Six Poems about Fathers That Aren’t Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Before I say anything else, let me make it clear that this post’s headline does NOT mean that I think there is anything wrong with “Those Winter Sundays.” On the contrary, Hayden was a genius and that poem is one of the greats. And because it’s so great, it’s starting to become over-familiar. For this list, I wanted to branch out into a few less famous poems, and highlight some modern work that I think is interesting along the way. Sounds OK? Good, let’s begin.

1: “A Letter of Recommendation” by Yehuda Amichai

Like “Those Winter Sundays,” this poem sheds a light on a loving but complicated relationship between a father and a son. Amichai’s poetry often points toward a sort of strained relationship—not necessarily with his father himself but certainly with the beliefs his father gave him and the culture he brought him up in. But in this poem, all of those differences give way to a tenderness that is just as much a part of the son as the Ten Commandments he learned as a child, so ingrained in him now that he can’t help repeating them “like an old tune someone hums to himself.” Continue reading “Six Poems about Fathers That Aren’t Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays””

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Poems for Valentine’s Day

Image by Gaetano Cessati.

It’s become a yearly tradition now for me to post a list of favorite love poems around Valentine’s Day. Lucky for me that Valentine’s Day should fall on a Wednesday this year! Regardless of how you feel about the holiday in general, I hope that you won’t mind looking over some rather incredible poems on the subject of love.

1: “The Greatest Love” by Anna Swir, translated by Czesław Miłosz and Leonard Nathan

In my humble opinion, Anna Swir never got her due. Among her contemporaries in post-World War II Poland, her work was often regarded as distasteful for the frank way in which it deals with sexuality and the female body. These days, she tends to get overshadowed by her more famous countrymen, poets like Miłosz, Herbert, and Szymborska. Here’s hoping that one of these days, she is finally brought out of the shadows.

Like a lot of Swir’s poetry, this poem is very short, and like Swir’s other poems, its brevity is its strength. She understands that some experiences are too powerful and too far beyond human comprehension to do them justice in words and for this reason, she effaces herself as much as possible and tries to let the experience speak through her instead of her speaking for it.

2: “I Loved You Before I Was Born” by Li-Young Lee

Where Swir writes about a love that endures through long periods of time, Lee has in mind instead a love that transcends time—or at least seems to. The speaker readily admits that what he says “makes no sense, I know,” but that doesn’t keep him from feeling as though his love has always existed and will always exist into eternity.

3: “Love” by Ivan Lalic, translated by Francis R. Jones

As in Lee’s poem, the love in this poem is a thing unto itself, a force that is, in a sense, independent of the two people. Unlike in Lee’s poem, however, this speaker knows full well that his love will die with him or with his lover, and it’s that impending disaster—the catastrophe that will end their way of life—that gives the poem a sort of bitter-sweetness: they know it has to end, but the thought of it ending makes it all the more precious.

4: “Six Years Later” by Joseph Brodsky, translated by Richard Wilbur

For me, this poem pairs well with “Love.” To the couples in both poems, their love is all-encompassing and completely changes the way they live their lives. But where Lalic’s poem has a more ethereal feel to it, Brodsky’s brings the focus closer to the here and now, though the poem is no less beautiful for that. While it can seem a bit abstract a times, concrete details like snow, eyelashes, lips, even crumbling wallpaper help the reader to place this couple in time and space. It’s that middle ground that Brodsky finds between the abstract and the concrete that makes this poem work for me, a kind of compromise that all good poems strike. (I might also add that, although most foreign language poems can’t help but become free verse when they enter English, Wilbur has taken great care to translate this one into a regular meter and to preserve the rhyme scheme of the original poem. So, that’s good.)

5: “Your Telephone Call” by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Renata Gorczynski

Here’s another short and sweet one, also by a Polish author. I’ve written about Zagajewski before and the great subtlety of his work—like Swir before him, he knows how to do more with less.

6: “C Major” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

In addition to his career as a poet, Tranströmer also had a great passion for music, which can be plainly seen in much of his poetry. Here, the very air seems to play music around the lover in this poem, and the whole world is transfigured by his love.

7: “Motive” by Don Paterson

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Don Paterson is one of the greatest living poets in the world. And while his 2009 collection Rain overall left me feeling cold, there are more than a few gems in it, this being one.

Unlike the other poems on this list so far, this one isn’t so much about love itself as it is about a particular lover: her unknowability and unpredictability. It explores the reality that, no matter how close you are to a person, you never completely understand them. I suppose, in a way, you could say that this poem is about any meaningful relationship.

That’s all for now, but do let me know in the comments what some of your favorite love poems are and what you think of these!

