A Poem For Thursday

by Alice Quinn


Our last selection from Samuel Daniel’s sonnet sequence, To Delia:

When winter snows upon thy sable hairs,
And frost of age hath nipped thy beauties near,
When dark shall seem thy day that never clears,
And all lies withered that was held so dear,
Then take this picture which I here present thee,
Limned with a pencil not all unworthy;
Here see the gifts that God and nature lent thee,
Here read thyself and what I suffered for thee.
This may remain thy lasting monument,
Which happily posterity may cherish;
These colors with thy fading are not spent,
These may remain when thou and I shall perish.
If they remain, then thou shalt live thereby;
They will remain, and so thou canst not die.

For background and context, read my introduction to the first poem from Daniel we featured here.

(Photo by Shaun Fisher)

A Poem For Sunday

by Alice Quinn


Another from Samuel Daniel’s sonnets, To Delia:

Why should I sing in verse, why should I frame
These sad neglected notes for her dear sake?
Why should I offer up unto her name
The sweetest sacrifice my youth can make?
Why should I strive to make her live forever,
That never deigns to give me joy to live?
Why should m’afflicted muse so much endeavor
Such honor unto cruelty to give?
If her defects have purchased her this fame,
What should her virtues do, her smiles, her love?
If this her worst, how should her best inflame?
What passions would her milder favors move?
Favors, I think, would sense quite overcome,
And that makes happy lovers ever dumb.

(Photo by Pavlina Jane)

A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn

I have been luxuriating this August in a college textbook, Tudor Poetry and Prose, edited by five superior scholars (J. William Hebel is first on the list). I’ve been hugely rewarded by the selections as well as the notes and biographies of the poets.Samuel_Daniel

So we’ll add to our summer store of poems on love and courtship (and thwarted and vaunted wooing, as you shall see). We’ll begin with sonnets by Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), who was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford and made his early living mostly as tutor to the children of exceptionally well-placed people—among them, the sister of Sir Philip Sidney, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, whose literary circle Daniel considered his “best school.”

In 1591, twenty eight of his sonnets appeared in the “surreptitious” edition of Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. (Please investigate this fascinating episode of English literary history.) The next year saw his authorized publication of a volume of sonnets, and in 1604, he was commissioned to write the first masque for the court of the new king, James I, patron of Shakespeare and force behind the third and ever-glorious translation of the Hebrew Bible into English.

In the 19th century, Coleridge described the style which Daniel’s contemporaries praised in similar terms (Sir Thomas Browne referred to him as “well-languaged Daniel”) as “just such as any very pure and manly writer of the present day—Wordsworth, for example—would use,” adding “Thousands of educated men could become more sensible, fitter to be members of Parliament or Ministers, by reading Daniel.”

From the sonnet sequence, To Delia by Samuel Daniel:

Fair is my love, and cruel as she’s fair:
Her brow shades frowns, although her eyes are sunny,
Her smiles are lightning, though her pride despair,
And her disdains are gall, her favors honey.
A modest maid, decked with a blush of honor,
Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;
The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,
Sacred on earth, designed a saint above,
Chastity and beauty, which were deadly foes,
Live reconciled friends within her brow;
And had she pity to conjoin with those,
Then who had heard the plaints I utter now?
For had she not been fair and thus unkind,
My muse had slept, and none had known my mind.

(Frontispiece engraving of Daniel for his poem The Civile Ware, 1609, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Sunday

by Alice Quinn


“The House on the Hill” by Anne MacKay:

A house for summer with lawns and porches,
Edwardian books, adventure stories, the smell of musty closets,
thin mattress over metal springs, blankets with holes,
a cabinet of arrowheads and stones, forbidden
dumb-waiter creaking, they said it was too old,
odor of attics with discarded bureaus, portraits.

I lived with relics of children already aunts and uncles—
a doll’s house, college scrapbook on the shelf,
baseball bats and gloves forgotten in the window seat.

Nothing could change in the days of salt air filling
the garden, storm winds rattling the big windows,
Mother and Grandmother reading in small circles of light,
now ghosts whispering. The house a lost arm aching in the night.

(From Sailing the Edge © 2003 by Anne MacKay. Used by permission of the Estate of Anne MacKay, 2014. Photo by Brian Stocks)

A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn


Vaness Vitiello Urguhart’s feature in Slate this week, Butch is Beautiful, put me in mind of a poem entitled “Old Friends”, written by Anne MacKay, who from childhood on—she was born in 1928 and died two years ago—had a home in Orient on the easternmost tip of the North Fork of Long Island. Anne was a graduate of Vassar College and was Drama Instructor and Theater Director at two distinguished New York schools, the Dalton School , from 1953-1972, and Horace Mann, from 1972-1992.

Later in life she devoted her energies to poetry and to preserving lesbian voices and experiences through her work with the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, where her own papers are now archived.

She is the author of Wolf Girls at Vassar: Lesbian and Gay Experiences 1930-1990 (St. Martin’s Press, 1993) and the poetry collections, Field Notes of a Lesbian Naturalist, Gifts, Salt Water Days, Fields, and Sailing the Edge, from which the poems we’ll post are drawn. (For a copy of Sailing the Edge or Field Notes of a Lesbian Naturalist, send a check or a money order for $20 to MG Soares for each book along with your address to PO Box 97, Orient, NY 11957.)

Anne’s snug cottage on the side of a hill overlooking Hallock’s Bay evoked Moley’s digs in The Wind and the Willows, its charm captured in her poem “Housemates”:

Silverfish along walls and ceilings,
sow bugs in the bathroom, mosquitoes, ants,
August flies—I share my house with one and all.
Spiders with soft pale webs, all sorts of hard
black bugs that creep or fly—mean-spirited biters,
moths who rush to the bed lamp, visiting wasps.
Most behave, rushing or crawling on separate rounds,
this old, warm home a perfect hunting ground.

