“On His Blindness”- By John Milton

From http://www.lib.utexas.edu, in the public ...

From http://www.lib.utexas.edu, in the public domain ja:画像:John Milton.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide,

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.

 

 

A nice sonnet in the Petrarchan  abba, abba,cde,cde form.  The Biblical allusions add significantly to the content.
Interesting images/usages :

 

Light is spent

(spent :a blind man using inner light in place of external light that falls on things making them visible)

in this dark world and wide
(note dark world ,a blind man’s world whose bigness is only to be imagined)

talent

( a form of money in use in Biblical times in Rome: here it also means a poet’s talent for creating beauty in the service of God)

Which is death to hide

The poet is prevented by his blindness from serving God in a more active manner but the poetic talent cannot be hidden but put to use in His service

My true account 

He should give a proper account of himself when the Lord returns. The allusion is to the parable of the three servants who were given five, two and one talents respectively by their master with instructions to multiply them and give accounts of themselves on his return .In the parable the first servant invests the five talents given to him at usurious rates of interest and doubles them. Likewise the second servant too doubles his two talents .The third servant has buried the single talent for safe keeping and is pulled up and cast into the void by the master unhappy with his poor performance.

Does God exact day-labor ,light denied?

I love the precision of the words. Blindness is God given and is it fair on His part to expect him to serve Him like the others who are not similarly handicapped? Day labor is beautiful usage. Here Day signifies not labor done in the day but that done in the inner darkness of a blind poet.

Fondly:

Fondly implies foolishness born of love.

To prevent that murmur

To prevent has a Biblical connotation of prevenience a divine power that anticipates and blocks rejection of God. Murmur is the silent protest by the inner grace

...who best His mild yoke,they serve him best

Blindness is the mild yoke imposed upon the poet and he is expected to bear it with patience and thereby he truly serves God .

 

The last four lines are classical in their precision,saying so much in such shortness of breath

“His state Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

God is the Lord and master and at his bidding thousands speed and post over land and ocean without rest and he does not need man’s work or his gifts. The so called gift of poetry given to him need not be used by God as He has thousands of angels to do His bidding over land and sea. The puny gifts that man possesses are nothing compared to what God’s servants have.

“They also serve who only stand and wait”

Beautiful last lines , quoted in so many contexts and non-contexts. First of all ,they also serve who stand. That is unlike those who ,at his bidding speed and post over land and sea without rest. Standing too is an act of obeisance.

“Wait” is here in the sense of waiting upon God, like the waiter who waits upon a client at a restaurant table. Wait is taking His orders, while standing .
.

 

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“Solitude”-A poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

English: Portrait of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Fron...

English: Portrait of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Frontispiece from her book of poems “Three Women” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain. 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

A delightful little poem that does not leave you in confusion about the poet’s theme. The imagery is simple on the face of it but has layers of meaning and interconnections, if only we try to make out a running thread behind them.
The sad old earth does not have much mirth and has trouble having enough of it. The sadness refers to the essential tragedy of the human condition, an inherent pathos in all that we do and say.It has necessarily to borrow some of it from whoever has excess of it. But we can only laugh together , whenever there is something to celebrate but not all the time when we have to enact our own little private tragedies. So if you have some cause for celebration ,do laugh but together with others so that the sum total of the earth’s happiness will increase or the negative balance of its happiness will decrease(i.e. the sad old earth will be a little less sad)
Weep and you weep alone because there is no point in burdening the sad earth with more sadness. Even nature refuses to sympathize with your suffering because you shall suffer alone and your sighs are lost in the air.But if you sing, the hills will reverberate with your music. On a bright morning if you sing to the hills they will echo to your sound in joy but if you cry they shrink away from your tears.
 It is not nature alone that shrinks away from your sadness but your  fellow human beings who prefer to sing and dance with you in your happy moments but leave you alone in your grief.”Succeed and give” and it helps you live but no man can help you die.
I love the imagery of the last four lines, also exquisite in their music.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
Beautiful words these. There is room for everyone in the lordly train(a  royal pageant or a procession)  in the halls of pleasure ,where the celebration is done in big groups,by singing and clapping.We sing and dance together the common joys of life, spreading happiness around. But our own personal sadness must be gone through alone.Our personal unhappiness cannot be shared and we have to file on through the narrow aisles of pain. A separation or a death is an intensely personal experience that has to be gone through alone, just like the others who are ahead of us in the line and those who are waiting behind us.
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“An Al­most Made Up Po­em”- By Charles Bukowski

I see you drink­ing at a foun­tain with tiny
blue hands, no, your hands are not tiny
they are small, and the foun­tain is in France
where you wrote me that last let­ter and
I an­swered and nev­er heard from you again.
you used to write in­sane po­ems about
AN­GELS AND GOD, all in up­per case, and you
knew fa­mous artists and most of them
were your lovers, and I wrote back, it’ all right,
go ahead, en­ter their lives, I’ not jeal­ous
be­cause we’ nev­er met. we got close once in
New Or­leans, one half block, but nev­er met, nev­er
touched. so you went with the fa­mous and wrote
about the fa­mous, and, of course, what you found out
is that the fa­mous are wor­ried about
their fame –– not the beau­ti­ful young girl in bed
with them, who gives them that, and then awak­ens
in the morn­ing to write up­per case po­ems about
AN­GELS AND GOD. we know God is dead, they’ told
us, but lis­ten­ing to you I wasn’ sure. maybe
it was the up­per case. you were one of the
best fe­male po­ets and I told the pub­lish­ers,
ed­i­tors, “ her, print her, she’ mad but she’
mag­ic. there’ no lie in her fire.” I loved you
like a man loves a wom­an he nev­er touch­es, on­ly
writes to, keeps lit­tle pho­to­graphs of. I would have
loved you more if I had sat in a small room rolling a
cig­a­rette and lis­tened to you piss in the bath­room,
but that didn’ hap­pen. your let­ters got sad­der.
your lovers be­trayed you. kid, I wrote back, all
lovers be­tray. it didn’ help. you said
you had a cry­ing bench and it was by a bridge and
the bridge was over a riv­er and you sat on the cry­ing
bench ev­ery night and wept for the lovers who had
hurt and for­got­ten you. I wrote back but nev­er
heard again. a friend wrote me of your sui­cide
3 or 4 months af­ter it hap­pened. if I had met you
I would prob­a­bly have been un­fair to you or you
to me. it was best like this.
Charles Bukows­ki

 
I like this  po­em  for the stark  sim­plic­i­ty of the theme .Bukows­ki,  a  po­et of the low life ,as he is called ,tries to un­der­stand a fel­low po­et, a wom­an, whom he had nev­er touched but on­ly writ­ten to. Do we find sar­casm here? I do not think so be­cause she is to be judged not as a wom­an to make love to but as a po­et , who writes about an­gels and gods in up­per case let­ters. But the oth­ers who judged her were the ones who made love to her but cared more for their fame and left her , sit­ting on the cry­ing bench near the bridge as a riv­er flowed un­der it.
But Bukows­ki would have loved her more ,if on­ly he had sat in his room hear­ing her piss sound in the bath room .But that was not to be.He on­ly knows her in her con­fes­sion­al let­ters and in her po­ems about an­gels and gods, all in up­per case. She had gone to Paris to drink from the foun­tain of life there with her blue hands.But the fame of her fa­mous friends did not rub on her one bit. Nor their love and com­mit­ment . They have all for­got­ten her in the“ flush” of their own fame. Fi­nal­ly ,she had com­mit­ted sui­cide. It was best like this .Had Bukows­ki met her i.e. had ev­er heard her piss sound in his bath­room ,he would have had to bear the blame for be­ing un­fair to her like the oth­er fa­mous peo­ple who had loved and left her. This way , no hard feel­ings be­tween them.
I on­ly won­der what the po­et is try­ing to say about the po­et friend. About her po­et­ic prow­ess he is clear­ly try­ing to be sar­cas­tic(“an­gels and gods”, “up­per case”). But he ad­mits there was no lie in her fire.Ev­ery­thing she said had the ring of sin­cer­i­ty.She has struck up friend­ship with fa­mous peo­ple and be­ing in their cir­cle or drink­ing from the foun­tain of beau­ty in Paris hadn’t helped her one bit .Many of them had heard her piss sound in their bath­rooms but not one of them had re­turned her love. This is her tragedy.
We do not see Bukowsky drop­ping his guard even once in the po­em to be mushy about the wom­an po­et who could have been in­volved with him. He has no re­grets and is thank­ing his stars that such was the case. Oth­er­wise he would have had to car­ry a guilt com­plex about her and she about him.
The po­em may not be re­al. It is al­most a“ made up”po­em. Per­haps the po­et is speak­ing from his own per­ceived su­pe­ri­or­i­ty. A bru­tal way of as­sert­ing male su­pe­ri­or­i­ty over a wom­an whose po­et­ry is den­i­grat­ed as on­ly about an­gels and gods and whose on­ly claim to fame is through li­aisons with the fa­mous. Imag­ine his own po­ems are in low­er case, a fact which does not give him any edge over the wom­an po­et who us­es the up­per case. This way the po­em is al­most made up and may not be ap­prox­i­mat­ing to the truth of the sit­u­a­tion. A faint self-mor­ti­fi­ca­tion by the po­et can be felt in the words : an al­most made up po­em.

