“The Frogs” / Lampman


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The Frogs


Breathers of wisdom won without a quest,
   Quaint uncouth dreamers, voices high and strange;
   Flutists of lands where beauty hath no change,
And wintry grief is a forgotten guest,
Sweet murmurers of everlasting rest,
   For whom glad days have ever yet to run,
   And moments are as aeons, and the sun
But ever sunken half-way toward the west.

Often to me who heard you in your day,
   With close rapt ears, it could not choose but seem
That earth, our mother, searching in what way
   Men’s hearts might know her spirit’s inmost dream;
      Ever at rest beneath life’s change and stir,
      Made you her soul, and bade you pipe for her.


In those mute days when spring was in her glee,
   And hope was strong, we knew not why or how,
   And earth, the mother, dreamed with brooding brow,
Musing on life, and what the hours might be,
When life should ripen to maternity,
   Then like high flutes in silvery interchange
   Ye piped with voices still and sweet and strange,
And ever as ye piped, on every tree

The great buds swelled; among the pensive woods
   The spirits of first flowers awoke and flung
From buried faces the close-fitting hoods,
   And listened to your piping till they fell,
   The frail spring-beauty with her perfumed bell,
The wind-flower, and the spotted adder-tongue.


All the day long, wherever pools might be
   Among the golden meadows, where the air
   Stood in a dream, as it were moorèd there
For ever in a noon-tide reverie,
Or where the birds made riot of their glee
   In the still woods, and the hot sun shone down,
   Crossed with warm lucent shadows on the brown
Leaf-paven pools, that bubbled dreamily,

Or far away in whispering river meads
   And watery marshes where the brooding noon,
   Full with the wonder of its own sweet boon,
Nestled and slept among the noiseless reeds,
   Ye sat and murmured, motionless as they,
   With eyes that dreamed beyond the night and day.


And when day passed and over heaven’s height,
   Thin with the many stars and cool with dew,
   The fingers of the deep hours slowly drew
The wonder of the ever-healing night,
No grief or loneliness or rapt delight
   Or weight of silence ever brought to you
   Slumber or rest; only your voices grew
More high and solemn; slowly with hushed flight

Ye saw the echoing hours go by, long-drawn,
   Nor ever stirred, watching with fathomless eyes,
   And with your countless clear antiphonies
Filling the earth and heaven, even till dawn,
   Last-risen, found you with its first pale gleam,
   Still with soft throats unaltered in your dream.


And slowly as we heard you, day by day,
   The stillness of enchanted reveries
   Bound brain and spirit and half-closèd eyes,
In some divine sweet wonder dream astray;
To us no sorrow or upreared dismay
   Nor any discord came, but evermore
   The voices of mankind, the outer roar,
Grew strange and murmurous, faint and far away.

Morning and noon and midnight exquisitely,
   Rapt with your voices, this alone we knew,
Cities might change and fall, and men might die,
   Secure were we, content to dream with you
      That change and pain are shadows faint and fleet,
      And dreams are real, and life is only sweet.


I’ve copied the poem out of The Poems of Archibald Lampman, 3rd edition 1905. Edited and with a Memoir by Duncan Campbell Scott. Lampman is known as one of Canada’s “Confederation Poets”; he wrote in what is considered a Late Romantic style, the Sonnet form being perhaps his best-loved. His poetic oeuvre is to a large extent concerned with descriptive lyrical observations of and meditations on the natural world, both micro and macro; the Canadian wilderness and the details of its changing moods and seasons.

“The Frogs” appeared in Lampman’s first, self-published collection, Among the Millet (1888). (In his remembrance, Scott tells us that Lampman’s wife had recently “received a small legacy, which was faithfully placed at her husband’s disposal”, thus expediting his decision to take on the risk of the publication.)

