Eliot on Blake

Blake’s poetry has the unpleasantness of great poetry.

He approached everything with a mind unclouded by current opinions. . . . This makes him terrifying.

What his genius required, and what it sadly lacked, was a framework of accepted and traditional ideas which would have prevented him from indulging in a philosophy of his own, and concentrated his attention upon the problems of the poet.

The concentration resulting from a framework of mythology and theology and philosophy is one of the reasons why Dante is a classic, and Blake only a poet of genius.

– T.S. Eliot 

Eliot figured it out. Concentrated his attention upon the problems of the poet.

Lesson: know your thing.

A Considerable Speck


A speck that would have been beneath my sight
On any but a paper sheet so white
Set off across what I had written there.
And I had idly poised my pen in air
To stop it with a period of ink
When something strange about it made me think,
This was no dust speck by my breathing blown,
But unmistakably a living mite
With inclinations it could call its own.
It paused as with suspicion of my pen,
And then came racing wildly on again
To where my manuscript was not yet dry;
Then paused again and either drank or smelt–
With loathing, for again it turned to fly.
Plainly with an intelligence I dealt.
It seemed too tiny to have room for feet,
Yet must have had a set of them complete
To express how much it didn’t want to die.
It ran with terror and with cunning crept.
It faltered: I could see it hesitate;
Then in the middle of the open sheet
Cower down in desperation to accept
Whatever I accorded it of fate.
I have none of the tenderer-than-thou
Collectivistic regimenting love
With which the modern world is being swept.
But this poor microscopic item now!
Since it was nothing I knew evil of
I let it lie there till I hope it slept.

I have a mind myself and recognize
Mind when I meet with it in any guise
No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind.

-Robert Frost

Annunciation, by John Donne

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

Seventh Verse

The clouds come like ill-balanced crags,
Shouldering, Down valleys smokes the gloom.
The thunder brags. In joints of sparkling jags
The lightnings leap. The day of doom!
I cry ‘O rocks and mountains make me room.’
And yet I know it would be better so,
Aye, sweet to taste beside this woe.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘Fragments of Pilate,’ 7

My Table

Two heavy trestles, and a board
Where Sato’s gift, a changeless sword,
By pen and paper lies,
That it may moralise
My days out of their aimlessness.
A bit of an embroidered dress
Covers its wooden sheath.
Chaucer had not drawn breath
When it was forged. In Sato’s house,
Curved like new moon, moon-luminous,
It lay five hundred years.
Yet if no change appears
No moon; only an aching heart
Conceives a changeless work of art.
Our learned men have urged
That when and where ’twas forged
A marvellous accomplishment,
In painting or in pottery, went
From father unto son
And through the centuries ran
And seemed unchanging like the sword.
Soul’s beauty being most adored,
Men and their business took
Me soul’s unchanging look;
For the most rich inheritor,
Knowing that none could pass Heaven’s door
That loved inferior art,
Had such an aching heart
That he, although a country’s talk
For silken clothes and stately walk,
Had waking wits; it seemed
Juno’s peacock screamed.

-The poet Yeats

A Prayer On Going Into My House

GOD grant a blessing on this tower and cottage
And on my heirs, if all remain unspoiled,
No table or chair or stool not simple enough
For shepherd lads in Galilee; and grant
That I myself for portions of the year
May handle nothing and set eyes on nothing
But what the great and passionate have used
Throughout so many varying centuries
We take it for the norm; yet should I dream
Sinbad the sailor’s brought a painted chest,
Or image, from beyond the Loadstone Mountain,
That dream is a norm; and should some limb of the Devil
Destroy the view by cutting down an ash
That shades the road, or setting up a cottage
Planned in a government office, shorten his life,
Manacle his soul upon the Red Sea bottom.

-the Poet Yeats

Men at Forty

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

–Donald Justice

Light of the Anxious Heart

Light of the anxious heart,
Jesus, Thy suppliants cheer;
Bid Thou the gloom of guilt depart,
And shed Thy sweetness here.

O happy he whose breast
Thou makest Thine abode;
Sweet light that with the pure wilt rest,
For they shall see their God.

