National poetry day

by Chris Bertram on October 7, 2004

It is National Poetry Day here in the UK, and though it is presumably _not_ National Poetry Day in many of the nations from which CT contributors and readers come, I’m not going to let that stop me. “Nick Barlow is assembling a list of participating blogs”: and among them is “Backword” Dave Weeden “who opines that”: 130 is the greatest of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. He may be right, but my favourite — especially in Britten’s setting in his Nocturne — is 43. Here it is:

bq. When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form, form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made,
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.



John Isbell 10.07.04 at 2:14 pm

Glorious. Thank you. I’d forgotten that. My favorite would have to be:
“Let us not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
That alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove…”
I’ve always wanted to see a jar lid which said “To remove, bend with the remover.”


Anonymous 10.07.04 at 2:19 pm

I’ve always liked Angus Young’s homage to that Shakesperean sonnet:

She was a fast machine,
She kept her motor clean,
She was the best damn woman that I’d ever seen.

She had the sightless eyes,
Telling me no lies,
Knocking me out with those American thighs.


eszter 10.07.04 at 3:14 pm

I’ll just link to my post earlier this year on Poem In Your Pocket Day.


Ken Houghton 10.07.04 at 3:50 pm

If it’s National Poetry Day, can you explain why the market didn’t work in even making a female poet a contender for the Nobel Prize awarded today?


Matt McGrattan 10.07.04 at 4:07 pm

I posted this on my blog some months ago but it’s still splendid (although maybe a bit bleak and irreligious). Czech poet Josef Hanzlik’s take on the crucifixion… [I tried to get the orthography right. There’s no punctation and only white space is used to break it up]

(To Christ’s disciples)

It’s over then You cowardly dogs
you proud, cultured and exalted men with your gentle eyes
and measured gestures and fulsome sentiment
now you spit at me and as from a pulpit
shout Traitor Dirty filthy traitor
For thirty pieces of silver for one night with a whore
he robbed the world of its Light robbed us of the Teacher
You rats Where did you scuttle
as they led Him to Golgotha Where did you shake
with liquid-bellied fear Where in your confusion did you
throw your badges and how many of you like Peter
denied Him thrice You sanctimonious weaklings
did I not offer you
a sword Did you not flee from a mere dozen men
Did even one of you His darlings and His brothers
attempt to shield Him with your own body
Or afterwards when He was tortured in his cell
did you go out among the people calling for help
Were not the people able to decide Surely the people
could have said No to Pilate Let Him be our King
You pharisees You wanted Him
killed For on the corpse the still warm corpse
you built a temple where you would be kings…
           I’m off
to find a stout branch
and one that’s seen so that Jerusalem
shall have its three-day giggle I who alone
was worthy of a place beside Him or after Him
I who had a sense
of tactics and strategy I who did not shrink from
stealing lying even garroting
for a Sacred Cause I who understood
that I was to use the funds
even for tricks and corruption I who longed
to multiply our property and secretly buy weapons I
who realised that the Master’s whole repertoire
of childish miracles and deeds of human kindness
was useless stuff today That today the Teaching
must be propagated by the swifter language of arrow and battle-axe
                And I
had a plan I wanted
the Master to be taken and held in the worst of
dungeons That’s why I thought up
the crown of thorns so that the mob should see
the red drops That’s why I advocated
heavier beams for the cross That’s why I egged on
that crowd of layabouts to line
the road to Calvary And lastly that’s why
I got on to the high priest…
he was to have been outwitted For I
relied on you you gentle vipers
to use the power of the Word to unleash in the crowd
a protest a longing for revenge a longing for murder
I hoped that apathetic mob would sharpen their knives
pick up the stones that there’d be a slaughter
which would burn Jerusalem to the ground and like a blind dog
race across the frontiers
the enemy would be routed and – why not admit it – a good few
of our friends would inevitably die
But what of it I would unite the survivors
in a great everlasting happy realm of the Faith
O the Master knew well the strength inside me And he realised
that I am more consistent that I am more apt
to propagate the Light for He
had but a name Otherwise a simpleton
and also alas a coward That’s why He feared me
and would rather go
meekly like a lamb to the slaughter
Not only you but He too
lost me my fight and betrayed…
              But the traitor for eternity
for the record of history which as always
has the last laugh that’s to be my role
I blood-brother to Cain who was wiser
and braver than the rest for he was not afraid of murder
who was by your forefathers as I am today by you
branded with the mark I’m off now
I don’t want to live like an outcast
despised I’m off
That hill up there
looks suitable
All I need is a branch
I have a rope

Josef Hanzlik, 1967


des von bladet 10.07.04 at 4:09 pm

Ken: From Sweden’s biggest tabloid two days ago:

[M]ånga hoppas och tror på en kvinnlig vinnare. Bland kandidaterna finns det särskilt en som många talar om: den danska poeten Inger Christensen.

Many are hoping for and expecting a female winner. Among the candidates there is one in particular that many are talking about: the Danish poet Inger Christensen.

And as of yesterday she was joint-ninth favourite (with DeLillo) at Ladbrokes with odds of 34-1.


Motoko Kusanagi 10.07.04 at 4:28 pm

Elfriede Jelinek won.


Motoko Kusanagi 10.07.04 at 4:51 pm

I just spent 20 minutes googling for a poem by Jelinek, but I can’t find anything, so here’s something by Raymond Queneau instead.

Quand les poètes s’ennuient alors il leur ar-
Rive de prendre une plume et d’écrire un po-
Ème on comprend dans ces conditions que ça bar-
Be un peu quelque fois la poésie la po-


Ophelia Benson 10.07.04 at 4:59 pm

I don’t think I could narrow it down to one – though if I absolutely had to or be shot at dawn, I would go for 116, the same that John Isbell did. Let me not to the marriage of true minds. But really there’s a whole largish crowd. A run of them in the 60s and 70s-

Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore


When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced


Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea


No longer mourn for me when I am dead


That time of year thou mayst in me behold

And then

They that have power to hurt and will do none


Alas, ’tis true, I have gone here and there


O for my sake do you with Fortune chide

and (going in the other direction)

Not marble nor the gilded monuments of princes


When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes

Maybe that’s the one I would choose to avert dawn fusillade. It’s between 116 and 29. A draw.


bad Jim 10.08.04 at 11:11 am

It turns out that a great many people take exeception to LXII, Sin of self-love. But then, Bertrand Russell reported having received a communication from someone wondering why everyone didn’t believe in solipsism, since it was so obviously true.


Ross 10.08.04 at 4:36 pm

Just blogged today’s health news in simple verse.

Incidentally, it’s not easy to find many rhymes for malpractice. Thanks to the Space Cowboy Steve Miller for the help with that one.


Margaret 10.09.04 at 6:29 pm

I go with “They that have the power to hurt and will do none”, partly because I think that the line “And husband nature’s riches from expense” is one of the best-sounding lines of poetry ever written. (Read it out loud.)

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