Friday, August 26, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Last Post- T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot is mesmerizing. Though he was born in America, he expatriated to England in 1927 and is linked as one of the main founders of what we now call the modernist movement. If this series would continue, I would now move to the modern American writers who captured the mood of disillusionment with the American dream after two World Wars and the depression compelled the artists to cry out in their pain and disappointment.

When I read poetry, I often feel the freedom to analyze it as it appeals to me. I often don't know the entirety of what the artist means of felt when he composed it, but I apply it as it fits me. It is a luxury I don't have, for example, when I am working through Scripture where it is important to use the whole counsel of God's Word to inform and direct (with the Holy Spirits guidance, of course), let Scripture interpret Scripture. But with poetry,  I take a more selfish view and enjoy the luxury that it affords.

In my readings from T.S. Eliot, I often feel like he propels me in this liberty as well.

I will only quote the lines that resonate with me:

From The Hollow Men:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

And also, the famous ending of the poem:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

This poem always haunts me as a loss of leadership and especially leaders with virtue. In Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets, God often curses a land with bad leadership even as He prepares a ruthless army for invasion.

Israel’s Irresponsible Leaders

[9] All you beasts of the field, come to devour—
all you beasts in the forest.
[10] His watchmen are blind;
they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
loving to slumber.
[11] The dogs have a mighty appetite;
they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
they have all turned to their own way,
each to his own gain, one and all.
[12] “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
great beyond measure.” (Isaiah 56:9–12 ESV)

Every time I read Hollow Men, I have to go back and read these Old Testament passages about ineffective and corrupt leaders that God uses as part of His punishment on Israel's sin.

This poem was also an inspiration of my own thought experiment when I composed a poem entitled "Hollow Men with Heavy Hatchets"  a few years ago.

The ending of the poem is also mesmerizing with its triplicate song,

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

When I first saw the movie, Apocalypse Now, and the powerful ending as Marlon Brando says, "The horror, the horror, the horror" I actually quoted "hollow men in my head".. yeah, I'm weird like that!
But that whole movie had a T.S. Eliot, stream of consciousness, vibe.

Speaking of "Stream of consciousness" how about the next mesmerizing poem:

From the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

This poem is a riot.... and it speaks to me as a man who is long divorced from the applause of the world. It is the ultimate anti-celebrity, snarky, and sober song of the 'never will be in the club' rest of us.

I often link this poem with the famous, 'I Went to a Garden Party' by Ricky Nelson (1972) after he was rejected by the audience at a concert in Madison Square Garden... to me, this poem has a lot of that sentiment.... left out, uncool, rejected, and somewhat depressed that we are old and no longer part of the scene... see if it hits you that way.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

That poem... I love to read it.. the older I get, the more it rings true. It seems to me to be the ultimate vanity of life statement.... 

And again, this poem inspired me to compose my own version of this thought WAY back... the first version of it I wrote in 1983... and it still seems more true for me today... Quarter-Filled Cups of Coffee

Finally- the last epic Eliot composition...

From The Wasteland

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

later on in the poem

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

The opening line, now famous ( and famously misquoted without regard for the source) captures the entire mood of the modernist movement...

Spring only promises renewal... don't believe it... it is only going to hurt you when your hopes are dashed..

And this is where I get off of the modernist movement express... my hope springs eternal. April is not cruel, it is an ever present reminder of new life and new mercies. Yes, this world is a rat's alley.. but I wasn't made for this world.

Let us go then, you and I... not to a meaningless rejection from the garden party of the elites... let us go to the Land of the Lamb of God.

I hope you enjoyed visiting these guys... many of whom are interred in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey (I was there in 1988 and stood next to  Patrick Swayze, true story!)... I have no clue when I may write again... never know where my quirky brain goes!

This series was my "Ode to English Poets"... sorry I bypassed Yates, Auden, and many others - I even wished to do an analysis of "Convergence of the Twain"... but on to to other things

Send me an email and tell me how you are inspired by poets.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Kipling

I have been re-reading Kipling's biographical information in advance of this post. My goodness, what a life of travel and intrigue! Kipling was very English, but more a man of the world as he experienced a myriad of cultures and lived in exotic places around the globe, including time in the United States.

