TCS: Winter Poets – Musical and Rumorous

  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.

There is no winter without snow,
no spring without sunshine, and
no happiness without companions.

Korean Proverb


This week brings us another plethora of poets – eleven to be exact. Though predominantly American, we also have poets representing England, Norway, Germany, Japan, and Ancient Rome, and their themes leap from classical, to personal, to philosophical.

December 6

Sir Osbert Sitwell (1892-1969) born Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell; English writer, poet, art critic, supporter of the arts, Liberal Party member, and campaigner for the preservation of Georgian buildings – he was successful in saving Sutton Scarsdale Hall, now owned by English Heritage. During WWI, he served in the trenches in France near the Belgium border, which is where he began writing poetry. He is less well-known than his older sister, the poet Edith Sitwell, but he published some travel journals, five novels, short stories, his autobiography Left Hand, Right Hand!, and two poetry collections: Argonaut and Juggernaut and At the House of Mrs Kinfoot.


by Sir Osbert Sitwell

WHEN Orpheus with his wind-swift fingers
Ripples the strings that gleam like rain,
The wheeling birds fly up and sing,
Hither, thither echoing;
There is a crackling of dry twigs,
A sweeping of leaves along the ground,
Fawny faces and dumb eyes
Peer through the fluttering screens
That mask ferocious teeth and claws
Now tranquil.
As the music sighs up the hill-side,
The young ones hear,
Come skipping, ambling, rolling down,
Their soft ears flapping as they run,
Their fleecy coats catching in the thickets,
Till they lie, listening, round his feet.
Unseen for centuries,
Fabulous creatures creep out of their caves,
The unicorn
Prances down from his bed of leaves,
His milk-white muzzle still stained green
With the munching, crunching of mountain-herbs.
The griffin, usually so fierce,
Now tame and amiable again,
Has covered the white bones in his secret cavern
With a rustling pall of dank dead leaves,
While the salamander, true lover of art,
Flickers, and creeps out of the flame;
Gently now, and away he goes,
Kindles his proud and blazing track
Across the forest,
Lies listening,
Cools his fever in the flowing waters of the lute

But when the housewife returns,
Carrying her basket,
She will not understand.
She misses nothing,
Hears nothing.
She will only see
That the fire is dead,
The grate cold.

But the child upstairs,
Alone, in the empty cottage,
Heard a strange wind, like music,
In the forest,
Saw something creep out of the fire.

“Orpheus” from Argonaut and Juggernaut © 1919 by Osbert Sitwell – reprinted in 2015 by Facsimile Publisher

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Ira Gershwin (1896-1983) born as Israel Gershowitz, American lyricist, best known for his collaborations with his younger brother, composer George Gershwin, but he also worked with other composers, including Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill, and Harold Arlen. He began writing lyrics in 1921. He and George wrote their first musical together in 1924, the Broadway hit Lady Be Good. They wrote the scores for over 12 Broadway shows and four films, before George’s sudden death from a brain tumor in 1937. Ira stopped writing for almost three years, before teaming up with a series of other composers, both for Broadway and Hollywood. He wrote the words for such classic songs as The Man I Love, Fascinating Rhythm, Someone to Watch Over Me, I Got Rhythm, and They Can’t Take That Away from Me.

This is one of his later songs, set to music by Vernon Duke

I Can’t Get Started

by Ira Gershwin

I’m a glum one
It’s explainable
I met someone
Life’s a bore
The world is my oyster no more
All the papers
Where I led the news
With my capers
Now will spread the news
Turns Out to Be Flash in the Pan!”

I’ve flown around the world in a plane
I’ve settled revolutions in Spain
The North Pole I have charted, but I can’t get
Started with you

Around the golf course I’m under par
And all the movies want me to star
I’ve got a house, a show place, but I get no
Place with you

You’re so supreme, lyrics I write of you
Scheme, just for a sight of you
Dream, both day and night of you
And what good does it do?

