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July 13, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

I carry your heart with me by E.E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                  i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is youhere is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Cummings wrote in such an unusual style it’s difficult not to take notice of his poetry. I’m not sure why he wrote with such a lack of punctuation and capitalisation. Could it be to simplify the words to best convey the meaning behind them? Another oddity is the use of parentheses that often take up big chunks of his poems. As far as I can tell the form they take in this poem is to expand upon Cummings’ initial statements, for example, “i carry your heart with me” is expanded upon by indicating where “your heart” is carried. Whenever I read EE Cummings I always feel like it’s a stream of consciousness and I’m following his thoughts at the time of writing.

As for the poem itself, it’s one of the rawest love poems I know. The use of enjambment is particularly impressive; take a look at the first two lines and how “my heart” is emphasised. The image of his lover’s heart being carried in his heart is so powerful it will probably stick with you as it has done with me.

July 12, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

Ozymandias by Percy Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A lot of people will recognise this poem. It contains a famous image of the pedestal of Ozymandias (an Egyptian pharaoh), the legs of which are the only remains. The poem seems to contain one central idea, that of the transience of power in the face of nature. Remember, Shelley was part of the Romantic movement which tended to champion nature (although that is a bit simplistic).

Pedestal of Ozymandias

I like how the scene is set for this central idea, using the voice of “a traveller from an antique land”. The whole poem builds up to the inscription on the pedestal, which proclaims Ozymandias’ greatness. Note how he immediately points out that “Nothing besides remains”, a symbol of the transience of power I mentioned previously. What caused the “decay/ Of that colossal wreck”? Shelley answers with a most beautiful closing image.

July 11, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

Going, Going by Philip Larkin

I thought it would last my time –
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more –
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer . . .
It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts –
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.

This is written in typical Larkin style, as those who are familiar will know, and gives off the feeling of a “chap chatting to chaps” as he put it. This is a poem about Larkin’s fear that the countryside is being taken over by ugly buildings (“bleak high-risers”) and industrialisation. There are also some condemnations of materialism (“kids are screaming for more”) and pollution (“chuck filth in the sea if you must”).

Most of all though, I think this is nostalgia. Larkin was good at this – looking back on his past and idealising it. He’s also a bit grumpy and his cynicism shows in his view that England is the “first slum of Europe” and that it will eventually disappear amongst all the grey buildings. Larkin’s nostalgia is something with which I think we can all relate at some point, as well as his admiration for the countryside.

July 10, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

On the face of it, this poem can be held as a celebration of individualism and non-conformism. It seems like the narrator has chosen a path in life that is unconventional (“the one less traveled by”) and it is that choice that has shaped him (“made all the difference”). I think this is the view I took on the first few readings, but on further inspection you might see it differently. Consider that the narrator says the two paths are worn “about the same” and that “both that morning equally lay/ In leaves”. The final stanza now takes on a whole new meaning where in retrospect he can claim that he chose “the one less traveled by” but at the time they were indistinguishable. In this reading the poem is an ironic attempt and justifying our actions.

I suspect the latter is what Frost intended but the individualistic interpretation is perhaps too wonderful to disconsider.
July 9, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

Shakespeare wrote many sonnets, but this stands out for me as a truly great love poem. Obviously a parody of the conventional love poem in which the subject is exaggerated into a goddess, I see this also as a touching message to a lover. It definitely gets into the dissatisfaction I think we all feel when reading greeting card style love poems. My favourite line is probably “My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground”.

Whilst I doubt many will recite this to a lover (“the breath which my mistress reeks”) it’s a poem that I think has universal appeal.

July 8, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

The More Loving One by WH Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Not Auden’s most famous poem but opens with a very powerful rhyming couplet – one of my favourites in all poetry. The poet raises an interesting question in the second stanza as to whether it is better to love without return or be loved without return. He prefers the former, but I’m not sure we all would. The poem appears to be discussing unrequited love, with the stars serving as a metaphor for the person who does not return the poet’s love. The claim that he “should learn to look at an empty sky” could be Auden’s way of telling us that he can get over unrequited love. This is by no means a straightforward poem and is certainly open to interpretation.
July 7, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This is a heartbreaking poem by Thomas and contains a sentiment with which I think we can all relate. It takes the form of a villanelle (about which you can read here) which emphasises certain lines to really hammer the message in, to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The final stanza suggests that Thomas is imploring his father to fight against death. What really breaks my heart is the clause “my father”, coupled with the personal pronoun “you”, which brings the poem from the intellectual to the personal and taps into our experiences with loved ones.

Some quick research reveals that there are readings of the poem that suggest a message of carpe diem (seize the day). I suppose this comes from the urging of the narrator to fight against the inevitability of death, perhaps by making the most of one’s life. Either way, you can take from this poem many meaningful ideas about life and death.