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.
“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something
about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
– Lily Tomlin
“The essence of optimism is that it takes no account
of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of
vitality and hope where others have resigned; it
enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the
future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian
and anti-Nazi martyr
Twelve poets, whose points of view range from to despair to optimism, were born this week.
I think Frances Dana Barker Gage would be very disappointed with how far from her imaginings “The Future” — now well past her 100-year deadline — has turned out to be.
But I for one would love to be sitting around a dinner table with this group, having a discussion of what comes next.
My Heart’s Song
by Aleksis Kivi
Absalon, my son, that I could have died for you, my son.
Life holds no pleasure, let me descend to hell, weeping:
Grove of Tuoni, grove of evening,
There a sandy cradle is waiting,
There I will carry my child.
There the child is free from sorrow
In the wood, in the meadow
Tending the cattle of Tuoni.
There my child is free from sorrow
When the evening casts its shadow
Rocked in the cradle of Tuoni.
There my child is free from sorrow,
Lulled to sleep by a birdsong mellow,
Rocked in a cradle of gold.
Peace of Tuoni, far from passion
Far away from man’s oppression
Far from the treacherous world.
(In Finnish mythology, Tuoni is the god of the underworld, darkness personified.)
“My Heart’s Song” is in the public domain.
Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872) born as Alexis Stenvall in Palojoki, a village in the Grand Duchy of Finland, on October 10, 1834. He is among the very earliest authors of prose and lyrics in Finnish; author of Seitsemän veljestä (“Seven Brothers”), considered the first significant novel written in the Finnish language. Also known for his play Nummisuutarit (The Cobblers on the Heath). Kivi is regarded as the national author of Finland, and his birthday is celebrated as Finnish Literature Day.
Of a Wild White Bird
by Louise Mack
To soar as a wild white bird,
With a song unbound and fetterless!
With a gush of song in the throat,
Loosened and loud and letterless,
And the wind its only accompaniment.
To sing and soar and look down
On a world one leaves when one tires of it:
With a glancing wing for a sail,
Dashing, when one desires of it,
Through the spray of the great sea-wilderness.
Or sweeping with mighty curves
From land to sky, and to land again:
To cast off Time, and to stay
Where one’s will alone lays hand on one:
Not to own or owe in the universe.
Sudden and swift some day
Meet Death, and know no fear of Him,
But close the eyes and have done.
. . . When a wild bird dies none hear of him.
He has sung and ceased, and is happiest.
“Of a Wild White Bird” is in the public domain.
Louise Mack (1870-1935) born as Marie Louise Hamilton Mack on October 10, 1870, in Hobart, Tasmania; Australian poet, novelist, journalist, columnist, pioneering woman war correspondent, and eye witness to the WWI German invasion of Antwerp. She was under shell-fire for thirty-six hours in Antwerp, then stole through the German lines to Brussels. Her fearlessness earned her great fame in Australia, and many audiences came to hear Mack’s lectures about her war experiences, and when she spoke at fundraisers for the Australian Red Cross Society. Her books include Dreams in Flower: Book of Poems, and the novels The World is Round, Girls Together, and The Romance of a Woman of Thirty.
Directions to My Imaginary Childhood
by Nick Carbó
If you stand on the corner
of Mabini Street and Legazpi Avenue,
wait for an orchid colored mini-bus
with seven oblong doors,
open the fourth door—
an oscillating electric fan
will be driving, tell her to proceed
to the Escolta diamond district—
you will pass Maneng Viray’s Bar,
La Isla de los Ladrones book shop,
the Frederick Funston fish sauce factory,
and as you turn left into Calle de Recuerdos,
you will see Breton, Bataille, and Camus
seated around a card table playing
roll down your window and ask
them if Mr. Florante and Miss Laura
are home, if the answer is, yes,
then proceed to Noli Me Tangere park
and wait for a nun named Maria Clara—
if the answer is, Je ne se pas!, then turn
right onto the parking lot of Sikatuna’s
supermarket to buy a basketful
of lansones fruit, then get back
to Calle de Recuerdos until you reach
the part that’s lined with tungsten-red
Juan Tamad trees, on the right will be
a house with an acknowledgments page
and an index, open the door and enter
this page and look me in the eye.
“Directions to My Imaginary Childhood” from Andalusian Dawn, © 2004 by Nick Carbó – Cherry Grove Collections
Nick Carbó (1964 – ) was born on October 1o, 1964, in Legazpi, Philippines; Filipino-American poet, essayist, magazine editor, and anthologist. Best known for his poetry collection Secret Asian Man, which won the Asian American Writers Workshop’s Readers Choice Award. Other poetry books include Running Amok, El Grupo McDonald’s, and Andalusian Dawn, for which he won the 2005 Calatagan Award from the Philippine American Writers & Artists.
by Steen Steensen Blicher
The time approaches for me to part!
Now winter’s voice is compelling;
A bird of passage, I know my heart
In other climes has its dwelling.
I have long known that I cannot stay;
Though this is no cause for grieving,
So free from care as I wend my way
I sing at times before leaving.
I should at times have perhaps sung more –
Or should perhaps have sung better;
But dark days crowded oft to the fore,
And gales my feathers did scatter.
In God’s fair world I would fain have tried
To spread my wings out in freedom;
But I’m imprisoned on every side
And can’t escape from my thralldom.
From lofty skies would I fain have tried
To blithely sing and not fretted;
But for my shelter and food must bide
A jailbird poor and indebted.
At times I make the consoling choice
To let my gaze outward wander:
And sometimes send my poor mournful voice
Through prison bars yearning yonder.
Then listen, traveller, to this song;
To pass this way please endeavour!
It might, God knows, not last very long
Before this voice fades for ever.
This coming evening, I can foretell,
May see my prison bars breaking;
For I will sing now a fond farewell,
Perhaps my final leave-taking.
This poem is in the public domain.
Steen Steensen Blicher (1782-1848) was born on October 11, 1782, in Vium, Denmark; Danish author, poet, and clergyman, although he was more interested in writing and hunting than preaching. He struggled with alcoholism, and was dismissed from his office shortly before his death. He is considered the pioneer of the novella and the short story in Danish. Several of his poems have been used as lyrics for songs.
To a Singing Bird
by Maria James
Hush, hush that lay of gladness,
It fills my heart with pain,
But touch some note of sadness,
Some melancholy strain,
That tells of days departed,
Of hopes forever flown;
Some golden dream of other years,
To riper age unknown.
The captive, bow’d in sadness,
Impatient to be free,
Might call that lay of gladness
The voice of liberty, —
Again the joyous carol,
Warn gushing, peals along,
As if thy very latest breath
Would spend itself in song.
Oft as I hear those tones of thine,
Will thoughts like these intrude;
‘If once compared, thy lot with mine,
How cold my gratitude.
Though gloom, or sunshine, mark the hours,
Thy bosom, ne’ertheless,
Will pour, as from its inmost fount,
The tide of thankfulness.’
“To a Singing Bird” is in the public domain
Maria James (1793-1868) born in Wales on October 11, 1793; American domestic servant and poet; emigrated to the U.S. with her family at age 7; after she was found to make neat stitches but sewed too slowly, her apprenticeship to a dressmaker was ended, and she went into domestic service, most often as a nursery maid. She wrote poetry in her limited spare time. In 1833, Sarah Nott Potter returned from a visit to friends, and showed her husband, Bishop Alonzo Potter, a copy of a poem written by a young woman in service to the family she visited . The Bishop was intrigued, and sought more poems written by Maria James. In 1839, he arranged for the publication of Wales and other Poems, with a lengthy — and pretty pompous — introduction written by himself, telling readers that Maria James “solaced a life of labor with intellectual occupations,” and that “her achievements should be made known to repress the supercilious pride of the privileged and educated.”
por Adela Zamudio
Cuando abrasado por la sed del alma
quiere el hombre, viajero del desierto,
al dintel de las puertas de la gloria,
“Detente aquí” le dice a la mujer.
Y al volver a emprender la ardua carrera,
si siente que flaquea su valor,
“Ven, ven —la dice entonces—,
tú eres mi compañera
en las horas de lucha y dolor…”
by Adela Zamudio
Thirsting in the desert of ambition,
in search of recognition he holds dear,
a man stands at the threshold of glory;
to his wife he says, “Stand back and stay here.”
And when he resumes his arduous quest,
his courage failing, his fortunes adverse,
“Stay by my side,” he beseeches his wife,
“for so you did swear, for better or worse.”
