Poem: ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is a poem that makes history really memorable. Longfellow tells the story of Paul Revere riding through Massachusetts late at night in 1775, warning of the impending arrival of the British military during the American War of Independence.

A story well known to Americans, Paul Revere’s ride became known to me- and probably many other Australians- through this poem long before I knew anything else about why it mattered that the British were coming.

It is an exciting poem that draws the reader in, even though they know how it ends. The pace and rhythm seem to echo the galloping of the horse’s hooves, evoking the urgency and importance of Revere’s late-night mission, and taking the audience along for the ride.

Image: Public Domain. New York Public Library Archive

Paul Revere’s Ride

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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Poem: ‘Morte d’Arthur’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It is no secret that I love Tennyson’s poetry, and consider him one of my great literary inspirations.

It’s hard to pin down which of his poems is my favourite, because so many of them are brilliant. Several of my favourites, though, do belong to the poetry he wrote about the world of King Arthur and Camelot: The Lady of Shalott, The Idylls of the King, and Morte d’Arthur.

Morte d’Arthur is written in blank verse, which means it doesn’t rhyme, but it flows naturally because of its rhythm. Iambic pentameter means there are five sets of a ‘ba-boom’ rhythm in each line – think of a heart beat, or the way we say words like ‘beyond’ or ‘afar’. It gives poetry an easy lilt that lures the reader into the feeling of the poem and the words, which is why it has proven to be very popular among poets and readers alike.

This poem tells the story of the end of King Arthur’s life, and his conversations with Sir Bedivere about what should be done with Excalibur, the sword which he had received from the Lady of the Lake. As with all great fantasy stories, there is tragedy, a challenge to loyalty, and some lovely magical moments.

It’s a long poem, but well worth reading. I hope you enjoy it.


Image: Public Domain. ‘The Death of King Arthur’ by John Garrick

Morte d’Arthur

So all day long the noise of battle roll’d
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.

Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
“The sequel of to-day unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
They sleep—the men I loved. I think that we
Shall never more, at any future time,
Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
I perish by this people which I made,—
Tho’ Merlin sware that I should come again
To rule once more—but let what will be, be,
I am so deeply smitten thro’ the helm
That without help I cannot last till morn.
Thou therefore take my brand Excalibur,
Which was my pride: for thou rememberest how
In those old days, one summer noon, an arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword—and how I row’d across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king:
And, wheresoever I am sung or told
In aftertime, this also shall be known:
But now delay not: take Excalibur,
And fling him far into the middle mere:
Watch what thou seëst, and lightly bring me word.”

To him replied the bold Sir Bedivere:
“It is not meet, Sir King, to leave thee thus,
Aidless, alone, and smitten thro’ the helm.
A little thing may harm a wounded man.
Yet I thy hest will all perform at full,
Watch what I see, and lightly bring thee word.”

So saying, from the ruin’d shrine he stept
And in the moon athwart the place of tombs,
Where lay the mighty bones of ancient men,
Old knights, and over them the sea-wind sang
Shrill, chill, with flakes of foam. He, stepping down
By zigzag paths, and juts of pointed rock,
Came on the shining levels of the lake.

There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth work
Of subtlest jewellery. He gazed so long
That both his eyes were dazzled, as he stood,
This way and that dividing the swift mind,
In act to throw: but at the last it seem’d
Better to leave Excalibur conceal’d
There in the many-knotted water-flags,
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge.
So strode he back slow to the wounded King.

Then spake King Arthur to Sir Bedivere:
“Hast thou perform’d my mission which I gave?
What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?”

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
“I heard the ripple washing in the reeds,
And the wild water lapping on the crag.”

To whom replied King Arthur, faint and pale:
“Thou hast betray’d thy nature and thy name,
Not rendering true answer, as beseem’d
Thy fealty, nor like a noble knight:
For surer sign had follow’d, either hand,
Or voice, or else a motion of the mere.
This is a shameful thing for men to lie.
Yet now, I charge thee, quickly go again
As thou art lief and dear, and do the thing
I bade thee, watch, and lightly bring me word.”

Then went Sir Bedivere the second time
Across the ridge, and paced beside the mere,
Counting the dewy pebbles, fixed in thought;
But when he saw the wonder of the hilt,
How curiously and strangely chased, he smote
His palms together, and he cried aloud,

“And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost forever from the earth,
Which might have pleased the eyes of many men.
What good should follow this, if this were done?
What harm, undone? deep harm to disobey,
Seeing obedience is the bond of rule.
Were it well to obey then, if a king demand
An act unprofitable, against himself?
The King is sick, and knows not what he does.
What record, or what relic of my lord
Should be to aftertime, but empty breath
And rumours of a doubt? but were this kept,
Stored in some treasure-house of mighty kings,
Some one might show it at a joust of arms,
Saying, ‘King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur,
Wrought by the lonely maiden of the Lake;
Nine years she wrought it, sitting in the deeps
Upon the hidden bases of the hills.’
So might some old man speak in the aftertime
To all the people, winning reverence.
But now much honour and much fame were lost.”

So spake he, clouded with his own conceit,
And hid Excalibur the second time,
And so strode back slow to the wounded King.

Then spoke King Arthur, breathing heavily:
“What is it thou hast seen, or what hast heard?”

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
“I heard the water lapping on the crag,
And the long ripple washing in the reeds.”

To whom replied King Arthur, much in wrath:
“Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widow’d of the power in his eye
That bow’d the will. I see thee what thou art,
For thou, the latest-left of all my knights,
In whom should meet the offices of all,
Thou wouldst betray me for the precious hilt;
Either from lust of gold, or like a girl
Valuing the giddy pleasure of the eyes.
Yet, for a man may fail in duty twice,
And the third time may prosper, get thee hence:
But, if thou spare to fling Excalibur,
I will arise and slay thee with my hands.”

Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran,
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch’d the sword,
And strongly wheel’d and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl’d in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the northern sea.
So flash’d and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
And lightly went the other to the King.

Then spoke King Arthur, drawing thicker breath:
“Now see I by thine eyes that this is done.
Speak out: what is it thou hast heard, or seen?”

And answer made the bold Sir Bedivere:
“Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
Not tho’ I live three lives of mortal men,
So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
But when I look’d again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.”

And answer made King Arthur, breathing hard:
“My end draws nigh; ‘t is time that I were gone.
Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight,
And bear me to the margin; yet I fear
My wound hath taken cold, and I shall die.”

So saying, from the pavement he half rose,
Slowly, with pain, reclining on his arm,
And looking wistfully with wide blue eyes
As in a picture. Him Sir Bedivere
Remorsefully regarded thro’ his tears,
And would have spoken, but he found not words,
Then took with care, and kneeling on one knee,
O’er both his shoulders drew the languid hands,
And rising bore him thro’ the place of tombs.

But, as he walk’d, King Arthur panted hard,
Like one that feels a nightmare on his bed
When all the house is mute. So sigh’d the King
Muttering and murmuring at his ear, “Quick, quick!
I fear it is too late, and I shall die.”
But the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge,
Clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walk’d
Larger than human on the frozen hills.
He heard the deep behind him, and a cry
Before. His own thought drove him like a goad.
Dry clash’d his harness in the icy caves
And barren chasms, and all to left and right
The bare black cliff clang’d round him, as he based
His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang
Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels—
And on a sudden, lo! the level lake,
And the long glories of the winter moon.

Then saw they how there hove a dusky barge
Dark as a funeral scarf from stem to stern,
Beneath them; and descending they were ware
That all the decks were dense with stately forms
Black-stoled, black-hooded, like a dream—by these
Three Queens with crowns of gold—and from them rose
A cry that shiver’d to the tingling stars,
And, as it were one voice, an agony
Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills
All night in a waste land, where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.

Then murmur’d Arthur, “Place me in the barge,”
And to the barge they came. There those three Queens
Put forth their hands, and took the King, and wept.
But she that rose the tallest of them all
And fairest, laid his head upon her lap,
And loosed the shatter’d casque, and chafed his hands,
And call’d him by his name, complaining loud
And dropping bitter tears against his brow
Striped with dark blood: for all his face was white
And colourless, and like the wither’d moon
Smote by the fresh beam of the springing east;
And all his greaves and cuisses dash’d with drops
Of onset; and the light and lustrous curls—
That made his forehead like a rising sun
High from the daïs-throne—were parch’d with dust;
Or, clotted into points and hanging loose,
Mix’d with the knightly growth that fringed his lips.
So like a shatter’d column lay the King;
Not like that Arthur who, with lance in rest,
From spur to plume a star of tournament,
Shot thro’ the lists at Camelot, and charged
Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.

Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
“Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world;
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds.”

And slowly answer’d Arthur from the barge:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst—if indeed I go—
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.”

So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look’d one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.

Poem: ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Edward Lear

As a child, I always enjoyed this poem. I enjoyed the silliness of it, the musical rhythm and the sense of Fantasy. 

I
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

II
Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.  

III
‘Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.



Image:Public Domain 
Edward Lear’s Own illustration of The Owl and the Pussy Cat

I must confess, though, that I hadn’t thought about this poem for many years until a friend quoted it in her newly-released paranormal romance novel. Having read and reviewed the book, it left me pondering the poem. 

In the poet’s Victorian setting it was classified as nonsense poetry, a bit of whimsy and silliness for the entertainment of children. 

I do wonder now, though, if there is a hint of rebellion against Victorian society’s moral and class standards in the unlikely union of those two mismatched creatures, and if that’s why they had to go away to be together. It could just be my 21st century sensitivities talking, but I’d like to think that maybe, back in the late 1860s, Lear was sending a subtle message to the morality police of the time that if two people were in love, they should be able to be together. 

I know people accuse English teachers of overthinking these things all the time, but just stop and think about it for a moment.

The owl and the pussycat weren’t supposed to be together, but they were quite free in expressing their feelings for one another and very happy together. Which of the two is male, and which is female? Or are they really even one of each? They do seem remarkably neutral in that regard, especially if you think of the strict gender stereotypes apparent in other Victorian literature such as that by Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and the Brontes. 

It is just a curious thought, and I don’t want to shatter anyone’s enjoyment of a much-loved children’s poem. Maybe it is just whimsical make-believe. Maybe it’s not. We will never know. 

But it’s also a possibility that there are a whole bunch of people out there who might appreciate this poem a whole lot more on consideration of my uncommon little theory. Oh, I hope so!

Poem: ‘Honour’s Martyr’ by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte, famous for her classic Victorian gothic novel Wuthering Heights, also wrote poetry.

Her poems do share some qualities with Wuthering Heights: themes of misery, loneliness and grief, and dark, powerful imagery that makes Bronte’s thoughts come to life and leap off the page.

While fewer people are familiar with her poems than that magnificent book, her poetry really does deserve to be more widely read.

This poem captures that feeling of complete isolation and the despair of inner conflict experienced by one agonising over the situation they are in while someone else sleeps peacefully, unaware of the torment of the other.

Honour’s Martyr

The moon is full this winter night;
The stars are clear, though few;
And every window glistens bright,
With leaves of frozen dew. 

The sweet moon through your lattice gleams
And lights your room like day;
And there you pass, in happy dreams,
The peaceful hours away!

While I, with effort hardly quelling
The anguish in my breast,
Wander about the silent dwelling,
And cannot think of rest.

The old clock in the gloomy hall
Ticks on, from hour to hour;
And every time its measured call
Seems lingering slow and slower:

And oh, how slow that keen-eyed star
Has tracked the chilly grey!
What, watching yet! how very far
The morning lies away!

Without your chamber door I stand;
Love, are you slumbering still?
My cold heart, underneath my hand,
Has almost ceased to thrill.

Bleak, bleak the east wind sobs and sighs,
And drowns the turret bell,
Whose sad note, undistinguished, dies
Unheard, like my farewell!

To-morrow, Scorn will blight my name,
And Hate will trample me,
Will load me with a coward’s shame?
A traitor’s perjury.

False friends will launch their covert sneers;
True friends will wish me dead;
And I shall cause the bitterest tears
That you have ever shed.

The dark deeds of my outlawed race
Will then like virtues shine;
And men will pardon their disgrace,
Beside the guilt of mine.

For, who forgives the accursed crime
Of dastard treachery?
Rebellion, in its chosen time,
May Freedom’s champion be;

Revenge may stain a righteous sword,
It may be just to slay;
But, traitor, traitor, from that word
All true breasts shrink away!

Oh, I would give my heart to death,
To keep my honour fair;
Yet, I’ll not give my inward faith
My honour’s name to spare!

Not even to keep your priceless love,
Dare I, Beloved, deceive;
This treason should the future prove,
Then, only then, believe!

I know the path I ought to go;
I follow fearlessly,
Inquiring not what deeper woe
Stern duty stores for me.

So foes pursue, and cold allies
Mistrust me, every one:
Let me be false in others’ eyes,
If faithful in my own. 

More on Emily Bronte: 10 Authors Who Have Inspired Me | Women in Horror Month: Inspirations

Poem: ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe

As both a reader and a writer, I love Poe’s work. Those who have read my dark poetry or horror stories will find it entirely unsurprising that I consider him one of my inspirations.

Last year I shared his poem ‘The Bells’ as part of my observance of (Inter)National Poetry Month.

This year, I have chosen ‘The Raven’ as my first post for Poetry Month because while it is most famous, being quoted or referred to in many books, films and popular culture, I have a very strong suspicion that most of the people who make those references have probably never read it.

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—   
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—            
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.   
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow   
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—            
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;   
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating   
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—            
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;   
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,   
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—            
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;   
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,   
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—            
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.   
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;      
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—           
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;   
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;   
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—            
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;   
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being   
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,            
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.   
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—   
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”            
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store   
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster   
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore            
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;   
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking   
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore            
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;   
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining   
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,            
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.   
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee   
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,   
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—   
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—   
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,   
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!   
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!    “Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;   
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,   
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor            
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Ambrosia.

