Call of Poetry

Because Poetry is Meant to be Read Aloud

Month: December 2012

Hymn of Breaking Strain

This poem is about engineering, but so much more. it speaks to all of our projects that we aspire to.

After laying out how we can look up tables of the properties of materials, and design things to take the strength and properties into account, he points out a fundamental truth: People are not all the same, they are not fungible. And so – there is no possible table of what we can  do that says “insert four guys here to get the drawings done, ten there to install the girders.” There is no way to look up ahead of time the temperament and skills of a person, their personality, and how much stress they can take.

I believe it was Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld fantasy novels, who observed that “Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” Things that you can order, sort, categorize, bin, dump as defective, and treat as interchangable cogs.

Political systems that have done that, that have treated people as interchangeable parts described by a label such as “labor”, theocratic or otherwise, have been responsible for deaths in job lots, by the literal tens of millions, in the last century.

Too wonder-stale to wonder
At each new miracle;
Till, in the mid-illusion
Of Godhead ‘neath our hand,
Falls multiple confusion
On all we did or planned-
The mighty works we planned.

 While he may have been speaking to the belief in a predictable universe in his time, I think this also speaks to us as well. We’ve gone to the moon. Now what? We carry around supercomputers in our pockets (by 1990’s standards), and the Star Trek communicator and tricorder? Been there, done that.

We’ve become so used to our miracles that we forget all the things we can’t control or predict. Combine that with the closing of the first verse – if we begin to treat people problems as thing problems, fixable by universal tables, we get results even worse than those we get from predictable materials and an unpredictable universe.

Yet, we are offered hope. Despite being broken and unpredictable, despite having failure thrust upon us by an uncaring universe, have the chance to rise up, and build anew.

It’s our choice.

Hymn of Breaking Strain

by Rudyard Kipling

THE careful text-books measure
(Let all who build beware!)
The load, the shock, the pressure
Material can bear.
So, when the buckled girder
Lets down the grinding span,
‘The blame of loss, or murder,
Is laid upon the man.
Not on the Stuff – the Man!
But in our daily dealing
With stone and steel, we find
The Gods have no such feeling
Of justice toward mankind.
To no set gauge they make us-
For no laid course prepare-
And presently o’ertake us
With loads we cannot bear:
Too merciless to bear.

The prudent text-books give it
In tables at the end
‘The stress that shears a rivet
Or makes a tie-bar bend-
‘What traffic wrecks macadam-
What concrete should endure-
but we, poor Sons of Adam
Have no such literature,
To warn us or make sure!

We hold all Earth to plunder –
All Time and Space as well-
Too wonder-stale to wonder
At each new miracle;
Till, in the mid-illusion
Of Godhead ‘neath our hand,
Falls multiple confusion
On all we did or planned-
The mighty works we planned.

We only of Creation
(Oh, luckier bridge and rail)
Abide the twin damnation-
To fail and know we fail.
Yet we – by which sole token
We know we once were Gods-
Take shame in being broken
However great the odds-
The burden of the Odds.

Oh, veiled and secret Power
Whose paths we seek in vain,
Be with us in our hour
Of overthrow and pain;
That we – by which sure token
We know Thy ways are true –
In spite of being broken,
Because of being broken
May rise and build anew
Stand up and build anew.

A Visit from St. Nicholas

I’m with family for the holidays, so as of right now there will not be a reading. That said, I felt like posting this classic. The actual authorship is subject to debate (see the wiki article), but it’s been with us for nearly two centuries.

27. A Visit from St. Nicholas

By Clement Clarke Moore

’T WAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that ST. NICHOLAS soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night. ”

My Lost Youth

This old poem ties in the visuals of the sea, and far-off places.  The exotic, and the familiar. The quest for something that returns him to memories of those old times also reminds me of the saying that you can never go back home.

Note:  For some reason, whether software bug or I somehow overlooked gross errors in the text of the video despite a policy of reviewing video before uploading, the text in the video is missing many lines of the poem. with either filler or the wrong text being in place.

