Monday, April 30, 2012

Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore (1779—1852) is an Irish poet, songwriter and performer. He is perhaps best known for his ballads, which were often set to traditional folk tunes and collected in the book Moore’s Irish Melodies (1846 and 1852). Moore was born a Catholic, but married a Protestant, and raised his children to be Protestant. He was known for his political support of Irish interests.

The following is the first verse of one of his many songs which maintain their popularity to this day.

---------Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
---------Which I gaze on so fondly today,
---------Were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms,
---------Like fairy gifts fading away
---------Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
---------Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
---------And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
---------Would entwine itself verdantly still.

There is a story that Moore — who was against the American slave trade — once challenged an opposing critic to a duel. When the authorities interrupted them, his opponent’s pistol was found to be empty, and some say Moore’s was too. Amused, Lord Byron wrote of the “leadless pistol” showing a lack of courage. Moore wrote an angry letter, but Byron was abroad. When the two poets eventually met, however, they quickly resolved the issue and became friends; Byron later asked Moore to be his literary executor. Moore yielded to family pressure to burn Lord Byron’s memoirs, but later edited Byron’s letters for publication.

The following is often sung as a hymn, although hymnals usually have an altered version of the third stanza, rather than the Moore original which is here.

Come Ye Disconsolate

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure!
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.”

Go, ask the infidel, what boon he brings us,
What charm for aching hearts he can reveal,
Sweet as that heavenly promise Hope sings us—
"Earth has no sorrow that God cannot heal."

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yun Tongju

Yun Tongju (1918—1945) is the national poet of South Korea. He was born in northeast China to a Korean family, and attended university in Seoul and Kyoto. David R. McCann says, in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry, “The Christian imagery and the idealism of his poetry are easy to perceive, even in translation; less so is the intense focus in his poems upon issues of his identity as a Korean.” McCann says that during the Japanese colonial period, calling Japan “an alien country”, as Yun Tongju did in “A Poem That Came Easily”, would have been considered “a subversive act.”

Yun Tongju was arrested in 1943 as a thought criminal and confined in Fukuoka Prison, where he died. His first collection of poetry — Sky, wind, stars and poetry — was not published in his lifetime for fear of Japanese censorship; it eventually was published in 1948.

The Cross

The sun was following me
but it is now caught on the cross
on top of the church.

How can I get up
that high on the steeple?

No sound comes from the bell:
I might as well whistle and hang around.

If I were permitted my own cross,
like the man who suffered,
the blessed Jesus Christ,

I would hang my head
and quietly bleed
blood that would blossom like a flower
under a darkening sky.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, April 16, 2012

Petrarch

Petrarch (Fransesco Petrarca) (1304–1374) is an Italian poet who has significantly influenced western verse. His sonnets were particularly admired. The form — known today as the Petrarchan sonnet — begins with an octave (ABBAABBA) followed by a sestet (often in the pattern CDECDE). This form is easier to accomplish in Italian than English, which is perhaps why the translation below doesn’t seek to perfectly echo it. He grew up in southeastern France, after his parents were banished from Florence. In 1341 he was crowned poet laureate in Rome.

For 21 years — right up to her premature death — Petrarch maintained an obsession for a beautiful woman, named Laura, who was unobtainable for him because she was already married. In The Canzoniere, are collected the poems expressing his love for her, and his sorrow after her death.

He is called the father of humanism; he believed Christian faith was not incompatible with realizing humanity’s potential. He was devoted to Christ, and sought to demonstrate the closeness of Christianity to major philosophic thought.

Sonnet #62

Father in heaven, after each lost day,
Each night spent raving with that fierce desire
Which in my heart has kindled fire
Seeing your acts adorned for my dismay;
Grant henceforth that I turn, within your light
To another life and deeds more truly fair,
So having spread to no avail the snare
My bitter foe might hold it in despite.
The eleventh year, my Lord, has now come round
Since I was yoked beneath the heavy trace
That on the meekest weights most cruelly,
Pity the abject plight where I am found;
Return my straying thoughts to a nobler place;
Show them this day you were on Calvary.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, April 9, 2012

Nicholas Samaras

Nicholas Samaras is the 1991 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for his debut collection Hands of the Saddlemaker. In the forward to that book, James Dickey calls him “an early master of strange, honest and astonishing metaphor...”

Samaras is the son of a prominent Greek Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Samaras. He has a dual European—American heritage, and has spent much time on both continents — including having lived on the Greek isle of Patmos where John the Revelator received his vision. He has said, “A part of what I do is theological. God lives in the point of my pen. In writing, I interact with the act of creativity, the act of creation.” His poems have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Poetry and Image. He has recently completed a collection of 150 poems inspired by the Psalms.

Easter in the Cancer Ward

Because it has been years since my hands
have dyed an egg or I’ve remembered
my father with color in his beard,
because my fingers have forgotten
the feel of wax melting on my skin,
the heat of paraffin warping air,
because I prefer to view death politely from afar,
I agree to visit the children’s cancer ward.

In her ballet-like butterfly slippers, Elaine pad-pads
down the carpeted hall. I bring the bright bags,
press down packets of powdered dye, repress my slight unease.
She sweeps her hair from her volunteer’s badge, leaves
behind her own residents’ ward for a few hours’ release.
The new wing’s doors glide open onto great light. Everything is
vibrant and clattered with color. Racing
up, children converge, their green voices rising.

