Saturday, May 13, 2017

Maze poem

I came across this one yesterday and decided to post it:

Reflections on Walking in the Maze at Hampton Court

Published in British Magazine, 1747, author unknown


“What is this mighty Labyrinth – the earth,

But a wild maze the moment of our birth?

Still as we life pursue the maze extends,

Nor find we where each winding purlieu ends;

Crooked and vague each step of life we tread, —

Unseen the danger, we escape the dread!

But with delight we through the labyrinth range,

Confused we turn, and view each artful change –

Bewildered, through each wild meander bend

Our wandering steps, anxious to gain the end;

Unknown and intricate, we still pursue

A certain path, uncertain of the clue;

Like hoodwinked fools, perplex’d we grope our way

And during life’s short course we blindly stray,

Puzzled in mazes and perplex’d with fears;

Unknown alike both heaven and earth appears.

Till at the last, to banish our surprise,

Grim Death unbinds the napkin from our eyes.

Then shall Gay’s truth and wisdom stand confest,

And Death will shew us Life was but a jest.”


Friday, May 12, 2017

from wood to field to sky

Here is a very puzzling and enigmatic poem by the great British poet Stevie Smith:



Why is the word pretty so underrated?

In November the leaf is pretty when it falls   

The stream grows deep in the woods after rain   

And in the pretty pool the pike stalks


He stalks his prey, and this is pretty too,   

The prey escapes with an underwater flash   

But not for long, the great fish has him now   

The pike is a fish who always has his prey


And this is pretty. The water rat is pretty

His paws are not webbed, he cannot shut his nostrils   

As the otter can and the beaver, he is torn between   

The land and water. Not ‘torn’, he does not mind.


The owl hunts in the evening and it is pretty

The lake water below him rustles with ice

There is frost coming from the ground, in the air mist   

All this is pretty, it could not be prettier.


Yes, it could always be prettier, the eye abashes   

It is becoming an eye that cannot see enough,   

Out of the wood the eye climbs. This is prettier   

A field in the evening, tilting up.


The field tilts to the sky. Though it is late   

The sky is lighter than the hill field

All this looks easy but really it is extraordinary   

Well, it is extraordinary to be so pretty.


And it is careless, and that is always pretty

This field, this owl, this pike, this pool are careless,   

As Nature is always careless and indifferent

Who sees, who steps, means nothing, and this is pretty.


So a person can come along like a thief—pretty!—

Stealing a look, pinching the sound and feel,   

Lick the icicle broken from the bank

And still say nothing at all, only cry pretty.


Cry pretty, pretty, pretty and you’ll be able   

Very soon not even to cry pretty

And so be delivered entirely from humanity   

This is prettiest of all, it is very pretty.                                                          Stevie Smith

I am writing about this poem for a presentation at a critical seminar on Stevie Smith at the West Chester Poetry Conference in early June.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

End of the Semester

It's exam week.  I've finished grading all the papers, and now am beginning to grade the finals.

In other words, it's a busy time.

Here are a few cartoons/memes about this time of year:


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

All on a May Morning

I have never been so glad of May!   Not sure why, but it is true.

Today I was thinking of all the old folk ballads set in May.  Most of them tell stories of lost love, but they are beautiful.

Here are a few:

Banks of Claudy

'Twas on a summer's morning all in the month of May
And through some flowery gardens I carelessly did stray
I overheard a damsel in sorrow to complain
All for her absent lover that ploughed the raging main

I steppe'd up unto her and put her in surprise
I swear she did not know me, I being all in disguise
Says I, My handsome maiden, my joy and heart's delight
How far must you then wander this dark and dreary night

Just to the Banks of Claudy if you'll be pleased to show
Take pity on a fair maid, it's there I have to go
In search of a faithless young man, and Johnny is his name
And on the Banks of Claudy I'm told he does remain

These are the Banks of Claudy, young maid whereon you stand
But do not trust your Johnny for he's a false young man
No do not trust your Johnny, he will not meet you here
So come with me to the meadows and nothing need you fear

If Johnny he were here this night he'd keep me from all harm
But he's in the field of battle all in his uniform
He strives in the field of battle his foes he will destroy
Like a royal king of honour that fought on the banks of Troy

'Tis six long years or better since Johnny left this shore
He's cruising the main ocean performing billows roar
He's cruising the main ocean for honour and for gain
But I'm told his ship was wrecke'd on the cruel coast of Spain

Oh when she heard this dreadful news she fell in deep despair
A-wringing of her milk-white hands and a-tearing of her hair
If my Johnny he be drownded no man alive I'll talke
Through lonesome groves and valleys I'll wander for his sake

When he saw her love for him no longer could he stand
He flew into her arms saying, Patsy I'm your man
I am your faithless young man who you thought lay slain
Now since we met on Claudy Banks we'll never part again

As sung by Alex Campbell




On A Bright May Morning

Top of FormBottom of Form

As I roved out on a bright May morning
To view the meadows and flowers gay
Whom should I spy but my own true lover
As she sat under yon willow tree

I took off my hat and I did salute her
I did salute her most courageously
When she turned around well the tears fell from her
Saying, "False young man, you've deluded me"

A diamond ring I owned I gave you
A diamond ring to wear on your right hand
But the vows you made, love, you went and broke them
And married the lassie that had the land

If I'd married the lassie that had the land, my love
It's that I'll rue till the day I die
When misfortune falls sure no man can shun it
I was blindfolded I'll ne'er deny

Now at nights when I go to my bed of slumber
My thoughts of my true love run in my mind
When I turned around to embrace my darling
Instead of gold sure it's brass I find

And I wish the Queen would call home her army
From the West Indies, America and Spain
And every man to his wedded woman
In hopes that you and I will meet again

on Amazon Music

Padstow (the May Morning Song) by Rankin Family

Unite and unite, oh let us all unite

For summer is a'coming today

And whither we are going, we all will unite

In the merry month of May.

Oh, where are the young men that now here should dance

For summer is a'coming today

Well some there are in England and some are in France

In the merry month of May

Oh, where are the maidens that now here should sing

For summer is a'coming today

They're all out in the meadows a flower gathering

In the merry month of May

The young men of Padstow they might if the would

For summer is a'coming today

They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold

In the merry month of May

Oh where is Saint George, oh where is he oh

He's down in his longboat upon the salt sea oh

Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-o

And Ursula Birdwood, she had an old ewe

And she died in her park-o

With a merry ring and joyful spring

For summer is a'coming today

Oh happy are the little birds and merrily do they sing

In the merry morning of May

Unite and unite oh let us all unite

For summer is a'coming today

And whither we are going we all will unite

In the merry month of May

In the merry month of May




 and of course,  Barbara Allen:


Twas in the merry month of May
When green buds all were swelling,
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was dwelling,
Saying you must come, to my master dear
If your name be Barbara Allen.

So slowly, slowly she got up
And slowly she drew nigh him,
And the only words to him did say
Young man I think you're dying.

He turned his face unto the wall
And death was in him welling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to my friends all
Be good to Barbara Allen.

When he was dead and laid in grave
She heard the death bells knelling
And every stroke to her did say
Hard hearted Barbara Allen.

Oh mother, oh mother go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died of love for me
And I will die of sorrow.

And father, oh father, go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died on yesterday
And I will die tomorrow.

Barbara Allen was buried in the old churchyard
Sweet William was buried beside her,
Out of sweet William's heart, there grew a rose
Out of Barbara Allen's a briar.

They grew and grew in the old churchyard
Till they could grow no higher
At the end they formed, a true lover's knot
And the rose grew round the briar.

Image result for painting    green buds swelling

Monday, May 1, 2017

Catholic Imagination Conference

I returned from this conference yesterday afternoon.  It was the first time I had been to New York City since 2008 -    overwhelming for this country bumpkin!  

The conference was located at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham University.  The weather was beautiful and the campus was amazing to me:  so much nature and loveliness amid the skyscrapers.
Here are some photos of it taken by my fellow poet, Kate Bernadette Benedict:

The hotel where most of us stayed was the Empire Hotel, just two blocks from the conference. Across the street was Dante Square!

We ate our meals in the little atrium in the same building as the conference:

I was on a panel on "Women's Voices"  with Kathleen Hill, Mary Gordon, and Angela Alaimo O'Donnell:

and read a poem of  mine at the kickoff to Presence - A Magazine of Catholic Poetry:

Dana Gioia was there, and read a poem of his, too!

All told, it was a splendid weekend!