“Old Friends” by Anne MacKay:

We saw an older girl
wearing a white, men’s
shirt at school—collar
open, sleeves folded up,
shoulders loose and free.
“Sexy!” we said—meaning
“cool!” Mother frowned,
“Don’t use that word!”
But it was handsome, and
looking back it was sexy,
a bridge between genders,
the comfort, the swagger
of the open-shirt sailor or
double-shirted woodsman.

It was the first present
I ever bought myself.
A dollar-fifty spent at
Lipton’s store set me free.
The colors, the makers,
changed and changed
but, loyal as a barnacle
on a wooden pier,
these comfortable shirts
remain my friends, still
with me, after sixty years.

(From Sailing the Edge © 2003 by Anne MacKay. Used by permission of the Estate of Anne MacKay, 2014. Photo by Flickr user Jackie)

A Poem For Friday

by Alice Quinn


My friend Stephen Kramer – who loved poetry and birds, people and life so much – died last Friday, August 8th, after a four-and-a-half year battle with Multiple Myeloma. Steve had been a hugely respected lawyer for the City of New York but retired after his diagnosis in January 2010 at the age of 62.

Recently, he’d been writing a column for The Myeloma Beacon, a blog and online forum for the Myeloma community. I recommend these essays for their gallantry and their portrait of life lived simultaneously on the edge and to the brim.

Steve and I corresponded about poems, and two in particular called out to me in the last days when I was in touch with his family, who also surrounded him with song. The first is Emily Dickinson’s poem #1747 (of 1789), one of hundreds she sent to her sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson.

That Love is all there is
Is all we know of Love,
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.

The second is Walt Whitman’s “When lilac’s last in the dooryard bloom’d.” Whitman served as a nurse during the Civil War, and watching the young die was a continual torment to him. He begins with an announcement of the mourning he has performed and ever shall for a man he proclaims later in the poem to be “the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands.” The poem invokes the figure of a hermit thrush, caroling to the bard, “Loud, human song, with voice of utterest woe/…. And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.”

From “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d” by Walt Whitman (1819-1892):

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side
of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side
of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding
the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp
in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

(Photo by Justin Young)

A Poem For Monday

by Alice Quinn


“The Man He Killed” by Thomas Hardy:

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ’list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

(From War Poems, selected and edited by John Hollander © by John Hollander 1999. Used by permission of Everyman Library. Photo of American marines ready to fire at the enemy in the trenches, Breuvannes-en-Bassigny, France, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Sunday

by Alice Quinn

From “The Colored Soldiers” by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

If the muse were mine to tempt it
And my feeble voice were strong,
If my tongue were trained to measures,
I would sing a stirring song.
I would sing a song heroic
Of those noble sons of Ham,
Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam!

In the early days you scorned them,
And with many a flip and flout
Said, “These battles are the white man’s,
And the whites will fight them out.”
Up the hills you fought and faltered,
In the vales you strove and bled,
While your ears still heard the thunder
Of the foes’ advancing tread.

Then distress fell on the nation,
And the flag was drooping low;
Should the dust pollute your banner?
No! the nation shouted, No!
So when War, in savage triumph,
Spread abroad his funeral pall—
Then you called the colored soldiers,
And they answered to your call.

And like hounds unleashed and eager
For the life blood of the prey,
Sprung they forth and bore them bravely
In the thickest of the fray.
And where’er the fight was hottest,
Where the bullets fastest fell,
There they pressed unblanched and fearless
At the very mouth of hell.

(From War Poems, selected and edited by John Hollander © by John Hollander 1999. Used by permission of Everyman Library. Photo of the men from Company E, 4th United States Colored Infantry, circa 1864, from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn


John Hollander, who died in August 2013, published scores of books, including more than twenty collections of poetry and a superb book on poetic form entitled Rhyme’s Reason. He was an exemplary learned man—inexhaustibly inspiring, witty, charming, and dear. In the obituary in The New York Times, Margalit Fix quoted fellow poet J.D.McCLatchy (several of whose poems were posted on the Dish two weeks ago), “It is said of a man like John Hollander that when he dies it is like the burning of the library at Alexandria.”

Hollander was also a noted anthologist, and his volume War Poems, selected and arranged with great care for the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series, is the source for the poems we’ll post to commemorate Memorial Day this year. In his introduction, he wrote, “War poetry may express sorrow, hope, despair, prophetic vision, moral and philosophical reflection; it may even trespass upon Cupid’s own domain of love.” We’ll begin with a battlefield poem written by Emily Dickinson when she was twenty nine, surrounded by families in Amherst losing sons to both armies of the Civil War.

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated—dying—
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

(From War Poems, selected and edited by John Hollander © by John Hollander 1999. Used by permission of Everyman Library. Photo of Union soldiers entrenched along the west bank of the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg in the Battle of Chancellorsville, 1863, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Friday

by Alice Quinn


More haiku by Yosa Buson (1716-1783):

Swallows are wakened at night
in a hut someone
is beating at a snake


Old doll reminds me
how my love used to hide
her face in her sleeve


Pear trees in flower
a woman reads a letter
by moonlight

(From Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson, Translated by W.S. Merwin and Takako Lento. Copyright © 2013 by W.S. Merwin and Takako U. Lento. Used by permission of The Wylie Agency, LLC. All rights reserved. Photo by Oleg Shpyrko)