Life Is Fine
by Langston Hughes
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn't,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn't a-been so cold
I might've sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn't a-been so high
I might've jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I'm still here livin',
I guess I will live on.
I could've died for love--
But for livin' I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry--
I'll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
Langston Hughes Biography
Born in Joplin, Missouri, James Langston Hughes was the great-great-grandson of Charles Henry Langston (brother of John Mercer Langston, the first Black American to be elected to public office). He attended Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, where he began writing poetry in the eighth grade. His father would discourage him from pursuing writing as a career, in favour of something 'more practical'. Langston's tuition fees to Columbia University were paid on the grounds that he study engineering.
After a while, he dropped out of the degree course, but continued to write poetry. His first published poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, was also one of his most famous, appearing in Brownie's Book. Later, his poems, short plays, essays and short stories would appear in the NAACP publication, Crisis Magazine, in Opportunity Magazine, and others.
One of Hughes' most acclaimed essays appeared in the Nation in 1926, entitled "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain". It spoke of Black writers and poets, "who would surrender racial pride in the name of a false integration," where a talented Black writer would prefer to be considered a poet, not a Black poet, which to Hughes meant he subconsciously wanted to write like a white poet. Hughes argued, "no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself."
"We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-
skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are
glad. If they aren't, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And
ugly too... If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not,
their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for
tomorrow, as strong as we know how and we stand on the top of the
mountain, free within ourselves."
Hughes' travels ranged to such diverse locations as Senegal, Nigeria, the Cameroons, the Belgian Congo, Angola, and Guinea in Africa; to Italy, France, Russia and Spain. Whether abroad, or at home in the US, Hughes loved to sit in the clubs listening to blues, jazz and writing poetry. A 'new rhythm' emerged in his writing, as evidenced by his collection of poems, "The Weary Blues". Returning to live in Harlem in 1924 -during a period often referred to as the 'Harlem Renaissance'- his work was frequently published and he wrote prolifically. Moving to Washington D.C., in 1925, his time spent in blues and jazz clubs increased even further.
"I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on Seventh Street...
(these songs) had the pulse beat of the people who keep on going."
At this same time, Hughes accepted a job with Dr. Carter G. Woodson, editor of the Journal of Negro Life and History and founder of Black History Week in 1926. He returned to his beloved Harlem later that year.
Langston Hughes received a scholarship to Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. degree in 1929. In 1943, he was awarded an honorary Lit.D by his alma mater; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935 and a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1940. Based on a conversation with a man he knew in a Harlem bar, he created a character know as My Simple Minded Friend in a series of essays in the form of a dialogue. In 1950, he named this lovable character Jess B. Simple, and authored a series of books on him.
Langston Hughes was a prolific writer. In the forty-odd years between his first book in 1926 and his death in 1967, he devoted his life to writing and lecturing. He wrote sixteen books of poems, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of "editorial" and "documentary" fiction, twenty plays, children's poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, a dozen radio and television scripts and dozens of magazine articles. In addition, he edited seven anthologies. The long and distinguished list of Hughes' works includes: Not Without Laughter (1930); The Big Sea (1940); I Wonder As I Wander" (1956), his autobiographies. His collections of poetry include: The Weary Blues (1926); The Negro Mother and other Dramatic Recitations (1931); The Dream Keeper (1932); Shakespeare In Harlem (1942); Fields of Wonder (1947); One Way Ticket (1947); The First Book of Jazz (1955); Tambourines To Glory (1958); and Selected Poems (1959); The Best of Simple (1961). He edited several anthologies in an attempt to popularize black authors and their works. Some of these are: An African Treasury (1960); Poems from Black Africa (1963); New Negro Poets: USA (1964) and The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers (1967).
Published posthumously were: Five Plays By Langston Hughes (1968); The Panther and The Lash: Poems of Our Times (1969) and Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Writings of Social Protest (1973); The Sweet Flypaper of Life with Roy DeCarava (1984).
Langston Hughes died of cancer on May 22, 1967. His residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem, New York has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission. His block of East 127th Street was renamed "Langston Hughes Place".
I Don't Know If You're Alive Or Dead
by Anna Akhmatova
I don't know if you're alive or dead.
Can you on earth be sought,
Or only when the sunsets fade
Be mourned serenely in my thought?
All is for you: the daily prayer,
The sleepless heat at night,
And of my verses, the white
Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.