Reading this poem aloud, quietly, unhurriedly, has for me an utterly hypnotic effect. A good, calming, settling effect; a smiling effect.
While the stanzas’ varied indentation can be distracting on first reading, on subsequent visits I come to appreciate its aesthetic value and efficacy in staying our momentum, our tendency to aim to ‘get through’, to finish an undertaking; of course, the indentation also reflects the rhyme scheme within each sonnet-unit of the whole sonnet-string.

Poetry’s Sonnet form has existed for nearly a millennium. I appreciate this tenacity of structure; the form would seem to represent something that resonates in the human psyche.
At the end of this post, aligned to the right margin, I’ve provided a very brief look at “the sonnet”, a general overview of the form, which I’d hoped to put into an earlier post. If this is all too much reading, feel free to leave it for another visit.

The poem’s about Time, isn’t it, and our perception of it? About time in the natural world and time in the human world. (Also about frog music…)
I see us humans as snatching fistfuls of what we call space and time out of an inconceivable matrix of ‘infinity’. Our lifetimes, our epochs, eras and eons: our histories. We—our minds—have evolved to comprehend and conceptualize time as chronology, linearity, as movement from beginning to end, from start to finish. We’re not completely resigned to this idea, however, the more so since scientists introduced us to space-time’s relativities, probabilities and uncertainties. And while space for us is three-dimensional, admittedly it seems impossible, after all, to overlook the possibility of the existence of more spatial dimensions. And how many more ‘dimensions’ of time might there be? What a strange predicament we’re in, as humans. More or less aware of certain ultimate limitations, yet forever compelled to work on trying to transcend the various limitations that confront us here and now. To forever not only “live the questions”, but to consciously and self-consciously seek the answers.

Yet all this striving often fails us, falls short at some point.
Beginnings and ends are nice, until it is my ego, my self-awareness, my life, my religion, my planet, that is the subject (endings, especially, can be troublesome). We wonder, is there anything beyond all these recursions, these apparently endless starts and finishes, cycles and spirals? Our ancestors pondered these things, too. Stories, by way of possible explanation or, at least, elucidation, proliferated. The stories and the science do go hand in hand, they feed each other, though at a ‘social distance’. But the myths’ raison d’être is to transcend linear time; they concern mythic time and mythic space. They allow us to ‘experience’ the distant past, and the distant future; they allow us to slow down, even stop time, or at the very least, to make it irrelevant for a while. Religious rituals seek to do the same, to connect us to something independent of our experience of linear time; ‘sacred’ time is mythic time. There are many, many ways to make such connections; they do not depend on our skill but on our attitude. To the extent that we ‘do’ something completely and only for its own sake, answering only to the process involved, with deliberate, full presence, to this extent we touch a greater reality. The word “reverence” comes to mind (but a reverence with room for irreverence—a reverent irreverence, if you will, as good humor can achieve; a reverence that is at once curiosity, wonder, appreciation, respect, awe, joy): suchlike is the attitude required of us if we hope to experience our being-here more deeply, more fully, more, say, meaningfully.

Well, it’s a fair guess that the frogs don’t deal with these issues…
Our frogs occupy mythic space-time; the poet perceives them as embodying ‘the fullness of time’ and for ‘praying without ceasing’, and for those who have ears to hear, as communicating this infinite reality to us.
The frogs don’t worry and wonder about how the future will turn out. They ‘know’ that it will, that ‘all matter of thing shall be well’. A human might call such knowing “trust”, or “faith”; but for a human adult to experience this organically, much preparatory and variably treacherous roundaboutings and immersions in our quotidian experience of reality is usually necessary. Perhaps such knowing finally requires grace, and the acceptance of this grace.


The sonnet form originated in Italy in the 13th century (<suono, sound). A few decades after its arrival in England in the 16th century, it came sometimes to comprise a chain/sequence of 14-line unit-sonnets; these days we generally refer to “the sonnet” as just a single standalone 14-line entity (though I like to think that sequences are still being written somewhere, by someone, as they were by Lampman). The English form also came to differ from the Italian in the final six lines, where instead of two tercets, there was often a quatrain followed by a couplet.

In the English language, iambic pentameter is the meter traditionally employed in a sonnet; also, a strict rhyme scheme is usually adhered to…although the particular scheme comes to be quite variable over different styles and periods. Basically, however, the sonnet’s overall form remains consistent over time and place, and it’s this that makes this form recognizable as such: it consists of an eight-line “octave” followed by a six-line “sestet”. Another specification is more thematic: the sestet marks a “turn” (volta) of emotion and perspective in the sonnet; the octave which precedes the sestet provides an intentionally objective view, a familiar proposal or suggestion of sorts; then, in the turn, the poet suddenly changes her voice into a more subjective and conjectural one, revealing a more personal ‘take’ on the subject.
Wikipedia (whence much of my information here) offers a sample of a sestet which illustrates a “response” to the octave’s “rough inquirer”:

For example, in Matthew Arnold’s “The Better Part”, the rough inquirer, who has had his own way in the octave, is replied to as soon as the sestet commences:

So answerest thou; but why not rather say:
“Hath man no second life? – Pitch this one high!
Sits there no judge in Heaven, our sin to see? –
More strictly, then, the inward judge obey!
Was Christ a man like us? Ah! let us try
If we then, too, can be such men as he!”

This 2-part structure is what I like best about the sonnet: it is mind-opening, even heart-opening, to suddenly come upon a new outlook on something that has just been presented beautifully from one point of view. We don’t need to form an opinion one way or other, but we see a ‘thing’ in more than one dimension, as it were. To set up something like that, a dialectic of sorts, is, I think, a wonderful task for the poet, and the reader greatly appreciates such a dignified and challenging conclusion to the little adventure.

Many modern poets still write sonnets, and often still abide by the basic structure, though there’s experimentation with variation, too. The “word sonnet”, for example, contains the usual fourteen lines but each of these lines contains only one word!

In Canada during the last decades of the 19th century, the Confederation Poets, especially Lampman, were known for their sonnets, which were mainly on themes of nature and the poets’ experience of Upper Canada’s wilderness. Lampman’s upbringing and wide later reading had provided a good familiarity with English-language poetry, as well as with the classics of Greek literature. Scott notes that Matthew Arnold was Lampman’s favorite modern poet, but that “Keats was the only poet whose method he carefully studied”. The sonnet was the form he had the greatest keenness for, and towards the end of his life, Lampman reckoned his own sonnets to be, “after all”, his “best work”.

“On His Blindness” / Milton


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On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


John Milton (1608-1674) is one of England’s greatest poets.
He was intensely and broadly involved in the social and political life of the country as intellectual, political thinker and civil servant. Though he was not a clergyman or theologian, “theology, and particularly English Calvinism, formed the great palette on which John Milton created his greatest thoughts. John Milton wrestled with the great doctrines of the Church amidst the theological crosswinds of his age.” Yet, like his politics, his religious views are difficult if not quite impossible to neatly compartmentalize. In terms of his poetic opus, he “is best known for his epic poem “Paradise Lost” (1667), written in blank verse, and widely considered to be one of the greatest works of literature ever written.” (Quotations from Wikipedia)
By 1652 Milton had become completely blind; around this time he wrote “When I Consider How My Light is Spent”, one of his best-known sonnets. The poem was assigned its modern title a century later by Thomas Newton in his 1761 edition of Milton’s poetry (a common practice at the time by editors of posthumous collections).

Might we—you, I—consider, in our troubled time, along with this poet in troubled times of 350 years ago, how it is that we spend our “light”?

For that matter, while we’re at it, we can consider how we spend our darknesses, our dark times. “Paradise Lost” was composed in the years of Milton’s total blindness, his apparent experience of “light denied”.
I suppose that there is “light”, and there is “light”.

And again:
But yes, it is finally about this waiting. Maybe ‘only standing and waiting’ is what everyone must ‘do’ when neither light nor darkness fully occupy the mind and body; in the in-between time when time itself as recently experienced seems to be irrelevant. When we wait for new light or even, new darkness. A time-imposed not-doing which must be experienced somehow deliberately.

