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Archive for the ‘Bookshelf’ Category

Heavy Summer Rain

The grasses in the field have toppled,

and in places it seems that a large, now

absent, animal must have passed the night.

The hay will right itself if the day

 

turns dry.  I miss you steadily, painfully.

None of your blustering entrances

or exits, door swinging wildly

on their hinges, or your huge unconscious

sighs when you read something sad,

like Henry Adams’s letters from Japan,

where he traveled after Clover died.

 

Everything blooming bows down in the rain:

white irises, red peonies; and the poppies

with their black and secret centers

lie shattered on the lawn.

 

           ~ Jane Kenyon

 

"A Bed of Poppies" by Maria Oakey Dewing, 1909

“A Bed of Poppies” by Maria Oakey Dewing, 1909

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Mid-August

Now the ridge

brooks

are

flue-dry, the rocks

parching hot &

where sluice

used

to clear roots &

break weeds down brambly,

light finds a luminous

sand-scar,

vertical: it will

go to a hundred

today: even the

zucchini vine has

rolled over

on its

side.

 

                                       ~ A. R. Ammons

 

"Sweet Repose" by Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904)

“Sweet Repose” by Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904)

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Girl in a Library

I want to find my way back to her,

to help her, to grab her hand, pull her

up from the wooden floor of the stacks

where she’s reading accounts of the hatchet

murders of Lizzie Borden’s harsh parents

as if she could learn something about

life if she knew all the cuts and slashes;

 

her essay on Wordsworth or Keats

only a knot in her belly, a faint pressure

at her temples.  She’s pale, it’s five years

before the first migraine, but the dreamy

flush has already drained from her face.

I want to lead her out of the library,

to sit with her on a bench under a still

 

living elm tree, be one who understands,

but even today I don’t understand,

I want to shake her and want to assure her,

to hold her – but love’s not safe for her,

although she craves what she knows

of it, love’s a snare, a closed door,

a dank cell.  Maybe she should just leave

 

the campus, take a train to Fall River,

inspect Lizzie’s room, the rigid corsets

and buttoned shoes, the horsehair sofas,

the kitchen’s rank stew.  Hell.  Bleak

loyal judgmental journals of a next-door

neighbor – not a friend, Lizzie had no friend.

If only she could follow one trajectory

 

of thought, a plan, invent a journey

out of this place, a vocation –

but without me to guide her, where

would she go?

 

~ From “Girl in a Library” by Gail Mazur (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

 

Frederic Leighton, 1877

Frederic Leighton, 1877

 

 

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August

The yellow goldenrod is dressed

In gala-day attire;

The glowing redweed by the fence

Shines like a crimson fire;

And from the hot field’s farthest edge

The cricket’s soft refrain

With mellow accent tells the tale

That August’s here again.

 

In shining blue the aster wild

Unfolds her petals fair;

The clematis, upreaching, seeks

To clasp and kiss the air;

The brilliant poppy flaunts her head

Amidst the ripening grain,

And adds her voice to swell the song

That August’s here again. […]

 

The wild hop, from the young elm’s bough,

Sways on the languid breeze,

And here and there the autumn tints

Gleam faintly through the trees.

All Nature helps to swell the song

And chant the same refrain;

July and June have slipped away

And August’s here again.

 

~ Helen Maria Winslow

 

"Mirabellgarten" by Hans Wilt, 1916

“Mirabellgarten” by Hans Wilt, 1916

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The problem, if anything, was precisely the opposite.  I had too much to write: too many fine and miserable buildings to construct and streets to name and clock towers to set chiming, too many characters to raise up from the dirt like flowers whose petals I peeled down to the intricate frail organs within, too many terrible genetic and fiduciary secrets to dig up and bury and dig up again, too many divorces to grant, heirs to disinherit, trysts to arrange, letters to misdirect into evil hands, innocent children to slay with rheumatic fever, women to leave unfulfilled and hopeless, men to drive to adultery and theft, fires to ignite at the hearts of ancient houses. […] I was nowhere near the end.

 

~ Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

 

Janez Šubic, 1878

Janez Šubic, 1878

 

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The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,

Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,

Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.

He says that leaves are old and that for flowers

Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.

He says the early petal-fall is past

When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers

On sunny days a moment overcast;

And comes that other fall we name the fall.

He says the highway dust is over all.

The bird would cease and be as other birds

But that he knows in singing not to sing.

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

 

                               ~ Robert Frost

 

"Oven-bird" by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Oven-bird” by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

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Ebb

I know what my heart is like

     Since your love died:

It is like a hollow ledge

Holding a little pool

     Left there by the tide,

     A little tepid pool,

Drying inward from the edge.

 

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1884

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1884

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From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were – I have not seen

As others saw – I could not bring

My passions from a common spring –

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow – I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone –

And all I lov’d – I lov’d alone –

Then – in my childhood – in the dawn

Of a most stormy life – was drawn

From ev’ry depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still –

From the torrent, or the fountain –

From the red cliff of the mountain –

From the sun that ’round me roll’d

In its autumn tint of gold –

From the lightning in the sky

As it pass’d me flying by –

From the thunder, and the storm –

And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view –

 

~ Edgar Allan Poe

 

"A Passing Storm" by James Tissot, circa 1876

“A Passing Storm” by James Tissot, circa 1876

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The Moon, how definite its orb!

Yet gaze again, and with a steady gaze –

’Tis there indeed, – but where is it not? –

It is suffused o’er all the sapphire Heaven,

Trees, herbage, snake-like stream, unwrinkled Lake,

Whose very murmur does of it partake

And low and close the broad smooth mountain

Is more a thing of Heaven than when

Distinct by one dim shade and yet undivided from the universal cloud  

In which it towers, finite in height.

 

                                  ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

Johann Peter Hasenclever, circa 1846

Johann Peter Hasenclever, circa 1846

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Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.  If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?  So that it can make us happy, as you put it?  Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves.  What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide.  A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.

 

"Lesendes Mädchen" by Franz Eybl, 1850

“Lesendes Mädchen” by Franz Eybl, 1850

 

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