Sailing From Byzantium: A Meditation on Encountering History

Once out of nature, I shall never take/ My bodily form from any natural thing,/ But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make/ Of hammered gold and gold enamelling/ To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;/ Or set upon a golden bough to sing/ To lords and ladies of Byzantium/ Of what is past, or passing,Continue reading “Sailing From Byzantium: A Meditation on Encountering History”

Measure in Everything and Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing shows us the poet at the height of his creative powers. His verse had yet to find that deeper timbre we later hear in Macbeth and King Lear. But as Swinburn expresses it, “for absolute power of composition, faultless balance, and blameless rectitude of design, there is no creation of Shakespeare’s that will bear comparisonContinue reading “Measure in Everything and Much Ado About Nothing

Dark Designs: Reading and Misreading Milton

In his 1820 essay The Defense of Poetry, Percy Shelley wrote, “Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil.”1 This bold deconstruction of a staunchly Christian poet may haveContinue reading “Dark Designs: Reading and Misreading Milton”

The Sound of Their Mourning: Homer and the Value of Literature

Writers create meaning as much through the material they exclude as by the tale they explore. In the twenty-fourth book of The Iliad, the poet ends his story of the Trojan war not with broken walls or burning towers but with a scene of reconciliation and human recognition. Nothing could be more dramatic than this extraordinary momentContinue reading “The Sound of Their Mourning: Homer and the Value of Literature”

Reading Midsummer Night’s Dream in Winter

Sometimes the blogger must yield his place to the poet, and in recent weeks I’ve been hard at work on my current project. Because of this, I haven’t had the time to put together a proper post. But last month, weighed down by winter sorrows, I thought that I should give myself a little treat.Continue reading “Reading Midsummer Night’s Dream in Winter”

The Resurrection of Ahti: Reading The Kalevala

“Tell now, O Dreamer your dream, O stretched in the earth, your vision.” –The Kalevala The Irish poet William Butler Yeats once wrote of a dream he’d had in which his fellow writer Bernard Shaw visited him in the form of a smiling sewing machine.1 It strikes us as a peculiar image that aptly expressesContinue reading “The Resurrection of Ahti: Reading The Kalevala

The Centaur’s Beard: Realism and The Divine Comedy

“In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”1 These words open Dante’s epic poem, The Commedia. But even traveling the space of their few metrical feet, we find ourselves in an ambiguous realm. Since the journey is the metaphorical journeyContinue reading “The Centaur’s Beard: Realism and The Divine Comedy

Death and The Epic of Gilgamesh

I had intended to return to this blog with an article about Yuri Herrera’s brilliant novel of the American border, Signs Preceding the End of the World. I still hope to review that work in an upcoming post. But death, that so kindly stopped for Emily Dickinson, has visited me, and I find my thoughtsContinue reading “Death and The Epic of Gilgamesh

Teaching Stone Men to Walk: Farid Ud-Din Attar’s Conference of the Birds

Toward the end of The Conference of the Birds, the poet presents us with a striking image. A man in China has become a stone;He sits and mourns, and at each muffled groanWeeps melancholy tears, which then are foundAs pebbles scattered on the ground. 1 It’s an evocative passage that invites the reader to seekContinue reading “Teaching Stone Men to Walk: Farid Ud-Din Attar’s Conference of the Birds

Amphion’s Lyre

Toward the end of Horace’s treatise Ars Poetica, the author dips into the myths surrounding the origins of poetry to sprinkle his subject with magic. “While men still roamed the forests, they were restrained from bloodshed and a bestial way of life by Orpheus, the sacred prophet and interpreter of the gods – that isContinue reading “Amphion’s Lyre”