Milton must have done a great deal of waiting during his life.


“September 1, 1939” / Auden


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September 1, 1939


Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


This is the ending of W. H. Auden’s long poem, “September 1, 1939” (which refers to the beginning of World War II, Germany’s invasion of Poland). The poem was first published in October of that year in The New Republic.
Copied here out of Immortal Poems of the English Language: An Anthology. Edited by Oscar Williams. 1952.  (I have taken the liberty of taking the second u out of stupor.)

An interpretive comment is in order as concerns the definition of “Eros”.
Eros was originally the name of the ancient Greek god of “passionate” or romantic love; this meaning is expressed in our culture’s use of the term “erotic” as a synonym for “sexual”…and in this manifestation Eros is only too familiar as the cherub-archer visiting our planet in February, and the “have-sex-until-you-die” spin incessantly trumpeted into our brains.
I submit that this is a caricature of the Eros of which Auden speaks here.

Just below I’ve gathered some ideas from the 20th century with which Auden was no doubt very familiar, as they circulated freely in the atmosphere which he breathed. His Eros, as I understand it, is perhaps some synthesis of all these ideas (of course, it would not have precluded “sex”).  As I imagine it, the concept of “life force” describes Eros best, after all…. the instinct to survive, to relate, to create, and not to give up, destroy, die. Though Auden surely also understood that life finally requires death, that Eros and Thanatos are inextricably linked… the poet’s paradox is our paradox.  We dance in Time:  as Thanatos descends upon us, it is Eros whom we muster, which we are called to “affirm”; and in a time of much life, of much Eros, perhaps we are asked to “affirm” Thanatos…at any rate, this may explain the final line of the penultimate verse of the poem:  We must love one another or die.

It’s not easy to tease apart many theories, and maybe unnecessary, but an overview of just a few ideas can open up the mind and the heart.

20th century philosophers and psychologists revisited Plato‘s conception of Eros, what we know as “Platonic love” which, in this original sense can be attained by the intellectual purification of eros from carnal into ideal form … in Plato’s dialogue “The Symposium”, he argues that eros is initially felt for a person, but with contemplation it can become an appreciation for the beauty within that person, or even an appreciation for beauty itself in an ideal sense. As Plato expresses it, eros can help the soul to “remember” beauty in its pure form. It follows from this, for Plato, that eros can contribute to an understanding of truth…if the lover achieves possession of the beloved’s inner (i.e., ideal) beauty, his need for happiness will be fulfilled, because happiness is the experience of knowing that you are participating in the ideal.
(Quoted from Wikipedia, which has a good treatment of this topic.)

Sigmund Freud considered eros to be much wider concept than libido, or sex drive; he considered it to be our life force, our desire to create, to produce, our very will to live. Later psychoanalytic theory directly opposed eros to the destructive drive of thanatos, the death instinct.

In the 1930s, in his treatise “Agape and Eros”, Swedish Protestant theologian Anders Nygren examines the motif of love in Reformation theology. He reminds us (and Plato would not disagree) that even Plato’s conception of eros is an egocentric and acquisitive sort of love, needs-based and desires-based, whereas agape is self-giving and self-sacrificial kind of love wherein “we reject all self-gain and interest, and surrender ourselves to the other and love them purely for themselves”. He considers such agape to be the properly Christian understanding of love.

Carl Jung understood eros as the feminine principle informing a man’s anima, an irrational drive for connectedness and completeness. (“irrational” is not a pejorative term in Jungian psychology). It is the compensatory counterpart of logos, the masculine principle of rationality and objectivity, represented in the woman’s animus. “Taking back the projections” is a major task in the work of individuation, which involves owning and subjectivizing the psyche’s unconscious forces which are initially felt to be alien to oneself and so “projected” onto others.
In essence, Jung’s concept of eros resembles the Platonic one. Eros is ultimately the desire for wholeness, and although it may initially take the form of passionate love, it is more truly a desire for “psychic relatedness”, a desire for connection and interaction with other sentient beings. (Although Jung was inconsistent, and he did sometimes use the word “eros” as a shorthand to designate simple sexuality.)

