TCS: A Landscape Made of Obstacles

  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 comes a point where we need to
stop just pulling people out of the river.
We need to go upstream and find out
why they’re falling in. – Desmond Tutu

“The world is not a prison house,
but a kind of spiritual kindergarten,
where millions of bewildered infants are
trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”
– Edwin Arlington Robinson


Sixteen poets with birthdays this week!


December 19

1796Manuel Bretón de los Herreros born, prolific Spanish dramatist and poet; after his first play, Á la vejez, viruelas (translated as In Old Age, Chickenpox), was produced in 1824, he wrote another six original plays, and 33 translations or adaptations of classical masterpieces, between October 1824 and November 1828. He is the author of 360 original plays, most of them in verse

Satirical Letrillias — III.

by Manuel Bretón de los Herreros

Such is, dear girl, my tenderness,
Naught can its equal be!
If thou a dowry didst possess
The charms to rival of thy face,
I would marry thee.

Thou wert my bliss, my star, my all!
So kind and fair to see;
And me thy consort to instal,
At once for witness Heaven I call,
I would marry thee.

Thou dost adore me? yes, and I,
Thy love so raptures me,
If thou wouldst not so anxious try
To know my pay, and what I buy,
I would marry thee.

If thou wert not so always coy,
Ne’er listening to my plea,
But when I, fool! my cash employ
To bring thee sweets, or some fine toy,
I would marry thee.

If thou must not instructions wait,
As may mamma agree,
To write or speak to me, or state
When thou wilt meet me at the gate,
I would marry thee.

If ’twere not when to dine, the most
Thy meager soup bouillie
Thou givest, as many airs thou show’st,
As Roderic at the hanging-post,
I would marry thee.

If for my punishment instead
Of ease and quiet, we
Might not three hungry brothers dread,
And mother too, to keep when wed,
I would marry thee.

If ’twere not when these plagues combine
With thy tears flowing free,
The virtues of a heavenly sign
I see must solace me, not thine,
I would marry thee.

Go, get another in thy chain,
And Heaven for you decree
A thousand joys, for me ’tis vain;
I know thee cheat, and tell thee plain,
I will not marry thee.

– translator not credited


1910Jean Genet born, French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist. As a teenager, he was a vagrant and small-time thief; at age 15, he was sent to a private reformatory for young male. He joined the Foreign Legion at age 18, but was dishonorably discharged for indecency after being discovered in a homosexual act. He returned to Paris, where he was in and out of prison. He began writing while in jail. Genet introduced himself to Jean Cocteau, who was impressed by his writing. When Genet was threatened with a life sentence after 10 convictions, Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, and other leading figures in the arts, successfully petitioned the French President to have the sentence set aside.  Genet wrote novels, memoirs, and poetry, but is perhaps best known for his plays, especially The Maids.  His poetry was published in two collections Œuvres completes, and an English-language translation Treasures of the Night: Collected Poems by Jean Genet. He died at age 75 in 1986 while suffering from throat cancer.

Funeral MarchVII

by Jean Genet

will trouble the eternal season
where I find myself caught.
The still water of solitude
guards me and fills the prison.
I am twenty years old forever
despite your study.

To please you, oh urchin of a deaf beauty
I will remain clothed until I die
and your soul leaving your decapitated body
will find in mine a white abode.

Oh to know you sleep beneath my modest roof!
You speak through my mouth
and through my eyes gaze
this room is yours and my verse is yours.
Relive what pleases you
I am keeping watch.

“Funeral March – VII” from The Complete Poems of Jean Genet, translation by Mark Spitzer – Polemic Press


December 20

1873 – Mehmet Akif Ersoy born, Turkish author, poet, and politician; best known for writing the lyrics for the Turkish National Anthem.


by Mehmet Akif Ersoy

Earth’s least trace of life cannot be erased;
even when you lie underground, it encompasses you.
So, those of you who anticipate the shadows,
how long will the darkness remember you?

– translation by Michael R. Burch


1973Maarja Kangro born, Estonian poet, librettist, short story writer and translator; she has published over a half a dozen books of her own poetry, and numerous translations of poetry, short stories, and novels in Italian, Russian, Latvian, German, and Lituanian. Kangro has also written libretti for five operas, and several children’s books. In 2020, she was honored by Tallinn University with its Literary Award for Poetry and Translation.


by Maarja Kangro

In a small bookstore
in a shopping center,
looking for a gift,
the old habit
of pulling the cuticles around the nails with one’s teeth is back.
I picked up the anthology of Hungarian poetry
as blood began to flow from my right thumb.
I didn’t expect such rain,
but on Sandor Weöres’ photo
I left a big red spot.
Frightened, I put the book back,
got another one. ‘The Winter Cry of the Hawk’
by Mikhail Lotman. On Brodsky’s text
I left a puddle of gratitude.
I already had some books at home:
Bourdieu and Geertz,
Huizinga and Sartre.
But I wanted to leave everyone a souvenir.
Black, white and red. Red, white and black.
Like a flag of some state in Asia.
Then I thought: why not label romance novels too?
I had a lot of blood and I’m not stingy.
Inspired and sanguine faces.
At one point the saleswoman started coughing.
I remembered the gift
and went out,
not asking for compensation for the blood.
Little blood shed for culture.
But maybe I would have paid more
if they had asked me.

– translator not credited

© by Maarja Kangro


December 21

1859Gustave Kahn born, a French Jewish Symbolist poet, art critic, essayist, playwright, and literary theorist. He was an early proponent of vers libre (free verse). After spending four years in North Africa, he returned to Paris in 1885, and became a co-founder and editor of several literary reviews, including La Vogue, which printed his poems and his theories about the Symbolist movement. He later became editor of Menorah, a Jewish bimonthly magazine, where he addressed Zionism and socialism among other issues of the day.

You Masks of the Masquerade

by Gustave Kahn

YOU masks of the masquerade,
pass, you are not she,
for whom my being staggers drunkenly,
pass without me your parade.

You barques to Ophir or to Thule tossing,
pass, you do not carry in your keels
her to whose lips my heart its being seals,
pass without me your crossing.

You songs of festivals from belfries timing
tarry, if the one sung in your chiming
is she who shall be ever loved of me
and cradle me my Destiny.

 – translated by Jethro Bithell


December 22

1869 – Edwin Arlington Robinson born in Maine; prolific American poet, winner in 1922 of the first Pulitzer Prize for Poetry to be awarded.  He had to self-publish his first two books, which were largely unnoticed until 1904, when Kermit Roosevelt brought Robinson’s second book, The Children of the Night, to the attention of his father, President Theodore Roosevelt. The President not only persuaded Charles Scribner’s Sons to republish the book, but also reviewed it himself for the Outlook, and arranged a sinecure for the poet at the New York Customs House —a post Robinson held until 1909. The two thousand dollar annual stipend gave him financial stability. It was the only sinecure that political reformer Teddy Roosevelt ever granted. In 1910, Robinson repaid his benefactor when he dedicated his collection of poems, The Town Down the River, to Roosevelt. In all, Edwin Arlington Robinson published 28 volumes of poetry, and his poems were republished in newspapers and poetry anthologies. His first Pulitzer Prize was followed by two others (1925 and 1928), adding greatly to his reputation, and he became one of the few American poets to earn his living entirely from poetry. But at the age of 55, Robinson fell ill with cancer. He spent his final hours in a hospital bed correcting galley proofs of his last poem, King Jasper, before slipping into a terminal coma in April, 1935. The national press mourned the passing of “America’s foremost poet” in editorials and obituaries.

This poem was the inspiration for Paul Simon’s song of the same name.

Richard Cory

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

“Richard Cory” from The Children of the Night, by Edwin Arlington Robinson –
originally published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1905


1905 – Kenneth Rexroth born, American poet, translator, and critical essayist; regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance. He was largely self-educated, learning several languages, and translated poems from Chinese, French, Spanish, and Japanese. He was a pacifist, who was a conscientious objector during WWII. In his last years, he promoted the work of American women poets, as well as translating and promoting the poetry of Chinese and Japanese women.

The Bad Old Days

by Kenneth Rexroth

The summer of nineteen eighteen
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall
My father died and my aunt
Took me to Chicago to live.
The first thing I did was to take
A streetcar to the stockyards.
In the winter afternoon,
Gritty and fetid, I walked
Through the filthy snow, through the
Squalid streets, looking shyly
Into the people’s faces,
Those who were home in the daytime.
Debauched and exhausted faces,
Starved and looted brains, faces
Like the faces in the senile
And insane wards of charity
Hospitals. Predatory
Faces of little children.
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,
Under the green gas lamps, and the
Sputtering purple arc lamps,
The faces of the men coming
Home from work, some still alive with
The last pulse of hope or courage,
Some sly and bitter, some smart and
Silly, most of them already
Broken and empty, no life,
Only blinding tiredness, worse
Than any tired animal.
The sour smells of a thousand
Suppers of fried potatoes and
Fried cabbage bled into the street.
I was giddy and sick, and out
Of my misery I felt rising
A terrible anger and out
Of the anger, an absolute vow.
Today the evil is clean
And prosperous, but it is
Everywhere, you don’t have to
Take a streetcar to find it,
And it is the same evil.
And the misery, and the
Anger, and the vow are the same.

“The Bad Old Days” from Kenneth Rexroth: Selected Poems, © 1978 by Kenneth Rexroth – New Directions Publishing


December 23

1597Martin Opitz born, German poet and literary theorist regarded as the greatest poet of the German language during his lifetime, and help to establish a national German literature. He led a wandering life in the service of various territorial nobles. In 1625, as a reward for a requiem poem on the death of Charles Joseph of Austria, he was crowned laureate by the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II, who later ennobled him. In 1629 he was elected to the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft, the most important of the literary societies that aimed to reform the German language. Władysław IV of Poland made Opitz his historiographer and secretary. Opitz died at age 41 in Gdańsk, Poland, in 1639.


by Martin Optiz

Oh, beloved, let us make haste,
We have time,
But to tarry will injure
Both of us.
The noble gifts of beauty
Flee step by step,
And everything we have
Must pass away.

The ornament of your cheeks pale,
Your hair turns gray,
The fire of your eyes passes,
Your chest turns to ice.
Your little lips of coral
lose their shape,
Your hands melt away like snow,
As you grow old.

So let us now enjoy
Youth’s bounty,
Before we follow
With the flight of the years.
As you would love yourself,
So love me.
Give to me, so that when you give,
I will share your loss.

 – translator not credited


1860 Harriet Monroe born, American editor, scholar, literary critic, and poet, founding publisher and editor of Poetry magazine. She was a supporter of Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, H. D., T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and Carl Sandburg, among others, and played an important role in the development of modern poetry. Her correspondence with early twentieth century poets provides a wealth of information on their thoughts and motives. It was the meager payments by magazines for poems which caused her to look for other means of earning a living, including becoming a freelance correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. She was commissioned to write an ode for the opening ceremonies for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. When she sued the New York World for publishing her Columbian ode without her consent, she combined the $5,000 settlement she won with an additional $5,000 dollars, raised by persuading one hundred Chicago businessmen to commit $50.00 each for five-year subscriptions, to launch Poetry magazine in 1912. She served as editor without salary for the first two years while still working for the Tribune, so she could fulfill her promise to contributors of adequate pay for all published work. By 1924, she resigned from the newspaper, and took a salary of $50 a month from the magazine, which wasn’t raised until 1925, when she increased it to $100 per month. Monroe seemed to have a “sixth sense” about the poetry she published, and the magazine flourished. She remained editor until her death at age 75, while on her way to climb Machu Picchu in Peru. The high altitudes in the Andes had triggered a cerebral hemorrhage.

The Inner Silence

by Harriet Monroe

Noises that strive to tear
Earth’s mantle soft of air
And break upon the stillness where it dwells:
The noise of battle and the noise of prayer,
The cooing noise of love that softly tells
Joy’s brevity, the brazen noise of laughter—
All these affront me not, nor echo after
Through the long memories.
They may not enter the deep chamber where
Forever silence is.

Silence more soft than spring hides in the ground
Beneath her budding flowers;
Silence more rich than ever was the sound
Of harps through long warm hours,
‘Tis like a hidden vastness, even as though
Great suns might there beat out their measures slow
Nor break the hush mightier than they.
There do I dwell eternally,
There where no thought may follow me,
Nor stillest dreams whose pinions plume the way.

“The Inner Silence” from You and I, by Harriet Monroe – The Macmillan Company, 1914 edition


1926Robert Bly born, American poet, essayist, translator, and leader of the mythopoetic men’s movement. Author of the 1990 best-selling book Iron John: A Book About Men. His poetry collection The Light Around the Body won the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry. In 1975, he was one of the chief organizers of a nine-day event incorporating poetry, music, and dance called the Great Mother Conference, which became an annual event in Nobleboro, Maine. Bly stopped attending after 2010. He was awarded the Robert Frost Medal in 2013 for lifetime achievement.

 Waking from Sleep

 by Robert Bly

Inside the veins there are navies setting forth
Tiny explosions at the water lines
And seagulls weaving in the wind of the salty blood.

It is the morning. The country has slept the whole winter.
Window seats were covered with fur skins the yard was full
Of stiff dogs and hands that clumsily held heavy books.

Now we wake and rise from bed and eat breakfast! –
Shouts rise from the harbor of the blood
Mist and masts rising the knock of wooden tackle in the sunlight.

Now we sing and do tiny dances on the kitchen floor.
Our whole body is like a harbor at dawn;
We know that our master has left us for the day.

“Waking from Sleep” from Silence in the Snowy Fields, © 1962 by Robert Bly – Wesleyan University Press


1955Carol Ann Duffy born, Scottish poet and playwright, the first woman, first Scot and first openly LGBT person appointed as Britain’s Poet Laureate (2009-2019). Her 1985 poetry collection, Standing Female Nude, won the first of her three Scottish Arts Council Book Awards. Mean Time (1993) won the Whitbread Poetry Prize. She also won the 1995 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, and many other honors. In Duffy’s The World’s Wife, she gives us a collection of modern versions of the old tales, with an unsettling feminist twist.


by Carol Ann Duffy

She woke up old at last, alone,
bones in a bed, not a tooth
in her head, half dead, shuffled
and limped downstairs
in the rag of her nightdress,
smelling of pee.

Slurped tea, stared
at her hand- twigs, stained gloves-
wheezed and coughed, pulled on
the coat that hung from a hook
on the door, lay on the sofa,
dozed, snored.

She was History.
She’d seen them ease him down
from the Cross, his mother gasping
for breath, as though his death
was a difficult birth, the soldiers spitting,
spears in the earth;

been there
when the fisherman swore he was back
from the dead; seen the basilicas rise
in Jerusalem, Constantinople, Sicily; watched
for a hundred years as the air of Rome
turned into stone;

witnessed the wars,
the bloody crusades, knew them by date
and by name, Bannockburn, Passchendaele,
Babi Yar, Vietnam. She’d heard the last words
of the martyrs burnt at the stake, the murderers
hung by the neck,

seen up-close
how the saint whistled and spat in the flames,
how the dictator strutting and stuttering film
blew out his brains, how the children waved
their little hands from the trains. She woke again,
cold, in the dark,

in the empty house.
Bricks through the window now, thieves
in the night. When they rang on her bell
there was nobody there; fresh graffiti sprayed
on her door, shit wrapped in a newspaper posted
onto the floor.

“History” from Collected Poems, © 2015 by Carol Ann Duffy – Picador/MacMillian


December 24

1822Matthew Arnold born, notable English poet, essayist, and cultural critic; in 1851, he became an Inspector of Schools, and had to travel widely in Britain; he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1857; among his best known poems are “Dover Beach” and “Thyrsis.”

Quiet Work

by Matthew Arnold

One lesson, Nature, let me learn of thee,
One lesson which in every wind is blown,
One lesson of two duties kept at one
Though the loud world proclaim their enmity—

Of toil unsever’d from tranquility!
Of labor, that in lasting fruit outgrows
Far noisier schemes, accomplish’d in repose,
Too great for haste, too high for rivalry.

Yes, while on earth a thousand discords ring,
Man’s fitful uproar mingling with his toil,
Still do thy sleepless ministers move on,

Their glorious tasks in silence perfecting;
Still working, blaming still our vain turmoil,
Laborers that shall not fail, when man is gone.


1843Lydia Koidula pen name of Lydia Emilie Jannsen, Estonian poet and writer; as a respectable young lady, she had to publish her work anonymously or under her pen name (which translates as “Lydia of the Dawn”) in her father’s newspaper. It was the first Estonian language newspaper allowed by the Russian Empire; her use of vernacular Estonian in her poetry had a major impact on Estonian letters, and she was also a major influence on Estonian theatre.

A Mother’s Heart

by Lydia Koidula

There is a place within this world
where faith and love and joy lie curled
and everything that’s fine and rare
will always find a refuge there.

Do you know a mother’s heart?
Constant and sound from the very start!
With your joys it loves to share
and your sorrows will help you bear.

When people change from good to bad,
friendship and praise is not to be had
when all around is contempt and hate
faithless and loveless is your sad fate –

A mother’s heart is always there!
A place you will always share,
cry away dashed hopes and fears
on mother’s breast through all the years!

Some dearest treasures I may lose
and after mourning find repose,
time for me my grief will sever
but mother’s heart I’ll miss – forever!

– translator not credited


1881Juan Ramon Jimenez born in Andalucia, prolific Spanish poet and writer; honored with the 1956 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his lyrical poetry, which in the Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistic purity.” He was just 18 when he published his first two books of poetry in 1900, but when his father the same year, he was devastated and suffered a mental breakdown. Jimenez spent the next three years in sanatoriums in France and Spain. He then began to contribute to the avant-garde magazine Prometeo. In 1916, he and poet Zenobia Camprubí were married. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, they went into exile in Puerto Rico. Jiménez was hospitalized for eight months due to another deep depression, but later became a professor of Spanish Language and Literature at the University of Puerto Rico.  Just two days after he received the Nobel Prize, his wife died of ovarian cancer.  Jiménez never recovered from her death, and he died two years later, at age 76, in May 1958.

Night Piece

by Juan Ramon Jimenez

The sea with no waves we recognize,
with no stations on its route,
only water and moon, night after night!

My thought goes back to the land,
someone else’s land, belonging to the one
going through it on trains at night,
through the same place at the same hour
as before . . .

Remote mother,
sleeping earth,
powerful and faithful arms,
the same quiet lap for all
—tomb of eternal life
with the same decorations freshened—
earth, mother, always
true to yourself, waiting for
the sad gaze
of the wandering eyes!

My thought goes back to the land,
—the olive groves at sunrise—
outlined sharply in the white
or golden or yellow moonlight,
that look forward to the coming back
of those humans who are neither its slaves nor its masters,
but who love it anyway . . .

“Night Piece” from Lorca & Jimenez: Selected Poems, translations © 1997 by Robert Bly – Beacon Press


1950Dana Gioia born in Los Angeles, American poet, writer, and literary critic; with his MBA from Stanford Business School and position as Vice President at General Foods, where he was noted for marketing Kool-Aid, Gioia is not your usual poet. He ended his corporate career at age 42 to concentrate on writing. He later became a professor at the University of Southern California. From 2003 to 2009, he combined his diverse skills to become chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). He raised funds to launch Shakespeare in American Communities sent over 75 professional theatre companies touring the country. Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest involves nearly half a million high school students in a national contest that awards $50,000 in scholarships. The Big Read is the largest literary program in federal government history. Over 400 communities held month-long celebrations of great literature. Operation Homecoming put distinguished American authors in charge of writing workshops for returning troops and their spouses to help them express their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Business Week magazine called Gioia “The Man Who Saved the NEA.” His poetry collections include The Gods of Winter, Interrogations at Noon, and Pity the Beautiful.

Rough Country

by Dana Gioia

Give me a landscape made of obstacles,
of steep hills and jutting glacial rock,
where the low-running streams are quick to flood
the grassy fields and bottomlands.
A place
no engineers can master–where the roads
must twist like tendrils up the mountainside
on narrow cliffs where boulders block the way.
Where tall black trunks of lightning-scalded pine
push through the tangled woods to make a roost
for hawks and swarming crows.
And sharp inclines
where twisting through the thorn-thick underbrush,
scratched and exhausted, one turns suddenly
to find an unexpected waterfall,
not half a mile from the nearest road,
a spot so hard to reach that no one comes–
a hiding place, a shrine for dragonflies
and nesting jays, a sign that there is still
one piece of property that won’t be owned.

“Rough Country” from 99 Poems: New & Selected, © 2016 by Dana Gioia, Graywolf Press


1963Naja Marie Aidt born, Greenlander poet, short story writer, and novelist who writes in the Danish Language. She won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2008 for her short story collection Bavian (Baboon).

a sudden fear 

by Naja Marie Aidt

a sudden fear of coming home   like meeting up with a sect one has left   and what if one can’t hold out against them   I cook a Danish dish   and my sorrow sinks into the cream   it’s so contradictory   there are so many layers   now the phone rings   now I say Sorry? in English   then What did you say? in Danish   but in dreams the new language sneaks around and pushes at meanings   tiny words   secrets that only the initiated understand   yet the freedom   fluttering like a blade of grass in a storm   I am carried along   over prairie and plain and highland and sea   deep into the earth where sprouting seeds and crawling creatures have their ways   look there   I say   look   I’ve never seen that before   I say: my fear surprises me   I say: now I understand

 “a sudden fear” from Everything Shimmers, © 2014, by Naja Marie Aidt, and translation © 2015 by Susan Nied


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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: A Landscape Made of Obstacles

  1. “Donor” is an especially interesting piece!

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