“The full moon sees a railway sleeper car rock through the night”

Train and full moon
“The full moon sees a railway sleeper car rock through the night:

When love is good and it lasts, it can be tempting to idealize its beginnings.

One piece of insider information: the very first time I saw my wife, she was glowing. I kid you not. Sitting in the second row of a darkened auditorium listening to the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate she was surrounded by a golden aura.

I had a camera, but was so befuddled I failed to get the shot. You might argue I was imagining things, but I don’t think so. I’m not given to visions nor hallucinations. I’ve never witnessed anything like it before or since.

I think it was a special gift for a fellow a bit slow on the uptake, who needed a sign to notice a good thing right under my nose.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Epiphanies

We come now to the winter of our years
(Where did the autumn with its pleasures go?)
Our roof will all too soon be cloaked with snow,
So, come, let’s stoke our fire against the fears.

It seems another life ago, my dear,
That full of grace you pilgrim sat aglow
Enkindled so this prodigal would know
That grace was free and grace was very near.

Midsummer’s eve brought more epiphanies
Of spotless bride adorned, redeemed, in white,
Too ill for customary liberties,
So wan, yet still for these sore eyes a sight.
Then! Over Lake Champlain the full moon sees
A railway sleeper car rock through the night.

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“Oh love! for love I could not speak”

Pontefract licorice cakes tin
“In the licorice fields at Pontefract”

John Betjeman had what you could call a checkered career.

He struggled at Oxford, and ultimately left without a degree. He published poems and made great friends, yet held a lifelong grudge against C.S. Lewis from his time at Oxford when Lewis was his teacher. (Lewis reportedly assessed Betjeman as “an idle prig.”

During World War II, he worked for the Ministry of Information and may have been involved in intelligence gathering.  One story that has grown up about Betjeman is that he was once targeted for assassination by the Irish Republican Army.  But the order was supposedly rescinded when an old IRA man spoke on his behalf because he had been impressed by his poems.

You might say Betjeman was eventually vindicated. He was named Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1972. Oxford awarded him an honorary doctorate of letters in 1974.

I don’t fancy all of his poetry, but sometimes he really hits me between the eyes. Like his poem about love, “The Licorice Fields at Pontefract.”

His poem is rich with specific detail and is so descriptive, it almost overloads the senses. Betjeman is a reserved Englishman, but he tells you enough to let you know what’s going on.

The Licorice Fields at Pontefract
by John Betjeman

In the licorice fields at Pontefract
My love and I did meet
And many a burdened licorice bush
Was blooming round our feet;
Red hair she had and golden skin,
Her sulky lips were shaped for sin,
Her sturdy legs were flannel-slack’d
The strongest legs in Pontefract.

The light and dangling licorice flowers
Gave off the sweetest smells;
From various black Victorian towers
The Sunday evening bells
Came pealing over dales and hills
And tanneries and silent mills
And lowly streets where country stops
And little shuttered corner shops.

She cast her blazing eyes on me
And plucked a licorice leaf;
I was her captive slave and she
My red-haired robber chief.
Oh love! for love I could not speak,
It left me winded, wilting, weak,
And held in brown arms strong and bare
And wound with flaming ropes of hair.

“The wind and you played in my hair …”

Fireworks
“While all around with fire and bang”

How about another love poem as we head into the week of Valentine’s Day?

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The wind and you played in my hair,
You lambent in the moon,
The night arranged as by design,
Mysteriously boon.

Afresh the breeze and warm our hands,
So lately introduced,
Traced so gently new found lands,
From tyranny aloosed.

While all around with fire and bang
Our freedom was proclaimed,
A nation’s liberty was meant,
To us, two hearts unchained.

“Come live with me and be my love”

Picture of christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe

Thankfully, sometimes love DOES work out.

After some bump and bruises, I finally found the love of my life. Thirty years ago I wrote her a poem. Not leaving anything to chance, I shameless ripped off the first line from Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.” The rest was mine.

It may not have been wholly original poetry, but it did the trick. She said “yes.”

The funny thing is … soon after that I wound up practicing direct marketing copywriting as my day job.

After my experience with this poem, I should have known I was destined for direct marketing. The poem was my very first direct marketing letter.

I got a 100% response rate. Retention has been solid, and long-term value excellent.

Thank you, Christopher Marlow.

THE PASSIONATE WRITER TO HIS LOVE
To Jan

Come live with me and be my love,
Assured before you voice your fears
That we will meld as hand to glove
With tender wearing through the years.

How could I love another more,
Or ever you abandon me?
So come, our prospects let’s explore
Assay our hopes in honesty.

I’ll write old-fashioned poems for you,
The kind that sing with foot and rhyme,
To soothe your ear and gently woo
Your cautious heart in its due time.

We’ll stay abed when springtime rains,
And care not if it’s ever done;
We’ll pedal wooded country lanes,
And bask beneath a merry sun.

In lilac-time I’ll break for you
The heart-shaped leaf and purple bloom
That flourished when our love was new,
And filled the night with strong perfume.

