Sunday, April 30, 2017

Poetry Pantry #351

This is the Weeping Cedar Woman of Tofino,
on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Her tears are falling over the threat to the forest.
Her hand is out-stretched to say "Do not cut down the trees!"
Her other hand points to the ground,
to remind us to care for Mother Earth.

Whale tours are a significant industry
in the village.

This lovely spot graces the grounds of Tofino's Botanical Gardens,
12 acres of gardens, forest and shoreline.

Beaches, a small grocery close to the beach.
Note the old bike, a common mode of transport 
among the young people.

Tacofino, home of the best burritos, tacos and gringas.
So delicious people stand in line in the pouring rain 
for their orders. There is always a crowd.

On sunny days, there are even longer line-ups,
and every table is filled.

This is Eik, a well-known tree, who was 
about to be chopped down until some friends protested
and saved its life. Funds were raised to anchor the tree
with steel cables, so he  stands beside the road, 
proud survivor, greeting visitors to the village.

Happy Sunday, friends! Mary is enjoying some down-time, so I am filling in with some photos of my beloved village, Tofino, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  I looked for scenes that would give you some sense of just how funky this place is. It is such a cool place to live.

I hope you caught Rosemary's feature on Friday, Honouring Our Poetic Ancestors. If you missed it, you might wish to scroll back and catch it, as it is about warfare at the time of the Great War.  On Monday, do come back and enjoy our Monday poet. This time it is the lovely Shaista Tayabali, one of our early members, who writes at Lupus In Flight. On Wednesday Susan's prompt will be the news, which certainly gives us lots of scope, and on Friday Rosemary will have another intriguing offering for you. It is going to be a wonderful week for poetry!

Share your poem, leave us a message, and do visit your fellow poets, in the spirit of community. Enjoy!

⚘ ⚘ ⚘

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Dulce Et Decorum Est 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

(The Latin means, 'It is sweet and honourable to die for one's country'.)

It's just been Anzac Day here in Australia (and in New Zealand too). So at present I am particularly conscious of war and its aftermath. The Anzac Day tradition began as a commemoration of particular events in World War I. Wilfred Owen – who was not Australian but English – served in World War I and was killed shortly before it ended, at the age of 25. 

It's generally agreed that, as Poetry Foundation observes, he 'wrote some of the best British poetry on World War I.' The article goes on to say that Owen 

composed nearly all of his poems in slightly over a year, from August 1917 to September 1918. In November 1918 he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice. Only five poems were published in his lifetime—three in the Nation and two that appeared anonymously in the Hydra, a journal he edited in 1917 when he was a patient at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. 

Almost all his poems appeared posthumously, with the good graces of other poets: in particular his friend and sometime mentor Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell, Edmund Blunden and C. Day Lewis.

Owen's experiences at the front made him anti-war, and a purposefully anti-war poet. He and Sassoon were both notable for writing realistic war poetry rather than patriotic pieces about honour and glory, as other war poets were doing at the time. In fact they wanted the war stopped, on the grounds that the only thing it could achieve was further suffering.

Today, opinion is not so polarised. Most of us don't think there's much glory in war, but with the hindsight of history we perceive some wars as having been unfortunately necessary. At least we haven't yet worked out what else to do when diplomacy and/or economic sanctions fail. 

Yesterday I watched a TV program in which a group of disabled veterans (both physically and mentally damaged from  their years of active service) answered anonymous questions – the sorts of things people are curious about but don't usually ask because it would be rude. They were very straightforward and honest in their answers. It emerged that, whatever their reasons for joining the military, all included the intention to help other people.

But when they were asked whether they thought war did any good, at first each of them said a regretful no. Then some admitted that in small ways they thought they had done some good in the particular time and place – but not long-term. In our era, the enemy is not in the opposite trenches; it is much more difficult to fight terrorists. And the veterans see, with regard to the very long engagements in places like Afghanistan, the gains they once helped make being eroded and reversed over time.

Though we haven't found the answer yet, it's good that we no longer glorify war, and important that it's never entered into lightly, or as anything but a last resort. Poems like this one of Wilfred Owen's have played their part in waking us up. (Today the TV news does a good job of it, too. We can't remain ignorant.)

