“The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare, English (1873-1956)
Imagine you are a weary traveler commissioned to deliver an urgent message to the inhabitants of a remote house, deep, deep in a forest. It is a cold, windy night. You have been riding your horse for several hours. You hear the groaning and snapping of branches above your head and the rustling of dead leaves on the forest floor. At last, you reach your destination. The moon peeps out from behind the clouds. You see the house–a tall, ghostly structure. You dismount your horse and climb the creaking wooden steps to the front door. You hesitate before knocking, for you do not see any lights through the cracks of the boarded windows. Then you speak (please press the PLAY button below).
“Pangur Ban” a 9th Century anonymous poem, translated by Robin Flower
A page from The Book of Kells
Three hundred years before this anonymous poem was written, monasteries sprung up around Ireland. Clonard, Clonmacnois, and Clonfert, the most famous monasteries, became important centers of learning where Irish men and foreigners trained to be artists, thinkers, educators, and scribes. The monks were the first to research and write the history of Ireland. They also used their skills and talents to celebrate God in poetry and song. Before the advent of the printing press, monks created illuminated manuscripts, based on the scriptures, all drawn and written by hand. These sacred manuscripts required advanced literacy and artistry, many of them taking years to complete. The most famous surviving manuscripts are The Book of Kells, The Book of Durrow, and The Book of Armagh. Some of the greatest metal workers, sculptors, and bookbinders of the period worked at the Irish monasteries. Continue reading
Shakespeare Insult Generator by Barry Kraft, 2014
A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES!
A POX ON YOUR CHICKEN LIVERS!
THOU FAWNING FOUL-MOUTHED FUSTILARIAN!
There I was, on a sweltering summer afternoon, browsing in an air-conditioned bookstore, when I discovered a Shakespearean book by Barry Kraft. Was it an in-depth analysis of the Bard’s 38+ 16th-century plays? An instruction book for aspiring poets on creating sonnets with iambic pentameter? Or a collection of Shakespeare’s famous quotes for the serious Elizabethan scholar? Not even close! Imagine my surprise–and sheer joy–when on page eleven of this nifty little 6″ x 5″ book, I read the first of many Shakespearean insults: “APISH, BALD-PATED ABOMINATION” Continue reading
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats, Irish (1865-1939)
I first studied this poem in sixth grade. My teacher, Mrs. O’ Brien, was a fervent Yeats enthusiast, placing him on an Irish poetry pedestal like a mythical, Celtic god. In her opinion, Yeats was the greatest poet ever to walk on Irish soil, and woe betides any child who disagreed with her. Having analyzed and learned the poem by heart–we memorized everything in those days–Mrs. O’Brien instructed us to write a three-page essay on “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” identifying and discussing the aspects of nature. Apart from writing about bee hives, the linnet’s wings, and the lapping lake, I also declared that Yeats was unrealistic in planting nine bean rows. After all, beans spread like crazy, and he would have had enough beans to feed an army. And besides, what about cabbage, potatoes, and carrots? A person couldn’t live on beans, not on an island–not even a poet. You may wonder at my knowledge of beans at the tender age of twelve. Suffice it to say that my father was an avid gardener, and he had “experimented” with beans, carrots, lettuce, and various other vegetables and berry bushes that spread like plagues in our back garden every year. I asked my father about the bean problem. Continue reading
“Travel” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, American (1892-1950)
Summer is here again! – a time to visit the seaside, the mountains, or some exotic location. Wherever the destination, for me, departure day is always a joyful time. As I close my front door, I know that whatever adventures I experience, they will change me in some small, positive way. Perhaps, by the time I return home, I will have made a new friend, sampled a new food, or learned how to say, “Where is the nearest train station?” in another language. I repeat to myself: lights-off, mail-stopped, windows-locked, and train tickets in my jeans pocket. Yes, train tickets! Like Edna St. Vincent Millay, I love traveling by train “no matter where it’s going.”
In her poem “Travel,” Millay tells us that though she hears loud voices, or lies dreaming during a still night, she is always conscious of a passing train. She hears the “engine steaming” and the “whistle shrieking.” She sees “its cinders red on the sky” (here, she refers to the old steam trains, fueled by coal). By the end of her poem, Millay admits she would take a train, regardless of its destination. I love Millay’s use of simple words and vivid imagery–the sights, the sounds of a train–as though a train were a living, breathing thing, not just carriages of cold, unfeeling metal. Millay did not call her poem “Train.” She named it “Travel,” implying that a train, for her, is a means of escape–both physical, and mental.
“My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, Scottish (1759-1796)
Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet, was educated by his father, an Ayrshire farmer. Although Burns was not fond of farming, it was his closeness to nature that enabled him to depict the hardships of Scottish rural life and the beauty of the landscape in his poems. Two such poems are “To a Mouse” and “To a Mountain Daisy.” His approach was opposite to that of the English Romantic poets who depicted rustic life as idyllic. I love Burns’ use of the Scottish dialect, the freshness of simple, everyday language. There is nothing abstract or ambiguous in his poetry. Continue reading
“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare, English (1564-1616)
Today’s balmy breezes and the “darling buds of May” bring to mind one of my favorite sonnets written by William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18,” with its famous first line: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” During his lifetime, Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets. The word sonnet comes from the Italian word sonetto, meaning little song. A sonnet is a simple lyric poem with fourteen lines and a fixed rhyming pattern. Each line is written in iambic pentameter. An iamb is a word with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The word compare from the first line of this sonnet is an example of an iamb. And pentameter? Penta means five, so there are five stressed syllables in each line. That’s it!
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Sarah M. Fredericks © 2015
Carpe Librum!📚Seize the Book…and let the page-turning begin!