. . Good Morning!
Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
Raise your words, not your voice.
It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .– Rumi
Inspiration, that elusive thread which may guide us safely through the mind’s labyrinth, or snap, abandoning us in the dark – fickle, mocking, or flashing brilliantly – the bête noire and mother-muse of every writer and every artist, from the greatest to the least.
It is a reflection of the transitory and paradoxical nature of all life: everything remains unchanged, but nothing stays the same.
The idea for today’s post began with the birthday of Lady Mary Wroth on October 18, 1587.
Even as we look back from our vantage of 400 years later, this sonnet by Lady Mary tells us how very little the social construct and politics have changed.
by Lady Mary Wroth
False hope, which feeds but to destroy, and spill
What it first breeds, unnatural to the birth
Of thine own womb; conceiving but to kill,
And plenty gives to make the greater dearth,
So Tyrants do who falsely ruling earth
Outwardly grace them, and with profits fill
Advance those who appointed are to death
To make their greater fall to please their will.
Thus shadow they their wicked vile intent
Colouring evil with a show of good
While in fair shows their malice so is spent;
Hope kills the heart, and Tyrants shed the blood.
For hope deluding brings us to the pride
Of our desires the farther down to slide.
“Sonnet 35” from The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth, edited by Josephine A. Roberts – Louisiana State University – 1992 edition
Lady Mary Wroth (1587-1652) English Renaissance poet, one of the first women to achieve an enduring reputation in literature; author of Urania, the first known, still surviving prose romance written by an English woman, the sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, and Love’s Victory, a pastoral closet drama (reader’s theatre piece for private performance). Her writing became an escape from her marriage to a drunkard and gambler whose death left her deeply in debt. The rest of her life was filled with financial uncertainty, and scandal over a long-enduring love affair which ended badly. A storm of criticism of her epic and somewhat autobiographical novel, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, kept it from being republished in her lifetime, because of its political content and its questioning of the conventional restrictions placed on women. Only the year of her death, 1652, is now known – the day of it passed unmarked.
William Shakespeare achieved the immortality of being remembered as the greatest writer in the English tongue – his influence on the English language continues to be felt, so much so that a number of ‘knotty-pated fools’ have attempted to steal his work, and credit it to other, lesser writers.
by William Shakespeare
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
“Sonnet LXXIII” from Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Folger Shakespeare Library 2004 edition – Simon & Schuster
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English playwright, poet, and actor, the greatest writer in the English language, and the world’s greatest dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon.”
William Butler Yates rather neatly fits the definition of that great Scrabble word quixotic: idealistic, romantic, visionary, utopian, extravagant, starry-eyed, and unworldly.
VIII – from Among School Children
by William Butler Yeats
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
“Among School Children” from The Poems of W. B. Yeats: A New Edition, © renewed 1961 by Georgie Yeats – Macmillan Publishing
William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) Irish poet, dramatist, and prose writer; admired as one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. He is a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival (also ironically called the Celtic Twilight), and a co-founder of the Abbey Theatre with Lady Augusta Gregory. His collected works take up fourteen volumes.
Wislawa Szymborska’s poems delve deep into the problems of human existence, without ever losing their groundling in the everydayness of living. She is both wise and whimsical.
No Title Required
by Wislawa Szymborska
It’s come to this: I’m sitting under a tree,
beside a river
on a sunny morning.
It’s an insignificant event
and won’t go down in history.
It’s not battles and pacts,
whose motives are scrutinized,
or noteworthy tyrannicides.
And yet I’m sitting by this river, that’s a fact.
And since I’m here,
I must have come from somewhere,
and before that
I must have turned up in many other places,
exactly like the conquerors of nations
before setting sail.
Even a passing moment has its fertile past,
its Friday before Saturday,
its May before June.
Its horizons are no less real
than those a marshal’s fieldglasses might scan.
This tree is a poplar that’s been rooted here for years.
The river is the Raba; it didn’t spring up yesterday.
The path leading through the bushes
wasn’t beaten last week.
The wind had to blow the clouds here
before it could blow them away.
And though nothing much is going on nearby,
the world’s no poorer in details for that,
it’s just as grounded, just as definite
as when migrating races held it captive.
Conspiracies aren’t the only things shrouded in silence.
Retinues of reasons don’t trail coronations alone.
Anniversaries of revolutions may roll around,
but so do oval pebbles encircling the bay.
The tapestry of circumstance is intricate and dense.
Ants stitching in the grass.
The grass sewn into the ground.
The pattern of a wave being needled by a twig.
So it happens that I am and look.
Above me a white butterfly is fluttering through the air
on wings that are its alone
and a shadow skims through my hands
that is none other, no one else’s, but its own.
When I see such things I’m no longer sure
that what’s important
is more important than what’s not.
– translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
“No Title Required” from Map: Collected and Last Poems, © by The Wislawa Szymborska Foundation, English translations © 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) Polish poet, essayist, translator, and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel award committee’s citation called her the “Mozart of poetry,” a woman who mixed the elegance of language with “the fury of Beethoven.” Ironically, she was not a prolific poet – she published less than 350 poems. When asked why she had published so few poems, she said: “I have a trash can in my home.” Although initially close to the official party line of the Polish Communist Party, as it shifted to nationalist communism, Szymborska grew estranged from socialist ideology and renounced her earlier political work. She did not officially leave the Communist party until 1966, but as early as 1957, she began to establish contacts with dissidents, including Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the influential Paris-based émigré journal Kultura, to which she contributed. Her one-of-a kind advice book, How to Start Writing (and When to Stop) is now a classic.
Coming suddenly upon a huge tree, uprooted the night before by a violent storm, inspired Pablo Neruda to write this poem.
Ode to a Dead Carob Tree
by Pablo Neruda
We were traveling from
was our planet,
by azure sky:
heat and light in emptiness.
toward forsaken Ongamira
that we saw
horizontal on the prairie
a toppled giant,
a dead carob tree.
ripped out its silvery
left them twisted
like tangled hair, a tortured mane
unmoving in the wind.
I walked closer, and such
was its ruined strength,
so heroic the branches on the ground,
the crown radiating such
I touched its trunk
I felt it throbbing,
and a surge
from the heart of the tree
made me close my eyes
It was sturdy and furrowed
by time, a strong
by earth and rain,
and like a
it had spread its rounded
arms of wood
green light and shadow
on the plain.
of the prairie,
this sturdy carob,
strong as iron,
and with a blast from the sky
had felled its beauty.
I stood there staring
at what only yesterday
forest sounds and nests,
but I did not weep
because my dead brother
was as beautiful in death as in life.
I said good-bye. And left it
on the mother earth.
I left the wind
keeping watch and weeping,
and from afar I saw
caressing its head.
– translated by Margaret Sayers Peden
“Ode to a Dead Carob Tree” from All the Odes: Pablo Neruda – Farr, Strauss and Giroux, 2017 Bilingual Edition
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) born as Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto on July 12, 1904. He was a Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He is considered the national poet of Chile. Neruda’s writing covered a wide range: historical epics, political manifestos, an autobiography, surrealist poems, and passionate love poetry. His first collection of verse, Crepusculario (Book of Twilights) was published in 1923 under his pen name, Pablo Neruda. Crepusculario was quickly followed in 1924 by Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song), which is still the best-selling book of poetry in the Spanish language.
The difference in how we view our experiences as children when we look back on them as grownups inspired Ada Limón to write “Before.”
by Ada Limón
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.
“Before” from Bright Dead Things, © 2015 by Ada Limón – Milkweed Editions
Ada Limón (1976 – ) is the author of Lucky Wreck (Autumn House Press, 2006), The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) and Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and her home town, Sonoma, California.
Ellen Bass asks both herself and us the question “What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?”
If You Knew
by Ellen Bass
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?
“If You Knew” from The Human Line, © 2007 by Ellen Bass – Copper Canyon Press
Ellen Bass grew up in New Jersey, earned an MA in creative writing from Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton. She is a poet, nonfiction author, and teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University. Her book The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, sold over a million copies and has been translated into 12 languages. Her poetry collections include Mules of Love, winner of the 2002 Lambda Literary Prize for Lesbian Poetry; The Human Line; Like a Beggar; and Indigo. She has also been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Pablo Neruda Prize, and a New Letters Literary Prize. In 2021, she was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry.
In the end, only three things
matter: how much you loved,
how gently you lived, and
how gracefully you let go of
things not meant for you.