TCS: The Razory Edges and the Mutterings of Fate

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.


“But I was born too late
 Blame it on a simple twist of fate”
– Bob Dylan

I do not believe in fate that
falls on men however they act;
but I do believe in fate that
falls on them unless they act. 
– G. K. Chesterton


Nine poets with birthdays this week, hailing from Scotland, the U.S.,
Iceland, Nigeria, and Canada, and as you’d expect, their subjects and
points of view vary as greatly as their lives.


November 13

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scottish novelist, essayist, poet, and travel writer; known for Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped, and A Child’s Garden of Verses. In spite of ill-health which left him frequently bed-ridden, he traveled widely, in Europe, the United States, and the South Pacific, then spent his last years in Samoa, where he died at age 44 of a stroke.


by Robert Louis Stevenson

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,  
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;  
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,  
A blood-red orange, sets again.  

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;  
And shivering in my nakedness,  
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.  

Close by the jolly fire I sit  
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore  
The colder countries round the door.  

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap  
Me in my comforter and cap;  
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.  

Black are my steps on silver sod;  
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;  
And tree and house, and hill and lake,  
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

“Winter-Time” is in the public domain.


November 14

Norman Alexander MacCaig (1910-1006) was born on November 14, 1910, in Ediburgh; Scottish lyric poet and primary-school teacher. He was a lifelong pacifist and during World War II served a term in prison for his beliefs.  He eventually left teaching and was appointed Edinburgh University’s first Writer in Residence in 1967. MacCaig won the Cholmondeley Medal in 1975 and in 1985 he was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.  He was made an OBE in 1979. Among his poetry collections are Riding Lights, A Common Grace, Rings on a Tree, The White Bird, and A World of Difference. He died at age 85 in 1996.

Praise of a Man

by Norman MacCaig

He went through a company like a lamplighter –
see the dull minds, one after another,
begin to glow, to shed
a beneficent light.

He went through a company like
a knifegrinder – see the dull minds
scattering sparks of themselves,
becoming razory, becoming useful.

He went through a company
as himself. But now he’s one
of the multitudinous company of the dead
where are no individuals.

The beneficent lights dim
but don’t vanish. The razory edges
dull, but still cut. He’s gone: but you can see
his tracks still, in the snow of the world.

“Praise of a Man” from The Many Days: Selected Poems of Norman MacCaig –  Polygon, 2010 edition


November 15

Marianne Moore (1887-1972) born on November 15, 1887, in Kirkwood, Missouri; influential American poet, critic, editor, and translator. In 1952, her book, Collected Poems, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and the National Book Award for Poetry. Her many poetry collections include The Pangolin and Other Verse, What Are Years, and O to Be a Dragon. She died at age 84 in 1972, after a series of strokes.

What Are Years 

 by Marianne Moore 

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, —
dumbly calling, deafly listening—that
in misfortune, even death,
encourage others
and in its defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

“What Are Years” from The Poems of Marianne Moore, © 2003 by Marianne Craig Moore, Literary Executor of the Estate of Marianne Moore – Penguin Group


November 16

Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) was born on November 16, 1807, in Öxnadalur, Iceland; Icelandic poet, author, naturalist, and co-founder of the Icelandic journal, Fjölnir, first published in 1835, which advocated for the Icelandic Independence Movement (Iceland won limited home rule and a constitution from Denmark in 1874, and autonomy through the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union in 1918, and severed all ties in 1944). Hallgrímsson is considered one of the founding fathers, and best examples, of romanticism in Icelandic literature. In May 1845, he  slipped going up the stairs up to his room and broke his leg. He went to the hospital the next day, but died at age 37 of blood poisoning.

Ég bið að heilsa!

af Jónas Hallgrímsson

Nú andar suðrið sæla vindum þýðum,
       á sjónum allar bárur smáar rísa
       og flykkjast heim að fögru landi Ísa,
       að fósturjarðar minnar strönd og hlíðum.

Ó! heilsið öllum heima rómi blíðum
       um hæð og sund í drottins ást og friði;
       kyssi þið, bárur! bát á fiskimiði,
       blási þið, vindar! hlýtt á kinnum fríðum.

Vorboðinn ljúfi! fuglinn trúr, sem fer
       með fjaðrabliki háa vegaleysu
       í sumardal að kveða kvæðin þín!

Heilsaðu einkum, ef að fyrir ber
       engil, með húfu og rauðan  skúf, í peysu;
       þröstur minn góður! það er stúlkan mín.

I Send Greetings!

by  Jónas Hallgrímsson

Serene and warm, now southern winds come streaming
       to waken all the billows on the ocean,
       who crowd toward Iceland with an urgent motion —
       isle of my birth! where sand and surf are gleaming.

Oh waves and winds! embrace with bold caresses
       the bluffs of home with all their seabirds calling!
       Lovingly, waves, salute the boats out trawling!
       Lightly, oh winds, kiss glowing cheeks and tresses!

Herald of spring! oh faithful thrush, who flies
       fathomless heaven to reach our valleys, bearing
       cargoes of song to sing the hills above:

there, if you meet an angel with bright eyes
       under the neat, red-tasselled cap she’s wearing,
       greet her devoutly! That’s the girl I love.

– translator not credited

“I Send Greetings!” is in the public domain.


Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) was born on November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, British Nigeria; Nigerian novelist, poet, critic, and academic. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, is the most widely read book in modern African literature; he won the Man Booker International Prize for his literary career in 2007. Nadine Gordimer called him “the father of modern African literature.” His other novels include No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, and A Man of the People. He was influenced by the Igbo oral tradition and culture, as well as postcolonial Christianity, but was fiercely critical of how European literature depicted Africa. He wrote in and defended the use of English, describing it as a means to reach a broad audience, particularly readers of colonial nations. He taught at U.S. universities in the 1970s, and returned to the U.S. after a 1990 automobile accident left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He became a professor at Bard College in New York state. In 2013, he died after a short illness at age 82 in Boston, Massachusetts.  His poetry collections include Beware Soul Brother and Other Poems, and Christmas in Biafra.  


by Chinua Achebe

        (for Niyi Osundare)

Something in altitude kindles power-thirst
Mere horse-height suffices the emir
Bestowing from rich folds of prodigious turban
Upon crawling peasants in the dust
Rare imperceptible nods enwrapped
In princely boredom.

I too have known
A parching of that primordial palate,
A quickening to manifest life
Of a long recessive appetite.
Though strapped and manacled
That day I commanded from the pinnacle
Of a three-tiered world a bridge befitting
The proud deranged deity I had become.
A magic rug of rushing clouds
Billowed and rubbed its white softness
Like practiced houri fingers on my sole
And through filters of its gauzy fabric
Revealed wonders of a metropolis
Magic-struck to fairyland proportions.
By different adjustments of vision
I caused the clouds to float
Over a stilled landscape, over towers
And masts and smoke-plumed chimneys;
Or turned the very earth, unleashed
From itself, a roaming fugitive
Beneath a constant sky. Then came
A sudden brightness over the world,
A rare winter’s smile it was, and printed
On my cloud carpet a black cross
Set in an orb of rainbows. To which
Splendid nativity came–who else would come
But gray unsporting Reason, faithless
Pedant offering a bald refractory annunciation?
But oh what beauty! What speed!
A chariot of night in panic flight
From Our Royal Proclamation of the rites
Of day! And riding out Our procession
Of fantasy We slaked an ancient
Vestigial greed shriveled by ages of dormancy
Till the eyes exhausted by glorious pageantries
Returned to rest on that puny
Legend of the life jacket stowed away
Of all places under my seat.

Now I think I know why gods
Are so partial to heights—to mountain
Tops and spires, to proud iroko trees
And thorn-guarded holy bombax,
Why petty household divinities
Will sooner perch on a rude board
Strung precariously from brittle rafters
Of a thatched roof than sit squarely
On safe earth.

“Flying” from Collected Poems, © 2004 by Chinua Achebe – Anchor Books


November 17

Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) born on November 17, 1866, in Leslie, Michigan; American anarchist, Freethought Movement activist, prolific writer, poet, and public speaker. She opposed capitalism, the state, marriage, and domination over women’s lives and sexuality by religion. In 1912, she died at age 45 from septic meningitis. De Cleyre was a contemporary of Emma Goldman, with whom she maintained a relationship of respectful disagreement on several issues. Many of de Cleyre’s essays were collected in the Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre, published posthumously by Goldman’s magazine Mother Earth in 1914.


(As you sow, so shall you reap)

by Voltairine de Cleyre

     (To the Czar, on a woman, a political prisoner, being flogged to death in Siberia)

How many drops must gather to the skies
     Before the cloud-burst comes, we may not know;
     How hot the fires in under hells must glow

Ere the volcano’s scalding lavas rise,
   Can none say, but all wot the hour is sure!
   Who dreams of vengeance has but to endure!

He may not say how many blows must fall,
     How many lives be broken on the wheel,

How many corpses stiffen ‘neath the pall,
    How many martyrs fix the blood-red seal;

But certain is the harvest time of Hate!
     And when weak moans, by an indignant world

Re-echoed, to a throne are backward hurled,
     Who listens hears the mutterings of Fate!

“UT SEMENTEM FECERIS, ITA METES” is in the public domain


J.P. Dancing Bear (?-  ) was born on November 17, year undisclosed; American poet and editor for the American Poetry Journal and Dream House Press. He is also the host of the public radio/podcast poetry program Out of Our Minds. He is the author of ten poetry collections, including Inner Cities of Gulls, Conflicted Light, Billy Last Crow, and Family of Marsupial Centaurs.

Shall We . . .

by  J.P. Dancing Bear
     for C.J. Sage
because there are only reds and yellows and all the tones they blend into: because you don’t need a dress: because I don’t need to know all the great smooth moves: to feel your dance: because small fires break out into other dancers: because I burned the moon—who needs the moon when I have your eyes to look into: because you spark off stars with every curvy move: because you hang on tight: because you trust me to dip you down low: because I never let go: because even in the deepest sleep I wake up with your hand resting over my heart

“Shall We . . .” from Family of Marsupial Centaurs, © 2010 by J.P. Dancing Bear – Iris Press


November 18

Johnny Mercer (1909-1976) was born John Herndon Mercer on November 18, 1909, in Savannah, Georgia; American lyricist, songwriter, singer, and record industry executive who co-founded Capitol Records. Among his lyrics for songs which have standards are “Skylark,”  “Moon River,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Laura,” and “Hooray for Hollywood.” He wrote lyrics for over 1,500 songs, including many for Broadway shows and Hollywood pictures. Out of 19 Oscar nominations for Best Original Song, he won four Academy Awards. In 1976, Mercer died at age 66 from an inoperable brain tumor.

The Midnight Sun

by Johnny Mercer

Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice,
Warmer than the Summer night.
The clouds were like an alabaster palace,
Rising to a snowy height.
Each star its own Aurora Borealis,
Suddenly you held me tight,
I could see the midnight sun.

I can’t explain the silver rain that found me,
Or was that a moonlit veil?
The music of the universe around me,
Or was that a nightingale?
And then your arms miraculously found me,
Suddenly the sky turned pale,
I could see the midnight sun.

Was there such a night?
It’s still a thrill I don’t quite believe;
But after you were gone
There was still some stardust on my sleeve!

The flame of it may dwindle to an ember,
And the stars forget to shine,
And we may see the meadow in December,
Icy white and crystalline.
But oh, my darlin’, always I’ll remember
When your lips were close to mine,
And I saw the midnight sun.

The flame of it may dwindle to an ember,
And the stars forget to shine,
And we may see the meadow in December,
Icy white and crystalline.
But oh, my darlin’, always I’ll remember
When your lips were close to mine,
And I saw the midnight sun,
The midnight sun,
The midnight sun,
The midnight sun.

“The Midnight Sun” lyrics were added later to an instrumental composed by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke in 1947. The song with lyrics was first recorded in 1954 by June Christy. In 1957, it was memorably recorded by Ella Fitzgerald for her album Like Someone in Love. It was also recorded by Carmen McRae, Bobby Troop. Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Jo Stafford.


Margaret Atwood (1939 – ) born on November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Canada; Canadian author, poet, critic, feminist, animal rights and environmental activist, and inventor; among her 16 novels to date, she is particularly notable for her iconic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award; and The Blind Assassin, winner of the Man Booker Prize. The Testaments, Atwood’s s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was a co-winner with Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other of the 2019 Booker Prize. Her poetry collections include Double Persephone, The Circle Game, Are You Happy, Interlunar, Morning in the Burned House, and Dearly. 

 They are hostile nations

by Margaret Atwood


In view of the fading animals
the proliferation of sewers and fears
the sea clogging, the air
nearing extinction

we should be kind, we should
take warning, we should forgive each other

Instead we are opposite, we
touch as though attacking,

the gifts we bring
even in good faith maybe
warp in our hands to
implements, to manoeuvres


Put down the target of me
you guard inside your binoculars,
in turn I will surrender

this aerial photograph
(your vulnerable
sections marked in red)
I have found so useful

See, we are alone in
the dormant field, the snow
that cannot be eaten or captured


Here there are no armies
here there is no money

It is cold and getting colder,

We need each others’
breathing, warmth, surviving
is the only war
we can afford, stay

walking with me, there is almost
time / if we can only
make it as far as

the (possibly) last summer

“They are hostile nations” from Selected Poems 1965-1975, © 1974, 1976 by Margaret Atwood – Houghton Mifflin Company



About wordcloud9

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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