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Tag: John Donne

“Aubade” – Philip Larkin‏

if I said about To be, or not to be that it
had never been equalled with respect to its
broodingly existential substance, this next
poem comes pretty close to doing that

note the link to Hamlet in the word
“indecision”, a consequence of the
“standing chill / That slows each
impulse down”

note also, incidentally, that the metre is
entirely Shakespearean, read “Aubade“
out loud

any further comment I’ll cede with
gratitude and delight to moonbeamtickseed,
a promise of shrewd insight I recently
discovered on the Internet, reciprocally,
as it happened, after moonbeamtickseed,
serendipitously supposedly, had discovered,
having happened on some of my Elizabeth
Barrett Browning
and alerted me to it, me,
not at all adverse, of course, to being



I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
– The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Philip Larkin

“COMMENTARY: Martin Heidegger says somewhere–I can’t seem to find the
quote online–that’s it only in solitude that people face the angst of
death and fully understand what it means to be temporary. When we have
company the logical awareness of death doesn’t produce an emotional
response because, in those self-forgetful moments, the “I” that dies
is taken over by the “we” that doesn’t. Something like that. Notice,
as the poem progresses, how Larkin switches from ‘I’ to ‘we’–as a
means of comfort? as a way of letting philosophical rhetoric displace
fear? And also notice how he ends the poem with a bitter but also
freeing description of the outside world–the world of offices and
phone-calls and correspondences–banal, clay-white, and sunless as it
may be–is also mankind’s medicine, the means of deflecting these
critical fears. Postmen are doctors in that they bring contact and
correspondence (a suggestion here of language and poetry) into the
solitude of the house.

The language in “[Aubade]” is a little uneven, but there are some
moments of dead-on description. “Arid interrogation,” “furnace fear,”
“uncaring, intricate rented world” and several dark maxims:
“religion….that vast moth-eaten musical brocade/ invented to pretend
we never die” and “being brave/ let’s no one off the grave/ death is
no different whined at than withstood.” The rhymes (set in a 10 line
pattern that has a name I can’t think of) are natural and unforced and
add to the solitary desire to “link” as he says in the second stanza.

I should say, as a sort of afterthought that it’s interesting to
compare this poem with Donne’s aubade “[The Sun Rising]“.
I think they may have more in common that the genre,
though I’m hard pressed at the moment to say what it is.
I should say, as a second afterthought,that, aptly
but unfortunately, this was the last great poem Larkin
wrote. After its publication in 1977, he had 7 years ahead
of him in which he wrote little.”


go, moonbeamtickseed


Brice Maiurro/John Donne on bugs‏

who says poetry isn’t supposed to be delightful,
poetry is delightful, exhilarating, inspirational,
the good stuff is 
I couldn’t resist sending again some utterly
ingenious Brice Maiurro, an absolute wunderkind
in my estimation, consistently artful and unfailingly
entertaining, topical, terse and dependably
insightful ever 
John Donne seemed an obvious comparison to me
Brice Maiurro sees no reason not to swat the fly
apart from their equally existential, and essentially
blameless each, journey
John Donne is after the girl, the fly is the conjunction
of their blood, “suck’d” from each, and therefore
sacred, a “marriage temple”, he calls it, though she
remains apparently unimpressed
literary history however was, and is, and I, for at least
one, had never forgotten it, him  
nor probably them
thanks Brice, thanks John   


as i watched
this fly
land on the beer
on my dresser
he clasped his hands

this fly
prays more than
i do


he swarms
around my head
and near my ears
as my blood boils
and i think about

he just wants

he just wants
to be seen
and heard
and loved


how come
i never
encounter a fly
when other people
are around?


this fly moves
in a severely unorthodox way
and writing through the
stale air

either he governs
his own motion
or something else does

he lands
just to take off again
he goes
to the same place

there is a method
to his madness
i don’t know what

what keeps him
doing the
same quaint thing
and again?


if i swat at him
i will never kill him
i have to watch him

i have to understand him
at least a little
if i want to absolve him
of his horrid fly life

(is it horrid?
i can’t fly.)

he grows to trust me
it feels like:

he lands on my bed
then the fabric
of my pajamas
then my knee
then my bare chest


after i killed him
i lifted my pillow
where i found him dead

i picked up his lifeless corpse
and his legs moved
i euthanized him
from the suffering i began
and set him outside
of my window

i’m not cut out for this

life is so big
and i’m flying desperately
in chaotic patterns
landing in the same spot
over and again

              Brice Maiurro  
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
     Yet this enjoys before it woo,
     And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;
     And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
     Let not to that self-murder added be,
     And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
    ‘Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
    Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,
    Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee 

                                                John Donne  (1572-1631) 

XXVlll. My letters! all dead paper, mute and white – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXVlll. My letters! all dead paper, mute and white

My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee to-night,
This said, — he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand . . . a simple thing,
Yet I wept for it! — this, . . . the paper’s light. . .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God’s future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine — and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this . . . O Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


after a meticulous search of my archive, I
finally found the last place I’d been wrong,
if you remember well I’d written the date so
it could be found at any moment, just like
this one, March 28, 2012, check it out

if I’ve chosen to preface my comment on
Barrett Browning‘s 28th sonnet from
the Portuguese
with a personal
exculpation it’s because here I so easily
could be incorrect, Elizabeth is to my mind
here too abstruse, obtuse, too cute, I think,
for her own convoluted words

who is doing what to whom in this flurry
of what was “said”, we wonder

she is speaking to the paper – “dead”,
“mute and white”, note – which says what
had been said by her then improbable lover,
that he wished to see her, “to have me in his
sight “,
that he loves her, “Dear, I love thee”,
that he’s hers, “I am thine”, but what is this
insuperable “thy words have ill availed / If,
what this said, I dared repeat at last

an analysis that will not cede the secrets
of a text after a certain moment by a
reasonably informed and probing
analyst is no longer a shortcoming of the
analyst but of the poem, I submit, and
such, I feel, is here the case, though that
position is entirely assailable, I might be
merely, in this instance, stupid, but I
doubt it

the Metaphysical Poets were good at that,
establishing confounding parallels, Donne,
Herbert, Marvell, revered poets Elizabeth
surely would have aspired to mimic

“Love”, I’ll propose, in line 14, is a
composite of Love itself – Amor, a Platonic,
anthropomorphized conception – and
Robert Browning, who had become by this
time her spouse, to whom these recollections
are indirectly directed – remember she’s still
speaking to the paper – who utters this Delphic,
which is to say, inscrutable, pronouncement

then again it could be herself, Elizabeth,
hypothesizing, for she hasn’t italicized this
statement as she has earlier the others

therefore she could be – instead of he, they,
invoking her – invoking them, though “And
in the second last line suggests that
he, Robert Browning, is speaking again,
and yet the “L” is capitalized this time
where it hadn’t been for Robert anywhere


I will venture, for the sake of conclusion,
that she means that had these been the
last expressions of his devotion, or he,
does she mean, of hers, these letters
would indeed be also dead

but I could be entirely wrong

November 14, 2012


XXlV. Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

notice: the following, I suspect, is for poetry lovers
only, others will likely want to roll their eyes
at my idiosyncratic choices and preoccupations
and delete what I perceive nevertheless and
mean always to be priceless gifts

such is my eccentricity


psst: one person’s gift however could be another’s
burden, admittedly, meat be their even poison


from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXlV. Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife

Let the world’s sharpness like a clasping knife
Shut in upon itself and do no harm
In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,
And let us hear no sound of human strife
After the click of the shutting. Life to life –
I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,
And feel as safe as guarded by a charm
Against the stab of worldlings, who if rife
Are weak to injure. Very whitely still
The lilies of our lives may reassure
Their blossoms from their roots, accessible
Alone to heavenly dews that drop not fewer;
Growing straight, out of man’s reach, on the hill.
God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it had been pointed out in my poetry class at
university, where our supposed greater maturity
would allow us now to peruse somewhat more
prurient texts, that the compass in John Donne‘s
Valediction was, well, prurient, however, to my
mind, at the very least then, eccentric

much like Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s “clasping
in her XXlVth sonnet here

all that to our much more jaded XXlst-Century
amusement, we are never ever now so circuitous,
coy, nor were any of us even back in my
mid-XXth-Century teens, D.H. Lawrence had
already irreversibly made courtship graphic,
for better, as in any contract, or for worse

and the beat goes on



A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

John Donne