Brightness of God above,
Unfathomable grace,
Within our hearts implant Thy love,
And fix Thy dwelling-place.

To lowly minds revealed,
Our Savior we adore;
Like tribute to the Father yield,
And Spirit, evermore. Amen.


-Bernard of Clairvaux

Two Poets

I finished two books of poetry today. I read most of Wiman’s Every Riven Thing walking back from the library. He’s not difficult or inaccessible. There are several things to say about this book:

One is that there is a value in reading modern poetry when it is good: it helps us with living in modern times. In what way? In finding meaning in modern waiting rooms, clinical procedures, traffic and such. You can go through all these activities without any reflection, you can go through them with your own reflections, and you can go through them enriched not only by your own reflections but those of people who have searched for meaning in things = poets. I couldn’t help thinking that this book would be very valuable to readers in the future in wondering how life was like in our days and how it affected us. But more than that, there is an aspect of being conscious of how it affects us now, and responding well to that. I can’t say that I’d personally ever be inclined to describe the continual roar of the highway as an Om, but I understand why Wiman does, and now I hear that as well when I’m within range.

Another thing one might say about this book is that Wiman is a Christian, not only in name. I think reading his poetry is worth it for the sensibility he brings to devotional poetry. Here’s the title poem:

Every Riven Thing

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into the stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

The other book of poetry I finished was The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun, J.R.R. Tolkien’s adaptation of material from the sagas. He was apparently trying to teach himself to write according to the corresponding ancient poetic conventions of alliterative verse which are not as easy as one might think. He was of course a master of the texts from which he borrowed, and had thought both about the history and how the stories were told and retold by various traditions, what succeeded and what didn’t. When it comes to the feeling of old things, I’m no purist. My introduction to this world did not come so much from when I tried to read the sagas in translation but E.R. Eddison’s Styrbiorn the Strong, a re-telling imaginatively expanded and enhanced of a fragment found in some saga. That Tolkien should do the same seems to me to add to the living tradition in a reputable and reliable way. I don’t care if it is genuine, I can settle for Beowulf, or Tolkien.

It gives substance to what he says in “The Monsters and the Critics” about an age heroic and tragic. He makes the argument there that the southern gods were against men and for the monsters. He contrasts this with the northern gods who were for the heroes and against the monsters, but doomed. That’s exactly the thing, isn’t it? The gods of Greece are capricious, but the gods of Asgard are doomed. And it suggests the grandeur of Northern things that even though the gods are doomed, it is no refutation: heroes align themselves with right and honor when the world is torn apart by those to whom honor is not due.

The poetry of this volume shows that heroic northern age in strokes swift and tragic. Worth it just for what it gives of the North, worth it for the use of words, and also of value for someone trying to understand something of the creative process and story making considerations of the author of the Lord of the Rings.


All crying, ‘We will go with you, O Wind!’
The foliage follow him, leaf and stem;
But a sleep oppresses them as they go,
And they end by bidding him stay with them.

Since ever they flung abroad in spring
The leaves had promised themselves this flight,
Who now would fain seek sheltering wall,
Or thicket, or hollow place for the night.

And now they answer his summoning blast
With an ever vaguer and vaguer stir,
Or at utmost a little reluctant whirl
That drops them no further than where they were.

I only hope that when I am free
As they are free to go in quest
Of the knowledge beyond the bounds of life
It may not seem better to me to rest.

-Robert Frost

The Hollow Land

Christ keep the Hollow Land
Through the sweet spring-tide,
When the apple-blossoms bless
The lowly bent hill side.

Christ keep the Hollow Land
All the summer-tide;
Still we cannot understand
Where the waters glide;

Only dimly seeing them
Coldly slipping through
Many green-lipp’d cavern mouths.
Where the hills are blue.

-William Morris

Eyes That Last I Saw in Tears

Eyes that last I saw in tears
Through division
Here in death’s dream kingdom
The golden vision reappears
I see the eyes but not the tears
This is my affliction

This is my affliction
Eyes I shall not see again
Eyes of decision
Eyes I shall not see unless
At the door of death’s other kingdom
Where, as in this,
The eyes outlast a little while
A little while outlast the tears
And hold us in derision.

