. He never completely recovered from his war experiences, and may have continued to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

Aldington and H.D. attempted to mend their marriage in 1919, after the birth of her daughter by a friend of writer D. H. Lawrence, named Cecil Gray, with whom she had lived with while Aldington was at war. However, she was by this time deeply involved in a lesbian relationship with the wealthy writer Bryher, and she and Aldington formally separated, both becoming romantically involved with other people, but they did not divorce until 1938. They remained friends, however, for the rest of their lives.

He went into self-imposed “exile” from England in 1928.  He lived in Paris for years. living with Brigit Patmore, and being fascinated by Nancy Cunard whom he met in 1928. After his divorce from H. D. in 1938 he married again. His novel, Death of a Hero, published in 1929, was his literary response to the war. It was written while he was living on the island of Port-Cros in Provence as a development of a manuscript from a decade before.  He went on to publish several works of fiction. He also wrote biographies of figures as diverse as  D. H. Lawrence (Portrait of a Genius, But…, 1950), Robert Louis Stevenson (Portrait of a Rebel, 1957), and T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Inquiry, 1955).

Aldington died in Sury-en-Vaux, Cher, France on 27 July 1962, shortly after being honoured and feted in Moscow on the occasion of his seventieth birthday and the publication of some of his novels in Russian translation. According to The Times obituary notice, “An angry young man of the generation before they became fashionable, he remained something of an angry old man to the end.”  On 11 November 1985, Aldington was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.  The inscription on the stone is a quotation from Wilfred Owen.  “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”

 

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RICHARD ALDINGTON AND IMAGISM

Richard Aldington was a founding poet of the Imagist movement, a style marked by a minimalist free verse that incorporated succinct and vivid images. His poetry forms almost one third of the Imagists’ inaugural anthology Des Imagistes (1914). Ezra Pound, whose famous poem is parodied in Penultimate Poetry 1914 , (see below),  had coined the French-style term imagistes for H. D. and Aldington in 1912. Pound was looking for good poetry to send to Harriet Monroe for Poetry , and he had been meeting Aldington and H.D. in a Kensington tea-shop to discuss their poems. At this time Aldington’s poetry was unrhymed free verse, whereas later in his verse the cadences are long and voluptuous, the imagery weighted with ornament. Aldington was convinced that experimentation with traditional Japanese verse forms could provide a way forward for avant-garde literature in English.

Aldington interrupted his writing career to serve in the army during World War I. The trauma of modern trench warfare affected him deeply, and his post-war writings, some of which are included below,  convey an extreme pessimism that some critics have attributed to shell shock. Aldington’s writing shifted “from Imagism to verse of the Pound-Eliot kind, and then to the novel,” according to critic Douglas Bush.

Terry Comito writes in Dictionary of Literary Biography that Aldington “had a gift for evoking with considerable fluency large, uncomplicated emotions that readers have often found easy to share, and his champions frequently cite Aldington’s verse in order to argue that contemporary poetry need not be obscurely intellectual.”

 

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Brief Poems by Richard Aldington

Epigrams

I

Your mouth is fragrant as an orange-grove
In April, and your lips are hyacinths,
Dark, dew-wet, folded, petalled hyacinths
Which my tongue pierces like an amorous bee.

II

Your body is whiter than the moon-white sea,
More white than foam upon a rocky shore,
Whiter than that white goddess born of foam.

***

New Love 

She has new leaves
After her dead flowers,
Like the little almond tree
Which the frost hurt.

***

October 

The beech-leaves are silver
For lack of the tree’s blood.
At your kiss my lips
Become like the autumn beech-leaves.

 

 

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Images

I

Like a gondola of green scented fruits
Drifting along the dark canals of Venice,
You, O exquisite one,
Have entered into my desolate city.

II

The blue smoke leaps
Like swirling clouds of birds vanishing.
So my love leaps forth toward you,
Vanishes and is renewed.

III

A rose-yellow moon in a pale sky
When the sunset is faint vermilion
In the mist among the tree-boughs
Art thou to me, my beloved.

