Saturday, June 13, 2015

Asked to Identify My One Favorite Poem, I Could Only Identify Four

(Copyright is not mine on the Plath and Collins. Copyright holders, please tell me if you want me to take your stuff down.)


THE SECOND COMING
William Butler Yeats

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


TULIPS

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.   
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.   
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.   
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses   
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff   
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,   
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.   
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,   
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;   
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat   
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.   
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley   
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books   
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.   
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them   
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.   

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe   
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.   
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,   
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,   
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.   
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,   
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow   
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,   
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.   
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.   
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river   
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.   
They concentrate my attention, that was happy   
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;   
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,   
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.



THE LANYARD

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the "L" section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard. 
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake 
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard. 
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard. 
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them. 
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand 
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother. 
She gave me life and milk from her breasts, 
and I gave her a lanyard 
She nursed me in many a sick room, 
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips, 
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard. 
"Here are thousands of meals" she said, 
"and here is clothing and a good education." 
"And here is your lanyard," I replied,
"which I made with a little help from a counselor." 
"Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, 
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world." she whispered.
"And here," I said, "is the lanyard I made at camp."
"And here," I wish to say to her now, 
"is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth, 
that you can never repay your mother, 
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be 
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom 
would be enough to make us even."


SONNET LX
William Shakespeare

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, 
So do our minutes hasten to their end; 
Each changing place with that which goes before, 
In sequent toil all forwards do contend. 
Nativity, once in the main of light, 
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d, 
Crooked elipses ’gainst his glory fight, 
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound. 
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth 
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow, 
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth, 
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow: 
   And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand, 
   Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.