What does one do with the embarrassment of staring
at sickness? Suddenly, I don’t know where to place
my hands. Children with radiant faces
reach out thinly, clamor for the expected bags, lead
us to the Nurses’ kitchen. Elaine introduces me and reads
out a litany of names. Some of the youngest wear
old expressions. The bald little boy loves Elaine’s long mane of hair
and holds the healthy thickness to his face, hearing

her laugh as she pulls him close. “I’m dying,”
he says, and Elaine tells him she is, too: too
much iron silting her veins. I can never accept that truth
yet, in five months, she’ll slip away in a September
night – leaving her parents and me to bow our heads, bury her
in a white wedding gown, our people’s custom.
But right now, I don’t know this. Right now, we are young,
still immortal, and the kids fidget, crying

out for their eggs. Elaine divides them into teams;
I lay out the tools for the operation.
I tell them all how painting Easter eggs used to be done
in the Old Country. Before easy dyes were common,
villagers boiled onion peels, ladled eggs
into pots so the shells wouldn’t break.
They’d scoop them out, flushed a brownish-
red, and the elders would polish and polish

them with olive oil, singing hymns for the Holy Thursday hours.
The children laugh and boo when I try to sing. The boys swirl
speckles of color into hot water, while the girls
time the eggs. When a white-faced boy asks from nowhere
if I believe in Christ and living forever,
I stop stirring the mix, answer,”Yes, I do.” I answer slowly
and when I speak, my own voice deafens me.
The simple truth blooms like these painted flowers

riding up the bright kitchen walls. I come
to belief. I know that much. Still, what a man may
do with belief demands more than what he says.
Now, the hot waters are a stained, rich red. The eggs have
boiled and cooled. To each set of hands, Elaine gives
one towel, three eggs. I pass the pot of melted paraffin,
show these children how to take the eggs and dip them in
and out. While the wax hardens to an opaque film, we hum

Christos Aneste and the room bustles, ajabber
with speech. Holding pins firmly, we scratch out mad
designs where the color will fill. Small, flurried hands
etch and scrim the shells. Everyone’s fingers whorl
and scratch in names, delicate and final.
Edging the hall’s threshold, an April’s allow-
ance of sun filters through tinted windows. Faces furrow
in solemn concentration. Looking to Elaine, my thoughts clamor

for what is redemptive in illness, for having
a Credo to hold these people to me. Etchings
done, everyone immerses the waxy eggs in the pooled
dye. We ooh together when transfigured eggs are spooned
out, wiped and dried on the counters. Soft wax
is peeled gingerly, flecked away; more oohs for the tracks
of limned lines, testimonial names.
We burnish the shells with olive oil for a fine sheen

For a moment, the cultivated, finished eggs hush
the room. Then, every child goes wild in a rush
to compare, they show the nurses, each
other. The bald boy taps my waist, Lined up and speech-
less, they present me with a bright, autographed
egg, communally done. Elaine makes me close my eyes and laughs
when small limbs push at my back to follow
her. They shove my hand in the cool, wet, red dye. The hollow-

eyed girl squeals till tears streak from her laughing.
Another child cries, “You’ll never get it off!”
And today, I don’t want to. Today,
we’ve painted eggs a lively color, not caring
about the body’s cells and the cells’ incarceration.
I lift my arms to embrace Elaine and dab her nose and chin.
And my hands are vivid red. My hands
are bloody with resurrection.

and we are laughing.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Nicholas Samaras: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, April 2, 2012

Richard Greene

Richard Greene has recently gained significant acclaim as the 2010 winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, for his third collection, Boxing the Compass (Signal Editions). Greene is originally from Newfoundland — something often revealed in his verse. He currently teaches at the University of Toronto, and lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

In a recent interview in The Toronto Quarterly he spoke of "a despair in modern poetry". He said, "I think the valid emotions of poetry require severe testing. In that I am influenced by R.S. Thomas and Geoffrey Hill. Bear in mind that as a religious poet, I am automatically thought by some readers to be sentimental...” He continued to say, Poetry “should not just evoke or report feelings, it should also test them with certain ironies.”

He has written biographies of the novelist Graham Greene, and the poet Dame Edith Sitwell.

The following poem is from his 2004 collection, Crossing the Straits (St. Thomas Poetry Series).

Occupation: Pilate Speaks

Execution hangs in the air
like a figure of Roman rhetoric,
every obscure point personified
and made plain, an allegory played out
in simple sentences and understood.
We are an occupying power, one kingdom
in the midst of another, compelling
loyalty where the heart is beaten down
and all things lie under the exaction of fear.
My task is to quell their riots,
to keep the peace of our advantages.

In this man is the fiction of kingship:
he requires or enacts no policy,
and recruits to his cause no persons
unworthy of nails. I wish to parley
for his innocence, for the due process
of irony ends in freedom or death,
and I would not depose his heaven,
his kingship that is not of this world.
Yet his small elevation, this mound
at Gabbatha, occupied at Caesar’s
pleasure, permits no gentle discourse.
A voice may carry, and there is no King
but Caesar. You know to whom you speak.

I hand him over to bloody converse
of the whip, those lacerating words
inscribing an empire in his flesh,
such rituals of his coronation
as will befit an ambiguous reign.
My regret will have its other meanings,
possible worlds invading our sleep
with all unchosen things, holy jests
as may stay for an answer I cannot give.

I send him form the mind’s place into streets
loud with voices of the world’s no meaning;
I linger in this moment’s constant death
to barb in three tongues my tribute to his reign.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca