Poetry

A Tribute to Stephen Hawking
by Barbara Snapp

Epic and Lyric in War Poetry: A Suggestion 
by Robert Bunselmeyer.

Keith Douglas, Poet: Grasping the Essence of War
by Michael D. Wormser Michael D. Wormser has sent the Online Gazette an essay he wrote on the poetry of  Keith Douglas, a British World War II soldier.
Michael has been a Midcoast Senior College  student since 2007.  He has especially enjoyed courses combining history and literature.
He is a book collector and has been collecting the poetry and prose, novels and memoirs, of the World Wars since living in England for three years in the 1960s.
(Click on title above to read the article)

From the June 2014 Midcoast Inquirer:

Profile of a Maine Poet
by David McKeith

April and then May,
violets up in the field,
the ewes with their twin lambs; time has decided
to turn into spring again
after all.

Thus, KATE BARNES (1932-2013) invites us to walk with her in the beauty and the mystery of the rural commonplace.

Selected by the Maine Arts Commission as the State’s first poet laureate (1996-2000), Kate was born to a family of writers. We best know her father, Henry Beston, from his classic The Outermost House, set in the dunes of Cape Cod; and her mother, Elizabeth Coatsworth, who authored over 100 books in all genres, many in poetry and many for children. Whether in Massachusetts during the school year or summers at the family’s “Chimney Farm” just north of us in Nobleboro, at bedtime Elizabeth read poetry to Kate and her sister. Thus, in lonesome hours when attending private school, Kate found comfort in reading poetry to herself. Beginning then, and soon after in college, she experimented with her own verse.

But she did not begin serious publication until after she had raised four children and then took up a productive blueberry farm in Appleton, Maine, near her parents at “Chimney Farm”.

Kate found pleasantness in the common things of humans and Nature that surrounded her: memories stored in an old farmhouse; workhorses grazing; the shore in moonlight; a barn in winter; blueberry barrens; the hay rake; and much more. As we pick up any of her collections of poems, we step into a quietly-paced rural world where, as she says of it, “everything is divinely ordinary”.

I have chosen Kate Barnes for this issue of The Inquirer for several reasons: she speaks of her sensuous engagement with the commonplace of life in rural Maine, its people and their relationship, even interdependence, with Nature, of loneliness, of forbearance and acceptance. I also find here an invitation to each of us to consider gathering our own responses to both our human and natural surroundings, to bring them to thoughts, then into phrases like hers that flows freely with rich impressions and authentic feeling.

So then, let us listen to Kate. This from the second verse of “The Logging Sled”:

. . . I am as gray and heavy
as a badger, the pockets of my old coat sag
with carrots and books. The horses nose at my hands,

the wood thunks onto the sled, and I hear the blue jays
squalling behind me among the pines; I smell

a dampness in the air that promises spring.
To whom can I say how happy this all makes me?

And from the third verse in “Living in My House”:

In a kitchen window a rock crystal pear hangs from the curtain rod;
outside the black horse chews his timothy by the fence
and the autumn leaves darken on the twisted pear tree.
Under the window, the doomed snapdragons still bloom at Halloween;

across the road, sumac and poplar cling to the last of their red and yellow.

Those among us who grandparent young children–––as her mother parented her–––could do well to bring poetry to their ear. Or is it to their heart?

At Kate’s memorial service in September, 2013, those gathered heard her poem “Inside the Stone”:

Up in the woods,
in the circle among the beech trees,
last winter one of the lumber horses split a stone
horizontally, with a clip of his big steel shoe.

It had seemed to be a plain gray stone,
but when it was opened a black wall appeared,
rusty at the edges, flecked with pale checks
like unknown constellations, and over all
floated wisps of blue-gray, trailing feathers of clouds.

I brush away the fallen leaves
and stare into the distance inside the stone.
If one could become a bird ––
if one could fly into that night ––
if one could see the circling of those stars –– and then the woods become very still,
and beech leaves blur at the edge of my vision. I find I am bending lower and lower.

Thanks to Gary Lawless for his assistance. Gary and his wife Beth, owners of Gulf of Maine Bookstore in Brunswick and owners of Blackberry Bookstore press, were good friends of Kate Barnes. They are the current residents at Chimney Farm. Permission has been received to print from Kate Barnes’s poems. Her collected verse is found in Talking in Your Sleep (Blackberry Books, 1986), Crossing the Field (Blackberry Books, 1992), Where the Deer Were (Godine, 1994), and Kneeling Orion (Godine, 2004). Further information and her obituary are accessible on the Web.


From the April 2014 Midcoast Inquirer:

Thinking about Whitman’s poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed
By David McKeith

In this sesquicentennial of the devastating war between North and South, we read together, in last December’s issue of The Inquirer [see article below], Walt Whitman’s beloved O Captain! My Captain, in which the poet expressed his grief at Abraham Lincoln’s death. At the time the President died on April 15, 1865, fragrant lilacs were blooming in Whitman’s yard. The President’s body lay in state in Washington until April 21st, then traveled by slow train to its internment in Springfield, Illinois, on May 4th.

Though Whitman did not say so in this poem, we know that a major cause for his intense devotion to Lincoln was that he believed that in many ways democracy had failed, that too many people remained voiceless. And Whitman had high hopes that Lincoln still could be a great reformer. Overwhelmed by his beloved leader’s death (note that he referred here to Lincoln as “leader”), Whitman’s elegy, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, is a long, tender reconciliation of the poet’s emotional responses to the assassination.

Lincoln was killed at Easter time, the time of resurrection, by coincidence the moment Nature comes alive again in springtime. The poet realized that every year he would be confronted by the contradiction of Nature’s rebirth and recollections of the President’s death.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the West,
And thought of him I love.

The trinity here refers to the lilac bloom as symbol of spring, the western star (Venus) representing Lincoln from Illinois, and Whitman’s own love for the slain President, never mentioned by name in this poem. As the coffin moved slowly westward in Section 6, with draped flags and somber mourners, Whitman laid upon it a small sprig of lilac. And in section 8, the poet watched the western star disappear beyond sight.

O western orb sailing the heaven,
Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk’d,
As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night. . . .
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

Whitman’s great challenge was to become reconciled to this death. As he listened to the lovely song of the hermit thrush, he began to hear the bird’s acceptance of death as “a dark mother always gliding near with soft feet.” The concluding lines of the poem:

Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

With the bird’s “carol of death,” the poet concluded that death can be seen as “soothing” and “lovely.” Whitman moved to a triumphant climax in which he celebrated death as an escape from suffering. Note especially the last three stanzas in section 14.

Thus Whitman carefully wove together his three motifs: the lilac as symbol of resurrection with its heart-shaped leaves
representing love; Venus, the evening star, falling in the western sky; and the thrush singing of its own deep grief. For the poet, this bird’s song became one of reconciliation with death; that out of dying will come rebirth, new life. And Whitman knew that lilacs would bloom again in the next spring.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed is one of four poems Whitman wrote about the President. They are found in his famous book, Leaves of Grass, whether your copy or one from a library, or found easily on your Web browser.


From the December 2013 Midcoast Inquirer:

On Poetry: Walt Whitman
By David McKeith

One hundred and fifty years ago this January, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became law. Poet-journalist Walt Whitman was in Washington at the time. Born in 1819, Whitman knew personally the aging generation that had fought the American Revolution and created the Federal Union with its Bill of Rights. He grew angry over the effect of slavery on American life and values and on the practice of democracy. By the 1850s, this journalist-turned-poet, who would become known as “the bard of democracy,” was trying to find a voice that would draw together, in his dream of universal brotherhood, the competing factions that were tearing apart the Union. Thus, in 1855, employing a totally new poetic form, that of free verse that broke with the literary conventions of meter and rhythm, Whitman found his voice in his self-published collection of poems, Leaves of Grass. Written in the first person as one would speak directly to the people, he would revise this collection eight times.

During the war Whitman lived in Washington to care for his wounded brother. There in a flow of poetry, he expressed his devout patriotism for the Union. But it was the death of Lincoln, the “father” of the Union, as he calls him here, that moved Whitman to create what has long been considered the preeminent poem of that war. It is a piece both exultant because “the prize we sought is won,” but at the same time filled with Whitman’s intense grief because the captain of the ship died during the voyage. Filled with metaphor (captain, ship, fearful trip, prize) Whitman’s personal sense of deep loss is reflected in his repetitions. Interestingly, in his second stanza, Whitman seems unable to believe Lincoln was dead. Soon after, Whitman wrote his long elegy for Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father! The arm beneath your head!

It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells! But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.