IV

A young beech tree on the edge of the forest
Stands still in the evening,
Yet shudders through all its leaves in the light air
And seems to fear the stars –
So are you still and so tremble.

V

The red deer are high on the mountain,
They are beyond the last pine trees.
And my desires have run with them.

VI

The flower which the wind has shaken
Is soon filled again with rain;
So does my heart fill slowly with tears,
Until you return.

 

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Penultimate Poetry (1914)

The apparition of these poems in a crowd:
White faces in a black dead faint.

***

Evening

The chimneys, rank on rank,
Cut the clear sky;
The moon,
With a rag of gauze about her loins
Poses among them, an awkward Venus —

And here am I looking wantonly at her
Over the kitchen sink.

***

Girl

You were that clear Sicilian fluting
That pains our thought even now.
You were the notes
Of cold fantastic grief
Some few found beautiful.

 

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Insouciance

In France (1916–1918)

In and out of the dreary trenches,
Trudging cheerily under the stars,
I make for myself little poems
Delicate as a flock of doves.

They fly away like white-winged doves.

***

Living Sepulchres

One frosty night when the guns were still
I leaned against the trench
Making for myself hokku
Of the moon and flowers and of the snow.

But the ghostly scurrying of huge rats
Swollen with feeding upon men’s flesh
Filled me with shrinking dread.

 

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LINKS

The section of the Imagists site devoted to Richard Aldington .

The poems of Anytea of Teaga as translated by Richard Aldington.

The Poetry Foundation page on Richard Aldington.

The PoemHunter page on Richard Aldington.

 

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Figs – Brief Poems by Archilochus

archilochusArchilochus ( c. 680 – c. 645 BC) was a Greek lyric poet and a professional soldier from the Aegean island of Paros.  His father is credited with founding a town on Thasos, “an island crowned with forests and lying in the sea like the backbone of an ass,” as Archilochos describes it in a poem.  Some scholars say that he was a bastard, accepted by his father, but the son of a slave woman named Enipo.  It is said that Archilochus left Paros “because of poverty and helplessness.” However, his satiric, obscene poetry also caused the exile, according to some traditions. His poems reveal a man who took pride in his hard profession of mercenary, who cultivated a studied lyric eroticism, and had a tender eye for landscape.

Archilochus is celebrated for his versatile and innovative use of poetic meters and as the earliest known Greek author to compose almost entirely on the theme of his own emotions and experiences. He was both a poet and a mercenary. As a poet he was both satirist and lyricist. Iambic verse is his invention. He wrote marching songs, love lyrics of frail tenderness, elegies. But most of all he was what Meleager calls him, “a thistle with graceful leaves.” There is a tradition that wasps hover around his grave. To the ancients, both Greek and Roman, he was The Satirist.

At one time he contracted marriage with a daughter of Lykambes, Neobulé, probably a settlement that would have retired him from campaigning. “O to touch Neobulé’s hand!” (see versions below) is the oldest surviving fragment of a love lyric in Greek. But Lykambes took back his word and the wedding was canceled. All Greece soon knew, and later Rome, Archilochos’ bitter poem in which he wished that Lykambes might freeze, starve, and be frightened to death simultaneously. Lykambes became synonymous with a broken word of honour. The invectives against that family were even said to have driven his former fiancee and her father to suicide. However another version has it that Neobulé became a prostitute and even made advance to the poet who rejected her interest with caustic comments on his former love.

Archilochos was killed around 640 in battle against Naxians by a man named Calondas, but nicknamed Corax (the Crow). The death was either in battle or a fight; nevertheless, Apollo, according to legend,  in grief and anger excommunicated the Crow from all the temples. A cult in honour of Archilochus was established in Paros and became a centre for scholars.

