Sunday Poetry – John Keats


Another favourite poem this week. Keats wrote this sonnet, On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, in 1816. He had been reading George Chapman’s translation of Homer & was amazed at the new worlds revealed to him. I’ve been reading more ancient history lately & becoming interested in everything about the classical world. This morning, I listened to the BBC In Our Time podcast about the Battle of Salamis between the Greeks & the Persians in 480 BC. This led me to look up Artemisia’s advice to Xerxes in Herodotus (I haven’t read the whole book but I bought the beautiful Penguin Deluxe edition of Tom Holland’s new translation). I’ve also been listening to the Ancient World podcast & listening to the audio books of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The ancient world is such a vast subject that I feel I’m just picking up bits & pieces & trying to put it all together. Every now & then, though, I do realise how one story links to another & then I feel as excited as Keats did at discovering something new & wonderful.

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Sunday Poetry – Elizabeth Barrett Browning


It’s true that once I start thinking of an author or an actor, they seem to pop up everywhere. After posting one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous poems last week, I was interested to read this article by Elizabeth Crawford on her blog, Woman and her Sphere. The post reproduces a talk that Elizabeth gave at the Persephone Symposium some years ago when they reprinted Virginia Woolf’s Flush, about Barrett Browning’s dog. The talk was about English women writers in Italy & it’s fascinating so do pop over & read it if you have any interest in writers like Matilda Hays, Ann Radcliffe, Ouida or Elizabeth Von Arnim. Lettice Cooper’s wonderful novel, Fenny, is also mentioned. Elizabeth has written the Introductions to a number of the new Furrowed Middlebrow novels from Dean Street Press & is the editor of Kate Parry Frye’s diary, Campaigning for the Vote & the author of a biography of Kate which I enjoyed very much when I read it a few years ago.

One of the most famous English writers to live in Italy was Elizabeth Barrett Browning when she escaped from Wimpole Street & eloped with Robert Browning. The poem featured in the talk is Casa Guidi Windows. The poem begins as a look through the poet’s window & encompasses her feelings about the Italian liberal movement that was striving for freedom from the Austrian empire. It’s a long poem so here’s just the first section.

I heard last night a little child so singing    
  ’Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church,    
O bella libertà, O bella!—stringing    
  The same words still on notes he went in search    
So high for, you concluded the upspringing            
  Of such a nimble bird to sky from perch    
Must leave the whole bush in a tremble green,    
  And that the heart of Italy must beat,    
While such a voice had leave to rise serene    
  ’Twixt church and palace of a Florence street:            
A little child, too, who not long had been    
  By mother’s finger steadied on his feet,    
And still O bella libertà he sang.    
Then I thought, musing, of the innumerous    
  Sweet songs which still for Italy outrang            
From older singers’ lips who sang not thus    
  Exultingly and purely, yet, with pang    
Fast sheath’d in music, touch’d the heart of us    
  So finely that the pity scarcely pain’d.    
I thought how Filicaja led on others,            
  Bewailers for their Italy enchain’d,    
And how they call’d her childless among mothers,    
  Widow of empires, ay, and scarce refrain’d    
Cursing her beauty to her face, as brothers    
  Might a sham’d sister’s,—“Had she been less fair            
She were less wretched;”—how, evoking so    
  From congregated wrong and heap’d despair    
Of men and women writhing under blow,    
  Harrow’d and hideous in a filthy lair,    
Some personating Image wherein woe            
  Was wrapp’d in beauty from offending much,    
They call’d it Cybele, or Niobe,    
  Or laid it corpse-like on a bier for such,    
Where all the world might drop for Italy    
  Those cadenced tears which burn not where they touch,—            
“Juliet of nations, canst thou die as we?    
  And was the violet that crown’d thy head    
So over-large, though new buds made it rough,    
  It slipp’d down and across thine eyelids dead,    
O sweet, fair Juliet?” Of such songs enough,            
  Too many of such complaints! behold, instead,    
Void at Verona, Juliet’s marble trough:    
  As void as that is, are all images    
Men set between themselves and actual wrong,    
  To catch the weight of pity, meet the stress            
Of conscience,—since ’tis easier to gaze long    
  On mournful masks and sad effigies    
Than on real, live, weak creatures crush’d by strong.

Sunday Poetry – Elizabeth Barrett Browning


I do like the daily emails from Interesting Literature. As well as the poems & authors they feature that are new to me, they often remind me of old favourites. This post, about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous poem, was a case in point.

