Archive for the Literature Category

Thoughts Suggested by a College Examination – Byron

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on May 24, 2018 by telescoper

High in the midst, surrounded by his peers,
Magnus his ample front sublime uprears:
Plac’d on his chair of state, he seems a God,
While Sophs and Freshmen tremble at his nod;
As all around sit wrapt in speechless gloom,
His voice, in thunder, shakes the sounding dome;
Denouncing dire reproach to luckless fools,
Unskill’d to plod in mathematic rules.

Happy the youth! in Euclid’s axioms tried,
Though little vers’d in any art beside;
Who, scarcely skill’d an English line to pen,
Scans Attic metres with a critic’s ken.

What! though he knows not how his fathers bled,
When civil discord pil’d the fields with dead,
When Edward bade his conquering bands advance,
Or Henry trampled on the crest of France:
Though marvelling at the name of Magna Charta,
Yet well he recollects the laws of Sparta;
Can tell, what edicts sage Lycurgus made,
While Blackstone’s on the shelf, neglected laid;
Of Grecian dramas vaunts the deathless fame,
Of Avon’s bard, rememb’ring scarce the name.

Such is the youth whose scientific pate
Class-honours, medals, fellowships, await;
Or even, perhaps, the declamation prize,
If to such glorious height, he lifts his eyes.
But lo! no common orator can hope
The envied silver cup within his scope:
Not that our heads much eloquence require,
Th’ ATHENIAN’S glowing style, or TULLY’S fire.
A manner clear or warm is useless, since
We do not try by speaking to convince;
Be other orators of pleasing proud,—
We speak to please ourselves, not move the crowd:
Our gravity prefers the muttering tone,
A proper mixture of the squeak and groan:
No borrow’d grace of action must be seen,
The slightest motion would displease the Dean;
Whilst every staring Graduate would prate,
Against what—he could never imitate.

The man, who hopes t’ obtain the promis’d cup,
Must in one posture stand, and ne’er look up;
Nor stop, but rattle over every word—
No matter what, so it can not be heard:
Thus let him hurry on, nor think to rest:
Who speaks the fastest’s sure to speak the best;
Who utters most within the shortest space,
May, safely, hope to win the wordy race.

The Sons of Science these, who, thus repaid,
Linger in ease in Granta’s sluggish shade;
Where on Cam’s sedgy banks, supine, they lie,
Unknown, unhonour’d live—unwept for die:
Dull as the pictures, which adorn their halls,
They think all learning fix’d within their walls:
In manners rude, in foolish forms precise,
All modern arts affecting to despise;
Yet prizing Bentley’s, Brunck’s, or Porson’s note,
More than the verse on which the critic wrote:
Vain as their honours, heavy as their Ale,
Sad as their wit, and tedious as their tale;
To friendship dead, though not untaught to feel,
When Self and Church demand a Bigot zeal.
With eager haste they court the lord of power,
(Whether ’tis PITT or PETTY rules the hour;)
To him, with suppliant smiles, they bend the head,
While distant mitres to their eyes are spread;
But should a storm o’erwhelm him with disgrace,
They’d fly to seek the next, who fill’d his place.
Such are the men who learning’s treasures guard!
Such is their practice, such is their reward!
This much, at least, we may presume to say—
The premium can’t exceed the price they pay.

by George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

 

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The Absence, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , on May 16, 2018 by telescoper

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

When youthful faith has fled

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on May 9, 2018 by telescoper

When youthful faith has fled,
PU Of loving take thy leave;
Be constant to the dead –
PUThe dead cannot deceive.

Sweet modest flowers of spring,
PUHow fleet your balmy day!
And man’s brief year can bring
PUNo secondary May.

No earthly burst again
PUOf gladness out of gloom;
Fond hope and vision vain,
PUUngrateful to the tomb!

But ’tis an old belief,
PUThat on some solemn shore,
Beyond the sphere of grief,
PUDear friends will meet once more.

Beyond the sphere of time,
PUAnd sin, and fate’s control,
Serene in changeless prime
PUOf body and of soul.

That creed I fain would keep,
PUThat hope I’ll not forego;
Eternal be the sleep,
PUUnless to waken so.

by John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854). The last three verses of this poem were adapted by Hubert Parry as No. 4 `There is an old belief’ in his Songs of Farewell.

 

May Day, by Phillis Levin

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 1, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk on
The light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
I’ve decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesn’t matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

I’ve decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.

 

by Phillis Levin

Have A Nice Day, by Spike Milligan

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 17, 2018 by telescoper

‘Help, help,’ said a man. ‘I’m drowning.’
‘Hang on,’ said a man from the shore.
‘Help, help,’ said the man. ‘I’m not clowning.’
‘Yes, I know, I heard you before.
Be patient dear man who is drowning,
You, see I’ve got a disease.
I’m waiting for a Doctor J. Browning.
So do be patient please.’
‘How long, ‘ said the man who was drowning,
‘Will it take for the Doc to arrive? ‘
‘Not very long,’ said the man with the disease,
‘Till then try staying alive.’
‘Very well,’ said the man who was drowning.
‘I’ll try and stay afloat.
By reciting the poems of Browning
And other things he wrote.’
‘Help, help,’ said the man with the disease,
‘I suddenly feel quite ill.’
‘Keep calm.’ said the man who was drowning,
‘Breathe deeply and lie quite still.’
‘Oh dear,’ said the man with the awful disease.
‘I think I’m going to die.’
‘Farewell,’ said the man who was drowning.
Said the man with the disease, ‘goodbye.’
So the man who was drowning, drownded
And the man with the disease passed away.
But apart from that,
And a fire in my flat,
It’s been a very nice day.

by Spike Milligan (1918-2002)

 

The Manor Farm, by Edward Thomas

Posted in Literature with tags , on February 7, 2018 by telescoper

The rock-like mud unfroze a little, and rills
Ran and sparkled down each side of the road
Under the catkins wagging in the hedge.

But earth would have her sleep out, spite of the sun;
Nor did I value that thin gliding beam
More than a pretty February thing
Till I came down to the old manor farm,
And church and yew-tree opposite, in age
Its equals and in size.
The church and yew
And farmhouse slept in a Sunday silentness.

The air raised not a straw.
The steep farm roof,
With tiles duskily glowing, entertained
The mid-day sun; and up and down the roof
White pigeons nestled.
There was no sound but one.

Three cart horses were looking over a gate
Drowsily through their forelocks, swishing their tails
Against a fly, a solitary fly.

The winter’s cheek flushed as if he had drained
Spring, summer, and autumn at a draught
And smiled quietly.
But ’twas not winter–
Rather a season of bliss unchangeable,
Awakened from farm and church where it had lain
Safe under tile and latch for ages since
This England, Old already, was called Merry.

 

by Edward Thomas (1878-1917; he died at Arras, France, in April 1917).

 

A Man’s a Man for a’ that – Robert Burns

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on January 25, 2018 by telescoper

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

by Robert Burns (1759-1796)