“Christmas Eve” by Christina Rossetti

Image by Aaron Burden.

Hello, all. I’m sure you’re super busy this week. I am too. That’s why I’m just dropping in to say Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and please read this poem. Christina Rossetti is always great, of course, but I’ve especially been enjoying her Advent poems lately.

“Christmas Eve”
by Christina Rossetti

Christmas hath a darkness
    Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
    Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
    Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
   Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
   Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
    For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
    Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
    Brought for us so low.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Autumn Mott.

Hi everyone! Sorry there’s no regular blog post today. Between Thanksgiving preparations and some other projects I’ve been working on, I wasn’t able to get a post done in time. Instead, this is just a quick note to say I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow and I am very thankful for all of you. Thanks for reading, commenting on, and sharing my posts. It means a lot to know that people are enoying the things I put out.

Hanna

Poems for Valentine’s Day

Image by Joanna Kosinska.
Image by Joanna Kosinska.

Around this time last year, I published a list of 10 of my favorite love poems. That post got such a good response from you guys that I decided I’d do another list this year. Without my really planning it that way, last year’s list skewed a little more heavily toward older poetry, whereas this one skews a little more toward modern poetry. Hopefully, they’ll make good complements to each other.

1: “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti

A classic of classics: short, sweet, and beautiful as only Christina Rossetti can do.

2: “I am in love, hence free to live” by Vera Pavlova

My metaphorical hat is off to Suzannah Rowntree for introducing me to this poet and this poem. In case you’ve never heard of her, Vera Pavlova is a contemporary Russian poet and one of the bestselling authors in Russia. Her poems tend to follow a pattern similar to this one: brief but passionate, and often dealing with love or relationships.

3: “To Hold” by Li-Young Lee

Lee is another of my favorite contemporary poets. Here, he does what all the good poets do: takes something very ordinary and mundane—in this case, the ritual of making a bed—and lets us see it in a new and beautiful way.

4: “The Good Morrow” by John Donne

And speaking of looking at things in a new way, Donne—in true Metaphysical fashion—here appeals to the worlds of history, science, and global exploration to communicate the depths of his love.

5: “The Underground” by Seamus Heaney

Inspired by a honeymoon trip, a Greek myth, and his wife’s ruined coat, this has quickly become one of my favorite poems from my favorite poet.

6: “Variation on the Word Sleep” by Margaret Atwood

Christopher Adamson mentioned this one in the comments of my last Valentine’s Day post and I’m so glad he did. I think it pairs especially well with the Heaney poem because, while it doesn’t reference any specific myth, it does take on the atmosphere of a mythical underworld, similar to “The Underground.”

7: “Poetry” by Don Paterson

As the (largely) self-taught owner of a middling book blog, I’m usually not inclined to make dogmatic statements about literature. But I will be dogmatic and say that Don Paterson is one of the greatest living poets in the world. This sonnet—a love poem about writing love poetry—helps prove it, I think.

8: “Adam’s Curse” by W. B. Yeats

I tried to keep the tone of this list relatively light, but it’s actually quite difficult to find love poems that aren’t sad. This one, for instance, has a mournful attitude, but Yeats wears it so well I thought I’d include this poem anyway.

9: “Near the Wall of a House” by Yehuda Amichai

One of the reasons why I love Amichai’s work is because much of it is so beautiful and profound while using simple, unadorned language. “Near the Wall of a House” is one of those poems, talking about love and transcendence while still giving us a grounding in what’s familiar.

10: “Marriage of Many Years” by Dana Gioia

Another poet who knows how to make words count is Dana Gioia. Here, he writes about how love progresses past the limits of language.

That’s all for now. Let me know what you think of any or all of these in the comments and feel free to chime in with your favorite love poems.

Poem: “The House of Christmas”

Merry Christmas, all you darling people.

“The House of Christmas”

by G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Read by Neil Gaiman

As Christmas looms nearer still, I thought I’d dig up this old gem. This time last year, Neil Gaiman was asked to give a reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the New York City Public Library, using the selfsame manuscript from which Dickens himself gave readings back when. Below is a recording of that performance, courtesy of Maria Popova of the delightful site Brain Pickings.

(P. S. If you aren’t interested in the introductions, the story starts at the 3:17 mark.)

Poem of the Week: “Good Friday in My Heart”

“Good Friday in My Heart”

by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

Good Friday in my heart! Fear and affright!
My thoughts are the Disciples when they fled,
My words the words that priest and soldier said,
My deed the spear to desecrate the dead.
And day, Thy death therein, is changed to night.

Then Easter in my heart sends up the sun.
My thoughts are Mary, when she turned to see.
My words are Peter, answering, ‘Lov’st thou Me?’
My deeds are all Thine own drawn close to Thee,
And night and day, since Thou dost rise, are one.

