Archive for the ‘Bookshelf’ Category

What makes a nation’s pillars high

And its foundation strong?

What makes it mighty to defy

The foes that round it throng?


It is not gold.  Its kingdoms grand

Go down in battle shock;

Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,

Not on abiding rock.


Is it the sword?  Ask the red dust

Of empires passed away;

The blood has turned their stones to rust,

Their glory to decay.


And is it pride?  Ah, that bright crown

Has seemed to nations sweet;

But God has struck its luster down

In ashes at his feet.


Not gold but only men can make

A people great and strong;

Men who for truth and honor’s sake

Stand fast and suffer long.


Brave men who work while others sleep,

Who dare while others fly…

They build a nation’s pillars deep

And lift them to the sky.


~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1904


"Our Banner in the Sky" by Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

“Our Banner in the Sky” by Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

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An English Summer

An English summer – and a sense of form

Rides the five senses that dispute their claims.

Lawns leveled against nature, airs which warm

Each plant, perpetuate the hours and names.

We cannot see beyond the blue; no storm

Vies with the children ardent at their games.


Childhood returns with summer.  It is strange

That such a season brings one’s memories back.

Springs have their homesickness, autumns arrange

The sweet nostalgias that we long to lack.

But summer is itself; it’s we who change

And lay our childhoods on the golden stack.


My fingers rest and eyes concern their sight

Simply with what would live were I not here.

It is the concentration of the light

That shows the other side of pain and fear.

I watch, incredulous of such delight,

Wanting the meaning not the landscape clear.


Was it for this the breath once breathed upon

The waters that we rose from?  I can see

Only a summer with its shadows gone,

Skies that refuse an alien dignity.

But gardens, gardens echo.  What sun shone

To make this truce with pain and ecstasy?


~ “An English Summer” by Elizabeth Jennings, included in Robert Atwan’s anthology A Dream of Summer: Poems for the Sensuous Season (Beacon Press, 2004)


"Summertime" by Marcus Stone, circa 1900

“Summertime” by Marcus Stone, circa 1900

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Each year, on this same date, the summer solstice comes.

Consummate light: we plan for it,

the day we tell ourselves

that time is very long indeed, nearly infinite.

And in our reading and writing, preference is given

to the celebratory, the ecstatic. 


There is in these rituals something apart from wonder:

there is also a kind of preening,

as though human genius had participated in these arrangements

and we found the results satisfying.


What follows the light is what precedes it:

the moment of balance, of dark equivalence.


But tonight we sit in the garden in our canvas chairs

so late into the evening –

why should we look either forward or backward?

Why should we be forced to remember:

it is in our blood, this knowledge.

Shortness of the days; darkness, coldness of winter.

It is in our blood and bones; it is in our history.

It takes genius to forget these things.


                                                        ~ Louise Gluck


"The Dreamer (Summer Evening)" by James Tissot, 1871

“The Dreamer (Summer Evening)” by James Tissot, 1871

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They are thin

and rarely marry, living out

their long lives

in spacious rooms, French doors

giving view to formal gardens

where aromatic flowers

grow in profusion.

They play their pianos

in the late afternoon

tilting their heads

at a gracious angle

as if listening

to notes pitched above

the human range.

Age makes them translucent;

each palpitation of their hearts

visible at temple or neck.

When they die, it’s in their sleep,

their spirits shaking gently loose

from a hostess too well bred

to protest.


~ Judith Ortiz Cofer


John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858

John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858

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In Fountain Court

The fountain murmuring of sleep,

A drowsy tune;

The flickering green of leaves that keep

The light of June;

Peace, through a slumbering afternoon,

The peace of June.


A waiting ghost, in the blue sky,

The white curved moon;

June, hushed and breathless, waits, and I

Wait too, with June;

Come, through the lingering afternoon,

Soon, love, come soon.  


           ~ Arthur William Symons (1865-1945)


"Undine" by John William Waterhouse, 1872

“Undine” by John William Waterhouse, 1872

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More Than Enough

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.

All over the sand road where we walk

multiflora rose climbs trees cascading

white or pink blossoms, simple, intense

the scene drifting like colored mist.


The arrowhead is spreading its creamy

clumps of flower and the blackberries

are blooming in the thickets.  Season of

joy for the bee.  The green will never

again be so green, so purely and lushly


new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads

into the wind.  Rich fresh wine

of June, we stagger into you smeared

with pollen, overcome as the turtle

laying her eggs in roadside sand.


    ~ Marge Piercy


"Girl with Lilies" by John White Alexander, 1889

“Girl with Lilies” by John White Alexander, 1889



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It is the thirtieth of May,

the thirtieth of November,

a beginning or an end,

we are moving into the solstice

and there is so much here

I still do not understand.

If I could make sense of how

my life is still tangled

with dead weeds, thistles,

enormous burdocks, burdens

slowly shifting under

this first fall of snow,

beaten by this early, racking rain

calling all new life to declare itself strong

or die

if I could know

in what language to address

the spirits that claim a place

beneath these low and simple ceilings,

tenants that neither speak nor stir

yet dwell in mute insistence

till I can feel utterly ghosted in this house.


             ~ from “Toward the Solstice” by Adrienne Rich


"A Woman in Bed" by Rembrandt, 1645

“A Woman in Bed” by Rembrandt, 1645

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