In 1929 I sold short
In England I’m presented at court
But you’ve got me downhearted, cause I can’t get
Started with you

You’re so supreme, lyrics I write of you
Scheme, just for a sight of you
Dream, both day and night of you
And what good does it do?

“I Can’t Get Started” from The Complete Lyrics Of Ira Gershwin, edited by Robert Kimball – 1988 edition, Da Capo Press


December 7

Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) born as Shō Hō, Japanese author, poet, pioneering feminist, and social reformer. Published in 1901, Midaregami (Tangled Hair), her first of several collections of tanka, a traditional Japanese poetry form, contained around 400 poems, the majority of them love poems. It was denounced by most literary critics as vulgar or obscene, but was widely read by freethinkers, as it brought a passionate individualism to this traditional form, unlike any other work of the late Meiji period. The poems defied Japanese society’s expectation of women to always be gentle, modest and passive. In her poems, women are assertively sexual. She frequently wrote for the all-woman literary magazine Seitō (Bluestocking.) Even though she gave birth to 13 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood, she rejected motherhood as her main identity, saying limiting a sense of self to a single aspect of one’s life, however important, entraps women in the old way of thinking.

Labor Pains

by Yosano Akiko

I am sick today,
sick in my body,
eyes wide open, silent,
I lie on the bed of childbirth.

Why do I, so used to the nearness of death,
to pain and blood and screaming,
now uncontrollably tremble with dread?

A nice young doctor tried to comfort me,
and talked about the joy of giving birth.
Since I know better than he about this matter,
what good purpose can his prattle serve?

Knowledge is not reality.
Experience belongs to the past.
Let those who lack immediacy be silent.
Let observers be content to observe.

I am all alone,
totally, utterly, entirely on my own,
gnawing my lips, holding my body rigid,
waiting on inexorable fate.

There is only one truth.
I shall give birth to a child,
truth driving outward from my inwardness.
Neither good nor bad; real, no sham about it.

With the first labor pains,
suddenly the sun goes pale.
The indifferent world goes strangely calm.
I am alone.
It is alone I am.

“Labor Pains” from River of Stars, translation © 1997 by Sam Hamill – Shambhala Publications

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Pearl Cleage (1948 – ) African-American playwright, essayist, novelist, poet and political activist; as a Black feminist, political activist, and a writer, she tackles issues at the crux of racism and sexism. Her best-known novel is What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, and her poetry collections are Dear Dark Faces: Portraits of a People, One for the Brothers, and We Speak Your Names: A Celebration. We Speak Your Names ​​​​​​​is a tribute to all the inspiring black women who came before.

Excerpt from

We Speak Your Names: A Celebration

Because we are free women,
born of free women,
who are born of free women,
back as far as time begins,
we celebrate your freedom.

Because we are wise women,
born of wise women,
who are born of wise women,
we celebrate your wisdom.

Because we are strong women,
born of strong women,
who are born of strong women,
we celebrate your strength.

Because we are magical women,
born of magical women,
who are born of magical women,
we celebrate your magic.

My sisters, we are gathered here to speak your
We are here because we are your daughters
as surely as if you had conceived us, nurtured us,
carried us in your wombs, and then sent us out
into the world to make our mark
and see what we see, and be what we be, but better,
truer, deeper
because of the shining example of your own
incandescent lives.

We are here to speak your names
because we have enough sense to know
that we did not spring full blown from the
forehead of Zeus,
or arrive on the scene like Topsy, our sister once
removed, who somehow just growed.
We know that we are walking in footprints made
deep by the confident strides
of women who parted the air before them like the
forces of nature that you are.

We are here to speak your names
because you taught us that the search is always for
the truth
and that when people show us who they are, we
should believe them.

We are here because you taught us
that sisterspeak can continue to be our native
no matter how many languages we learn as we
move about as citizens of the world
and of the ever-evolving universe.

We are here to speak your names
because of the way you made for us.
Because of the prayers you prayed for us.
We are the ones you conjured up, hoping we
would have strength enough,
and discipline enough, and talent enough, and
nerve enough
to step into the light when it turned in our
direction, and just smile awhile.

