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poem is leaning against veil on bench

 

Song of the Heart

by Cavafy

 

With you, I think, all that is pleasant smiles on me,

in the mirror of your eyes there is reflected joy.

Stay, my light, and still I have not told you even half

of all that presses down upon my heart so amorous,

that rushes to my lips with just a single look from you.

If you wish it, do not speak to me, or say enchanting

words of love and adoration. ‘Tis enough that you’re nearby,

that I tell you that I want you, that I’m near you, that the morning

dew that you breathe in, I breathe in, too; and if you find

that these too are excessive, ‘tis enough I merely see you!

 

 

A few hours before the bride donned this stunning dress, I snuck into her room with “Song of the Heart.” Then I worried. First that somehow the ink from my green Poem Elf stamp would stain the veil, and second that the bride might view the gesture as creepy, her prurient aunt trying to stoke the marital fires with a poem equal parts smoldering and romantic. I was like those old ladies at bridal showers of yore, holding up peignoir sets and lacy teddies, exclaiming to all with a laugh and a knowing wink, “Oh, won’t he enjoy these!” Forgive us old aunties. We love young love.

 

Anyway I needn’t have worried. The bride loved the poem and thought it “a perfect match” for her own perfect match. Indeed it was, even though she and her husband are private people not given to public displays, a couple whose emotions are less likely to be announced than unmasked by flushing cheeks and small grins.

 

But they couldn’t hold back on their wedding day, the glow, the big smiles, the “reflected joy” in the mirror of their eyes, the affectionate touching whenever the other was near. This overflowing of love from a couple who have known each other since their teenage years was a living, breathing exhibition of Cavafy’s words.

 

What I love about this love poem is that side-by-side with the passion—all that breathing and feelings pressing down and words rushing to the lips—is a courtliness. The lover is sweetly considerate of the beloved. The speaker says he’ll speak if you wish it, and if you find these too are excessive, he’ll back off. So polite for a passionate outpouring. This is no gather ye rosebuds while ye may seduction. This lover says, it’s enough to just breathe the same air as you.

 

I can only imagine how beautiful this poem is in the original Greek.

 

There’s a postscript to “Cavafy at the wedding.” After the reception, those die-hard celebrators among us carried on at a bar, and there I met a young man on his way to Ireland to get his masters in literature. We talked about his very particular literary taste—Shelly but not Eliot, a little Yeats but not all—and I showed him the picture on my phone of the Cavafy poem. He knew Cavafy and had read the poem before. I was impressed. No doubt the pretty young woman next to him was impressed as well. He expanded the screen to highlight a particular line. “Right there,” he said, pointing. “That’s it.” I wish I could remember which line it was that was it.

 

But which line doesn’t matter. What matters is the reach, over a hundred years later and thousands and thousands of miles away, of one poet’s words on strangers in a bar late one night, on lovers on their honeymoon, on who knows who else who reads this poem right here and now and remembers a beloved, and feels the beam of passion, the glow of love, who matches Cavafy’s song of the heart with his own.

 

Us old aunties. We’re hopeless romantics.

 

I’ve written about Cavafy before and will re-print his biography here. (Link here for the full post with another great Cavafy poem.)

 

Constantine Petrou Cavafy is Greece’s most highly esteemed modern poet even though he lived only briefly in Greece. He was born in 1863 in Egypt to Greek parents, the youngest of nine children.  After the death of his father, the family fell into poverty and moved to England. There he spent most of his childhood. More financial distress pulled the family to Greece, then back to Egypt, where Cavafy worked as a journalist and as a stockbroker. But the bulk of his professional life was spent at a government agency.

 

Cavafy was never famous in his lifetime and didn’t seem interested in pursuing recognition. He printed his poems in pamphlets which he distributed to his friends. His lack of interest in publication may have been because some of his poems dealt frankly with his homosexuality and erotic themes. He died at age seventy in 1933.

 

 

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Every Valentine’s Day I brainstorm for places that romantically-inclined or romantically-averse folks might congregate as they prepare for the holiday or prepare to avoid it. In the past I’ve left love poems in a chocolate store, post office, senior citizen’s home, a food court, a lonely-looking motel, the floral department of a grocery store. Now in my fourth year of Valentine’s Day poem-elfing, I think I need a location scout.

