Monday, October 14, 2013

Poetry Session on Oct 7, 2013 with the Philadelphia City Center Book Club

The Philadelphia City Center Book Club, which meets once a month, gathered on Oct 7, 2013 at Marie Stuart’s place to hold a session of poetry. Joe and KumKum Cleetus were guests; here they are, dressed for the occasion as the Raja and Rani of Kapurthala:

The session began with Rachel Munafo’s wide-ranging discourse on poetry concerning World War I, Homer’s Iliad, and the art of Cy Twombly exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wilfred Owen, John McCrae, and Patrick Shaw-Stewart were the poets discussed by her.

 KumKum Rachel, Caroline, & Marie

Nancy Naftulin gave a wonderful exposition of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem, La colombe poignardée et le jet d'eau. It is a remarkable expression of the wounds of war that comes out through a ‘shaped poem’, he called a Calligramme.

Marie, Martha, Nancy, & Taylor

Joe exploited Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy, for its embedded poetry that traces the course of love with one of Lata Mehra’s suitors, Amit, a poet manqué.

 Marie, Karen, Martha, Nancy, & Taylor

KumKum read a famous poem of W.B. Yeats (When You are Old) and followed it with two of his unpublished poems that came to light recently through a gift of his son to the National Library of Ireland.

 Martha reads as Karen listens

Martha Witte introduced Marianne Moore’s poetry and provided the text of a poem, Peter, but did not read it, unfortunately. William Carlos Williams admired her poetry but Mary McCarthy, the novelist, was just as impressed by her bloomers, it comes out.

Marie reads Heaney's poems as Caroline and Karen listen

The session concluded with Marie Stuart reading with great feeling from the early and late poems of Seamus Heaney who died on Aug 30, 2013, aged 74 years. Here are the readers gathered at the end of the session:

 Joe, Martha, Nancy, Karen, Taylor, Caroline, KumKum, Marie, & Rachel

Poetry Session on Oct 7, 2013 – Philadelphia City Center Book Club

KumKum and Joe attended a session with this unique book reading group composed of professional women from Philadelphia city. This was the second time we met, and all were thrilled at the reprise. Marie Stuart, Joe's childhood friend from Madras (now Chennai), was the hostess for the evening. She served a fine dinner of catered Indian food: chicken Kerala style, lamb kurma, okra, baigan bartha (roasted eggplant), dal (lentils) and raitha (yogurt salad) to kick off the evening at 6 pm. The dinner was served with a red Cabernet wine, and after the session we had dessert of lemon tarts, Mysore paak, and ice-cream.

Attending were:
Marie Stuart
Taylor Williams
Martha Witte
Karen Bramblett
Caroline Golab
Nancy Naftulin
Rachel Munafo
Shipra (KumKum) Cleetus
Joe Cleetus

Note: All the poems are subscribed at the end of this post.

1.  Rachel Munafo
Rachel's contribution on World War I poetry was linked to her experience as a docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, combined with a deep knowledge of Homer's Iliad. She drew her presentation out to 100 mins by expatiating on these at great length.

The trigger for Rachel's interest came from the exhibit called Fifty Days of Iliam:

The museum blurb says the artist, Cy Twombly, “began working on a 'painting in ten parts' based on Alexander Pope's translation of Homer's Iliad. Completed in 1978 and collectively titled Fifty Days at Iliam, the works evoke incidents from Homer's epic poem in Twombly's characteristic synthesis of words and images.” One of the paintings is called 'Shades of Achilles, Patroclus and Hector':
Fifty Days at Iliam. Shades of Achilles, Patroclus, and Hector by Cy Twombly

Hector has killed Patroclus, Achilles has taken revenge by killing Hector, and Achilles too will die. In another painting there is a single round shape signifying the Shield of Achilles. Rachel claimed this is an abstract image of a red poppy which symbolizes the remembrance of war. There is a Cy Twombly page which provides visitors with Twombly's bio, over 95 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Twombly exhibition listings.

'Shield of Achilles', by Cy Twombly at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

That symbolism stems from the Canadian physician and poet, John McCrae's poem which begins:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,

Lieut.Col. John McCrae, M.D.

Ever since that war the symbolism of red poppies is ingrained in the minds of the people of the British Commonwealth whose soldiers faced the horrors of trench warfare in Flanders. To see the Canadian remembrance look at:

This poem is not anti-war; rather it is patriotic, for it exhorts the living to “Take up our quarrel with the foe,” and continue fighting. It is noted by a commentator (Prescott) that this poem “was written early in the conflict, before the romanticism of war turned to bitterness and disillusion for soldiers and civilians alike.”

John McCrae was in the Boer War and a decade later found himself a field surgeon with the Canadian military in World War I. He got to know a young man, Alexis, who was hit by a shell when going over the top. His body was almost totally destroyed by the shell.

Rachel said that this poem is now considered 'politically incorrect' because it glorifies the war and exhorts the living to continue the fight of those dead who gave their lives and can no longer fight (“take the quarrel to the foe”). Wilfred Owen, the poet, was not anti-war at least at the beginning of the war.  

 Wilfred Owen

Joe ventured to make a controversial comment, that generals and soldiers are rarely enthusiastic about war but politicians and munitions-makers are the ones who propagandize for war; but KumKum, less given to disputation, quickly deflected him. Here is a quote from an Israeli soldier:
Of those who die in war, only very few really wanted it. Those who wanted it are very rarely among the victims.
– from 1948: A Soldier’s Tale by Uri Avnery

Elizabeth Vandiver states in her introduction to Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War (OUP, £75) that the book's emphasis is on cultural history. See:

The idea is that the poets of the First World War from UK were public school and grammar school boys who were versed in the classics and that classicism finds its way into their poems. Wilfred Owen was among the leading poets of that category:

and as the wikipedia entry sates, “His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend and mentor Siegfried Sassoon, and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke.” Owen was wounded and shell-shocked and blown into the air by a mortar shell in 1916. He was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment; there “he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter that was to transform Owen's life.” Siegfried's mother liked Wagner – hence the son’s name. His father was an Iraqi Jewish merchant. Sassoon was university trained and influenced Wilfred Owen tremendously. After recuperating Owen wrote the poem Strange Meeting. He returned to the war and was killed one week before Armistice.  You can hear actor-director Kenneth Branagh reciting this poem at

Rachel was so moved that she broke down while trying to recite it and deferred to Kenneth Branagh. Some of the phrases are stark, 'the pity of war', 'I was the enemy you killed, my friend', and the lines
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;

This poem inspired Benjamin Britten and he used it in the ending of the War Requiem. 

There are many poetic devices employed in the poem and you can read about them at the Wilfred Owen Association website where this poem is discussed:

Pararhymed (half-rhyming of consonants) couplets comprising the poem are mentioned. Examples are bestirred-stared, distressful-bless, etc. Nancy said it was even dissonant at points. Marie said it was much more modern in tenor than John McCrae's poem, and stood on a higher level. Martha referring to the phrase 'Down some profound dark tunnel', pointed out how important the sound of the words was in this poem; she was impressed by it. Taylor agreed. 

Rachel also mentioned another famous poem of Owen, Dulce et decorum est, the Latin coming from a phrase of the Latin poet, Horace, who says,  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, i.e., it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. That poem has the ghastly image of soldiers choking on the mustard gas (green in color) used in WWI; somebody was reminded of the recent use of another kind of gas, sarin, which attacks the nerves, in the civil conflict in Syria. 

Karen mentioned her paternal grandfather was gassed in WWI but survived. Nancy had a Canadian great aunt whose husband-to-be also suffered from gas attacks in WWI and broke off the engagement. In that generation, so many men died in the war that many women had to remain single. Her great aunt went out with men who took her out, but she didn't find a reason to marry.

Poppy seeds remain in the ground for years and flower. The war locations in Flanders were covered by poppies. Rachel was somewhat perturbed that red poppies are forgotten in America on Nov 11, Armistice Day. They are not embedded in the American consciousness of war. She said one needs to let veterans and serving soldiers know the public appreciates their sacrifices. She was going to buy a red poppy therefore. The yellow ribbon in America serves a somewhat similar purpose of waiting for someone to return from war.

Rachel having bought a video on Amazon got involved in the encounter with World War I. It was a mass slaughter and incompetent generalship (especially by the British commander Gen Craig, a Scot) was responsible for countless deaths. 'Going over the top', i.e. exposing oneself to the machine guns of the opposing side by obeying an order to emerge from the trenches and advance, was almost certain death. The gallows humor of that time had it that no Scottish warrior in history was responsible for more deaths of Englishmen than Gen Craig.

Rachel gave a little background to a poem by Patrick-Shaw-Stewart, titled Achilles in the Trench. See:

A brilliant scholar, he seems to have derived some utility from the classics for his amorous adventures (see reference above). He worked in a bank for a year after graduation and enlisted in the Navy. He wrote only this one poem which Rachel thought was a wonderful poem.

Patrick Shaw-Stewart

On what the Iliad teaches us about war you may read:
The Iliad still has much to say about war, even as it is fought today. It tells us that war is both the bringer of renown to its young fighters and the destroyer of their lives. It tells us about post-conflict destruction and chaos; about war as the great reverser of fortunes. It tells us about the age-old dilemmas of fighters compelled to serve under incompetent superiors. It tells us about war as an attempt to protect and preserve a treasured way of life. It tells us, too, about the profound gulf between civilian existence and life on the front line; about atrocities and indiscriminate slaughter; about war's peculiar mercilessness to women and children; about friendships and sympathies across the battle lines. It tells us of the love between soldiers who fight together. Most of all, it tells us about the frightful losses of war: of a soldier losing his closest companion, of a father losing his son.”

You can read about the context of his poem at his wikipedia entry

As Rachel read, Joe’s ear picked up 'Achilles' rhymed with 'peace' in successive lines and thought how ironic it was that the most blood-thirsty of warriors was considered by the poet for such a rhyme. The word endings occur in adjoining lines of successive stanzas.

Rachel said Helen, wife of Menelaus, who caused the Trojan War by her being abducted by Paris, actually went to bed with her abductor quite willingly. Menelaus then gathers the other suitors of Helen and goes to war. Achilles asks him why he should follow Menealaus (he has no dog in that fight). Homer raises several times the meaninglessness of the Trojan War. For more classical history about Helen see:

Achilles has an almost mythic status among Greeks:

Achilles having lost his armor (taken as spoils after Patroclus, his friend, dies at the hand of Hector) needs a replacement.

“Throughout book XVII, the battle has been raging over the body of Patroclus. The Greeks are defending it, Menelaus in particular is doing so very valiantly, while the Trojans are trying to drag it away and keep it. So Hera tells Achilles, through the messenger Iris, to go and show himself to the Trojans, and enable his comrades to rescue Patroclus' body.

Achilles points out very reasonably that he has no armor, so asks how he can go into the battle exposed, showing himself to the Trojans? Iris tells him to simply do so, to go stand by the ditch that the Greeks had dug in front of their famous wall, the wall that has been so thoroughly breached by the Trojans. As Achilles moves out to the ditch, Athena wraps a cloud around his head and crowns him with flames. So Achilles appears to the Trojans, standing by the Greek ditch with flame encircling his head. He shouts aloud and Athena shouts with him. The poet tells us that at this shout of them together, the Trojans panic and scatter. The horses and men run in different directions, hence the Greeks are able to recover Patroclus' body at this moment.” ( )

2. Nancy
Nancy took up a beautiful French poem of Guillaume Apollinaire, titled La colombe poignardée et le jet d'eau.  Guillaume Apollinaire died at 38 years (1880-1918).

In the collection titled Calligrammes, he ventured into this new poetic form he called the calligramme. The pattern formed at the head of the poem represents the dove stabbed, where he talks about the loves he lost on account of the war. He cites Mia Mareye, Yette, Lorie, Annie and Marie. The drawing splashing down the poem evokes the dispersion of all his closest friends: Braque, Derain, Jacob etc … in the symbol of a fountain spraying. 

Apollinaire - La colombe poignardée et le jet d'eau

 Apollinaire wrote for journals about the new poetry and arts. When the war broke out, he was not a French citizen. He was born in Rome of Polish/Italian parentage and raised on the French Riviera by his mother. He enlisted in the war to attain French citizenship. It was he who invented the word 'Surrealism.'   

 'Three Musicians', a cubist painting by Pablo Picasso

In this portrait Picasso shows himself as a Harlequin flanked by two figures representing poet-friends - Guillaume Apollinaire, recently dead, & Max Jacob.

Guillaume Apollinaire

Joe was struck by the couplet,
De souvenirs mon âme est pleine
Le jet d’eau pleure sur ma peine.

For some reason, he found it echoed Verlaine's lines
Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville;

While Nancy claimed the translation by Anne Hyde Greet was good, it goes wrong in the title itself, 'The Bleeding-Heart Dove and the Fountain.' AHG translates the couplet Joe liked as
My soul is full of memories
Fountain weep for my sorrow

which does not resonate with the original at all. Something like the following would impart a hint of the original, though it extends the idea:
Though filled with memory my soul is hollow
And the fountain weeps on my sorrow

Joe thinks translation is very hard, almost as hard as writing the original, and the besetting drawback of translators is giving up too soon in trying to find an equivalent. Or as T.S. Eliot said, “I believe that poetic translation – I would call it imitation – must be expert and inspired, and needs at least as much technique, luck and rightness of hand as an original poem.”

Apollinaire's Calligrammes reveals a modernist poetry unmatched by English poets of the first world war, says Stephen Romer, in this enlightening review of Anne Hyde Greet's translation of his work: 

On p. 143 and following of the book The Stuff of Literature by E.A. Levenston you can see a detailed discussion of Apollinaire's poem; see

For another discussion see

3.  Joe
Vikram Seth signing books and smiling indefatigably, Nov 2012

Vikram Seth is known primarily as a novelist, However his first published writing was Mappings, a short book of his poems that P. Lal, the famous publisher of The Writers Workshop in Calcutta ( ) helped to get into print, after half a dozen rejections in America. Later, VS wrote his first novel in verse describing the San Francisco scene of his youth in the 1980s, called The Golden Gate. It’s a novel entirely written in Pushkin-style tetrameter sonnets. Seth had fun writing much of his poetry and exclaims that writing The Golden Gate he found sheer joy. His novels in prose were harder to work at, and required much more discipline, so many hours a day non-stop, and on and on. By taking on the entire diversity of India in A Suitable Boy, a novel of half a million words, he ensured he was a slave at his desk for several years. He didn’t move out of the sub-continent during the entire time he wrote the novel.

 A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Here and there in the novel are couplets, and several translations of ghazals and bhajans. The novel itself has a prefatory note to all who had suffered during the time of his obsession with the novel:

Poem 1. A Word of Thanks

One of the three suitors for the twenty-year old Lata is Amit, a few years older. Amit took a law degree in England according to his father’s wishes, but then failed to practice, but became a published poet. You may recall the opening words of the novel by Lata’s mother who states, “You will marry a boy I choose.”

After meeting Lata when she visits Calcutta, Amit decides to send her a copy of his book of poem titled The Fever Bird with an inscription. Here is the excerpt from the passage on p. 1,028:
He wrote it out slowly, using the sterling silver fountain pen, which his grandfather had given him on his twenty-first birthday, and he wrote in the comparatively handsome British edition of his poems, of which he had only three copies left.”
Read Poem 2.

“He signed his name at the bottom, wrote the date, re-read the poem while the ink dried, closed the dark blue and gold cover of the book, packed it sealed it, and had it sent off by registered post to Brahmpur that same afternoon.