I’ve always loved EBB’s poetry. I can remember reading her novel in verse, Aurora Leigh, sitting on the back porch of a friend’s house in Daylesford over 30 years ago. I love both versions of the movie The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Norma Shearer or Jennifer Jones? The lovely movie poster is from here. I do like the way they reference Jennifer Jones’ most famous role – The Many Splendored star in her greatest romance) & I think I still have them on video, taped from the TV. I’ve read biographies of the Brownings, literary criticism (Alethea Hayter’s book on poets & opium as well as her book on EBB), commentary on their letters & even a psychological examination of Elizabeth. So, how has it been so long since I read the Sonnets from the Portuguese?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Sunday Poetry – Emily Dickinson


Another Dickinson poem this week. Has anyone seen the new movie about Dickinson’s life? A Quiet Passion (watch the trailer here) stars Cynthia Nixon & Jennifer Ehle as Dickinson & her sister, Vinnie. The reviews I’ve read have been mixed but I will definitely be seeing it when it opens here next month.

This is one of my favourites &, like last week’s poem, features a bird although not being stalked by a cat this time. I like the idea of Hope being personified (anthropomorphised?) in this way. Dickinson always looks at the world in unusual ways, Tell all the truth but tell it slant, as she says.

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me

Sunday Poetry – Emily Dickinson


Here’s an Emily Dickinson poem that I don’t think I’ve ever read before. I was looking for a poem about cats, autumn & holidays (I’ve just started two weeks holiday from work). Maybe that was a bit too specific but I did find this list of cat poems at Interesting Literature. Lucky & Phoebe do a bit of pretend hunting like the cat in this poem but they don’t catch anything. They’re so well fed that I think any hunting is a bit half-hearted anyway. Lucky had nine teeth out just before Easter (not that it stopped her eating, of course) so that, combined with natural laziness, means she does all her hunting in her dreams. I love Dickinson’s description of the way a cat flattens itself when it sights its prey, so exactly right. I also love the fact that the robin escapes.

She sights a Bird—she chuckles—
She flattens—then she crawls—
She runs without the look of feet—
Her eyes increase to Balls—

Her Jaws stir—twitching—hungry—
Her Teeth can hardly stand—
She leaps, but Robin leaped the first—
Ah, Pussy, of the Sand,

The Hopes so juicy ripening—
You almost bathed your Tongue—
When Bliss disclosed a hundred Toes—
And fled with every one—

Sunday Poetry – W B Yeats


I’m going to indulge in some photos of Lucky & Phoebe today with yet another cat poem. Both cats love lounging on the back porch, especially in this mild weather. I wish the humidity would go away but I’m sure we’ll get some proper, crisp autumn weather soon.


These photos were taken yesterday afternoon. Phoebe enjoys a good stretch


before settling down for a very long nap. Funnily enough, they seem to have taken over each other’s beds. I bought the purple fluffy bed for Phoebe & the futon (navy blue cover now very faded) for Lucky but they seem to have swapped over lately.

The poem is The Cat and the Moon by W B Yeats. I like the sense of kinship between Minnaloushe & the moon, the eyes of the cat mirroring the changes in the moon.

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet.
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon.
His changing eyes.

Sunday Poetry – Edward Thomas


It’s 100 years ago today that Edward Thomas was killed at Arras. I’ve always admired his poetry & it’s amazing to think that he only began writing poetry in the last few years of his life, encouraged by his friendship with Robert Frost. I’ve featured his life & work on the blog many times – here, here & here –  but today, here is his most famous poem, Adlestrop.

*Edited to add – here is a link to Nick Dear’s play about Thomas, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, which was repeated over the weekend. It should be available worldwide as I can listen to it in Australia & a friend in the US could also listen. Thank you to Barbara from Milady’s Boudoir for the link. Lynne at Dovegreyreader is also a Thomas fan & has marked the anniversary with a post here.

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.


Sunday Poetry – Jane Austen


Autumn is finally here. The clocks went back last night, the mornings have been crisp & today I’m wearing my beautiful mint-green Jane Austen socks. I’ve already posted some of my favourite autumnal poems & quotes trying to summon up the season so today, in honour of my socks, here’s a poem by the divine Miss Austen. This was written to her brother, Frank, on the birth of his son & contains the lovely lines about making a home. Jane, her mother & sister, Cassandra, were finally settled at Chawton & were enjoying the process of making a home.

I’ve also been thinking about Austen because I’ve been listening to a new (to me) podcast, Tea and Tattle. Miranda & Sophie talk about books, lifestyle & culture. I’ve listened to several episodes so far, on their favourite Jane Austen heroines & the trend for books about decluttering. The next episode of the podcast (due this coming week) will feature renowned Austen scholar Janet Todd & author Diana Birchall who blogs at Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Diana & I are in the same online reading group & it will be a thrill to hear her voice as she & Janet chat with Miranda & Sophie about their love of Austen.