“Astronomer”_ A poem by A.K.Ramanujan

Sky-man in a manhole
with astronomy for dream,
astrology for nightmare;

fat man full of proverbs,
the language of lean years,
living in square after

almanac square
prefiguring the day
of windfall and landslide

through a calculus
of good hours,
clutching at the tear

in his birthday shirt
as at a hole
in his mildewed horoscope,

squinting at the parallax
of black planets,
his Tiger, his Hare

moving in Sanskrit zodiacs,
forever troubled
by the fractions, the kidneys

in his Tamil flesh,
his body the Great Bear
dipping for the honey,

the woman-smell
in the small curly hair
down there.

 

A.K.Ramanujan

Love A.K.’s short poems like this. A thumb nail sketch of an astronomer-astrologist , a Tamil home-grown scholar who dabbles in the twin subjects of astrology and astronomy. Not that the subjects are inter-related but in our culture the man who fixes the auspicious time for your son’s marriage or your grandson’s school entry is also an astronomer of sorts, who claims knowledge of the skies. A sky man in a manhole. He knows the Great Bear constellation ,with a great bear of a body with a hunger for the female flesh, the woman smell down there.

Great bear dipping for the honey

A lovely image.Bears are known for their love of honey. This bear dips for the honey in the small curly hair down there.Exquisite .Mark the physical act of “dipping” in the woman smell down there.

The bear image extends from the Great Bear of the stars from the high sky (Sky Man) to the man in his hole , with astronomy for dream, astrology for nightmare. The sensual imagery used here contrasts with the airy words of the man who speaks authoritatively from the astral charts (squares of zodiacs) precisely pinpointing the influence of the stars on our lives.But he is a poor man who has astronomy for a living ,trying to grapple with the holes in his own shirt. For ever troubled by the fractions, he deals only in whole numbers and has a language of the “lean years”.

When called upon to point the stars he has to squint at the black stars in a parallax , at his Tiger and his Hare because their position appears different each time. He combines the knowledge of astronomy fitfully with astrology to make his living. His constellations are always in a state of flux based upon the squares of his almanac ,which themselves reflect the changing views of the sky.

The sky man is essentially an earthy soul who dips just like the Great Bear for its honey down there.

 

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“A Nameless Grave”-A poem by H.W.Longfellow

‘A soldier of the Union mustered out,’
Is the inscription on an unknown grave
At Newport News, beside the salt-sea wave,
Nameless and dateless; sentinel or scout
Shot down in skirmish, or disastrous rout
Of battle, when the loud artillery drave
Its iron wedges through the ranks of brave
And doomed battalions, storming the redoubt.
Thou unknown hero sleeping by the sea
In thy forgotten grave! with secret shame
I feel my pulses beat, my forehead burn,
When I remember thou hast given for me
All that thou hadst, thy life, thy very name,
And I can give thee nothing in return.

 

Though the poem is fairly simple in the theme and the poet has handled it without complicated imagery, I love the way the poet used certain terms to bring home the pathos of an unknown soldier killed in action, “unwept”, “unhonored” “unsung” (Using Scott’s famous last line in Breathes there.…)

Mustered out:

Mustering means gathering in assembly.Mustered out should therefore imply a fallen soldier being taken out of the active soldiers group. The man has no name and is merely “a” soldier of the Union. He is merely mustered out.

Unknown grave:

The grave is unknown bearing no name of its occupant on the inscription. Since no one knows him, his grave remains unknown by the sea.

Nameless and dateless:

Nameless is heart wrenching but more so when the inscription bears no dates of the soldier’s existence. He could have been from any period of human history, an archetypal soldier who dies for others and is quickly forgotten.

With secret shame I feel my pulses beat:

He died for me and here I am ,my own pulses guiltily beating. I do not even know his name . As he sleeps in an unknown grave I realize he has given me his life as well as his name.I flaunt my name here and my pulses still beat because this unknown soldier of the Union mustered out and is lying here without a name. That is my secret shame.