Marc Chagall Struck by Lightning

  The artist Marc Chagall, meeting his wife Bella Rosenfeld in 1909; they were together for the next 35 years: I am at Thea’s, lying on the sofa in the consulting room of her father, a physician. I liked to stretch out that way near the window on that sofa covered with a black horsehair cloth, worn, with holes in […]

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The Great Myths #53: Thor Goes Fishing for the Serpent that Surrounds the World (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here Long ago the slaughter-gods were eating their hunting-prey in the mood for a drink, before they were full; they shook the sticks and looked at the lots: they learned that at Ægir’s was a fine crop of cauldrons. The cliff-dweller [Ægir] sat there, child-cheerful, much like Miskorblindi’s boy; the son of Dread [Thor], defiant, […]

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20th Century Poetry #4: Laurence Binyon

  One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. Here, with Laurence Binyon’s “Hunger,” is the first […]

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William Blake Chooses Eternity

A wonderful paragraph from Peter Ackroyd’s biography of William Blake, where he shows how the poet slowly came to accept that if he was writing for anyone other than himself, it was for posterity; and how he charged ahead nevertheless: His independence meant that he could preserve his vision beyond all taint—and that integrity is an essential aspect of his […]

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Joseph Campbell’s Hero Sets Out

A piece of the beginning and end of The Hero with a Thousand Faces: Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or […]

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20th Century Poetry #3: W. H. Davies

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. The Rat “That woman there is almost dead, Her […]

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On Beethoven’s Deathbed

Here are two passages from Beethoven’s life. The first finds him on his deathbed, and is recorded in the memoirs of one of his friends. Beset by his final illness, the composer is rejuvenated for the last time by an astounding gift: the complete scores George Frederic Handel. The fact that Beethoven, so close to death, could still express an […]

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Robert Frost: “Out, Out – ”

“Out, Out – ” The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and […]

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Daedalus & Icarus (poem)

Daedalus & Icarus The old craftsman came to Cumae after a long life of art and flight, love and theft, came alone to the Sibyl’s Italian shore wasted with age and reputation to the one who knew every alphabet, the seeress who saw the future in driven leaves: and warped with the same old age as him, she asked that […]

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Unfinished Michelangelo (poem)

Unfinished Michelangelo The impossible bodies of apostles, messiahs and slaves, statues that couldn’t have stood had he finished them, faces half buried in membranes of marble that threaten to swallow and take them back; bodies climbing without hands or feet or legs out of the mineral morass in the great struggle for birth: a nearly headless body, torso only, drowning […]

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Adrienne Rich: 4 Love Poems

from 21 Love Poems: 1 Whenever in this city, screens flicker with pornography, with science-fiction vampires, victimized hirelings bending to the lash, we also have to walk . . . if simply as we walk through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties of our own neighborhoods. We need to grasp our lives inseparable from those rancid dreams, that blurt of […]

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Ted Hughes: 2 War Poems

Six Young Men The celluloid of a photograph holds them well – Six young men, familiar to their friends. Four decades that have faded and ochre-tinged This photograph have not wrinkled the faces or the hands. Though their cocked hats are not now fashionable, Their shoes shine. One imparts an intimate smile, One chews a grass, one lowers his eyes, […]

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James Merrill: A Poem to Begin Things

Here is how James Merrill begins his 560 page poem, The Changing Light at Sandover, published between 1976 and 1982; it being the record of his conversations with a Ouija board, &  with the spirits of W. H. Auden & many many others: Admittedly I err by undertaking This in its present form. The baldest prose Reportage was called for, that […]

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Emily Dickinson Affirms a Soul

#1142 The Props assist the House Until the House is built And then the Props withdraw And adequate, erect, The House support itself And cease to recollect The Augur and the Carpenter – Just such a retrospect Hath the perfected Life – A Past of Plank and Nail And slowness – then the scaffolds drop Affirming it a Soul –

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Allen Ginsberg, “Paterson”

Paterson What do I want in these rooms papered with visions of money? How much can I make by cutting my hair? If I put new heels on my shoes, bathe my body reeking of masturbation and sweat, layer upon layer of excrement dried in employment bureaus, magazine hallways, statistical cubicles, factory stairways, cloakrooms of the smiling gods of psychiatry; […]

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Robert Frost: “Out, Out – ”

“Out, Out – ” The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and […]

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Elizabeth Bishop, “The Shampoo”

The Shampoo The still explosions on the rocks, the lichens, grow by spreading, gray, concentric shocks. They have arranged to meet the rings around the moon, although within our memories they have not changed. And since the heavens will attend as long on us, you’ve been, dear friend, precipitate and pragmatical; and look what happens. For Time is nothing if […]

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The Poet Speaks #13: Richard Wilbur & John Berryman: “The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him”

Even though I’ve never read a word of his poetry, John Berryman has been haunting me lately. Two friends who are also poets that I admire deeply have both praised his work, and recently I’ve come across remarks from a handful of Berryman’s peers, reflecting on his life and his suicide in 1972. Here are two quotes, the first from […]

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Wordsworth & Eternity at St. Paul’s

I’m stunned every time I read this: one of Wordsworth’s best short poems (& that’s saying something), & perhaps one of the great poems period: St. Paul’s Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear I parted from thee, Friend! and took my way Through the great City, pacing with an eye Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless That were […]

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The Poet Speaks #11: George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Levine, Stephen King, Seamus Heaney: “struggling erring human creatures”

George Eliot, on empathy: The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies…. Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot. The only effect I ardently long to produce by […]

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The Poet Speaks #9: Geoffrey Hill, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, James Merrill, Ursula K. Le Guin: “We are difficult”

On the supposed “difficulty” of his poetry: We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most “intellectual” piece of work. Why is it believed that […]

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The Poet Speaks #8: Patti Smith, Toni Morrison, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane: “I shall make every sacrifice toward that end”

As even “nerd culture” and all the rest just becomes another snobby fad and pop culture corner to hide in, Patti Smith suggests where the real “next” actually is, out of view completely:…when people ask me Who’s the new people?, well to me the new people are the unknown people. The new people that I embrace are the people that […]

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Go Ahead and Fuck Up

I’m not sure who the equivalent is for you, but Albert Camus was one of the first authors I found outside of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The high school teacher who introduced me to him also laid an egg it took years to get over: the apparently insurmountable gulf between “popular” and “serious” literature; and so even more than […]

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Art Must Be Political

Should anyone tell you that the primary duty of art (and of life) is to be political, to constantly choose sides and to turn one another into mere categories and the most minute identities, here are a few replies by Jean Guéhenno, written while living in Nazi-Occupied Paris. All come from his Diary of the Dark Years: December 23, 1940 […]

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What’s a Genius to Do?

It’s been said of Picasso: “At the age of sixteen, he produced two paintings which were of academic perfection…. So what do you do with your life if you’re producing academically perfect works at the age of sixteen? Every step afterwards is an innovation.” Indeed, whether you like where Picasso went or not, it’s undeniable that he never stopped moving. […]

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