My dearest Frank, I wish you joy
Of Mary’s safety with a Boy,
Whose birth has given little pain
Compared with that of Mary Jane.–
May he a growing Blessing prove,
And well deserve his Parents’ Love!–
Endow’d with Art’s and Nature’s Good,
Thy Name possessing with thy Blood,
In him, in all his ways, may we
Another Francis WIlliam see!–
Thy infant days may he inherit,
THey warmth, nay insolence of spirit;–
We would not with one foult dispense
To weaken the resemblance.
May he revive thy Nursery sin,
Peeping as daringly within,
His curley Locks but just descried,
With ‘Bet, my be not come to bide.’–
Fearless of danger, braving pain,
And threaten’d very oft in vain,
Still may one Terror daunt his Soul,
One needful engine of Controul
Be found in this sublime array,
A neigbouring Donkey’s aweful Bray.
So may his equal faults as Child,
Produce Maturity as mild!
His saucy words and fiery ways
In early Childhood’s pettish days,
In Manhood, shew his Father’s mind
Like him, considerate and Kind;
All Gentleness to those around,
And anger only not to wound.
Then like his Father too, he must,
To his own former struggles just,
Feel his Deserts with honest Glow,
And all his self-improvement know.
A native fault may thus give birth
To the best blessing, conscious Worth.
As for ourselves we’re very well;
As unaffected prose will tell.–
Cassandra’s pen will paint our state,
The many comforts that await
Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;
And how convinced, that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
The ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended.
You’ll find us very snug next year,
Perhaps with Charles and Fanny near,
For now it often does delight us
To fancy them just over-right us.

Sunday Poetry – Henry David Thoreau


Well, it’s still hot, humid & summery in Melbourne. The clocks go back next weekend so, hopefully, the weather will soon be cooler. The football season started on Thursday night & that’s usually a good indication that autumn is here but not this year. So, I’m still reading poems about summer & sighing a lot. We did have a welcome downpour earlier in the week, 30mm, which filled up my water tanks (well, they’re a quarter full now instead of empty) & cheered the garden so I went looking for a summer poem about rain.

This is The Summer Rain Poem by Thoreau.I can’t agree with the first line. The only time I stop reading is when it’s so hot my glasses won’t stay on my nose. But then, I usually switch to an audio book. However, I do like the lazy image of lying under a tree among the violets waiting for the rain.

My books I’d fain cast off, I cannot read,
Twixt every page my thoughts go stray at large
Down in the meadow, where is richer feed,
And will not mind to hit their proper targe.

Plutarch was good, and so was Homer too,
Our Shakespeare’s life were rich to live again,
What Plutarch read, that was not good nor true,
Nor Shakespeare’s books, unless his books were men.

Here while I lie beneath this walnut bough,
What care I for the Greeks or for Troy town,
If juster battles are enacted now
Between the ants upon this hummock’s crown?

Bid Homer wait till I the issue learn,
If red or black the gods will favor most,
Or yonder Ajax will the phalanx turn,
Struggling to heave some rock against the host.

Tell Shakespeare to attend some leisure hour,
For now I’ve business with this drop of dew,
And see you not, the clouds prepare a shower–
I’ll meet him shortly when the sky is blue.

This bed of herd’s grass and wild oats was spread
Last year with nicer skill than monarchs use.
A clover tuft is pillow for my head,
And violets quite overtop my shoes.

And now the cordial clouds have shut all in,
And gently swells the wind to say all’s well;
The scattered drops are falling fast and thin,
Some in the pool, some in the flower-bell.

I am well drenched upon my bed of oats;
But see that globe come rolling down its stem,
Now like a lonely planet there it floats,
And now it sinks into my garment’s hem.

Drip drip the trees for all the country round,
And richness rare distills from every bough;
The wind alone it is makes every sound,
Shaking down crystals on the leaves below.

For shame the sun will never show himself,
Who could not with his beams e’er melt me so;
My dripping locks–they would become an elf,
Who in a beaded coat does gayly go.

Sunday Poetry – John Dryden


I’ve just finished reading Long Live Great Bardfield, the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood. I enjoyed it very much & read it in great gulps, a hundred pages at a time. At the end of a difficult year for Tirzah she quotes this short verse by Dryden, the Chorus of The Secular Masque, which you can read here. The verse was included in a New Year’s card & sums up theat New Year feeling of taking a breath & hoping the new year will be happier.

All, all of a piece throughout;
Thy chase had a beast in view;
Thy wars brought nothing about;
Thy lovers were all untrue.
‘Tis well an old age is out,
And time to begin a new.