Category Poetry

“Abundance” and “Crossroads”: Two Poems by Nobel Prize Winner Louise Glück

Pretty much all students read and study and are even required to write some poetry through their school years; it’s one of those universal planks of education considered essential to turning out well-rounded human beings. Alas, this profound aesthetic pleasure of language and its subtle, sometimes rapturous meanings, symbols and rhythms sticks with all too few students once they clutch their diplomas. They tend to avoid it for the rest of their lives as they might the memorized geometry theorems or chemistry symbols that they never see fit to use again in their daily lives.

Which leads to the old joke: Why are poets so poor?”

“Because rhyme doesn’t pay.”

All too true, for the most part. Which is but one reason why it is always a fine thing when poets win awards—especially ones that come with whopping cash stipends like the $1...

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Rhyming Hope and History With Seamus Heaney’s “Doubletake”

The late Irish poet Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) sounds like the Buddha himself in the first line of his poem, “Doubletake,” published in 1991. “Human beings suffer,” it begins, and we suspect we are in for it now, another journey through melancholia borne of downtroddenness as only the Irish can express it. The second line elaborates on one form that suffering takes: “they torture one another…”

And so they do.

The poem’s 39 lines go on for a couple more stanzas in that vein, which you can read in full below. But fear not: Heaney doesn’t stay submerged in the dark depths for long.

This is a “Doubletake,” after all, which will involve a reconsideration, a reframing, an elaboration that takes an “On the other hand…” approach to chronicling the vicissitudes of the human heart.

The poem is from the volume, “The Cure at Troy,”  in which Heaney adapted Sophocles’ play “Philo...

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He Had a Dream: Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again”

We seem to be tumbling down a long dark shaft toward a reckoning. A reckoning of our history, of the dreams that helped build us, the denial that sustained us, the sins that defiled us, the nightmare of oppression that too many of our people have endured. Our shadow of racism fully exposed, the light from a thousand video feeds burning a hole through our willful ignorance, we stand before the world, and even more grievously, before ourselves, naked and fully exposed.

And now, beset by a pandemic that has been aggressively scorned by the leader of our land, with millions out of work and hundreds of thousands in the streets, we face the furnace of a heating planet and an already overheated political season, a presidential campaign in the offing that will not look or sound like anything that has ever come before.

“Who are we?”, we will be asking come November. Or perhaps more to the point: “Who will we be...

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A Wilderness Beyond Reason: Lisel Mueller’s “Joy”

I have a dear friend who is given to proclaim, “Oh what a beautiful day!”…in meteorological conditions ranging from 90/90 temperature/humidity combos to bright blue skies with 70-degree temps and a light breeze to slate-gray winter fog where your words form ice crystals as you speak.

It’s the sort of sentiment that reflects a basic gratefulness for merely being alive, whatever aggravations the weather or the news or your kids are sending your way.

Yet lest one think this person a shallow pollyanna training herself like a seal to see life only as a bright shiny orb bobbing at the end of her nose, let it be said that many layers of hard-won wisdom, pensiveness, and grief inform her love for the day that dawns every morning, whatever garments it shrouds itself in.

That is why I am quite certain my friend will appreciate Lisel Mueller’s “Joy,” the poem under discussion here, given the complex de...

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Can the Centre Hold? W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming”

In what is surely an indication of just how powerful and provocative William Butler Yeats’s 1919 poem, “The Second Coming” is, a critic writing in “The Paris Review” five years ago suggested  it “may well be the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English.” (Personally, I’m inclined to think it may be a dead-heat between it and Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled.”)

Images and phrases from the poem (“widening gyre,” “falcon/falconer,” “things fall apart,” “the center cannot hold,” “blood-dimmed tide,” “rough beast,” “passionate intensity,” “slouching toward…”) abound in popular culture, politics, literature and other arts (even comic books, heavy metal, and as a true mark of distinction, the music of Joni Mitchell).

That’s no minor accomplishment for a poem (a poem!) of a mere 22 lines, more than a century after its publication in the calamitous ...

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