Marianne Moore’s The Fish

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Moore was very stoical and firm in life, but if she held out the joy she displays in poetry in some physical craft she would have made a marvelous and playful dancer.

The Fish

wade
through black jade.
       Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
       adjusting the ash-heaps;
              opening and shutting itself like

an
injured fan.
       The barnacles which encrust the side
       of the wave, cannot hide
              there for the submerged shafts of the

sun,
split like spun
       glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
       into the crevices—
              in and out, illuminating

the
turquoise sea
       of bodies. The water drives a wedge
       of iron through the iron edge
              of the cliff; whereupon the stars,

pink
rice-grains, ink-
       bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
       lilies, and submarine
              toadstools, slide each on the other.

All
external
       marks of abuse are present on this
       defiant edifice—
              all the physical features of
              
ac-
cident—lack
       of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
       hatchet strokes, these things stand
              out on it; the chasm-side is

dead.
Repeated
       evidence has proved that it can live
       on what can not revive
              its youth. The sea grows old in it.
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Three Poems by James Wright

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These three poems were collected in “American Religious Poems”, a diverse anthology edited by Harold Bloom. Something “to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed” I suppose. (An expression coined by Finley Peter Dunne.) Click here to read three amazing poems by James Arlington Wright.

Blake’s Let Them Hold You

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Let Them Hold You
by Asher Blake

Suddenly the warbler stops his singing;
taken like a message under a seal,
her milky thigh inked with a bird,
silent upon the white cliff faces
of her alabster thigh; off somewhere,
like a bird she is gone.
From some perch in the brambles
of the jealous gut
our songbird has flown.
In a swarm of parting,
my hand is nested in barbed wire.

The california highways wind
against the hills which themselves
sift through the sieve of fortune.
They are an armada of gauze
advancing without noise;
that bear silver horns to sound out victory.
They are a world that birds trash in death
but levitate in morning’s glory,
those blue hill bathers
cloaked in shadows, moving
like oars in a shallow sea.
Fullness of knowledge in a seed
so they may sing the entirety
as a cosmos in a seraph wing.

With fury I stamp my bed,
its bull backed hours,
and cast her bra for shelter
over the clockface.
And I tear the package of slavish
heraldry with my teeth,
open my root,
bite at my young manhood
and spill myself like fish eggs on a hook.
In three years I will go homeless
like deer through the city.

Come now you horned night,
black coffee sitting
like a delirious bull in the heat,
full highways will pass back this way
and the melons will be sold again;
and women worn down by sweet desire
make their rugged men drown,
stroking the sea,
freeform in passage;
and my sister
migrating in the West
will appear on the vine,
her grapes wrapped in bitter thorns.

The hills hold her in their lap
a world so flighty and blue
like another sinking navy.
I take my brush of turpentine
and revise the roads that lead away,
erase until my shepherd dog
begins to twitch in sleep,
and I, like Mars on a war field,
throne appeased,
reddened with the wealth of the country,
turn and color everything back in.

John Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket

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While John Keats is not one of my favorite writers, I agree with many that his ear is matchless, his sound smoother than a herd of velvet deer. While coughing racked his body, the gentleness of his art created an entree sufficient to fascinate us today.

This poem however, I love for its observations. His sonnet, On the Grasshopper and Cricket, was written in a verse duel with Leigh Hunt in 15 minutes.  Some people think Hunt’s sonnet is even better, and that slug fest is observed ring-side here.

Marianne Moore’s A Grave

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Marianne Moore’s poem, “A Grave,” is a virtuosic display of restless and discursive analysis, making the activity and soul of the sea a metaphor for death; so appropriate for her description of a vast, complex force consuming all things, itself a non-entity, taking all other things as naive objects themselves, never known, never remembered.

Yale professor Langdon Hammer mentions the opening of this poem as a possible reference to the Friedrich painting below, Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog.  He spoke of an incident in Moore’s life when her mother and she stood at the shore, and Marianne’s mother quelled the girl’s irritation by responding with a line Moore uses here, “it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing.”  (Note: Hammer has a course on Modernist poetry that I enjoyed to no end and should not be missed.  You can see it free here.)

Friedrich Wanderer Sea

Hammer points out that A Graveyard is made up of two stanzas, with no line break, of 11 lines each.  Each of these two stanzas begin with a 7 syllable line.  Some may suggest that this is an anti-Christian poem, protesting against the dominance of Christian theology, and the person of Christ, as being at the center of the universe.  Is Christ lifted on the cross merely the habit of man to put himself at the center of all things, staring into the Sublime?  Perhaps that is an undercurrent of the poem.  Perhaps these stanzas employ Biblical numerology (11 disciples, 7 for the day of eternal life) to pose an emotional counter-argument suggesting that all are subsumed by a death which erases even their bones into a void.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ – The Windhover

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Randall Jarrell once said, “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” Gerard Manley Hopkins’, who was both exacting and inspired, counted his poem “The Windhover” as his greatest work, and many readers agree.  He was surely struck rapt by lightning the morning he marveled at this hovering windhover, which, flying in place, are considered a symbol of Christ crucified.  Read carefully one finds that it has fewer violations of grammar than it may seem initially, because while every moment the language seems to flow and rush in transcendent association, the verbal sense is still maintained smoothly, even while the description performs its wild maneuvers. It reminds me that fire that is the most beautiful thing.