I love these lines :
When I was last in Paris
I was dirt poor,hiding
From the Vietnam war
One night,in an old church
I considered taking my life
I didn’t know how to be so young
and not belong anywhere,stuck
among so many perplexing melodies.
The awkwardness of not belonging anywhere,of not being a specimen-that is what the poet is talking about.He was hiding from Vietnam war not because he was anti-war .He was merely hiding. One night,in an old church he considered taking own life.He did not belong to the religious faith. He was young and it was impossible not to belong anywhere.
There were so many perplexing melodies.How does one not belong to one?
Driving home, my father said,
“Let anyone steal from you
and you’re not fit to live.”
I sat there, sliced by traffic lights,
not belonging to what he said.
I belonged to a scintillating
and perplexing music
I didn’t expect to hear
This is the music he belongs to,not to what his father said. Finally one belongs somewhere.
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Don’t we all love this poem? “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” :the lines are pure magic.
The the long syllables in the first two lines followed by the clipped sounds of the third and the fourth lines(the blue and the dim and the dark cloths/of night and light and half light) make for fine music.
The visual-static images of “heaven’s embroidered cloths”,”golden and silver light”,the blue and the dim and the dark cloths” are followed by this most exquisite visual-dynamic image: I have spread my dreams under your feet/Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Apart from the music of the lines in iambic pentameter ,I love the poem for the child-like simplicity of thought and its lyrical beauty.The image I liked when I had first read the poem in school was “natural piety” .I still dig the image. The poet is looking at Nature as a worshiper. For him Nature herself is God. Hence the word “piety”. The poet desires that his days are bound ‘each to each” by love for nature.
WHEN I was young and had no sense
In far-off Mandalay
I lost my heart to a Burmese girl
As lovely as the day.
Her skin was gold, her hair was jet,
Her teeth were ivory;
I said, “for twenty silver pieces,
Maiden, sleep with me”.
She looked at me, so pure, so sad,
The loveliest thing alive,
And in her lisping, virgin voice,
Stood out for twenty-five.
Where is the irony when the poet himself speaks about it , one begins to wonder. Irony is what emerges in a dramatic situation, not one which is stated to emerge! But that precisely is the irony here, a nasty sting aimed at a system where the prostitute is not in the business for people of libertarian values to come and sympathize with. Her purity and sadness are very inviting to our zealous reformers no doubt but she is not the one to oblige him and fall for his youthful passion for reform. Her helplessness is merely in the poet’s mind because he needs her more and needs her to be helpless. He had no sense and had to lose his heart to young helpless prostitutes in distant Mandalay .How he wished she sobbed out her sad story instead of merely upping her price for sleeping with him from twenty to twenty five!
The trumpet’s loud clangor
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum
Cries, “Hark, the foes come!
Charge, charge, ‘t is too late to retreat!
The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whispered by the warbling lute.
Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,
For the fair disdainful dame.
But oh! what art can teach,
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To mend the choirs above.
These are the four highly musical stanzas from John Dryden’s A Song for St.Celcilia’s Day. Read them aloud to feel the music of the different instruments and their impact on human behavior. In the first stanza the poet talks about the battle field where the soldiers get inspired by the sounds of the trumpet and the drum.(‘double double double beat’).In the second stanza the lovers desperation in unrequited love is aided by the soft notes of the flute and when the lover dies his dirge is whispered by the warbling lute. But the softness no longer continues in the next stanza when the violins sharply proclaim the lover’s jealous pangs .In the last one the Church Organ plays out its inspiring Holy Love in notes that “wing’ their heavenly ways. Note how Man rises from all his baser passions of anger and hatred in war , jealousy in love and mundane concerns to become an angel taking on wings of music and devote himself to the love of God.