Saturday, December 20, 2014

Poetry for Christmas: Playlist for December 19, 2014


Messiah (Christmas Portions)

By Mark Doty b. 1953

A little heat caught

in gleaming rags,

in shrouds of veil,

   torn and sun-shot swaddlings: 

   over the Methodist roof,

two clouds propose a Zion

of their own, blazing

   (colors of tarnish on copper

   against the steely close

of a coastal afternoon, December,

while under the steeple

   the Choral Society 

   prepares to perform

Messiah, pouring, in their best

blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.

   Not steep, really,   

   but from here,

the first pew, they’re a looming

cloudbank of familiar angels:

   that neighbor who 

   fights operatically

with her girlfriend, for one,

and the friendly bearded clerk

   from the post office 

   —tenor trapped

in the body of a baritone? Altos

from the A&P, soprano

   from the T-shirt shop: 

   today they’re all poise,

costume and purpose

conveying the right note

   of distance and formality. 

   Silence in the hall,

anticipatory, as if we’re all

about to open a gift we’re not sure

   we’ll like; 

   how could they

compete with sunset’s burnished

oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,

   when the violins begin. 

   Who’d have thought

they’d be so good? Every valley,

proclaims the solo tenor,

   (a sleek blonde  

   I’ve seen somewhere before

—the liquor store?) shall be exalted,

and in his handsome mouth the word

   is lifted and opened 

   into more syllables

than we could count, central ah

dilated in a baroque melisma,

   liquefied; the pour

   of voice seems

to make the unplaned landscape

the text predicts the Lord

   will heighten and tame. 

   This music

demonstrates what it claims:

glory shall be revealed. If art’s

   acceptable evidence, 

   mustn’t what lies

behind the world be at least

as beautiful as the human voice?

   The tenors lack confidence, 

   and the soloists,

half of them anyway, don’t

have the strength to found

   the mighty kingdoms  

   these passages propose

—but the chorus, all together,

equals my burning clouds,

   and seems itself to burn,  

   commingled powers

deeded to a larger, centering claim.

These aren’t anyone we know;

   choiring dissolves 

   familiarity in an up-

pouring rush which will not

rest, will not, for a moment,

   be still. 

   Aren’t we enlarged

by the scale of what we’re able

to desire? Everything,

   the choir insists, 

   might flame;

inside these wrappings

burns another, brighter life,

   quickened, now, 

   by song: hear how

it cascades, in overlapping,

lapidary waves of praise? Still time.

   Still time to change.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Every Valley, from Messiah by G.F. Handel

Christmas Night

By Conrad Hilberry b. 1928

Let midnight gather up the wind  

and the cry of tires on bitter snow.  

Let midnight call the cold dogs home,  

sleet in their fur—last one can blow   

the streetlights out.   If children sleep  

after the day’s unfoldings, the wheel  

of gifts and griefs, may their breathing  

ease the strange hollowness we feel.   

Let midnight draw whoever’s left  

to the grate where a burnt-out log unrolls  

low mutterings of smoke until  

a small fire wakes in its crib of coals.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Machet die Tore weit by Andreas Hammerschmidt

The Oxen

By Thomas Hardy 1840–1928  

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.

“Now they are all on their knees,”

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where

They dwelt in their strawy pen,

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then. 

So fair a fancy few would weave

In these years! Yet, I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve,

“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

Our childhood used to know,”

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Nativity Carol by John Rutter

by Henry Vaughan

SO, stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.
Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing ;
And mortifies the earth, and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flow'rs, and roses strow
Blushing upon your breasts' warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show,
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate,
But to the manger's mean estate.
His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth ;
And all man's greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.

    Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherds' watchfulness,
Whom light and hymns from Heav'n did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in ;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Dies natalis by Gerald Finzi


Moon upon the swarth

cut fresh

and horsemen, thundering silhouettes

not heard, like swarthy ghosts.

Air rippled by their passing,


the play revealed.

Courtiers and courtesans,

mothers and their children, dancing,

firefly lanthorns,

music faint, far distant,

off-stage laughter.

Low-bellied creatures wet with dew

run this way, back,


A meadowlark, out of time,

sings counter to the pantomime. 

The meadowlark in time calls from its post;

"gather up your joy," bids garter'd host. 

Viol, recorder, sackbut, sound their chord;

the players grin, their hands joined in accord:

Our scripts thus done, we have no more to say,

so take our bows, and by your leave--good day. 

