A Poem a Day #9: “January”—A Sonnet by Helen Hunt Jackson

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O Winter! frozen pulse and heart of fire,
What loss is theirs who from thy kingdom turn
Dismayed, and think thy snow a sculptured urn
Of death! Far sooner in midsummer tire
The streams than under ice. June could not hire
Her roses to forego the strength they learn
In sleeping on thy breast. No fires can burn
The bridges thou dost lay where men desire
In vain to build.

O Heart, when Love’s sun goes
To northward, and the sounds of singing cease,
Keep warm by inner fires, and rest in peace.
Sleep on content, as sleeps the patient rose.
Walk boldly on the white untrodden snows,
The winter is the winter’s own release.

Photo: Smithsonian Garden

A Poem a Day #8: “There’s a certain slant of light…” by Emily Dickinson

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There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

(Poem #320, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)

“Autumn Song”—A Poem from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil); trans. from the French by Sanguine Woods

FRANCE - AUTUMN - SUNSET - OAK TREE

Autumn Song

I

Soon we shall plunge into chilly fogs;
Farewell, swift light! Summer is short!
I hear, now, the mournful fall of logs—
Echo on the pavement of the court.

Harsh Winter gathers in my soul:
The cold dread hatred, labor forced;
And, like the Sun in his polar hell,
My red heart freezes its discourse.

I shudder, with each log that falls;
No scaffold built trumps hollower sound.
My spirit, a tower with crumbling walls
Relentless pounding brings to ground.

Lulled by oft repeating shocks —
I envision a coffin-lid nailing down.
For Summer’s end? Young Autumn knocks.
And mystery shades this leaving sound.

II

I adore the long green light your eyes
Cast; yet, my heart, a bitter plight—
Your love, and evening hearth—belies;
For warmth and wealth of Sun-sea light.

But love, endure! Dear mother, be
To he, ungrateful, wicked son—
Swift sweet delight be, sister, lover;
Aura of Autumn’s setting sun.

The hungry Grave awaits! Short task!
But leave my head rest on your knee;
While torrid Summer haunts, I’ll bask
Awhile in Autumn’s yellow beams.

— Trans. (c)2018 by Sanguine Woods from “Chant d’automne“ by Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal, 1897

Photo: Oak Tree, Sunset, Le Gavre, France. Photographer unknown. (Source: https://www.afpphotos.com.au/nature/france-autumn-sunset-oak-tree-14083899.html)


Original

Chant d’automne

I

Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!
J’entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

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The Complete Horror Timeline–Part 2 of 3: Into the 20th Century (1900 – 1969)

100 horror haxan (Custom)

Image from the film, Häxan, a 1922 Swedish-Danish documentary-style silent horror film written and directed by Benjamin Christensen.

The Complete Horror Timeline

Part 2 of 3: Into the 20th Century (1900 – 1969)

Go to Part 1: Pre-20th Century * Go to Part 3: 1970 – 1999

Complete Bibliography


1902
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is published. As an exploration of the darker side of the soul it deserves mention, and is also considered the first twentieth century novel. Francis Ford Coppola moved the premise into Vietnam to see what would happen in 1979, whereas Nicholas Roeg’s telemovie (1994) was set in the original’s time period.

1902
‘The Monkey’s Paw’ is W. W. Jacobs’ contribution to the genre, and a significant one it is — probably the most famous short horror story, certainly of those written this century.

1904
The first collection from M. R. James, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, is published, heralding one of the most respected of this century’s horror authors, particularly in his speciality of the quiet but creepy ghost story.

1907
The Listener is published, a book of short stories by Algernon Blackwood containing his best-regarded work, ‘The Willows’. Blackwood was only one of a number of successful authors belonging to the Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult society created in 1888 by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, and whose most infamous member was Aleister Crowley. Other notable members were William Butler Yeats, Arthur Machen (debuting with ‘The Great God Pan’ in 1894), Lord Dunsany and the incredibly popular (in his time) Sax Rohmer who gave the world Dr Fu Manchu. This group represented not only most of the weird fiction originating in the UK at the time (one report lists Bram Stoker as a member), but is the last flourishing of English horror literature till James Herbert and Clive Barker [1984].

1908
Among the first experiments with film there were a number of gruesome and fantastic scenes, but the first real horror movie was probably William N. Selig’s 16 minute version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde [1885].

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The Complete Horror Timeline–Part 1 of 3: Pre-20th Century (1235 – 1899)

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Black Manor by unknown (Pinterest).

The Complete Horror Timeline

Part 1: Pre-20th Century

Go to Part 2: 1900 – 1969 * Go to Part 3: 1970 – 1999

Complete Bibliography

1235
An order comes out of the Vatican, authorising the commencement of an Inquisition to re-establish the orthodoxy of the faith. The charge of heresy soon becomes entangled with the charge of witchcraft, and in this form took until the seventeenth century to die away. [Article]

1307 – 1321
La Comedia, or The Divine Comedy as it came to be known, of Dante Alighieri is written in Italy. This semi-autobiographical poem sets forth one of the most influential descriptions of Hell in the literature, though Dante’s vast and intricate plan has, in the public eye, been superseded by Milton’s vision [1667]. Even less well-known are the two sections after Inferno that complete the poem, Purgatorio and Paradiso. [Article]

Nothing ere I was made was made to be
Save things eterne, and I eterne abide;
Lay down all hope, you that go in by me.

— trans. Dorothy L. Sayers

1456
Vladislav Basarab of Transylvania gains the crown of Wallacia for the first time (until 1462, and again briefly in 1468). From his father he earned the nickname ‘Dracula’, son of the Dragon, but he earned for himself the name Vlad the Impaler, for his favourite method of execution. Despite a large amount of slander by his political opponents, many of the tales of his cruelty were true (he is said to have killed over 40,000 people in his reign). He was also a staunch defender of Christendom from the Turkish threat. [1897]. [Article]

1470 – 1516
The Dutch artist Hieronymous Bosch in this period produced paintings of religious theme and nightmarish impact — the best known is The Garden of Earthly Delights. They came to the attention of the Inquisition after his death, but powerful patrons protected the collection. [Article]

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Crisis of Creativity: “Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Muse & the Albatross”, an Essay by Jenny Fabian

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“The Mad Poet” by Michael Whelan, 1992.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Muse & the Albatross

Jenny Fabian, 2011

In 1800, when William Wordsworth rejected Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’ from the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, it precipitated a crisis of creativity for Coleridge. It would be another sixteen years before ‘Christabel’ was finally published in Sibylline Leaves, aptly-named, for Coleridge’s poetry is curiously prescient, particularly in his representation of women as portents of his own fear of failure.

This essay will examine how Coleridge’s imagination is driven by this fear of failure, the extent to which the women in his poetry are polarised, and the power they hold over speech, both to inspire and suppress. In ‘The Eolian Harp’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ I will examine the conflict between the earthly and the transcendental and the emergence of the Abyssinian maid as muse, with the idea that Coleridge sacrifices himself to her power. I will show how the fear of failure becomes represented as an inability to speak in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and how polarisation of women appears in the form of ‘Heaven’s Mother’ and ‘Life-in-Death’. Rituals of crime and punishment in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ illustrate the implicit symbolic violence of Coleridge’s imagination that exists beyond the threshold of consciousness.

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Facsimilie title page from the 1816 edition.

The motif of thresholds is further explored in ‘Christabel’, which I will link with the Gothic symbolism that Coleridge employs to demonstrate the effects of evil on innocence; here Geraldine is the ultimate seducer in Coleridge’s pantheon of female representations, a lamia-like figure with hypnotic powers. Finally, in ‘Dejection: An Ode’, I will argue how, by acknowledging his loss of the transforming power of the imagination, this loss becomes transformed into a presence that enables Coleridge to explore his creative failure.

J.B. Beer, who describes Coleridge as a ‘visionary’, writes: ‘at times, he hoped to discover the ideal woman, who should be his inspiration; and at times the “Ideal woman” became, like Solomon’s Beloved, or the celestial bride of Jacob Boehme, the image of a psychological state – the recovery of Wisdom and the lost Shechinah’. (1) (Beer 1959, 270)

If Coleridge’s women represent a sense of divine knowledge, such as the sibyls of antiquity or the Abyssinian maid, they also represent the polar extreme of evil intention, like the intimidating Life-in-Death and the hypnotic Geraldine. Conflict between active and passive is intrinsic to the dynamics of Coleridge’s poetry and represents the competing desires for freedom and engulfment. Camille Paglia argues that ‘Coleridge’s protagonists are always sexually dual…The poet is feminine because passive to his own vision’. (Paglia 1991, 328-9) For the poet to abandon himself to his muse involves a form of active submission, and beneath the passive surface there is deep mental activity; consequently, the movement in Coleridge’s poetry oscillates between the doing and being done to, and it is hard to be sure who is ultimately in control.

08

A beautiful antique cloth-bound edition of a selection of Coleridge’s work, ed. by Andrew Lang. The illustrations in this edition were astounding. 

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Why You Shouldn’t Delay Reading The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson…

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There are various editions of Dickinson’s Complete Poems. This is my favorite edition, numbered by Thomas H. Johnson.

‘I’m embarrassed by how long I resisted Emily Dickinson’s “Complete Poems,” and I’m struck by how much my copy means to me now. As a daft young punk I too often sought out reckless emotion and vulgar effects, the same way one sometimes wants, when callow and feckless, to date a person with obvious physical attributes. Dickinson’s famous line — “I’m nobody! Who are you?” — is not what you want to hear when you are younger than 30, or, in my delayed maturity, closer to 40. It should have helped, but did not, when one of my favorite high school English teachers, Donald Glancy, explained that you could sing nearly all of Dickinson’s verse to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

I keep a commonplace book, a place where I write down passages that matter to me from the books I read. It’s packed with Dickinson, from her poems and her letters. These lines come to me, in my daily life, both in their intended contexts and quite far out of them. She explains why we read: “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” She underscores my sense of what it is like to watch cable news: “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.”