No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured
Me more, not
Even the one who betrayed me to torture,
Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.
Anna Akhmatova Biography
Anna Andreyevna Akhmatova was born Anna Gorenko into an upper-class family in Odessa, the Ukraine, in 1889. Her interest in poetry began in her youth, but when her father found out about her aspirations, he told her not to shame the family name by becoming a "decadent poetess". He forced her to take a pen name, and she chose the last name of her maternal great-grandmother. She attended law school in Kiev and married Nikolai Gumilev, a poet and critic, in 1910. Shortly after the marriage, he travelled to Abyssinia, leaving her behind. While Gumilev was away, Akhmatova wrote many of the poems that would be published in her popular first book, Evening. Her son Lev was also born in 1912. He was raised by his paternal grandmother, who disliked Akhmatova. Akhmatova protested this situation, but her husband supported his family. She would visit with her son during holidays and summer. Later, Akhmatova would write that "motherhood is a bright torture. I was not worthy of it."
Upon Evening's publication in 1912, Akhmatova became a cult figure among the intelligentsia and part of the literary scene in St. Petersburg. Her second book, Rosary (1914), was critically acclaimed and established her reputation. With her husband, she became a leader of Acmeism, a movement which praised the virtues of lucid, carefully-crafted verse and reacted against the vagueness of the Symbolist style which dominated the Russian literary scene of the period. She and Gumilev divorced in 1918. Akhmatova married twice more, to Vladimir Shileiko in 1918, whom she divorced in 1928, and Nikolai Punin, who died in a Siberian labor camp in 1953. The writer Boris Pasternak, who was already married, had proposed to her numerous times.
Nikolai Gumilev was executed in 1921 by the Bolsheviks, and, although Akhmatova and he were divorced, she was still associated with him. As a result, after her book Anno Domini MCMXXI was published in 1922, she had great difficulty finding a publisher. There was an unofficial ban on Akhmatova's poetry from 1925 until 1940. During this time, Akhmatova devoted herself to literary criticism, particularly of Pushkin, and translations. During the latter part of the 1930s, she composed a long poem, Requiem, dedicated to the memory of Stalin's victims. In 1940, a collection of previously published poems, From Six Books, was published. A few months later it was withdrawn.
Changes in the political climate finally allowed her acceptance into the Writer's Union, but following World War II, there was an official decree banning publication of her poetry and Andrey Zhadanov, the Secretary of the Central Committee, expelled her from the Writer's Union, calling her "half nun, half harlot". Her son, Lev, was arrested in 1949 and held in jail until 1956. To try to win his release, Akhmatova wrote poems in praise of Stalin and the government, but it was of no use. Later she requested that these poems not appear in her collected works. She began writing and publishing again in 1958, but with heavy censorship. Young poets like Joseph Brodsky flocked to her. To them, she represented a link with the pre-Revolutionary past which had been destroyed by the Communists.
Though Akhmatova was frequently confronted with official government opposition to her work during her lifetime, she was deeply loved and lauded by the Russian people, in part because she did not abandon her country during difficult political times. Her most accomplished works, Requiem (which was not published in its entirety in Russia until 1987) and Poem Without a Hero, are reactions to the horror of the Stalinist Terror, during which time she endured artistic repression as well as tremendous personal loss.
Akhmatova also translated the works of Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo Leopardi, and various Armenian and Korean poets, and she wrote memoirs of Symbolist writer Aleksandr Blok, the artist Amedeo Modigliani, and fellow Acmeist Osip Mandelstam. In 1964 she was awarded the Etna-Taormina prize and an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1965. Her journeys to Sicily and England to receive these honors were her first travels outside Russia since 1912. Two years before her death at the age of 76, Akhmatova was chosen president of the Writers' Union. Akhmatova died in Leningrad, where she had spent most of life, in 1966.
by Ezra Pound
The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast-
The branches grow out of me, like arms.
Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child - so high - you are,
And all this is folly to the world.
Ezra Pound Biography
Ezra Pound is generally considered the poet most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry. In the early teens of the twentieth century, he opened a seminal exchange of work and ideas between British and American writers, and was famous for the generosity with which he advanced the work of such major contemporaries as W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D., James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and especially T. S. Eliot. His own significant contributions to poetry begin with his promulgation of Imagism, a movement in poetry which derived its technique from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry - stressing clarity, precision, and economy of language, and foregoing traditional rhyme and meter in order to, in Pound's words, "compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome." His later work, for nearly fifty years, focused on the encyclopedic epic poem he entitled The Cantos.
Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, in 1885. He completed two years of college at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a degree from Hamilton College in 1905. After teaching at Wabash College for two years, he traveled abroad to Spain, Italy and London, where, as the literary executor of the scholar Ernest Fenellosa, he became interested in Japanese and Chinese poetry. He married Dorothy Shakespeare in 1914 and became London editor of the Little Review in 1917. In 1924, he moved to Italy; during this period of voluntary exile, Pound became involved in Fascist politics, and did not return to the United States until 1945, when he was arrested on charges of treason for broadcasting Fascist propaganda by radio to the United States during the Second World War. In 1946, he was acquitted, but declared mentally ill and committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. During his confinement, the jury of the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award (which included a number of the most eminent writers of the time) decided to overlook Pound's political career in the interest of recognizing his poetic achievements, and awarded him the prize for the Pisan Cantos (1948). After continuous appeals from writers won his release from the hospital in 1958, Pound returned to Italy and settled in Venice, where he died, a semi-recluse, in 1972.
by Walt Whitman
LET us twain walk aside from the rest;
Now we are together privately, do you discard ceremony,
Come! vouchsafe to me what has yet been vouchsafed to none—Tell me the whole story,
Tell me what you would not tell your brother, wife, husband, or physician.
Walt Whitman Biography
WALT WHITMAN was born in Westhills, Long Island, May 31, 1819, in a farm-house overlooking the sea. While yet a child his parents moved to Brooklyn, where he acquired his education. He learned type-setting at thirteen years of age. Two years later he taught a country school. He contributed to the "Democratic Review" before he was twenty-one years old. At thirty he traveled through the Western States, and spent one year in New Orleans editing a newspaper. Returning home he took up his father's occupation of carpenter and builder, which he followed for a while. During the War of the Rebellion he spent most of his time in the hospitals and camps, in the relief of the sick and disabled soldiers. For a time he was a department clerk in Washington.
In 1856 he published a volume entitled "Leaves of Grass." This volume shows unquestionable power, and great originality. His labors among the sick and wounded necessarily made great impressions; these took form in his mind and were published under the title of "Drum Taps."
His poems lack much of the standard of recognized poetic measure. He has a style peculiar to himself, and his writings are full of meaning, beauty and interest. Of his productions, Underwood says: "Pupils who are accustomed to associate the idea of poetry with regular classic measure in rhyme, or in ten-syllabled blank verse or elastic hexameters, will commence these short and simple prose sentences with surprise, and will wonder how any number of them can form a poem. But let them read aloud with a mind in sympathy with the picture as it is displayed, and they will find by nature's unmistakable responses, that the author was a poet, and possessed the poet's incommunicable power to touch the heart." He died in Camden, N. J., March 20, 1892.
To My Wife - With A Copy Of My Poems
by Oscar Wilde
I can write no stately proem
As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
I would dare to say.
For if of these fallen petals
One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
On your hair.
And when wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand.
Oscar Wilde Biography
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was born in Dublin to unconventional parents. His mother, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (1820-96), was a poet and journalist. Her pen name was Sperenza. According to a story she warded off creditors by reciting Aeschylus. Wilde's father was Sir William Wilde, an Irish antiquarian, gifted writer, and specialist in diseases of the eye and ear, who founded a hospital in Dublin a year before Oscar was born. His work gained for him the honorary appointment of Surgeon Oculist in Ordinary to the Queen. Lady Wilde, who was active in the women's rights movement, was reputed to ignore her husbands amorous adventures.
Wilde studied at Portora Royal School, in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh (1864-71), Trinity College, Dublin (1871-74) and Magdalen College, Oxford (1874-78), where he was taught by Walter Patewr and John Ruskin. Already at the age of 13, Wilde's tastes in clothes were dandy's. "The flannel shirts you sent in the hamper are both Willie's mine are one quite scarlet and the other lilac but it is too hot to wear them yet," he wrote in a letter to his mother. Willie, whom he mentioned, was his elder brother. Lady Wilde's third and last child was a daughter, named Isola Francesca, who died young. It has been said that Lady Wilde insisted on dressing Oscar in girl's clothers because she had longed for a girl.
