Poetry vs. Horses and Dogs

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Found in John Merriman, Modern Europe: Volume One, From the Renaissance to the Age of Napoleon (1st edition, 1996):

Literature flourishes in Italy and princes there are not ashamed to listen to, and themselves to know, poetry. But in Germany princes pay more attention to horses and dogs than to poets—and thus neglecting the arts they die unremembered like their own beasts.

—Pope Pius II (1405 – 1464)

After reading Miranda Carter’s wonderful George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I, it is difficult not to connect Pius’s remark to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a.k.a. the House of Windsor, Britain’s royals, whose country houses were—are?—filled with dogs and hunting parties. Kaiser Wilhelm II was also an avid hunter. Carter describes Wilhelm’s enthusiasm for hunting, and that of his royal British cousin, the future King George V:

Wilhelm . . . kept a list of everything he’d ever killed: by 1897 it totalled 33,967 animals, beginning with “two aurochs, 7 elks” and ending with “694 herons and cormorants and 581 unspecified beasts.” George could bring down 1,000 pheasants in one day. At [the Windsors’ country estate] Sandringham the quantities of game shot were positively obscene.

Positively.

And in case you think this is all in the past, do an image search for “British royals with dogs and horses.”

Things fall apart

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

—from “The Second Coming,” by W. B. Yeats

Bridges. Airplanes. Political systems. Things fall apart.

Instructions for Making Compost

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From a certain perspective,

compost is all about death.

Decay.

Decomposition.

That final descent from beauty

into a chaos of crumbs.

 

On the other hand,

compost is all about life.

New life, forming at the ground level

of the vast, intricate, beautiful ecology that makes us possible.

Microbes, worms, insects, fungi

all perform miraculous transformations

to produce the soil in which

our life is rooted.

 

Compost can be poetic.

Not too much; not too little.

Not too wet; not too dry.

Not too hot, not too cold.

Not too slow, not too fast.

Balance.

Nothing overmuch.

The yin and the yang doing their eternal dance

in perfect counterpoise.

 

When the balance is lost, compost stinks.

Use your nose,

restore the balance,

turn the pile,

add what’s lacking,

remove that which offends.

The rest is patience.

The Poet

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The poet has no talent.

Can’t sing. Can’t dance. Cannot play a musical instrument. Can’t juggle. Can’t paint.

The poet has only words.

And so the poet uses words to sing, to dance, to make music—and other sounds.

Juggles with words.

Paints with words.

Creates motion, odors, tastes, physical sensations of all sorts.

Unlocks our memories. Makes us aware of what we have previously sensed only dimly.

Makes us wonder . . . about so many things.

All of this with words alone.

For the poet, alas, has no talent.

Rebirth

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Everything is—not perfect, but cosy
When suddenly there’s a big lurch
That you can’t explain
Or control.

At first you think, no worries,
We’ll be back on course in a moment.
But we aren’t.

Then more lurches, some big
Some small
And long stretches in between.

Waiting.

Thinking, can’t we just go back
To where we were?
Trying to work out how this could happen
While that other voice is saying
Forget it pal; we’re done here.

And then more waiting.

Wondering where this is leading.
Somewhere new and different, of course,
But how, exactly?

No way to know.

—December 2006

Poem: The empire was attacked

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The empire

was attacked.

Babies cried, or lay lifeless

Mothers sprawled awkwardly

Young men, old men, old women, girls and boys

Body parts and fluids everywhere.

Only whimpers, or dazed silence as the sun shone indifferently.

 

It struck back.

Babies cried, or lay lifeless

Mothers sprawled awkwardly

Young men, old men, old women, girls and boys

Body parts and fluids everywhere.

Only whimpers, or dazed silence as the sun shone indifferently.

 

Somewhere, crowds cheered in triumph.

Somewhere, crowds screamed in rage.

 

The empire lumbered on.

—6 May 2011