 

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POEMS IN TRANSLATION

Alexandrian scholars included Archilochus in their canonic list of iambic poets. His work exists in fragments; these are principally from quotations found in the work of later authors, or scraps of papyrus found during archaeological digs and subsequently reconstructed.  He was revered by the ancient Greeks as one of their most brilliant authors, able to be mentioned in the same breath as Homer. He was also censured by them as the archetypal poet of blame—his invectives were even said to have driven his former fiancee and her father to suicide. In that he resembles, in his powers, the ancient Irish bardic poets.

I first came across his work in Willis Barnstone’s Greek Lyric Poetry which has a brief but engrossing selection of the shorter poems of Archilochus. Guy Davenport has brought out his version of the poems in his Carmina Archilochi (1964). Richard Lattimore has also translated the ancient Greek poet in the translations included in Greek Lyrics. There is not as much of these poems as may be expected on the Internet. My own favourite translations are those of Willis Barnstone, although I have omitted the titles he appended to the poems.

 

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Brief Poems by Archilochus

πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἐχῖνος δ’ἓν μέγα

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

***

Fox knows many,
Hedgehog one
Solid trick

Alternative version:-

Fox knows
Eleventythree
Tricks and still
Gets caught;
Hedgehog knows
One but it
Always works

translated by Guy Davenport

***

The fox knows many tricks,
the hedgehog only one. A good one.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one.
One good one.

translated by Richard Lattimore

 

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εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ θεράπων μὲν Ἐνυαλίοιο ἄνακτος
καὶ Μουσέων ἐρατὸν δῶρον ἐπιστάμενος.

I am comrade henchman of the Ares the Enyalian King
Also understanding the lovely gift of the Muses

Translated by William Harris

***

I am a servant of the kingly wargod Enyalios
and am also skilled in the lovely arts.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

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ἐν δορὶ μέν μοι μᾶζα μεμαγμένη, ἐν δορὶ δ’ οἶνος
     Ἰσμαρικός· πίνω δ’ ἐν δορὶ κεκλιμένος.

My javelin is good white bread and Ismarian wine.
When I find rest on my javelin I drink wine.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

In my spear, my barley-bread,
in my spear, my rich wine.
I drink
leaning on my spear.

Translated by Jill A. Coyle

 

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ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται͵ ἣν παρὰ θάμνωι͵ ἔντος ἀμώμητον͵ κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων· αὐτὸν δ΄ ἐξεσάωσα. τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη; ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

That good shield I threw away
beside a bush is making
some Thracian proud.
………………………..To hell
with both of them.
…………………….I’m here
and I’ll get me a better one.

translated by Barrios Mills

****

I don’t give a damn if some Thracian ape strut
Proud of that first-rate shield the bushes got.
Leaving it was hell, but in a tricky spot
I kept my hide intact. Good shields can be bought.

translated by Guy Davenport

***.

Well, what if some barbaric Thracian glories
in the perfect shield I left under a bush?
I was sorry to leave it – but I saved my skin.
Does it matter? Oh hell, I’ll buy a better one.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

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ἡ δέ οἱ σάθη
ὥστ’ ὄνου Πριηνέως
κήλωνος ἐπλήμυρεν ὀτρυγηφάγου

His prick … swelled like that of a Perinea grain-fed breeding ass.

translated by Douglas E. Gerber

***

He comes, in bed
As copiously as
A Prienian ass
And is equipped
Like a stallion

translated by Guy Davenport

***

His penis is swollen
like a donkey from Priene
taking his fill of barley.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

 

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ὡς Διωνύσου ἄνακτος καλὸν ἐξάρξαι μέλος
οἶδα διθύραμβον οἴνωι συγκεραυνωθεὶς φρένας.

And I know how to lead off
The sprightly dance
Of the Lord Dionysus
– the dithyramb –
I do it thunderstruck
With wine

translated by Guy Davenport

***

I know how to be Lead Singer of the lovely song
of Lord Dionysos, my wits thundered out with wine.

translated by William Harris

 

 

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POEMS ABOUT NEOBULÉ, LOVE AND SEX

O that I might but touch
Neobule’s hand

translated by Guy Davenport

***

I pray for one gift: that I may merely touch Neoboule’s hand.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

Would that it might thus befall me to touch the hand of Neoboule.

translated by William Harris

***

Here I lie mournful with desire,
feeble in bitterness of the pain gods inflicted upon me,
stuck through the bones with love.

translated by Richmond Lattimore

***

I lie here miserable and broken with desire,
pierced through to the bones by the bitterness
of this god-given painful love.

O comrade, this passion makes my limbs limp
and tramples over me.

translated by Willis Barnstone

With ankles that fat
It must be a girl

translated by Guy Davenport

***

She is a common woman for rent,
but what sensuality and fat ankles,
O fat whore for hire.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

(girls) perfumed as to hair
and bosom so that even an old man would have loved them

translated by William Harris

***

Her breasts and her dark hair
were perfume, and even an old man would love her.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

Boil in the crotch

translated by Guy Davenport

***

A tumor between the thighs.

translated by William Harris

***

Feeble now are the muscles in my mushroom.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

but the nerves of my “stick” are snapped

translated by William Harris

***

Enormous was the gold he amassed
from many ears of work,
but all
fell into the luscious arms
of a common whore.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

He was accustomed to gush into the cunt of a woman, a hooker, much wealth gathered up over a long time with great labor.

translated by William Harris

 

 

 

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POEMS ABOUT FIGS

Paros
figs
life of the sea
Fare thee well

translated by Guy Davenport

***

Say goodbye to the island Paros,
farewell to its figs and the seafaring life.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

How can I like the way she makes love?
Give me sweet figs before sour wild pears.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

As one fig tree in a rocky place
Feeds a lot of crows
Easy-going Pasiphile
Receives a lot of strangers

translated by Guy Davenport

***

Wild fig tree of the rocks, so often feeder of ravens,
Loves-them-all, the seducible, the stranger’s delight.

translated by Richard Lattimore

***

As the figtree on its rock feeds many crows,
so this simple girl sleeps with strangers.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

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LINKS

Guy Davenport – An Introduction to Archilochus.

An interesting blog post on Archilochus.

A lengthy and fascinating essay on Archilochus by William Harris.

A chapter on Archilochus fom the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard.

 

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Minims – Brief Poems by Howard Nemerov

200px-Howard_NemerovHoward Nemerov (1920 – 1991) was an American poet.  He graduated from the Society for Ethical Culture’s Fieldstone School in 1937 and went on to study at Harvard, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1941. Throughout World War II, he served as a pilot, first in the Royal Canadian Air Force and later the U. S. Army Air Forces. He married in 1944, and after the war, having earned the rank of first lieutenant, returned to New York with his wife to complete his first book. Nemerov was first hired to teach literature to World War II veterans at Hamilton College in New York. Later he taught at Bennington College, Brandeis University, and finally Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a University Professor of English and a Distinguished Poet in Residence from 1969 until his death in 1991. He was twice Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, from 1963 to 1964 and again from 1988 to 1990. For The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), he won the National Book Award for Poetry, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and the Bollingen Prize.

Nemerov was brother to photographer Diane Nemerov Arbus and father to art historian Alexander Nemerov, Professor of the History of Art and American Studies at Stanford University.

 

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SOME COMMENTS BY HOWARD NEMEROV

During the war and since, I have lived in the country, chiefly in Vermont, and while my relation to the landscape has been contemplative rather than practical, the landscape nevertheless has in large part taken over my poetry.

***

I would talk in iambic pentameter if it were easier.

***

Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.

***

I do insist on making what I hope is sense so there’s always a coherent narrative or argument that the reader can follow. 

***

I liked the kid who wrote me that he had to do a term paper on a modern poet and he was doing me because, though they say you have to read poems twice, he found he could handle mine in one try.

***

Language cares.

 

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SOME COMMENTS ON HOWARD NEMEROV

Nemerov in his poetry shows himself to be clear-headed, unillusioned and affectionate; wry, critical, often funny, and just as often deeply moving. Which is to say that he presents us with a highly intelligent and flexible viewpoint which is busily inspecting what is constantly passing for “civilization” right before our eyes. And there is not much that escapes notice. There is scarcely another poet who can show us so well how futile and ridiculous we are.

Anthony Hecht

***

Romantic, realist, comedian, satirist, relentless and indefatigable brooder upon the most ancient mysteries—Nemerov is not to be classified.

Joyce Carol Oates

***

Howard Nemerov has perfected the poem as an instrument for exercising brilliance of wit. Searching, discursive, clear-sighted, he has learned to make the poem serve his relaxed manner and humane insights so expertly, I can only admire the clean purposefulness of his statements, his thoughtful care, the measure and grace of his lines.

Laurence Lieberman 

***

A hopeless hope is the most attractive quality in his poems, which slowly turn obverse to reverse, seeing the permanence of change, the vices of virtue, and the errors of truth.

Helen Vendler

***

Nemerov is one of the wittiest and funniest poets we have. . . . But the enveloping emotion that arises from his writing is helplessness: the helplessness we all feel in the face of the events of our time, and of life itself. . . . And beneath even this feeling is a sort of hopelessly involved acceptance and resignation which has in it more of the truly tragic than most poetry which deliberately sets out in quest of tragedy.

James Dickey

***

Nemerov’s mind plays with epigram, gnome, riddle, rune, advice, meditation, notes, dialectic, prophecy, reflection, views, knowledge, questions, speculation—all the forms of thought. His wishes go homing to origins and ends.

Helen Vendler

 

 

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Brief Poems by Howard Nemerov

A Sacrificed Author

‘Father’, he cried, after the critics’ chewing,
‘Forgive them, for they know not what I’m doing.’

***

Love

A sandwich and a beer may cure these ills
If only boys and girls were Bars and Grills.

***

Minim

The red butterflies are so beautiful!
But they will not stand still to be looked at.

***

A Life

Innocence?
In a sense.
In no sense!

Was that it? 
Was that it?
Was that it?

That was it.

***

The Common Wisdom

Their marriage is a good one. In our eyes
What makes a marriage “good?” Well, that the tether
Fray but not break, and that they stay together.
One should be watching while the other dies.

 

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Creation Myth on a Moebius Band   

This world’s just mad enough to have been made
By the Being His beings into Being prayed.

***

The God of This World

He smiles to see his children, born to sin,
Digging those foxholes there are no atheists in.

***

Power to the People

Why are the stamps adorned with kings and presidents?
That we may lick their hinder parts and thump their heads.

***

Mystery Story

Formal as minuet or sonnet,
It zeroes in on the guilty one;
But by the time I’m told who done it,
I can’t remember what he done.

***

Morning Sun

How many more this morning are there dead of
The peace I came to bring a sword instead of?

***

History of Hair from World War II to the Present

Crewcut et Ux. have raised their long-haired pup:
Samson is shorn, and Absalom’s hung up.

***

Knowledge

Not living for each other’s sake,
Mind and the world will rarely rime;
The raindrops aiming at the lake
Are right on target every time.

***

A Male Chauvinist Mermaid

Two troubles with the Equal Rights Amendment:
Girls don’t get hard ons and boys don’t get pregnant.

***

War Graves

Across the field, above our bulldozed dead,
Their individual crosses stand parade.

 

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Bacon & Eggs

The chicken contributes,
But the pig gives his all.

***

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.

A Double Cross

Early in life and late, at both ends cozen’d:
The girls were chaste, when he was young and wasn’t.

Aesthetics

The spider does geometry all night
To take the fly, the dewdrop, and the sun’s light.

 

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LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page on Howard Nemerov.

A large selection of poems by Howard Nemerov on the Poetry Foundation site.

A large selection of poems by Howard Nemerov on the PoemHunter site.

Howard Nemerov: Online Resources.

Howard Nemerov talks with Studs Terkel on WFMT in 1960.

Howard Nemerov interviewed by Grace Cavelieri.

D. G. Myers writes about Howard Nemerov.

Mike Snider writes about Howard Nemerov.

Some e-notes on Howard Nemerov.

 

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