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Archive for August, 2020

poem is on left-hand white post

 

from “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying”

by Robert Herrick

 

Get up! get up for shame! The blooming morn

Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.

See how Aurora throws her fair

Fresh-quilted colours through the air:

Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see

The dew bespangling herb and tree!

 

 

For the final installment of the Bedtime Series, the other side of the mattress. Time to get up and face the day, because poet Robert Herrick has a lot of beauty to lay before us—

 

See how Aurora throws her fair  

Fresh-quilted colours through the air

 

But first, a word in support of us night-owls. Shame has been heaped upon us since childhood. Unfair that early risers aren’t yelled at by their mothers,

 

Stay up! stay up, for shame!

Shame on you, going to bed before ten!

 

No, the early bird, worm in beak, gets accolades for industry. And just because we night-owls miss out on sunrises, everyone assumes we’re lazy.

 

That has nothing to do with “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying,” which is a one of those carpe diem poems where men nag women to have sex with them. Later in the poem (full text below), after much gorgeous language and clever argument, Herrick pulls out the stops—

 

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;

And take the harmlesse follie of the time.

                     We shall grow old apace, and die

                     Before we know our liberty.

                     Our life is short; and our dayes run

                     As fast away as do’s the Sunne

 

Tricky little bastard, isn’t he. Get out of bed, he says to poor sleepy Corinna, so we can go back to bed.

 

I left the poem fragment early one morning (early for me that is, round about nine-thirty) at the entrance to a kids’ summer camp. I was thinking of the slug-a-beds who feel as poet Charles Simic does (from the poem “Summer Morning”)—

 

I love to stay in bed

All morning

 

sentiments which if expressed would drive a camp counselor to whip off the covers and shake a body; and if said counselor happened to have encountered the Corinna poem fragment, to shout the opening lines.

 

But this is a case of my imagination overtaking good judgment. This poem-elfing was a flop. It’s always a terrible idea to post a poem fragment instead of a poem in its entirety—lines taken out of context can be misconstrued and misused as we see here—but that’s the least of it. Putting a poem about sex at a kids’ camp is plain creepy. What can I say. At least the camp is closed for COVID-19 and only a stray walker will encounter Herrick’s racy little poem.

 

*

 

 

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was born in London, the seventh child of a goldsmith. When he was a baby his father fell out of a window, probably intentionally, and died. At age 16 he apprenticed with an uncle to follow in his father’s profession. Later he  went to Cambridge, became a clergyman at country vicarage, and served for many years until he was removed from his post because of his Royalist sympathies. With the ascension of Charles II to the throne fifteen years later, Herrick was re-instated.

 

In 1648 he published his one and only collection of verse, Hesperides. It was a massive volume with over 1,000 poems.

 

Herrick was a lifelong bachelor. The women to whom he addressed his love poems, Corrina among them, are thought to be fictional. He died at age 83.

 

*

Corinna’s Gone A-Maying
by Robert Herrick
Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
                     See how Aurora throwes her faire
                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow’d toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?
                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: ’tis sin,
                     Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.
Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care
                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
                     Feare not; the leaves will strew
                     Gemms in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,
Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:
                     Come, and receive them while the light
                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:
                     And Titan on the Eastern hill
                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.
Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
                     Made green, and trimm’d with trees: see how
                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,
                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
                     An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
                     Can such delights be in the street,
                     And open fields, and we not see’t?
                     Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obay
                     The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.
There’s not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
                     Before that we have left to dreame:
And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted Troth,
And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
                     Many a green-gown has been given;
                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:
                     Many a glance too has been sent
                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w’are not a Maying.
Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
                     We shall grow old apace, and die
                     Before we know our liberty.
                     Our life is short; and our dayes run
                     As fast away as do’s the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne’r be found againe:
                     So when or you or I are made
                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
                     All love, all liking, all delight
                     Lies drown’d with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.

 

 

 

 

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poem is taped to sign post

 

Late Hours

by Lisel Mueller

 

On summer nights the world

moves within earshot

on the interstate with its swish

and growl, an occasional siren

that sends chills through us.

Sometimes, on clear, still nights,

voices float into our bedroom,

lunar and fragmented,

as if the sky had let them go

long before our birth.

 

In winter we close the windows

and read Chekhov,

nearly weeping for his world.

 

What luxury, to be so happy

that we can grieve

over imaginary lives.

 

 

My husband and I have an ongoing debate about TV in the bedroom—three guesses where I stand—and I’ve just found the perfect argument for keeping the bedroom a TV-free sanctuary. Thank you, Lisel Mueller. “Late Hours” paints such a picture of marital harmony and contentment I don’t know who could resist it.

 

The world outside the couples’ bedroom is alternately vaguely menacing (the highway, with its swish and growl sounds like a predator) and otherworldly magical (the floating voices lunar and fragmented). Magic and menace move close, within earshot, but never penetrate their safe haven. Even Chekhov’s sad stories are only encountered at the safe remove of fiction.

 

I will think of the last lines every time I finish a book I love:

 

What luxury, to be so happy

that we can grieve

over imaginary lives.

 

*

 

I taped the poem to a sign at the historic Red Fox Inn in Horton Bay, Michigan. The inn was one of Hemingway’s haunts when he lived in Horton Bay while writing the Nick Adams stories. The Inn, previously a boardinghouse for lumberjacks, was during Hemingway’s time a restaurant known for chicken dinners. Now it’s a charming spot to pick up Hemingway books and memorabilia.

 

As long as we’ve got Papa Hemingway here, let’s see what he has to say about Dr. Chekhov, a writer also famous for his short stories. In Hemingway’s sour opinion, “Chekhov wrote about 6 good stories. But he was an amateur writer.” This despite counting Chekhov as one of his influences. Humph. Jealousy’s not a good look on such a handsome fellow.

 

*

 

Lisel Mueller (1924-2020) was born in Germany. Her parents were both teachers. After her father spoke out against the rise of Nazism, he was interrogated by the Gestapo, and eventually fled the country. Mueller, her mother and her sister followed a few years later when she was 15. The family settled in the Midwest.

 

Mueller graduated from University of Evansville, married, had two daughters, worked as a social worker and as a book reviewer for the Chicago Daily News. She took up writing poetry in her late twenties after her mother died and was not published until she was 41.

 

She taught at University of Chicago, Elmhurst and Goddard colleges, won several prizes including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She is the only German-born writer to ever win the Pulitzer.

 

Lisel Mueller died this past February at age 96.

 

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poem is taped to rock

 

Solitaire

by Amy Lowell

 

When night drifts along the streets of the city,

And sifts down between the uneven roofs,

My mind begins to peek and peer.

It plays at ball in odd, blue Chinese gardens,

And shakes wrought dice-cups in Pagan temples

Amid the broken flutings of white pillars.

It dances with purple and yellow crocuses in its hair,

And its feet shine as they flutter over drenched grasses.

How light and laughing my mind is,

When all the good folk have put out their bedroom candles,

And the city is still.

 

 

No wonder nighttime wakefulness is so delightful to poet Amy Lowell. She slept by day and wrote at night. Would that I could be so industrious. For those of us cursed with two a.m. racing thoughts, Lowell’s trilling about how light and laughing my mind is when everyone else is fast asleep sounds like someone raving on about how fun it is to toss the kettle ball.

 

But let’s look at “Solitaire” from a less bitter angle. The poem was written in 1917, two years after T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which begins

 

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

 

Lowell surely had read that poem before she wrote “Solitaire.” (She was close friends with Ezra Pound who famously promoted Eliot’s publication.) I can’t help but hear Lowell echoing the “Prufrock” opening with her own—

 

When night drifts along the streets of the city,

And sifts down between the uneven roofs

 

and then choosing to wander in a completely different direction. To hell with your whiny neuroses, she could be saying. I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this.

 

And it’s off to the races. Or rather, to the Pagan temples and the Chinese gardens.

 

I left the poem at a scenic overlook of Lake Charlevoix in northern Michigan. It was 9:00 p.m. and the sun was just going down:

 

*

 

Amy Lowell (1974- 1925) was born the youngest of five children to a wealthy Boston-Brahim family. What a family—her great-grandfather a founder of the Boston Athenaeum, one brother a famous astronomer, another the president of Harvard, two cousins poets (James Russell Lowell and Robert Lowell) and the Lowell clan itself featured in a famous ditty—

 

And this is good old Boston,

The home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

And the Cabots talk only to God.

 

Lowell was something of a terror in the private schools she attended, talking back to teachers and clowning around to make the class laugh. She was not allowed to go to college (being female) but she had a post-secondary education of sorts in the family’s 7,000 volume library and in the many trips she made abroad.

 

While in Europe she befriended and promoted Ezra Pound with whom she shared a passion for Imagist poetry. They had a falling-out over the direction of Imagist poetry, he unkindly calling her version “Amygism” and his protégé Eliot snidely calling her “the daemon saleswoman of modern poetry.” She published a journal of Imagist poetry in the United States, toured the country to promote poetry and provided financial assistance to other poets including Carl Sandburg. She didn’t begin publishing her own poetry till she was 36. As well as explicit love poetry to her partner of many years, Ada Dwyer Russell, Lowell wrote a 1,300 page biography of John Keats.

 

Lowell had a big personality and a glandular problem that led to obesity and health issues. She was also known for smoking cigars.

 

She died at age 51 of a stroke and won the Pulitzer Prize posthumously.

 

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