I am inspired to read a biography of Kipling based on this general survey and he seems controversial, complex, but admirable on many fronts. We tend to forget that he also wrote the famous Junglebook characters as well.

When I read Kipling, I always end up with the more famous of his writings, "If-" , a wonderful poem known by almost any casual reader but I actually spend more time on his poem, "Recessional", which was published for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Both poems contain mighty messages of character. If-, the standard call to persevere and Recessional, the epic warning against pride and a constant need to be humble before God.

Let's start with Recessional- 1897

I was recently reminded of this poem when we got to see parts of Queen Elizabeth's royal "Platinum Jubilee' celebrations this past summer. The pomp and cheer of these types of moments are enjoyable, but also can spur traits of humanity that can be seeds of sin as well. Kipling captures this well in the bravado of English pride at the end of the 19th century.

The title itself is ironic... Kipling says "no, this isn't our peak.... if we continue in pride without a reliance or acknowledgment of God... this is our recession!"

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The line, 'dominion over palm and pine' is a reference to how vast the British empire was at this time in history. The English rule encompassed the globe and was made even more famous by the phrase, "the sun never sets on the British Empire."

We also get here the refrain,  "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,- Lest we forget—lest we forget!" quoted over and over. It stands as a prayer and call for national repentance and God's mercy.

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

A clear allusion to Psalm 51- the Psalm of repentance by David in which he readily admits:

[16] For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
[17] The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16–17 ESV)

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Kipling predicts the retreat of English power in the wake of this pompous pride and with a common sense reality that no empire can maintain power when stretched so thin. And we have another Biblical allusion to powerful nations that fell under God's judgment.

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues
that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

This stanza always comes to mind during football seasons where we get on win streaks. It doesn't take long for teams and fans to turn to boasting with 'wild tongues' as we get intoxicated on power. It is SO natural. One year in Nashville, my team went on a 7 game win streak and my coaches were shocked when I read this poem to them at our coaches devotion. But to a man, they agreed, that we had become to high on ourselves and that is a dangerous place to be.. you stop working and start 'resting on your laurels'... don't get me wrong- we need to enjoy times of success...but BE CAREFUL! But the grandiose things we say when we are in the zone can get pretty obnoxious!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,

All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Where do we put our trust? Those without God in mind, put their trust in "reeking tube" or the power of the cannon. The iron shard is likely the shrapnel of war, but the point is clear... do we trust military might?, global power?, financial security?, technology?... or do we find a humble trust in God? Everything else is 'dust built on dust'.

I guess you can see why I like this poem even more than IF

For the sake of this post to Kipling, I am posting IF- - it is such a good and clear needs no analysis.. just enjoy. This may sound weird, but the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, Simple Man, always pops in my head after I read IF... and then the song Mama Tried by Merle Haggard, because I seem to fall short of these ideals- LOL

IF- by Rudyard Kipling (1895)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I think I'm only going to do 1 more post right toward the end of the month on T.S. Eliot which means I'm passing by Yeats and a few others. If you have been enjoying these or ever have a series or post you would like for me to do- let me know. I also entertain guest blog posts at times. Take care!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Arnold

I want to apologize for skipping Robert Browning, but I find his work too dark and upsetting to spend a lot of time thinking about. I have a deep appreciation for the gift of reading. It was what my mom pressed into me at a young age. She had a way of reading that helped me to hear, taste, smell, and see what the words were describing. So my imagination was spurred and improved by good books.

I even have to admit that volumes and volumes of comic books helped as well. I read Batman, Sgt. Rock, Superman, and many others as a young boy and the pictures became alive. Then I read every Hardy Boy book ever written and spend many days at the East Lake library consuming everything I could understand.

Right after I became a Christian, a pastor gave me a New Testament copy of "Good News for Modern Man" and I read it cover to cover in about 2 days. At that time the words seemed to be burning into me and I wish it still felt that way- though I love just thinking about little phrases even today... each one like an icon on a screen that you click on and there is volumes of connecting ideas and passages.

As I moved into longer books, I noticed that I read in a voice that matched the characters that were being developed. The same is true of the Bible- I have an inner voice that is my Paul, or Peter, or Jesus... I even read Genesis with a voice I attach to a Moses.