In Oxford Wilde shocked the pious dons with his irreverent attitude towards religion and was jeered at his eccentric clothes. He collected blue china and peacock's feathers, and later his velvet knee-breeches drew much attention. In 1878 Wilde received his B.A. and on the same year he moved to London. His lifestyle and humorous wit made him soon spokesman for Aestheticism, the late 19th century movement in England that advocated art for art's sake. He worked as art reviewer (1881), lectured in the United States and Canada (1882), and lived in Paris (1883). Between the years 1883 and 1884 he lectured in Britain. From the mid-1880s he was regular contributor for Pall Mall Gazette and Dramatic View.
In 1884 Wilde married Constance Lloyd (died 1898) and to support his family Wilde edited in 1887-89 Woman's World magazine. In 1888 he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, fairy-stories written for his two sons. The Picture of Dorian Gray followed in 1890 and next year he brought out more fairy tales. The marriage ended in 1893. Wilde had met an few years earlier Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), an athlete and a poet, who became both the love of the author's life and his downfall. "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it," Wilde once said. Bosie's uncle, Lord Jim, caused a scandal when he filled in the 1891 census describing his wife as a "lunatic" and his stepson as a "shoeblack born in darkest Africa."
Wilde made his reputation in theatre world between the years 1892 and 1895 with a series of highly popular plays. Lady Wintermere's Fan (1892) dealt with a blackmailing divorcee driven to self-sacrifice by maternal love. In A Woman of No Importance (1893) an illegitimate son is torn between his father and mother. An Ideal Husband (1895) dealt with blackmail, political corruption and public and private honour. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) was a comedy of manners. John Worthing (who prefers to call himself Jack) and Algernon Moncrieff (Algy) are two fashionable young gentlemen. John tells that he has a brother called Ernest, but in town John himself is known as Ernest and Algernon also pretends to be the profligate brother Ernest. "Relly, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?" (from The Importance of Being Earnest) Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew are two ladies whom the two snobbish characters court. Gwendolen declares that she never travels without her diary because "one should always have something sensational to read in the train".
Before the theatrical success Wilde produced several essays, many of these anonymously. "Anybody can write a three-volume novel. It merely requires a complete ignorance of both life and literature," he once stated. His two major literary-theoretical works were the dialogues 'The Decay of Lying' (1889) and 'The Critic as Artist' (1890). In the latter Wilde lets his character state, that criticism is the superior part of creation, and that the critic must not be fair, rational, and sincere, but possessed of "a temperament exquisitely susceptible to beauty". In a more traditional essay The Soul of a Man Under Socialism (1891) Wilde takes an optimistic view of the road to socialist future. He rejects the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice in favor of joy. "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."
Although married and the father of two children, Wilde's personal life was open to rumours. His years of triumph ended dramatically, when his intimate association with Alfred Douglas led to his trial on charges of homosexuality (then illegal in Britain). He was sentenced two years hard labour for the crime of sodomy. During his first trial Wilde defended himself, that "the 'Love that dare not speak its name' in this century is such a great affection of an eleder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare... There is nothing unnatural about it." Mr. Justice Wills, stated when pronouncing the sentence, that "people who can do these things must be dead to all senses of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them." During the trial and while he served his sentence, Bosie stood by Wilde, although the author felt himself betrayed. Later they met in Naples.
Wilde was first in Wandsworth prison, London, and then Reading Gaol. When he was at last allowed pen and paper after more than 19 months of deprivation, Wilde had became inclined to take opposite views on the potential of humankind toward perfection. During this time he wrote DE PROFUNDIS (1905), a dramatic monologue and autobiography, which was addressed to Alfred Douglas. "Everything about my tragedy has been hideous, mean, repellent, lacking in style. Our very dress makes us grotesques. We are the zanies of sorrow. We are the clowns whose hearts are broken." (De Profundis)
After his release in 1897 Wilde lived under the name Sebastian Melmoth in Berneval, near Dieppe, then in Paris. He wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, revealing his concern for inhumane prison conditions. It is said, that on his death bed Wilde became a Roman Catholic. He died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900, penniless, in a cheap Paris hotel at the age of 46. "Do you want to know the great drama of my life," asked Wilde before his death of Andre Gide. "It's that I have put my genius into my life; all I've put into my works is my talent."
