Thursday, November 30, 2006

By heart

Over at the Guardian Unlimited Arts Blog, Nick Seddon has this post about committing poems to heart, and asks readers for what poems they would pick.

So here, in no particular order, are the 12 poems that I find running through my head most often. Understand, these are not my 'favourite' poems (whatever that means) they are simply the poems I find most useful, poems that have become an integral part of how I think.

1. Robert Browning 'A Toccata of Galuppi's'

Well, and it was graceful of them--they'd break talk off and afford
--She, to bite her mask's black velvet--he, to finger on his sword,
While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord?

What? Those lesser thirds so plaintive, sixths diminished, sigh on sigh,
Told them something? Those suspensions, those solutions--"Must we die?"
Those commiserating sevenths--"Life might last! we can but try!

"Were you happy?"--"Yes."--"And are you still as happy?"--"Yes. And you?"
--"Then, more kisses!"--"Did I stop them, when a million seemed so few?"
Hark, the dominant's persistence till it must be answered to!
2. Gerard Manley Hopkins 'No worst there is none'

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
3. Pablo Neruda 'Poetry'

I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

4. W. H. Auden 'In Memory of W.B. Yeats'

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

5. Percy Byshe Shelley 'Ode to the West Wind'

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O, wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
6. Robert Frost 'Desert Places'

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
7. John Donne 'A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning'

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
8. W.B. Yeats 'When you are old'

How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
9. T.S. Eliot 'Portrait of a Lady'

And I must borrow every changing shape
To find expression ... dance, dance
Like a dancing bear,
Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape.
10. W.H. Auden 'Lay your sleeping head my love'

But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

11. Emily Dickinson 'I cannot live with you'

I cannot live with you,
It would be life
And life is over there
Behind the shelf

12. Agha Shahid Ali, 'Beyond the Ash Rains'

I had still not learned the style of nomads:

to walk between the rain drops to keep dry.

Okay, okay, go ahead. Tell me what I've missed.


Space Bar said...

Okay, okay, go ahead. Tell me what I've missed.

and how can one resist? so, off the top of my head.

Wallace Stevens' The Snow Man

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

S.T.Coleridge don't know the name of the poem

And what if all animated nature
were something harps diversely framed
that tremble into thought as over them sweeps
plastic and vast one intellectual breeze

Pablo Neruda 'I Explain A Few Things' from Espana En El Corazon

You will ask, and where are the lilacs?
And the metaphysical blanket of poppies?


Come and see the blood in the streets
come and see
the blood in the streets
come and see the blood in the streets!

being by heart-ed, punctuation, line breaks and a missing word are, i hope, forgiven!

Falstaff said...

space bar: Hmmm...Never been that much of a Coleridge fan. Usual obesiance to Kubla Khan, etc. but that's about it.

Stevens' certainly - though I would have picked Asides on the Oboe:

The prologues are over. It is a question, now,
of final belief. So say that final belief
must be in a fiction. It is time to choose.

The other Neruda I considered was 'There's No Forgetting'

If you ask me where I have been all this while
I have to say 'Things happen'.

Space Bar said...

there are many phrases in neruda that are so memorable, but i find i can't remember whole poems of his. there's 'in my guitar interior there is a dry and something air'; and that line that every undergrad knws, 'i want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees' (every day you play).

the auden i wanted to quote but forgot was from the villanelle:

Time will say nothing' but 'I told you so'
Time only knows the price we have to pay
If i could tell you i would let you know.

And I especially love the Donne you've quoted, though the portion i remember best is the 'if we be two, we are two so as stiff twin compasses are two'.

Shuchi said...

Tennyson 'In Memoriam'

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
No Blake in your list?

Crp said...

Saki Hymn to the New Year

Have you heard the groan of a gravelled grouse,
Or the snarl of a snaffled snail,
(Husband or mother, like me, or spouse)
Have you lain a-creep in the darkened house,
Where the wounded wombats wail ?

Robert Creeley I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not buy a goddam big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going

Cheshire Cat said...

Frost's "The Silken Tent", Blake's "O Rose Thou Art Sick".
But I suppose you are really asking about lines by heart, not poems? It is rather shocking to see all those poems dismembered. Then again, it is hard to judge how much integrity a poem has... Case-by-case basis: Dickinson, Frost, Creeley to be left just as they are; Eliot, Stevens and Browning to be taken liberties with...

And Neruda should be disqualified automatically for not writing in English. Space Bar, it's presumptuous of me to say this, but if anyone ever tells you "I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees", RUN, and no looking back.

Space Bar said...

cheshire cat: they did and i didn't. :D

all this was a long time ago, i remember. but set down this, set down this: that a man may quote and quote poetry and yet be a villain.


ludwig said...

Am slightly confused: Are we talking of poems that we already know 'by heart', or poems we think we ought to know?

For entirely personal reasons, my very mundane lists:

#1 - Pomes we know...

Sea Fever
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
A Drinking Song
There is a Lady sweet and kind

#2 - Pomes we'd love to know by heart
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Banalata Sen (in both languages)
Casey At The Bat
One of the long Kiplings...

Some more...

Aishwarya said...

I've written about Wendy Cope's "On Reading Berryman..." before. Text here

Cohen's Prayer For Messaiah (can't find text online)

Huge portions of Blake's America are stunning.
Let the inchained soul shut up in darkneſs and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years;
Rise and look out, his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
And let his wife and children return from the opreſsors scourge;
They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream.
Singing. The Sun has left his blackneſs, & has found a fresher morning
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudleſs night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.

cummings - it may not always be so

Mervyn Peake's poem to Maeve (can be found here)

And you must, must read this if you can find it.

Anonymous said...

Falstaff: Never been a Coleridge fan! That's outrageous. How can you resist Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

If I were to add to the list, I would put in Keat's Ode to a Nightingale, and parts of Bachan's Madhushala.

sashi said...

Can't resist responding to this:

Agha Shahid Ali "A Nostalgist's Map of America"

"You said each month you need
new blood. Please forgive me, Phil, but I thought
of your pain as a formal feeling, one
useful for the letting go, your transfusions

mere wings to me, the push of numerous
hummingbirds, souveniers of Evanescence
seen disappearing down a route of veins
in an electric rush of Cochineal.

Derek Walcott - "Love After Love"

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Adam Zagajewski - "Try To Praise The Mutilated World"

Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Rilke "Autumn Day"

Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

The Black Mamba said...

just for snickers some kalidasa,

..Gajaraja virajitha manda gathi..

or for the matter any sanskrit shloka, once you commit it to memory, they never go away. I can still recite an entire chapter of the gita, though I am almost completely clueless what they mean.

or hindi, bachchan's madhushala and some of the smaller poems, like, jugnoo,

अँधेरी रात में दीपक जलाए कौन बैठा है?
उठी ऐसी घटा नभ में
छिपे सब चांद औ' तारे,
उठा तूफान वह नभ में
गए बुझ दीप भी सारे,
मगर इस रात में भी लौ लगाए कौन बैठा है?
अँधेरी रात में दीपक जलाए कौन बैठा है?


Is paar priye tum ho madhu hai,
us paar na jane kya hoga

In urdu,

Faiz -

Zard patton ka ban jo mera des hai Dard ki anjuman jo mera des hai

and of course,

mujh se pahalii sii mohabbat merii mahabuub na maang

main ne samajhaa thaa ki tuu hai to darakhshaan hai hayaat
teraa gam hai to gam-e-dahar kaa jhagadaa kyaa hai

and definitely some Ghalib,

dil-e-naadaan tujhe huaa kya hai ?
aakhir is dard kee dawa kya hai

hamko unse wafa ki hai ummeed
jo naheen jaante wafa kya hai

Falstaff said...

Sigh. So much poetry.

Space Bar: Ah, yes, that Auden Villanelle. Agree, agree.

shuchi: With Tennyson, the poem to remember is, of course Ulysses. For Blake, see below.

crp: Ah, Saki. Creeley was actually on my top 20 list, but didn't make the cut. The poem I picked was 'The Rain', though.

cat: No actually, I do mean poems. Which is part of the reason Blake didn't make it. I've spent long years in college muttering "Energy is Eternal Delight" and "To see a World in a Grain of Sand" to myself, but there's no way I remember the full poem.

My apologies if the dismemberment shocked you - I just thought that putting the full text (especially when you consider the length of some of the poems involved) might make for too long a blog post, even by my fairly expansive standards. And I personally don't fuss too much about integrity, etc.

ludwig: I meant poems you already know by heart, though admittedly that's not what the guardian post is about. I was free associating. Sorry. And yes, Yeats really is infectious.

Now if I was really being ambitious and wanted to learn long poems by heart, I would pick:

a) Pope's Essay on Criticism
b) Ginsberg's Howl
c) Wallace Stevens' The Man with a Blue Guitar

Aishwarya: You really need to get over your teenage infatuation with Peake you know. That poem you link to reads like Walter Savage Landor on an off-day. Now cummings - there's a poet.

raoul: What can I say? It's not that I don't like the Mariner - I just don't like it that much. Hell, I'd even pick Kubla Khan over it.

Ode to a Nightingale, yes - though I've always been kind of partial to Ode to a Grecian Urn myself. And the sonnets, of course.

sashi: Yes, that is a brilliant bit. Though the other Shahid line I'm haunted by is: "They make it desolation and call it peace"

Agree with you about the Rilke as well, though i prefer the Stephen Mitchell translation:

BM: No fair. I was sticking to poets I read in English. So Faiz and Ghalib are off limits. Otherwise can you imagine a top 10 poems of mine that did not include "Jinhe zurm-e-ishq pe naaz tha" and "Bazeecha-e-atfal hai"?

N.B. Also, I can't believe that I not only left out Whitman, but that no one mentioned him.

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white faced and still in the coffin - I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

Oh, and notice also the complete absence of the Bard ("Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow").

Finally, a few other off-beat favourites of mine

a) Gregory Corso, 'Marriage'
b) Archibald Macleish 'Ars Poetica'
c) Bukowski 'Don't come around, but if you do'
d) William Empson 'Missing Dates'
e) Marianne Moore 'Poetry'

Falstaff said...

P.S. Aishwarya: Read Stephen Knight. Both the book you recommended and Flowering Limbs. Good, but not spectacular. Some exquisite poems (I liked Daedalus) but not a poet I'd want to remember by heart.

n said...

These two lines from Walcott always stay with me:
"I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?"

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