In Passing – Stanley Plumly – Analysis

In Passing

On the Canadian side, we’re standing far enough away
the Falls look like photography, the roar a radio.

In the real rain, so vertical it fuses with the air,
the boat below us is starting for the caves.

Everyone on deck is dressed in black, braced for weather
and crossing against the current of the river.

They seem lost in the gorge dimensions of the place,
then, in fog, in a moment, gone.

In the Chekhov story,
the lovers live in a cloud, above the sheer witness of a valley.

They call it circumstance. They look up at the open wing
of the sky, or they look down into the future.

Death is a power like any other pull of the earth.
The people in the raingear with the cameras want to see it

from the inside, from behind, from the dark looking into the light.
They want to take its picture, give it size—

how much easier to get lost in the gradations of a large
and yellow leaf drifting its good-bye down one side of the gorge.

There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness,
then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.

All around us the luminous passage of the air,
the flat, wet gold of the leaves. I will never love you

more than at this moment, here in October,
the new rain rising slowly from the river.

Stanley Plumly (1939 – 2019)

Stanley Plumly was an American academic who taught creative writing and died at the age of 79 in April this year. John Keats was his spiritual guide in writing poetry. Also he is a poet who wrote about polio which affected his classmates when he was growing up.

The above poem appears to be from a visit to Niagara Falls and viewing the water from a distance on the Canadian side. There are two aspects of this passing encounter which feature in his words. A boat below the Falls which is crossing the fast flowing water, and a leaf drifting down one side of the gorge.

The boat appears a speck in the gorge and it disappears in fog. He is reminded of lovers on a cloud above a valley in a Chekov story. The lovers in this story can look up and be taken away in the open wing of the sky or can look down into their future, perhaps coming down to earth. The downside appropriate to Chekov.

This brings his thought to death as gravity. The people in the boat want to approach the Falls for photographs from many directions, but in doing so they tempt death by the swamping of the boat from the power of gravity in bringing the water over the falls.

But Stanley Plumly now turns attention to his second subject that of the leaf and the natural death of the leaf as it falls. It is much easier for him to get lost in this subject. At first this leaf is lonely by itself as it descends, then watching it further loveliness unfolds. It is representative or connects to what we will become. Death being natural.

He becomes absorbed by the beauty of wet gold leaves and the luminous passage of air penetrating the spray. And this moment becomes a love highpoint. I will never love you more. It is left to the reader to define the you whether nature, life or a person.

In summary, this is a poem about an intense emotional experience generated when visiting Niagara Falls; those moments in life that are held precious to the memory. However, like coming down out of the clouds of love they fall away in passing.

A link to some obituary detail on Stanley Plumly.

And Stanley Plumly on Wikipedia.

 

The World Is Too Much with Us – Wordsworth – Comments

The World Is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1860)

The rhyme scheme of this Italian sonnet is ‘abba abba cdcd cd’.

The first eight lines decry the state of a materialistic world, a world out of tune with nature. And ‘we’ have given our hearts away – focused on getting and spending. Industrialisation was taking place at the time of Wordsworth. And then that wonderful oxymoron – a sordid boon! And equally today we may well wonder whether economic development is a sordid boon, it being out of balance with the on-going degradation of the environment. The benefit of economic development is being lost by those suffering the devastation associated with climate change.

In the last six lines …

Proteus = an early prophetic sea-god or god of rivers and oceanic bodies of water, one of several deities whom Homer calls the “Old Man of the Sea” and capable of changing into many shapes. And Triton = In English literature, Triton is portrayed as the messenger or herald for the god Poseidon.

The retort from Wordsworth is that he would rather be suckled (nurtured) by a bygone creed which worshiped nature (nature-mythological-Gods). And not sucked in by industrialisation, and for Wordsworth nature was his romantic ‘God’.

Wordsworth on Wikipedia

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free – Wordsworth – Comments

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

William Wordsworth

Evenings always seem to be a special time of the day. And Wordsworth is totally absorbed in the beauty of the evening, breathless in adoration.

But this is a very special time for Wordsworth for he is in France walking the beach with his illegitimate daughter not seen since he left Paris at the time of the French Revolution. She would be about twelve years of age.

The lines …

                     Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
                     And doth with his eternal motion make
                     A sound like thunder—everlastingly

… obviously relate to the background of the sea … but Wordsworth is in reflective philosophical mode as he is stunned by the beauty of nature and equally the mighty Being could refer to the creator noting that Being is capitalised.

At the Volta the last six lines of the sonnet reflect on the nature of a child who is untouched by such thought. But none the less the child lies in the care of God though she may not know it. Reference is made to ‘Abraham’s bosom’ and a religious heritage of connectivity. Abraham being the common patriarch of three religions.

