The Swifts

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 125th birthday.

01-07 Pitter
Ruth Pitter
English
1897 – 1992

Flying low over the warm roof of an old barn,
Down in a flask to the water, up and way with a cry,
And a wild swoop and a swift turn
And a fever of life under a thundery sky,
So they go, so they go by.

And high and high and high in the diamond light,
They soar and they shriek in the sunlight when heaven is bare,
With the pride of life in their strong flight
And a rapture of love to lift them, to hurtle them there,
High and high in the diamond air.

And away with the summer, away like the spirit of glee
Flashing and calling, and strong on the wing, and wild in their play,
With a high cry to the high sea,
And a heart for the south, a heart for the diamond Day,
So they go over, so go away.

Song of Durin

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 130th birthday.

01-02 Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien
English
1892 – 1973

 

The world was young, the mountains green,
No stain yet on the Moon was seen,
No words were laid on stream or stone
When Durin woke and walked alone.
He named the nameless hills and dells;
He drank from yet untasted wells;
He stooped and looked in Mirrormere,
And saw a crown of stars appear,
As gems upon a silver thread,
Above the shadow of his head.

The world was fair, the mountains tall,
In Elder Days before the fall
Of mighty kings in Nargothrond
And Gondolin, who now beyond
The Western Seas have passed away:
The world was fair in Durin’s Day.

A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.

There hammer on the anvil smote,
There chisel clove, and graver wrote;
There forged was blade, and bound was hilt;
The delver mined, the mason built.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
And metal wrought like fishes’ mail,
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
And shining spears were laid in hoard.

Unwearied then were Durin’s folk;
Beneath the mountains music woke:
The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
And at the fates the trumpets rang.

The world is grey, the mountains old,
The forge’s fire is ashen-cold;
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls:
The darkness dwells in Durin’s halls;
The shadow lies upon his tomb
In Moria, in Khazad-dûm.
But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

The Old Year

We present this work in honor of New Year’s Eve.

NPG 1469; John Clare by William Hilton
John Clare
English
1793 – 1864

 

The Old Year’s gone away
To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
In either shade or sun:
The last year he’d a neighbour’s face,
In this he’s known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they’re here
And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
In every cot and hall—
A guest to every heart’s desire,
And now he’s nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
Are things identified;
But time once torn away
No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year’s Day
Left the Old Year lost to all.

On Death

In honor of Guy Fawkes Night, we present this work by one of 17th century England’s most contemplative poets.

11-05 Killigrew
Anne Killigrew
English
1660 – 1685

 

Tell me thou safest End of all our Woe,
Why wreched Mortals do avoid thee so:
Thou gentle drier o’th’ afflicteds Tears,
Thou noble ender of the Cowards Fears;
Thou sweet Repose to Lovers sad dispaire,
Thou Calm t’Ambitions rough Tempestuous Care.
If in regard of Bliss thou wert a Curse,
And then the Joys of Paradise art worse;
Yet after Man from his first Station fell,
And God from Eden Adam did expel,
Thou wert no more an Evil, but Relief;
The Balm and Cure to ev’ry Humane Grief:
Through thee (what Man had forfeited before)
He now enjoys, and ne’r can loose it more.

No subtile Serpents in the Grave betray,
Worms on the Body there, not Soul do prey;
No Vice there Tempts, no Terrors there afright,
No Coz’ning Sin affords a false delight:
No vain Contentions do that Peace annoy,
No feirce Alarms break the lasting Joy.

Ah since from thee so many Blessings flow,
Such real Good as Life can never know;
Come when thou wilt, in thy afrighting’st Dress,
Thy Shape shall never make thy Welcome less.
Thou mayst to Joy, but ne’er to Fear give Birth,
Thou Best, as well as Certain’st thing on Earth.
Fly thee? May Travellers then fly their Rest,
And hungry Infants fly the profer’d Brest.
No, those that faint and tremble at thy Name,
Fly from their Good on a mistaken Fame.
Thus Childish fear did Israel of old
From Plenty and the Promis’d Land with-hold;
They fancy’d Giants, and refus’d to go,
When Canaan did with Milk and Honey flow.

The Doleful Lay of Clorinda

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 460th birthday.

Mary Sidney,
Countess of Pembroke
English
1561 – 1621

 

Ay me, to whom shall I my case complaine,
That may compassion my impatient griefe!
Or where shall I unfold my inward paine,
That my enriven heart may find reliefe!
Shall I unto the heavenly powres it show?
Or unto earthly men that dwell below?

To heavens? ah they alas the authors were,
And workers of my unremedied wo:
For they foresee what to us happens here,
And they foresaw, yet suffred this be so.
From them comes good, from them comes also il
That which they made, who can them warne to spill.

To men? ah, they alas like wretched bee,
And subject to the heavens ordinance:
Bound to abide what ever they decree,
Their best redresse, is their best sufferance.
How then can they like wretched comfort mee,
The which no lesse, need comforted to bee?

Then to my selfe will I my sorrow mourne,
Sith none alive like sorrowfull remaines:
And to my selfe my plaints shall back retourne,
To pay their usury with doubled paines.
The woods, the hills, the rivers shall resound
The mournfull accent of my sorrowes ground.

Woods, hills and rivers, now are desolate,
Sith he is gone the which them all did grace:
And all the fields do waile their widow state,
Sith death their fairest flowre did late deface.
The fairest flowre in field that ever grew,
Was Astrophel: that was, we all may rew.

What cruell hand of cursed foe unknowne,
Hath cropt the stalke which bore so faire a flowre?
Untimely cropt, before it well were growne,
And cleane defaced in untimely howre.
Great losse to all that ever him did see,
Great losse to all, but greatest losse to mee.

Breake now your gyrlonds, O ye shepheards lasses,
Sith the faire flowre, which them adornd, is gon:
The flowre, which them adornd, is gone to ashes,
Never againe let lasse put gyrlond on:
In stead of gyrlond, weare sad Cypres nowe,
And bitter Elder, broken from the bowe.

Ne ever sing the love-layes which he made,
Who ever made such layes of love as hee?
Ne ever read the riddles, which he sayd
Unto your selves, to make you mery glee.
Your mery glee is now laid all abed,
Your mery maker now alasse is dead.

Death, the devourer of all worlds delight,
Hath robbed you and reft from me my joy:
Both you and me, and all the world he quight
Hath robd of joyance, and left sad annoy.
Joy of the world, and shepheards pride was hee,
Shepheards hope never like againe to see.

Oh death that hast us of such riches reft,
Tell us at least, what hast thou with it done?
What is become of him whose flowre here left
Is but the shadow of his likenesse gone.
Scarse like the shadow of that which he was,
Nought like, but that he like a shade did pas.

But that immortall spirit, which was deckt
With all the dowries of celestiall grace:
By soveraine choyce from th’ hevenly quires select,
And lineally deriv’d from Angels race,
O what is now of it become aread,
Ay me, can so divine a thing be dead?

Ah no: it is not dead, ne can it die,
But lives for aie, in blisfull Paradisse:
Where like a new-borne babe it soft doth lie,
In beds of lillies wrapt in tender wise.
And compast all about with roses sweet,
And daintie violets from head to feet.

There thousand birds all of celestiall brood,
To him do sweetly caroll day and night:
And with straunge notes, of him well understood,
Lull him asleepe in Angel-like delight:
Whilest in sweet dreame to him presented bee
Immortall beauties, which no eye may see.

But he them sees and takes exceeding pleasure
Of their divine aspects, appearing plaine,
And kindling love in him above all measure,
Sweet love still joyous, never feeling paine.
For what so goodly forme he there doth see,
He may enjoy from jealous rancor free.

There liveth he in everlasting blis,
Sweet spirit never fearing more to die:
Ne dreading harme from any foes of his,
Ne fearing salvage beasts more crueltie.
Whilest we here wretches waile his private lack,
And with vain vowes do often call him back.

But live thou there still happie, happie spirit,
And give us leave thee here thus to lament:
Not thee that doest thy heavens joy inherit,
But our owne selves that here in dole are drent.
Thus do we weep and waile, and wear our eies,
Mourning in others, our owne miseries.

Which when she ended had, another swaine
Of gentle wit and daintie sweet device,
Whom Astrophel full deare did entertaine,
Whilest here he liv’d, and held in passing price,
Hight Thestylis, began his mournfull tourne;
And made the Muses in his song to mourne.

And after him full many other moe,
As everie one in order lov’d him best,
Gan dight themselves t’ expresse their inward woe,
With dolefull layes unto the time addrest:
The which I here in order will rehearse,
As fittest flowres to deck his mournfull hearse.

Against Love

10-22 Philips
Katherine Philips
English
1631 – 1664

 

Hence Cupid! with your cheating toys,
Your real griefs, and painted joys,
Your pleasure which itself destroys.
Lovers like men in fevers burn and rave,
And only what will injure them do crave.
Men’s weakness makes love so severe,
They give him power by their fear,

And make the shackles which they wear.
Who to another does his heart submit,
Makes his own idol, and then worships it.
Him whose heart is all his own,
Peace and liberty does crown,
He apprehends no killing frown.
He feels no raptures which are joys diseased,
And is not much transported, but still pleased.

The Poet as Hero

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 135th birthday.

09-08 Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon
English
1886 – 1967

You’ve heard me, scornful, harsh, and discontented,
Mocking and loathing War: you’ve asked me why
Of my old, silly sweetness I’ve repented—
My ecstasies changed to an ugly cry.

You are aware that once I sought the Grail,
Riding in armour bright, serene and strong;
And it was told that through my infant wail
There rose immortal semblances of song.

But now I’ve said good-bye to Galahad,
And am no more the knight of dreams and show:
For lust and senseless hatred make me glad,
And my killed friends are with me where I go.

Wound for red wound I burn to smite their wrongs;
And there is absolution in my songs.

Delight in Disorder

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 430th birthday.

08-24 Herrick
Robert Herrick
English
1591 – 1674

 

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribands to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.

Growing Old

We present this work in honor of National Senior Citizens Day.

08-21 Arnold
Matthew Arnold
English
1822 – 1888

 

What is it to grow old?
Is it to lose the glory of the form,
The lustre of the eye?
Is it for beauty to forego her wreath?
Yes, but not for this alone.

Is it to feel our strength –
Not our bloom only, but our strength – decay?
Is it to feel each limb
Grow stiffer, every function less exact,
Each nerve more weakly strung?

Yes, this, and more! but not,
Ah, ‘tis not what in youth we dreamed ‘twould be!
‘Tis not to have our life
Mellowed and softened as with sunset-glow,
A golden day’s decline!

‘Tis not to see the world
As from a height, with rapt prophetic eyes,
And heart profoundly stirred;
And weep, and feel the fulness of the past,
The years that are no more!

It is to spend long days
And not once feel that we were ever young.
It is to add, immured
In the hot prison of the present, month
To month with weary pain.

It is to suffer this,
And feel but half, and feebly, what we feel:
Deep in our hidden heart
Festers the dull remembrance of a change,
But no emotion -none.

It is – last stage of all –
When we are frozen up within, and quite
The phantom of ourselves,
To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost
Which blamed the living man.

Happy the Man

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 390th birthday.

John Dryden
English
1631 – 1700

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.