Pendragon Papers

The Pendragon Papers (7): Three American Forms

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Allen Ginsberg

America! America! America! A vast mixture of basically everything with deep cultural roots into the little island off Europa call’d Britain. History declar’d it an English speaking sphere, & thus its poets will be speaking in English, although Gaelic poetry was compos’d in the beginning, such as this lovely (translated) lullaby of exile, compos’d around the Cape Fear area of the Carolinas, in the 18th century.

Dean cadalan samhach, a chuilean a ruin
{Go to sleep peacefully, little beloved one}

We are now in America
At the edge of the never-ending forest

All alone in this place where my grief
Cannot be heard;
Wolves & giant beasts howling
In the land of Rebels where we have
Forsaken King George

Ever since Anne Bradstreet’s adorable, ‘A letter to her husband, absent upon publick employment,’ there has been a serious roll call of successful poets from America. On a personal level, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe is perhaps the greatest poem in the language; Whitman’s Song of Myself is stunning; Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ trochaic tetrameter is hypnotically evocative; the Beat Poets show’d the world the true capabilities of Free Verse, while updating Bohemian living for the modern world; some of the Harlem Renaissance stuff is also very cool, & I like Richard Hugo too, he’s fascinating.

In bardic terms, it the contribution of American poets to the art that is the most important. In this essay I have identified four of these forms, which the rest of the poetry world may codify & then employ; all of which can be distinctly discernible with the eye, & all of which have their own rhythms & rules.


In 2019, Jericho Brown publish’d a Pulitver Prize winning collection entitl’d The Tradition, which contain’d a number of what he call’d Duplex poems. These are a griffinic blend of sonnet & ghazalian couplets, with seven couplets forming a whole. Each couplet then has this fascinating system of repeating words & sentiments, where the first line of each couplet echoes & mirrors completely the last line of the previous. The very last line of the poem then echoes the very first. An example reads;

A poem is a gesture toward home.
It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:
My last love drove a burgundy car.

My first love drove a burgundy car.
He was fast and awful, tall as my father.

Steadfast and awful, my tall father
Hit hard as a hailstorm. He’d leave marks.

Light rain hits easy but leaves its own mark
Like the sound of a mother weeping again.

Like the sound of my mother weeping again,
No sound beating ends where it began.

None of the beaten end up how we began.
A poem is a gesture toward home.

The idea is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s Ulalume, the opening stanza of which reads;

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere—
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Jericho’s excellent innovation came from the period just after he’d recover’d from a very serious dose of the flu, a near-death experience which produc’d the following epiphany;

Once I began to get better, I got proof again that I am a poet. I mean that I went about trying to do many of the things I had been planning to do in, through, and with poems. And I gave up a good deal of sleep to do it… which, by the way, is not advisable for getting over the God damned flu. I didn’t run to get in a relationship or to try and finally see the Grand Canyon. I all the more wanted to use the time which now felt more precious to sit my ass down somewhere and write the poems of my life.

Meditating on the {traditional crown of sonnets sequence} as a series of couplets with something murdered between each line led me to think more about what the ghazal manages through the juxtaposition of the two lines that make up each of its couplets.

I hadn’t written a thing and had no idea where to start and was fascinated by the fact that I was in the midst of inventing a form starting with the form itself and not with a single line of poetry. But it felt exhilarating to know I was doing so much of it unconsciously.

The poems became more whole and revisable when I saw in them the need for tonal shifts made possible by the blues lyric. Starting at the fourth line, every other line of the poem aims at “incongruous humor that…becomes ironic laughter mixed with tears.” The blues allowed for a poem that we teachers like to describe as “voice-y,” which is to say that the poems begin to take on more personality in those moments. I think this becomes clear in some of the other duplexes published in that same issue of The American Poetry Review (in which the repetition present in the form lends itself to association and metaphor in some duplexes, and to narrative in others):

I decided to call the form a duplex because something about its repetition and its couplets made me feel like it was a house with two addresses. It is, indeed, a mutt of a form as so many of us in this nation are only now empowered to live fully in all of our identities. I wanted to highlight the trouble of a wall between us who live within a single structure. What happens when that wall is up and what happens when we tear it down? How will we live together? Will we kill each other? Can we be more careful?

Jericho Brown


The stagger’d form of Ginsberg’s ground-breaking, revolutionising ‘Howl’ poem basically looks like this;

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

          madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

          looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

          connection to the starry dynamo in the machine-

          ery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat

           up smoking in the supernatural darkness of

           cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities

           contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and

           saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-

           ment roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes

           hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy

           among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy &

            publishing obscene odes on the windows of the


I mean, I don’t really need to rattle on too much about this form – just take a deep breath of poesis, then exhale, like a jazz musician blowing into his saxophone, unmeter’d, unrhym’d & elongated sentences of the best possible word play, dividing these exhalations into steps of neat aesthetics. Possessing the ability to sail one’s stream of consciousness will probably help, here. To be more Ginsbergian, one could indulge in filling each breath with the three-phased tridiacal mimesi, created by William Carlos Williams as his “solution to the problem of modern verse.”


This form I have named after a poem by the prolific (8 books of poetry & counting) Andrea Brady she call’d ‘Post Festen e.’ It seems to me an evolution of the Howl form, as can be seen at once with the eyes in the opening of the poem given below. The steps are chunkier let’s say, & the contents less jazz, but I sense it is quite a universal form for all poets to have confidence in of creating something quite, well, good.

Post Festen e

thanksgiving seasonal 9i

Trim me down to pad and bone like the

beef I am, I’m wet behind my left ear and

stockpiling myself in bites, here’re carcasses

brought down on bobsleds for our lowland

                feeding frenzy. How the table’s set

                 thus. How one multiples identity,

Sheer stupid luck would have it, I’d end up

one of 282 million Americans, golf, not so crazy

about, not so crazy about Shell, terminator seeds

all that. Found like a basket of nickels

on Maw & Paw’s doorsteps I carried them

                around the exurb all my days.

                I wasd able to think little of food.

Oily fish, granted. B-complex, granted. Too many

units of sugared piss, granted. That old dilemma spit or

swallow. More plates comin’, so cinematic.

Calf and mustard, niceley rotated, pitch in

with your outmost fork & you won’t be

               disappointed when old blue

               devil wanders up from the south

My family ate some, not doubting the strength

of conviction that broke over my hand

like the last chicken bone of my life. In my natural

aggressions against fruitless people, I bought a

New York twin who stalked luscious like that

                display at Dean & Deluca, better

                yet at Wakama, new vintage.


I have only given three forms in this paper, there are countless more to be both compos’d & codified, according to the collective taste after due experimentations. Just as Jericho Brown’s Duplex has roots in the 14 line poems composed at the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, in the Sicilian city of Palermo, perhaps posterity will be able to trace poetry compos’d in the year 3000 to the Howl or the Post Festen forms moulded in the 20th century. Onwards & upwards, deeper & daring, let poetry continue its regal procession.


The Pendragon Papers (6): The Architecture of the Epic

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Shakespeare’s First Folio

The idea for this paper came to me on a gloriously sunny January day in 2023. The peaks of Arran were skiffing with snow, & the sky rang’d eternally in a bright & vivid blue, pierc’d only by single clouds floating like zeppelins towards Kintyre. As I walk’d over the tops from Brodick to Lamlash, the idea that Shakespeare was also an epic poet of sorts really solidified in my mind, & the rest of this paper soon follow’d.

Poetry is a spiritual being that exists, is immortal even, & whatever that spirit actually is, it does take recognizable forms, Every now & again, I mean we’re talking huge swathes of time, its manifestation as an epic poem is its true & supreme expression. ‘What has been, may be again,’ wrote John Dryden, ‘another Homer, and another Virgil may possibly arise from those very Causes which produc’d the first.’ In the creation of these new epics, which Dryden also calls ‘certainly the greatest Work of Human Nature,’ it is undeniable that the burgeoning corpus will always draws upon traditions of the past. What many don’t quite understand either, is that the First Folio of William Shakespeare is also an epic, but not in the classical sense. However, once we see how in those 36 plays we cover the full gamut of Human experience & emotion, just as did Dante & Homer in their greatest productions, & when we realise that the national Tudor epic of England is embedded in the history plays, & that the entirety of the Folio is fill’d with scintillating poetical wordplay, drama, history, comedy, tragedy & all the interjoining complexities of the world organism, then it is easier to envision the Folio as an epic. In his essay ‘On the Progress of Satire,’ John Dryden intimates such thinking when he writes of native genius which, ‘were to Shakespear; and for ought I know to Homer; in either of whom we find all Arts and Sciences, all Moral and Natural Philosophy, without knowing that they ever Study’d them.’


Another clue is the number 36, divisible by 12, just as were Homer’s twenty-four books. To this bracket we can add Virgil’s & Milton’s twelve book epics, from which we are beginning to get a real sense of how the spirit of poetry is dictating to us that just as there are twelve months in the year, twelve star-signs, & twelve Chinese astrological years, etc., so twelve, or groups of twelve, is the number of books in which an epic most be divided. With one exception, that is, which is the 100 cantos of the Dantean epic, which he neatly divided into three books fill’d with 33 cantos, after the supposed age of Jesus at the Crucifixion. These 99 cantos are then preceded by an introductory canto, bringing the total to 100.

Before continuing, let us for a moment look at the description of the classical epic, by modern-day exponent, Nicholas Hagger, which he defined in the Preface to the first-edition books 1 and 2 of Overlord (1995) and quoted in a letter to John Weston in his Selected Letters, pp.547–548:

An epic poem’s subject matter includes familiar and traditional material drawn from history and widely known in popular culture, which reflects the civilisation that threw it up. Its theme has a historical, national, religious or legendary significance. It narrates continuously the heroic achievements of a distinguished historical, national or legendary hero or heroes at greater length than the heroic lay, and describes an important national enterprise in more realistic terms than fantastic medieval Arthurian (Grail) romance; it gives an overwhelming impression of nobility as heroes take part in an enterprise that is larger and more important than themselves. Its long narrative is characterized by its sheer size and weight; it includes several strands, and has largeness of concept. It treats one great complex action in heroic proportions and in an elevated style and tone. It has unity of action, which begins in the middle (“in medias res”, to use Horace’s phrase). The scope of its geographical setting is extensive, perhaps cosmic; its sweep is panoramic, and it uses heroic battle and extended journeying. The scale of the action is gigantic; it deals with good and evil on a huge scale. Consequently, its hero and main characters have great moral stature. It involves supernatural or religious beings in the action, and includes prophecy and the underworld. It has its own conventions; for example, it lists ships and genealogies, and the exploits that surround individual weapons. Its language is universally accessible, and includes ornamental similes and recurrent epithets. It uses exact metre (hexameters or the pentameters of blank verse). It has its own cosmology, and explains the ordering of the universe.

An epic poem essentially synthesizes the religious, philosophical, political and scientific ideas of an age into an integrated vision of the poet’s own belief systems, & that of their respective cultures. In the year 2023, we can count, then, six supreme models of the form. We have Shakespeare’s First Folio, Homer’s two epics, Virgil’s Aeneid – which is in essence the Iliad & the odyssey segued together, we have Milton’s Paradise Lost & we have Dante’s Divine Comedy. They are the supreme epic models, which are divided into groups that, in the spirit of botany, for poems are indeed the flowers of a plant, I have given Latin names.

Epicus Gracilis (slender, or Roman, epic): 12 books

The Aenied: Virgil

Paradise Lost: John Milton

Other ‘Roman’ epics include the 11,877 stanzas of the Scottish epic, Blind Harry’s ‘Wallace’, compos’d in the late 15th century. It can also be said the Wordsworth’s fourteen book Prelude was naturally straining to become an epicus gracilis, but Wordsworth couldn’t quite tame the wild Pegasus, so to speak. For example, there are three cantos describing his residence in France, & two entitl’d ‘Imagination & Taste, How Impair’d & Restor’d,’ all of which could have been trimm’d down. Then, in the modern era, Nicholas Hagger compos’d the 41,000 line ‘Overlord’ epic, describing the final days of World War Two.

Folio Gracilis (slender folio): 12 plays


Epicus Grandis (larger, or Greek, epic): 24 books

The Iliad: Homer

The Odyssey: Homer

Folio Grandis (large folio): 24 Plays

The Conchordia Folio: Damo

Epicus Majestas (greater, or Dantean, epic): 100 Cantos

The Divine Comedy: Dante

Axis & Allies: Damo

Folio Majestas (greater, or Shakespearean, Folio): 36 plays

Shakespeare’s First Folio

I have included two of my own texts in the above lists. Axis & Allies is my principal epic, whose 100 canto are divided into 3 books of 32 cantos; preceded, divided by, & follow’d by four more cantos, bringing the total to 100. My Conchordia Folio, consists of 24 plays, which are then divided into subgroups, rather like the Odyssey is divided into 2 halves & also into 6 groups of cantos. For architectural interest I shall show here what I have been up to.

A quarter of the plays consist of my contemporary period Leithology sexology, whose dialogue is that of the normal unmeter’d speech of everyday human conduct. There are also two late twentieth-century set trilogies, both compos’d in dramatic blank verse, being Madchester & The Gods of the Ring, tho’ the second part of the Madchester trilogy is more of a rock opera. There is then a group of four conchords whose dialogue comes to us in the form of the modern Chaunt Royale, a Provencal troubadour creation which consists of five ten-line stanzas, completed by a five-line envoi. Of these, Stars & Stripes, & The Siege of Gozo, are purely Chaunt Royale, while Charlie &, finally, the Savoyards, also include elements of unmeter’d speech. We then have a group of four historical conchords all of which are purely in dramatic blank verse, being Viriathus, Atahualpa, the Flight of the White Eagles, & finally, Malmaison. The last group of four conchords are purely in umeter’d speech, being Gaston Dominici, Bela & the Brownies, Exes & Axes, & finally, In A Man’s Garden.

So much for my personal endeavours, but what about the epics that don’t quite fit into this scheme. Well, Spenser was attempting an Epicus Gracilis with his Faerie Queene, which he, ‘disposed into twelve books fashioning 12 moral virtues.’ He manag’d to get six & a half books in before putting it down forever. Another unfinish’d English epic poem is Byron’s Don Juan, which he put down 16 cantos into his plann’d 24. What we learn from this, then, is that to be truly consider’d an epic poet, one must first at least finish one’s epic poem.

None of the Renaissance epics can be admissable into tthis paper’s lurch for form. Matteo Boiardo’s ‘Orlando Immarato’, consisited of 68 cantos and a half; Alonso de Ercilla’s ‘La Acaucana’ was 37 cantos; Ariosto’s Orlando Furiosa was 46 cantos, Tasso’s ‘Gerusalem Liberate’ was 20 cantis, & the Lusiads of Luis Vaz de Camoes contain’d ten cantos. But this period of experimentation was half a millennium ago, & follow’d soon after by Spenser at least attempting twelve cantos, & Milton similarly settling on the number twelve for Paradise Lost. There is comfort in structure, & just as a sonnet has fourteen lines, then let our future epics be moulded by the tenets contain’d in this paper, which is only a clarification of what several millennia of poetry straining to take on the form of epic, has taught us.