I remember as a child going to visit friends of my parents’ for dinner, and being served a dessert called Ambrosia. I had never heard of it before, and I remember being amazed by how sweet and delightful it was. The sensation of wanting more when the little dish set before me was empty is still a very clear memory.

When I was a bit older and started reading about history, I discovered that ambrosia was a mythical substance that, having been brought to the Ancient Greek Gods by doves, became their food of choice, along with their favoured drink, nectar. Ambrosia and nectar may have even originally been the same thing, but Homer and  Sappho both distinguish between them. Given that they were present in Ancient Greece and I was not. their authority on the matter is something I am willing to accept.

Ambrosia was understood to be fragrant, powerful and reserved for the gods, who adored it because of its healing and cleansing powers, and because it took years off their physical ages. It filled them with passion and made them desirable. Little wonder, then, that they wanted to keep it for themselves! 

In time, ‘ambrosia’ was a term that became popular among the Romans as any delightful essence or concoction of food or drink, and then may have given rise to the idea of “the elixir of life” that people have been searching for ever since. 

It was the concept of drinking something that resulted in passion that lasted for eternity that caused me to write my poem Ambrosia about the power of a lover’s effect on one’s life and soul. I wanted to capture that heady, addictive feeling between lovers that makes them believe nothing and nobody else matters, and that their love transcends time, place and physical limitations. 

Anyone who has experienced those feelings will relate. Anyone who has landed hard on their posterior after doing something stupid for love will probably relate, but may also mutter uncharitable things about love and romance under their breath. Those who haven’t experienced it may scoff. 

Yet the feelings and experiences described in the poem do exist, and they are what the celebration of Valentine’s Day has come to be all about: it’s the kind of love that everyone wants to find and experience, although it’s fair to say that not everyone does. 

We must remember, after all, that the legend of Valentines Day was never about flowers, candlelight dinners and fairy-tale, kissy-face wedding proposals: it began with a man being executed for something he believed in. 

At any rate, I wrote Ambrosia in honour of the love of my life who, after many years together, still hasn’t driven me to drink. I have, however, been known to do take a risk or two for the love of him from time to time, so it’s an appropriate poem to share on Valentine’s Day. 

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Ambrosia is publshed in my book, Smoke and Shadows.

A Favourite Poem: ‘The Bells’ by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Bells’ is a magnificent poem that is best read aloud.

‘The Bells’ is a poem that Poe wrote in the final year of his life, as he battled writer’s block that seemed to have developed with his grief for his wife, who died from tuberculosis. It is highly reflective of the way in which he perceived the changes that happen in one’s life – as one gets older, the ringing of the bells is less about happiness and increasingly about grief and fear. From courtship, to marriage, then grief and despair, and finally one’s own death, each stanza grows darker and longer than the one preceding it. The haunting tone of the final stanzas is powerful and chilling, leaving the reader with a strong sense of impending doom and terror.

For me, this poem also reflects how happy times seem to fly past quickly, while periods of darkness and sorrow seem to linger and to obscure the light of those happier memories and thoughts.

It’s a beautiful thing to quietly read and reflect on the poem, but it is possible to overlook some technical elements of the poetry if one reads it silently. Reading the poem aloud adds another dimension altogether to one’s understanding and experience of the poem.

In each stanza, the bells are made of particular metals that reflect the purpose and symbolism of the bells, but which also have different sounds when they ring in that verse of the poem.
The verbs used by Poe to describe the way in which the bells ring have been purposefully chosen to shape the meaning by controlling the speed and temperament of the reading. Short vowel sounds in “jingling” and “tinkling” are replaced with successively longer vowel sounds that slow the reading down and lower the register of the voice, so that the mood becomes more serious and sombre. By the end, the “moaning and the groaning of the bells” is oppressive and fearful, evoking horror and fear in the reader.

I really enjoy the onomatopoeia – words that sound like their meaning – of the poem as it grows progressively louder and heavier, emphasising and compounding the darkening tone and message of the poem. It is the sounds of the bells that tell us what is going on, as much as the other narrative provided by the poem.

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THE BELLS

I
Hear the sledges with the bells–
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells–
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

II
Hear the mellow wedding bells
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells–
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

III
Hear the loud alarum bells–
Brazen bells!
What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor
Now–now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet, the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells–
Of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells–
In the clamour and the clangour of the bells!

IV
Hear the tolling of the bells–
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy meaning of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people–ah, the people–
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone–
They are neither man nor woman–
They are neither brute nor human–
They are Ghouls:–
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls,
Rolls
A pæan from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the pæan of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the pæan of the bells–
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells–
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells–
Of the bells, bells, bells–
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells–
Bells, bells, bells–
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

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