Later lying in bed she read the poem again at her leisure. She was secretly very pleased to have a poem written for her, but much in it was not immediately clear. When he said that he winged his even and passionless ways, did he mean that the temperature of his poems was cool? That he was speaking in the voice of the bird of the title but was not fevered? Or did it mean something private to his imagination? Or anything at all?

After a while, Lata began to read the book, partly for itself, partly as a clue to the inscription.  … some of them were poems of deep feeling, by no means passionless, though their diction was at times formal. … Lata liked most of the poems that she read, and was moved by the fact that when she had been lonely and unoccupied in Calcutta Amit had taken her to places that had meant so much to him and that he was used to visiting alone.

For all their feeling, the tenor of the poems was muted – and sometimes self-deprecating. But the title poem was anything but muted, and the self that it presented appeared to be gripped almost by mania. Lata herself had often been kept awake on summer nights by the papiha, the brainfever bird, and the poem, partly for this reason, disturbed her profoundly.”

Read Poem 3.  The Fever Bird

“Her thoughts a whirl of images and questions, Lata read this poem through five or six times. It was far clearer than most poems in the book, clearer certainly than the inscriptions he had written for her, and yet it was far more mysterious and disturbing. She knew the yellow laburnum, the amaltas tree that stood above Dipankar’s meditation hut in the garden at Ballygunge, and she could imagine Amit looking out at its branches at night. (Why she wondered had he used the Hindi word for the tree rather than the Bengali – was it just for the sake of the  rhyme?) But the Amit she knew – kindly, cynical, cheerful – was even less the Amit of this poem than of the short love-poem that she had read and liked.”

(In between there is a delightful scene. when Amit surprises her by asking her to marry him. Lata drops the cup she was drinking from and they pick up the pieces: )

“Amit joined her on the floor. Her face was only a few inches away from his, but her mind appeared to be somewhere else. He wanted to kiss her but he sensed that there was no question of it. One by one she picked up the shards of china.
‘Was it a family heirloom?’ asked Amit.
‘What? I’m sorry —’ said Lata, snapped out of her trance by the words.
‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to wait. I was hoping that by springing it on you like that I’d surprise you into agreeing.’
‘Do stop being idiotic, Amit,’ said Lata. ‘You’re so brilliant, do you have to be so stupid as well? I should only take you seriously in black and white.’
‘And in sickness and health.’

(In response to this on p. 1408 Lata receives a letter from Amit. The contents of the envelope [Lata received] consisted of eight lines and a heading, typewritten and unsigned:)

Read Poem 4. A Modest Proposal

“Lata began to laugh. The poem was a little trite, but it was skilful and entirely personalised, and it pleased her. She tried to recall exactly what she had said; had she really asked for black and white or merely told Amit that that was all she would believe? And how serious was this ‘modest’ proposal? After thinking the matter over she was inclined to believe it was serious; and as a result it pleased her somewhat less.

Would she have referred it to be determinedly sombre and passionate – or not to have been written in the first place? Would a passionate proposal have been Amit’s style at all – or at least in his style with her? Many of his poems were far from light in either sense of the word, but it seemed almost as if he hid that side of himself from her for fear that looking into that dark, pessimistic cynicism might trouble her too greatly and make her shy away.”

4.  KumKum
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Yeats is considered one of the greats of poetry in English, writing at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1923. His poems have a charming lyrical quality. He wrote about love, nature, and above all, his country, Ireland. Yeats was a Nationalist. Like many other Irish intellectuals of his time, he got involved with the Irish Independence Movement. Much of his writing conveys a strong Irish fervor. Besides poems, he wrote plays, lyrics, short stories, and even novels.

 W.B. Yeats

Yeats, experimented with many ideas during his lifetime: Nationalism, The Occult, Theosophy, Theater, Mysticism, and “exploration into complex and esoteric subjects,” such as, a person's internal and external selves. These interests are reflected in his poems.

Here is one of my favorite poems by WB Yeats, When You Are Old. They say the inspiration for this came from his relationship with Maud Gonne, who rejected his marriage proposals, and said: “You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry." They remained in close touch throughout their lives.
Read the poem When You Are Old

I will also read a couple of his unpublished poems (I Will Not In Grey Hours and What Then?) and leave one more, The Magpie, for your enjoyment. They were discovered recently among papers transferred to the National Library of Ireland by Michael Butler Yeats, the son of the poet.

5.  Martha
Marianne Moore’s poetry can be daunting. You can read a Paris Review interview with her at:

William Carlos Williams referred to her as “a rafter holding up the superstructure of our uncompleted building,” when he talked about the Greenwich Village group of writers in his Autobiography. But MM replied she never was a rafter holding up anyone! Martha chose the poem Peter, a poem about a cat. Martha supplied a critical view of the poem by Bonnie Costello which is at:

Marianne Moore in 1935

Costello states, “Moore presents a moving, multi-faceted creature, not by tracing that movement along the lines of visual conventions, but by presenting multiple images for it and thus conceptualizing motion.” Moore’s poetic writing got a big fillip by moving to New York. She says:
With me it’s always some fortuity that traps me. I certainly never intended to write poetry. That never came into my head. And now, too, I think each time I write that it may be the last time; then I’m charmed by something and seem to have to say something. Everything I have written is the result of reading or of interest in people, I’m sure of that. I had no ambition to be a writer.