And long may it continue…


The Pendragon Papers (5): Howarth Church & the Pilgrimage Poem

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Among the most noblest of poetic species, the Pilgrimage Poem has a unique spirit of its own. There is the physicality of actually visiting the shrine, & then the metaphysicality of the energy from the connection between the living & the dead poet. On my first tour of Italy, I visited both Dante’s tomb in Ravenna, & the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, where Keats’ body & Shelley’s ashes are buried, the visitations of which made small imprints on my larger ‘Grand Tour’ sequence in Ottava Rima.

Distant Riviera di Levante
My heart’s destination, mine art’s true call,
But first, the mausoleum of Dante,
To tap into a predecessor soul,
Overgrown with moss & creeping ivy,
My man, you were the wildest of us all!
Ravenna, this may be a swift sojurn,
But one day, with my wife, I shall return.

With my lady sleepin’, thro’ the city,
I roam, a sweet sun illumines the streets,
A tranquil Protestant cemetary,
& Shelley’s tower, where my muse completes
Her visitation; I feel tired, empty,
But wait! As I stood by the grave of Keats
I surge with strength to try the train-jump home
& did one from the glory that was Rome.

A better example of an actual pilgrimage poem is that compos’d by William Worsdworth, as he recollected what he felt after visiting the grave of Robert Burns in Dumfries, among which stanzas we can read the following beautiful expressions of filial love, compos’d in the ever lyrical Standard Hubbie sestet of Burns’ native land.

I shiver, Spirit fierce and bold,
At thought of what I now behold:
As vapours breathed from dungeons cold
Strike pleasure dead,
So sadness comes from out the mould
Where Burns is laid.

Fresh as the flower, whose modest worth
He sang, his genius “glinted’ forth,
Rose like a star that touching earth,
For so it seems,
Doth glorify its humble birth
With matchless beams.

I mourned with thousands, but as one
More deeply grieved, for He was gone
Whose light I hailed when first it shone,
And showed my youth
How Verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth.

Alas! where’er the current tends,
Regret pursues and with it blends,–
Huge Criffel’s hoary top ascends
By Skiddaw seen,–
Neighbours we were, and loving friends
We might have been;

True friends though diversely inclined;
But heart with heart and mind with mind,
Where the main fibres are entwined,
Through Nature’s skill,
May even by contraries be joined
More closely still.

The tear will start, and let it flow;
Thou “poor Inhabitant below,’
At this dread moment–even so–
Might we together
Have sate and talked where gowans blow,
Or on wild heather.

What treasures would have then been placed
Within my reach; of knowledge graced
By fancy what a rich repast!
But why go on?–
Oh! spare to sweep, thou mournful blast,
His grave grass-grown.

Robbie Burns’ mausoleum, Dumfries

In the predominantly Protestant islands of Great Britain, it is rare to find an actual church taking on the mantle of a literary shrine. However, in the wilds of West Yorkshire, in the up & downy town of Howarth, there is such a church, for it houses the bodily remains of two of the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte (1816–1855) & Emily (1818–1848). Between the trio’s novels & poems flows the priceless magma upon which stands the soil of English Literature, & since their mortal passing, thousands on countless thousands of literary pilgrims, from all over the world, have honed in on this little stony corner of the Pennines.

They were brought to Howarth by their father, Patrick, in 1820, the first of 41 years as the incumbent Vicar of the Parish Church. Most of the Bronte family are interr’d within the family vault at the east end of Church, altho’ Anne Bronte is not, having died of tuberculosis in Scarborough, & being buried at St Mary’s Church in that seaside town. Anne had died in 1849, within a year of her sister Anne, & her only brother, Branwell; while Charlotte would die six years later, in March 1855. Two months later, a poem first appeared in Fraser’s Magazine, from the pen of Matthew Arnold, & can be seen as one of the earliest literary epitaphs to the Bronte family, outwith the paean to Charlotte there are also references to Anne, Branwell, Emily, and Patrick Brontë, in addition to Charlotte’s friend, the writer Harriet Martineau.

Arnold, one of the great Victorian heavyweight poets & earliest Brontëites, while they yet even liv’d, had visited Haworth in 1582, the latent experience of which was cauteriz’d into metrical existence by the death of Charlotte. In the three years between visit & composition, Arnold’s memory shifted somewhat, moving the family vault into the open air. When informed of his error by Elizabeth Gaskell, Arnold replied, “I am almost sorry you told me about the place of their burial. It really seems to me to put the finishing touch to the strange cross-grained character of the fortunes of that ill-fated family that they should even be placed after death in the wrong, uncongenial spot.” Arnold is perhaps ruminating here on how such a nature-loving family would find their bones coop’d up in a dark & gloomy place, rather than have their tombstones expos’d to the same wild weather as that which whipp’d thro Wuthering heights.

Haworth Churchyard by Matthew Arnold

Where, under Loughrigg, the stream
Of Rotha sparkles through fields
Vested for ever with green,
Four years since, in the house
Of a gentle spirit, now dead—
Wordsworth’s son-in-law, friend—
I saw the meeting of two
Gifted women. The one,
Brilliant with recent renown,
Young, unpractised, had told
With a master’s accent her feign’d
Story of passionate life;
The other, maturer in fame,
Earning, she too, her praise
First in fiction, had since
Widen’d her sweep, and survey’d
History, politics, mind.

The two held converse; they wrote
In a book which of world-famous souls
Kept the memorial;—bard,
Warrior, statesman, had sign’d
Their names; chief glory of all,
Scott had bestow’d there his last
Breathings of song, with a pen
Tottering, a death-stricken hand.

Hope at that meeting smiled fair.
Years in number, it seem’d,
Lay before both, and a fame
Heighten’d, and multiplied power.—
Behold! The elder, to-day,
Lies expecting from death,
In mortal weakness, a last
Summons! the younger is dead!

First to the living we pay
Mournful homage;—the Muse
Gains not an earth-deafen’d ear.

Hail to the steadfast soul,
Which, unflinching and keen,
Wrought to erase from its depth
Mist and illusion and fear!
Hail to the spirit which dared
Trust its own thoughts, before yet
Echoed her back by the crowd!
Hail to the courage which gave
Voice to its creed, ere the creed
Won consecration from time!

Turn we next to the dead.
—How shall we honour the young,
The ardent, the gifted? how mourn?
Console we cannot, her ear
Is deaf. Far northward from here,
In a churchyard high ‘mid the moors
Of Yorkshire, a little earth
Stops it for ever to praise.

Where, behind Keighley, the road
Up to the heart of the moors
Between heath-clad showery hills
Runs, and colliers’ carts
Poach the deep ways coming down,
And a rough, grimed race have their homes—
There on its slope is built
The moorland town. But the church
Stands on the crest of the hill,
Lonely and bleak;—at its side
The parsonage-house and the graves.

Strew with laurel the grave
Of the early-dying! Alas,
Early she goes on the path
To the silent country, and leaves
Half her laurels unwon,
Dying too soon!—yet green
Laurels she had, and a course
Short, but redoubled by fame.

And not friendless, and not
Only with strangers to meet,
Faces ungreeting and cold,
Thou, O mourn’d one, to-day
Enterest the house of the grave!
Those of thy blood, whom thou lov’dst,
Have preceded thee—young,
Loving, a sisterly band;
Some in art, some in gift
Inferior—all in fame.
They, like friends, shall receive
This comer, greet her with joy;
Welcome the sister, the friend;
Hear with delight of thy fame!

Round thee they lie—the grass
Blows from their graves to thy own!
She, whose genius, though not
Puissant like thine, was yet
Sweet and graceful;—and she
(How shall I sing her?) whose soul
Knew no fellow for might,
Passion, vehemence, grief,
Daring, since Byron died,
That world-famed son of fire—she, who sank
Baffled, unknown, self-consumed;
Whose too bold dying song
Stirr’d, like a clarion-blast, my soul.