Rob Stuart

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Allemande (16th century), Anonymous.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Poetry about Winter: Playlist for December 12, 2014


Winter Stars

By  Sara Teasdale  

I went out at night alone;

 The young blood flowing beyond the sea

Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—

 I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head

 From shadows shaken on the snow,

I saw Orion in the east

 Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,

 Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,

I watched Orion as a girl

 Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,

 The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,

All things are changed, save in the east

 The faithful beauty of the stars.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Nocturne for Orchestra by Charles Koechlin



By  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  

Out of the bosom of the Air,

      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,

Over the woodlands brown and bare,

      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,

            Silent, and soft, and slow

            Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take

      Suddenly shape in some divine expression,

Even as the troubled heart doth make

      In the white countenance confession,

            The troubled sky reveals

            The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,

      Slowly in silent syllables recorded;

This is the secret of despair,

      Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,

            Now whispered and revealed

            To wood and field.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Snow Is Dancing by Claude Debussy


The Snow Fairy

By  Claude McKay  


Throughout the afternoon I watched them there,

Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky,

Whirling fantastic in the misty air,

Contending fierce for space supremacy.

And they flew down a mightier force at night,

As though in heaven there was revolt and riot,

And they, frail things had taken panic flight

Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet.

I went to bed and rose at early dawn

To see them huddled together in a heap,

Each merged into the other upon the lawn,

Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep.

The sun shone brightly on them half the day,

By night they stealthily had stol’n away.


And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you

Who came to me upon a winter’s night,

When snow-sprites round my attic window flew,

Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light.

My heart was like the weather when you came,

The wanton winds were blowing loud and long;

But you, with joy and passion all aflame,

You danced and sang a lilting summer song.

I made room for you in my little bed,

Took covers from the closet fresh and warm,

A downful pillow for your scented head,

And lay down with you resting in my arm.

You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day,

The lonely actor of a dreamy play. 

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Almost Too Serious (from "Scenes from Childhood") by Robert Schumann

Bleak Weather

By  Ella Wheeler Wilcox 

Dear love, where the red lillies blossomed and grew,

The white snows are falling;

And all through the wood, where I wandered with you,

The loud winds are calling;

And the robin that piped to us tune upon tune,

Neath the elm—you remember,

Over tree-top and mountain has followed the June,

And left us—December.

Has left, like a friend that is true in the sun,

And false in the shadows.

He has found new delights, in the land where he's gone,

Greener woodlands and meadows.

What care we? let him go! let the snow shroud the lea,

Let it drift on the heather!

We can sing through it all; I have you—you have me,

And we’ll laugh at the weather.

The old year may die, and a new one be born

That is bleaker and colder;

But it cannot dismay us; we dare it—we scorn,

For love makes us bolder.

Ah Robin! sing loud on the far-distant lea,

Thou friend in fair weather;

But here is a song sung, that’s fuller of glee,

By two warm hearts together.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Elegy for Violin & Piano by Gerald Finzi


Frozen Tears
By Wilhelm Muller

Frozen tear drops
fall from my cheeks:
Can it be that, without knowing it,
I have been weeping?

O tears, my tears,
are you so lukewarm,
That you turn to ice
like cold morning dew?

Yet you spring from a source,
my breast, so burning hot,
As if you wanted to melt
 all of the ice of winter!

REFLECTIVE MUSIC; Frozen Tears (from "Winterreise") by Franz Schubert

The Linden Tree
By Wilhelm Muller

By the fountain, near the gate,
There stands a linden tree;
I have dreamt in its shadows
So many sweet dreams.
I carved on its bark
So many loving words;
I was always drawn to it,
Whether in joy or in sorrow.
Today, too, I had to pass it
In the dead of night.
And even in the darkness
I had to close my eyes.
And its branches rustled
As if calling to me:
"Come here, to me, friend,
Here you will find your peace!"
The frigid wind blew
Straight in my face,
My hat flew from my head,
I did not turn back.
Now I am many hours
Away from that spot,
And still I hear the rustling:
There you would have found peace!
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Linden Tree (from "Winterreise") by Franz Schubert

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Poetry about Sundays: Playlist for November 14, 2014


when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story

By  Gwendolyn Brooks  

—And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday,

And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday—

When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,

Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon

Looking off down the long street

To nowhere,

Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation

And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why?

And if-Monday-never-had-to-come—

When you have forgotten that, I say,

And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,

And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;

And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,

That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner

To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles

Or chicken and rice

And salad and rye bread and tea

And chocolate chip cookies—

I say, when you have forgotten that,

When you have forgotten my little presentiment

That the war would be over before they got to you;

And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,

And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end

Bright bedclothes,

Then gently folded into each other—

When you have, I say, forgotten all that,

Then you may tell,

Then I may believe

You have forgotten me well.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Come Sunday, by Duke Ellington

Early Sunday Morning

By  Edward Hirsch  

I used to mock my father and his chums

for getting up early on Sunday morning

and drinking coffee at a local spot

but now I’m one of those chumps.

No one cares about my old humiliations

but they go on dragging through my sleep

like a string of empty tin cans rattling

behind an abandoned car.

It’s like this: just when you think

you have forgotten that red-haired girl

who left you stranded in a parking lot

forty years ago, you wake up

early enough to see her disappearing

around the corner of your dream

on someone else’s motorcycle

roaring onto the highway at sunrise.

And so now I’m sitting in a dimly lit

café full of early morning risers

where the windows are covered with soot

and the coffee is warm and bitter.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Sunday in Brooklyn by Elie Siegmeister

Sunday Calls

By  Chard DeNiord  

The nurse calls to tell me on Sunday evenings

how he’s doing.

                               How he’s holding his own in front

of the window with a thousand channels behind

the one that saves his screen with snow, fish houses,

and eagles.

                        How the days hang above the ice as vast

recycled pages on which he writes in invisible ink.

How the sun arcs across the sky, then breaks like a plate

above the horizon.

                                    How the temperature drops

below zero at dusk, then continues to fall till morning.

In this way she teaches me how to speak to him in his sleep

at his home in Minnesota, which is the same, she says,

as talking to a friend you’ve never met, but grown close to

nonetheless from hearing his voice.

                                                                   I hear the snow

falling as she holds the phone outside the window.

Silence is the sound of snow falling on snow, I think

as I listen to the flakes inside the air before she closes

the window.

                        “I’m thinking of walleye in their sleep,”

I tell my father.

                              “Of catching them as they dream,

then throwing them back in the hole I drilled by hand

with the auger you gave me as a child, whose handle is stained

with blood from my turning it so many times into the ice

of Bad Medicine.”

                                    I wait for her voice to return, then say,

“Just this for now since any more would disappear the lake

inside his head on which he builds a house for us to fish

throughout the winter.”

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: String Quintet in C (Adagio) by Franz Schubert

Life of Sundays

By  Rodney Jones    

Down the street, someone must be praying, and though I don’t

Go there anymore, I want to at times, to hear the diction

And the tone, though the English pronoun for God is obsolete—

What goes on is devotion, which wouldn’t change if I heard:

The polished sermon, the upright’s arpeggios of vacant notes.

What else could unite widows, bankers, children, and ghosts?

And those faces are so good as they tilt their smiles upward

To the rostrum that represents law, and the minister who

Represents God beams like the white palm of the good hand

Of Christ raised behind the baptistry to signal the multitude,

Which I am not among, though I feel the abundance of calm

And know the beatitude so well I do not have to imagine it,

Or the polite old ones who gather after the service to chat,

Or the ritual linen of Sunday tables that are already set.

More than any other days, Sundays stand in unvarying rows

That beg attention: there is that studied verisimilitude

Of sanctuary, so even mud and bitten weeds look dressed up

For some eye in the distant past, some remote kingdom

Where the pastures are crossed by thoroughly symbolic rivers.

That is why the syntax of prayers is so often reversed,

Aimed toward the dead who clearly have not gone ahead

But returned to prior things, a vista of angels and sheep,

A desert where men in robes and sandals gather by a tree.

Hushed stores, all day that sense a bell is about to ring—

I recognized it, waking up, before I weighed the bulk of news

Or saw Saturday night’s cars parked randomly along the curb,

And though I had no prayer, I wanted to offer something

Or ask for something, perhaps out of habit, but as the past

Must always be honored unconsciously, formally, and persists

On this first and singular day, though I think of it as last.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: String Quartet No. 1 (Adagio) by Charles Ives


Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther

By  A. E. Stallings 

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,  

The booze and the neon and Saturday night,  

The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?  

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?  

Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons  

And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?  

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,  

The booze and the neon and Saturday night?

Those Winter Sundays

By  Robert Hayden  

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When  the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had  driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?