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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Michael Bruce’s “Elegy—Written in Spring”

March 27, 2014 | by

Marianna Saska, Edinburgh Castlehill in Spring

Edinburgh Castlehill in spring. Photo: Marianna Saska, via Flickr

Michael Bruce has a purchase on the springtime. He was born on March 27, 1746, just as spring was coming to Scotland, and his most enduring poem is “Elegy—Written in Spring.” The guy knows greenery.

Bruce—a Scotsman, as you may have guessed—was the son of a weaver; growing up, “his attendance at school was often interrupted because he had to herd cattle on the Lomond Hills in summer, and this early companionship with nature greatly influenced his poetry.”

And so it did: “Elegy” is a plain-and-simple celebration of companionship with nature; it’s unadorned and all the more beautiful for it. Bruce wrote the poem toward the end of his life, and its last stanza, which turns to gaze at death, is quietly devastating, especially since it comes after so many words devoted to the bliss and beauty of pastoral Scotland. The images here are classically, achingly bucolic: flowers, plains, furze. Verdant ground, ample leaves, and dewy lawns. On a day like today, when, in New York, the new season struggles to shuck off the dreariness of the last, “Elegy” is an ideal balm. If only it could bring the balmy weather with it. Read More »

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“For Holly Andersen”

March 25, 2014 | by

On April 8, at our Spring Revel, we’ll honor Frederick Seidel with the Hadada Award. In the weeks leading up the Revel, we’re looking at Seidel’s poems.

arvind grover carlyle hotel

Bemelman's Bar in the Carlyle Hotel, New York. Photo: Arvind Grover

Over the weekend, I turned on Studio 360. A cardiologist was describing the health benefits of dance—and this cardiologist was none other than Holly Andersen, hero of a great poem by Frederick Seidel, from his 2006 collection, Ooga-Booga. Dr. Andersen is also the dedicatee of the poem. I guess you could say she is its muse, but hero is the better word. This is a poem about heroism: doing your job in the face of death. It happens also to be a love poem, for in Seidel’s work love and admiration are rarely far apart. I never have a drink at the Carlyle Hotel without thinking of the first lines, and I think of the last lines much more often than that.

Seidel has never given a public reading, but he has made several recordings of his poems, including this one. I played it as soon as the segment was over.

What could be more pleasant than talking about people dying,
And doctors really trying,
On a winter afternoon
At the Carlyle Hotel, in our cocoon?
We also will be dying one day soon.

Dr. Holly Anderson has a vodka cosmopolitan,
And has another, and becomes positively Neapolitan,
The moon warbling a song about the sun,
Sitting on a sofa at the Carlyle,
Staying stylishly alive for a while.

Her spirited loveliness
Does cause some distress.
She makes my urbanity undress.
I present symptoms that express
An underlying happiness in the face of the beautiful emptiness.

She lost a very sick patient she especially cared about.
The man died on the table. It wasn't a matter of feeling any guilt or doubt.
Something about a doctor who can cure, or anyway try,
But can also cry,
Is some sort of ultimate lullaby, and lie.

 

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The Equinox Reality Check

March 20, 2014 | by

spring

Image via Giphy

Feel that? It’s the vernal caress of the equinox, its breeze seeming to whisper, There, there, your misery will soon fade, spring is here, the world is in bloom, cast off your gloves and scarves, put down the whiskey, lower your firearm, you’ve made it out alive.

In 1968, The Paris Review published a poem for just this occasion, kind of. Diane di Prima’s “Song for Spring Equinox” does indeed celebrate the first day of spring—it begins, “It is the first day of spring, the children are singing”—but it also boldly admits, and indeed seems to bask in, a truth most of us are trying to ignore: things are still really brown outside. As di Prima puts it, “nothing is blooming / nothing seems to bloom much around farms, just hayfields and corn / farms are too pragmatic.”

Well. Bummer. It’s probably no coincidence that this poem appeared in a fall issue, not a spring one.

Still, you can and should read the entire poem, which unfolds in a kind of free-associative frolic, touching on crossword puzzles, hydrangeas, and pioneers. Consider it a corrective, not a rebuke; any poem that includes the line “will I hate the Shetland pony we are buying” won’t harsh your springtime buzz too much.

 

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Ovid’s Ancient Beauty Elixirs

March 20, 2014 | by

The man knew his makeup. Ovid, in a woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

The rumors are true: it’s Publius Ovidius Naso’s 2,057th birthday. You can score some points with the classicists in your life by mentioning this in casual conversation, especially if you toss in a reference to the Metamorphoses. (“I was just thinking of Pyramus and Thisbe,” you might say, wiping a tear from your cheek as you gaze wanly upon a crack in the wall.) And if you’re wooing a classicist, or wooing anyone, really, be sure to heed the advice in Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, his instructional elegy on romance—its efficacy has not been diminished by the passage of millennia. Mental Floss even has eleven dating tips from the poet himself. They include “the theatre is a great place to pick up girls,” “do not make a parade of your nocturnal exploits,” and “pay your lovers in poetry.”

But I write today with a more urgent, and more profitable, message. Even if readers still (occasionally) reach for the Metamorphoses or Ars Amatoria, there’s a massive blind spot in our modern view of Ovid. We’ve all but forgotten the man’s gifts as a beautician. Read More »

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A Philip Roth Bonanza

March 19, 2014 | by

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The birthday boy, looking decidedly more bored than he’d be if he were reading our back issues.

Philip Roth turns eighty-one today. You must be wondering: How can you, little old you, partake of such an historic occasion? Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You could masturbate into a piece of raw liver, à la Alexander Portnoy; you could masturbate on your mistress’s grave, like Mickey Sabbath; or you could masturbate into your beloved’s hair, as David Kepesh does.

Then again, there’s no law saying life must imitate art. If you’re absolutely set on not paying tribute through masturbation, there is one other option: you can peruse our archives, where you’ll find a whole host of work by, about, or otherwise in the orbit of Philip Roth. Read More »

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Flame

March 18, 2014 | by

On April 8, at our Spring Revel, we’ll honor Frederick Seidel with the Hadada Award. In the weeks leading up the Revel, we’re looking back at the work Seidel has published in The Paris Review throughout his career.

Flame_1

Photo: Shreyas Joshi, via Wikimedia Commons

“Flame” appeared in our Spring 1981 issue, which included stories by Faulkner, Carver, and Gass; poems by Amiri Baraka and Maxine Kumin, both of whom died earlier this year; and an interview with Rebecca West.

With its images of fireflies, moonlight, and waves, the poem finds Seidel at his most earnest; a muted sadness, almost romantic, permeates “Flame,” which is devoid of the wry, lacerating ironies that usually mark his work. And it finishes with one of the most quietly perceptive descriptions of, well, a flame that I can remembering encountering. Here, best to read it for yourself; the poem is more beautiful than any writing about it will be.

The honey, the humming of a million bees,
In the middle of Florence pining for Paris;
The whining trembling the cars and trucks hum
Crossing the metal matting of Brooklyn Bridge
When you stand below it on the Brooklyn side—
High above you, the harp, the cathedral, the hive—
In the middle of Florence. Florence in flames.
Like waking from a fever ... it is evening.
Fireflies breathe in the gardens on Bellosguardo.
And then the moon steps from the cypresses and
A wave of feeling breaks, phosphorescent—
Moonlight, a wave hushing on a beach.
In the dark, a flame goes out. And then
The afterimage of a flame goes out.

Buy your ticket to the Revel here.

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