Mercury Day poetry, with audio!

Today’s poem is from Confluence Countdown favorite Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). This sonnet is a personal favorite of mine, and a source of much dismay when I was younger (I got a D+ on my first essay as an English major, and it was on this sonnet). For a very long time, I thought I was alone in my love of it, but recently I heard indie band Hundred Waters’ version. It was so lovely, I thought I’d share both with you. First, the sonnet:

“Lift Not the Painted Veil”

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,—behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

And now, Hundred Waters’ acoustic version:

Posted by Bobbie

Mercury day poetry: Whitman’s ‘I Hear America Singing’

Yes, there’s still vitriol a-plenty going around post-election day. America is in some ways a deeply divided country.

In other ways, it isn’t. We once again had a more or less orderly change of power, although the change wasn’t much. But it could have been. A few votes this way or that, and we’d be beginning a hand over of power that still is the greatest in the world. (If you’d like to repeat that with a Stephen Colbert-like enthusiasm, feel free: “… the GREATEST IN THE WORLD! YEAH! GO AMERICA!!)

Back to the vitriol. Or, rather, away from it. Here’s a poem by Walt Whitman that’s at least a bit more together and united, although I might note that everyone he hears singing is, I’d guess, part of the “47%.”

So maybe we’re no worse or better off than we were 150 years ago.

I Hear America Singing.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-
hand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morn-
ing, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.


And with that we are done with politics for a little while. (But we probably aren’t done with the Jois Encinitas story. Sorry.)

Posted by Steve


Mercury day poetry: Ode to the West Wind

Hurricane Sandy remains on our minds here at the Confluence Countdown. So far, our closest friends who were in Sandy’s path seem to have weathered the storm OK. On the yoga end of things, Ashtanga Yoga New York is back open, although there are no evening events or classes until power is restored.

I don’t post the following poem flippantly. I think the last lines capture the resilience we are witnessing among those affected by the storm and those working to restore normalcy. The poem also is beautiful, so perhaps there can some solace in the grandeur of the words. And as you read, you might recognize some desire expressed for union. It’s by Percy Bysshe Shelley, another of our favorites.

Ode to the West Wind

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!
Thou on whose stream, ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


I also want to note, briefly, that Tim Miller’s weekly blog post is about his participating in an event that raises money to battle cystic fibrosis. We mentioned that a little bit ago.

Posted by Steve

Mercury day poetry: ‘To Autumn’ by Keats

Bobbie has written about poet John Keats before. She’s the expert on him, so I’ll defer to her and quickly stand aside, and let his words about fall take center stage.


To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.


Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.


Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Posted by Steve

Mercury day poetry: Meditation at Lagunitas

In one of our past lives (during this lifetime), Bobbie and I knew a thing or two about poetry. (We still may.) We knew living poets. (OK, we still do.)

Bobbie’s mentioned Richard Kenney once or twice. Another poet we crossed paths with was former U.S. laureate Bob Hass. (We highlighted his Issa translations before.) He’s both a gentle soul and a master craftsman when it comes to language. We had a wonderful Thai dinner with him once.

This is a late 1970s poem, and it is one of my favorites written since 1950 or so. (That happens to be a fairly short list.) You could say it is about our inability to know the world — or our audaciousness in thinking we don’t.

Meditation at Lagunitas

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.


Posted by Steve

Mercury Day Poetry: G.M. Hopkins

Right around the middle of my two weeks with Tim, this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins kept running though my head. I’m not sure why, but there’s something about its bold declaration of Being on the simplest level, among all things, that resonated, and still does. Hopkins’ poetry is what most people call “difficult,” but I like to think the opposite. When I read him, I read aloud, and I just let the beauty of the thing stand in my head–like a mantra, his poems have an intelligence of sound. Check out the accent marks on certain words. It’s in a verse style Hopkins invented.

After converting to Catholicism and moving to Ireland, Hopkins wrote in obscurity, did not seek publication, and left instructions that his poems be burned at his death (this poem, for instance, has no title and is only known by its first line). His friend decided, instead, to publish them, changing English poetry. Allen Ginsberg was a great admirer and called him “father fire”; here’s why:

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:         
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;         
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Posted by Bobbie

Mercury day poetry: Cyrano’s death

In the ever-so-wonderful clip from Cheers we posted earlier that featured Tim Miller, the character Frazier recites lines from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

We’re all familiar with it, right? Dude with the big nose, but lots of learning and lots of bravery. Maybe you saw the movie version with Gerard Depardieu (or, even better, the one with Jose Ferrer), or the updated version with Steve Martin (who maybe should have been nominated for an Oscar, but that’s another story).

Well, we’ll jump right to the denouement. It is great, great stuff. Makes me want to see the Ferrer version again. Here’s the whole of the final scene:


Scene 5.VI.

The same. Le Bret and Ragueneau.

  What madness! Here? I knew it well!

CYRANO (smiling and sitting up):
  What now?

  He has brought his death by coming, Madame.

  Ah, then! that faintness of a moment since. . .?

  Why, true! It interrupted the ‘Gazette:’
  . . .Saturday, twenty-sixth, at dinner-time,
  Assassination of De Bergerac.

(He takes off his hat; they see his head bandaged.)

  What says he? Cyrano!–His head all bound!
  Ah, what has chanced? How?–Who?. . .

  ‘To be struck down,
  Pierced by sword i’ the heart, from a hero’s hand!’
  That I had dreamed. O mockery of Fate!
  –Killed, I! of all men–in an ambuscade!
  Struck from behind, and by a lackey’s hand!
  ‘Tis very well. I am foiled, foiled in all,
  Even in my death.