(The material in this diversionary note has almost all been gleaned, and often quoted, from Wikipedia.  With much appreciation.)


As far as I understand Auden’s beliefs, he inhabited a liminal realm between what we call “the secular” and “the sacred”, where heaven and earth meet and mingle … if a prayer can be uttered from that place, I imagine it might sound like this poem.

And make no doubt, “May I…”, indeed! To affirm can, at the best of times, be a challenge. Because it’s a tricky thing that we usually don’t stop to consider: to affirm, to love, to deny, to aspire, to disagree, to care, to agree, to thank, to believe, to hope, to imagine, to disbelieve, to have faith, to respond, to reject, to decide, to challenge, to acknowledge, these, and many others, are “transitive” verbs; to be meaningful, they need objects, whether direct or indirect. What do you agree to? believe? believe in? What is it that you affirm? . . . and having determined that, how do you then go about actually living this affirming? With how much intentionality do you bring your inner self into the world around you?
This constitutes human consciousness.  Could it be that it also goes a little way to elucidating what it means to be among “the Just”?  What does that even mean?  Have you ever considered:  To what extent am I “just”?



“The Largest Life” / Lampman


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The Largest Life


I lie upon my bed and hear and see.
The moon is rising through the glistening trees;
And momently a great and sombre breeze,
With a vast voice returning fitfully,
Comes like a deep-toned grief, and stirs in me,
Somehow, by some inexplicable art,
A sense of my soul’s strangeness, and its part
In the dark march of human destiny.
What am I, then, and what are they that pass
Yonder, and love and laugh, and mourn and weep?
What shall they know of me, or I, alas!
Of them? Little. At times, as if from sleep,
We waken to this yearning passionate mood,
And tremble at our spiritual solitude.


Nay, never once to feel we are alone,
While the great human heart around us lies:
To make the smile on other lips our own,
To live upon the light in others’ eyes:
To breathe without a doubt the limpid air
Of that most perfect love that knows no pain:
To say—I love you—only, and not care
Whether the love come back to us again,
Divinest self-forgetfulness, at first
A task, and then a tonic, then a need;
To greet with open hands the best and worst,
And only for another’s wound to bleed:
This is to see the beauty that God meant,
Wrapped round with life, ineffably content.


There is a beauty at the goal of life,
A beauty growing since the world began,
Through every age and race, through lapse and strife
Till the great human soul complete her span.
Beneath the waves of storm that lash and burn,
The currents of blind passion that appall,
To listen and keep watch till we discern
The tide of sovereign truth that guides it all;
So to address our spirits to the height,
And so attune them to the valiant whole,
That the great light be clearer for our light,
And the great soul the stronger for our soul:
To have done this is to have lived, though fame
Remember us with no familiar name.


“The Largest Life” by Archibald Lampman (Canadian poet, 1861 – 1899).
In Canadian Poetry: Volume One, 1982. Edited by Jack David and Robert Lecker. Introduction by George Woodcock.

(Some exploration of the Sonnet, particularly in Lampman’s oeuvre, in view of the poet’s own interest in it…to come!)

“The Modern Politician” / Lampman


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The Modern Politician

What manner of soul is his to whom high truth
Is but the plaything of a feverish hour,
A dangling ladder to the ghost of power!
Gone are the grandeurs of the world’s iron youth,
When kings were mighty, being made by swords.
Now comes the transit age, the age of brass,
When clowns into the vacant empires pass,
Blinding the multitude with specious words.
To them faith, kinship, truth and verity,
Man’s sacred rights and very holiest thing,
Are but the counters at a desperate play,
Flippant and reckless what the end may be,
So that they glitter, each his little day,
The little mimic of a vanished king.


Archibald Lampman (1861 – 1899), Canadian poet and postal clerk.
Born at the start of the decade of Canada’s Confederation of 1867, he is known as one of the members of the so-called Confederation group of English-language poets, who wrote primarily of nature and the Canadian landscape (they were known too as the Maple Tree school, for their appreciation of this native tree). Among others, the group included: Charles G. D. Roberts, Bliss Carman, and Duncan Campbell Scott, born in 1860, 1861, and 1862, respectively. Writing in a late-Romantic style, they attempted to capture what the Ottawa poet Archibald Lampman called the “answering harmony between the soul of the poet and the spirit and mystery of nature.” (britannica.com/art/Canadian-literature#ref167435)
Over the course of his short life, Lampman also developed a philosophical and social outlook; many of his later poems, including those which spoke to his perspective on Canada’s emerging urbanization and socio-political order were published posthumously. “The Modern Politician” seems to be something of an anomaly in his oeuvre when juxtaposed with his earlier work; but in those first years and decades of Confederation, politics must have been as hard to ignore as it is in our ‘connected’ world. It’s sobering, but also amusing, to read the poet’s description of the politician (which might have been written today).
Plus ça change…

This poem, like the previous one, has been taken from Canadian Poetry Volume One; edited by Jack David and Robert Lecker; with an Introduction by George Woodcock. It appears in the series New Press Canadian Classics. Copyright 1982 by General Publishing Co. Ltd.

More of Archibald Lampman to come.

“In November” / Lampman



In November

With loitering step and quiet eye,
Beneath the low November sky,
I wandered in the woods, and found
A clearing, where the broken ground
Was scattered with black stumps and briers,
And the old wreck of forest fires.
It was a bleak and sandy spot,
And, all about, the vacant plot
Was peopled and inhabited
By scores of mulleins long since dead.
A silent and forsaken brood
In that mute opening of the wood,
So shrivelled and so thin they were,
So gray, so haggard, and austere,
Not plants at all they seemed to me,
But rather some spare company
Of hermit folk, who long ago,
Wandering in bodies to and fro,
Had chanced upon this lonely way,
And rested thus, till death one day
Surprised them at their compline prayer,
And left them standing lifeless there.

There was no sound about the wood
Save the wind’s secret stir. I stood
Among the mullein-stalks as still
As if myself had grown to be
One of their sombre company,
A body without wish or will.
And as I stood, quite suddenly,
Down from a furrow in the sky
The sun shone out a little space
Across that silent sober place,
Over the sand heaps and brown sod,
The mulleins and dead goldenrod,
And passed beyond the thickets gray,
And lit the fallen leaves that lay,
Level and deep within the wood,
A rustling yellow multitude.

And all around me the thin light,
So sere, so melancholy bright,
Fell like the half-reflected gleam
Or shadow of some former dream;
A moment’s golden reverie
Poured out on every plant and tree
A semblance of weird joy, or less,
A sort of spectral happiness;
And I, too, standing idly there,
With muffled hands in the chill air,
Felt the warm glow about my feet,
And shuddering betwixt cold and heat,
Drew my thoughts closer, like a cloak,
While something in my blood awoke,
A nameless and unnatural cheer,
A pleasure secret and austere.


Archibald Lampman, 1861-1899, a Canadian (Ontario) poet.
I gleaned “In November” (one of two of Lampman’s poems bearing this title) from Canadian Poetry Volume One, 1982; edited by Jack David and Robert Lecker; introduction by George Woodcock.

I feel so completely happy to come across this writer; a kindred soul, I suspect, and hailing from the same locales that I now, 100+ years later, inhabit. Something like the experience of that beam of sunlight, that “moment’s golden reverie” within the poem: gladness, gratitude.

More posts and details, to come.

(“Ode to the Cicada”) / Anacreontea


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Ode to the Cicada

We pronounce thee happy, Cicada,
For on the tops of the trees,
Drinking a little dew,
Like any king thou singest,
For thine are they all,
Whatever thou seest in the fields,
And whatever the woods bear.
Thou art the friend of the husbandmen,
In no respect injuring any one;
And thou art honored among men,
Sweet prophet of summer.
The Muses love thee,
And Phoebus himself loves thee,
And has given thee a shrill song;
Age does not wrack thee,
Thou skillful, earthborn, song-loving,
Unsuffering, bloodless one;
Almost thou art like the gods.