No matter the mental capacity of a person in an understanding God and independent of age God is there in a supportive role – especially for children. Well, I belief in a caring God for all. A great pillar of support to have such belief.

The Sabbath … is an ‘evening to evening’ observance … more details via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath_in_Christianity

However, there is nothing to stop us having a quiet holy time whenever in communication with God and creation – whether ‘a thank you for just the joy of life’ or for any other personal reason.

 

The Most of It – Robert Frost – Analysis

The most of it

He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.

Robert Frost (1874 -1963)

This is a twenty iambic line poem with rhyming scheme ‘ab ab’
talus – sloping fragments of rock

Lines 1-8 … wanting more from the universe
Having the universe to himself was not enough. He wanted more and what he wanted was the universe to talk back and not give the echo copy of his own words. He wanted more than what the universe could offer. He was obviously lonely and needed human companionship. He wanted something personal to counter his love for the universe and asks for an original response.

Lines 9 – 20 … the universe gives a response
This is all that nature could offer and this was not enough but it is an original response. A very poetic statement that man cannot live alone. Making the most of it is insufficient without human company.

More WordPress commentary on this poem … https://socialecologies.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/robert-frost-the-most-of-it/

Robert Frost on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Frost

 

Seed – Paula Meehan – Analysis

Seed

The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop
each like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended

Paula Meehan (1955 –

To be revitalised from depression … from a house of gloom … from winter … from seeing the garden destroyed after a storm … and then to see something precious, not destroyed and to give thanks … all is not lost … to bless the power of ‘seed’ … the power of life continuing … the conspiracy of the sun with the underground … growth from depression is like that in nature … sun and underground – very appropiate words

Religious connotations, remember the mustard seed … something so small has a big outcome and getting out of depression is big! … thank you …

A seemingly insignificant event or observation takes on mammoth proportions as a catalyst to new life releasing PM from a deep depression. I think this is true for many who suffer from depression. I can relate to this from my own personal experience. Whether providence plays a part is another matter. In this poem PM gives thanks to the persistent power of seed and nature (and her stars – so perhaps she has friends on high).

It reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’. … where a Black Rook takes on similar proportions

Paula Meehan is a well respected Irish poet and playwright …   Paula Meehan on Wikipedia

Lupin

… a lupin in full bloom.

‘The Prelude’ William Wordsworth – Nature

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was born in Cockermouth in the Lake District in England, an area known for its exceptional beauty. This countryside had a profound influence on his childhood and later in life he came back to live in the Lake District with his sister Dorothy.

His autobiographic epic poem ‘The Prelude’ is his most famous work. It is a long poem of 14 sections written in the form of a self-exploration. Reading this poem gives a clear understanding of how deeply he absorbed nature into his thinking. At times it seems he walked into a kind of romantic celestial field of daffodils. ‘The Prelude’ traces the growth of his mind through dark regions of intellect to an escape into his connectivity with nature. This was especially so following his great disappointment after going to France and becoming actively involved in the French Revolution. His invented life-force being called ‘Nature’ provided both great joy as well as a spiritual answer to his life.

He was certainly a great appreciator of nature and although not a ‘political environmentalist’ in terms of the sensitivity of today he does highlight humanity as being subservient within the forces of a greater natural world. How this ‘animal’ called nature responds to the threats posed by an indignant humanity is another question.

Some selected lines from ‘The Prelude’ (First Book, lines 401 to 424)

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought!
That giv’st to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion! not in vain,
By day or star-light thus from my first dawn
Of Childhood didst Thou intertwine for me
The passions that build up our human Soul,
Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man,
But with high objects, with enduring things,
With life and nature, purifying thus
The elements of feeling and of thought,
And sanctifying, by such discipline,
Both pain and fear, until we recognize
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.

Nor was this fellowship vouchsaf’d to me
With stinted kindness. In November days,
When vapours, rolling down the valleys, made
A lonely scene more lonesome; among woods
At noon, and ‘mid the calm of summer nights,
When, by the margin of the trembling Lake,
Beneath the gloomy hills I homeward went
In solitude, such intercourse was mine;
‘Twas mine among the fields both day and night,
And by the waters all the summer long.

William Wordsworth

WW also poses the question on whether we (you, I and humanity in general) have dim hearing to the voice of nature – are we caught up in the ‘vulgar works of man’.

A link to WW on Wikipedia

The Summer Day – Mary Oliver – Comments

Mary Oliver is re-known for aligning the natural word with femininity. Here is one of her well known poems. I have broken the poem into a number of components with my commentary following in italics.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?

… from the general nebulous consideration to that of the very specific – the grasshopper … let us consider creation at this level where we can get our hands and eyes easily engaged

This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

… so looking at the grasshopper and with personal observation … the jaws and eyes are stand out features

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

… you can imagine interest kept until the grasshopper floats away … implying a sustained focus … and admiration in the movement of the insect

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

… an introduction to what is prayer for MO

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

… prayer can involve kneeling which is very apt … prayer can involve focus and awareness … so too appreciation … in this case an appreciation of nature for MO has spent the summer day in idle blessing of the wonder of nature … a way of saying thank you in the form of a living prayer of just being … exudes a certain contentment

Tell me, what else should I have done?

… very apt to be appreciative of nature on a summer day … we should all do this too … say thank you for the blessing of the natural world … defined specifically by our own place and time … whether or not we have fields at hand to wander in wonderment

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

… make the most of every moment – appreciate what we have … now and to the full

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your wild and precious life?

… a question that only the reader can answer … you are wild – part of the natural world … and of course you are precious … like all life

Mary Oliver (1935 – ) from House of Light

Perhaps this poem highlights the need for us to stop for a moment and say thank you … and interesting to look closely around us too … to see our blessings which we quite often take for granted … and be content on where we are … I guess we all need to do this at times.

A link to Mary Oliver reading this poem .

Mary Oliver on Wilipedia. 

Blue Moles – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Blue Moles

1
They’re out of the dark’s ragbag, these two
Moles dead in the pebbled rut,
Shapeless as flung gloves, a few feet apart —-
Blue suede a dog or fox has chewed.
One, by himself, seemed pitiable enough,
Little victim unearthed by some large creature
From his orbit under the elm root.
The second carcass makes a duel of the affair:
Blind twins bitten by bad nature.

The sky’s far dome is sane and clear.
Leaves, undoing their yellow caves
Between the road and the lake water,
Bare no sinister spaces. Already
The moles look neutral as the stones.
Their corkscrew noses, their white hands
Uplifted, stiffen in a family pose.
Difficult to imagine how fury struck —-
Dissolved now, smoke of an old war.

2
Nightly the battle-snouts start up
In the ear of the veteran, and again
I enter the soft pelt of the mole.
Light’s death to them: they shrivel in it.
They move through their mute rooms while I sleep,
Palming the earth aside, grubbers
After the fat children of root and rock.
By day, only the topsoil heaves.
Down there one is alone.

Outsize hands prepare a path,
They go before: opening the veins,
Delving for the appendages
Of beetles, sweetbreads, shards — to be eaten
Over and over. And still the heaven
Of final surfeit is just as far
From the door as ever. What happens between us
Happens in darkness, vanishes
Easy and often as each breath.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes attended ‘Yaddo’ the artist retreat at Saratoga Springs, New York for eleven weeks between September and November 1959. This was one of the poems she wrote at that time. The poem followed her experience of finding two dead moles on the path while walking in the area.

Part 1 … the encounter …
S1 … a description on an unexpected sight … nice comparison with a couple of dropped gloves … she feels pity for them at the hands of some large creature … and they have left their underworld life – the world in which they ‘orbit’ … they could have been twins and had a fight … S1 ends by reflecting that this is ’bad nature’ – projecting her values on what she sees … seemingly the pointless death of the two creatures
S2 … it might have been a clear autumn sky on her walk and there is great contrast between the underground mystery dirt-orbit of the mole and the dome of clarity in the sky in the first line of this stanza …there is no evidence of their burrow from disturbing the surface leaves … they have been neutralised by coming to the surface and being killed become blended with the ground … SP always has a knack of using interesting words – ‘corkscrew noses’ … and then the closing thought how did this happen … the fury of the attack over – only the smoke of battle

Part 2 … the life of the mole personified …
S3 … SP enters the skin of the animal and goes to battle for mole food … imagining what it’s like down there while she is sleeping – the only evidence she has is the above ground mole-hills created as they tunnel … I don’t know though whether they are ‘alone’ presumably moles have underground families … note their killing for food appears legitimate in contrast to the death of the moles
S4 … SP concentrates on the foraging for food aspect … heaven is equated to a surfeit of food (well my dog Rani would agree!) … but what happens down there happens in darkness and continues constantly akin to our breathing in and out … the endless strive for nourishment and the maintenance of existence

SP wrote this on her stay stay at ‘Yaddo’ . She was aged 27 and pregnant with Frieda … not quite knowing where she was going with her work … perhaps at the time more interested in stories than poetry … and in the shadow of TH … in December 1959 the couple would return to England … in three years (Oct 62) much would have changed in her life – she would be separated from TH, in London, with two young children and bravely surviving the mental trauma that plagued her life as she penned her ‘Ariel’ poems. Her definitive work much recognised after her death.