It was H. D. (Hilda Doolittle, a senior classmate at Bryn Mawr college) and Bryher who brought out her first collection, which they called Poems, in 1921, without her knowledge. Marianne Moore said, “ For the chivalry of the undertaking—issuing my verse for me in 1921, certainly in format choicer than the content—I am intensely grateful,” though she thought her output at that time slight. Martha mentioned an archival website and the book of poems that Moore's friends H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Bryher published can be read online at the website, from a digital copy at the University of California Libraries. An audio recording of these poems is also available at

When asked how a poem starts for her, she replied,
“A felicitous phrase springs to mind—a word or two, say—simultaneous usually with some thought or object of equal attraction: “Its leaps should be set / to the flageolet”; “Katydid-wing subdivided by sun / till the nettings are legion.” I like light rhymes, inconspicuous rhymes and un-pompous conspicuous rhymes: Gilbert and Sullivan:

and yet, when someone's near,
we manage to appear
as impervious to fear
as anybody here.

I have a passion for rhythm and accent, so blundered into versifying. Considering the stanza the unit, I came to hazard hyphens at the end of the line, but found that readers are distracted from the content by hyphens, so I try not to use them. My interest in La Fontaine originated entirely independent of content.”

Most of Moore's manuscripts, letters, notebooks, and diaries are in the Rosenbach Foundation in Philadelphia:

There is a finding aid to her papers at the Rosenbach Museum & Library at

Martha said the upcoming authorized biography of Marianne Moore is by Linda Leavell and is called Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore. Other repositories are the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, and the Newberry Library in Chicago, Ill. Collections of her writings are A Marianne Moore Reader (1961), The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (1967; rev. ed., 1981), and The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, ed. Patricia C. Willis (1986); although neither of the last two books is "complete," both are generously representative.

Here is a picture of famous authors who were in America when a photographer of the Life magazine caught them at a famous New York city bookstore called Gotham Book Mart in 1948:
 Gotham Book Mart Party - the most famous literary party in American history

This photograph, taken on 9 November 1948, by Life Magazine photographer Lisa Larsen, captured some of the assembled guests at possibly the most famous literary party in American history.  The scene was the Gotham Book Mart — New York City’s most famous bookstore.  The occasion was to  welcome the poets, Sir S.W. Osbert Sitwell and his sister, Dame Edith Sitwell, to the United States to do a series of readings.  Seen in this image are some of the most famous figures in 20th century literature:  Front row: William Rose Benet, Charles Ford, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell; Middle row: Stephen Spender, Sir Osbert and Dame Edith Sitwell, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop; Back row: Marya Zaturenska, Horace Gregory, Tennessee Williams, Richard Eberhart, Gore Vidal, Jose Garcia Via, and W. H. Auden. One of the guests, the noted poet Randall Jarrell, preserved this copy of the print among his papers now in the Stuart Wright Collection.   On the verso Jarrell commented:  “I thought you’d want this for the eyebrows.  Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop are just behind me, Auden on the ladder, Spender sitting table to far left.  What could have possessed me to cut off so much of the moustache?  That isn’t Medusa in middle with snakes, but that awful creature Edith Sitwell.”  The photograph has appeared in various publications over the years, including in an article by the party’s hostess, Frances Steloff, entitled, “In Touch With Genius”, in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 4, No. 4 (April 1975), pp. 749-882.  Among the literati who attended the party but who did not appear in the photograph were:  Benet Cerf, Jim Farrell, Kreymborg, Mary McGrory, William Saroyan, Carl Van Vechten, William Carlos Williams, Lincoln Kirstein, among many others. It is incredible to see so many literary figures in a single picture.

MM’s Collected Poems of 1951 is the work by her which gained the greatest number of awards; it earned the poet the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Bollingen Prize. Moore’s poetry is sometimes described as bookish, and often as belonging to the Imagist school of poetry.  A common theme is Liberty.

Peter  is one of her more accessible poems. Generally you have to work hard to appreciate her poems, said Martha. MM’s first authorized biography is to come out this year. There are many unpublished works still, but only restricted access has been given to them by the family. Martha mentioned an archival website where many unpublished works are available. It is for shared use but the intellectual property is still in the hands of the author or his family who have inherited the copyright. Technically, the copyright in a published work lasts for 75 years after the author’s death.

6.  Marie
Seamus Heaney at home in Dublin in 2007

Marie chose five poems of the late Seamus Heaney, the famous Irish poet who died recently. They are recorded in full below. In the poem Uncoupled the mother carries the ashes to the ash pit and the discussion centered on what the fire  stood for and how the poet evokes loosing sight of her at the point where the worn path turned. In the second stanza a short fragment shows Seamus as a small boy; he lost his father's attention for the very first time. The final lines are simple but profound:
        So that his eyes leave mine and I know
        The pain of loss before  I know the term.

The last two parts of Album allude again to the somewhat formal relationship between Heaney and his father, compared to the easy and loving relationship between his son and the grandfather. Seamus is seen as Aeneas (three times attempting to embrace his father’s elusive apparition) whereas the grandson embraced the grandfather with natural ease.

With a snatch raid on his neck,
Proving him thus vulnerable to delight.
Coming as great proofs often come

These are very simple pieces but they tell of profundities with no less import than earlier tales of World War I.

For a detailed review of the poems in Human Chain see the article by Kevin Murphy, The Reprise of Imagination in Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain:


The Poems

1.  In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

2.  Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen
It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."
(This poem was found among the author's papers. It ends on this strange note)
Another Version
Earth's wheels run oiled with blood.
Forget we that.
Let us lie down and dig ourselves in thought.
Beauty is yours and you have mastery,
Wisdom is mine and I have mystery.
We two will stay behind and keep our troth.
Let us forego men's minds that are brute's natures,
Be we not swift with swiftness of the tigress.
Let us break ranks from those who trek from progress.
Miss we the march of this retreating world
Into old citadels that are not walled.
Let us lie out and hold the open truth.
Then when their blood hath clogged the chariot wheels
We will go up and wash them from deep wells.
What though we sink from men as pitchers falling
Many shall raise us up to be their filling
Even from wells we sunk too deep for war
And filled by brows that bled where no wounds were.

Alternative Line—
Even as One who bled where no wounds were.

3.  Achilles in the Trench by Patrick Shaw-Stewart
I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die;
I ask, and cannot answer,
if otherwise wish I.

Fair broke the day this morning
Upon the Dardanelles:
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.

But other shells are waiting
Across the Aegean Sea;
Shrapnel and high explosives,
Shells and hells for me.

Oh Hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?

Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese;
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days' peace.

Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knowest, and I know not;
So much the happier am I.

I will go back this morning
From Imbros o'er the sea.
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.

La colombe poignardée et le jet d'eau by Guillaume Apollinaire
Douces figures poignardées, Chères lèvres fleuries
Mia Mareyette Lorie et toi Marie
Où êtes-vous Ô jeunes filles !
Mais près d’un jet d’eau qui pleure et qui prie
Cette colombe s’extasie
Tous les souvenirs de naguère jaillissent vers le firmament
Et vos regards en l’eau dormant meurent mélancoliquement
Ô mes amis partis en guerre
Où sont-ils Braque et Max Jacob Derain aux yeux gris comme l’aube ?
Où sont Raynal Billy Dalyse dont les noms se mélancolisent
Comme des pas dans une église
Où est Grémnitz qui s’engagea.
Peut-être sont-ils morts déjà.
De souvenirs mon âme est pleine
Le jet d’eau pleure sur ma peine.
Ceux qui sont partis à la guerre au Nord se battent maintenant
Le soir tombe Ô sanglante mer
Jardins où saignent abondamment
le laurier rose fleur guerrière.     

Translation by Anne Hyde Greet:
Gentle faces stabbed, Dear flowered lips
Where are you O young girls
BUT near a fountain that weeps and prays
This dove is enraptured
All memories of long ago
Oh my friends who have gone to war
Spring upward toward the skies
And in stagnant pools your gaze
With melancholy dies
Where have Braque and Max Jacobs gone
Derain with eyes gray as the dawn
Where are Billy Raynal Dalize
Whose names melancholize
Like footsteps in a cathedral
Where is Cremnitz who enlisted
Perhaps already dead
My soul is full of memories
Fountain weep for my sorrow
Evening falls O bloody sea
Gardens where rose-laurel
Warlike flower bleeds in abundance

Poems of Vikram Seth taken from his novel, A Suitable Boy
1.  A Word of Thanks (dedication of the novel)
To these I owe a debt past telling:
My several muses, harsh and kind;
My folks, who stood my sulks and yelling,
And (in the long run) did not mind;
Dead legislators whose orations
I’ve filched to mix my own potations;
Indeed, all those whose brains I’ve pressed,
Unmerciful, because obsessed;
My own dumb soul, which on a pittance
Survived to weave this fictive spell:
And, gentle reader, you as well,
The fountainhead of all remittance.
Buy me before good sense insists
You’ll strain your purse and sprain your wrists.

2.  Late, I Admit
ate, I admit, but better late than not
A gift to one who need not spare its flaws,
This book comes to you from a verbal sot,
A babu bard and bachelor of laws.

Lest you should think the man you meet here seems
A lesser cynic than the one you knew,
The truth is that apart from wine and dreams
And children, truth inheres in poems too.

Lies too lie here, and words I do not say
Aloud for fear they savour of despair.
Thus, passionless, I wing my even way
And beat a soundless tattoo on the air.

Love and remembrance, mystery and tears,
A surfeit pineapples and of bliss,
The swerve of empires and the curve of years
Accept these in the hand that carves you this.

3.  The Fever Bird
The fever bird sang out last night.
I could not sleep, try as I might.

My brain was split, my spirit raw.
I looked into the garden, saw

The shadow of the amaltas
Shake slightly on the moonlit grass.

Unseen, the bird cried out its grief,
Its lunacy, without relief.

Three notes repeated, closer, higher,
Soaring, then sinking down like fire.

Only to breathe the night and soar,
As crazed, as desperate, as before.

I shivered in the midnight heat
And smelt the sweat that soaked my sheet.

And now tonight I hear again,
The call that skewers through my brain,

The call, the brain-sick triple note--
A bone of pain stuck in its throat.

I am so tired I could weep.
Mad bird, for God's sake let me sleep.

Why do you cry like one possessed?
When will you rest? When will you rest?

Why wait each night till all but I
Lie sleeping in the house, then cry?

Why do you scream into my ear
What no one else but I can hear?

4.  A Modest Proposal
As you’ve asked for black and white
May I send these lines to you
In the tacit hope you hope you might
Take my type at least as true.

Let this distance disappear
And our hearts approach from far
Till we come to be as near
As acrostically we are.

4.  KumKum
When You Are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

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;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars

The Magpie
Over the heath has the magpie flown
 Over the hazel cover,
Ah why will a magpie live alone
 He waits for the lady and lover.
“What may be the sadness that ends your smile?”
 She said, “my peace is o’er, love”
“I am going afar for so brief a while”
 She said, “We must no more, love.”

They stood for the swish of the mower’s blade
 As they went round the meadow,
And under him as he sang and swayed
 Moved his meridian shadow.
“The ruddy young reaper he sings be glad
 In the sphere of the earth is no flaw, love.”
She said, “He is singing all lives grown sad
 He knows no other law, love.”

The grass and the sedge and the little reed wren
 A sociable world were talking
And the water was saying enough for ten
 As they by the stream went walking.
“The grass and the sedge and the little reed wren
 Are saying it low and high, love,
There’s a feast in the forest and mirth in the fen.”
 She said, “Ah how they sigh, love.”

He flew by the meadow and flew by the brake
   She saw him over the flag fly
Down by the marsh, with his tail a-shake
   Alone with himself the magpie.
“What may be the sadness that ends your smile?”
   She said, “My peace is o’er, love.”
Ah who with folly from love beguiled
   She said, “We must no more, love.”
(written in the early to middle 1880s)

I Will Not In Grey Hours
I will not in grey hours revoke
  The gift I gave in hours of lights
Before the breath of slander broke
  The thread my folly had drawn tight,

The little thread weak hope had made
  To bind two lonely hearts in one
But loves of light must fade and fade
  Till all the dooms of men are spun.

The gift I gave once more I give
  For you may come to winter time
But you white flower of beauty live
  In a poor foolish book of rhyme.
(written March 10, 1894)

What Then?
His chosen comrades thought at school
He must grow a famous man;
He thought the same and lived by rule,
All his twenties crammed with toil;
'What then?' sang Plato's ghost. 'What then?'

Everything he wrote was read,
After certain years he won
Sufficient money for his need,
Friends that have been friends indeed;
'What then?' sang Plato's ghost. ' What then?'

All his happier dreams came true --
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
poets and Wits about him drew;
'What then.?' sang Plato's ghost. 'What then?'

The work is done,' grown old he thought,
'According to my boyish plan;
Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
Something to perfection brought';
But louder sang that ghost, 'What then?'

PETER by Marianne Moore

          Strong and slippery,
built for the midnight grass-party
confronted by four cats, he sleeps his time away—
the detached first claw on the foreleg corresponding
to the thumb, retracted to its tip; the small tuft of fronds
or katydid-legs above each eye numbering all units
in each group; the shadbones regularly set about the mouth
to droop or rise in unison like porcupine-quills.
He lets himself be flattened out by gravity,
as seaweed is tamed and weakened by the sun,
compelled when extended, to lie stationary.
Sleep is the result of his delusion that one must
do as well as one can for oneself,
sleep—epitome of what is to him the end of life.
Demonstrate on him how the lady placed a forked stick
on the innocuous neck-sides of the dangerous southern snake.
One need not try to stir him up; his prune-shaped head
and alligator-eyes are not party to the joke.
Lifted and handled, he may be dangled like an eel
or set up on the forearm like a mouse;
his eyes bisected by pupils of a pin's width,
are flickeringly exhibited, then covered up.
May be? I should have said might have been;
when he has been got the better of in a dream—
as in a fight with nature or with cats, we all know it.
Profound sleep is not with him a fixed illusion.
Springing about with froglike accuracy, with jerky cries
when taken in hand, he is himself again;
to sit caged by the rungs of a domestic chair
would be unprofitable—human. What is the good of hypocrisy?
It is permissible to choose one's employment,
to abandon the nail, or roly-poly,
when it shows signs of being no longer a pleasure,
to score the nearby magazine with a double line of strokes.
He can talk but insolently says nothing. What of it?
When one is frank, one's very presence is a compliment.
It is clear that he can see the virtue of naturalness,
that he does not regard the published fact as a surrender.
As for the disposition invariably to affront,
an animal with claws should have an opportunity to use them.
The eel-like extension of trunk into tail is not an accident.
To leap, to lengthen out, divide the air, to purloin, to pursue.
To tell the hen: fly over the fence, go in the wrong way
in your perturbation—this is life;
to do less would be nothing but dishonesty.
From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. New York: Penguin Books, 1981, pp. 43-44.


1.  Oysters
Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.

Alive and violated
They lay on their beds of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean.
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.

We had driven to the coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool thatch and crockery.

Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south to Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege

And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from the sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.

2.  Uncoupled
Who is this coming to the ash-pit
Walking tall, as if in a procession,
Bearing in front of her a slender pan

Withdrawn just now from underneath
The firebox, weightily, full to the brim
With whitish dust and flakes still sparkling hot

That the wind is blowing into her apron bib,
Into her mouth and eyes while she proceeds
Unwavering, keeping her burden horizontal still,

Hands in a tight, sore grip around the metal knob,
Proceeds until we have lost sight of her
Where the worn path turns behind the henhouse.

Who is this not much higher than the cattle,
Working his way toward me through the pen,
His ashplant in one hand

Lifted and pointing, a stick of keel
In the other, calling to where I’m perched
On top of a shaky gate,

Waving and calling something I cannot hear
With all the lowing and roaring, lorries revving
At the far end of the yard, the dealers

Shouting among themselves, and now to him
So that his eyes leave mine and I know
The pain of loss before I know the term.

3.  Album (Marie recited parts III & IV)


Now the oil-fired heating boiler comes to life
Abruptly, drowsily, like the timed collapse
Of a sawn down tree, I imagine them

In summer season, as it must have been,
And the place, it dawns on me,
Could have been Grove Hill before the oaks were cut,

Where I’d often stand with them on airy Sundays
Shin-deep in hilltop bluebells, looking out
At Magherafelt’s four spires in the distance.

Too late, alas, now for the apt quotation
About a love that’s proved by steady gazing
Not at each other but in the same direction.

Quercus, the oak. And Quaerite, Seek ye.
Among gree leaves and acorns in mosaic
(Our college arms surmounted by columba,

Dove of the church, of Derry’s sainted grove)
The footworn motto stayed indelible:
Seek ye first the Kingdom … Fair and square

I stood on in the Junior House hallway
A grey eye will look back
Seeing them as a couple, I now see,

For the first time, all the more together
For having had to turn and walk away, as close
In the leaving (or closer) as in the getting.

It’s winter at the seaside where they’ve gone
For the wedding meal. And I am at the table,
Uninvited, ineluctable.

A skirl of gulls. A smell of cooking fish.
Plump dormant silver. Stranded silence. Tears.
Their bibbed waitress unlids a clinking dish

And leaves them to it, under chandeliers.
And to all the anniversaries of this
They are not ever going to observe

Or mention even in the years to come.
And now the man who drove them here will drive
Them back, and by evening we’ll be home.

Were I to have embraced him anywhere
It would have been on the riverbank
That summer before college, him in his prime,

Me at the time not thinking how he must
Keep coming with me because I’d soon be leaving.
That should have been the first, but it didn’t happen.

The second did, at New Ferry one night
When he was very drunk and needed help
To do up trouser buttons. And the third

Was on the landing during his last week,
Helping him to the bathroom, my right arm
Taking the webby weight of his underarm.

It took a grandson to do it properly,
To rush him in the armchair
With a snatch raid on his neck,

Proving him thus vulnerable to delight,
Coming as great proofs often come
Of a sudden, one-off, then the steady dawning

Of whatever erat demonstrandum,
Just as a moment back a son's three tries
At an embrace in Elysium

Swam up into my very arms, and in and out
Of the Latin stem itself, the phantom
Verus that has slipped from "very."

4.  Chansond'Aventure
Love's mysteries in souls do grow
   But yet the body is his book
Strapped on, wheeled out, forklifted, locked
In position for the drive,
Bone-shaken, bumped at speed,

The nurse a passenger in front, you ensconced
In her vacated corner seat, me flat on my back--
Our postures all the journey still the same,

Everything and nothing spoken,
Our eyebeams threaded laser-fast, no transport
Ever like it until then, in the sunlit cold

Of a Sunday morning ambulance
When we might, O my love, have quoted Donne
On love on hold, body and soul apart.

Apart: the very word is like a bell
That the sexton Malachy Boyle outrolled
In illo tempore in Bellaghy

Or the one I tolled in Derry in my turn
As college bellman, the haul of it there still
In the heel of my once capable

Warm hand, hand that I could not feel you lift
And lag in yours throughout that journey
When it lay flop-heavy as a bell-pull

And we careered at speed through Dungloe,
Glendoan, our gaze ecstatic and bisected
By a hooked up drip-feed to the cannula.

The charioteer at Delphi holds his own,
His six horses and chariot gone,
His left hand lopped

From a wrist protruding like an open spout,
Bronze reins astream in his right, his gaze ahead
Empty as the space where the team should be,

His eyes-front, straight-backed posture like my own
Doing physio in the corridor, holding up
As if once more I'd found myself in step

Between two shafts, another's hand on mine,
Each slither of the share, each stone it hit
Registered like a pulse in the timbered grips.

5.  A Kite for Aibhín
After ‘L’Aquilone’ by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)

Air from another life and time and place,
Pale blue heavenly air is supporting
A white wing beating high against the breeze,

And yes, it is a kite! As when one afternoon
All of us there trooped out
Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn,

I take my stand again, halt opposite
Anahorish Hill to scan the blue,
Back in that field to launch our long-tailed comet.

And now it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew,
Lifts itself, goes with the wind until
It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Rises, and my hand is like a spindle
Unspooling, the kite a thin-stemmed flower
Climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher

The longing in the breast and planted feet
And gazing face and heart of the kite flier
Until string breaks and—separate, elate—

The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.

1 comment:

Martha said...

Joe, what a wonderful tribute, thank you! For your readers who are interested, the upcoming authorized biography of Marianne Moore is by Linda Leavell and is called "Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore."
Also, the archival website I mentioned is and the book of poems that Moore's friends H.D. and Bryher published can be read online at the website, from a digital copy at the University of California Libraries.