-T.S. Eliot

Holy Sonnet XIX

Oh, to vex me, contraryes meet in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begott
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vowes, and in devotione.
As humorous is my contritione
As my prophane Love, and as soone forgott:
As ridlingly distemper’d, cold and hott,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yesterday; and to day
In prayers, and flattering speaches I court God:
To morrow I quake with true feare of his rod.
So my devout fitts come and go away
Like a fantistique Ague: save that here
Those are my best dayes, when I shake with feare.

-John Donne


‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul,’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
To light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm,
Moving between the legs of tables and of chairs
Rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
Advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
Retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
Eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
In the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
Pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
Studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
And running stays around a silver tray;
Confounds the actual and the fanciful,
Content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
What the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
Perplexes and offends more, day by day;
Week by week, offends and perplexes more
With the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
And may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
Curl up the small soul in the window seat
Behind the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time, the simple soul,
Irresolute and sefish, misshapen, lame,
Unable to fare forward or retreat,
Fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
Denying the importunity of the blood,
Shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
Leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
Living first in silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
For Boudin, blown to pieces,
For this one, who made a great fortune,
And that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret by the boorhound slain between the yew trees,
Pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

-T.S. Eliot

Wild Grapes

What tree may not the fig be gathered from?
The grape may not be gathered from the birch?
It’s all you know the grape, or know the birch.
As a girl gathered from the birch myself
Equally with my weight in grapes, one autumn,
I ought to know what tree the grape is fruit of.
I was born, I suppose, like anyone,
And grew to be a little boyish girl
My brother could not always leave at home.
But that beginning was wiped out in fear
The day I swung suspended with the grapes,
And was come after like Eurydice
And brought down safely from the upper regions;
And the life I live now’s an extra life
I can waste as I please on whom I please.
So if you see me celebrate two birthdays,
And give myself out of two different ages,
One of them five years younger than I look–

One day my brother led me to a glade
Where a white birch he knew of stood alone,
Wearing a thin head-dress of pointed leaves,
And heavy on her heavy hair behind,
Against her neck, an ornament of grapes.
Grapes, I knew grapes from having seen them last year.
One bunch of them, and there began to be
Bunches all round me growing in white birches,
The way they grew round Leif the Lucky’s German;
Mostly as much beyond my lifted hands, though,
As the moon used to seem when I was younger,
And only freely to be had for climbing.
My brother did the climbing; and at first
Threw me down grapes to miss and scatter
And have to hunt for in sweet fern and hardhack;
Which gave him some time to himself to eat,
But not so much, perhaps, as a boy needed.
So then, to make me wholly self-supporting,
He climbed still higher and bent the tree to earth
And put it in my hands to pick my own grapes.
“Here, take a tree-top, I’ll get down another.
Hold on with all your might when I let go.”
I said I had the tree. It wasn’t true.
The opposite was true. The tree had me.
The minute it was left with me alone
It caught me up as if I were the fish
And it the fishpole. So I was translated
To loud cries from my brother of “Let go!
Don’t you know anything, you girl? Let go!”
But I, with something of the baby grip
Acquired ancestrally in just such trees
When wilder mothers than our wildest now
Hung babies out on branches by the hands
To dry or wash or tan, I don’t know which,
(You’ll have to ask an evolutionist)–
I held on uncomplainingly for life.
My brother tried to make me laugh to help me.
“What are you doing up there in those grapes?
Don’t be afraid. A few of them won’t hurt you.
I mean, they won’t pick you if you don’t them.”
Much danger of my picking anything!
By that time I was pretty well reduced
To a philosophy of hang-and-let-hang.
“Now you know how it feels,” my brother said,
“To be a bunch of fox-grapes, as they call them,
That when it thinks it has escaped the fox
By growing where it shouldn’t–on a birch,
Where a fox wouldn’t think to look for it–
And if he looked and found it, couldn’t reach it–
Just then come you and I to gather it.
Only you have the advantage of the grapes
In one way: you have one more stem to cling by,
And promise more resistance to the picker.”

One by one I lost off my hat and shoes,
And still I clung. I let my head fall back,
And shut my eyes against the sun, my ears
Against my brother’s nonsense; “Drop,” he said,
“I’ll catch you in my arms. It isn’t far.”
(Stated in lengths of him it might not be.)
“Drop or I’ll shake the tree and shake you down.”
Grim silence on my part as I sank lower,
My small wrists stretching till they showed the banjo strings.
“Why, if she isn’t serious about it!
Hold tight awhile till I think what to do.
I’ll bend the tree down and let you down by it.”
I don’t know much about the letting down;
But once I felt ground with my stocking feet
And the world came revolving back to me,
I know I looked long at my curled-up fingers,
Before I straightened them and brushed the bark off.
My brother said: “Don’t you weigh anything?
Try to weigh something next time, so you won’t
Be run off with by birch trees into space.”

It wasn’t my not weighing anything
So much as my not knowing anything–
My brother had been nearer right before.
I had not taken the first step in knowledge;
I had not learned to let go with the hands,
As still I have not learned to with the heart,
And have no wish to with the heart–nor need,
That I can see. The mind–is not the heart.
I may yet live, as I know others live,
To wish in vain to let go with the mind–
Of cares, at night, to sleep; but nothing tells me
That I need learn to let go with the heart.

-Robert Frost

My prayers must meet a brazen heaven

My prayers must meet a brazen heaven
And fail or scatter all away.
Unclean and seeming unforgiven
My prayers I scarcely call to pray.
I cannot buoy my heart above;
Above it cannot entrance win.
I reckon precedents of love,
But feel the long success of sin.

My heaven is brass and iron my earth.
Yea iron is mingled with my clay,
So harden’d is it in this dearth
Which praying fails to do away.
Not tears nor tears this clay uncouth
Could mould, if any years there were.
A warfare of my lips in truth,
Battling with God, is now my prayer.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

-Dylan Thomas


Poetry, at all times, is not merely descriptive and imitative in the Aristotelian sense. It is always also creative; creative indeed in the sense of making thing that were not there before—and the derivation of the word ‘poetry’ point to just this kind of ‘making’. But it is creative also in a profounder and more elusive sense. Poetry heightens and cultivates the creative element that is experience itself. For experience is not in the impressions we receive; it is in making sense. And poetry is the foremost sense-maker of experience. It renders actual ever new sectors of the apparently inexhaustible field of potential experience.

-Erich Heller

Yeats Reads

It is obligatory. Whenever you can, listen to the poet reading his own work. Yeats and Pound were peculiar, and Eliot was a genius. This one has a bit of introduction, so you can contrast his speaking voice and his reading voice. Remember people used to make fun C.S. Lewis & company for chanting poetry. Idiots. It is music, of course it is chanted–though not badly, of course.

The Twa Corbies and The Three Ravens

The Twa Corbies

1. As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t’other say,
“Where sall we gang and dine the day?”

2. “In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair.

3. “His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s ta’en another mate,
So we may make our dinner sweet.

4. “Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.

5. “Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken whae he is gane,
Oer his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.”

–Anon, found at this useful site.

The Three Ravens

There were three ravens sat on a tree,
Down a down, hey down, hey down
They were a black as black might be,
With a down.
The one of them said to his mate.
“Where shall we our breakfast take?”
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down.

Down in yonder green field,
Down a down, hey down, hey down
Their lies a knight slain under his shield,
With a down.
His hounds they lie down at his feet
So well they do their master keep.
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down.

His hawks they fly so eagerly
Down a down, hey down, hey down
No other fowl dare him come nigh,
With a down.
Down there comes a fallow doe
As heavy with young as she might go.
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down.

She lifted up his bloody head,
Down a down, hey down, hey down
And kissed his wounds that were so red,
With a down.
She got him up upon her back
And carried him to earthen lake.
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down.

She buried him before the prime,
Down a down, hey down, hey down
She was dead herself ere even-song time,
With a down.

God send every gentleman
Such hawks, such hounds, and such leman,
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down.