NPM09: The Proof of a Poet

For the final day of National Poetry Month, here’s a good quote from Whitman:

The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.
(Preface to the 1855 Edition of Leaves of Grass)

Poetry, much like music, always takes place in a local context. While there are bands that are created to appeal to everyone, the music they make is inevitably boring and without any discernible character. In the same way, poetry is best understood within a geographical and historical context. Whitman cannot be completely understood outside of the context of the nation he so fully absorbed and wrote about.

Of course, the irony of the quote that America didn’t really absorb Whitman until later in his life, and especially after his death.

NPM09: Descending Theology: the Resurrection

by Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and squid ink—
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Source: Poetry (January 2006).

The final lines remind me of verse 17 of 1 Corinthians 15.  After Paul has told the church the implications of resurrection, he gives them a personal application: if Him, then you; if not Him, then not you.  If Jesus is risen from the dead, then so will (are) you; if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then neither will (are) you.

NPM09: Good Friday, A.D. 33

Mother, why are people crowding now and staring?
Child, it is a malefactor goes to His doom,
To the high hill of Calvary He’s faring,
And the people pressing and pushing to make room
Lest they miss the sight to come.

Oh, the poor malefactor, heavy is His load!
Now He falls beneath it and they goad Him on.
Sure the road to Calvary’s a steep up-hill road —
Is there none to help Him with His Cross — not one?
Must He bear it all alone?

Here is a country boy with business in the city,
Smelling of the cattle’s breath and the sweet hay;
Now they bid him lift the Cross, so they have some pity:
Child, they fear the malefactor dies on the way
And robs them of their play.

Has He no friends then, no father nor mother,
None to wipe the sweat away nor pity His fate?
There’s a woman weeping and there’s none to soothe her:
Child, it is well the seducer expiate
His crimes that are so great.

Mother, did I dream He once bent above me,
This poor seducer with the thorn-crowned head,
His hands on my hair and His eyes seemed to love me?
Suffer little children to come to Me, He said —
His hair, his brows drip red.

Hurrying through Jerusalem on business or pleasure
People hardly pause to see Him go to His death
Whom they held five days ago more than a King’s treasure,
Shouting Hosannas, flinging many a wreath
For this Jesus of Nazareth.

by Katherine Tynan, from Herb o’ Grace (electronic edition)

NPM09: The Dragon and the Undying

The Dragon and the Undying
(from The Old Huntsman)
by Siegfried Sassoon

All night the flares go up; the Dragon sings
And beats upon the dark with furious wings;
And, stung to rage by his own darting fires,
Reaches with grappling coils from town to town;
He lusts to break the loveliness of spires,
And hurls their martyred music toppling down.
Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze,

Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder’d seas.
Their faces are the fair, unshrouded night,
And planets are their eyes, their ageless dreams.
Tenderly stooping earthward from their height,
They wander in the dusk with chanting streams,
And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms up-flung,
To hail the burning heavens they left unsung.

Kicking off National Poetry Month

I thought I would kick off National Poetry Month with short Walt Whitman poem on the first days of the Civil War.  Whitman’s Civil War poems are a favorite of mine; his haunting verse shows a dismay of the senseless killing, but also a pride in the unification work he saw Abraham Lincoln doing.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

Expect more posts on poetry in the days/weeks to come.