WHAT ROUGH BEAST SLOUCHES TOWARDS BETHLEHEM TO BE BORN? – Marilyn Armstrong

THE SECOND COMING – William Butler Yeats


The Second Coming “was written by Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1919. It was first printed in The Dial in November 1920 and afterward included in his 1921 collection of verses Michael Robartes and the Dancer.

It has much to say and echoes through my mind as though the hour of that rough beast has indeed come and he is already slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

 

THE HOLLOW MEN by T.S. ELLIOTT – Marilyn Armstrong

A poem for our times and for times yet to come.

Mistah Kurtz-he dead

75-AutumnalFigs-HP

A penny for the Old Guy

I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

🎇 🎇 🎇
II

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer-

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

🎇 🎇 🎇
III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

🎇 🎇 🎇
IV

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

🎇 🎇 🎇

V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

A MOMENT IN HISTORY – Marilyn Armstrong

We are having our national moment. Well, really, it’s more than a moment. The past three years have been one, long tormented “moment.”

As someone who loves history, it has forced me to go back and look at our history and realize that this catastrophe in which we are engulfed didn’t just “sort of show up” in 2016. It didn’t drop by without giving us plenty of warning that this calamity was lurking.

We’ve been building towards this calamity for our entire history.

American has done great things. We have also done horrendous and unspeakable things. We allowed slavery as a start — and we’ve never recovered from that. We slaughtered the Natives who lived here — and we pretend we didn’t.

We have, as all countries do, glossed over the most awful parts of our history and focused on greatness. We have — and we are by no means alone in this — pretended our failures never happened or really weren’t that bad. We have held ourselves up as a beacon of light to other countries.  And thus we failed to accept responsibility for the bad stuff and never grew up.

One of the many important things Obama said his final lecture was because we made progress, we assumed this progress meant that we had left “the bad stuff” behind and moved on.

But that isn’t what happened. Briefly, our better selves dominated but the bad stuff was stuck where it has always been. We fought our  Civil War more than 150 years ago and it’s not over. The war will never end because we never accepted racial equality, no matter how many laws we’ve passed.

Despite the obvious that this entire country — unless you are Native American — is built on immigration, we have lost ourselves. We’ve forgotten where we come from and where we drew our energy, drive, and willingness to “go the distance” that gave the United States its vitality.

We also forgot that we got our huge emergence of industrial power from the decimation of Europe following two devastating wars. Sure, we fought in the wars, but the fighting was not here. Never on our shores.

Pause briefly and think about Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Imagine how different this country would be if both world wars had been fought in this country, on this continent. Who would be the great industrial power then? It would not have been us.

We never had to rebuild our entire infrastructure from the rubble upwards. We’ve elected fools to run our government. Not just now, but in many earlier years when we elected immoral, mentally challenged morons as leaders.

It matters more today because our executive branch has gotten so much more powerful than it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be one-third of a balanced government. Instead, it manages everything. News and events have increased to the speed of light. We don’t wait for news anymore. Everything is instant.

We didn’t become this disaster accidentally or through one bad election. We never demanded citizens vote or get a decent education. We never required our people to act like grownups. Why should we be surprised we find ourselves in this unreal and terrifying scenario?

Map of Nazi conquest of Europe as of 1940

This is our time to consider who we want to be.

Do we want to be the perpetual international fools? Do we want to pretend that all the really important things — decency, morality, safety, protection, equality, liberty and fair government — are trivial? That the only thing that matters is greed? As long as someone promises to lower the taxes of the rich, nothing else matters?

We are going to be lost to history, a blip on the timeline. We are not an island, nor do we exist alone and separate on this planet.


No Man is an Island – John Donne

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


MEDITATION XVII
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

CASEY AT THE BAT – Marilyn Armstrong

On the last day of trade-making, much to the shock and dismay of Red Sox fans, we didn’t make a single deal and we needed one or two bullpen guys.

How badly did we need a closer? Bad enough so that the moment we call up the bullpen, we just know — no matter how many runs ahead we may be, we know there’s a good chance we are somehow going to find a way to lose.

It’s not that we always lose. We don’t. We’ve got good hitters and our starters are sometimes great, sometimes not so great. But openers aren’t what they used to be. They almost never pitch a complete game. I can’t remember the last time a pitcher threw past the fifth or sixth inning.

Overused because there are too many teams and not against quality openers. And they are now literally openers, not aces. They throw a few of the opening innings, but then they get pulled and it’s all up to the bullpen.

The Yankees have a great bullpen — but a rather weak (and injured) group of starters. They didn’t make a deal either.

It’s not just about how much it cost to “buy” the pitcher. It’s what the trading team wants in exchange other than money. And whether or not your team is willing to give up those guys or prospects. It’s easy to just blame it on the General Manager or owners, but it’s complicated. As fans, we don’t know exactly what happened. Who we tried to get, what the teams wanted in exchange.

So, we’ve got what we’ve got. I think we should have hung onto at least one of our bullpen-closers from last season … but that’s done and over. We either get to the post-season with the team we have or not. We could do it, but I have a feeling we won’t. There are just too many things going wrong. Sale hasn’t been pitching consistently well. Sometimes he’s great and the rest of the time, not so great. David Price is good and sometimes fantastic … but when he leaves the game and the bullpen takes over, oy vay.

But that’s baseball, right?


Casey at the Bat

by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more, there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

LEWIS CAROLL – THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER

Of all the poetry from Lewis Carroll, this is my favorite. It is here because I like it. It serves no higher good and contains no hidden meaning. It is a poem that always makes me smile. Hope it brings you a smile, too.

BY LEWIS CARROLL

“The sun was shining on the sea,
      Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
      The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
      The middle of the night.
The moon was shining sulkily,
      Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
      After the day was done —
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
      “To come and spoil the fun.”
The sea was wet as wet could be,
      The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
      No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
      There were no birds to fly.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
      Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
      Such quantities of sand:
If this were only cleared away,’
      They said, it would be grand!’
If seven maids with seven mops
      Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,’ the Walrus said,
      That they could get it clear?’
I doubt it,’ said the Carpenter,
      And shed a bitter tear.
O Oysters, come and walk with us!’
      The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
      Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
      To give a hand to each.’
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
      But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
      And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
      To leave the oyster-bed.
But four young Oysters hurried up,
      All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
      Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
      They hadn’t any feet.
Four other Oysters followed them,
      And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
      And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
      And scrambling to the shore.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
      Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
      Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
      And waited in a row.
The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.’
But wait a bit,’ the Oysters cried,
      Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
      And all of us are fat!’
No hurry!’ said the Carpenter.
      They thanked him much for that.
A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said,
      Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
      Are very good indeed —
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
      We can begin to feed.’
But not on us!’ the Oysters cried,
      Turning a little blue.
After such kindness, that would be
      A dismal thing to do!’
The night is fine,’ the Walrus said.
      Do you admire the view?
It was so kind of you to come!
      And you are very nice!’
The Carpenter said nothing but
      Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
      I’ve had to ask you twice!’
It seems a shame,’ the Walrus said,
      To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
      And made them trot so quick!’
The Carpenter said nothing but
      The butter’s spread too thick!’
I weep for you,’ the Walrus said:
      I deeply sympathize.’
With sobs and tears he sorted out
      Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
      Before his streaming eyes.
O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
      You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
      But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
      They’d eaten every one.”

I should also add that there is an inherent warning in this cute little poem to not be careless about who you decide to trust. Those with the smoothest lines may be the ones about to rip you off. A lesson I have painfully learned more than once.

It’s bad to fail to trust. It’s also bad to trust too easily and often!

PARTICULARLY PASSIONATE, POWERFUL AND PERCEPTIVE POETS – Rich Paschall

National Poetry Month, Rich Paschall

Perhaps you did not know we have a National Poetry month. It has been celebrated each year since 1996. It is a way to honor the genre that gets little notice outside of high school and college Literature classes. Events are organized. “Poetry slams” are encountered. Bookstores feature poetry. Literate Presidents provide proclamations. For many, it is an important spotlight for this literary art form.

In high school we learned all about the literary devices that are important to many poems. It is not just end rhyme that is important, as many poems do not include this. It is also alliteration, that is the repetition of initial consonant sounds as in the title above.

There is also rhythm which helps the lines to flow or give it that musical quality. Of course, rhyme, particularly “end rhyme” also plays into this. I always thought that the Carol King Tapestry album demonstrated the use of sound devices quite well. In my mind it is one of the most brilliant and literate albums of all time.

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold

This brings me to a salient point for the non believers of the importance of poetry. Many will say they do not read poetry and in fact do not know any poems. Of course, this is not true. Most of us can recite poems without any problem at all. That is because we all have song lyrics embedded in our memory banks.

We sing along with songs on the radio and before long we know the lyrics. We play our favorite albums often and the words can be quickly recalled. We know these lyrics, that is the poems, better than any we encountered in school. While some could not think of a poem from class that they still know, they can recall song lyrics at a moment’s notice.

In college, at proms and dances, even at weddings Beginnings by Chicago was a popular song in the 1970s. I recall the song today  just as I did back then. The poem has stayed with me and I am always happy to sing along. The words did not rely heavily on sound devices. It let the music and the meaning carry it.

When I’m with you
It doesn’t matter where we are
Or what we’re doing
I’m with you, that’s all that matters

On the 1st of April, 1996 President Clinton told us: “National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today’s American poetry.” He went on to tell us “creativity and wealth of language enrich our culture.”

If you listen to a lot of music on the radio, you may think that much of what you hear resembles bad fifth grade poetry with an obnoxious meter designed to drive you crazy. This is not unique to today’s song lyrics. After all our generation had “bubble gum music:”

Yummy, yummy, yummy
I got love in my tummy and I feel like a-lovin’ you
Love, you’re such a sweet thing, good enough to eat thing
And it’s just a-what I’m gonna do

We will spare you the link to this Ohio Express “classic.” I will force you to search the internet for it yourself. Don’t worry, every bad song is immortalized on You Tube.

Aside from your favorite Carol King or Chicago song lyrics, there are many poets sending a message without music. These hard-working scribes need an extra push to catch the attention of the reading public. National poetry month is meant to help that along.

Did you know that the United States has an official poet? The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, better known as the United States Poet Laureate, is Tracy K. Smith. The person serving in this capacity “seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.”

Library of Congress in D.C.

The post was started in 1937 as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, but was changed by Congress in 1985 to its present title. The post has been held by such literary heavyweights as Robert Penn Warren, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, James Dickey, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others. You may have read some of them in school.

I recall Frost from my school days. I always saw the importance of his work, The Road Not Taken, and probably appreciate it more now than I did then. You can support poetry this month by doing more than bad karaoke at the local inn. Read a poem, buy a book of poetry, listen to poems on Audible or some poetry site. You may find works that are more important than the lyrics to your favorite song.

Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.