Category Poetry

Beauty and Banality in Jane Kenyon’s “Chrysanthemums”

With a first line stating “The doctor averted his eyes,” we sense that whatever the title suggests in this crystalline Jane Kenyon poem, it will not be a rapturous ode to flowers. Then comes the second line containing the word “diagnosis,” and we know we will likely be traversing some troubling ground, ultimately revealed as a series of snapshots coalescing around her husband and fellow poet Donald Hall’s colon cancer in 1989.

Nevertheless, chrysanthemums do play a role.

Hall, 24 years older than Kenyon and her professor at the University of Michigan before marrying her in 1972, survived his first bout with the illness that Kenyon chronicled in this poem, then fought off its return three years later when it had metastasized to his liver and doctors gave him slim odds for recovery.

Four months ago, he died at the ripe age of 89, a former poet laureate of the United States and a well-respected professor, ...

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The Ship That Never Comes In: Philip Larkin’s “Next, Please”

A friend was telling me recently that she had hosted a childhood friend for a weekend visit, and in the runup to it she had greatly looked forward to the time they were to spend together. As it turned out, she beamed, it was wonderful and all she had hoped for. Which, she noted, was a great relief, because “It doesn’t always turn out that way.”

Inded it doesn’t.

In his much-anthologized poem, “Next, Please,” English poet Philip Larkin, a brooding sort as perhaps a majority of poets this side of Mary Oliver are, suggested that it almost never does, and that this human penchant for almost giddy anticipation and “expectancy” is doomed to suffer when it collides with reality.

It’s as if our imaginations sabotage us, outpacing our ability to create or at least appreciate the emotional experiences we had been so eagerly anticipating.

Or, as Paul McCartney’s mama told him in three short wo...

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The Maelstrom of War: Louis Simpson’s “Carentan O Carentan”

In June, 1944, Carentan was a French town of some 4,000 people that tourist guides might have described as “bucolic” just a few years earlier. But following within days of the Allied Forces’ invasion of Normandy on June 6, it became the scene of a pitched, frantic battle between German and American troops that took place from June 10-15. The prize was access to high ground and ultimate control of two beaches—codenamed “Omaha” and “Utah”—that flanked Carentan and would prove pivotal to the invasion’s success and the final vanquishing of the German military machine less than a year later.

Among those American troops was Louis Simpson, a 21-year-old immigrant from Jamaica. Simpson had been studying poetry and literature at Columbia University but left to join the war effort.

Born to an upper crust attorney father of Scotch descent and a Russian mother, Simpson endured the sudden, unexplai...

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Bringing Joy to “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

THE SNOWMAN

One must have a mind of winter 
To regard the frost and the boughs 
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time 
To behold the junipers shagged with ice, 
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think 
Of any misery in the sound of the wind, 
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land 
Full of the same wind 
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow, 
And, nothing himself, beholds 
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

***

The snowman in this well-known Wallace Stevens poem from 1921 presents as a rather bleak figure. As we read in the 15 meticulously crafted lines above, he’s been “cold a long time,” immobile and inert, devoid of any thought linking the winter landscape in front of him to feelings of “misery,” barrenness and other ...

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After Watching the Final Segment of PBS’s Vietnam War Documentary

***
the Fog
the Pain
the Loss
the Grief
the Waste
the Carnage
the Courage
the Sadness
the Madness
the Heartache
the Brokenness

the Remembering
the Forgetting
the Suffering
the Forgiving
the Renewing
the Honoring
the Healing
the Hoping

the Redeeming

the Madness
the Madness

the Echos

the Madness
the Madness

***

***

See 1-minute snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography at Traversing’s 1-minute Facebook mini-blog: http://www.facebook.com/TraversingBlog

Twitter: @AndrewHidas

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/

Deep appreciation to the photographers!

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights ...

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