So when I read dark novels or scenes...they become pretty graphic... much more so than any movie or video can capture. I still say that "Interview with a Vampire" is the most personified evil I have ever read in literature and was thrilled when I read the story of that novel and that Anne Rice came back to faith after those dark days of atheism captured by the vampire, Lestat.

I also have to mention the axe murder scene in Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. That one shook me up.

So the same is true with poetry... I feel it deep in my bones.

This makes me stop and comment on Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold. The poem more popular than the poet.  Arnold was a school man raised by a family of school people. I find it sad that he died by a heart attack while running to the train station to see his daughter in April 1888!

I first read Dover Beach in the spring of 1982 and was mesmerized by the picturesque beauty of the white cliffs and was overjoyed when I got to see those cliffs in person when we went there on a mission trip in the summer of 1988. It was exactly as Arnold captured it in his poem.

I had taken a copy of the poem in my pocket for the visit (though it was daytime) and I re-read it as I watched the people on the pebble beach and could just see France in the mist across the sea.

It is a sad poem, the poet is depressed that beauty and faith seems to be on the decline. Though he is steadied by the beauty of his lover who accompanies him.

As I read the poem, I was away from my wife on a trip that lasted two seeks (and no cell phones back then- the distance and silence was awful!). We were there to participate in a Billy Graham crusade in London and had made a day trip to Dover to see the famous white cliffs and enjoy authentic fish and chips.

I too was depressed that faith had withered in England. People went to the church there on two occasions: to be married and buried. I was sad, missing my wife, but deeply impacted by the words written over 100 years earlier.

As we stood on the beach, I noticed sounds of pebbles hitting the ground around me and looked over. There were French college students who were sneering at us and throwing the pebbles at us! It seems they knew we were Americans, we were as loud and obnoxious as the stereotype they held about us.

I remember praying for them and that there would be revival in England and if we are honest, we are more like England today. We need revival in our land as well!

I haven't been back- now close to 35 years ago, but I can still feel the breeze and hear the 'grating roar of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling'.

DOVER BEACH by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery;
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another
for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

As I grow older, it helps me to embrace these feelings and pursue the hope we have in Christ.
Yes, the reality of entropy, sin, and the curse still sweeps our minds but we can't give up faith, hope, and love. The beauty of creation still remains as proof that God is there and He does care. 

The world still throws pebbles.... and there are times we deserve it. But the love of Christ will never retreat from us.


[5] When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. [6] And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. [7] And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! [8] The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”

[9] Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” [10] But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” [11] And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. [12] It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” [13] So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. [14] And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself. (2 Samuel 16:5–14 ESV)

[3] The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst [4] they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. [5] Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” [6] This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. [7] And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” [8] And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. [9] But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. [10] Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” [11] She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3–11 ESV)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Tennyson

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson  is as popular today as when he was lauded as the poet Laureate for Queen Victoria in the late 19th century. 

His father, George Clayton Tennyson (1778–1831), was an Anglican clergyman who served as rector. He raised a large family and "was a man of superior abilities and varied attainments, who tried his hand with fair success in architecture, painting, music, and poetry. He was comfortably well off for a country clergyman, and his shrewd money management enabled the family to spend summers at Mablethorpe and Skegness on the eastern coast of England. Tennyson was a student of King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth from 1816 to 1820. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827, where he joined a secret society called the Cambridge Apostles."  (source wiki)

Lotus Eaters

In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon. All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem …

This poem from the adventures of Oysseus (Ullysses)- The Odyssey has always impressed me. You read the account by Homer and then read this poem and you are struck by the brilliance of Tennyson. How often have I wanted to start regimens of discipline and said, NO MORE LOTUS EATING. And yet, the draw we have toward luxury and leisure is a constant tug on our souls.


So this may be my favorite poem of all time. I have written about it on at least three blog posts over the 18 years of I have paraphrased it- but thought this time I will deal with the text as it is. Again, reading the Odyssey by Homer give the background needed to appreciate the depth and dynamics of this verse.

Before you read it, think about an aging warrior and leader. A mover of men and nations. The battles are over and he is definitely in the last stages of his life on earth. The glory stories are fading. His will to fight and win is unmatched, but there isn't a war to go to anymore. What does that do to a man?