Song-poem copied here as it is quoted in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. V “Excursions and Poems” (original copyright of Thoreau’s text dates back to 1865; Houghton, Mifflin & Co. held the copyright from 1893, in its The Riverside Press, Cambridge edition, from 1906).

Anacreon (Anakreon), c.582 – c.485 BC, was a Greek lyric poet. (Incidentally, I have read somewhere that it was he who invented the lyre, a smallish hand-held stringed instrument to accompany spoken or sung text.) He was “a great poet, admired by all antiquity” (Guy Davenport, in his “Anakreon: Complete Poems” originally published in 1984 in Conjunctions, the literary journal of Bard College; appearing also in 1984 in jstor.org; in the article, Davenport introduces and translates Anacreon’s existing verses).

There is a concise summary of Anacreon’s long life (which must have been most interesting, not to mention, challenging) at briefpoems.wordpress.com/tag/anacreon/ .

Here’s the thing: the “ode” read above was not written by Anacreon. In the 19th century the discovery was made that the lyric oeuvre attributed to Anacreon, first printed in Paris in 1554 and translated into English in the 17th century, was in fact a collection of imitations written by various lyricists in homage to the poet, in the centuries following his death. Although Anacreon himself had been a prolific poet, only the smallest splinters of his original work survive. Davenport, 20th century writer, translator, artist: “…fragments are all that survive of a poet whose fame and stature arise from a collection of poems he did not write.”

The collection of about 60 poems, now called the Anacreontea, i.e., “attributed pseudepigraphically to Anacreon” reflect “the light hearted elegance of much of Anacreon’s genuine works although they were not written in the same Ionic Greek dialect that Anacreon used . . . and display literary references and styles more common to the time of their actual composition” (en.wikipedia.org).

Phoebus is another name for Apollo, the ancient Greek god of (among other things) music, poetic inspiration, prophecy, and the sun. The word phoebus itself means sunray.

The Cicada or harvest-fly is “a stout-bodied insect with large membranous wings; male has drum-like organs for producing a high-pitched drone . . . its distinctive song is heard during July and August” (thefreedictionary.com).

“noun ( pl. -men) archaic
a person who cultivates the land; a farmer.
ORIGIN Middle English (originally in northern English use denoting the holder of a husbandland, i.e., manorial tenancy): from husband in the obsolete sense [farmer] + man” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Whether or not Thoreau was familiar with the distinction between Anacreon and the Anacreontea, he didn’t let it hinder him in enjoying “Anacreon’s ode” to the Cicada as a creation of Anacreon himself. (By the way, though Anacreon did not usually title his poems, it seems that many of the later minstrels might often have done so; but I’ve not sourced this detail for this particular poem . . . hence the parentheses around the title.)

In Thoreau’s volume, in an aside on Entomology (in “Natural History of Massachusetts”):
Entomology extends the limits of being in a new direction, so that I walk in nature with a sense of greater space and freedom. It suggests besides, that the universe is not rough-hewn, but perfect in its details. Nature will bear the closest inspection; she invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. She has no interstices; every part is full of life. I explore, too, with pleasure, the sources of the myriad sounds which crowd the summer noon, and which seem the very grain and stuff of which eternity is made. Who does not remember the shrill roll-call of the harvest-fly? There were ears for these sounds in Greece long ago, as Anacreon’s ode will show. (op. cit. 107-8)

“A Burren Prayer” / O’Donohue


, , , ,

Maria de Petra Fertilis:

May the praise of rain on stone
Recall the child lost in the heart’s catacomb.

May the light that turns the limestone white
Remind us that our solitude is bright.

May the arrival of gentians in their blue surprise
Bring glimpses of delight to our eyes.

May the wells that dream in the stone
Soothe the eternal that sleeps in our bone.

May the contemplative mind of the mountain
Assure us that nothing is lost or forgotten.

May the antiphon of ocean on stone
Guide the waves of loneliness home.

May the spirits who dwell in the ruin of Corcomroe
Lead our hearts to the one who is beautiful to know.

Go maire na mairbh agus a mbrionglóidí
I bhfoscadh chaoin dílis na Trinóide.*

*May the departed and their dreams ever dwell
In the kind and faithful shelter of the Trinity.


From Conamara Blues (2000) by John O’Donohue.
At the end of this book is a brief section of “Author’s Notes”, wherein basic explanations are offered regarding several terms / names appearing in the poems. To this poem, we read: Corcomroe is the ruin of a twelfth-century Cistercian monastery in the Burren. It was dedicated to Maria de Petra Fertilis: Mary of the Fertile Rock.

The Burren (Irish, Boireann,”great rock”) is, in O’Donohue’s words, “…an ancient kingdom of limestone sculptures carved slowly by rain, wind and time.” It is an area of lunar-like—but surprisingly fertile—landscape on the western coast of Ireland, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Galway Bay. O’Donohue was a member of the Burren Action Group which, in the 1990s, opposed the building of a large interpretative center on the spectacular Mullaghmore (Mullach Mór) mountain area of the Burren. They argued that “visitor facilities should be sited in villages – where there are already existing services and where economic benefits can accrue to the local populations – and not in the sensitive core area of the Burren National Park”. (http://www.iol.ie/~burrenag/)

Nan Shepherd, writing in the 1940s about Scotland’s Cairngorm mountains:
“The inaccessibility of this loch is part of its power. Silence belongs to it. If jeeps find it out, or a funicular railway disfigures it, part of its meaning will be gone. The good of the greatest number is not here relevant. It is necessary to be sometimes exclusive, not on behalf of rank or wealth, but of those human qualities that can apprehend loneliness. (The Living Mountain, 14)

“Wings” / O’Donohue


, , ,

For Josie

Whenever a goose was killed,
My mother got the two wings.
They were placed on the rack
Over the black Stanley range
And taken down to sweep
Around the grate and the floor.

Local women said, no matter
How you sprinkled it, every time
You’d sweep a concrete floor,
You’d get more off it.
As if, deep down,
There was only dust.

Often during sweeping,
A ray of light
Through the window
Would reveal
How empty air
Could hold a wall
Of drunken dust.

Instead of being folded around
Each side of a living body,
Embracing the warmth
And urgency of a beating heart,
The wings are broken objects now,
Rubbed and rubbed, edge down
Into an insatiable floor,
Smothered and thinned,
Until they become ghost feathers
Around a cusp of bone
Polished by a motherly hand.

Never again to be disturbed
Every year by the call
Of the wild geese overhead,
Reminding them of the sky,
Urging them to raise the life
They embrace, to climb the breeze
Beyond the farm, towards horizons
That veil the green surge of the ocean.


From John O’Donohue‘s 2000 collection of poems, Conamara Blues. It appears a rather small volume, but there is so much beauty inside it, and such largeness of heart, that it seems to contain an entire lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes. As suggested by the title, most of the lines are suffused with a tender melancholy; their sadness yet refined, through the depths of living, into a serene brightness.
On O’Donohue’s death in 2008, his friend, Gareth Higgins, wrote a short, intimate retrospective/tribute to the poet, his life, his work. It finishes with another of his poems, gently uplifting and full of grace, “A Blessing for Equilibrium“. I heartily recommend this to you:

“Mysteries, Yes” / Oliver



Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
   to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
   mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
   in allegiance with gravity
      while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
   never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
   scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
   who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
   "Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
   and bow their heads.


From Mary Oliver’s Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (2017). (Published previously in her 2009 collection, Evidence.)
Mary Oliver died in January, in her 84th year of life. Her impact on wonderers and on lovers of life, nature and words cannot be overestimated.

A succinct poetic tribute to her and her writing can be read in: