Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

“Blackberries” by Yusef Komunyakaa



 “They left my hands like a printer’s
Or thief’s before a police blotter
& pulled me into early morning’s
Terrestrial sweetness, so thick
The damp ground was consecrated
Where they fell among a garland of thorns.

Although I could smell old lime-covered
History, at ten I’d still hold out my hands
& berries fell into them. Eating from one
& filling a half gallon with the other,
I ate the mythology & dreamt
Of pies & cobbler, almost

Needful as forgiveness. My bird dog Spot
Eyed blue jays & thrashers. The mud frogs
In rich blackness, hid from daylight.
An hour later, beside City Limits Road
I balanced a gleaming can in each hand,
Limboed between worlds, repeating one dollar.

The big blue car made me sweat.
Wintertime crawled out of the windows.
When I leaned closer I saw the boy
& girl my age, in the wide back seat
Smirking, & it was then I remembered my fingers
Burning with thorns among berries too ripe to touch.”

-Yusef Komunyakaa

This poem tells the story of a boy out picking blackberries in a thicket in the woods. The juice leaves his hands stained from the juicy berries as they dripped onto the ground. He eats some and collects others, daydreaming and thinking about mythology and history. His dog spot is with him and keeps eyeing the birds. A car passes him when he nears the road and the two children smirking at him from the back seat bring him back down to earth.

One of the really interesting threads in this poem is the continueing feeling of guilt from the author. In the beginning the dark juice of the berries on his hands makes him think of a thief being handprinted by the police. This is just the beginning of the feeling of guilt. Later on the poem, Komunyakaa references the need for forgiveness. Even the frogs are hiding from daylight in the dark of the mud. When the car pulls up, he starts sweating, often a sign of nervousness or guilt about something. It is after this occurance that he snaps out of his daydream and once again feels the sting of the prickers and notices the juice on his hands.

This idea is juxtaposed to another, more innocent thread with allusions to the bible. In the first stanza, the berries fall off the branches into a “garland of thorns”, a clear allusion to the crown of the thorns Jesus wore at the time of his crucifixion. The berries also consecrate the ground, making it holy. The berries can also be an symbol for the garden of Eden and the innocence represented by the fruit within it. Because Komunyakaa was only ten, he was still innocent enough that the pure fruit would fall of the branches for him; he did not need to pick by force.

When these two themes are put together, they paint a picture of the struggle of the racial tension that was going on in the country at the time of Komunyakaa’s childhood. Komunyakaa could “smell the lime-covered history”, or history that has already gone by (lime used to be sprinkled on graves to aid the breakdown of corpses), and has a sense of what has gone on, but he still has enough innocence that the berries will simply fall into his hands.  Some he eats, innocently, and dreams of grander things, while at the same time, he works on filling up a tin to take home later and make pies and cobbler. This illustrates the controversy that is going on as Komunyakaa balances on the brink between innocence and growing up and realizing the full impacts of racism. The same idea is carried on further. The dog, a sensible, domesticated pet, which most of the time is considered property, eyes the birds which are wild, free, and lofty above him. The mud frogs, which are not exactly the most glamorous animals in the world hide in the “blackness” from the daylight.

The final paragraph finally applies the idea to Komunyakaa. He is lost in his own world with his can gleaming like a trophy full of blackberries. When he sees the boy and the girl watching him coldly (“wintertime crawled out the windows”), from the comfortable, clean, padded seats as they are driven around, he realizes how dirty he is from picking berries. Their smirk shocks him out of his daydreams, and the thorns become a negative object, burning his fingers, just like the crown of thorns, and the realization that his hands are so dirty and dark once again physically mark him as different from the children in the car.


“As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerald Manley Hopkins


“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

      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 What I do is me: for that I came.


   I say more: the just man justices;

    Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

    Christ. 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.”

-Gerald Manley Hopkins

This poem starts out describing the kingfisher and the dragon flies as they are on fire. Stones thrown into a well ring out like bells or stringed instruments. Every person does exactly the same thing and generally only focuses on their own welfare. Hopkins, however, believes that people should try to do more than just this. They should try and create peace and justice between others and act as God would want him to. Man should try to be more like Christ in his actions.

Hopkins is definately asserting that men in general are of a lower standing than they have the potential to be. Instinctually, man is trained to look out for himself and make sure that he as an individual, survives to procreate and continue the species. However, Christianity tells us otherwise. It teaches that everyone should look out for each other in order to create a better, more cohesive society. God sends his son, Jesus, down to Earth to try and spread this message and provide an example for how humans should act. It is this which Hopkins references in his second stanza.

Another very interesting note about this poem is the built in rhythm. The word choice and the position of the words give the whole poem a very lilting and sing-song feeling.  This seems to be a very effective technique; it uses aural cues in order to help create better mental images. The reader can almost hear how it appears.

“Ariel” by Sylvia Plath



“Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!–The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Berries cast dark

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else

Hauls me through air—-
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel—-
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.”

-Sylvia Plath

The first line of the poem is the inhalation, the calm before the storm. Everything is still for a moment before the world is full of mountains and distances. The next three stanzas describe the narrator (Plath) riding her horse named Ariel through blackberry brambles. At stanza six, something else pulls her from the horse and peels her from what she was, the strictness of her flesh form disappearing. She leaves behind wheat, sea, and a child’s cry, and flies like an arrow in to the dawn.

The first subject worth examining is the name Ariel. Although Ariel was the name of Plath’s horse, there are many other connotations that go along with the title. Ariel is also and angel knows as the “lion of God”, which explains the line “God’s lioness”. Ariel is also known as the angel of healing and new beginnings. Although the movie was not made until many years later, the Disney adaption of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid named the little mermaid Ariel.

Although this poem was not based on the movie, it is entirely possible the name choice in the movie was based on this poem. In the real Hans Christian Anderson version, the little mermaid eventually gives her own life so that she may have an eternal soul and turns into sea foam, signifying that all of her earthly sins had been forgiven and that she was allowed to have a new start. Perhaps it was a writer for disney that read this poem and pulled the name.

Another interesting section is the stanza that refers to the black berries and the subsequent stanza. The brambles have sharp prickers that reach out to try and grab her and keep her there… but what does the “blood” stand for? At one point Plath did have a miscarriage and this could be a metaphor for it. This “blood” could actually be blackberry juice from “crushed fruit”, which would symbolize a pregnancy gone wrong. The shadows follow her like haunting memories.

From there on symbolizes rebirth. She goes from the free feeling of riding her horse to a whole new level of freedom as she is swept up and away, away from the dark blood. The color white is a symbol of being pure and renewed, free of anything and everything, as Lady Godiva freed herself from the societal expectation of being clothed.

The next section could actually refer to child’s birth. The wheat refers to fertility and then the ocean birth. There is the crying of a child, but she ignores it. Instead she frees herself from everything, even the duties of a mother, and lets herself loose. The very end can be taken two different ways. She could be referring to committing suicide, or reaching a state of higher awareness, depending on how the reader chooses to interpret.

from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman


“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

-Walt Whitman

The poem starts with a hawk swooping down at the narrator because of the narrator’s talking and waiting around. Like the bird, the narrator is not tamed. He is coaxed away by the end of the day and departs in the air, shedding his flesh. he gives himself over to the dirt. Even though the reader does not know him, he will be good for the reader anyway. Even if the reader cannot find the author, the reader is encouraged to keep searching, he will find the author somewhere.

The clear metaphor of this poem is death. The day waits for his end and flings his likeness behind, in memories, behind him like a shadow that lasts after death. He departs the earth and the sun keeps on moving along as his soul leaves his body. What’s left becomes part of the earth and in turn the grass which begins at the bottom of the food chain and slowly moves up through the chain until it becomes sustanance for other human beings.

The idea of the shadow and the sustanance can actually be combined and the situation can be seen in a whole different way. Perhaps Whitman means that after he dies, he will not only live on in the carbon cycle, but it the fact that his poetry will persevere and live far longer than his mortal body will. This applied to the last stanza would have the message come across as even if you don’t understand what Whitman has written at first, keep trying and eventually you will meet him somewhere and understand it.

“Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River” by Tu Fu


Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River

“The sorrow of riverside blossoms inexplicable,
And nowhere to complain — I’ve gone half crazy.
I look up our southern neighbor. But my friend in wine
Gone ten days drinking. I find only an empty bed.

A thick frenzy of blossoms shrouding the riverside,
I stroll, listing dangerously, in full fear of spring.
Poems, wine — even this profusely driven, I endure.
Arrangements for this old, white-haired man can wait.

A deep river, two or three houses in bamboo quiet,
And such goings on: red blossoms glaring with white!
Among spring’s vociferous glories, I too have my place:
With a lovely wine, bidding life’s affairs bon voyage.

Looking east to Shao, its smoke filled with blossoms,
I admire that stately Po-hua wineshop even more.
To empty golden wine cups, calling such beautiful
Dancing girls to embroidered mats — who could bear it?

East of the river, before Abbot Huang’s grave,
Spring is a frail splendor among gentle breezes.
In this crush of peach blossoms opening ownerless,
Shall I treasure light reds, or treasure them dark?

At Madame Huang’s house, blossoms fill the paths:
Thousands, tens of thousands haul the branches down.
And butterflies linger playfully — an unbroken
Dance floating to songs orioles sing at their ease.

I don’t so love blossoms I want to die. I’m afraid,
Once they are gone, of old age still more impetuous.
And they scatter gladly, by the branchful. Let’s talk
Things over, little buds —open delicately, sparingly.”

-Tu Fu

This poem starts out following the narrator, Tu Fu, as he observes the blossoms along the side of a river. He tries to visit his southern neighbor, but the neighbor is gone.The blossoms skew his view of the river. He knows that arrangements for an old man can wait. The river is deep with a few houses in the bamboo and surrounded by red and white blossoms. He admires a wine shop and wishes he was drinking with beautiful girls. Before Abbot Huang’s grave, spring seems so frail. He doesn’t know whether he likes the light red or dark red blossoms better. At Madam Huang’s house there are thousands of blossoms with butterflies and orioles. Tu Fu doesn’t love the blossoms so much because he knows they need to die, but is still afraid of what happens after they’re gone. He wants them to instead take their time opening.

One of the things that is very difficult in this poem is the lack of clarity. Although some may say that poetry both by Tu Fu and other poets from this era in this style is very precise and clean, the lack of proper grammar leaves many different interpretations open. This definately creates a barrier in understanding the author’s meaning. For instance, it took a very long time for me to decide on a meaning for the line, “I don’t so love blossoms I want to die. I’m afraid, once they are gone, of old age still more impetuous”. The first sentence can mean several different things if punctuation is changed just slightly. He could mean that he doesn’t love blossoms and that he wants to die, or he could mean he doesn’t love the flowers which he wants to die. It definately can change interpretations significantly.

I do, however, think that Tu Fu has identified a very old, central concern of humanity: mortality. He juxtaposes the death of a close friend with the delicate blooms of spring. Everything is so shrouded between the alcohol that keeps coming up and the constant wave of blossoms blowing through the air; you can hardly see where you’re walking. All of this fogginess makes it less easy to see where you are going, which is generally better than thinking about death all the time. This is illustrated when he puts of “making arrangements for the white haired man”, a phrase generally associated with arranging for a funeral and burial. Things seem to take up much more importance than they do in the blur of wine and blooms. Instead of worrying about this arrangement the narrator worries about finding more wine and women, which color blossom he likes better, and listening to birds singing. This distracts him from his fear at the rate the blossoms are opening and then dying off, tying back in with his fear of how fast life is moving and how inevitable the passage of time is.

“Lines Written in Early Spring” by William Wordsworth



         ” I HEARD a thousand blended notes,

          While in a grove I sate reclined,

          In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

          Bring sad thoughts to the mind.


          To her fair works did Nature link

          The human soul that through me ran;

          And much it grieved my heart to think

          What man has made of man.


          Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,

          The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;                         10

          And ’tis my faith that every flower

          Enjoys the air it breathes.


          The birds around me hopped and played,

          Their thoughts I cannot measure:–

          But the least motion which they made

          It seemed a thrill of pleasure.


          The budding twigs spread out their fan,

          To catch the breezy air;

          And I must think, do all I can,

          That there was pleasure there.                              20


          If this belief from heaven be sent,

          If such be Nature’s holy plan,

          Have I not reason to lament

          What man has made of man?”

                                                            William Wordsworth,  1798.


This poem describes William Wordsworth outside on a day in early spring. Everything is so alive and seems to be enjoying the world so greatly, its contrast against the human reaction to things is rather depressing. All the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. The author wonders why such a pleasant atmosphere brings such sad thoughts to mind.

Spring has always represented a period of rebirth and renewal, both in nature and in literature. It is the beginning of a new cycle, a new beginning. Why is Wordsworth so sad?

