After great pain – Emily Dickinson

After great pain

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 –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
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 –

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

This poem was written in 1862 and in the life of ED what great pain she experienced is not known. However, the generic nature allows the reader to make personal association based on life experience.

S1 – the poetic structure of the opening first line stresses great pain …

After / great pain, / a for / mal feel / ing comes – (using trochee – long short stress and spondee long long) … iambic pentameter is used elsewhere.

The nerves are equated to tombs in that sensitivity of body becomes a dead holding place. A numbing effect takes place. The heart, the central piece of the body, becomes stiff equating to why, why is such pain happening. And then there is the religious connotation on the ‘He’ perhaps relating to Jesus who was the answer to all sin both past and present in the act of atonement on the cross. An immeasurable pain unknown.

S2 – This is the aftermath of a painful event, whatever the nature of that pain. Life carries on but in a numb sort of way as everything turns to cardboard. But something happens from this pain and something of value internalises in the person like the forming of quartz -a common hard, crystalline mineral. And there is a contentment in this hardening of life. A contentment after coming to terms with what has happened.

S3 – This is the way of life defined in the hour of lead … by the example of a person experiencing snow then the chill and the subconscious stupor as all sensitivity is lost in the letting go. This continue process is shown poetically by the discrete break up of the words and the use of the hyphen in that last line – First – Chill – then stupor – then the letting go –. But does that ever happen?

ED defines the nature of life as we experience a succession of falling pain. But there is never total closure for we carry the scars despite moving on and hopefully growing as a person. And whether quartz can become diamond is another matter; especially if forgiveness is involved.

Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia

In Jerusalem – Mahmoud Darwish – Analysis

In Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy,
because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself:
How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a
stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted: Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die
Mahmoud Darwish
translated by Fady Joudah

Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet and author who was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He won numerous awards for his works. Darwish used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. According to the Internet he has been described as incarnating and reflecting ‘the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry’.

Born in a village near Galilee, Darwish spent time as an exile throughout the Middle East and Europe for much of his life. He was imprisoned in the 1960s for reading his poetry aloud while travelling from village to village without a permit. Under the influence of both Arabic and Hebrew literature, Darwish was exposed to the work of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda through Hebrew translations.

‘In Jerusalem’ is considered one of his most important poems. Jerusalem is the centre city of the three religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And remains the centre of conflict on legitimacy over it. This poem was a popular response after Donald Trump supported Israel in making it capital.

Jerusalem is first depicted as the personification of love and peace (lines 1 -7). And then the rising-up from the ashes. A personal rising as well as the rising of Palestine. A forgetting of any past religious association – I walk from one epoch to another without a memory. A bathing in the pure light of the holy – all this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. The stone could refer to the Foundation Stone behind the ‘Wailing Wall’ which could be regarded as the fountain of all true light from God.

Then the transformation and transfiguration to a true state outside both time and place. The message from Isaiah that redemption is possible on belief. The white biblical rose has a flavour of Christianity and purity but there is no ascension and the reference is to the prophet Muhammad.

The poem ends with a return to Earth and the dramatic ending by a woman solider shouting: It’s you again? Didn’t I kill you? This is followed by that wonderful response – I said: You killed me … and I, forgot, like you, to die.

Death cannot destroy; and the survival of Palestine is inferred – or in fact life in general, whether Jew or Arab. A poem that transcends all the waring religious factions. Perhaps, in due time, Jerusalem will revert to the love and peace denoted in the opening lines.

Muhammad Darwish on Wikipedia

Memorial day for the war dead. Yehuda Amichai – Analysis

Memorial day for the war dead.
Add now the grief of all your losses to their grief, 
even of a woman that has left you.  Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.
Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread, 
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God. 
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding." 
No use to weep inside and to scream outside. 
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.
Memorial day.  Bitter salt is dressed up 
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.
The flautist's mouth will stay like that for many days. 
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.
A flag loses contact with reality and flies off. 
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.
A great and royal animal is dying 
all through the night under the jasmine
tree with a constant stare at the world.
A man whose son died in the war walks in the street 
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding."
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

Yehuda Amichai was born in Germany to an Orthodox Jewish family and became steeped in Judaism and fluent in Hebrew. The family moved to Israel when he was 12 years old. He is considered, both in Israel and internationally, as Israel’s greatest modern poet, and one of the leading poets worldwide. Note that this is an English translation from the Hebrew.

The Title – Memorial Day started as an event to honour Union soldiers who had died during the American Civil War. It was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honoured their dead. … This meant that from 1971, the Memorial Day holiday has been officially observed on the last Monday in May.

S1 … However, as you will realise when reading the poem Memorial Day has been expanded by his words to include all who suffer from the death of a loved one. This includes the metaphorical death associated with the separation by a woman. And what is suggested in the very first stanza that why not make it a Memorial Day for all who are in a state of grief. A mixing of sorrow with sorrow.

 S2 … There is so much sorrow in the world, and so much sorrow caused by the sad imperfection of humanity that there is a complaint to a toothless God who does nothing to alleviate the situation. Is this a factual statement though? But there is a to touch of optimism in that maybe some sweet happiness exists behind the horror

S3 … Children who are perhaps impervious to grief, or at least extensive grief, join in the memorial walking as if stepping over broken glass. I do like the way grief is identified with the symbol broken glass.

S4 … I don’t know how long it takes a flautist’s mouth to reshape. Perhaps the suggestion that grief is likewise lasting. A dead soldier swimming above little heads indicates to me the dead are alive to the children but above their comprehension. The dead are in an alien environment like existing in water and needing to swim.

S5 … Memorial days tend to give emphasis to nationality and sometimes this becomes too dominant – a flag loses contact with reality and flies off. Israel and Judaism can be symbolically compared to a beautiful woman dressed up on display. Blue and white are theologically important colours in Judaism. But there is always a certain shadow when thinking of Israel. In this poem represented by three languages attaching to everything alluding to the Palestine conflict with the resultant language death. Hebrew and Arabic and the respective nations must coexist although as we have seen so clearly in recent days any hope for a lasting peace between the warring factions is unlikely.

S6 … My thought is that the great royal animal must have religious significance. This may be a reference to the dying of ‘that religion’ as it looks on in disgust at what is happening in the region. Again inaction is associated with staring and this is in line with the toothless nature of God already mentioned in the second stanza.

S7 … A very moving way to carry a dead person within the grief of the living – like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb. But the ending line is not a line of ‘perhaps’ but a line stating that behind all this some great happiness IS hiding. There is a note of optimism.

Hopefully that latent happiness will surface with the advent of a lasting peace in the region. But this is a poem about sorrow in general and for those in great sorrow for whatever reason there is still that great hidden happiness however hard it may be to realise.

Yehuda Amichai on Wikipedia – Yehuda Amichai – Wikipedia

Mental Issues and Poetry – Ted Hughes


Few would argue that Sylvia Plath did not have a severe mental condition. This was probably manic depression which came to be known as bi-polar.

Her mental issues are evident in some of her poetry. Some might say that the greatness of her words might not have been so had she not been so afflicted. Many years later, after her suicide in 1963, ‘Birthday Letters’ was published by Ted Hughes at great acclaim. Ted Hughes had a brilliance with words and this is clearly evident in these poems when dealing with the strong bi-polar induced behaviours associated in living with Sylvia before the breakup of their marriage.


Here are two examples from ‘Birthday Letters’ of such expression …


From The Rabbit Catcher

It was May. How had it started? What
Had bared our edges? What quirky twist
Of the moon’s blade had set us, so early in the day,
Bleeding each other? What had I done? I had
Somehow misunderstood. Inaccessible
In your dybbuk fury, babies
Hurled into the car, you drove. We surely
Had been intending a day’s outing,
Somewhere on the coast, an exploration—
So you started driving.

What I remember
Is thinking: She’ll do something crazy …


and from … Suttee
perhaps the most disturbing of all the poems in ‘Birthday Letters‘.

Suttee = a former practice in India whereby a widow threw herself on to her husband’s funeral pyre.

Looking at the opening lines of the first stanza …

In the myth of your first death our deity
was yourself resurrected.
Yourself reborn. The holy one.
Day in day out that was our worship -
tending the white birth-bed of your re-birth,
the unforthcoming delivery, the all but born,
the ought-by-now-to-be-reborn.


An understanding of the life of SP is warranted to put these lines in context. SP tried to commit suicide when she was twenty by taking an overdose in a cellar. She was found after three days and recovered. She also had a mental fixation associated with the death of her father when she was 8 years old.

You might regard it farfetched that a suttee type connection involved her suicide attempt in relation to her father. However there could be an implication in the words of TH.

Of more importance the resurrection to a new life, and a new birth. This was their marriage God that never did quite happen. But something that both SP and TH worshiped in their on-going daily life.

And the concluding lines to the poem illustrate that outcome in dramatic fashion …


Both of us consumed
By the old child in the new birth …
Babe of dark flames and screams
That sucked the oxygen out of both of us.

Of course Lady Lazarus herself has a very strong poetic response, looking at the last stanza of that poem …

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.


A link to information on ‘Birthday Letters’ – Birthday Letters – Wikipedia

A link to Ted Hughes on Wikipedia – Ted Hughes – Wikipedia

We are going – Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) Comments

We Are Going

They came in to the little town
A semi-naked band subdued and silent
All that remained of their tribe.
They came here to the place of their old bora ground
Where now the many white men hurry about like ants.
Notice of the estate agent reads: 'Rubbish May Be Tipped Here'.
Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring.
'We are as strangers here now, but the white tribe are the strangers.
We belong here, we are of the old ways.
We are the corroboree and the bora ground,
We are the old ceremonies, the laws of the elders.
We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told.
We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games, the wandering camp fires.
We are the lightening bolt over Gaphembah Hill
Quick and terrible,
And the Thunderer after him, that loud fellow.
We are the quiet daybreak paling the dark lagoon.
We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp fires burn low.
We are nature and the past, all the old ways
Gone now and scattered.
The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone.
And we are going.

 Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920 - 1993)

bora ring – Bora is an initiation ceremony of the Aboriginal people of Eastern Australia. The word “bora” also refers to the site on which the initiation is performed. At such a site, boys, having reached puberty, achieve the status of men. The ring refers to the structure of the site.

corroboree – a generic word for a meeting of Australian Aboriginal peoples. It may be a sacred ceremony, a festive celebration, or of a warlike character. A word coined by the first British settlers in the Sydney area from a word in the local Dharug language, it usually includes dance, music, costume and often body decoration.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal, formerly known as Kath Walker, was an Aboriginal Australian poet . She was a leader in the struggle for Aboriginal rights in Australia. The poem is a political activist statement on the impact of the British conquest on Aboriginal Australians. And on their way of life, and the natural world. It demonstrates in no uncertain way how the existing culture was brutally over run by the British colonization of Australia. This is powerfully paralleled by the beauty of Aboriginal culture and identity.

Today we have the sensitivity to try to redeem the situation and honor and respect the culture still evident within the country. This is not an easy task when trying to integrate the benefits of education and health from the Western way of life. However, many sacred sites have now been protected from development.

The Australian National Museum flags recognition of Aboriginal culture.

‘We Are Going’ was published in Noonuccal’s 1964 collection of the same name, the first book of poetry to be published by an Aboriginal Australian poet.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal / Kath Walker on Wikipedia

The Bridge – Ruth Pitter – Comments

The Bridge
Where is the truth that will inform my sorrow?
I am sure myself that sorrow is not the truth.
These lovely shapes of sorrow are empty vessels
Waiting for wine: they wait to be informed.
Men make the vessels on either side of the river;
On this the hither side the artists make them,
And there over the river the workmen make them:
These frail with a peacock gaze, the others heavy,
Simple as doom, made to endure the furnace.
War shatters the peacock-jars: let us go over.

Indeed we have no choice but to go over.

There is always away for those that must go over:
Always a bridge from the known to the unknown.
When from the known the mind revolts and despairs
There lies the way and there we must go over.

O truth, is it death over the river,
Or is it life, new life in a land of summer?
The mind is an empty vessel, a shape of sorrow,
Fill it with life or death, for it is hollow,
Dark wine, or bright, fill it, let us go over.

Let me find my truth, over the river.
Ruth Pitter (1897 – 1992)

This is a poem all about courage. Ruth Pitter was living in London during the World War Two Blitz and had to cross the Battersea Bridge every day from the safer side of Chelsea to work in a factory creating shell cases for bombs. There is great contrast between the artistic creations on one side of the Thames and the shell cases on the other side.

She had no choice but to go over the Bridge. She had to face what she had to do and go into the unknown. This is a metaphoric statement on the demands of life – there lies the way and there we must go over.

At the same time as she was working on the shells C. S. Lewis was broadcasting his discussions on Christianity on the radio. These broadcasts, later to be incorporated into his book ‘Mere Christianity’, profoundly influenced her as she struggled for the truth and meaning to life.

O truth, is it death over the river,
Or is it life, new life in a land of summer?

She became a Christian. And in a metaphoric way accepted the new life in a land of summer presented by the Christian thought of eternal life. The final lines consider the mind as a vessel. Dark wine, or bright, fill it, let us go over. It is up to the reader to fill the mind with dark or bright wine.

Each day, when walking over the Bridge and working in the factory, could have been her last day. She actually lived into her nineties.

Ruth Pitter was a Commander of the British Empire, media commentator, and first woman to win the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

She is cited as being neglected in recognition as in the following from the Internet …

In the “Introduction” to Pitter’s Collected Poems (1990), Elizabeth Jennings praises Pitter’s “acute sensibility and deep integrity”; Jennings claims that her poems “are informed with a sweetness which is also bracing, and a generosity which is blind to nothing, neither the sufferings in this world nor the quirky behavior of human beings” . Philip Larkin, who edited the Oxford Book of 20th Century English Verse, included four of Pitter’s poems, writing to a friend that her poetry was “rather good” (Letter to Judy Egerton,” March 16, 1969), high praise coming from one of the most respected twentieth-century English poets. As I have tried to illustrate in this study of her religious verse, Ruth Pitter deserves a wider reading and a more judicious critical appraisal. If she “enjoyed the highest reputation of any living English woman poet of her century” it is time that both her life and her art be given the exposure and recognition they so richly deserve

Reference

And here is a link to a discussion on the religious poetry of Ruth Pitter

Ruth Pitter on Wikipedia.

Mrs Lazarus – Carol Ann Duffy – Analysis

Mrs Lazarus

I had grieved. I had wept for a night and a day
over my loss, ripped the cloth I was married in
from my breasts, howled, shrieked, clawed
at the burial stones until my hands bled, retched
his name over and over again, dead, dead.

Gone home. Gutted the place. Slept in a single cot,
widow, one empty glove, white femur
in the dust, half. Stuffed dark suits
into black bags, shuffled in a dead man's shoes,
noosed the double knot of a tie around my bare neck,

gaunt nun in the mirror, touching herself. I learnt
the Stations of Bereavement, the icon of my face
in each bleak frame; but all those months
he was going away from me, dwindling
to the shrunk size of a snapshot, going,

going. Till his name was no longer a certain spell
for his face. The last hair on his head
floated out from a book. His scent went from the house.
The will was read. See, he was vanishing
to the small zero held by the gold of my ring.

Then he was gone. Then he was legend, language;
my arm on the arm of the schoolteacher-the shock
of a man's strength under the sleeve of his coat-
along the hedgerows. But I was faithful
for as long as it took. Until he was memory.

So I could stand that evening in the field
in a shawl of fine air, healed, able
to watch the edge of the moon occur to the sky
and a hare thump from a hedge; then notice
the village men running towards me, shouting,

behind them the women and children, barking dogs,
and I knew. I knew by the sly light
on the blacksmith's face, the shrill eyes
of the barmaid, the sudden hands bearing me
into the hot tang of the crowd parting before me.

He lived. I saw the horror on his face.
I heard his mother's crazy song. I breathed
his stench; my bridegroom in his rotting shroud,
moist and dishevelled from the grave's slack chew,
croaking his cuckold name, disinherited, out of his time.

Carol Ann Duffy (1955 -

This is a poem from her book – The World’s Wife.