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost Biography
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco, California. His father William Frost, a journalist and an ardent Democrat, died when Frost was about eleven years old. His Scottish mother, the former Isabelle Moody, resumed her career as a schoolteacher to support her family. The family lived in Lawrence, Massachusetts, with Frost's paternal grandfather, William Prescott Frost, who gave his grandson a good schooling. In 1892 Frost graduated from a high school and attended Darthmouth College for a few months. Over the next ten years he held a number of jobs. Frost worked among others in a textile mill and taught Latin at his mother's school in Methuen, Massachusetts. In 1894 the New York Independent published Frost's poem 'My Butterfly' and he had five poems privately printed. Frost worked as a teacher and continued to write and publish his poems in magazines. In 1895 he married a former schoolmate, Elinor White; they had six children.
From 1897 to 1899 Frost studied at Harvard, but left without receiving a degree. He moved to Derry, New Hampshire, working there as a cobbler, farmer, and teacher at Pinkerton Academy and at the state normal school in Plymouth. When he sent his poems to The Atlantic Monthly they were returned with this note: "We regret that The Atlantic has no place for your vigorous verse."
In 1912 Frost sold his farm and took his wife and four young children to England. There he published his first collection of poems, A BOY'S WILL, at the age of 39. It was followed by NORTH BOSTON (1914), which gained international reputation. The collection contains some of Frost's best-known poems: 'Mending Wall,' 'The Death of the Hired Man,' 'Home Burial,' 'A Servant to Servants,' 'After Apple-Picking,' and 'The Wood-Pile.' The poems, written with blank verse or looser free verse of dialogue, were drawn from his own life, recurrent losses, everyday tasks, and his loneliness.
While in England Frost was deeply influenced by such English poets as Rupert Brooke. After returning to the US in 1915 with his family, Frost bought a farm near Franconia, New Hampshire. When the editor of The Atlantic Monthly asked for poems, he gave the very ones that had previously been rejected. Frost taught later at Amherst College (1916-38) and Michigan universities. In 1916 he was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. On the same year appeared his third collection of verse, MOUNTAIN INTERVAL, which contained such poems as 'The Road Not Taken,' 'The Oven Bird,' 'Birches,' and 'The Hill Wife.' Frost's poems show deep appreciation of natural world and sensibility about the human aspirations. His images - woods, stars, houses, brooks, - are usually taken from everyday life. With his down-to-earth approach to his subjects, readers found it is easy to follow the poet into deeper truths, without being burdened with pedantry. Often Frost used the rhythms and vocabulary of ordinary speech or even the looser free verse of dialogue.
In 1920 Frost purchased a farm in South Shaftsbury, Vermont, near Middlebury College where he cofounded the Bread Loaf School and Conference of English. His wife died in 1938 and he lost four of his children. Two of his daughters suffered mental breakdowns, and his son Carol, a frustrated poet and farmer, committed suicide. Frost also suffered from depression and the continual self-doubt led him to cling to the desire to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. After the death of his wife, Frost became strongly attracted to Kay Morrison, whom he employed as his secretary and adviser. Frost also composed for her one of his finest love poems, 'A Witness Tree.'
Frost travelled in 1957 with his future biographer Lawrance Thompson to England and to Israel and Greece in 1961. He participated in the inauguration of President John Kennedy in 1961 by reciting two of his poems. When the sun and the wind prevented him from reading his new poem, 'The Preface', Frost recited his old poem, 'The Gift Outright', from memory. Frost travelled in 1962 in the Soviet Union as a member of a goodwill group. He had a long talk with Premier Nikita Khrushchev, whom he described as "no fathead"; as smart, big and "not a coward." Frost also reported that Khrushchev had said the United States was "too liberal to fight," it caused a considerable stir in Washington. Among the honors and rewards Frost received were tributes from the U.S. Senate (1950), the American Academy of Poets (1953), New York University (1956), and the Huntington Hartford Foundation (1958), the Congressional Gold Medal (1962), the Edward MacDowell Medal (1962). In 1930 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Amherst College appointed him Saimpson Lecturer for Life (1949), and in 1958 he was made poetry consultant for the Library of Congress.
