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.

‘1. Peace’ – Rupert Brooke – Analysis

I. Peace
Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!
Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there's no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart's long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.
Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

The 25th of April is ANZAC Day in Australia. It is a very special day of commemoration associated with Australian and New Zealand troops involved in the Gallipoli landings of WW1. And last week it was announced by Biden that the US would be withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by 9/11 this year. The end of twenty years of involvement against terrorism in that country.

So here is a war poem involving peace in war. It is the first of a sequence of five war sonnets. Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, two other well respected WW1 poets, eventually wrote works extremely critical of the conflict. But Brooke’s poems reflect the early idealism. The war captured the adventurous spirit of the youth fuelled by the recruitment of the day. And Brooke’s poem reflects the attitudes of many young men during the first years of hostilities. Brooke never experienced the horror side of trench warfare. He served in the Royal Navy and died from an infection caused by a mosquito bite on his way to Gallipoli.

Considering the context of this poem and the notion of muscular Christianity. From the Literary Criticism by Robert Means

Begun and practiced at Rugby where Brooke was born and raised, “muscular Christianity” was a late-Victorian public-school notion of cleansing and test of manhood afforded by getting out of doors and getting in the game.

Brooke was a product of “muscular Christianity”; a pre- war poet, expressing the pre-war sentiment of cleansing just as poets as diverse as Robert Graves and Isaac Rosenberg wrote poetry in the early days of the war that celebrated this image of the “Happy Warrior.” Even Siegfried Sassoon’s early poems display this idea of spiritual cleansing afforded by the war, for example his aptly titled ‘Absolution’:

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise, 
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free. 

So, the octet stresses the hope that going to war would provide something of a cleanliness akin to diving into a swimming pool. Brooke’s personal life had come to something of a hiatus and he was looking for an alternative to the life he had been leading. He had been associated with the Bloomsbury Set and you can clearly see from the last lines of the octet that he hits out against their reluctance to get involved – ‘Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move’.

As Robert Means comments the sextet is all about ‘Peace’ as a declaration of self- realization and self-determination. It is the soldier’s lot to die but it is an acceptable cost and death the worst friend.

Somewhat of an irony in that Brooke finds peace by going to war. I guess it is not easy to find ‘personal peace’ given the job of a soldier.

Rupert Brooke on Wikipedia

Frost at Midnight – Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Analysis

Frost at Midnight
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
                      But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
         Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
         Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834)

S1 – The scene is Coleridge’s cottage at Nether Stowey in Somerset. The infant is his son Hartley when aged 17 months. He finds time to himself as other members of the household are in bed. But instead of devoting time to composition he is caught in appreciating the stillness and the dying state of the fire and this becomes his centre of attention and detracts from other considerations. He shares these thoughts in conversation with the reader. The busyness of the village is asleep and is an inaudible background like a dream.

The film is a piece of soot fluttering on the bar of the grate. The only thing that is alive. Coleridge noted that ‘In all parts of the Kingdom these films are called strangers and are supposed to portent the arrival of some absent friend’

S2 – The fluttering sound of the film is the only life around him in the stillness. It becomes his companion and a toy for his thoughts.

S3 – The film now represents the absent friend of his birthplace. Coleridge was born at Ottery St Mary, Devonshire but went to school at the age of nine in London after the death of his father. So, he now recalls the times when a child. In particular, he liked the music of the church bells – the poor mans only music. The ‘stern preceptor’ was the teacher Rev. James Boyer at Christ’s Hospital, London where Coleridge went to school. And when at school in London he would think back to his childhood in the village. He fondly recalled family and play mates at times when he should have been concentrating on school work. His sister and himself were both clothed alike.

S4 – Coleridge now spends his thoughts on appreciating the beauty of his baby son. And he hopes he will have the chance to spend much time with nature; lamenting the fact that he had a city life. This was not entirely true as his first nine years were in the country. And this might have had a profound endearing effect on this dissertation on his love of nature and the hope that his son will come to similar appreciation. And he identifies a strong spiritual link – Of that eternal language, which thy God Utters. A nice way to put it that nature is the language of God. And the stanza ends with recognition of the connection of God in the development of the human soul – Great universal Teacher! he shall mould / Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

S5 – If his son has this understanding of nature therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee. He then identifies aspects of each season. He gives particular emphasis to winter and I do like the image of  the night-thatch / Smokes in the sun-thaw. And like the opening there is that word – ministry again.

Very appropriate given the emphasis on the spiritual link with nature.

For a thorough guide to this poem see the following Site.  – in the Poetry Foundation – Poem Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Wikipedia.

‘Since the majority of me’ – Philip Larkin – Comments

‘Since the majority of me’
Since the majority of me
Rejects the majority of you,
Debating ends forthwith, and we
Divide. And sure of what to do

We disinfect new blocks of days
For our majorities to rent
With unshared friends and unwalked ways,
But silence too is eloquent:

A silence of minorities
That, unopposed at last, return
Each night with cancelled promises
They want renewed. They never learn.
Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

S1 – First sentence …
This is clearly about separation. When a relationship comes to that stage that the majority of one person rejects the majority of another. A time to stop the discussion and divide. The implication is is that one plus one no longer equals two and that a couple is involved in the split. And if a strong relationship was part of the past then it is obviously a little painful.

S2 – Strong words to disinfect the future so that the new path is not contaminated with the past. New friends and new ways signal a change in personal life.

S3 – But what happens in the silences, when the past memories infiltrate the mind. The cancelled promises that ache to be renewed. The mention of promises gives the idea that marriage breakup may be involved. But renewal is impossible, these broken promises will never learn they will always be a part of the life experience of the person.

We carry the past with us both disappointments and joy into our being through human experience. But how to prevent the past festering into on-going life is another matter. A wonderful Larking poem that clearly defines the human condition without providing answers. At the same time acknowledging the fact that the past can continually hook into our life from time to time.

Philip Larkin on Wikipedia – Philip Larkin – Wikipedia

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks: Paula Meehan – Comments

I choose this poem by Paula Meehan because last week was St Patrick’s Day (17th March) and we discussed Irish related poetry at a U3A session. It was also a week in which many marched in different Australian cities to protest on violence against women. In part motivated by reports of rape and sexual misconduct within the Australian Parliament.

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks
It can be bitter here at times like this,
November wind sweeping across the border.
Its seeds of ice would cut you to the quick.
The whole town tucked up safe and dreaming,
even wild things gone to earth, and I
stuck up here in this grotto, without as much as
star or planet to ease my vigil

This sets the dark cold night scene for the personification of a Statue of the Virgin. There is a statue and grotto in the main street of Granard in Ireland. And what a bitter night to be out. I always wondered what quick was in the context of cut to the quick and found out as a child that it referred to the sensitive skin below the fingernail so to be very hurt became synonymous with the cutting of fingernails.

The howling won’t let up. Trees
cavort in agony as if they would be free
and take off — ghost voyagers
on the wind that carries intimations
of garrison towns, walled cities, ghetto lanes
where men hunt each other and invoke
the various names of God as blessing
on their death tactics, their night manoeuvres.
Closer to home the wind sails over
dying lakes. I hear fish drowning.
I taste the stagnant water mingled
with turf smoke from outlying farms.

Granard is close to the border with Northern Ireland. The terrible howling wind coming from that direction with intimations of garrison. The mind goes to all the bloodshed and horrors of the religious conflict of the North and the appropriation of God in support of committing their death tactics.

They call me Mary — Blessed, Holy, Virgin.
They fit me to a myth of a man crucified:
the scourging and the falling, and the falling again,
the thorny crown, the hammer blow of iron
into wrist and ankle, the sacred bleeding heart.
They name me Mother of all this grief
though mated to no mortal man.
They kneel before me and their prayers
fly up like sparks from a bonfire
that blaze a moment, then wink out.

The mated to no mortal man is the incarnate virgin birth to the blessed holy Mary who also being mother to the grief associated with the death of Jesus on the cross. And the towns people who knee before the statue say ineffective prayers. The statue being cold stone and unresponsive. This hints at the ineffective use of prayer to get things done.

It can be lovely here at times. Springtime,
early summer. Girls in Communion frocks
pale rivals to the riot in the hedgerows
of cow parsley and haw blossom, the perfume
from every rushy acre that’s left for hay
when the light swings longer with the sun’s push north.

Well, the statue reflects on the springtime season giving contrast to the bitterness of a squally November night. And in the context of this poem it is critical to mention school girls with a religious connection.

Or the grace of a midsummer wedding
when the earth herself calls out for coupling
and I would break loose of my stony robes,
pure blue, pure white, as if they had robbed
a child’s sky for their colour. My being
cries out to be incarnate, incarnates
maculate and tousled in a honeyed bed.

And then to midsummer and the wedding association of Mary where the earth calls out for coupling. The incarnate birth being the central religious construct. I do like the words – as if they had robbed a child’s sky for their colour – the robbing of the Jesus childhood perhaps. And the statue would like to be incarnate just as those who don’t believe would like to believe (maculate = spotted).