Tennyson masterfully imagines what that must be like. And the message is powerful.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence,
something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The warrior- the son whose hands have no blood- the restlessness of civil leadership, the yearning of the fellowship he has with his team of warriors- and the famous end... yes, we may fail, but we are one heartbeat with an unmatched spirit to never yield.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light brigade used to bother me. It is the story of a lost battle. A brigade NOT heavily armed (thus light) is sent into a senseless battle and though they charge in valiantly, they are cut down. Tennyson released this poem just weeks after the news of this disaster came to England. 

This poem has a mesmerizing beat when read aloud. When I was teaching literature, I would read it to my class for 5 or 6 periods in a row. I never grew weary of reading it though my classes for the most part were distant and disinterested.

As I have grown older, I appreciate the courage to carry out an order even if it seems like a mistake.

In times of battle, we don't have time to sit down and reason- we must act. And the nobility of the act does deserve honor!


Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.


Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.

Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.


When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

When I write these blogs I often wonder.... is anyone out there? When poets published their works, there wasn't analytics or like buttons.

So if you are reading this... maybe in a far away place, a strange time of night, or years past the publish date...drop me an email: And let me know if these poems stir you as they stir me. 
I'm thankful for these 'strange ministers'.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Keats and Shelley

John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley both died too young: Keats by tuberculosis and Shelley by drowning. And though I don't read them regularly, both poets have some epic moments that can cause anyone to stop and appreciate the powerful ability to capture deep concepts in poetic forms.

These poets in short verse create powerful images of thought and meaning.

Keats genius elevated to special heights during 1819 in a short a period where he wrote six "Ode" poems. Five of these he penned in the spring and the last one that autumn.

Ode on a Grecian Urn
Ode on Indolence
Ode on Melancholy
Ode to a Nightingale
Ode to Psyche
OdeTo Autumn

I wish I had time to dissect each one, but I will mention a few lines and thoughts.

Ode to a Grecian Urn has a powerful message: the inevitability of change yet the picture captured on the Urn has resisted any change for years and years. There is an irony of the two lovers on the Urn who cannot kiss, but also they never grow old!

‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’.
A 'romantic' theme of the power of imagination.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
All truth is God's truth and there is a deep beauty in God's nature

Ode on Indolence is a witty exploration of laziness and God's provision for His creatures, with a sharp allusion to the 'lilies of the field". Is idleness a virtue or vice? A waste of time or rest?

So, ye three Ghosts, adieu! Ye cannot raise            (The ghosts are: Love, Ambition, and Poetry)
My head cool-bedded in the flowery grass;
For I would not be dieted with praise,
A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!
Fade softly from my eyes, and be once more
In masque-like figures on the dreamy urn;
Farewell! I yet have visions for the night,
And for the day faint visions there is store;
Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,
Into the clouds, and never more return!

Ode on Melancholy is haunting. How many young school age students have fled the poem based on the title! But it is a spell binding mystical and ironic view of grief and suffering. Is there a hidden joy when one embraces grief?

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies …            
peonies are flowers

Ode to a Nightingale is a fanciful exploration of responses to the poet as hear hears (or does he?) a nightingale sing in the dark moments of the early morning.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!

Ode to Psyche is my least favorite of the 'Odes', partly because I really don't like mythology and partly because it doesn't explore much beyond does man serve god's made in their own image or desire to be worshipped as gods.

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind …

Ode To Autumn is also clever and deep. Yes, autumn is frequently understood as an early harbinger to death. Burt Keats seems to have an understanding of the depth of this reality that doesn't fit his age.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run

Now to Shelly.... Sad story... he was bullied, wayward, staunch atheist. But I have always been captivated by his wonderful work: Ozymandias


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Ozymandius is the great Ramses of Egypt and this poem is a veiled reference to some artifacts that were being delivered to the British Natural History museum. a 14 line sonnet, there is elite narrative and meaning.

The obvious message is that the pride of man always falls to the forces of time and nature in unrelenting entropy.

But I often focus on the sculptor, the one who captured the essence of the king.

I love the idea of how he carved the passions he saw in the real man and 'stamped' it on a lifeless thing.

Did he capture the real person or is this his judgement on the leader?
Of course the pedestal was approved no doubt!
I also love the phrase, antique land

No matter how powerful or ruthless, he eventually crumbles to the sand and known no longer!

And that life was a 'colossal wreck'!

What an image!