At the time of his death on January 29, 1963, Frost was considered a kind of unofficial poet laureate of the US. "I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover's quarrel with the world," Frost once said. In his poems Frost depicted the fields and farms of his surroundings, observing the details of rural life, which hide universal meaning. His independent, elusive, half humorous view of the world produced such remarks as "I never take my side in a quarrel", or "I'm never serious except when I'm fooling." Although Frost's works were generally praised, the lack of seriousness concerning social and political problems of the 1930s annoyed some more socially orientated critics. Later biographers have created a complex and contradictory portrait of the poet. In Lawrance Thompson's humorless, three-volume official biography (1966-1976) Frost was presented as a misanthrope, anti-intellectual, cruel, and angry man, but in Jay Parini's work (1999) he was again viewed with sympathy: ''He was a loner who liked company; a poet of isolation who sought a mass audience; a rebel who sought to fit in. Although a family man to the core, he frequently felt alienated from his wife and children and withdrew into reveries. While preferring to stay at home, he traveled more than any poet of his generation to give lectures and readings, even though he remained terrified of public speaking to the end..."
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
by William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth Biography
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH was born at Cockermouth, Cumberland County, England, April 7, 1770, and he died on April 28, 1850. He was buried by the side of his daughter in the beautiful churchyard of Grasmere.
His father was law agent to Sir James Lowther, afterward Earl of Lonsdale, but he died when William was in his seventh year.
The poet attended school first at Hawkshead School, then at Cambridge University. William was also entered at St. Johns in 1787. Having finished his academical course, Wordsworth, in 1790, in company with Mr. Robert James, a fellow-student, made a tour on the continent. With this friend Wordsworth made a tour in North Wales the following year, after taking his degree in college. He was again in France toward the close of the year 1791, and remained in that country about a twelvemonth. He had hailed the French Revolution with feelings of enthusiastic admiration.
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven.
A young friend, Raisley Calvert, dying in 1795, left him a sum. A further sum came to him as a part of the estate of his father, who died intestate; and with this small competence Wordsworth devoted himself to study and seclusion.
In 1793, in his twenty-third year, he appeared before the world as an author, in "Descriptive Sketches" and "The Evening Walk." The sketches were made from his tour in Switzerland with his friend, and the Walk was among the mountains of Westmoreland.
In 1795 Wordsworth and his sister were living at Racedown Lodge, in Somersetshire, where, in 1797, they were visited by Coleridge. The meeting was mutually pleasant, and a life-long friendship was the result. The intimate relations thus established induced Wordsworth and his sister to change their home for a residence near Coleridge, at Alfoxen, near Neither Stowey. In this new home the poet composed many of his lighter poems, also the "Borderers," a tragedy, which was rejected by the Covent Garden Theatre. In 1797 appeared his "Lyrical Ballads," which also contained Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner."
In 1798, in company with his sister and Coleridge, he went to Germany, where he spent some time at Hamburg, Ratzeburg and Goslar. Returning to England, he took up his residence at Grasmere, in Westmoreland. In 1800 he reprinted his "Lyrical Ballads" with some additions, making two volumes. Two years later he married Mary Hutchinson, to whom he addressed, the beautiful lines, "She was a Phantom of Delight." In 1802, Wordsworth, with his sister and his friend Coleridge, visited Scotland. This visit formed one of the most important periods of his literary life, as it led to the composition of some of his finest lighter poems. In 1805 he completed the "Prelude, or Growth of my own Mind," a poem written in blank verse, but not published till after the author's death. In the same year he also wrote his "Waggoner," but did not publish it till in 1819. At this time he purchased a cottage and small estate at the head of Ulleswater, Lord Lonsdale generously assisting him. In 1807 he published two volumes of "Poems."
In the spring of 1813 he removed from Grasmere to Royal Mount, where he remained for the rest of his life, a period of thirty-seven years. Here were passed his brightest days. He enjoyed retirement and almost perfect happiness, as seen in his lines:
Long have I loved what I behold,
The night that calms, the day that cheers;
The common growth of mother-earth
Suffices me--her tears, her mirth,
Her humblest mirth and tears.
The dragon's wing, the magic ring,
I shall not covet for my dower,
If I along that lowly way
With sympathetic heart may stray,
And with a soul of power.