That wasn't Owen's only importance as a poet, though. He was also technically innovative for his time (in ways that he himself doesn't seem to have appreciated fully, though his peers did) e.g in his use of slant rhyme. We, who do all sorts of things that once would not have been considered poetry, probably owe him a debt (along with others whose experiments we're more aware of). I'll quote Poetry Foundation again (same link) for more detail:

Sassoon called “Strange Meeting” Owen’s masterpiece, the finest elegy by a soldier who fought in World War I. T.S. Eliot, who praised it as “one of the most moving pieces of verse inspired by the war,” recognized that its emotional power lies in Owen’s “technical achievement of great originality.” In “Strange Meeting,” Owen sustains the dreamlike quality by a complex musical pattern, which unifies the poem and leads to an overwhelming sense of war’s waste and a sense of pity that such conditions should continue to exist. John Middleton Murry in 1920 noted the extreme subtlety in Owen’s use of couplets employing assonance and dissonance. Most readers, he said, assumed the poem was in blank verse but wondered why the sound of the words produced in them a cumulative sadness and inexorable uneasiness and why such effects lingered. Owen’s use of slant-rhyme produces, in Murry’s words, a “subterranean ... forged unity, a welded, inexorable massiveness.”

'Strange Meeting' is probably Owen's best-known poem. For those who haven't encountered it yet and are now curious, it's here.

And you can find others at PoemHunter. (Just remember to turn off the sound, so as not to get the awful, mechanical voice they use on that site.)

There is also his author page at Amazon, which includes a volume of 'Selected Letters'. I remember hearing, years ago, on a TV program about war, a letter read out which had been written from a young World War I soldier to his mother. It was so beautifully (albeit simply) worded, I said to my husband, 'That was written by a poet!' And sure enough, it turned out to be one of Owen's letters home.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ A Grain Of Sand

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” — Robert W. Service


“Faith as tiny as a grain of sand allows us to move mountains”— Paulo Coelho

“In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles in every grain of sand”— Bob Dylan

“Individually, every grain of sand brushing against my hands represents a story, an experience, and a block for me to build upon for the next generation.”— Raquel Cepeda, Bird of Paradise: How I became Latina

Midweek Motif ~ A Grain of Sand 

 I read somewhere, “Sand is serious and entertaining”.

In fact sands could be fascinating story tellers of the distant past.

In 1922, a famous necklace with a scarab beetle carved from a glowing, yellow-green, gem-like material which could not be recognized at the time discovered from Tutankhamun’s tomb, came to be known as a unique silica glass (28 million years old and 98% pure, from a particular part of the Libyan desert) in the 1990’s.

There’s a realm of fantasy under our feet when we walk on a beach. We are unaware how the meiofauna there, are striving hard to stop the beach going anoxic [starved of oxygen], in their home of a grain of sand. For them only the sparkling shores have not yet turned into a sticky, stinking mudflat.

A single grain of sand matters in this grand scheme of our universe.

Let A Grain of Sand find its way into your lines today J

Auguries of Innocence
by William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage 
Puts all Heaven in a Rage 
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons 
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions 
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate 
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road 
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 
Each outcry of the hunted Hare 
A fibre from the Brain does tear 
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing  

The rest of the poem is here 


 View With A Grain Of Sand
by Wislawa Szymborska

We call it a grain of sand,

but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.

It does just fine, without a name,

whether general, particular,

permanent, passing,

incorrect, or apt.

Our glance, our touch means nothing to it.

It doesn’t feel itself seen and touched.

And that it fell on the windowsill

is only our experience, not its.

For it, it is not different from falling on anything else

with no assurance that it has finished falling

or that it is falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,

but the view doesn’t view itself.

It exists in this world

colorless, shapeless,

soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake’s floor exists floorlessly,

and its shore exists shorelessly.

The water feels itself neither wet nor dry

and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.

They splash deaf to their own noise

on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beheath a sky by nature skyless

in which the sun sets without setting at all

and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.

The wind ruffles it, its only reason being

that it blows.

A second passes.

A second second.

A third.

But they’re three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like courier with urgent news.

But that’s just our simile.

The character is inverted, his hasts is make believe,

his news inhuman.    

A Grain of Sand
by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
'Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so

To guide each vital stream,

With over all to boss the show

A Deity supreme.

Such magnitudes oppress my mind;

From cosmic space it swings;

So ultimately glad to find

Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,

While round the earth careens,

I hold a single grain of sand

And wonder what it means.

Ah! If I had the eyes to see,

And brain to understand,

I think Life's mystery might be

Solved in this grain of sand.  

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community—

                (Next week Susan’s Midweek Motif will be ~ News Media)

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