National Poetry Month: Emily Dickinson

Happy Easter! I’m in Virginia for the holiday. I debated to go quite literal this Easter morning and share “Easter, 1916” by Yeats but I decided against it. I’m trying to choose 30 different poets with no doubles and there’s another Yeats poem I’m going to share before the end of April.

I knew I was going to share a poem by Yeats and I thought I’d avoid Dickinson. Emily Dickinson isn’t my favorite poet but she was recited during church service last Sunday. It might have been Charles Alexander’s melodic voice that made me sit up and take notice or perhaps it was the subject matter. Whatever it was, it made me take another look at Emily Dickinson.

“I measure every grief I meet” — Emily Dickinson

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long –
Or did it just begin –
I could not tell the Date of Mine –
It feels so old a pain –

I wonder if it hurts to live –
And if They have to try –
And whether – could They choose between –
It would not be – to die –

I note that Some – gone patient long –
At length, renew their smile –
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil –

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve –
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one – and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –  

There’s Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –
A sort they call “Despair” –
There’s Banishment from native Eyes –
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they’re mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own –

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National Poetry Month: Prayer As Poetry

I’m in the Bible belt so I’ve been having conversations about Scripture and faith. I keep thinking about how the Psalms are poems. I’ve spoken about how I spin the prayer wheel and reflect on whatever it lands on. Earlier it landed on this, a prayer via a poem.

Fully Alive — Dawna Markova

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

National Poetry Month: Auden

The past few days I’ve focused on poems I wanted shared at my funeral. Tonight I’m sharing a poem made famous during the funeral portion of Four Weddings And A Funeral. I would be so lucky to find a man to love me enough to make his feelings known to the world as W.H. Auden does in “Funeral Blues.”

“Funeral Blues” — W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

National Poetry Month: Mary Elizabeth Frye

My wish is to be cremated. Give my organs and usable tissue to those that need them and burn the rest.

“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye is that gentle reminder that, although I may be gone, I’ll still live on in memory.

“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” — Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

National Poetry Month: Crossing The Bar

I’ve had death on my mind for a while now. It’s probably because my dad is in ill health and I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be in this world.

I want to live a long life and live to be 99 and ½ so I can participate in the tricentennial. I’m not looking to die anytime soon but I have given my funeral more thought than average. There are certain songs I want played. There are definitely certain poems I want read. Today, tomorrow and Friday, I’ll be posting the poems I want read at my funeral.

The first is “Crossing The Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I don’t know when I first encountered it, probably in junior high, but it has stuck with me. And, coincidentally, I’ve discovered that my maternal grandfather, the one that my middle name comes from, had this poem printed on his funeral memorial cards.

“Crossing The Bar” sums up everything I feel about death and dying. I’d rather people not cry at my funeral. I’m not sure what lies ahead after this world but I have faith that it’ll be better.

“Crossing The Bar” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
     And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
     When I put out to sea,

  But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
     Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
     Turns again home.

  Twilight and evening bell,
     And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
     When I embark;

  For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
     The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
     When I have crost the bar.

National Poetry Month: Song: To Celia

When the legendary Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, a lot of people were upset because they did not consider song lyrics to be poetry. I do not fall into that camp. I feel that lyrics can be as poetic as a Shakespeare sonnet.

I mention Bob Dylan because today’s poem serves as a great example of classical poems as song. The Renaissance period had so many lyrical ballads. “Song: To Celia” by Ben Jonson is a shortened lyrical ballad. It’s about rejected love. I’ve performed the song with a choir and it’s one of those songs that will occasionally pop up in my head.

“Song: To Celia” — Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
        And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
        And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
        Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
        I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
        Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
        It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
        And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
        Not of itself, but thee.

National Poetry Month: Langston Hughes

We all need to have a dream, a goal to strive towards. I feel that it’s the fact we can dream of better that keeps us going. In the LGBT community there’s a fairly new community platform called “It Gets Better.” I know when I was younger, the dream about my soon to be fabulous LGBT life, is one of those things that kept me going.

Dreams can change over the years. I was recently talking to my friend, Michelle, about turning 40. She was telling me that she wanted to write a list of 40 things to do during her 40th year. I love that idea but I think I’m going to take it farther and make a list of 50 things to do before I turn 50. It’ll be a revised buried life list.

Langston Hughes knew about the power of having a dream. He wrote two great poems about dreams and, since I can’t choose which one to post, you get both this morning.

“Dreams” directly addresses the notion that having a dream gives us life. Without a dream, life becomes a blur of days that seep into each other filled with monotony. “Harlem” addresses what happens when you defer your dream and the consequences of deferring it to the point you forget about it.

Now, I know I’m going to have at least one person argue that they are too (fill in the blank) to see their dream come true. I say pish posh to that thinking. Some dreams are meant to be unattainable. I think we all dream of winning the lottery, especially when it gets to those insane jackpots, but we also know that the statistical odds aren’t in our favor. Yet, we still buy a ticket because we have hope we might beat the odds. Other dreams are within our grasp if we can separate the concept of having a dream versus being successful at that dream. Maybe you had a dream that you’d rock the Grammy stage and you find yourself at 26 without that Grammy. Well, the dream really was about singing and you can always rock the mic at the closest karaoke night.

May you always be able to dream

“Dreams” — Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

“Harlem” — Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

     Does it dry up
     like a raisin in the sun?
     Or fester like a sore—
     And then run?
     Does it stink like rotten meat?
     Or crust and sugar over—
     like a syrupy sweet?

     Maybe it just sags
     like a heavy load.

     Or does it explode?