One Less Star.

A couple of years ago, a friend asked a question on Facebook: “What difference would it make if I wasn’t here anymore?”

I wrote this poem for him.

I also wrote it for those who had never asked me the question — well, not that I know of, at least — and left of their own accord.

Because it is Suicide Prevention Week worldwide, it’s a very appropriate time to share this poem with you. I hope it encourages you.

Just so you know, my friend stayed. And I’m very glad he did.

And if you’re ever in that situation, I hope you will stay, too.

©Promo X One Less Star plain

Tonight
Through the tears
That sprang from your pain
And fell from my eyes,
I looked into the sky
Where there was one less star shining,
And I wept for the world
Where life carries on
Just that bit darker
Than before
You left.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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img_3407This poem and fifty others are now published in a new collection: The Passing Of The Night.

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The Best Maya Angelou Poems Everyone Should Read

I really enjoy the Interesting Literature blog. 
It’s well organised and curated, and has lots of excellent posts about all sorts of different literature. There are collections of poems or novels by theme, and various authors’ and poets’ “best of” lists. 

If you liked my Poetry Month or Classic Novels posts, you may well appreciate their posts as much as I do.  (If you missed them, you can find them easily by clicking on those tags on this post.)

This post about Maya Angelou’s poetry is a great example of the excellent content you’ll find at Interesting Literature. 

The Best Maya Angelou Poems Everyone Should Read

Poem: ‘Sonnet of the Moon’ by Charles Best

A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines with  strict patterns of rhythm and rhyme that give it both formality and musicality. 

I have read and studied many sonnets, and have written two that I love and one very poor one that shall never see the light of day, let alone be published. Let’s call that third one an important exercise in keeping the poet humble! 

This sonnet by Charles Best, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is beautifully evocative, bringing to mind images of moonlight on the water and the movement of the tides before transforming, as sonnets often do, into a declaration of love and devotion. 

Sonnet of the Moon

Look how the pale queen of the silent night
Doth cause the ocean to attend upon her,
And he, as long as she is in his sight,
With her full tide is ready her to honor.
But when the silver waggon of the moon
Is mounted up so high he cannot follow,
The sea calls home his crystal waves to moan,
And with low ebb doth manifest his sorrow.
So you that are the sovereign of my heart
Have all my joys attending on your will;
My joys low-ebbing when you do depart,
When you return their tide my heart doth fill.
So as you come and as you do depart, 
Joys ebb and flow within my tender heart.

Poem: ‘Going to School’ by C.J. Dennis

I learned this poem when I was in 5th grade. My teacher loved poetry sand set us all a poem to memorise and recite. ‘Going to School’ was mine. 

Published in ‘A Book for Kids’ in 1938 with a collection of similarly excellent poems, this is a fun poem with a very musical rhythm and rhyme pattern that are instantly engaging. It conjures images of a time when kids in Australian country schools might ride a horse to school if they loved too far away to walk and didn’t own a bicycle or three. 

Dennis was a man of many talents: in addition to working as a journalist and poet, he also illustrated his own books with delightful pictures that were almost as much fun as the poetry. 

Image: C.J. Dennis working at his desk c.1938 . Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria 

Going to School

Did you see them pass to-day, Billy, Kate and Robin,
All astride upon the back of old grey Dobbin?
Jigging, jogging off to school, down the dusty track-
What must Dobbin think of it – three upon his back?
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Billy holding on behind, his legs out straight.


Now they’re coming back from school, jig, jog, jig.
See them at the corner where the gums grow big;
Dobbin flicking off the flies and blinking at the sun-
Having three upon his back he thinks is splendid fun:
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Little Billy up behind, his legs out straight.

Dennis’ images for ‘Going to School’ from ‘A Book for Kids’
Public Domain via Project Gutenberg

If you’d like a copy of A Book for Kids, Project Gutenberg has it available in a variety of formats, including for Kindle and other eReaders, free of charge. This is a legal download as the copyright on both the work and the illustrations included has expired. 

Poem: ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ by A.B. Paterson

Last year during Poetry Month, I shared Paterson’s magnificent poem ‘The Man From Snowy River’. This year, I thought it would be good to share a city-dweller’s perspective of the Australian stockman’s life in the 19th century through another of Paterson’s much-loved works.

 The Stockman by S.T. Gill (1818-1880) Public Domain.

Clancy Of The Overflow

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
   Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
   Just “on spec”, addressed as follows: “Clancy, of The Overflow”.
 
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
   (And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
   “Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”
 
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
   Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
   For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
 
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
   In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
  And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.
 
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
    Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
   Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.
 
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
   Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
   Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
 
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
  As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
   For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
 
And I somehow fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
   Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal —
   But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.

Bob Dylan and Poetry

Bob Dylan knows a thing or thirteen about poetry: that’s why he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.

Listening to his lyrics, there is no doubt of the poetic qualities of his writing. And in his own words, he considers himself a poet first and foremost.

Source: BrainyQuotes.com

Dylan’s songs became anthems of the 1960s before attaining legendary status in later decades. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Dylan’s words carry great meaning and importance.

Of all the protest songs of the 60s, Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is still one of my favourites. Enjoy.

Poem: ‘Easter Day’ by Oscar Wilde

‘Easter Day’ is a sonnet about seeing the Pope on Easter Sunday. It is not, however, as reverent of the pontiff as it first appears. 

After describing the scene, Wilde observes that while the ceremony he observes is impressive, it actually has little to do with the reality of Jesus’ life.  It’s all about thethe Pope, far more than it is about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. 

This is a very powerful observation, and one that certainly resonates with me.  As I have said many times before, “I love Jesus. I just have significant problems with the actions of many who claim to represent Him.”

This poem, then, serves as a reminder to not put faith in man-made institutions, regardless of who or what they claim to be, but instead to focus on Christ himself, what He taught, and on one’s own faith in Him as a personal, intimate relationship. 

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.

Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
‘Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.’

Poem: ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ by Thomas Gray

An elegy is a formal poem that usually delivers a lament for  someone who has died, but there is also an element of praise or reflection that makes it positive, even while it’s sad. It’s different to a eulogy – a speech given about someone’s life, usually at their funeral, and also to a dirge, which is entirely mournful.

In this poem, Thomas Gray paints a picture of a mourner, alone in a church yard as evening falls. Left to his contemplation, he reflects on those buried nearby and what their lives may have been. Because this poem is about people who were unknown to him, and not specific to one particular person, Gray’s poem is actually more of an ode than an elegy, but given that he was the poet, he was free to call it whatever he wished.

The imagery of the evening scene before him is breathtaking. The reader can almost feel the weariness in the way the first stanza forces them to slow down and contemplate, alongside the poet, by the use of assonance on long vowel sounds in words like ‘curfew’, ‘lowing’, ‘plowman’, ‘home’, ‘leaves and ‘world’, and alliteration on the ‘m’ and ‘l’ sounds that do, indeed, evoke the plodding of the plowman. Gray continues using these devices throughout the poem, maintaining careful control of the pace and rhythm and ensuring that the reader’s reflections will not be rushed. 

The poem leaves the reader with the understanding that death really is the great equaliser – it doesn’t matter whether one is nobly or humbly born, famous or not: eventually we’ll all end up the same way.

Like Donne’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, this is another classic poem from which another author took a line as the title for a novel. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy was published in 1874, 23 years after the poem was published by Gray in 1751.

Although it is likely Gray had written at least part of this poem before taking up residence there, the churchyard referred to in the title is that of St Giles Church in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, England.  In 1788, thirty-seven years after self-publishing  this poem, Thomas Gray was himself buried in the very same churchyard. 

Image: Used with permission. St Giles Church, Stoke Poges
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mark Percy – geograph.org.uk/p/5571063

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,          
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,          
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,        
And all the air a solemn stillness holds, 
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,          
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds; 

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r          
The moping owl does to the moon complain 
Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,          
Molest her ancient solitary reign. 

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,          
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap, 
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,          
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. 

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,          
The swallow twitt’ring from the straw-built shed, 
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,          
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed. 

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,          
Or busy housewife ply her evening care: 
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,          
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share. 

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,          
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; 
How jocund did they drive their team afield!          
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! 

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,          
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; 
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile          
The short and simple annals of the poor. 

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,          
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, 
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.          
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,          
If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise, 
Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault          
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. 

Can storied urn or animated bust          
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? 
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,          
Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? 

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid          
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; 
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,          
Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre. 

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page          
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll; 
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,          
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,          
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: 
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,          
And waste its sweetness on the desert air. 

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast          
The little tyrant of his fields withstood; 
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,          
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood. 

Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,          
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,          
And read their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone          
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,          
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,          
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame, 
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride          
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,          
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; 
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life          
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. 

Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect,          
Some frail memorial still erected nigh, 
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,          
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. 

Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse,          
The place of fame and elegy supply: 
And many a holy text around she strews,          
That teach the rustic moralist to die. 

For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,          
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d, 
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,          
Nor cast one longing, ling’ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,          
Some pious drops the closing eye requires; 
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,          
Ev’n in our ashes live their wonted fires. 

For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonour’d Dead          
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate; 
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,          
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,          
“Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn 
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away          
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn. 

“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech          
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high, 
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,          
And pore upon the brook that babbles by. 

“Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,          
Mutt’ring his wayward fancies he would rove, 
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,          
Or craz’d with care, or cross’d in hopeless love. 

“One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill,          
Along the heath and near his fav’rite tree; 
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,          
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he; 

“The next with dirges due in sad array          
Slow thro’ the church-way path we saw him borne. 
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,          
Grav’d on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.” 

THE EPITAPH 
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth        
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. 
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,        
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own. 

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,        
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send: 
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,        
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend. 

No farther seek his merits to disclose,        
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, 
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)        
The bosom of his Father and his God. 

Poem: ‘Loveliest of trees, the cherry now’ by A.E. Housman

This poem is perfect for sharing just a few days before Easter, being the time of the year when it is set.

A.E Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is a relatively small volume of poetry that he self-published in 1896, containing some really lovely poetry and delightful imagery such as that we see in this poem, the second in that collection.

While the poet is young – twenty years old – and acknowledges that he probably still has fifty years ahead of him, his life expectancy is framed in terms of only fifty more opportunities in his life to see such a beautiful tree. That’s why he’s going to take every opportunity to observe the beauty around him while he can.

This brings to mind the Latin phrase made popular by the film ‘Dead Poet’s Society’: carpe diem! Sieze the day!

The poem is a great reminder to embrace the joys we find in life while we can, and to make the most of our opportunities to stop and smell the… blossoms.  

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

That certainly lays to rest the popular misconception that Indie poets are somehow lesser than others, doesn’t it?

Poem: ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ by T.S. Eliot

While it is common knowledge that the enormously popular musical CATS was based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, it’s less common for people to actually go and read the poetry.

Should they do so, however, they’ll find some lovely poems that reflect the poet’s observations of life as well as the delightful poems about cats that Eliot wrote for children.

This poem was the inspiration for the song ‘Memory‘, the most popular song from the musical, which has been a commercial hit for a number of singers.

The poem has a musical quality of its own, evoking images of city streets in the dead of night and the things that occur while the world is asleep. The imagery is somewhat disjointed, with childhood images interspersed in the street scenery- much like a dream sequence that doesn’t always make sense, or perhaps that phase of tiredness when one drifts off into thoughts and memories and then recovers with a start to observe what is around them with keen perception that belies their prior haze. At the end of the poem, the observer returns home and is urged to sleep: the reminder of the need to prepare for the day ahead is ‘the last twist of the knife’, a concept to which any insomniac will readily relate.

Unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, this poem is more about realism than romance, demonstrating Eliot’s trademark style of poetry in which he tended to dismiss emotion and focus on impersonal observations and descriptions. 

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

Twelve o’clock.Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,
The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, “Regard that woman
Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin.”

The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Half-past two,
The street lamp said,
“Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter.
“So the hand of a child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child’s eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

The lamp hummed:
“Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smoothes the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.
“The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.

The lamp said,
“Four o’clock,
Here is the number on the door.
Memory!
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
Mount.
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”

The last twist of the knife.