Even an autumn burial can work its own pageantry.
The hedges heavy with the burden of fruiting
crab, sloe, berry, hip; clouds scud east
pear scented, windfalls secret in long.
orchard grasses, and some old soul is lowered
to his kin. Death is just another harvest
scripted to the season’s play.

Autumn and death being part of the natural cycle. The mention of death is relevant in ensuing stanzas.

But on this All-Souls’ Night there is
no respite from the keening of the wind.
I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.

The repetition of the horrible conditions of the night. And the portrayal of the dead coming out in judgement of the town because of what is about to happen.

On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,
and she lay down alone at my feet
without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand
and she pushed her secret out into the night,
far from the town tucked up in little scandals,
bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,
and though she cried out to me in extremis
I did not move,
I didn’t lift a finger to help her,
I didn’t intercede with heaven,
nor whisper the charmed word in God’s ear.

The tragic birth from a fifteen-year-old girl in which baby and mother die. The statue or is it religion, and the town that swell the mind as guilty.

On a night like this I number the days to the solstice
and the turn back to the light.
O sun,
centre of our foolish dance,
burning heart of stone,
molten mother of us all,
hear me and have pity.

A prayer for change by the statue. A prayer for light or is it enlightenment within the community culture responsible for this injustice.

Paula Meehan (1955 –

Context – This poem relates to the real-life death of Ann Lovett (6 April 1968 – 31 January shortly after giving birth beside a grotto on 31 January 1984. Her baby son died at the same time and the story of her death fuelled debate on abortion and women giving birth outside marriage. It is also worth noting that Ann Lovett suffered abuse within her family.

All Souls’ Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and the Day of the Dead, is a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died, which is observed by Catholics and other Christian denominations annually on November 2. So it was highly appropriate that Paula Meehan used this day and November in her poem.

The 2015 Poetry Competition ‘A Poem for Ireland’ shortlisted this poem written in 1991by Paula Meehan. 

Some background on Paula Meehan (courtesy of the Internet)

Paula Meehan, one of five children, was born in Dublin’s north inner-city to a working-class family who lived in one of the Corporation tenements flats, the Gloucester Diamond on Mountjoy Square. Meehan’s parents went back and forth to London in search of work, and she was brought up, for periods of time, by grandparents in Dublin.

Her grandfather taught her to read before she went to school, turning her, in her own phrase, into a ‘print junkie’ and she still remembers her love of nursery rhymes, streets rhymes, Mass, prayer, patterns of sound. Phrases such as ‘on the warpath’, ‘I’ll have your guts for garters’ or ‘swing for you’ intrigued her for their images and implications. Her grandfather brought her to the races and the sounds and cadences of the racetrack captured her young imagination. She included them in a poem she wrote in his memory: ‘Evens Swannee River, 7/4 Navarone, 4/1 Rocky’s Doll’.

She grew up in Seán MacDermott St, attended the Central Model Girls’ School but the family moved to Finglas where she attended the local convent – she was later thrown out of the school. ‘I was expelled by the nuns, which in retrospect was the best thing that ever happened to me: I learned the habit of self-direction and independent study.’

After the nuns, she went to the Tech and from there to Trinity College where she was one of what was then the .04% of the student population from working-class backgrounds. ‘Always on the brink of homelessness or living in some terrible kips’, she studied English, History and Classical Civilisation. After college, she set off on her travels: she lived in Crete, the Shetland Islands, and studied at Eastern Washington University.

Back in Ireland, she taught on literacy programmes and in prisons, and organised writers’ workshops. She lived in Fatima Mansions and, fuelled by anger at the oppression and the ghettoised lives of the underprivileged, became involved in workers’ co-ops. She then lived in Leitrim for three years: ‘I wanted to build a garden, watch something grow and harvest it.’

In her teens Meehan wrote song lyrics and began to make poems that would ‘honour the lives I saw, lives of deprivation but also of great courage and of course great humour, which is the signature mode of the city’. She published her first collection Return and No Blame in 1984, Meehan has also written plays, and her most recent collection, Painting Rain, her sixth, was published in 2009. She was appointed to the Ireland Chair of Poetry in 2013 and, in late 2014, was invited to read her poetry in Beijing, on the occasion of President Michael D. Higgins’s State Visit to China.

A Wikipedia Link – Paula Meehan – Wikipedia

And another link to an analysis of this poem on the Internet

Beauty and John Keats – Endymion

Looking at the poem Endymion by John Keats (1795 – 1821)

Context – Diana, Roman goddess of hunting, chastity and the moon, (also known as Selene or Cynthia in this poem) fell in love with a mortal, the handsome shepherd Endymion. According to myth Diana used to come and kiss Endymion when he was asleep on the top of the mountain each night. Diana’s light touch partly drew Endymion from his slumber and he caught a brief glance of her. Incredulous at her beauty, he attributed it to a dream and began to prefer his dreamlike state over mundane daily routines yet he was never awake when she was present. Through her love, Endymion was granted eternal youth and timeless beauty (mainly from Wikipedia)

Endymion (Keat’s Poem of that name)

Many remember the opening lines from this 4.000 line poem, if nothing else …

From Book 1 … an extract …

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Also the ending lines from his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

And from Keat’s Letters of which two hundred and forty survive today. His letters cover everything from the philosophy of poetry to the joys of a juicy nectarine; his darkest depressions to the exhilaration of backpacking in Scotland . And, always, his deep love for his siblings and his Fanny Brawne.

But for interest here are some extracts from his letters involving ‘Beauty’:

On Tuesday 3 February 1818, Keats wrote to John Hamilton Reynolds:

We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us, and, if we do not agree, seems to put its hand into its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself — but with its subject.

How beautiful are the retired flowers! — how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway, crying out …

On Friday 27 February 1818 Keats wrote to his publisher John Taylor:

In Poetry I have a few Axioms, and you will see how far I am from their Centre.

Here is one of his axioms mentioned in this letter …

Its touches of Beauty should never be halfway thereby making the reader breathless instead of content: the rise, the progress, the setting of imagery should like the Sun come natural natural too him — shine over him and set soberly although in magnificence leaving him in the Luxury of twilight — but it is easier to think what Poetry should be than to write it

Letter to George and Tom Keats, 21, ?27 December 1817 (On Negative Capability)

… the excellence of every Art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relationship with Beauty & Truth—Examine King Lear & you will find this exemplified throughout; but in this picture we have unpleasantness without any momentous depth of speculation excited, in which to bury its repulsiveness—The picture is larger than Christ rejected—… I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.

On 23 February 1821 Keats died in Rome. A year earlier he had written to his fiancée Fanny Brawne:

‘If I should die,’ said I to myself, ‘I have left no immortal work behind me — nothing to make my friends proud of my memory — but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.’

Well, I think it great if you have a philosophy of looking for beauty in all life. A little idealistic, and a little romantic perhaps but John Keats was part of the romantic poetry movement at the time.

John Keats didn’t put much value on being remembered stating that he thought his writing was ‘on water’. But little did he know that he would be reverently remembered by his work especially on that word ‘beauty’.

I remember Something Beautiful for God a 1971 book by Malcolm Muggeridge on Mother Teresa. The book was based on a 1969 documentary on Mother Teresa (also entitled Something Beautiful for God) that Muggeridge had undertaken. A great legacy – to leave something beautiful for God.

John Keats on Wikipedia

The Sun Rising – John Donne – Comments

The Sun Rising
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
               Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
               Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
               Late school boys and sour prentices,
         Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
         Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
               Thy beams, so reverend and strong
               Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
               If her eyes have not blinded thine,
               Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
         Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
         Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.
               She's all states, and all princes, I,
               Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
               Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
               In that the world's contracted thus.
         Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
         To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
John Donne (1572 - 1631)

This is a love poem. The sun has intruded into the bedroom of the lover. And the lover engages in a witty rebuke to the personified sun.

S1 – A question – must lovers heed the seasons, is love independent – Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?  And a complaint – go disturb others who need sentence. But the answer is emphatically given in the last lines – ‘Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime’. And the idea that love is independent of time. And we exist in the rags of time – hours, days, months.

S2 – the sun is so strong but it only takes a wink to deny light. The lover does not want to do this for it will detract from seeing the beauty of his partner. And then the suggestion that the sun might be blinded by the beauty of his lover. And as for all those kings of yesterday, seek them not they are here with me, metaphorically speaking.

S3 – And the hyperbole continues emphasising the now … the room, the bedroom, the love scene … here is all important in this contracted space. Shine here to us and thou art everywhere. The whole world is here to be seen in total focus on the now.

But the sun is everywhere it penetrates all it is such an amazing star. For the sun is intricately involved in all aspects of the solar system. John Donne would not have known that neutrinos come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second. Perhaps love too is similarly involved.

Does the sun dictate all life – and does love dictate everything too? And love is of far more importance transcending the universe. And is love internal in some way to all life?

And is the ‘spiritual son’ equally involved in all aspects of life whether recognised or not? Well, that is another matter – excuse the pun.

John Donne is known as the king of the metaphysical. John Donne on Wikipedia.

I did not realise that I had covered this poem in 2019