Monthly Archives: May 2008

John Bradford

There but by the grace of God go I.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bradford

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Theodore Roethke

The Meadow Mouse
by Theodore Roethke

1
In a shoe box stuffed in an old nylon stocking
Sleeps the baby mouse I found in the meadow,
Where he trembled and shook beneath a stick
Till I caught him up by the tail and brought him in,
Cradled in my hand,
A little quaker, the whole body of him trembling,
His absurd whiskers sticking out like a cartoon-mouse,
His feet like small leaves,
Little lizard-feet,
Whitish and spread wide when he tried to struggle away,
Wriggling like a minuscule puppy.

Now he’s eaten his three kinds of cheese and drunk from his
bottle-cap watering-trough–
So much he just lies in one corner,
His tail curled under him, his belly big
As his head; his bat-like ears
Twitching, tilting toward the least sound.

Do I imagine he no longer trembles
When I come close to him?
He seems no longer to tremble.

2

But this morning the shoe-box house on the back porch is empty.
Where has he gone, my meadow mouse,
My thumb of a child that nuzzled in my palm?–
To run under the hawk’s wing,
Under the eye of the great owl watching from the elm-tree,
To live by courtesy of the shrike, the snake, the tom-cat.

I think of the nestling fallen into the deep grass,
The turtle gasping in the dusty rubble of the highway,
The paralytic stunned in the tub, and the water rising,–
All things innocent, hapless, forsaken.

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Abraham Lincoln

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!
September 30, 1859, ‘Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin’.

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George Orwell

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Mark Twain

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Unknown

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Brad Leithauser

Old Globe
by Brad Leithauser

For her big birthday
we gave her (nothing less would do)
the world, which is to say

a globe copyrighted the very year
she was born—ninety years before.
She held it tenderly, and it was clear

both had come such a long way:
the lovely, dwindled, ever-eager-to-please
woman whose memory had begun to fray

and a planet drawn and redrawn through
endless shifts of aims and loyalties,
and war and war.

*

Her eye fell at random. “Formosa,” she read.
“Now that’s pretty. Is it there today?”
A pause. “It is,” my brother said,

“though now it’s called Taiwan.”
She looked apologetic. “I sometimes forget…”
“Like Sri Lanka,” I added. “Which was Ceylon.”

And so my brothers and I, globe at hand, began:
which places had seen a change of name
in the last ninety years? Burma, Baluchistan,

Czechoslovakia, Abyssinia, Transjordan, Tibet.
Because she laughed, we extended our game
into history, mist: Vineland, Persia, Cathay…

*

She was in a middle place—
her fifties—when photos were first transmitted,
miraculously, from outer space.

Who could believe those men—in their black noon—
got up like robots, wandering the wild
wastelands of the moon,

and overheard a wholly naked sun
and an Earth so far away
it was less real than this one,

the gift received today—
the globe she’d so tenderly fitted
under her arm, like a child.

*

Finally, there’s cake: nine candles in a ring.
…Just so, the past turns distant past,
each rich decade diminishing

to a little stick of wax, rapidly
expiring. I say, “Now make a wish before
you blow them out.” She says, “I don’t see—”

stops. Then mildly protests: “But they look so nice.”
We laugh at her—and wince when a look of doubt
or fear clouds her face; she needs advice.

Well—what should anyone wish for
in blowing candles out
but that the light might last?

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Jane Kramer

Archeology, as it is practiced today in nearly every country with an interest in shaping a historical identity, falls somewhere between a hard science – “facts” that can be ascertained by dating, testing, and inscription experts – and an interpretive social science whose “facts” have traditionally derived from ancient texts and their mapping and attribution clues.
‘The Petition’, The New Yorker, April 14, 2008, Vol. 84, Issue 9.

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Ted Hughes

Crow’s Account of the Battle
by Ted Hughes

There was this terrific battle.
The noise was as much
As the limits of possible noise could take.
There were screams higher groans deeper
Than any ear could hold.
Many eardrums burst and some walls
Collapsed to escape the noise.
Everything struggled on its way
Through this tearing deafness
As through a torrent in a dark cave.

The cartridges were banging off, as planned,
The fingers were keeping things going
According to excitement and orders.
The unhurt eyes were full of deadliness.
The bullets pursued their courses
Through clods of stone, earth, and skin,
Through intestines pocket-books, brains, hair, teeth
According to Universal laws
And mouths cried “Mamma”
From sudden traps of calculus,
Theorems wrenched men in two,
Shock-severed eyes watched blood
Squandering as from a drain-pipe
Into the blanks between the stars.
Faces slammed down into clay
As for the making of a life-mask
Knew that even on the sun’s surface
They could not be learning more or more to the point
Reality was giving it’s lesson,
Its mishmash of scripture and physics,
With here, brains in hands, for example,
And there, legs in a treetop.
There was no escape except into death.
And still it went on–it outlasted
Many prayers, many a proved watch
Many bodies in excellent trim,
Till the explosives ran out
And sheer weariness supervened
And what was left looked round at what was left.

Then everybody wept,
Or sat, too exhausted to weep,
Or lay, too hurt to weep.
And when the smoke cleared it became clear
This has happened too often before
And was going to happen too often in the future
And happened too easily
Bones were too like lath and twigs
Blood was too like water
Cries were too like silence
The most terrible grimaces too like footprints in mud
And shooting somebody through the midriff
Was too like striking a match
Too like potting a snooker ball
Too like tearing up a bill
Blasting the whole world to bits
Was too like slamming a door,
Too like dropping in a chair
Exhausted with rage
Too like being blown up yourself
Which happened too easily
With too like no consequences.

So the survivors stayed.
And the earth and the sky stayed.
Everything took the blame.

Not a leaf flinched, nobody smiled.

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N. Scott Momaday

The Gift
by N. Scott Momaday

Older, more generous,
We give each other hope.
The gift is ominous:
Enough praise, enough rope.

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W. H. Auden

O Tell Me The Truth About Love
by W. H. Auden

Some say that love’s a little boy,
And some say it’s a bird,
Some say it makes the world go round,
And some say that’s absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn’t do.

Does it look like a pair of pajamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does it’s odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It’s quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I’ve found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway-guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
it wasn’t ever there:
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton’s bracing air.
I don’t know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn’t in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all it’s time at the races,
Or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of it’s own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I’m picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my shoes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

UPDATE: 9/19/11: a nice reading…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3O2H3bV1eo

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Miller Williams

The Ways We Touch
by Miller Williams

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it.
What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism
is always a sign of things no ears have heard,
no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.

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Rudyard Kipling

If
by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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Filed under Poems, Sureness

N. Scott Momaday

Nous avons vu la mer
by N. Scott Momaday

We have been lovers,
you and I.
We have been alive
in the clear mornings of Genesis;
in the afternoons,
among the prisms of the air,
our hands have shaped perfect silences.
We have seen the sea;
wonder is well known to us.

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Mary Stewart Hammond

The Big Fish Story
by Mary Stewart Hammond

Late fall and not a soul around for miles.
Just me and my man. And those scallopers
trolling a few hundred feet offshore I’m pointing to
say no, non, nein, nyet, nej,
in every language including body English,
to his idea that we take off all our clothes
smack in the middle of the lawn
in broad daylight and go swimming!
This is the line he throws me: “But, sweetheart,
the young have given up scalloping. Those
are all old men out there. Their eyesight
is terrible.” which explains why
I’m naked in the water off the coast
of Massachusetts on the fourteenth of October
and loving it, the water still summer warm,
feeling like silk, like the feel of his flesh
drawing over my skin when we’re landed
on a bed, so I swim off out of his reach
lolling and rolling, diving and surfacing,
floating on my back for his still good eyes.
I know what he has in mind and what
I have in mind is to play him for a while
for that line I swallowed, delay the moment
I’ll do a slow crawl over to him,
wrap my legs around his waist, and
reel him in – just the fish he was after.

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Filed under Bagatelle, Love, Poems

Wislawa Szymborska

A Tale Begun
by Wislawa Szymborska

The world is never ready
for the birth of a child.

Our ships are not yet back from Winnland.
We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass.
We’ve got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor,
fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw’s center,
gain access to King Harald the Butterpat,
and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouche.
Only in Acapulco
can we begin anew.

We’ve run out of bandages,
matches, hydraulic presses, arguments, and water.
We haven’t got the trucks, we haven’t got the Minghs’ support.
This skinny horse won’t be enough to bribe the sheriff.
No news so far about the Tartars’ captives.
We’ll need a warmer cave for winter
and someone who can speak Harari.

We don’t know whom to trust in Nineveh,
what conditions the Prince-Cardinal will decree,
which names Beria has still got inside his files.
They say Karol the Hammer strikes tomorrow at dawn.
In this situation let’s appease Cheops,
report ourselves of our own free will,
change faiths,
pretend to be friends with the Doge
and say that we’ve got nothing to do with the Kwabe tribe.

Time to light the fires.
Let’s send a cable to grandma in Zabierzow.
Let’s untie the knots in the yurt’s leather straps.

May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.
But not so far

that it sees into the future.
Spare him
that one gift,
0 heavenly powers.

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Jorge Luis Borges

There are no moral or intellectual merits. Homer composed the Odyssey; if we postulate an infinite period of time, with infinite circumstances and changes, the impossible thing is not to compose the Odyssey, at least once.
The Immortal, 1949

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Vladimir Nabokov

For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.
This was included in the 1956 “Afterword” to Lolita which has been used in all later editions.

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Unknown

Go lightly, simply.
Too much seriousness clouds the soul.
Just go and follow the flowing moment.
Try not to cling to any experience.
The depths of wonder open of themselves.

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Filed under Expectancy, Poems

Stanley Fish

We can still do all the things we have always done; we can still say that some things are true and others false, and believe it; we can still use words like better and worse and offer justifications for doing so. All we lose (if we have been persuaded by the deconstructive critique, that is) is a certain rationalist faith that there will someday be a final word, a last description that takes the accurate measure of everything. All that will have happened is that one account of what we know and how we know it — one epistemology — has been replaced by another, which means only that in the unlikely event you are asked “What’s your epistemology?” you’ll give a different answer than you would have given before. The world, and you, will go on pretty much in the same old way.
‘Think Again: French Theory in America’, The New York Times, April 6, 2008
http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/french-theory-in-america/

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