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.
All poets are club-footed
with wings of ink and paper.
– Nona Blyth Cloud
Last week, I covered Romantic Love. But on this Valentine’s Day, I must embrace the longest-lasting love of my life: Books. My love affair with the printed word began even before I could read – because my mother, from whom I inherited this life-long love of books, read to me nightly, instead of singing one of those scary lullabies about falling out of trees, or a mother going off to gather blackberries and losing her baby – who decided songs full of injury, death, and violence were the way to sing children to sleep?!
Anyway, being read to was wonderful, but I soon longed to be able to read books for myself, so I didn’t have to wait until the next night to find out what happened.
This became a major preoccupation of my life. Given a choice between sleep, and finishing the story, the story almost always wins. Even if the book is one I’ve re-read many times, the words at the end of a much-loved book remain so satisfying, in a way which few other things in life ever are.
Fortunately, I am not alone in my obsession. Here’s a sheaf of valentines for booklovers from some of my favorite poets:
I Opened a Book
by Julia Donaldson
I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.
I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.
I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.
“I Opened a Book” from Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, © Julia Donaldson 2004 – Macmillan Children’s Books
Julia Donaldson (1948 – ) born Julia Catherine Shield in Hamstead, London; prolific English author, playwright, songwriter, and performer, best known for rhyming stories for children, including The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, and Stick Man. Served as the UK Children’s Laureate (2011-2013).
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
by John Keats
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
“On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” from The Complete Poems of John Keats – Modern Library, 1994 edition
John Keats (1795-1821), the much-loved English poet who was born in London, and published three books of poetry before he died at age 25 of tuberculosis.
There is no Frigate like a Book (1286)
by Emily Dickinson
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
“There is no Frigate like a Book” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson – Pantianos Classics, 1924 edition
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.
by Edgar Guest
Good books are friendly things to own.
If you are busy they will wait.
They will not call you on the phone
Or wake you if the hour is late.
They stand together row by row,
Upon the low shelf or the high.
But if you’re lonesome this you know:
You have a friend or two nearby.
The fellowship of books is real.
They’re never noisy when you’re still.
They won’t disturb you at your meal.
They’ll comfort you when you are ill.
The lonesome hours they’ll always share.
When slighted they will not complain.
And though for them you’ve ceased to care
Your constant friends they’ll still remain.
Good books your faults will never see
Or tell about them round the town.
If you would have their company
You merely have to take them down.
They’ll help you pass the time away,
They’ll counsel give if that you need.
He has true friends for night and day
Who has a few good books to read.
This poem is in the public domain.
Edgar Guest (1881-1959) was born in Birmingham, England. He moved with his family to Detroit, Michigan when he was ten years old. Two years later, his father lost his job, and Edgar began working odd jobs after school. In 1985, he was hired as a copy boy for the Detroit Free Press, where he would work for almost sixty-five years. His father died when he was seventeen, and Guest was forced to drop out of high school and work full time at the newspaper. He was promoted from copy boy to a job in the news department. His first poem appeared in the paper on December 11, 1898. Guest’s weekly column, “Chaff,” debuted in 1904; his topical verses eventually became the daily “Breakfast Table Chat,” which was syndicated to over three-hundred newspapers throughout the United States. From 1931 to 1942, he broadcast a weekly program on NBC radio. In 1951, “A Guest in Your Home” appeared on NBC TV. He published more than twenty volumes of poetry and was thought to have written over 11,000 poems. Guest has been called “the poet of the people.” Most often, his poems were fourteen lines long and presented a deeply sentimental view of everyday life. Edgar Guest considered himself “a newspaper man who wrote verses.”
Lines On Reading Too Many Poets
by Dorothy Parker
Roses, rooted warm in earth,
Bud in rhyme, another age;
Lilies know a ghostly birth
Strewn along a patterned page;
Golden lad and chimbley sweep
Die; and so their song shall keep.
Wind that in Arcadia starts
In and out a couplet plays;
And the drums of bitter hearts
Beat the measure of a phrase.
Sweets and woes but come to print
Quae cum ita sint.
(Latin translation: ‘since these things are so’)
“Lines on Reading Too Many Poets” from Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems, © 1973 by the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People – Penguin Classics, 2010 edition
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) born in Long Branch, New Jersey; American poet, wit, editor, and literary critic. Her formal education ended at 14, but Parker was a founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table (circa 1919-1929). When the New Yorker debuted in 1925, Dorothy Parker was on the editorial board. As the magazine’s “Constant Reader,” she contributed poetry, fiction — and book reviews famous for pulling no punches: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” She made four failed suicide attempts, and said in an interview when she turned 70, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead. All my friends are.” In 1967, Parker did die, of a heart attack, at age 73. She bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she had never met.
Notes on the Art of Poetry
by Dylan Thomas
I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.
“Notes on the Art of Poetry” from the essay Notes on the Art of Poetry, © 1951 by Dylan Thomas – New Directions (2003)
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) Welsh poet and author; he left school at 16 and worked as a journalist for a short time. By 1934, he was a well-known poet and short story writer, but found earning a living as a writer was difficult, so he augmented his income with reading tours and radio broadcasts. Under Milkwood, A Child’s Christmas in Wales and other works were broadcast by BBC radio. He also went on tours in America during the early 1950s, before his death at age 39 in New York City in 1953, from the combined effects of alcoholism and bronchial disease.
by Denise Levertov
Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don’t know the
the line. They
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
most of all.
“The Secret” from O Taste and See: New Poems, © 1964 by Denise Levertov – New Directions Publishing
Denise Levertov (1923-1997) British-born American poet, known for her anti-Vietnam war poems in the 1960s and 1970s, which also included themes of destruction by greed, racism, and sexism. Her later poetry reflects her conversion to Catholicism. No matter the subject, she was always an acute observer, and wrote with a rare combination of economy and grace. Levertov was the author of 24 books of poetry, as well as non-fiction, and she served as poetry editor of The Nation and Mother Jones. She was honored with the Robert Frost Medal in 1990, and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1993. In 1997, Levertov died from complications of lymphoma at age 74.