– translated by Laura Nagel, translation © 2021
Adela Zamudio (1854-1928) born on October 11, 1854, in Cochabamba, Bolivia; Bolivian poet, feminist, essayist, and educator, cited as the most famous Bolivian poet, and the founder of the Bolivian feminist movement. Her first poem to be published was “Two Roses” when she was 15 years old, under her pen-name, Soledad. Her first book, Poetic Essays, wasn’t published until 1887. Zamudio taught at Escuela San Alberto, and later became a director of a girls’ high school, which was renamed Liceo Adela Zamudio in her honor. She was an advocate of higher education for women, an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church’s paternalism, and campaigned for women’s rights, separation of church and state, civil marriage, legalization of divorce, and the labor movement. A Bolivian Catholic women’s group publically condemned her. She was one of the founders of Feminiflor, a Bolivian feminist magazine, compiled a spelling book in Quechua for use in schools, and composed many poems in the Quechua language. In 1926, she was awarded a medal by Bolivia’s president for her writing. Her birthday is now honored in Bolivia as Día de la Mujer Boliviana.
One Hundred Years Hence
by Frances Dana Barker Gage
One hundred years hence, what a change will be made
In politics, morals, religion and trade,
In statesmen who wrangle or ride on the fence,
These things will be altered a hundred years hence.
Our laws then will be uncompulsory rules,
Our prisons converted to national schools,
The pleasure of sinning ‘tis all a pretense,
And people will find that, a hundred years hence.
All cheating and fraud will be laid on the shelf,
Men will not get drunk, nor be bound up in self,
But all live together, good neighbors and friends,
As Christian folks ought to, a hundred years hence.
Then woman, man’s partner, man’s equal shall stand,
While beauty and harmony govern the land,
To think for oneself will be no offense,
The world will be thinking, a hundred years hence.
Oppression and war will be heard of no more
Nor blood of a slave leave his print on our shore,
Conventions will then be a useless expense,
For we’ll go free-suffrage a hundred years hence.
Instead of speech-making to satisfy wrong,
We’ll all join the chorus to sing Freedom’s song;
And if the Millennium is not a pretense,
We’ll all be good neighbors a hundred years hence.
“One Hundred Years Hence” was published as the lyrics of a hymn in 1934, but was published in Poems, by Mrs. Frances Dana Gage, in 1867.
Frances Dana Barker Gage (1808-1884) was born October 12, 1808, to an Ohio farming family, the 10th of eleven children. She was an American feminist, reformer, abolitionist, and author, who worked closely with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other early U.S. women’s rights leaders. Barker Gage was among the first to champion voting rights for all citizens without regard to race or gender, and was a particularly outspoken supporter of giving newly freed African American women the franchise during Reconstruction, along with African American men who had formerly been slaves. She wrote children’s books under the pen name Aunt Fanny, but also wrote essays, poetry, and novels. Her poem “A Hundred Years Hence” became a hymn. Barker Gage wrote that she became a woman suffragist when she was ten years old, when helping her father make barrels. Her father praised her work, but lamented her “accident of gender.” Gage wrote that this was a turning point for her, the incident arousing hatred of the limitations of sex and laying the foundation for her later activism. She left the Unitarian church when they “refused to go with me as an abolitionist, an advocate for the rights of women, for earnest temperance pleaders … I have read much, thought much, and feel that life is too precious to be given to doctrines.” She married James L. Gage, an abolitionist lawyer, in 1829, and they raised eight children. Her husband supported her commitment to helping others.
To Spend the Afternoon
by Eugenio Montale
To spend the afternoon, absorbed and pale,
beside a burning garden wall;
to hear, among the stubble and the thorns,
the blackbirds cackling and the rustling snakes.
On the cracked earth or in the vetch
to spy on columns of red ants
now crossing, now dispersing,
atop their miniature heaps.
To ponder, peering through the leaves,
the heaving of the scaly sea
while the cicadas’ wavering screech
goes up from balding peaks.
And walking out into the sunlight’s glare
to feel with melancholy wonder
how all of life and its travail
is in this following a wall
topped with the shards of broken bottles.
– translation © 2004 by David Young, from Eugenio Montale: Selected Poems –Oberlin College Press
Eugenio Montale (1895-1981) was born on October 12, 1896, in Genoa, Italy; Italian poet, translator, literary critic, journalist, and editor. He worked as an editor for the Florentine publisher R. Bemporad in the 1920s and 1930s. In the late 1940s, he moved to Milan, and became a contributor and the music editor for the newspaper Corriere della Sera. In the 1950s and 1960s, he also worked as a reporter. In 1975, he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature.
by Arna Wendell Bontemps
We are not come to wage a strife
With swords upon this hill,
It is not wise to waste the life
Against a stubborn will.