Like hardy husbandmen of old,
Who ploughed and tilled the fertile soil,
We’ll give ourselves to labors bold,
And harvest children for our toil.

And when the winter of our years
Bespecks our thinning hair with snow,
We’ll stoke our fire against the fear,
Companions though the chill winds blow.

Relentless time moves on apace,
Time leaves its vanquished under stone.
But we can win at time’s own race
By choosing not to run alone.

Defying reason, let’s unite
To form a sturdy three-fold cord,
A braid miraculously tight,
Of bridegroom, bride and gentle Lord.

If my proposal your love stirs,
If this be your desire for life,
If to my faith your heart avers,
Come live with me and be my wife.

Lost love

"How he who's loved and left still walks the nights"
“How he who’s loved and left still walks the nights”

The theme of lost love fuels a love of poetry. As a motivator, I’m guessing it ranks right ahead of found-love, nature and war.

I was not immune. Many years ago — what seems like a lifetime now — I wrote a little sonnet about lost love. But it’s a sonnet with a twist.

I call it an “unnatural sonnet.” Not sure if the form is original or not. It has one extra line.  The poem has had its DNA altered just a bit.

I thought a poem about an unnatural subject deserved and unnatural form.

One Undead

The places we once went I often haunt,
As one cut off from sensibility.
The willing women are no threat to me,
While others dance seducing I sit gaunt.

Oh some, their new-found liberty might flaunt,
And advertise their eligibility.
I vex the lookers’ curiosity —
It’s you, it’s you, not others that I want.

Yes, mine’s an old, old story that’s well known:
How he who’s loved and left still walks the nights
And stalks the long-gone pleasures all alone,
Appears from nowhere at familiar sites,
Hears leaping laughter as a monotone.
Unable to partake in their delights,
He dents their merry with a glance of stone.

This is working …

Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale

Yesterday, in response to the post about love not always working out, I received a great recommendation from a friend.

I was introduced to poet Sara Teasdale. (Where had she been all my life?)

She was popular with the public and many critics, though others called her work “unsophisticated.  Which means she and I will get along just fine.

Though not considered a major poet, she was popular and good enough to win the first Columbia Prize for Poetry in 1918, would later become the Pulitzer Poetry Prize.

She had a troubles in love, dating poet Vachel Lindsay before marrying another man.  Years later, she divorced and rekindled her ill-fated love affair with Lindsay, who was married by this time, himself.

Things didn’t work out. Lindsay died by suicide in 1931. Teasdale took her own life two years later.

Her wonderful “tell-off” poem, “I Shall Not Care,” was rumored to have been a suicide note to the deceased Lindsay. But it was written years before. It is heart-breaking and wickedly good.

I Shall not Care

When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Tho’ you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.

Love doesn’t always work out …

John Crowe Ransom, original member of the Fugitives, a group of writers and poets from the South
John Crowe Ransom

When I was a junior in high school, our English teacher, Mr. Paul Hagedorn, gave what seemed like a daunting assignment: Compile a personal poetry notebook of what seemed like an outrageous number of poems we liked, and pick one poet from a prescribed list, and write a term paper on our selection.

I didn’t recognize many names on Mr. Hagedorn’s list. He seemed intent on moving us past the old classic American poets that our parents had loved and to introduce us to modern poets.

I panicked. I already instinctively knew that picking the wrong poet could prove to be deadly. I was going to have to get to know everything about the poet I selected. Read his works and live with him until the term paper assignment was complete.

Nothing worse than being forced to spend time with a boring or impenetrable poet!

So I did the sensible thing. I chose the poet with the most interesting name: John Crowe Ransom.

You must admit. That’s a great name.

I got lucky. John Crowe Ransom proved to be a poet I could read, understand and appreciate. I learned a few new words, but I didn’t have to translate every other word into everyday English.

People love “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter.” I do, too.

But Ransom’s poem that really knocks me out is “Winter Remembered.”  It’s about love and loss.  A common tale, but told so well.

If you’ve got a minute, read the whole thing. (It’s pretty short.  Just five stanzas.)  I’ll quote the last stanza here.  That image of the frozen fingers as frozen parsnips is worth the price of admission.

Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,
And tied our separate forces first together,
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.

I’ve got a few poems about lost love myself.  This one isn’t really in the style of Ransom.  But if I’m reading him right, we have shared some common experiences.

COME GENTLE SNOW

Come gentle snow and cloak the ground,
Shroud budding branches all around,
Let not one scent of spring be found,
Make flowers wait.

Come frost and freeze the throbbing juice,
Break March’s short and shaky truce,
No sprout nor songbird yet aloose,
Let spring be late.

Come wind and make the oak leaves hiss,
When they descend no one will miss
Their brittle shade — no artifice
Can bring them back.

Come night and steal the season’s gain;
The verdure will begin to wane
Despite the wealth of easy rain
If it stays black.

Come sleep and shield me from the past,
Help me forget her I loved last,
Wrap safely me in sanctums vast,
Away from pain.