We are the ones you hoped would make you
because all of our hard work
makes all of yours part of something better, truer,
Something that lights the way ahead like a lamp
unto our feet,
as steady as the unforgettable beat of our collective

We speak your names.
We speak your names.

– from We Speak Your Names: A Celebration, © 2006 by Pearl Cleage –
One World/Ballantine Books

December 8

Horace (65 BCE-8 BC) born as Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the leading Roman lyric poet (Odes 1-3 and 4) during the rule of Augustus. He also wrote hexameter verses in Satires and Epistles, and caustic iambic poetry in Epodes. His Ars Poetica, a poem in which he advises poets on the art of writing poetry and drama, has influenced poets ever since.

Ode I. 11

by Horace

Leucon, no one’s allowed to know his fate,
Not you, not me: don’t ask, don’t hunt for answers
In tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
More, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
And forget about hope. Time goes running, even
As we talk. Take the present, the future’s no one’s affair.

“Ode I. 11” from The Essential Horace, translation © 1983 by Burton Raffel –
North Point Press/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC

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Bjornstjerne Bjornson (1832-1910) Norwegian writer, poet, and playwright; winner of the 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Norwegian to win a Nobel Prize. He was also a spokesperson for the Norwegian Left-Wing movement.

At Hansteen’s Bier

by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

God, we thank Thee for the dower
Thou gavest Norway in his power,
Whom in the grave we now shall lay!
Starlit paths of thoughts that awe us
His spirit found; his deeds now draw us
To deeds, as mighty magnets play.
He was the first to stand
A light in our free land;
Of our present the first fair crown,
The first renown,
At Norway’s feet he laid it down.

We his shining honors sharing,
And humble now his body bearing,
Shall sing with all the world our praise.
God, who ever guides our nation,
Hath called us to a high vocation
And shown where He our goal doth raise.
People of Norway, glad
Go on, as God us bade!
God has roused you; He knows whereto,
Though we are few.
With Him our future we shall view.

This poem is in the public domain.

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Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966), American poet, short story writer, and essayist. The son of Romanian Jews, he grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His short story about his parents’ disastrous marriage, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” was published in the first issue of the Partisan Review in 1927, and was also the title of his first collection of short stories and poems, published in 1938. In 1959, he became the youngest-ever recipient of the Bollingen Prize, awarded for Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems. In later life, he suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. He died of a heart attack at age 52 in a hotel room. Two days passed before his body was identified at the morgue.

Darkling Summer, Ominous Dusk, Rumorous Rain

by Delmore Schwartz


A tattering of rain and then the reign
Of pour and pouring-down and down,
Where in the westward gathered the filming gown
Of grey and clouding weakness, and, in the mane
Of the light’s glory and the day’s splendor, gold and vain,
Vivid, more and more vivid, scarlet, lucid and more luminous,
Then came a splatter, a prattle, a blowing rain!
And soon the hour was musical and rumorous:
A softness of a dripping lipped the isolated houses,
A gaunt grey somber softness licked the glass of hours.


Again, after a catbird squeaked in the special silence,
And clouding vagueness fogged the windowpane
And gathered blackness and overcast, the mane
Of light’s story and light’s glory surrendered and ended
—A pebble—a ring—a ringing on the pane,
A blowing and a blowing in: tides of the blue and cold
Moods of the great blue bay, and slates of grey
Came down upon the land’s great sea, the body of this day
—Hardly an atom of silence amid the roar
Allowed the voice to form appeal—to call:
By kindled light we thought we saw the bronze of fall.