One possiblility could be a natural resistance to change. I know personally I am not a huge fan of change and large changes seem very difficult to me.

This poem may also discuss the isolated position of man in the world. Man is stuck in between everything; not quite a man and not quite a beast. He has the capacity to look at the world around him and comprehend and mentally process it to a level that is far beyond still being a beast, and yet he is not capable of communicating fully with the bestial world or completely understanding the essence of human instinct. Man, however, is not God. There are circumstances that are so far above him that he can do nothing about. Man is a mortal being, subject to the elements and his own decisions. It leaves man in the middle ground. He cannot be fully satisfied with such a pleasant day as nature is because he is able to think and understand things to a new level that takes away a certain level of bestial innocence. However, he is not able to fix these things and must simply deal with them. For instance, he may listen to the birds chatting away merrily to each other, but he cannot comprehend what they are saying. He is excluded from the world of the beasts. The last stanza talks about whether these beliefs are heaven send, acknowledging that man is not god. Man is what man makes of himself. Because he is between the lines, it is up to him to decide what direction he will move in. Wordsworth seems to lament that man has not stayed more simplistic.

“The Paper Nautilus” by Marianne Moore


The Paper Nautilus

“For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
Writers entrapped by
teatime fame and by
commuters’ comforts? Not for these
the paper nautilus
constructs her thin glass shell.

Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
white outside and smooth-
edged inner surface
glossy as the sea, the watchful
maker of it guards it
day and night; she scarcely

eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
arms, for she is in
a sense a devil-
fish, her glass ram’shorn-cradled freight
is hid but is not crushed;
as Hercules, bitten

by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
the intensively
watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed,–
leaving its wasp-nest flaws
of white on white, and close-

laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the mane of
a Parthenon horse,
round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
is the only fortress
strong enough to trust to.”

-Marianne Moore

This poem describes the dedication of a nautilus to protecting her young. A nautilus is an archaic, ancient sea creature that is something like a squid with a spiraled, chambered shell. They were originally named by Aristotle as “Argonauta”, or paper nautiluses, because people used to think they could use their two legs as sails. They have not changed in over 500 million years.

There are many classical references in this poem. The nautilus guards her eggs until they hatch, much like many stories of ancient beasts and monsters, with its either arms and “ram’shorn”. It references the story of Cancer the crab (as in the horiscope) who was sent by Hydra to take out Hercules. Hercules stepped on Cancer, but Hydra was so endebted she gave him a place in the sky. It says that the nautilus’ pattern looks just like the mane of a sculpture of a horse at the Parthenon, an ancient greek ruin.

The combination of these ancient allusions and other descriptions make the nautilus out to be a warrior/protector of sorts. The term Ionic seems to be a combination of both of these two ideas. It could be referring to the strength of the nautilus’ “chiton-fold” armor, or it could also be referring to the Ionian people of ancient Greece, one of the subdivisions of the Greek empire.

I think in the end it really makes a statement about the permanance of humanity versus the permanance of the natural world. The Greek empire and its culture were so strong, and yet they fell. Power structures rise and fall. Great writers who do not take a risk vanish into the woodwork. Throughout the poem the nautilus and the ancient references are inversely proportional. In the beginning the nautilus shell is “thin glass” and by the end she is elevated to the status of a hero. The references start out as the legends of heroes and gods and gradually devolve into a reference to the Parthenon, a ruin left from the glory days of the empire. It shows that nature can outlast and outlive any attempts of humanity at immortality.

It definately reminds me of the song “Scythian Empires” by Andrew Bird. Check out the lyrics:

“Five day forecast bring black tar rains and hellfire
while handpicked handpicked handler’s kid gloves tear at the inseams
their Halliburton attach cases are useless
while scotch guard Macintoshes shall be carbonized
now they’re offering views of exiting empire
such breathtaking views of Scythian empires

Scythian empire, horsemen of the Russia steppe
Scythian empire, archers of an afterthought
Routed by Sarmations, thwarted by the Thracians
Scythian empire

Scythian empire, exiting empire
Scythian empire, exiting empire
Routed by Sarmations, thwarted by the Thracians
Scythian empire
Kings of Macedonia, Scythian empire”

The song discusses how the Scythian Empire was, indeed, an empire, but it still vanished in the passage of time.