“Dreams” -By Robert Herrick

Here we are all, by day; by night we’re hurl’d
By dreams, each one into a several world.

The two-line poem of the epigrammatic Herrick is my favorite along with his other poem of “Gather Ye Rosebuds” fame.A song from our less mature years, a music that brings a smile upon your lips in the autumn years.

…here we are all, by day

A world we are together in, racing against each other in the fat survival game till dusk. By day we earn our bread by the sweat of our brow and then after nightfall, we are ,each of us ,hurled into a several world of our dreams. Here we live our separate lives living out our own flimsy existences apart from the others in the game.

The keywords are “several” and “hurled”

“Several” here means as in “joint and several” of legal terminology ,where several means “distinct”, “unique”,apart from others”. By day we are living out a joint existence in this workaday world but our dreams are our own world , our own several worlds , distinct from our joint existences by the day.

“Hurled” is a significant use implying a violent throw into a world not of our making.We have no control over our dreams, as to the dreams we conjure up in the small hours of our sleep. Additionally,”hurled” has a Biblical connotation where God ‘s anger hurls a fallen angel into the abyss of hell’s inferno.Dreams can be nightmares and when they are, they are equivalent to hell.

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“Do not stand at my grave and weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye

The short poem , recited at funeral services has surprising elements of imagery . Considering that Mary Frye had spontaneously composed it on a piece of brown paper and without prior poet credentials , the imagery takes you by surprise for the vividness of the pictures they draw and the crispness of the words chosen to paint them.

Consider the following:

Do not stand there and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.

The dear ones stand and weep only by the bedside when someone is seriously ill. Here the person is not sleeping but has become a part of nature- a wind, a glint in the snow, a sunlight, a rain.She is not sleeping in the grave and listening to the weeping relatives.

I am not there.I did not die.

To die is to cease to exist and just lie dead in a grave for the relatives to mourn the loss of the body that had once existed. Here the person is not dead in the sense of not existing. She exists very much in the thousand winds, the autumn rain, the glint on the snow and the quiet birds in circled flight.

The visual imagery employed is perfect:

diamond glints on snow
sunlight on ripened grain
circled flight

The auditory imagery is even more pretty:

the morning’s hush
soft uplifting rush of quiet birds
( A brilliant image)

The tactile imagery is equally beautiful:

I am the soft stars

(soft not the touch but to the eyes)
gentle autumn rain
(gentle to the skin)
the winds that blow
(touching the skin)

“Break,break,break” -By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

I love this beautiful elegy of Tennyson written in his friend Hallam’s memory. The poem is remarkable not so much for the imagery which is not much in the poem but for the sheer music of the lines achieved by repeat monosyllables. There is melancholy in the cold gray stones the sea repeatedly breaks its waves upon but the fisherman’s boy continues to play with his sister, the sailor lad continues to sing in the ship and the stately ships head for their haven under the hills.Everything seems alright but not quite.The touch of a hand is no longer and the sound of a voice that is now still.

The beauties of the sea continue unabated but the tender grace of a day that is dead will never come back.
Two things come to my mind:

1) The predominance of the mono-syllables lends a sombre tone to the poem setting the atmosphere of the poem.
2) Visual and auditory senses are invoked to contrast what is going on within the poet’s mind with the environment that continues to play upon the senses with the same vigor through the poet’s sense of loss.
Auditory:
(In the environment)
Boy shouts
Sailor lad sings
sea breaks,breaks,breaks
Auditory
(within himself)
A voice that is still
Visual:
(In the environment)
Sea breaks,breaks, breaks
Cold and gray stones (visual as well as tactile)
Stately ships
At the foot of thy crags
Visual
(within himself)
A vanished hand (can we see a vanished hand? But we can feel its touch!)
A day that is dead : perhaps a day when his friend died but more immediately the day that is slowly dying as the poet is introspecting on the beach and will soon be dead to never come back i.e. dusk .

Beginning my studies:: Walt Whitman

 

 

Beginning my studies the first step pleas’d me so much,
The mere fact of consciousness, these forms, the power of
motion,
The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,
The first step I say awed me and pleas’d me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.

[From Leaves of Grass]

To a poet ,beginning to explore nature is the beginning of studies- as you begin you have to understand the alphabet of the fascinating world of nature, the nature of things and the  very layers of consciousness in which your own self lies buried. You have to look at yourself as part of this world of forms, the power of motion, the light in things, the way light falls on things and makes them out against the things of the world. In the process of taking it all in , a song bursts forth, a song of joy, a song of celebration much before you start experiencing the world in its fullness.

The music prevents exploration and the poetry robs you of the experience of going further towards the fuller and richer joys that lay ahead in this fascinating world. A wondrous  adventure is lost in the setting of  the song to its tune, to a mad pursuit of a rhythm. A poetry recollected in tranquility is lost to a song that flows prematurely as we enter the world of “the least insect, the animal, the senses, eyesight, love” at the very first step.

 

(the post can also be  found  in the page “Short Poems”)

“Richard Cory”- by Edwin Arlington Robinson

 

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson
The poem is about the American dream gone awry, in the post-Depression era , when many promising young men went Corey’s way. The poem is fairly simple at least to a post-modern reader who is used to much greater difficulty in comprehending a poet’s meandering thought and decoding his expression.Pretty neat and straightforward. But there is beauty in the way the poem unfolds from stanza one through the last stanza, the way the unexpected conclusion springs upon you in the last stanza. Let us confine ourselves to the speakers i.e. to the people who are narrating the story of Richard Corey.

First ,place the speakers at the ground level. They are people on the pavement.They are not only physically on the pavement but are there economically. The poem is about what they have seen of Richard Corey over a period of time.

Then think of the way they have looked at him. They are on ground level and their eyes go over his appearance from sole to crown. He is finely arrayed. Clean favored and imperially slim. He is rich not merely in terms of material wealth but in all graces ,richer than a king. He fluttered pulses when he talked and glittered when he walked.Making them wish they were in his place.

Now ,from wherever they are, they worked, waited for the light and went without the meat, cursed the bread. That is the level from which they viewed him. The economic situation never affected him.But while he went about his business as a lucky gentleman blessed with nature’s endowments and material riches, they suffered hard conditions, having to go through one of the worst depressions in the history of their country.

The surprise end “and Richard Corey, one calm summer night,went home and put a bullet through his head” gives you nasty shock.

Is that what was expected to happen? But the narrator does not seem to be fazed by the abruptness of Corey’s tragic end. The way they pulled off the last lines ,they did not appear to be caught by surprise. Why was that night such a calm summer night? Why do these things happen on a calm summer night?

The nasty end is not what is tragic.It is the unexpectedness of the last two lines , spoken in such a calm manner, that rattles you. The tragedy is not in the story of a depressing suicide but the manner in which the tragedy affects the narrators, the almost “unhuman” way in which they react to the death as against the “human” way in which he always talked to them.