Here’s where this year’s crop of love poems landed:

 

At Victoria’s Secret, nestled in between the pink thongs and the pink brassieres, I left Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet XVII,” a poem which speaks of loving someone “in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”

 

poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear

poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear

 

Funny that we used to call ladies’ underwear “intimates.” Victoria’s Secret intimates, however sexy, are no match for Neruda’s brand. The intimacy he’s after can’t be manufactured or marketed or purchased. He writes of a passionate love

so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand

so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

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I left Carl Sandberg’s “At a Window” on a stranger’s window at a transportation center.

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poem is on white car’s windshield

 

 

Presumably the stranger will return to the car after work, and I hope this universal wish for companionship and love is a balm and not an irritant:

…leave me a little love,

A voice to speak to me in the day end,

A hand to touch me in the dark room

Breaking the long loneliness.

 

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A Greyhound bus station seemed like a fine place for the decidedly unsentimental “First Love” by one of my favorites, Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.

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poem is on white wall in foreground

 

 

First love, says Szymborska,

does what all the others still can’t manage:

unremembered,

not even seen in dreams,

it introduces me to death.

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Valentine’s Day is a great day to celebrate the love of friends. I taped Robert Frost’s “A Time to Talk” to the sign outside a neighborhood bar, always a good place for friends to gather.

 

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poem is on oval sign just under the small red oval on the right-hand side

 

 

In this age of distraction and shortened attention spans, what better way to show affection than setting aside your hoe, whatever your hoe may be (no naughty jokes, please) and taking time “for a friendly visit“?

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For anyone sadder but wiser who might need retail therapy on Valentine’s Day, I left “I Have Come to the Conclusion” by Nelle Fertig in the Macy’s purse department:

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poem is on the mirror

 

 

 

(Excuse the typos in the poem I left–too late for corrections.)

Fertig’s version of love is more cynical than my own. But I guess I’ve been fortunate not to have “broken a few/ very fine mirrors.”

Image 5

 

Finally, I left an excerpt from Roy Croft’s “Love” near my husband’s office outside a restaurant he likes. But he was out of town, so he’ll only see the poem here.

 

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poem is on lamp post

 

 

The restaurant is frequented by middle-aged couples and singles looking to be coupled, people old enough to appreciate what’s under the surface, who can understand the beauty of what Fertig expresses here.

 

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If none of these poems suit your mood or situation, take a look past Valentine poem-elfing in 2014, 2013, and 2012.

 

And spread love! Everyone has it, everyone needs it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

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Smart bloggers use their site stats to figure out how to attract more readers.  I’m not smart that way (or I’m too lazy to figure out how to be smart that way), but I still love my site stats.  It’s fun at the end of the day to see how many visitors I’ve had, how many hits on each post, how many hits from each country and clicks on links.  What I enjoy the most is the list of search engine terms that bring readers to the blog.

 

Last year I did a round-up of search engine terms, and I think I’ll make it an end-of-year tradition.   My report begins with the announcement that the most heavily-used searches haven’t changed.  Year after year, hundreds of people look for Seamus Heaney’s poem “Mother of the Groom,” or without knowing the poet or the poem, search for a poem for that overlooked lady.  I have several poems for the wedding couple, but not nearly as many people want poems for them.  No one who finds his way to this blog wants a poem for the mother of the bride.  Presumably verse-loving guests know she’s too busy to read a poem.  And pity the poor fathers of the bride and groom—not a single person seems to care enough about their emotional states to search for a poem to give them.

 

The next search that’s stayed on top is “poem for kids leaving home,” or “poems for daughter/son going to college,” a search which drops them in my post on Linda Pastan’s wonderful “To a Daughter Leaving Home.”  Pastan’s little poem is a hard and generous worker, helping parents the world over by providing comfort and laying out the emotional difficulties children growing up.

 

“Father’s death” and “anniversary of father’s death” is up there on the list of Poem Elf search terms.  I don’t get searches for “mother’s death” but only because thank God in heaven I have not written a post about that.

 

ImageComplaint department:  one of the most heavily searched terms bugs the crap out of me.  I hate that I am confused with the awful “Elf on the Shelf” toy.  All through the year people are searching for “elf on the shelf poem.”  Hear ye, hear ye: Poem Elf is not related to Elf on the Shelf.  Poem Elf would gladly put Elf on the Shelf on a special shelf. . .  in the morgue.  That other elf is nothing but a marketing ploy disguised as a family tradition that unfortunately has replaced the much richer tradition of advent calendars and advent wreaths.  Blech.

 

On to the fun stuff.  Here’s a few of my favorite searches from the year.  I’ve preserved the spelling.

 

Searches that would make great writing prompts:

poem for a lost mother

disrespectful to the dying

manipulative old mother

elf lover (wouldn’t that be a great song?)

why did aaron alexis have my elf on his gun

my greedy sister

poem to my foster dog

 

 

Searches that break my heart:

I no longer want to breathe poems (a depressing twist on James Laughlin’s ”I want to breathe”)

mothers verse for leukemia

im sorry im leaving poem

I am a loser and a piece of garbage please kill me

 

Signs from the universe that it’s time to outgrow my scatological humor:

peeing after readin a poem

glad you’re home someone shit in the hallway

 

Search that makes me nervous:

Airport trashcan (I’m envisioning a bomb-maker)

 

Search that makes me less nervous:

poems for baby feet (I want to read that poem)

 

Searches that prove there are still people in the world who know how to raise children and who probably don’t like Elf on the Shelf either:

poems about acorns for one-year olds

fall poems for young children

 

Searches that make me worry about the state of poetry:

don’t do inhalants poem

poem about corn hole

poems about clams

croquet poems

funny poems about sausages

 

Finally, the search that makes my site stats so entertaining:

Edna St. Vincent Millay sex toys

 

I’m trying to picture it.  A candle that burns at both ends for the S&M crowd?

 

 

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Love Song

by William Carlos Williams

Sweep the house clean,

hang fresh curtains

in the windows

put on a new dress

and come with me!

The elm is scattering

its little loaves

of sweet smells

from a white sky!

Who shall hear of us

in the time to come?

Let him say there was

a burst of fragrance

from black branches.

Funny kind of a love song that begins with a list of chores to be done.  Surely the woman William Carlos Williams addresses would be too tired from all the household tasks he demands and too irritated by his presumption in dictating her schedule to share nary a kiss. And what kind of lunkhead thinks it’s a good idea to put on a new dress before rolling around in the hay?

Keep your trousers on, Ricky Ricardo, and sweep the dang floor yourself.

Yet I’m quite sure William Carlos Williams had his romp under the elm after all.  Whatever fragrance was bursting forth from under the canopy of branches, it wasn’t toilet bowl cleaner.  The energy and imagery of this poem all work in his favor.  The energy comes from his use of the imperative, the accompanying exclamation points, and the short lines.  Come with me! is hard to resist.

But it’s the imagery I found most seductive. I picture linen curtains billowing in a breeze, a woman in a white dress racing through a spring meadow and resting under a big tree. And then the erotic pow of the poem:  the burst of fragrance from black branches.

Perhaps I respond to this poem so keenly because I’m tired to death of the hot hot sexy sex we’re all supposed to be having. In “Love Song,” everything is fresh, robust and healthy:  the dress and curtains are new, the floor is swept clean, the very air outside is charged with new smells. But in the media that infiltrates every part of our lives, the language of sex has been overrun by the language of consumerism.  Having sex is not an act of love between two people but an act of consumption between two desirable objects.  Sex is about getting it.  Get it, take it, push it, want it, gimme it, give it up.  (And don’t get me started on freak dancing in which men can’t even bear to look in the face of a woman because they’ve turned her into rubbing post.)

That bothersome to-do list at the beginning does two things.  First it sets the tone of freshness and newness, and second it draws a line between the routinized world of the house and the lusty world outside.

William Carlos Williams straddled two worlds himself.  By day he was a doctor in suburban New Jersey with a wife named Flossie of all things and two sons.  By night he was a poet.  He spent his weekends in Greenwich Village hanging out with other artists–Man Ray, Marcel DuChamp, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens.  I imagine he must have always felt the pull between convention and bohemia.

This poem reflects that. The tension between spontaneity and routine is built right into the poem. He asks his love to put aside daily tasks, and in the great tradition of lovers, to seize the day.

I once knew a mother at my kids’ school who was also an actress.  I’ve never forgotten her description of her daily life.  First, she said, she clears her mind of mental clutter—which to her meant getting chores done—and then and only then she is able to be creative.

It’s a balance we all need to find.  And so on the first beautiful day of summer I taped this poem to a tree in the woods near a playground.  The playground was full of young mothers and children.  The woods were quiet but every bit as alive.  Oh I hope one of those mothers took a walk!

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(For another look at sex in the modern age, read Camille Paglia’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times.)

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