My Lost Youth

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(1807-1882)

OFTEN I think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea;
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me.
And a verse of a Lapland song
Is haunting my memory still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,
And catch, in sudden gleams,
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,
And islands that were the Hesperides
Of all my boyish dreams.
And the burden of that old song,
It murmurs and whispers still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

I remember the black wharves and the slips,
And the sea-tides tossing free;
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.
And the voice of that wayward song
Is singing and saying still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

I remember the bulwarks by the shore,
And the fort upon the hill;
The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,
The drum-beat repeated o’er and o’er,
And the bugle wild and shrill.
And the music of that old song
Throbs in my memory still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

I remember the sea-fight far away,
How it thundered o’er the tide!
And the dead captains, as they lay
In their graves, o’erlooking the tranquil bay
Where they in battle died.
And the sound of that mournful song
Goes through me with a thrill:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

I can see the breezy dome of groves,
The shadows of Deering’s Woods;
And the friendships old and the early loves
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves
In quiet neighborhoods.
And the verse of that sweet old song,
It flutters and murmurs still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
Across the school-boy’s brain;
The song and the silence in the heart,
That in part are prophecies, and in part
Are longings wild and vain.
And the voice of that fitful song
Sings on, and is never still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

There are things of which I may not speak;
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Strange to me now are the forms I meet
When I visit the dear old town;
But the native air is pure and sweet,
And the trees that o’ershadow each well-known street,
As they balance up and down,
Are singing the beautiful song,
Are sighing and whispering still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

And Deering’s Woods are fresh and fair,
And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,
And among the dreams of the days that were,
I find my lost youth again.
And the strange and beautiful song,
The groves are repeating it still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Kubla Khan

This is one of the relatively few poems I was introduced to in High School, that are among my favorites. It is epic in every sense of the word, and the story of its creation is nearly as interesting as the poem itself.

Kubla Khan

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.
BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
  Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

  The shadow of the dome of pleasure
  Floated midway on the waves;
  Where was heard the mingled measure
  From the fountain and the caves.

It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

  A damsel with a dulcimer
  In a vision once I saw:
  It was an Abyssinian maid
  And on her dulcimer she played,
  Singing of Mount Abora.
  Could I revive within me
  Her symphony and song,
  To such a deep delight ’twould win me,

That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Rikki Tikki Tavi

There isn’t room here for the entirety of the Story Rikki Tikki Tavi in one post, much less the entirety of the Jungle Book. Nevertheless, the stories of the Jungle Book, like many of his other short stories, often contained snippets of poems, or entire poems, created for the story being introduced.

My first exposure to the stories of the Jungle Book occurred through both the Disney cartoon (centered on the story of Mowgli), and through the 1975 Chuck Jones cartoon versions of the companion stories: Rikki Tikki Tavi, and the White Seal.

Chapter heading from “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”

At the hole where he went in
Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin.
Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
“Nag, come up and dance with death!”

Eye to eye, and head to head,
(Keep the measure, Nag.)
This shall end when one is dead;
(At thy pleasure, Nag.)

Turn for turn, and twist for twist–
(Run and hide thee, Nag.)
Hah! The hooded death has missed!
(Woe betide thee, Nag!)

Music, Ships, and the War of 1812

One of the time periods I’ve delved into was the War of 1812 between the United States and England, including reading (President) Theodore Roosevelt’s books on the subject.

As it happened, I was recently looking for music on Spotify to see what else I could find by one of my favorite celtic singers, Heather Alexander, when I discovered she had participated on an album called “Songs of the USS Constellation” – a set of traditional sea shanties collected by Hank Cramer.
The songs cover the range of Constellations service in not only the War of 1812, but in the quasi-war with France before that, and the war against the Barbary pirates.

You can play some of the songs at the following spotify link, or if you have a Spotify account, listen to them using the spotify desktop app for free.

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