Friday, August 12, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Coleridge


Did you know that Iron Maiden and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are connected? To be honest, I don't spend a lot of time with Coleridge. But his influence is seen within our cultural literacy. Coleridge and Wordsworth were good friends and the two, together, are largely credited for the rise of what we call "English Romanticism" though what is meant by "Romantic' in that sense has little to do with how we define romance today.

Coleridge has two poems that most casual readers know: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Kahn and unfortunately most folks just reduce to Coleridge as a 'poet on opium' and know little of this son of a pastor and headmaster (who passed early in Coleridge's childhood life) and the battle with poor health, anxiety, and depression when he was an adult.

The entire idea of an 'albatross around the neck' comes straight from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as well as many other ideas and quips. And many people know of the Rime because of the famous Iron Maiden song (recorded in 1994) with the same title that tells the narrative of the poem.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–1798 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads.

The poem is a story of the experiences of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage. The mariner stops a man who is on his way to a wedding ceremony and begins to narrate a story. The Wedding-Guest’s reaction turns from bemusement to impatience to fear to fascination as the mariner's story progresses.

The lines that echo in my head are the ones that everyone remembers:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

(and later in the poem)

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Kubla Khan
is a fun run through a dream that Coleridge had (opium delirium) after reading a work about the Chinese leader bearing that name, emperor of the Yuan dynasty. It is ironic that this week, Olivia Newton John passed away and the opening lines of this poem influenced the 1980 film "Xanadu" which I never saw and was a commercial flop. I did read that a portion of Kubla Kahn is quoted in the film.

Kubla Khan
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

This, in my opinion, is the height of this poem with vivid imagery of this river. I can hear the river and picture the beauty of its appearance in my mind as it winds through caverns and the 'sunless sea".

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place!
as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:

Beautiful AND dangerous

And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,

To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

And again- it is the imagery that pulls us in more than any 'story'. Though we understand the speaker in the poem wished to revive the song that would fill the pleasure dome though it was already a place of enchantment by its vast river, caves of ice, sunless sea ..... a type of paradise. And it could be that this is just the image of the decree and these are the plans he is building 'in the air'. The river, caverns, etc are there but the dome is still in the design stage.

But, true to form, there a hints of 'trouble in paradise' by the "Ancestral voices prophesying war" and the anxiety of the consequences when one is too full of the pleasures of that paradise.

Again, I haven't spent enough time meditating on it, but it is a fun read. Maybe I will have to watch the movie and listen to the track on iTunes.

Here are the lyrics to the Iron Maiden song- a 13 minute tempo changing and fun re-telling of the poem.

Rime of Ancient Mariner- Iron Maiden Lyrics
Hear the rime of the ancient mariner
See his eye as he stops one of three
Mesmerizes one of the wedding guests
Stay here and listen to the nightmares of the sea
And the music plays on, as the bride passes by
Caught by his spell and the mariner tells his tale
Driven south to the land of the snow and ice
To a place where nobody's been
Through the snow fog flies on the albatross
Hailed in God's name, hoping good luck it brings
And the ship sails on, back to the north
Through the fog and ice and the albatross follows on
The mariner kills the bird of good omen
His shipmates cry against what he's done
But when the fog clears, they justify him
And make themselves a part of the crime
Sailing on and on and north across the sea
Sailing on and on and north 'til all is calm
The albatross begins with its vengeance
A terrible curse a thirst has begun
His shipmates blame bad luck on the mariner
About his neck, the dead bird is hung
And the curse goes on and on at sea
And the curse goes on and on for them and me
"Day after day, day after day
We stuck nor breath nor motion
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean
Water, water everywhere and
All the boards did shrink
Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink."
There calls the mariner
There comes a ship over the line
But how can she sail with no wind in her sails and no tide?
See... onward she comes
Onward she nears out of the sun
See, she has no crew
She has no life, wait but here's two
Death and she life in death
They throw their dice for the crew
She wins the mariner and he belongs to her now
Then, crew one by one
They drop down dead, 200
She, she, life in death
She lets him live, her chosen one
"One after one by the star dogged moon
Too quick for groan or sigh
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang
And cursed me with his eye
Four times fifty living men
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump
They dropped down one by one."
The curse it lives on in their eyes
The mariner he wished he'd die
Along with the sea creatures
But they lived on, so did he
And by the light of the moon
He prays for their beauty not doom
With heart he blesses them
God's creatures all of them too
Then the spell starts to break
The albatross falls from his neck
Sinks down like lead into the sea
Then down in falls comes the rain
Hear the groans of the long dead seamen
See them stir and they start to rise
Bodies lifted by good spirits
None of them speak and they're lifeless in their eyes
And revenge is still sought, penance starts again
Cast into a trance and the nightmare carries on
Now the curse is finally lifted
And the mariner sights his home
Spirits go from the long dead bodies
Form their own light and the mariner's left alone
And then a boat came sailing towards him
It was a joy he could not believe
The pilot's boat, his son and the hermit
Penance of life will fall onto him
And the ship it sinks like lead into the sea
And the hermit shrives the mariner of his sins
The mariner's bound to tell of his story
To tell this tale wherever he goes
To teach God's word by his own example
That we must love all things that God made
And the wedding guest's a sad and wiser man
And the tale goes on and on and on

