Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Just for Amy - and the end of poetry month

I wanted to include so many poems in this blog: Omar Kayyam

Awake! For morning in the bowl of night,
Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight
And Lo! The hunter of the East has caught
The sultan's turret in a noose of light

and Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rage at close of day
Rage, Rage against the dying of the light


and D H Lawrence:
Not every man has gentians in his house
In soft September at slow sad Michaelmas

Bavarian Gentians, big and dark
Only dark
Darkening the daytime torchlike
With the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom

All poems I love (along with a million others) and all typed from memory. I have so many fully, half and partly remembered poems sloshing around. I love Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, Yeats and Dylan Thomas, Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley, Marvell, Shakespeare, Donne, the war poets, Ogden Nash, Edward Lear, RL Stevenson, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and .... and

Love them. Love them all.

But in the spirit of feminism, and because some readers may not be familiar with A D Hope's extraordinarily sensuous poetry, I thought I'd pop this one in.

Advice to young ladies

AUC 334: about this date
For a sexual misdemeanour, which she denied,
The vestal virgin Postumia was tried.
Livy records it among affairs of state.

They let her off: It seems she was perfectly pure;
The charge arose because some thought her talk
Too witty for a young girl, her eyes, her walk
Too lively, her clothes too smart to be demure.

The Pontifex Maximus, summing up the case,
Warned her in future to abstain from jokes,
To wear less modish and more pious frocks
She left the court reprieved, but in disgrace.

What then? With her, the annalist is less
Concerned than what the men achieved that year:
Plots, quarrels, crimes, with oratory to spare!
I see Postumia in her dowdy dress,

Stiff mouth and listless step; I see her strive
To give dull answers. She had to knuckle down,
A vestal virgin who scandalised that town
Had fair trial, then they buried her alive.

Alive, bricked up in sufficating dark,
A ration of bread, a pitcher if she was dry,
Preserved the body they did not wish to die
Until her mind was quenched to the last spark.

How many the black maw has swallowed in its time!
Spirited girls who would not know their place;
Talented girls who found that the disgrace
Of being a woman made genius a crime;

How many others who would not kiss the rod
Domestic bullying broke, or public shame?
Pagan or Christian, it was much the same:
Husbands, St Paul declared, rank next to God.

Livy and Paul, it may be, never knew
That Rome was doomed; each spoke of her with pride.
Tacitus, writing after both had died,
Showed that whole fabric rotten, through and through.

Historians spend their lives and lavish ink
Explaining how great commonwealths collapse
From great defects of policy - perhaps
The cause is sometimes simpler than they think.

It may not seem so grave an act to break
Postumia's spirit as Galileo's, to gag
Hypatia as crush Socrates, or drag
Joan as Giordano Bruno to the stake.

Can we be sure? Have more states perished, then,
For having shackled the enquiring mind,
Than those who, in their folly, not less blind,
Trusted the servile womb to breed free men?

So there you are, Amy.

One of my favourite poems, sneaking in before the end of the month. Thank you for making me re-visit so many of the words that have given me so much pleasure - and introducing me to new words and more pleasure!

9 comments:

knitting sprouts said...

what a wonderful poem - thank you

Jan said...

Great choice, thank you. I quoted one by Gerard Manley Hopkins here.

I see it's still the 29th over at Amy's blog. Hope she's getting some sleep.

Rose Red said...

Great poem - thanks for sharing - it has been a great month with all these poems - so many new ones to me.

Leonie said...

I love that last poem, echoes a sentiment that I have always held, so nice to see it in verse! Thanks for sharing, it's always nice to come across new literature.

amy said...

Ooooh, thank you. That's a new one to me.

I've got you properly entered. My April 30 post didn't show up until your nighttime, I think.

kms said...

oh great choice. its nice to be reminded that some dead white australian males were really very clever. and that thomas poem is my favourite of all time. makes me cry. thanks for this!

Donna Lee said...

That is a new one to me, too. Really touched a chord. When I was young, there were still places that would not hire me because I was a female. That brought back all those memories of indignation.

Poetry month has been a blast.

Amy Lane said...

WWWWOOOOOOTTTTT!!!! I had never read that poem, and it has just become a top ten favorite! Thank YOU! (I'm glad you like la Belle-- ah, poor Knight. If only he'd been able to accept there were other lovers than he.)

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