April 7th: "Could Have"

Could Have
by Wisława Szymborska
(translated from the Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh)

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck–there was a forest.
You were in luck–there were no trees.
You were in luck–a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a jamb, a turn, a quarter inch, an instant.
You were in luck–just then a straw went floating by.

As a result, because, although, despite.
What would have happened if a hand, a foot,
within an inch, a hairsbreadth from
an unfortunate coincidence.

So you’re here? Still dizzy from another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or speechless.
Listen,
how your heart pounds inside me.

###

This is a type of love poem I adore for reasons I don’t totally understand–the love poem that you don’t realize is a love poem at all until the end. Do you know any like that?

April 5th: "Madonna of the Evening Flowers"

Here’s one that, for me, conveys a deep sense of intimacy and affection. Do you think that has anything to do with it being written by a woman, or is that a coincidence?

###

Madonna of the Evening Flowers
by Amy Lowell

All day long I have been working
Now I am tired.
I call: “Where are you?”
But there is only the oak tree rustling in the wind.
The house is very quiet,
The sun shines in on your books,
On your scissors and thimble just put down,
But you are not there.
Suddenly I am lonely:
Where are you?
I go about searching.

Then I see you,
Standing under a spire of pale blue larkspur,
With a basket of roses on your arm.
You are cool, like silver,
And you smile.
I think the Canterbury bells are playing little tunes,
You tell me that the peonies need spraying,
That the columbines have overrun all bounds,
That the pyrus japonica should be cut back and rounded.
You tell me these things.
But I look at you, heart of silver,
White heart-flame of polished silver,
Burning beneath the blue steeples of the larkspur,
And I long to kneel instantly at your feet,
While all about us peal the loud, sweet Te Deums of the Canterbury bells.

April 4th: "Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments"

Did I say “every day”? Obviously I meant “every day unless I forget.” Oops! Anyway, this has been one of my very favorite love poems for a long time, by one of my favorite poets. He was a Librarian of Congress, and quite cute:

It’s funny, though–it’s a beautiful, sexy poem, but it’s more about the poet and his poems than the woman, isn’t it? It seems like a lot of love poems are that way. Flattering to receive because a great poet loves you, not because he’s written anything specific to YOU, really. Of course, that’s almost the point of this one. What do you think?

The title is a reference to Shakespeare’s Sonnet LV.

###

“Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments”
by Archibald MacLeish

The praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems,
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes,
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered:
These were lies.

The words sound but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten.
The poet speaks but to her dead ears no more.
The sleek throat is gone — and the breast that was troubled to listen:
Shadow from door.

Therefore I will not praise your knees nor your fine walking
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue.

I shall say you were young, and your arms straight, and your mouth scarlet:
I shall say you will die and none will remember you:
Your arms change, and none remember the swish of your garments,
Nor the click of your shoe.

Not with my hand’s strength, not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste
Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember.

(What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost
Or a dead man’s voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most)

Therefore I will not speak of the undying glory of women.
I will say you were young and straight and your skin fair
And you stood in the door and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders
And a leaf on your hair —

I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women:
I will say the shape of a leaf lay once on your hair.
Till the world ends and the eyes are out and the mouths broken
Look! It is there!

April is poetry month

April is poetry month! In honor of that I’m going to be posting a poem about love every day through the month. Except for yesterday, because I forgot. (Most of them will be love poems, but not all.)

I want to hear what you think of them–whether you like them, whether you think they capture part of the experience of love. And please, comment or email me ([email protected]) with your own favorite love poems, because I’m not sure I’ve got thirty! Poems not by white men especially sought, because that’s mostly what I’ve got.

I’ll start off with this amazing poem my friend Sonia posted in her blog last Valentine’s Day.

###

I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone
by Richard Brautigan

I was trying to describe you to someone a few days ago. You don’t look like any girl I’ve ever seen before.

I couldn’t say “Well she looks just like Jane Fonda, except that she’s got red hair, and her mouth is different and of course, she’s not a movie star…”

I couldn’t say that because you don’t look like Jane Fonda at all.

I finally ended up describing you as a movie I saw when I was a child in Tacoma Washington. I guess I saw it in 1941 or 42, somewhere in there. I think I was seven, or eight, or six.

It was a movie about rural electrification, a perfect 1930’s New Deal morality kind of movie to show kids. The movie was about farmers living in the country without electricity. They had to use lanterns to see by at night, for sewing and reading, and they didn’t have any appliances like toasters or washing machines, and they couldn’t listen to the radio. They built a dam with big electric generators and they put poles across the countryside and strung wire over fields and pastures.

There was an incredible heroic dimension that came from the simple putting up of poles for the wires to travel along. They looked ancient and modern at the same time.

Then the movie showed electricity like a young Greek god, coming to the farmer to take away forever the dark ways of his life. Suddenly, religiously, with the throwing of a switch, the farmer had electric lights to see by when he milked his cows in the early black winter mornings. The farmer’s family got to listen to the radio and have a toaster and lots of bright lights to sew dresses and read the newspaper by.

It was really a fantastic movie and excited me like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, or seeing photographs of President Roosevelt, or hearing him on the radio “… the President of the United States… “

I wanted electricity to go everywhere in the world. I wanted all the farmers in the world to be able to listen to President Roosevelt on the radio….

And that’s how you look to me.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hurrah for love! Here are two poems by Emily Dickinson about love. I know from experience that Valentine’s Day can be a bummer if you’re not with someone, so the first one is about break-ups:

341.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes–
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs–
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round–
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought–
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone–

This is the Hour of Lead–
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow–
First–Chill–then Stupor–then the letting go–

And here’s a more cheerful one, small and simple and surprisingly sexy.

55.

By Chivalries as tiny,
A Blossom, or a Book,
The seeds of smiles are planted–
Which blossom in the dark.

And now for something completely different: apparently In for a Penny is shipping from Amazon already! Several people e-mailed or called me yesterday to tell me their copies had arrived!

EEEE!

And now a comic: Kate Beaton’s Susan B. Anthony for kids.

What’s a poem that you think really captures something (happy or painful or anything else) about the experience of being in love?