Rainer Maria Rilke -‘The Panther’

 

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‘The Panther’ … Pen & Wash – WHB: 2017

The Panther 

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly … An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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W.B.Yeats – ‘The Salley Gardens’

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William Holman Hunt – The hireling Shepherd (detail) 1851 (Manchester Art Gallery, UK

The Salley Gardens

 

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

 

William Butler Yeats
1865-1939

 

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Yeats has said that his composition of this poem was “an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballisdoare, Co.Sligo.  “Salley” or “sally” is a form of the Standard English word “sallow”, i.e., a tree of the genus  Salix. It is close in sound to the Irish word saileach, meaning willow.   Click on the link below to hear a sung version of Yeats’ poem by Maura O’Connell with Karen Matheson …

‘Down By The Sally Gardens’

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Edna St. Vincent Millay – ‘“What lips my lips have kissed’

(No.60 of my favourite short poems)

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This Sonnet is by Edna St. Vincent Millay, an American poet and playwright who was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1892.  I find it a moving and poignant poem looking back on her more youthful days with regret and intense longing.  Her sonnet is written in the Italian form, divided into two parts – an eight-lined octet, followed by a six-line sestet, here presented as just two sentences.  It is both reflective and filled with remorse.

Millay’s first published poem, ‘Renascence‘ was particularly well received and launched her on her writing career.  For a large part of her life Millay lived and worked among her Bohemian friends in New York’s Greenwich Village milieu.  Known to her friends as Vincent, she was openly bisexual, and gradually accrued both fame and some notoriety.   In 1923, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver’.   Edna St Vincent Millay died in 1950.

 

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“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why”

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

I have forgotten, and what arms have lain

Under my head till morning; but the rain

Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh

Upon the glass and listen for reply,

And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain

For unremembered lads that not again

Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

 

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,

Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,

Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:

I cannot say what loves have come and gone,

I only know that summer sang in me

A little while, that in me sings no more.

 

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Wordplay in French

Many years ago I came across a fascinating play on words – French in this instance.  It may be better described as a clever PUN.  I remember it in essence, but not in detail, as having been first sent as an invitation from some high-ranking French gentleman to another of similar status.  It takes the form of a written note containing what appears to be a mathematical equation, sent as a question requiring a reply from one gentleman to the other.  It was written as follows:

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The question appears as the first part of the equation and the reply from the second gentleman follows the equal sign.

You may have come across this before.  if not you may wish to attempt to translate the note into words – they will need to be in French!

The translation I was given (I doubt that I managed to work it all out for myself) at the time of first coming across this was:

The opening invitation reads:  Ce soir souper a Sans Souci? . . .  meaning “Will you dine with me this evening at the Palace of Sanssouci?” (the French ‘sous’ meaning ‘under’)

To which question the reply came back:  ” J’ai grand appétit”  . . . meaning I have a great appetite.”   (‘J’ grand; ‘a’ petit’ being the French for ‘Large letter ‘J’; Small letter ‘a’.)

 

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It was only recently that I came across what is probably the full and correct version – insofar that is as the truth of the whole episode can be verified.  I give this fuller, somewhat different version of this story below – together with the deciphered script of the invitation and the subsequent reply.

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The top picture is an invitation, which, if you spell out the mathematical sum reads:

à sous p à cent sous si (sous means ‘under’, and cent is 100)

which is a pun on à souper à Sanssouci (to supper in Sanssouci).

Voltaire’s response, “Ja!” is not the German word for “yes” but is another pun:

“J grand, a petit” (large J, small a), pronounced in French “j’ai grand appetit” (I’ve got a large appetite).

Here is the BBC article.

 

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William Blake – ‘On Another’s Sorrow’

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This poem, in its first published form is by the English poet and painter, William Blake (1757-1827).   Blake was not highly recognised during his lifetime but is now regarded as a leading poet and painter of the Romantic Period.   As an important printmaker, Blake, as he did for many others of his poems, produced the decoration himself.  The poem discusses human and divine understanding and compassion. It was first published in 1789 as the last song in the ‘Songs of Innocence’ section, part of the collection ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’. 

W.H.Auden – The More Loving One

(No.58 of my favourite short poems)

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My drawing of Auden as he was in 1970 – 2001   ©

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

 

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VAN GOGH by Mervyn Peake

(No.55 of my favourite short poems)
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Mervyn Peake (1911 – 1968) … Self-Portrait

VAN GOGH   . . .  by Mervyn Peake

Dead, the Dutch Icarus who plundered France
And left her fields the richer for our eyes.
Where writhes the cypress under burning skies,
Or where proud cornfields broke at his advance,
Now burns a beauty fiercer than the dance
Of primal blood that stamps at throat and thighs.
Pirate of sunlight! and the laden prize
Of coloured earth and fruit in summer trance
Where is your fever now? and your desire?
Withered beneath a sunflower’s mockery,
A suicide you sleep with all forgotten.
And yet your voice has more than words for me
And shall cry on when I am dead and rotten
From quenchless canvases of twisted fire

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Wheat Field With Cypresses, 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh

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Popular Opinion

 

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From Reddit (detail) – Sep., 2017

“Popular opinion is the greatest lie in the world. ”  ― Thomas Carlyle   Thomas Carlyle

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WAS IT ME?

Three faces of the truth
Did, Didn’t, Might-Have-Done
Owned up only to being honest

DID . . .

Ok
Hands up
I admit it
You aren’t wrong
It was me
I am guilty
You’ve got me bang to rights

DIDN’T

It wasn’t me
You are mistaken
Not guilty
I deny it all
I was never there
I couldn’t have done it
I have a watertight alibi

MIGHT-HAVE-DONE

I don’t know
It might have been me
It could have been me
But – what does it matter
I don’t care
You don’t care
No-one cares

JUDGEMENT

Being economical with the truth
Right or wrong
True or false
Truth will out
Justice will triumph
 
Or so says popular opinion 
The greatest lie in the world

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Carpe Diem

(No.53 of my favourite short poems) 

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Not in fact a poem this week, but an inspirational  monologue on the significance of writing poetry and of the importance of  ‘carpe diem’  (translated from the Latin as ‘seize the day’), or the importance of making the most of the present time before it is too late.  The thesis is presented in the film ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ in a speech to his pupils by the charismatic English teacher, Mr Keating, who taught his pupils about life, not just about poetry and the English language.   Mr Keating was played in the film by Robin Williams.

From ‘Dead Poets Society’ … screenplay written by Tom Schulman

Mr. Keating:

“In my class, you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and languages. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.  I see that look in Mr Pitts’ eyes like 19th century literature has nothing to do with going to business school or medical school, right?  Maybe.  You may agree and think yes, we should study our Mr. Pritcher and learn our rhyme and meter and go quietly about the business of achieving other ambitions.  Well, I have a secret for you.  Huddle Up…Huddle UP!  We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.  We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.  And the human race is filled with passion.  Medicine, law, business these are all noble pursuits necessary to sustain life.  But poetry, beauty, romance, and love; these are what we stay alive for.  To quote from Whitman “Oh me, Oh life! … of the question of these recurring;  of the endless trains of the faithless … of cities filled with the foolish;  what good amid these? Oh me, Oh life.”  “Answer…that you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. …  What will your verse be?” 

Robin Williams - Dead Poets Society

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Watch “Robin Williams – What will your verse be? – excerpt from Dead Poets Society” on YouTube  . . .

Mr Keating’s speech from ‘Dead Poets’ Society’

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Thomas H. Schulman ( 1950 – 2016) is an American screenwriter best known for his semi-autobiographical screenplay Dead Poets Society. The film won the Best Screenplay Academy Award in 1989, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.  (From Wikipedia)

Robin McLaurin Williams (1951 – 2014) was an American stand-up comedian and actor. Starting as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, he is credited with leading San Francisco’s comedy renaissance.  (From Wikipedia)

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A Poetic Formula

 (Poem No.51 of my favourite short poems) 

A Poetic Formula

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A dozen, a gross and a score

Plus 3 times the square root of 4

Divided by 7

Plus 5 times 11

Is  9 squared

And not a bit more.

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This ingeniously composed equation and the accompanying verse is quoted in Gyles Brandreth’s 2015 book ‘Word Play’ (Coronet Books – Hodder and Stoughton), as a composition by the playwright, Tom Stoppard. 

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