At the same time he commenced to write poems of a higher order, thus greatly extending the circle of his admirers. In 1814 he published "The Excursion," a philosophical poem in blank verse. By viewing man in connection with external nature, the poet blends his metaphysics with pictures of life and scenery. To build up and strengthen the powers of the mind, in contrast to the operations of sense, was ever his object. Like Bacon, Wordsworth would rather have believed all the fables in the Talmud and Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind--or that mind does not, by its external symbols, speak to the human heart. He lived under the habitual away of nature:
To me the meanest flower that blows can, give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
The removal of the poet to Rydal was marked by an incident of considerable importance in his personal history. Through the influence of the Earl of Lonsdale, he was appointed distributor of stamps in the county of Westmoreland, which added greatly to his income without engrossing all of his time. He was now placed beyond the frowns of Fortune--if Fortune can ever be said to have frowned on one so independent of her smiles. The subsequent works of the poet were numerous--"The White Doe of Rylstone," a romantic narrative poem, yet colored with his peculiar genius; "Sonnets on the River Duddon" "The Waggoner;" "Peter Bell;" "Ecclesiastical Sketches;" "Yarrow Revisited," and others. His fame was extending rapidly. The universities of Durham and Oxford conferred academic honors upon him. Upon the death of his friend Southey, in 1843, he was made Poet Laureate of England, and the crown gave him a pension of per annum. Thus his income was increased and honors were showered upon him, making glad the closing years of his life. But sadness found its way into his household in 1847, caused by the death of his only daughter, Dora, then Mrs. Quillinan. Wordsworth survived the shock but three years, having reached the advanced age of eighty, always enjoying robust health and writing his poems in the open air. He died in 1850, on the anniversary of St. George, the patron saint of England.
The New Poetry Handbook
by Mark Strand
If a man understands a poem,
he shall have troubles.
If a man lives with a poem,
he shall die lonely.
If a man lives with two poems,
he shall be unfaithful to one.
If a man conceives of a poem,
he shall have one less child.
If a man conceives of two poems,
he shall have two children less.
If a man wears a crown on his head as he writes,
he shall be found out.
If a man wears no crown on his head as he writes,
he shall deceive no one but himself.
If a man gets angry at a poem,
he shall be scorned by men.
If a man continues to be angry at a poem,
he shall be scorned by women.
If a man publicly denounces poetry,
his shoes will fill with urine.
If a man gives up poetry for power,
he shall have lots of power.
If a man brags about his poems,
he shall be loved by fools.
If a man brags about his poems and loves fools,
he shall write no more.
If a man craves attention because of his poems,
he shall be like a jackass in moonlight.
If a man writes a poem and praises the poem of a fellow,
he shall have a beautiful mistress.
If a man writes a poem and praises the poem of a fellow overly,
he shall drive his mistress away.
If a man claims the poem of another,
his heart shall double in size.
If a man lets his poems go naked,
he shall fear death.
If a man fears death,
he shall be saved by his poems.
If a man does not fear death,
he may or may not be saved by his poems.
If a man finishes a poem,
he shall bathe in the blank wake of his passion
and be kissed by white paper.
Mark Strand Biography
Mark Strand was born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada. His collections of poems include: Dark Harbor (1993), The Continuous Life (1990), Selected Poems (1980), The Late Hour (1978), The Story of our Lives (1973), The Sargentville Notebook (1973), Darker (1970), Reasons For Moving (1968), and Sleeping With One Eye Open (1964). He has also published a book of prose, entitled The Monument (1978). His books on artists include William Bailey (1987) and Hopper (1994). His translations include two volumes of the poems of Carlos Drummond de Andrade. He has also published three books for children. He has been the recipient of Fellowships from the Ingram Merrill, Rockefeller, and Guggenheim Foundations and from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been awarded the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets (1979), a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award (1987), the Bollingen Prize (1993), and has served as Poet Laureate of the United States (1990). He is currently the Elliott Coleman Professor of Poetry in the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University.
by An Angel by Maya Angelou
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
Maya Angelou Biography
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928. She grew up in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. She is an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist. She is best known for her autobiographical books: All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986), The Heart of a Woman (1981), Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976), Gather Together in My Name (1974), and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which was nominated for the National Book Award. Among her volumes of poetry are A Brave and Startling Truth (Random House, 1995), The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994), Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993), Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987), I Shall Not Be Moved (1990), Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? (1983), Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975), and Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971), which was nominated for the Pulitzer prize.