It is all about grief and CAD is not short in using powerful words in expressing deep grief at the death of a husband. Her words clearly show that the extent of grief is overwhelming. Not to the extent of a suttee. In that case the return to life would be a really dramatic tragedy – if that was a possibility after the burning!

It is obviously based on the Lazzarus account in the Bible but it is a very different Lazarus in her poem in that the return to life is after quite a considerable time period and not the four days of the Bible.

Looking at some of the ways the grief is expressed …

S1 … clawed at the burial stones until my hands bled, retched his name … self-harm is an indication of strong grief, unfortunately in the past in some societies it has been expected of the wife … and the stones parallel the biblical event

S2 … shuffled in a dead man’s shoes, noosed the double knot of a tie around my bare neck … using the clothes of the parted in relation to grief concentrates the emotional tie and there is the suggestion of suicide.

S3 … the icon of my face in each bleak frame … she reduces herself to an icon = an object of uncritical devotion … and herself just a bleak object – framed

S4 … vanishing to the small zero held by the gold of my ring … this is a very original way to state the finalisation of fading grief … the wedding ring becoming a zero

S5 … Then he is gone in the sense that all that mammoth grieving state has been exhausted and he is gone. Her grieving over. And she was faithful for as long as it took.

S6 … Mrs Lazarus is now at peace with herself … in a field absorbed by the beauty of nature – healed, able to watch the edge of the moon occur to the sky – … but not for long!

S7 … she knows intuitively what is behind the raucous crowd as it comes before her … the introduction to the dramatic conclusion of the last stanza.

S8 … his mother would certainly be crazy if alive herself – a second birth of ghastly sight – I heard his mother’s crazy song … the implication being that Mrs Lazarus has equivalent feelings.   That dramatic last line defines his newfound status – croaking his cuckold name, disinherited, out of his time. It is up to the reader to explore the implication – I wonder if family would relish the return of property for example for the will has been read.

But this poem presents serious consideration on situations when a partner dies or becomes dead in the sense that they leave the relationship never to return. But sometimes there are situations when they do return with dramatic effect. For example consider ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ in the Thomas Hardy story.

Till death do us part is a statement of relational adherence. But I think it mainly concerns the way two people are engaged in life in their transactions. There is that personal question of how long to wait before, and if ever, in developing another relationship especially a sexual one. And because of the religious parallel how much does religion play a part in the decision making.

Well the relationship between Mr and Mrs Lazarus might have been very taught although the text seems otherwise from the Mrs Lazarus point of view. But I doubt if Mr Lazarus would consider Till death do us part in a literal sense. After all the chances of finding another partner look exceedingly bleak for he is bereft of all his possessions and didn’t quite look that attractive!

There is a little bit of humour evident in the poem albeit of a black nature. You must admire the colourful way CAD uses her poetic skills in the build up to the last two stanzas.

Carol Ann Duffy relinquished her role as UK Poet Laureate in May 2019 when Simon Armitage took over.

Carol Ann Duffy on Wikipedia

This is my letter to the world – Emily Dickinson – Analysis

This is my letter to the world
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me —
The simple News that Nature told
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see —
For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen
Judge tenderly — of Me
Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)

S1 … ‘The World’ never actually sent ED a letter. But, of course, ED created many letters in her lifetime especially in the form of poems. Her letter, and indeed all her letters including this poem, is her personal response to ‘The World’ based on being part of Nature. If you like it is her communicative response to the gift of Nature. It is the simple News that Nature told.

And Nature told her, or communicated, with tender Majesty. So, in a poetic way Nature did in fact send her a letter if you regard Nature and The World as being a letter from the creator. I do like that upper case letter on Majesty for it gives a sense of authority.

S2 … The message that ED sends to ‘The World and Nature’, or to the creator, is of course to Hands she cannot see. And indeed, every letter written by all poets suffers the same fate.

But ED would like you to know that she loved sweet ‘Nature and The World’. Please judge ED tenderly in all her letters! She asks the world to show respect. And to be tender like the creator when looking at her legacy, her work, her ‘letter’ to the world.

And in equal fashion my sentiments are the same in all my letters.

Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia.