marnanel: (Default)

[cw: food, death, suicide]

Someone asked

What is the message of Sonnet 30 by Edna St. Vincent Millay?

This is a Shakespearean sonnet. Partly that means it has a particular rhyme scheme, but more importantly it means its meaning has a particular pattern:

  • Something. Traditionally this part is eight lines long, as it is in this sonnet.
  • Break, called a "volta".
  • On the other hand, something else.
  • Resolution: tie the two somethings together.

Let's go through it together:

Love is not all

There are lots of things in life other than love. She is presumably referring to romantic love here.

it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;

Here are some important things in life, other than love:  food, drink, sleep, shelter, and a lifebelt if you're drowning.

Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;

Also, love can't provide healthcare. Love can't save your life. But...

Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

...but the odd thing is, people often kill themselves because someone doesn't love them.  So love can't save your life, but it seems that lack of love can kill you.

Here's the volta, so now we’re talking about something else. The previous part was talking about love in a theoretical, abstract way. The next bit is addressed to a particular lover.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.

Lots of things might go wrong in the future. When they do, you might want to give away something you have, if it would make things better again. Maybe if things got bad enough, Millay might be tempted to throw away her lover's love if it would fix the situation, or even to lose the memory of one night spent with her lover. "Trade the memory of this night" might also mean telling someone the (previously secret) story of what happened that night, in order to get food when she was hungry.

Note that she says "this night", so she's saying this to her lover as part of that night which was so secret and special.

Resolution:

It well may be. I do not think I would.

"It may well be" introduced the previous section. So, maybe she would give all that up in order to save her life. As she said at the beginning, there's more to life than just love. But she thinks it's unlikely, because her lover and their secrets are so very important to her.

marnanel: (Default)
Countee Cullen (1903-1946) was an African-American poet from New York, who deserves to be better known worldwide. Here he discusses the problem of suffering in God's creation, with respect to human racism.

YET DO I MARVEL
by Countee Cullen

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must someday die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
marnanel: (Default)
MINIVER CHEEVY
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.
marnanel: (Default)
[death]
I SHALL COME BACK
by Dorothy Parker
 
I shall come back without fanfaronade
of wailing wind and graveyard panoply;
but, trembling, slip from cool Eternity —
a mild and most bewildered little shade.
I shall not make sepulchral midnight raid,
but softly come where I had longed to be
in April twilight's unsung melody,
and I, not you, shall be the one afraid.
Strange, that from lovely dreamings of the dead
I shall come back to you, who hurt me most.
You may not feel my hand upon your head,
I'll be so new and inexpert a ghost.
Perhaps you will not know that I am near —
and that will break my ghostly heart, my dear.
 
http://i.imgur.com/dSIcrykl.jpg
 

marnanel: (Default)
THE INTERROGATION OF THE GOOD
by Bertolt Brecht

Step forward: we hear
That you are a good man.

You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.
You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?
You are honest, you say your opinion.
Which opinion?
You are brave.
Against whom?
You are wise.
For whom?
You do not consider your personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend.
Are you also a good friend of the good people?

Hear us then: we know.
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration
of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.
marnanel: (Default)
[murder, suicide, execution]

Two parodies of A E Housman's "A Shropshire Lad" that I found on Wikipedia. (They're dead, Terence, everybody's dead, everybody is dead, Terence.)

by Humbert Wolfe:

When lads have done with labour
In Shropshire, one will cry
"Let's go and kill a neighbour,"
And t'other answers "Aye!"
So this one kills his cousins,
And that one kills his dad;
And, as they hang by dozens
At Ludlow, lad by lad,
Each of them one-and-twenty,
All of them murderers,
The hangman mutters: "Plenty
Even for Housman's verse."

by Hugh Kingsmill:

What, still alive at twenty-two,
A clean upstanding chap like you?
Why, if your throat is hard to slit,
Slit your girl's and swing for it!
Like enough you won't be glad
When they come to hang you, lad,
But bacon's not the only thing
That's cured by hanging from a string.
When the blotting pad of night
Sucks the latest drop of light,
Lads whose job is still to do
Shall whet their knives and think of you.
marnanel: (Default)
(war, death)

"Jack fell as he'd have wished," the mother said,
and folded up the letter that she'd read.
"The Colonel writes so nicely." Something broke
in the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. "We mothers are so proud
of our dead soldiers." Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He'd told the poor old dear some gallant lies
that she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
because he'd been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how "Jack", cold-footed, useless swine,
had panicked down the trench that night the mine
went up at Wicked Corner; how he'd tried
to get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
except that lonely woman with white hair.
marnanel: (Default)
WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE
by Michael Frayn

When I was your age, child –
When I was eight,
When I was ten,
When I was two
(How old are you?)
When I was your age, child,
My father would have gone quite wild
Had I behaved the way you
Do.
What, food uneaten on my plate
When I was eight?
What, room in such a filthy state
When I was ten?
What, late
For school when I was two?
My father would have shouted, “When
I was your age, child, my father would have raved
Had I behaved
The way you
Do".

When I was
Your age, child, I did not drive us
All perpetually mad
By bashing
Up my little brother and reducing him to tears.
There was a war on in those years!
There were no brothers to be had!
Even sisters were on ration!
My goodness, we were pleased
To get anything to tease!
We were glad
Of aunts and dogs,
Of chickens, grandmothers, and frogs;
Of creatures finned and creatures hooved,
And second cousins twice removed!

When I was your
Age, child, I was more
Considerate of others
(Particularly of fathers and of mothers).
I did not sprawl
Reading the Dandy
Or the Beano
When aunts and uncles came to call.
Indeed no.
I grandly
Entertained them all
With “Please” and “Thank you”, “May I…?”,
“Thank you”, “Sorry”, “Please”,
And other remarks like these.
And if a chance came in the conversation
I would gracefully recite a line
Which everyone recognised as a quotation
From one of the higher multiplication
Tables, like "Seven sevens are forty-nine".

When I was your age, child, I
Should never have dreamed
Of sitting idly
Watching television half the night
It would have seemed
Demented:
Television not then having been
Invented.

When I
Was your age, child, I did not lie
About
The house all day.
(I did not lie about anything at all - no liar I!)
I got out!
I ran away!
To sea!
(Though naturally I was back, with hair brushed
and hands washed, in time for tea.)
Oh yes, goodness me,
I had worked already down a diamond mine,
And fought in several minor wars,
And hunted boars,
In the lonelier
Parts of Patagonia
(Though I admit that possibly by then
I was getting on for ten.)
In the goldfields of Australia
I learned the bitterness of failure;
Experience in the temples of Siam
Made me the wise and punctual man that I am;
But the lesson that I value most
I learned upon the Coromandel Coast-
Never, come what may, to boast.

When
I was your age, child, and the older generation
Offered now and then
A kindly explanation
Of what the world was like in their young day
I did not yawn in that rude way.
Why, goodness me,
There being no television to see
(As I have, I think, already said)
We were most grateful
For any entertainment we could get instead
However tedious or hateful.

So grow up, child! And be
Your age! (What is your age, then?
Eight? Or nine? Or two? Or ten?)
Remember, as you look at me-
When I was your age I was forty-three.

Spell

Nov. 21st, 2014 10:06 pm
marnanel: (Default)
SPELL
by Charles Causley

When I was walking by Tamar stream
the day was as sweet as honey and cream.
The air was brisk as a marriage bell.
(Kiss if you must, but never tell.)

When I was walking by Tamar flood
I plucked a rose the colour of blood.
The red ran out and the thorn ran in.
(Finish all, if you begin.)

When I was walking by Tamar brook
I met a man with a reaping hook.
The beard he wore was white as may.
(The hours they run like water away.)

When I was walking by Tamar race
I met a maid with a smiling face.
Out of her eyes fell tears like rain.
(You will never see this road again.)

When I was walking by Tamar lock
I picked a bunch of sorrel and dock,
Creeping Jenny and hart's-tongue fern.
(Days they go, but cannot return.)

When I was walking by Tamar spring,
I found me a stone and a plain gold ring.
I stared at the sun, I stared at my shoes.
(Which do you choose? Which do you choose?)

[I don't know whether Causley thought of the Tamar as magical because it's liminal, but I do. TJAT]

marnanel: (Default)
SUICIDE IN THE TRENCHES
by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Dreamers

May. 27th, 2014 02:58 pm
marnanel: (Default)
DREAMERS
by Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
marnanel: (Default)
THE RESPONSIBILITY
by Peter Appleton

I am the man who gives the word,
If it should come, to use the Bomb.

I am the man who spreads the word
From him to them if it should come.

I am the man who gets the word
From him who spreads the word from him.

I am the man who drops the Bomb
If ordered by the one who's heard
From him who merely spreads the word
The first one gives if it should come.

I am the man who loads the Bomb
That he must drop should orders come
From him who gets the word passed on
By one who waits to hear from him.

I am the man who makes the Bomb
That he must load for him to drop
If told by one who gets the word
From one who passes it from him.

I am the man who fills the till,
Who pays the tax, who foots the bill
That guarantees the Bomb he makes
For him to load for him to drop
If orders come from one who gets
The word passed on to him by one
Who waits to hear it from the man
Who gives the word to use the Bomb.

I am the man behind it all;
I am the one responsible.
marnanel: (Default)
BALLADE OF GENUINE CONCERN
by Hilaire Belloc

A child at Brighton has been left to drown:
A railway train has jumped the line at Crewe:
I haven't got the change for half-a-crown:
I can't imagine what on earth to do...
Three bisons have stampeded from the zoo.
A German fleet has anchored in the Clyde.
By God the wretched country's up the flue!
The ice is breaking up on every side.

What! Further news? Rhodesian stocks are down?
England, my England, can the news be true!
Cannot the Duke be got to come to town?
Or will not Mr Hooper pull us through?
And now the bank is stopping payment too,
The chief cashier has cut his throat and died,
And Scotland Yard has failed to find a clue:
The ice is breaking up on every side.

A raging mob inflamed by Charley Brown
Is tearing up the rails at Waterloo;
They've hanged the Chancellor in wig and gown,
The Speaker and the Chief Inspector too!
Police! Police! Is this the road to Kew?
I can't keep up: my garter's come untied:
I shall be murdered by the savage crew.
The ice is breaking up on every side.

Prince of the Empire, Prince of Timbuctoo,
Prince eight feet round and nearly four feet wide,
Do try to run a little faster, do.
The ice is breaking up on every side.
marnanel: (Default)
MEDITATION IN LAMPLIGHT
by J C Squire

What deaths men have died, not fighting but impotent.
Hung on the wire, between trenches, burning and freezing,
Groaning for water with armies of men so near;
The fall over cliff, the clutch at the rootless grass,
The beach rushing up, the whirling, the turning headfirst;
Stiff writhings of strychnine, taken in error or haste,
Angina pectoris, shudders of the heart;
Failure and crushing by flying weight to the ground,
Claws and jaws, the stink of a lion's breath;
Swimming, a white belly, a crescent of teeth,
Agony, and a spirting shredded limb,
And crimson blood staining the green water;
And, horror of horrors, the slow grind on the rack,
The breaking bones, the stretching and bursting skin,
Perpetual fainting and waking to see above
The down-thrust mocking faces of cruel men,
With the power of mercy, who gloat upon shrieks for mercy.

O pity me, God! O God, make tolerable,
Make tolerable the end that awaits for me,
And give me courage to die when the time comes,
When the time comes as it must, however it comes,
That I shrink not nor scream, gripped by the jaws of the vice;
For the thought of it turns me sick, and my heart stands still,
Knocks and stands still. O fearful, fearful Shadow,
Kill me, let me die to escape the terror of thee!

A tap. Come in! Oh, no, I am perfectly well,
Only a little tired. Take this one, it's softer.
How are things going with you? Will you have some coffee?
Well, of course it's trying sometimes, but never mind,
It will probably be all right. Carry on, and keep cheerful.
I shouldn't, if I were you, meet trouble half-way,
It is always best to take everything as it comes.
marnanel: (Default)
This is among my favourite sonnets; I wish it were better known, so here it is:

ON A NIGHT OF SNOW
by Elizabeth Coatsworth

"Cat, if you go outdoors you must walk in the snow.
You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
little white slippers of snow that have heels of sleet.
Stay by the fire, my Cat. Lie still, do not go.
See how the flames are leaping and hissing low.
I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite,
so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet–
stay with me, Cat. Outdoors the wild winds blow."

"Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night.
Strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore;
and more than cats move, lit by our eyes’ green light,
on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar–
Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,
and things that are yet to be done. Open the door!"
marnanel: (Default)
TOLLOLLER:
Of all the young ladies I know,
This pretty young lady's the fairest ;
Her lips have the rosiest show.
Her eyes are the richest and rarest.
Her origin's lowly, it's true.
But of birth and position I've plenty ;
I've grammar and spelling for two.
And blood and behavior for twenty!

MOUNTARARAT:
Though the views of the House have diverged
On every conceivable motion,
All questions of party are merged
In a frenzy of love and devotion.
If you ask us distinctly to say
What party we claim to belong to,
We reply, without doubt or delay,
The party I'm singing this song to.

PHYLLIS:
I'm very much pained to refuse,
But I'll stick to my pipes and my tabors;
I can spell all the words that I use,
And my grammar's as good as my neighbour's.
As for birth, I was bom like the rest.
My behavior is rustic, but hearty.
And I know where to turn for the best
When I want a particular party!
marnanel: (Default)
"The Fur Coat" by James Stephens, 1925

I walked out in my Coat of Pride,
I looked about on every side,
And said the mountain should not be
Just where they were, and that the sea
Was badly placed, and that the beech
Should be an oak - and then from each
I turned in dignity as if
They were not there : I sniffed a sniff,
And climbed upon my sunny shelf,
And sneezed a while, and scratched myself.
marnanel: (Default)
I had grown weary of him; of his breath
And hands and features I was sick to death.
Each day I heard the same dull voice and tread;
I did not hate him: but I wished him dead.
And he must with his blank face fill my life -
Then my brain blackened; and I snatched a knife.

But ere I struck, my soul's grey deserts through
A voice cried, 'Know at least what thing you do.'
'This is a common man: knowest thou, O soul,
What this thing is? somewhere where seasons roll
There is some living thing for whom this man
Is as seven heavens girt into a span,
For some one soul you take the world away -
Now know you well your deed and purpose. Slay!'

Then I cast down the knife upon the ground
And saw that mean man for one moment crowned.
I turned and laughed: for there was no one by -
The man that I had sought to slay was I.
marnanel: (Default)
This is the song Eurydice's jailer sings to her in hell. As so often in Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld", comic pathos abounds.

"When I was king of the Boeotians, my kingdom prospered far and wide,
Bounded only by the oceans, until one day I took ill and died.
I remember without emotion the crown from which I had to part,
For now your charms cause such commotion in the kingdom of my heart!
Oh, had I known these fond emotions when I was king of the Boeotians!

If I were king of the Boeotians, you would reign there by my side.
Ah, do not shudder at the notion! I was attractive... before I died.
And though I have not one promotion through the ranks of souls in hell,
No ghost could offer such devotion, or take the heart that means so well
Of the late king of the Boeotians, the former king of the Boeotians."


marnanel: (Default)
Today I am thinking about Hilaire Belloc's love-song to Sussex.

When I am living in the Midlands
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.

The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea;
And it's there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Walking along with me.

Read more... )

I will gather and carefully make my friends
Of the men of the Sussex Weald;
They watch the stars from silent folds,
They stiffly plough the field.
By them and the God of the South Country
My poor soul shall be healed.

If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.

I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.

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