She suggests what I am thinking when I order a Negroni:

“Bring me the sunset in a cup.” She catches why gay marriage took so long: “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.” Her sarcasm rings down the ages: “They say that ‘home is where the heart is.’ I think it is where the house is, and the adjacent buildings.”

Few writers circled religion with more wary alertness: “They say that God is everywhere,” she said, “and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.” She wrote: “The only commandment I ever obeyed — ‘Consider the Lilies.’ ” And:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church;
I keep it, staying at Home,
With a Bobolink for a Chorister,
And an Orchard, for a Dome.

I could not stop for Emily Dickinson, but she kindly stopped for me. Her raw, spare, intense poetry was written as if carved into a desktop. Now that I am older and somewhat wiser, what I prize about Dickinson is that she lives up to her own observation:
“Truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it.”

(from an article by Dwight Garneraug published in The New Yorker, August 2015)
(Art: Pinterest)

‘Whitmanesque’ Meets ‘Dickinsonian’ in the Poetry of the Dickman Twins

One August afternoon, Michael and Matthew Dickman boarded a bus in Lents, the working-class neighborhood in southeast Portland, Oregon, where they grew up. Michael, who is six feet one and a half inches, with pale, freckled skin, sandy hair, and blue-green eyes behind glasses, and who was wearing a frayed blue shirt and a blue sun hat, slid into a seat toward the back of the bus. Matthew, who is six feet two, with pale, freckled skin, sandy hair, and blue-green eyes behind glasses, and who was wearing a black T-shirt, sank into a seat close by. It was hot outside, and the bus, which was headed downtown, offered refuge from the arid intersection where they had been waiting: Ninety-second and Foster, where a junk-filled antique store with “Closing Down” signs in its windows faced off against the New Copper Penny, an establishment that offered ladies’ nights, and was considerably more tarnished than its name suggested.

The bus had barely swung into traffic when a stocky woman in shorts, with stringy, bleached hair, got up from her seat and stumbled toward Michael, clutching a Big Gulp. “I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, grasping a pole near Michael for support. “But are you guys twins?”

It is a question that the Dickmans are used to hearing, though it seems to be asked ritualistically, rather than in a genuine spirit of inquiry: the brothers, who are thirty-three, are each other’s double, but for that half inch in height, and for slight, shifting distinctions in body weight, haircut, and eyewear. (Matthew currently favors glasses with squared-off black rims; Michael’s glasses, which have dark-brown rims, are marginally more ovoid.)

“You’re so cute!” the woman on the bus said, gazing at the brothers.

“He’s cuter,” Matthew replied, with practiced graciousness.

Eventually, the woman returned to her seat, and started discussing twins with the driver. “They’re telepathic, you know,” she said. Several other passengers turned to assess the brothers, who bore the scrutiny of delighted strangers with the resigned equanimity typically shown by famous actors who have forgone Bel Air sequestration.

Michael and Matthew Dickman are poets, and though the subject matter of each is varied, they often draw from a similar well of images and experiences: the rough neighborhood of their youth, with its violent fathers, beleaguered mothers, and reckless, neglected kids. Their verse, though, is strikingly different. Michael’s poems are interior, fragmentary, and austere, often stripped down to single-word lines; they seethe with incipient violence. Matthew’s are effusive, ecstatic, and all-embracing, spilling over with pop-cultural references and exuberant carnality. “Kings,” which appears in Michael Dickman’s first collection, “The End of the West,” just published by Copper Canyon, describes the twins’ contemporaries in Lents, exalted and downtrodden:

They used to be good at being alive,
pointing their index fingers at
the trees, passing
invisible sentences
proclamations
knighting the birds
one by one
All down my street the new fathers
beat the kingness
out
of the
kings

In “Lents District,” which appears in “All-American Poem,” a collection published this past fall, Matthew Dickman also memorializes the neighborhood:

Dear Lents, dear 82nd avenue, dear 92nd and Foster,
I am your strange son.
You saved me when I needed saving,
your arms wrapped around
my bassinet like patrol cars wrapped around
the school yard
the night Jason went crazy—
waving his father’s gun above his head,
bathed in red and blue flashing lights,
all-American, broken in half and beautiful.

In Michael’s poems, a lot of things are described as dead: a cigar, hair, friends. In Matthew’s poems, hurried sexual encounters upstairs at parties recur. (“And probably not with the same girl,” Carl Adamshick, another Portland poet and a friend of the brothers, says.) Reading Michael is like stepping out of an overheated apartment building to be met, unexpectedly, by an exhilaratingly chill gust of wind; reading Matthew is like taking a deep, warm bath with a glass of wine balanced on the soap dish. “There’s something of the pugilist in Michael,” Major Jackson, another poet friend of the brothers, says. “There is something hard-edged and tough about the speakers in his poems. Matthew has such a big heart; he has very lush, surprising turns in his work.” The poet Dorianne Laux, who has been a mentor to both Dickmans, says, “Michael is a Nureyev—each movement is articulated—but Matthew is a whirling dervish.”

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