Yet would we die as some have done.
Beating a way for the rising sun.
“The Day-Breakers” from The Book of American Negro Poetry – Harcourt, Brace and Company – 1922 edition
Arna Bontemps (1902-1972) was born on October 13, 1902, in Louisiana to a Creole family; American poet, novelist, anthologist, and librarian, notable figure during the Harlem Renaissance. The Bontemps family moved to Los Angeles when Arna was three years old, and settled in the Watts district. After graduating from college in 1923, he worked for the post office until he moved to New York in 1924. He is the author of the several novels, including God Sends Sunday, Sad-Faced Boy, and Drums at Dusk. Bontemps was the editor of Great Slave Narratives and The Harlem Renaissance Remembered, and co-editor of The Poetry of the Negro with Langston Hughes.
a dog howling
sound of footsteps
autumn is leaving
tugging each others’ branches
two pine trees
newly lit —
first winter drizzle
– translated by Burton Watson
Masaoka Shiki: Selected Poems, translation © 1998 by Burton Watson – Columbia University Press
Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) was born on October 14, 1867, as Masaoka Noboru, Japanese poet, author, and literary critic during the Meiji period. One of the four great haiku masters, along with Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa. He died of tuberculosis at age 34 in 1902.
by Katha Pollitt
It’s better to be a cat than to be a human.
Not because of their much-noted grace and beauty—
their beauty wins them no added pleasure, grace is
only a cat’s way
of getting without fuss from one place to another—
but because they see things as they are. Cats never mistake a
saucer of milk for a declaration of passion
or the crook of your knees for
a permanent address. Observing two cats on a sunporch,
you might think of them as a pair of Florentine bravoes
awaiting through slitted eyes the least lapse of attention—
then slash! the stiletto
or alternately as a long-married couple, who hardly
notice each other but find it somehow a comfort
sharing the couch, the evening news, the cocoa.
Both these ideas
are wrong. Two cats together are like two strangers
cast up by different storms on the same desert island
who manage to guard, despite the utter absence
of privacy, chocolate,
useful domestic articles, reading material,
their separate solitudes. They would not dream of
telling each other their dreams, or the plots of old movies,
or inventing a bookful
of coconut recipes. Where we would long ago have
frantically shredded our underwear into signal
flags and be dancing obscenely about on the shore in
a desperate frenzy,
they merely shift on their haunches, calm as two stoics
weighing the probable odds of the soul’s immortality,
as if to say, if a ship should happen along we’ll
be rescued. If not, not.
“Two Cats” from The Mind-Body Problem, © 2009 by Katha Pollitt –
Katha Pollitt (1949 – ) was born on October 14, 1949, in Brooklyn, New York, American essayist poet, critic, and feminist. She writes a bimonthly column, “Subject to Debate,” for The Nation magazine, and is the author of four essay collections and two books of poetry. She was The Frost Place poet-in-residence in 1977, and her poetry collection Antarctic Traveller won the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award. Her 2014 nonfiction book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights is an unapologetic and wholehearted defense of abortion as a moral right and force for social good.
And last, but certainly not least, e.e. cummings. Most of today’s Republican speechwriters seem to have learned their craft from this poem by cummings, without realizing that it is satirical.
next to of course god america i
“next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
“next to of course god america i” from e.e. cummings: Collected Poems, © 1938 – Harcourt, Brace and Company
e.e.cummings (1894-1962) was born on October 14, 1894, as Edward Estlin Cummings in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He studied Latin and Greek at Cambridge Latin High School, then got his BA and MA from Harvard, so he knew all the “rules” of grammar and of poetry, and threw most of them out. Cummings was a pacifist, but he volunteered for the ambulance corps, and arrived in Paris, only to wait five weeks for an assignment. The military censors who read his letters got him arrested, and in 1917 he was imprisoned by the French military on suspicion of espionage and undesirable activities. His father wrote to President Woodrow Wilson, and cummings was released in 1918, and returned to the U.S., where he was promptly drafted into the army, but was still in training when the war ended. In 1921, he moved to Paris, and lived there for two years before returning to New York, where he began to make his reputation as a poet. Poet and Critic Randall Jarrell declared, “No one else has ever made avant-garde, experimental poems so attractive to the general and the special reader.” His poetry collections include: Tulips & Chimneys; &; no thanks; and 1 X 1.
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