“Darkling Summer, Ominous Dusk, Rumorous Rain” from Summer Knowledge: Selected Poems (1938-1958), © 1959 by Delmore Schwartz – New Directions Publishing


December 9

John Milton (1608-1674) English poet, intellectual, and civil servant for the Commonwealth of England, after the Second English Civil War. He wrote in English, Latin and Italian, and coined new words in English from Latin and Ancient Greek.. Milton is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost, and he is considered one of the greatest writers in the English language. His prose polemic Areopagitica is among the most influential and impassioned defenses of freedom of speech and of the press. By 1652, Milton was totally blind, forcing him to dictate his verse and prose to  a series of amanuenses. One of them was the poet Andrew Marvell. When the Restoration came in 1660, he went into hiding, some of his work was burned, and he briefly spent time in prison before influential friends arranged his release. He died at age 65.

When I Consider How My Light is Spent

by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
‘Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?’
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.’

This poem is in the public domain.


December 10

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors, lived the life of a recluse in Amherst Massachusetts. She wrote nearly 1800 poems, ignoring the traditional poetic forms prevailing among most of the other poets of her day. The extent of her work wasn’t known until after her death, when her younger sister Lavinia discovered her cache of poems.

Winter is good – his Hoar Delights (1316)

by Emily Dickinson

Winter is good – his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield –
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World –

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty – as a Rose –
Invited with asperity
But welcome when he goes.

This poem is in the public domain.

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Nelly Sachs (1891-1970) German poet and dramatist who lived most of her adult time in Sweden; co-winner with Shmuel Yosef Agnon of the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature. The daughter of a prosperous Jewish manufacturer, Sachs grew up in Berlin, and some of her early poems were published in newspapers in the 1920s. In 1940, she found out she was about to be taken to a forced-labor camp, and escaped with her mother to Sweden, with help from Selma Lagerlöf, with whom she had been corresponding. Lagerlöf interceded with the Swedish royal family on her behalf. Sachs lived with her mother in a one-room apartment, learned Swedish, and translated German poetry into Swedish and Swedish poetry into German. Sachs’s poetry from those years combine lean simplicity with imagery variously tender, searing, or mystical. Her famous “O die Schornsteine” (“O the Chimneys”), in which Israel’s body drifts upward as smoke from the Nazi death camps, was selected as the title poem for a 1967 collection of her work in English translation. Another collection in English translation, The Seeker, and Other Poems, was published in 1970.

Der Schlafwandler

by Nelly Sachs

The sleepwalker
circling on his star
in the white feather of morning
wakes up—
the spot of blood on it calls it to mind—
lets the moon fall startled—
the snowberry shatters
on Night’s black agate
dirtied with dreams—

No pure white on Earth—

translated by Teresa Iverson
“Der Schlafwandler” from Collected Poems – 2011 reprint edition – Green Integer

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Carolyn Kizer (1925-2014), American poet, essayist, and translator. In 1946, Kizer married Stimson Bullitt, the scion of a wealthy Seattle family, and had three children in quick succession. During this time, she nearly stopped writing poetry. They divorced in 1954. Kizer became the first editor of the journal Poetry Northwest (1959-1964). Her first poetry collection, The Ungrateful Garden, was published in 1961. Through the State Department, she got a job teaching in Pakistan (1964-1965), then was the first director of literary programs for the National Endowment for the Arts (1966-1970). She won three Pushcart Prizes, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Yin, and in 1988 she won both the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, and the Robert Frost Medal.


by Carolyn Kizer

For more than thirty years we hadn’t met.
I remembered the bright query of your face,
That single-minded look, intense and stern,
Yet most important -how could I forget?-
Was what your taught me inadvertently
(tutored by books and parents, even more
By my own awe at what was yet to learn):
The finest intellect can be a bore.

At this, perhaps our final interview,
Still luminous with your passion to instruct,
You speak to that recalcitrant pupil who
Inhaled the chalk-dust of your rhetoric.
I nod, I sip my wine, I praise your view,
Grateful, my dear, that I escaped from you.

“Reunion” from Cool, Calm, and Collected: Poems 1960-2000, © 2001 by Carolyn Kizer, Copper Canyon Press



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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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3 Responses to TCS: Winter Poets – Musical and Rumorous

  1. “Reunion” certainly gave me a chuckle!

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