  Ah, Monsieur!. . .

CYRANO (holding out his hand to him):
  Weep not so bitterly!. . .What do you now,
  Old comrade?

RAGUENEAU (amid his tears):
  Trim the lights for Moliere’s stage.


  Yes; but I shall leave to-morrow.
  I cannot bear it!–Yesterday, they played
  ‘Scapin’–I saw he’d thieved a scene from you!

  What! a whole scene?

  Oh, yes, indeed, Monsieur,
  The famous one, ‘Que Diable allait-il faire?’

  Moliere has stolen that?

  Tut! He did well!. . .
(to Ragueneau):
  How went the scene? It told–I think it told?

RAGUENEAU (sobbing):
  Ah! how they laughed!

  Look you, it was my life
  To be the prompter every one forgets!
(To Roxane):
  That night when ‘neath your window Christian spoke
  –Under your balcony, you remember? Well!
  There was the allegory of my whole life:
  I, in the shadow, at the ladder’s foot,
  While others lightly mount to Love and Fame!
  Just! very just! Here on the threshold drear
  Of death, I pay my tribute with the rest,
  To Moliere’s genius,–Christian’s fair face!
(The chapel-bell chimes. The nuns are seen passing down the alley at the
back, to say their office):
  Let them go pray, go pray, when the bell rings!

ROXANE (rising and calling):
  Sister! Sister!

CYRANO (holding her fast):
  Call no one. Leave me not;
  When you come back, I should be gone for aye.
(The nuns have all entered the chapel. The organ sounds):
  I was somewhat fain for music–hark! ’tis come.

  Live, for I love you!

  No, In fairy tales
  When to the ill-starred Prince the lady says
  ‘I love you!’ all his ugliness fades fast–
  But I remain the same, up to the last!

  I have marred your life–I, I!

  You blessed my life!
  Never on me had rested woman’s love.
  My mother even could not find me fair:
  I had no sister; and, when grown a man,
  I feared the mistress who would mock at me.
  But I have had your friendship–grace to you
  A woman’s charm has passed across my path.

LE BRET (pointing to the moon, which is seen between the trees):
  Your other lady-love is come.

CYRANO (smiling):
  I see.

  I loved but once, yet twice I lose my love!

  Hark you, Le Bret! I soon shall reach the moon.
  To-night, alone, with no projectile’s aid!. . .

  What are you saying?

  I tell you, it is there,
  There, that they send me for my Paradise,
  There I shall find at last the souls I love,
  In exile,–Galileo–Socrates!

LE BRET (rebelliously):
  No, no! It is too clumsy, too unjust!
  So great a heart! So great a poet! Die
  Like this? what, die. . .?

  Hark to Le Bret, who scolds!

LE BRET (weeping):
  Dear friend. . .

CYRANO (starting up, his eyes wild):
  What ho! Cadets of Gascony!
  The elemental mass–ah yes! The hic. . .

  His science still–he raves!

  Said. . .


  Mais que diable allait-il faire,
  Mais que diable allait-il faire dans cette galere?. . .
  Philosopher, metaphysician,
  Rhymer, brawler, and musician,
  Famed for his lunar expedition,
  And the unnumbered duels he fought,–
  And lover also,–by interposition!–
  Here lies Hercule Savinien
  De Cyrano de Bergerac,
  Who was everything, yet was naught.
  I cry you pardon, but I may not stay;
  See, the moon-ray that comes to call me hence!
(He has fallen back in his chair; the sobs of Roxane recall him to reality; he
looks long at her, and, touching her veil):
  I would not bid you mourn less faithfully
  That good, brave Christian: I would only ask
  That when my body shall be cold in clay
  You wear those sable mourning weeds for two,
  And mourn awhile for me, in mourning him.

  I swear it you!. . .

CYRANO (shivering violently, then suddenly rising):
  Not there! what, seated?–no!
(They spring toward him):
  Let no one hold me up–
(He props himself against the tree):
  Only the tree!
  It comes. E’en now my feet have turned to stone,
  My hands are gloved with lead!
(He stands erect):
  But since Death comes,
  I meet him still afoot,
(He draws his sword):
  And sword in hand!


ROXANE (half fainting):

(All shrink back in terror.)

  Why, I well believe
  He dares to mock my nose? Ho! insolent!
(He raises his sword):
  What say you? It is useless? Ay, I know
  But who fights ever hoping for success?
  I fought for lost cause, and for fruitless quest!
  You there, who are you!–You are thousands!
  I know you now, old enemies of mine!
(He strikes in air with his sword):
  Have at you! Ha! and Compromise!
  Prejudice, Treachery!. . .
(He strikes):
  Surrender, I?
  Parley? No, never! You too, Folly,–you?
  I know that you will lay me low at last;
  Let be! Yet I fall fighting, fighting still!
(He makes passes in the air, and stops, breathless):
  You strip from me the laurel and the rose!
  Take all! Despite you there is yet one thing
  I hold against you all, and when, to-night,
  I enter Christ’s fair courts, and, lowly bowed,
  Sweep with doffed casque the heavens’ threshold blue,
  One thing is left, that, void of stain or smutch,
  I bear away despite you.

(He springs forward, his sword raised; it falls from his hand; he staggers,
falls back into the arms of Le Bret and Ragueneau.)

ROXANE (bending and kissing his forehead):
  ‘Tis?. . .

CYRANO (opening his eyes, recognizing her, and smiling):



In Ashtanga, panache is the handstands, the hovering jump-throughs, the tick-tock back bends. See how it all comes together?

Posted by Steve