World Poetry Day

Rod Dreher has asked readers to submit favorite poems in honor of World Poetry Day.

No poem has revolutionized my life, but I enjoy poetry more and more as I grow older. Like most art forms, it seems to do some things no other form can do. I once asked someone struggling for words to express something very important to them whether they might sing, dance, paint or build it.

My dirty little secret: poetry is especially good after eight ounces or so of wine. Call that “transcending the left brain/right brain dichotomy.”

I quote or allude often to Yeats’ Second Coming, so I’ll not repeat that. Here are four others, not randomly chosen, but not my final answer, either:

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.
A penny for the Old Guy

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

(T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men)

The world unfurls its flag of toleration,
issues its edicts of equality,
and he who bears the sign of our salvation
is banished as a public enemy.
As Athanasius, when the world awoke
to find itself ensconced in heresy,
so we whose world must wear a harsher yoke
are called to Athanasian constancy.

We, too, may need to navigate a Nile
to dwell in desert solitude awhile,
with foreign tongue and unfamiliar face
endure injustice, exile, and disgrace.
Hold fast the Faith. Set swords about the Creed.
And call on Athanasius in your need.

(Mark Amorose)

“I hate to say most of these prayers written by saints-in-an-emotional-state.
You feel you are wearing someone else’s finery and I can never describe my heart
as ‘burning’ to the Lord (who knows better) without snickering.”
—Flannery O’Connor

And so I limit myself to the saints
who are sensible, the ones who wear flats
to a party, prickly wool skirts and pink
shirts with a Peter Pan collar. I think
too much, my mother claims. Still, it’s my aim
to talk to God in a voice that’s just my own,
not one on loan from a lonely nun
or a love-starved Spanish priest. The least
I can do is try to be true
though often my words betray me. Like just
now. I tried to read Thérèse of Lisieux
but couldn’t choke down all the icing, a feast
for the sweet tooth where my soul loves salt.
I know. I’m a sinner. I know it’s my fault.

(Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Flannery’s confession)

You passed me on the street
I rode the subway with you
You lived down the hall from me
I admired your dog in the park one morning
We waited in line for a concert
I ate with you in the cafes
You stood next to me at the bar
We huddled under an awning during a downpour
We dashed across the street to beat the light
I bumped into you coming round the corner
You stepped on my foot
I held the door for you
You helped me up when I slipped on the ice
I grabbed the last Sunday Times
You stole my cab
We waited forever at the bus stop
We sweated in steamy August
We hunched our shoulders against the sleet
We laughed at the movies
We groaned after the election
We sang in church
Tonight I lit a candle for you
All of you

(Charlotte Parsons, Nine-Eleven, via the Writer’s Almanac — which is no more thanks to MPR’s unpersoning  Garrison Keillor.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.