I can't decide whether to do Lord Byron or Keats friend, Bob Blake likes Keats... so probably Keats next.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Remembering the English Poets- Wordsworth

 " Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”

Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey

As I spend the month of August remembering English poets and their lasting influence on me, I have to take some time TRYING to capture the power of William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850). And to be honest, I don't know how to do it. Wordsworth has a style that defied the common conventions of poets during his day. His poems were designed for simple understanding and are very readable to almost anyone. I guess that is why I enjoy him in particular. 

The William Wordsworth poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, has been a recurring joy to me throughout my adult life. . It portrays a speaker who has encountered a field of daffodils waving in the breeze who seem to be 'dancing' in the wind. The beauty of nature in that moment is so powerful that the image is burned into his soul. And later, all alone, quiet and even blue- he hearkens back to that moment as it 'flashed on his inward eye'

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Wordsworth's style and subject matter aligns frequently with my needs to meditate on life, death, creation, and substantive, healing memories which characterize the life God has blessed me to have.

I find it interesting that he spent countless hours in the outdoors during his formative years. He had been sent off to school by a guardian after Wordsworth lost both his mother (at age 7) and father (at age 13) in a village that was surrounded by a lake and vacant woods.

As a boy, I practically lived in the woods as well. My house was at the base of Ruffner Mountain in East Lake. In the days before cell phones- we would pack a brown bag lunch and walk off into the woods, only to return at dusk.

Over time, we  had it all 'mapped out'- the limestone quarries, the iron ore mines, we knew how to get to (and climb) the old fire tower, and we knew that over the ridge was the Ruffner ball fields.

Of course now I experience this immersive beauty in fishing, hikes at Oak Mountain, sunsets at Briarwood, and my bliss of retreat, Lake Caroline.

As I experience these moments, orchestrated by the Lord, I often find that Wordsworth captures the feelings the best. I have to give a little nod to Thoreau and Walden Pond as well.... but Wordsworth resonates in my soul.

Here are just a few examples- just excerpts, but each piece has a connection to my personal experiences and happy places.


As I am writing this, I can already tell that I have been away from Lake Caroline for way too long.
And I only get to go there as a blessed benefit and generosity from the owner. I am always wary that this door may not be open forever. The picture at the top of this post has even more significance and part of it is that beautiful red tree that sits so majestically on that point across the water from the cabin.

Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters,
rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din            This is a repeating theme- Wordsworth remembers
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,            and the memories are treasures- yes, indeed
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure

If this
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro' the woods,     The 'sylvan' (wooded) river 'Wye'- the Wye River Woods
How often has my spirit turned to thee!


From the field, or better yet, from the press box- come soak in this beautiful moment!

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;


There are a number of places there- Eagle's Nest and others. I often think of this when I am on the white trail and the jagged ridge leading to the Shackelford Peak view

I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.


This summer in Alaska- oh my - I don't know if any poem can capture that place

Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


Lake Martin may be the prettiest place in Alabama

Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.

Time to move on- this time of year isn't great for writing.... hope to cover more later. These are SMALL samplings of great treasures if we learn to dig for it. Again, no substitute for God's Word...but wonderful expressions of God's world!

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Remembering the English Poets - Blake

My education was certainly wasted on my youth.

I have returned recently to my anthology of British Lit. It is like an old friend that slipped into a forgotten past and  the re-discovery of these nuggets of treasure have touched on a past awakening when I first began to lay awake at night and meditate on the pictures and pace of  dreams of color and wonder.

I casually thumbed through the large Norton compilation and was drawn to "The Echoing Green" by William Blake and lamented how quickly the reality passed my by.

Old John, with white hair
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk,
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say.
‘Such, such were the joys.
When we all girls & boys,
In our youth-time were seen,
On the Echoing Green.’

Till the little ones weary
No more can be merry
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end:

To be honest, it was a little less dramatic than the first time I contemplated the loss.
And I was still a young man (by my standards today), when I read the reality of the masquerade hosted by 
Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.

Welcome, gentlemen. I have seen the day 
That I have worn a visor and could tell
A whispering tale in a fair lady’s ear,
Such as would please. ’Tis gone, ’tis gone, ’tis gone.
You are welcome, gentlemen.—Come, musicians,
play. Music plays and they dance.
A hall, a hall, give room!—And foot it, girls.—
More light, you knaves, and turn the tables up,
And quench the fire; the room is grown too hot.—
Ah, sirrah, this unlooked-for sport comes well.—
Nay, sit, nay, sit, good cousin Capulet,
For you and I are past our dancing days.
How long is ’t now since last yourself and I
Were in a mask?

CAPULET’S COUSIN By ’r Lady, thirty years.

What, man, ’tis not so much, ’tis not so much. 
’Tis since the nuptial of Lucentio,
Come Pentecost as quickly as it will,
Some five and twenty years, and then we masked.

’Tis more, ’tis more. His son is elder, sir.
His son is thirty. 

CAPULET Will you tell me that?
His son was but a ward two years ago!

And I feel the remorse of the loss of youth many times a year now.
It is in the music I listen to and in my observation of young people, having fun, and laughing away as they ride past their realization as well without notice.

So, in a way to find gold in the lost glory- I will seek to see what wisdom was possibly cultivated in the loss of youth. So I will return to these poets and see if I have any gain in the loss.

I will start with William Blake:

Blake, like most great artists wasn't really appreciated or understood in his lifetime. He was born in 1757 and passed on Aug. 12, 1827 and is usually categorized within the English Romantics. His views were controversial because he did espouse a spiritual faith (which he identified as Christian) but he totally rejected any formal church or denomination. But he also railed against the application of Enlightened ideas as he saw the harsh working conditions of children in the early days of industrialization. Blake was a graphic artist, poet, and printer who is still studied and admired today.

Two of his works are on my mind as I write.

The Tyger - which was part of his juxtaposed Songs of Innocence and Experience where the poem about the Tyger parallels the one about the Lamb. And the question presses down on the reader- Did the same God who made the Lamb and became a Lamb also created the Tyger?

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

And the answer is of course God made both and it isn't hard to imagine that God became a Lamb and He will also be a Tiger when the day of judgement is revealed. There are terrible things that have been done that requires it.

The sacrifice of the lamb makes a way for salvation from the Tiger. But the day of mercy and opportunity for grace will not be open forever- There will be a day when the Lord says "No More Delay" and we HAVE to be ready.

But one of my FAVORITE Blake works is what we now refer to as "Jerusalem" because of the song but he titled: "And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time (1804)". It is based on an apocryphal account where Jesus and Joseph actually visited England (not likely) and Blake explores that as a call for reformation and revival.

Sir Hubert Parry put it to music in 1916 and it has had a long lasting run through English culture, especially soccer anthems and film (Chariots of Fire). It is refereed to now as a 'hymn' though some churches reject it for theological flaws.

I highly recommend listening to it being sung by Laura Wright. It is hauntingly inspirational!

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills? 
(Here is the juxtaposition of poor working conditions and justice)

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

The vision of Englands green and pleasant land is truly beautiful to behold.

But anyone who like to compete has to love the call to have bow, arrows, spear, and a Chariot of fire to bring on the reforms to build a spiritual Jerusalem. I hope I will not cease to fight for God's kingdom until He returns!

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:12)

There is NO SUBSTITUTE for God's Word- but God's Word makes me appreciate and see God's truth among a variety of artistic impressions. William Blake challenges me to think in terms of canvases. He saw if through the beauty of life and nature. 

I am also drawn into those word paintings as well!