Of one, too, I have heard,
A brother—sleeps he here?
Of all that gifted race
Not the least gifted; young,
Unhappy, eloquent—the child
Of many hopes, of many tears.
O boy, if here thou sleep’st, sleep well!
On thee too did the Muse
Bright in thy cradle smile;
But some dark shadow came
(I know not what) and interposed.

Sleep, O cluster of friends,
Sleep!—or only when May,
Brought by the west-wind, returns
Back to your native heaths,
And the plover is heard on the moors,
Yearly awake to behold
The opening summer, the sky,
The shining moorland—to hear
The drowsy bee, as of old,
Hum o’er the thyme, the grouse
Call from the heather in bloom!
Sleep, or only for this
Break your united repose!

The meeting with Harriet Martineau & Charlotte Bronte which inspir’d the poem took place in December 1850, the poet describing the event in a letter to Miss Wightman on 21 December. The book refer;d to is Rotha Quillinan’s album. He seems to be mistaken in placing the meeting at the house of Ed. Quillinan. The letter to Miss Wightman implies that it took place at Fox How, & this is confirm’d by Charlotte Bronte’s own account of the meeting in a letter to James Taylor of 15 January 1851. She found Arnold’s manner displeasing from its seeming foppery, & ‘the shade of Dr Arnold seem’d to frown on his young representative,’ But she admitted he ‘improv’d on acquaintance,’ while ‘ere long a real modesty appeared under his assumed conceit, and some genuine intellectual aspirations as well as high educational acquirements, displaced superficial affectations. I was given to understand that his theological opinions were very vague and unsettled, and indeed he betrayed as much in the course of conversation.

Mrs. Gaskell, in her Life of Charlotte Brontë (ch. 23), prints part of another letter: “Your account of Mr. Arnold tallies exactly with Miss Martineau’s. She, too, said that placidity and mildness (rather than originality and power) were his external characteristics. She described him as a combination of the antique Greek sage with the European modern man of science. Perhaps it was mere perversity in me to get the notion that torpid veins, and a cold, slow-beating heart, lay under his marble outside. But he is a materialist: he serenely denies us our hope of immortality, and quietly blots from man’s future Heaven and the Life to come. That is why a savor of bitterness seasoned my feelings towards him.

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold to Frances Lucy Wightman
19 December 1850 Fox How, Ambleside
Thursday Night, [December 19, 1850]

We left town in pouring rain—came into light snow at Blisworth—deep snow at Tamworth—thaw at Whitmore—storm of wind at Warrington, and hard frost at Preston. This last continues. I drove over from Windermere here—6 miles—in the early morning—along the lake, and arrived like an icicle. . . . Only my mother and my youngest sister are at home. I heard family letters read—talked a little—read a Greek book—lunched—read Bacon’s Essays—wrote.

Matthew Arnold to Frances Lucy Wightman, 21 December 1850
Fox How
December 21, 1850

At seven came Miss Martineau1 and Miss Bronté (Jane Eyre); talked to Miss Martineau (who blasphemes frightfully) about the prospects of the Church of England, and, wretched man that I am, promised to go and see her cow-keeping miracles to-morrow—I, who hardly know a cow from a sheep. I talked to Miss Bronté (past thirty and plain, with expressive gray eyes, though) of her curates, of French novels, and her education in a school at Brussels, and sent the lions roaring to their dens at half-past nine, and came to talk to you.

For Harriet Martineau, Ambleside neighbor and family friend since 1846, see above p. 95 n. 5; Charlotte Brontë (1816–55: DNB), who had published Jane Eyre in 1847 and Shirley in 1849, was visiting her. Together, they had already seen Arnold on the same day at Edward Quillinan’s, where the two ladies signed Rotha Quillinan’s album—“a truly pleasant day,” wrote Harriet Martineau, “no one being there in addition to the family but Mr Arnold from Fox How and ourselves.” The talk “of her curates” is “our only evidence that Arnold had read Shirley as well as Jane Eyre.”

Our second poem comes from a hardly remember’d poetess, Charlotte Mann Beaumont Oates, who left a lengthy oeuvre of perhaps not the greatest poetry in the world, but definitely interesting for its coverage of the late nineteenth century, lets a say a more polish’d William McGonagall. Queen Victoria herself acknowledged 2 of Charlotte’s poems: an elegy on the death of Princess Alice in 1879, and an ode on the Queen’s Jubilee in 1887. Her first poems were publish’d in Blackpool newspapers, with more poems appearing later in periodicals all across Lancashire & Yorkshire – a true Cross-Pennine poet Among her many compositions is a poem entitl’d ‘On hearing of the intended demolition of Haworth Old Church, the burial place of Charlotte Bronte.’ In the poem, Oates mentions the fact that Charlotte Bronte died only five months into her married life, yet another tragedy among the many that struck the most brilliant literary family the British Isles have ever seen.

Hold! Your sacrilegious hands;
Touch not the venerated pile;
Let is stand, so quaint & ancient,
For its dear associations –
Think of those who trod its aisle.

Pause & think; then touch it not;
For ‘neath tat sacred tomb there sleeps,
One whose memory still we cherish,
She whoe life-work ne’er will perish,
And for whom the world still weeps.

From that ever fertile brain,
Emanated thoughts sublime;-
Gave the world a priceless largess,-
Twined a mighty wreath immortal,
Round that temple, marked with time.

Noble inspirations grand
Flowed with vigour from that pen;
Gave her works a soul-born pathos,
Tinged anon with fiery spirit,
True to nature, & to men.

And her sister rests with her,
Gifted with a talent rare;
Lived their separate lives for others,
In one grave beneath that tablet-
Slumber now the sister there.

Once within this village quiet,
The light of genius shone around;
Now it woos the world unto it,
Where the mortal dust reposeth,
Underneath that hallow’d ground.

Sparks of genius kindled here
Won them all a world-wide fame;
Near that sacred pile abiding,
Yonder moorland wild with heather
Fann’d them to a shining flame.

Honoured as their resting place,
Spare, oh! Save it from destruction;
Hold it yet in veneration-
Ytreasured relic of the past:

Let not ruthless hands destroy,
That sacred edifice so grey;
‘Tis the one our country loveth,
Emblem of the bygone ages,
Built by hands long passed away.

Once upon her bridal morn,
She knelt before that altar there;
Gave her hand to him who loved her,
Genius then her brow encircled,-
While she breathed the holy prayer.

Then alas! within a year,
In sable garments moving slow;-
There was seen a sad procession
Seek that place so dim & solemn,
In the tomb they laid her low.

Keep it, for the live we bear,
None agin her place can fill;
There the dead in peace reposeth,
Softly tread, thy voice subduing,
Hold that altar sacred still.

All the village worthies old,
Ever prize it more & more;
Monument of their ancestors;
Spot wherein they love to worship,-
Their forefathers went before.

Many have been baptised there,
Wedded at that altar old;-
Then in other years were carried,
In that peaceful churchyard buried
In the earth so damp & cold.

Oh! Retain it for their sake,
Let not hands its walls efface;
Let not then their every vestige,
Dwell alone in memories vista,
Leave us yet that single trace.

Leave it but decay with time,
‘Tis the wish that thousands crave;
At the shrine of genius bowing,
Bending low with softened feeling,-
Paying tribute o’er that grave.

Sacred to her memory dear,
Who liveth, tho’ her soul is fled:
Precious is the spot she haunted-
Save it;- for the love of Heaven!-
Hear the voice that mourns the dead.

Alas, this poem did not have the desired effect, for despite a huge community uproar in Howarth, & in newspapers all across the country in 1879, the new rector, John Wade, was determin’d to knock down the old church. A long battle ensued, which managed to save the tower. The bodies of the Brontes lie beneath it,


So, the Pilgrimage Poem, the composition of which is an important part of any poet’s development, one in which they will feel a part of the grander tradition & also to understand that one does not liveth forever. Just being at the shrine brings the deceas’d poet back to consciousness in some way, extracting poesis from the very sepulchre where life no longer lives.