Source.

“A Voice, a Chime, a Chant Sublime”

If you don’t have presents to wrap/buy or lights to string right now, I thought I’d show you this little poem someone wrote about Christmas many years ago. It’s “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s been a favorite of mine for a while just because the words are so beautiful (the title of this post, for example), but it means even more when you know where it comes from.

Despite being a poem about Christmas, “Christmas Bells” was born out of great sorrow. It began in 1861, with the beginning of the Civil War. That same year, Longfellow’s wife Fanny died after her dress caught on fire. Not only did she die, but Longfellow also suffered terrible burns on his arms and face as he tried to put out the flames. Two years later, he learned that his son Charles, a lieutenant in the Union army, had been shot. Charles survived, but his spinal column was severely injured.

Finally, in 1864, things began to look up. The war was nearly over, President Lincoln was about to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” and on December 25, 1864, Longfellow penned this famous poem.

I suppose what I love about the poem is that it captures both a very deep, very real sorrow, but at the same time, a triumphant sort of joy. “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.” What could be better than that?

I’ll let Mr. Longfellow take the stage now:

“Christmas Bells”

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

As I’m sure you know, this poem has been adapted into a Christmas carol by many, many artists, but if you ask me, the best version by far is this one by Casting Crowns:

Merry Christmas, all you lovely geeks.

Poem of the Week: “Love Came Down at Christmas”

“Love Came Down at Christmas”

by Christina Rossetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

And besides being a really cool poem, it also became one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, Jars of Clay

Because It’s the Fourth

Image by Petr Kratochvil at PublicDomainPictures.net.
Image by Petr Kratochvil at PublicDomainPictures.net.

Happy Independence Day, all you lovely readers! (Unless you live in India, England, Romania, or a plethora of other countries, in which case, happy Friday.)

I tried to embed the below video from the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy on the page, but WordPress isn’t cooperating. :-/ In that case, here’s the link:

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/238963/Yankee-Doodle-Dandy-Movie-Clip–Yankee-Doodle-Boy.html

 

Red, White, and Blue Reading

Flag
Image by Peter Griffin at PublicDomainPictures.net.

With the 4th just around the corner, I’ve made up a list of my favorite patriotic books. So when you are sitting in your car on Friday waiting for the fireworks to start, flashlight in hand, you’ll have something to kill the time. 😉

4: John Adams by David McCullough

John Adams gets no respect. We see pictures like this

"John Adams" by Gilbert Stuart. Via Wikimedia Commons
“John Adams” by Gilbert Stuart. Via Wikimedia Commons.

and think that he was nothing more than a dour old Puritan. But he was so much more interesting than that! He was passionate, dynamic, and outspoken and every bit of that fire comes across in David McCullough’s biography. Few history writers these days seem to be able to stick to fact without editorializing and even fewer can stick to facts without being dry. McCullough, however, not only stays honest, but keeps you interested too. OK, so the chapters on Adams’s stint as an ambassador to France can be rather dry and I’m still annoyed with McCullough for not including a pronunciation guide (sooooo many French names), but overall, John Adams was a fantastic biography.

3: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

This is one of those books that I would tell everyone to read if I could. So what if it has nothing to do with America’s founding? It’s still a great Fourth of July book because it’s about FREEDOM, about rising above everyone and everything that tries to keep you down. Not only is Frederick Douglass utterly amazing in his own right, but he was a heck of a writer too, making his autobiography one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.

2: The Real George Washington by Andrew Allison

George Washington, like Mr. Adams, is another person that I don’t think Americans know all that well. We know that he chopped down a cherry tree (untrue), that he wore wooden dentures (also untrue), and that he was at the front of the boat when his troops crossed the Delaware River (finally got one right!). But we know very little about the struggles he faced as the leader of a barefoot and half-starved army; how his life was saved by the hand of God on several occasions; how he gave and gave and gave to his country until he was spent. In this book, you can read plenty about that and more. Perfect for the Fourth of July, or any day, for that matter.

1: The Declaration of Independence

Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

What what else does one read on the birthday of America’s freedom? I think we could all stand to be reminded of what our Declaration actually says (and what it doesn’t) and now is a perfect time for that reminder. And what’s really great about this document is that it is not very long at all. Back then, government documents were designed to be as concise and clear as possible (what a novel idea!), so it won’t take you more than a few minutes to get through it. If the American Revolution is your thing, you might also want to check out Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration, the one that was rejected by the Second Continental Congress. It’s much wordier, but also more poetic, more over-the-top, and rather interesting to compare to the Declaration as we know it.