In 1959, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1961 to 1962 she was associate editor of The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt, the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East, and from 1964 to 1966 she was feature editor of the African Review in Accra, Ghana. She returned to the U.S. in 1974 and was appointed by Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and later by Jimmy Carter to the Commission for International Woman of the Year. She accepted a lifetime appointment in 1981 as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 1993, Angelou wrote and delivered a poem, "On The Pulse of the Morning," at the inauguration for President Bill Clinton at his request.
The first black woman director in Hollywood, Angelou has written, produced, directed, and starred in productions for stage, film, and television. In 1971, she wrote the original screenplay and musical score for the film Georgia, Georgia, and was both author and executive producer of a five-part television miniseries "Three Way Choice." She has also written and produced several prize-winning documentaries, including "Afro-Americans in the Arts," a PBS special for which she received the Golden Eagle Award. Maya Angelou was twice nominated for a Tony award for acting: once for her Broadway debut in Look Away (1973), and again for her performance in Roots (1977).
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Dylan Thomas Biography
One of the best-known poets of the twentieth century, Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 in Swansea, a small industrial city on the southern coast of Wales, one of the countries of Great Britain. Thomas's father, a school teacher, gave him the name "Dylan" after the name of a sea god in Celtic mythology, little knowing that the poet's eventual fame would help make this name such a popular one today. Thomas's father also gave the poet an early awareness of the native Welsh traditions, as well as the classics of English literature.
As a boy, Thomas was athletic and impressionable, and spent much of his time outdoors. He loved visiting the beautiful seaside near Swansea and staying during summer vacations at a relative's farm, a scene that inspired one of Thomas's most famous poems, "Fern Hill." The imagery of the Welsh countryside and coasts reappears throughout Thomas's poetry.
Thomas was a very precocious poet. His earliest recorded poem, a humorous piece entitled, "The Song of the Mischievous Dog," was composed when Thomas was just eleven years old. As a teenager, Thomas kept on writing, and once claimed that he had "innumerable exercise books full of poems." Leaving high school at sixteen, Thomas went to work as a reporter for a local newspaper, the South Wales Evening Post. Unhappy with this occupation, Thomas moved to London where he was finally discovered as a poet when he won a poetry contest. But Thomas's early poems in his notebooks were not empty exercises: in later years, Thomas kept returning to these poems, collecting and reworking many of them for inclusion in later publications.
Thomas's first book of poems was published in 1934 when Thomas was twenty years old. Thomas went on to publish three more books of poetry, as well as a final collection of his poems near the end of his life. It turned out that Thomas was gifted in other kinds of writing too: he wrote short stories, some of which are collected in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog; a radio play, Under Milk Wood; and various scripts, lectures, and talks. Among these prose writings is Thomas's story, A Child's Christmas in Wales, a beloved childhood remembrance of the holiday season.
After beginning his literary career in London, in 1938 Thomas moved back to Wales where he spent most of the remainder of his life. Here Thomas, who had married Caitlin MacNamara in 1937, had three children. His home in Wales was now the small seaside village of Laugharne (pronounced "larn") on the river Towy (pronounced "toe-ee"). Thomas's home, called the Boat House, was located right on the estuary of the Towy, and if you visit Wales you can see this same house preserved as it was, including the small potting shed that Thomas used for writing his poems. There you can look out the same window with its beautiful view of the water and the sea birds.
As Thomas became more and more popular, he was invited to come to the United States to give readings and talks. Those who attended these recitations recall the intense voice that Thomas used for reading his own poems, as well as reading poems by others. Some of these readings were recorded and, if you listen to them, you will hear the song-like quality of Thomas's voice, which some called the voice of a "wild Welsh bard" (bard is an old word for poet). However, several years of the reading tours began to take their toll. After a heavy bout of drinking, Thomas died in New York in 1953. He was only thirty-nine years old. His body was returned to Laugharne to be buried.
Although his life was short, Thomas made a deep impression on those who knew him or who read his poems, or who heard them read by the poet. Although he was born just as the modern age of literary culture was beginning, Thomas wrote poetry which often used traditional forms of rhythm, rhyme, and meter, and this seemed to represent a welcome return to an earlier and happier form of literature. Thomas was also one of the modern writers who helped return English poetry to its roots in its own language. Rather than choosing long words derived from foreign languages, Thomas preferred to impress readers with strong, short words from native English. But what Dylan Thomas will be remembered for most of all are his many poems which insist that life will carry on from generation to generation, all with the same vigor as before.
Thomas wrote one of his more famous poems, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"