Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Tears" by Lizette Woodworth Reese

WHEN I consider Life and its few years— 
A wisp of fog betwixt us and the sun; 
A call to battle, and the battle done 
Ere the last echo dies within our ears; 
A rose choked in the grass; an hour of fears;         5
The gusts that past a darkening shore do beat; 
The burst of music down an unlistening street,— 
I wonder at the idleness of tears. 
Ye old, old dead, and ye of yesternight, 
Chieftains, and bards, and keepers of the sheep,  10
By every cup of sorrow that you had, 
Loose me from tears, and make me see aright 
How each hath back what once he stayed to weep: 
Homer his sight, David his little lad!

I've just come upon this poet and am much impressed. I intend to look for and read more of her work.

Here is another, which I don't fully understand:

In Time of Grief

Dark, thinned, beside the wall of stone,
The box dripped in the air;
Its odor through my house was blown
Into the chamber there.

Remote and yet distinct the scent,
The sole thing of the kind,
As though one spoke a word half meant
That left a sting behind.

I knew not Grief would go from me,
And naught of it be plain,
Except how keen the box can be
After a fall of rain.

Readers, I admit my ignorance: Why does the box have a strong scent? How is the box related to the speaker's grief?

And yet it's a beautiful poem.

A Song for Candlemas

There’s never a rose upon the bush,
And never a bud on any tree;
In wood and field nor hint nor sign
Of one green thing for you or me.
Come in, come in, sweet love of mine,
And let the bitter weather be!
Coated with ice the garden wall;
The river reeds are stark and still;
The wind goes plunging to the sea,
And last week’s flakes the hollows fill.
Come in, come in, sweet love, to me,
And let the year blow as it will!


William Luse said...

"Why does the box have a strong scent?"

There's a body in it?

Lydia McGrew said...

I thought of that, but it doesn't seem correct. For one thing, who keeps a coffin with a body in it sitting around indefinitely in the back yard and sending out a stench when it rains? For another thing, the smell of a dead body is hardly "remote." It's pretty potent.

She has another whole book of poetry called Spicewood. Perhaps it's some kind of wood that has a spicy smell. In that case, the connection to her grief is just unexplained, though.

Anonymous said...

'For one thing, who keeps a coffin with a body in it sitting around...'

Don't Ask Lydia.
Don't ask.


Lydia McGrew said...

You guys are being pretty grim. :-) I still think it's just some kind of wood with a scent of its own, like cedar or something, that has some association in the speaker's mind with the dead person.

Anyway, I think the sonnet "Tears" is top-notch, and I just asked my public library interlibrary loan to get a book of her selected poetry for me.

Lydia McGrew said...

This is another good one:


NOW since they plucked them for your grave,
And left the garden bare
As a great house of candlelight,
Oh, nothing else so fair!

I knew before that they were white,
In April by a wall,
A dozen or more. That people died
I did not know at all.

What strikes me about this one is that one starts out reading it and thinking something like, "Ho-hum, a nature-loving romantic poet writing about someone's death." And then you come to the last two lines and are brought up short. Something almost Dickensonian (like Emily Dickenson) about that ending, though in general it doesn't seem that Reese wrote much like Dickenson.

Anonymous said...

On the sad occasion of his death today. The man who was the world's greatest living poet. Who could fail to be moved by.......

By Seamus Heaney 1939–2013 Seamus Heaney
I returned to a long strand,
the hammered curve of a bay,
and found only the secular
powers of the Atlantic thundering.

I faced the unmagical
invitations of Iceland,
the pathetic colonies
of Greenland, and suddenly

those fabulous raiders,
those lying in Orkney and Dublin
measured against
their long swords rusting,

those in the solid
belly of stone ships,
those hacked and glinting
in the gravel of thawed streams

were ocean-deafened voices
warning me, lifted again
in violence and epiphany.
The longship’s swimming tongue

was buoyant with hindsight—
it said Thor’s hammer swung
to geography and trade,
thick-witted couplings and revenges,

the hatreds and behind-backs
of the althing, lies and women,
exhaustions nominated peace,
memory incubating the spilled blood.

It said, ‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.’

Copied 'n pasted with loving care by John R.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I won't plague your blog with any more Heaney, but when you wrote,' come to the last two lines and are brought up short.'
It reminded me of this.


I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Seamus Heaney

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks JR, I saw the announcement of Heaney's death. Thanks for putting his poetry here.

Lydia McGrew said...

Re. the last three lines of the Reese sonnet, I note that they restate the theme of this post:

yankeegospelgirl said...

Oh, I remember "Mid-Term Break." Incredible.

William Luse said...

A poet who writes for TCR surmises that the "box" refers to a box tree. This would make sense of "thinned" in the first line, which puzzled me.

Lydia McGrew said...

Ah, that is undoubtedly correct! Thanks, Bill.

And the wiki article on the box tree says that "the scent is not to everyone's liking."