The Pendragon Papers (4): Rilke & Roethke, Teachers of Poetry

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Rainer Maria Rilke – what can I say about this poet. Well, for me, he’s the most accessible, the most poetic, of all the German poets. Wandering about the literary battlefield between Symbolists & Naturalists, he basically did his own thing, with his ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’ among the most sublime & majestic creations ever to emerge from the Elysian fields. Of Rilke’s poetry, Rudolf Kassner (1873-1959) wrote, ‘seen in a large perspective, he is the consummation of that marvellous Narcissus-like lyricism that began in England with Keats.’ I would say Keats & Rimbaud myself, as throughout Rilke’s oeuvre there is a regular flow of such seductive effusions as;

Graue Liebesschlangen hab ich aus deinen
achselhohlen gescheucht. Wie auf heisen Steinen
liegen sie jetz auf mir und verdauen

Grey love-snakes I drove out of your
armpits. As on hot stones
they lie on top of me now, digesting
great lumps of satisfied lust

So, to my essay, the fifth of this series, & only a day after the last – it is sunny on Arran, which always rouses my poeticality. Fell View is rising like a dragon’s tooth thro’ the only unblinded window of my conservatory studio, the eighteenth hole of the golf course empty for now. My essay’s title, the shortest so far, is self-explanatory, for Rilke was not only a poet, but also a teacher – & a teacher of poetry at that. I shall now give two periods of the didactic Rilke, lets say, the first, & the famous period in which he & a young poet call’d Frank Cappus exchang’d a series of letters in which, from Rilke’s side, a great understanding of poetry was recorded or universal posterity. But I also mention the name Roethke, that is to say Theodore Roethke, another early 20th century poet with keen assimilatory & explanative powers. In 1947 he took residence at the University of Washington, in Seattle, where the young Richard Hugo was studying. A fine poet himself, he would leave a record of the tutelage in an essay entitl’d, ‘Stray Thoughts on Roethke & Teaching.’

Rilke: From ‘Letters to a Young Poet’

It was in the late autumn of 1902—I was sitting under some century-old chestnut trees in the park of the Military Academy in Wiener-Neustadt reading a book. I was so engrossed in my reading that I hardly noticed that the only one of our masters who was not an officer, the learned kindly chaplain of the Academy, Horaček, had joined me. He took the volume out of my hand, considered the binding, and shook his head. “Rainer Maria Rilke’s Poems”? he asked thoughtfully. Then he turned over the leaves here and there, scanned a few verses, looked thoughtfully into the distance, and finally nodded. “So young René Rilke has become a poet.”

And I heard about the small, pale boy, whom his parents had sent more than fifteen years before to the military Unterrealschule in Sankt-Pölten, intending that he should afterwards become an officer. At that time Horaček had been working there as chaplain of the establishment, and he still remembered the boy of those days perfectly. He painted him as a quiet, earnest, extremely clever young fellow, who liked keeping to himself, put up patiently with the discipline of the boarding school and after his fourth year passed on with the others to the military Oberrealschule, which was in Mährisch-Weisskirchen. Then his constitution showed itself definitely not to be strong enough, so that his parents removed him from the school and let him continue his studies at home in Prague. Horaček could tell me nothing more of the course which his outward life had taken since then.

After all that, I think it is easy to understand that I decided at that very moment to send my efforts in poetry to Rainer Maria Rilke and to ask him for his verdict. I was not yet twenty years old and I was just on the threshold of a career which I felt to be directly opposed to my inclinations. From the author of “Mir zur Feier,” if from anyone at all, I hoped for sympathetic understanding. And though I had not so intended, I came to write a letter with my verses, in which I opened my heart without reticence, as never before or since to another human being.

Many weeks passed before an answer came. The blue, sealed letter had a Paris post-mark and felt heavy in my hands; the envelope bore the same beautiful, clear handwriting as that in which the whole text from the first lines to the last had been written. That was the beginning of my regular correspondence with Rainer Marie Rilke, which continued till 1908 and then gradually came to an end, because my life drove me into the very paths from which the poet’s warm, affectionate and moving concern had wished to preserve me.

But that is of no importance. Alone important are the ten letters which follow, important for the knowledge of the world, in which Rainer Maria Rilke lived and created, and to many human beings of to-day and to-morrow, who are growing and coming into being. When a great and exceptional man speaks, the insignificant must be silent.

FRANZ XAVER KAPPUS. Berlin, June 1929.

Most inexpressible of all are works of art, existences full of secrets whose life continues alongside ours, whilst ours is transitory.

There is only one way. Withdraw into yourself. Explore the reason that bids you write, find out if it has spread out its roots in the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die, if writing should be denied to you. Above all, ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, “Must I write?” Dig deep into yourself for an answer. And if this answer should be in the affirmative, if you can meet this solemn question with a simple strong “I must,” then build up your life according to this necessity. Your life right down to its most indifferent and unimportant hour must be a token and a witness to this compulsion.

Approach nature. Try to express what you see and experience and love and lose as if you were the first man alive.

Avoid those forms which are too trite and commonplace: they are the hardest, for a great and mature power is needed to give of one’s own where good and often brilliant traditions throng upon one.

Betake yourself from the usual themes to those which your everyday life offers you. Paint your sadnesses and your desires, your passing thoughts and your belief in some kind of beauty – paint all that with quiet and modest inward sincerity; and to express yourself use the things that surround you, the pictures of your dreams and the objects of your recollections.

The creative worker knows no barrenness and no poor indifferent place. And even if you were in a prison, whose walls prevented all the bustle of the world from reaching your senses, even then would you not still have your childhood, that precious, kingly wealth, that treasure-house of memories? Turn your attention towards it. Try to recall the forgotten sensations of that distant past; your personality will strengthen itself, your loneliness will extend itself and become a dusky dwelling and the noise of others will pass by it far away.

When from this turning inwards, from this retreat into your own world verses come into being… you will see in them your own loved and natural possession, a part and an expression of your life.

Retire into yourself and sound the depths in which your life has its source; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it just as it is, without trying to interpret it… take your destiny upon your shoulders and bear it with its burden and its greatness without ever asking for the reward which might come from without

A world will come over you, a happiness, a wealth, a world of inconceivable greatness. Live for awhile in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all, love them. This love will be repaid a thousandfold, and, whatever may become of your life will, I am convinced of it, run through the fabric of your being as one of the most important among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys.

Now “Niels Lyhne” will disclose itself to you, a book of the things of grandeur and of depth. The more one reads it, the more it seems to contain everything from the most delicate fragrances of life to the full and grand flavours of its hardest fruits. In it there is nothing that has not been understood, grasped, experienced and recognised in the vibrating echoes of the memory; no experience has been too small, the slightest occurrence unfolds itself like a destiny. Destiny itself is like a wonderful broad web in which each thread is pulled by an infinitely tender hand and is laid by the side of another and held up and borne along by hundreds of others. You will experience the happiness of reading this book for the first time, and will pass through countless surprises, as in a new dream. But I can tell you that later, too, one always remains the same wonderer when going through these books, and that they lose nothing of the wonderful force and relinquish nothing of the fabulousness with which they overwhelm the reader the first time. The enjoyment of them and the gratitude only grows ever greater, and one’s way of looking at things becomes somehow better and simpler, one’s belief in life deeper and one’s life itself more blessed and more significant. Later you must read the wonderful book of the fate and the yearning of “Marie Grubbe,” and Jacobsen’s letters and journal and fragments, and finally his verses,

Read as few works of aesthetic criticism as possible—there are in them either partisan opinions which have become petrified and meaningless in their lifeless obduracy, or else a clever play of words, with which to-day one view finds favour and tomorrow the opposite.

Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and nothing can reach them so little as criticism. Only love can grasp them and keep hold of them and be just to them.

Always trust yourself and your own feelings as opposed to any such analysis, review or introduction; if you should be wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly and in time to new realisations. Allow your judgments their own quiet, undisturbed development, which like all progress must come from deep within you and cannot be forced or hastened by anything. The whole thing is to carry the full time and then give birth; to let every impression and every germ of a feeling consummate itself entirely within itself, in that which is dark, inexpressible, unconscious and unattainable by your own intelligence, and to await the hour of the delivery of a new clearness of vision. That alone is to live an artistic life, in understanding, as in creating.

There is no measuring with time; no year is of any value and ten years are as nothing. To be an artist is this: not to count or to reckon: to ripen like a tree which does not force its sap, but in the storms of spring stands confident without being afraid that afterwards no summer may come. The summer comes all right. But it only comes to the patient, to those who are there as carefree and quiet and immense, as if eternity lay before them. Daily I learn, learn it through my sufferings [to which I am grateful] that patience is everything.

It is undoubtedly a fact that artistic experience has such an inconceivably close connection with sexual experience, with its pain and its desire, that the two phenomena are actually nothing but two different forms of one and the same yearning and bliss.

His poetical power is great and strong as a primeval impulse. It has its own independent rhythms, and breaks forth from him like a stream from the mountains.

If you attach yourself to Nature, to the simple and small in her, which hardly anyone sees, but which can so unexpectedly turn into the great and the immeasurable, if you have this love for what is slight and try quite simply as a servant to win the confidence of what appears to you poor, then everything will become easier for you, more uniform and somehow more reconciling, not perhaps in the understanding, which holds back in amazement, but in your innermost consciousness, watchfulness and knowledge.

You are so young, all beginning is so far in front of you, and I should like to beg you earnestly to have patience with all unsolved problems in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, or books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not search now for the answers, which cannot be given you, because you could not live them. That is the point, to live everything. Now you must live your problems. And perhaps gradually, without noticing it, you will live your way into the answer some distant day.

In one thought of a creative worker a thousand forgotten nights of love come to life again and fill it with loftiness and sublimity. And those, who come together in the night and are twined in quivering pleasure, are performing a serious work and are heaping up sweetness, depth and force for the song of some coming poet, who will arise to express inexpressible ecstasies.

Do not be led astray by the surface of things; in the depths everything becomes law.

The beauty of the young virgin woman, a being who, as you so beautifully put it, has not yet performed her task, is motherhood, which has a presentiment of itself and prepares itself, is anxious and yearns. The mother’s beauty is serving motherhood, and in the old woman it is a mighty recollection. And I think that there is motherhood in man too, bodily and spiritual motherhood; his begetting is a kind of bearing, too, and bearing it is, when he creates out of his innermost abundance. Perhaps the sexes are more related to each other than is supposed, and the great renovation of the world will perhaps consist in this, that men and women, freed from all confused feelings and aversion, will seek each other out not as contrasts but as brothers and sisters and as neighbours, and will work together as human beings to bear seriously and patiently in common this heavy burden of sex which has been laid upon them.

Love your solitude, and bear the pain which it causes you with euphonious lament. For you say that those who are near to you are far away, and that shows that your outlook is beginning to be wide. And if your foreground is far from you, then your horizon is already beneath the stars and very great. Rejoice in your growth, into which you can take no one with you, and be good to those who remain behind. Be assured and peaceful in their presence, do not torture them with your doubts and do not frighten them with your confidence or your joy, which they could not comprehend. Seek some kind of simple, true communion with them, which need not change as you yourself become ever different.

Avoid adding new material to that strained drama which- is ever played between parents and children. It uses up much of the children’s strength and consumes the love of the parents, which is always active and warm, even if it does not understand. Do not ask them for any advice and reckon on no understanding from them, but believe in a love which is stored up for you as a heritage, and have confidence that in this love there is a force and a blessedness, which you need never leave behind even in your furthest journeys.

Be attentive to that which rises up within you, and place it above everything that you see around you. The events of your innermost self are worthy of your whole love. You must somehow work at them and not lose too much time or too much spirit in elucidating your position with regard to mankind.

You see, I have copied out your sonnet, because I considered it to be beautiful and simple and born in the form in which it runs with so much quiet grace. It is the best of your verses that I have been permitted to read. And now I give you that copy, because I know that it is important and makes for new experience to find one’s own work again in someone else’s hand-writing. Read the verses as if they were someone else’s, and you will feel in your innermost being how utterly they are your own.

And you must not be led astray in your loneliness, because there is something in you that desires to come out of you. If you think of it quietly and use it as an instrument, this very desire will help you to extend your loneliness over the broad lands.

It is good to be lonely, for loneliness is difficult. The fact that a thing is difficult must be for us the more reason for doing it.

Art, too, is only a form of life, and by living in no matter what way one can be unconsciously preparing oneself for it; in every real career one is nearer to art and more its neighbour than in those unreal half-artistic careers, which pretend to be near to art, but in practice deny and attack the existence of all art

Theodore Roethke

Roethke: From ‘Stray Thoughts on Roethke & Teaching’

It was important to some of us in Seattle that he came when he did. It was just great luck. The English Department at the University of Washington in 1947 was in a rut. Vernon Louis Parrington was dead but his influence was not. The approach to literature was Parrington’s and little else. Many of the teachers had taken their Ph.D.s right there years before. They had been friends of Parrington, and while many were able teachers, they taught literature as a reflection of historical and sociological patterns of its time. Writers who didn’t fit the method were usually ignored—Poe, Henry James.

On the first day of class in the fall quarter of 1947 he shambled into the classroom, and the awkward, almost self-degrading way he moved made me think he was dressed in “rags and rotting clothes,” when actually he was probably in an expensive tailor-made suit. His addiction to bourgeois values, his compulsive need to be loved by all, but most of all the rich, was of course the obverse of the way he felt about himself. In his mind I believe he was always poor and unwashed, and he showed it when he walked.

His tenderness toward students often showed through. He was probably the best poetry-writing teacher ever. That’s impossible to prove and silly, but I had to say it just once in print.

I believe he so loved the music of language that his complicated emotional responses to poems interfered with his attempts to verbalize meaning. When he read his favorites aloud, Yeats, Hopkins, Auden, Thomas, Kunitz, Bogan, poets with “good ears,” something happened that happens all too infrequently in a classroom. If a student wasn’t a complete auditory clod, he could feel himself falling in love with the sounds of words. To Roethke, that was the heart and soul of poetry. And that was his strength as a teacher: he gave students a love of the sound of language. His classes were clinics. He performed therapy on the ear.

I’d never heard of Auden, Hopkins, Thomas, or even Yeats. Just the exposure to such poets was worth any tuition fee. But to be exposed to them by a man so passionately committed to their rhythms and tonalities was to be born.

Good poets have obsessive ears. They love certain sounds and not others. So they read aloud what they love, responding to their own obsessive needs in the poetry of others. If he is worth a damn, any poet teaching poetry writing constantly and often without knowing it is saying to the student, “Write the way I do. That’s the best sound you can make.” The student who shakes this, who goes on to his auditory obsessions and who writes the way the teacher never told him, may become a poet. Roethke, through his fierce love of kinds of verbal music, could be overly influential. David Wagoner, who was quite young when he studied under Roethke at Penn State, told me once of the long painful time he had breaking Roethke’s hold on him.

He was also playful in class, arrogant, hostile, tender, aggressive, receptive—anything that might work to bring the best out of a student. A young man might turn in a poem, read it aloud, and then wait, his heart on the block, and Roethke would say quietly, and ever so slightly sarcastically, “Gee.” It was withering.

Yet for all of Roethke’s capacity for cruelty, it was not a cruel act. Roethke knew that poetry is an art form and a difficult one and that the enthusiasm and hope of the young poet are not enough. You have to work, and you had better get used to facing disappointments and failures, a lifetime of them.

He pushed as models the seventeenth-century lyricists—Herbert, Marvell, Herrick. Whoever he pushed, whatever poems he purred or boomed aloud in class, he was always demonstrating that this, your language, is capable of power and beauty. Those of us who had always loved it found out we loved it. Some who hadn’t loved it, but had the capacity to, came to love it.

The second half of the Roethke final usually consisted of one question, a lulu like, “What should the modern poet do about his ancestors?” “Do you mean his blood ancestors or the poets who proceeded him?” I asked. “Just answer the question,” Roethke growled.

Richard Hugo

“Easter 1916” still remains a favorite of mine. I think of it as possibly as good as we have in the language, and it was Roethke’s reading of it that first prejudiced me.

Just calling attention to what the student is hearing but doesn’t know he’s hearing can be a revelation. A student may love the sound of Yeats’ “Stumbling upon the blood dark track once more” and not know that the single-syllable word with a hard consonant ending is a unit of power in English, and that’s one reason “blood dark track” goes off like rifle shots.

Then there’s that banal, tiresome question: can writing be taught? Yes it can and no it can’t. Ultimately the most important things a poet will learn about writing are from himself in the process. A good teacher can save a young poet years by simply telling him things he need not waste time on, like trying to will originality or trying to share an experience in language or trying to remain true to the facts (but that’s the way it really happened).

Despite Roethke’s love of verbal play, he could generate little enthusiasm for what passes as experimentation and should more properly be called fucking around. Real experimentation is involved in every good poem because the poet searched for ways to unlock his imagination through trial and error.

Quest for a self is fundamental to poetry. What passes for experimentation is often an elaborate method of avoiding one’s feelings at all costs. The process prohibits any chance the poet has to create surrogate feelings, a secondary kind of creativity but in most poems all the poet can settle for. The good poems say: “This is how I feel.” With luck that’s true, but usually it’s not. More often the poem is the way the poet says he feels when he can’t find out what his real feelings are. It makes little difference to the reader, since a good poem sounds meant enough to be believed.

“Each newcomer feels obliged to do something else, forgetting that if he himself is somebody he will necessarily do that something else,” said Valéry. And Roethke told students to “write like somebody else.” There are those usual people who try desperately to appear unusual and there are unusual people who try desperately to appear usual. Most poets I’ve met are from the latter and much smaller group.

Most creative writing teachers in Roethke’s day worth mentioning were formalists, and formality was an end in itself. Obligation to play “by the rules” remained paramount. As a teacher Roethke stood virtually alone at the time. For Roethke the rules were simply one way to help a poet get to the gold. Certain areas he wisely left alone. I think he instinctively knew that fool’s gold is what fools end up with, and a teacher can do nothing about that.


So, thro’ Rilke’s advice to Kappa, we can see how poetry, as outlet for ambition, can inspire both student & teacher. Thro’ Roethke & Hugo, we can see how poetry holds up an eternal mirror to life, which, as Shelley said, ‘makes beautiful that which is distorted,’ an ethereal looking glass in which the poets have clearer views of their spirits, as if they were seers in the company of ghosts. Together, I hope these two extracts will together provide an excellent in both poetry, & of course, how to train oneself as a poet, to step into a classroom of Roethke, to open a letter from Rilke, & to be a young poet in love with the art.


The Pendragon Papers (3): Extraction of the Feminine Kharja for Future Refrains

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Poetry is like music. Think of each form as an instrument, or for the larger forms an orchestra, through which poesis is directed form the poet & into the anterior experience. Certain free-form beat poets often reminded me of a jazz pianist consum’d by the shamanic trance. In the depths of the musical continent, there is to be found the leitmotif, a species of short & recurring musical phrase found in much classical music & opera. In the spheres poetry, the leitmotif appears as the refrain, a device which is not uncommon. In his 1846 essay, ‘The Philosophy of Composition,’ Edgar Allen Poe gives us an excellent description of the poetical refrain in the context of his poem, the Raven.

In carefully thinking over all the usual artistic effects — or more properly points, in the theatrical sense — I did not fail to perceive immediately that no one had been so universally employed as that of the refrain. The universality of its employment sufficed to assure me of its intrinsic value, and spared me the necessity of submitting it to analysis. I considered it, however, with regard to its susceptibility of improvement, and soon saw it to be in a primitive condition. As commonly used, the refrain, or burden, not only is limited to lyric verse, but depends for its impression upon the force of monotone — both in sound and thought. The pleasure is deduced solely from the sense of identity — of repetition.

I resolved to diversify, and so vastly heighten, the effect, by adhering, in general, to the monotone of sound, while I continually varied that of thought: that is to say, I determined to produce continuously novel effects, by the variation of the application of the refrain — the refrain itself remaining, for the most part, unvaried. These points being settled, I next bethought me of the nature of my refrain. Since its application was to be repeatedly varied, it was clear that the refrain itself must be brief, for there would have been an insurmountable difficulty in frequent variations of application in any sentence of length. In proportion to the brevity of the sentence, would, of course, be the facility of the variation. This led me at once to a single word as the best refrain. The question now arose as to the character of the word. Having made up my mind to a refrain, the division of the poem into stanzas was, of course, a corollary: the refrain forming the close to each stanza.

One hundred & eighty years later, in 2023, this brief essay of mine is set to examine a certain sub-species of refrain call’d the Kharja. They are, in essence, short & overtly sexualised statements by women about their male lovers, brief exhalations of yearning which were often clever, coquettish, provocative & witty. These kharja originated in Romantic Spanish dialects, & later embedded as signatory refrains by their chanteuse in more courtly poems for the Moslem conquerors of the Iberian peninsular.

Dated to the period 1000-1150, they were scholastically resurrected in 1948 by orientalist, Samuel Stern, who, working on the Arabic & Hebrew poems compos’d in Moslem Spain, identified over 50 Kharka embedded in poems taking the five stanza Muwashshah form. Peter Dronke, in his The Medieval Lyirc (1968), offers a number of excellent translations, including;

I’ll give you such love! – but only
If you’ll bend
My anklets over to my

I don’t want to wear a necklace, mother –
the dress is enough for me.
My lord will see a pure white
throat display’d
He won’t want jewellery

But, of course, the spirit of their Kharja is much, much older, & has also continued into the modern age. Egyptian love songs of second millennium B.C. employ’d a rich array of imagery and allusion in order to create highly sensual atmospheres in which perfectly kharjaesque sentiments can be found, such as one of the poems in the Chester Beatty I Papyrus, which reads:

Now, you shall bring it to the house of the female beloved,
So that you may storm against her cave.
Her gate will be raised. Her lady of the house shall prepare it.
You shall provide her with songs and dancing, wine and strong ale, in her pavilion.
So that you may intoxicate her senses,
And so that you may complete her in her night.

A thousand years later we have the wonderful effusions of the Greek poetess, Sappho.

He is more than a hero
He is more than a hero
he is a god in my eyes—
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you — he
who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing
laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast.

If I meet
you suddenly, I can’t
speak — my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,
hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body
and I turn paler than
dry grass.

Later, in the ruins of a lava-preserv’d Pompeii, some anonymous versifier left the following as graffiti on a wall;

If you felt any stirrings of love in you, mule-driver,
You would drive more swiftly to see love’s goal!
I’m in love with a beautiful boy – use the spurs, please go faster!
You’re drunk! Go faster ! Use the reins & whip !
Bring me to Pompeii, where my sweey love lies !
You are mine…

Moving into the modern era, Elizabeth Barret Browning’s ‘The Lady’s Yes’ begins with a possible kharja, for sure;

” Yes !” I answered you last night ;
” No !” this morning, Sir, I say !
Colours, seen by candle-light,
Will not look the same by day.

Moving to the modern age & its vast plethora of superb female poetic voices, possible kharja are everywhere. Evolv’d, somewhat, with more dimensions as accord our modern society, of course, but they are kharja all the same. So, over at Lehman University, which serves the Bronx, Professor Vani Kannan wrote;

In one fleeting moment, He granted a mood
you embraced it together, when it was all new.
You landed and smiled, then parted and flew
but I’ll only remember when it was all new.

Elsewhere, in ‘The World’s Wife’, former Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, gave us;

After the split I would glimpse him
out & about
entering glitzy restaurants
with powerul men

There is also the stunning collection of the Scottish Punk poet, Megan Mccorqudale, ‘What I Told Frank,’ in which I have extracted the following kharja.

I left my underwear
on your floor last night
a woman at work
called me a slut

With morning light
You become bubble gum blue
I hadn’t even had the chance to get sick of the tatse of you
Before I had to spit you out

In fact the best sex we ever had
Was after we argued about the existence of god

Poets, & bards, of times not yet occurring, artisans of taste or tradition, who are concern’d with industriousness & mastering technique, may now allow the kharja into their set of tools. In the tradition of first study poetry, with modern female poetry being possibly pregnant with kharja, & then embed your chosen highlight into verses of your own. To conclude my essay, then, I have even compos’d a kharja of my own;

Counting the hours until he comes again,
The man she knew as Bobby now names Babes
Thro’ orgasms the o becomes ‘A star’
& at the end an ‘s’ for sexy guy


The Pendragon Papers (2): William McGonagall & the Almanack Poem – Naming the Year

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The poet is, ostensibly, a poet of the zeitgeist. Our knowledge of medieval England is so much richer thro Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Bronze Age of Greece still lives in epics of Homer. Poets also have the ability to record great individual occasions, such as Tennyson’s ode on the death of the Duke of Wellington; but there is one of sub-species of poem extant in which the poem names the year itself; perhaps a survey of the goings on of that twelvemonth, perhaps what the poet is doing himself in that year. These, I would like to give the name of ‘Almanack’ to. The name really means occurring every year, as in the Beano & Dandy hardback annuals which my grandmother gave me every Christmas, which I would sneak downstairs about 4 AM to open & read a strip or two, before hiding under a settee cushion to reveal to my parents half-way thro the unwrapping session when they were distracted, as coming ‘from my Grandma Joan.’ Yes, that is one kind of annual, but in the context of the poet, who cannot be relied on at all to compose poetry with such regularity, let us say their ‘almanack’ poems are those in which the year appears in the title. For the purposes of this paper I shall give several examples, including some of my own, whose compositions were inspir’d by some of the examples I now present.

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

London 1802

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

William Wordsworth mark’d his presence in the capital of Britain with two excellent Petrarchian sonnets. He must have known this moment was some kind of watershed in his life. He was on his way to meet Annette Valon, a former lover of his from which union produced a daughter, Caroline. Later that year he would move north, to his destiny in the lakes, & his fruitful marriage to Mary Hutchinson. The first sonnet is what I call a ‘Vista’ sonnet, in which a poet absorbs a panorama, mixes the scenes with his poesis, & turns the mimesis to gold. In the second sonnet, he identifies with the great epic poet, John Milton, in an ‘Epistle’ sonnet, that is to say a direct open letter of sorts to an individual. One could say in this sonnet Wordsworth is exhorting some kind of vow to become a new John Milton type poet.

England 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

This is one of my favourite poems, compos’d by Percy Bysshe Shelley in response to the slaughter of innocent protestors at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester, widely known as the Peterloo massacre, for the carnage that day resembl’d that of the Battle of Waterloo, four years previously. This poem in particular inspir’d two of my own sonnets, the first of which is a survey of British band music in 1998, & the second compos’d on returning from my first tour of India, 2002.

British Music: 1998

I wish I’d been absent for this year’s charts,
Nuthin half-decent to chill to and smoke,
Girlpower got pregnant – talentless tarts,
Shmoasises pub-rock souped-up on coke,
The soulless Dee-jay, class A parasite,
Spinning mixed-up beats to mind-numb masses,
The blurring churn of pulp sounds like the shite
Pulled out with their egos from their asses.

Robbie ‘Fuckin’ Williams rules a scene
Of talentless boy & girl groups galore,
The biggest bunch of nobodies I’ve seen –
Take That have got a lot to answer for…

All but for Ian Brown & the Beta Band
I’d say Britpop had done one from the land.

England 2002

England! forest of the sex-obsess’d West,
Still tax’d to the hilt, still chilly, still stress’d,
Moaning thro’ wintertime’s epic bummer,
Willing on another Big Brother summer,
Pop Idols have fifteen minutes of Fame,
But every song still sounds the fucking same,
The streets & parks are rife with kickabouts,
“Come on Svengland!” the passion & the shouts,
Four pills for a tenner, ten for twenty
Three quid for a beer, pints of milk forty pee,
Harry Potter, Prince Harry on pot,
& hook’d on the ripples of Bin Laden’s plot,
Tony Blair puts on a sycophantic front
For Dubya Bush, another name for cunt,
Who’s dragged us off to war, some 51st state
But still, my friends, still Britain, still great!

We have now come to the misunderstandingly monicker’d ‘Worst Poet in the World,’ William Topaz McGonagall. Born & bred on the Cowgate in Edinburgh, he spent the best part of his writing career in Dundee, in which place, at the age of 52, he had his poetical epiphany, which he recorded in his autobiography.

In the year of 1877 & in the month of June, when the flowers were in full bloom. Well, it being holiday week in Dundee, I was sitting in my back-room in Paton’s Lane, Dundee, lamenting to myself because I couldn’t get to the Highlands on holiday to see the beautiful scenery when all of a sudden my body got inflamed, & instantly I was seized with a strong desire to write poetry, so strong, I fact, that in my imagination I thought I heard a voice crying in my ears – Write! Write!

So, the eagle of invention had swoop’d into McGonagall’s soul, & he was about to embark on an exploration of a previously unexplor’d part of Mount Parnassus. There is a natural spontaneity to his verse, like a horse barely tamed, but there is an abundance of grace & genuinity, & a quite adorable affection for life in his works. The following lines should give a pleasant example of his style;

Oh, Bonnie Dundee! I will sing in thy praise
A few but true simple lays,
Regarding some of your beauties of the present day
And virtually speaking, there’s none can them gainsay;
There’s no other town I know of with you can compare

What marks out McGonagall, for me, as a bard, is his series of odes to events of his day – Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, battles in the Sudan, disasters & shipwrecks, he truly recorded the zeitgeist of his times. For the purposes of this paper, there is one year in particular in which he employ’d the ‘Almanack’ poem, 1893. In these he announces his struggles at being a poet in Dundee, he clearly feels unappreciated, but is also willing to fight for his reputation. The second poem isn’t actually dated, while the third only mentions the year in one of the lines, but I’ll present them both as part of the narrative McGonagall recorded for us in that year.

New Year’s Resolution to Leave Dundee
by William McGonagall

Welcome! thrice welcome! to the year 1893,
For it is the year that I intend to leave Dundee,
Owing to the treatment I receive,
Which does my heart sadly grieve.
Every morning when I got out
The ignorant rabble they do shout
” There goes Mad McGonagall”
In derisive shouts, as loud as they can bawl,
And lifts stones and snowballs, throws them at me;
And such actions are shameful to be heard in the City of Dundee.
And I’m ashamed, kind Christians, to confess,
That from the Magistrates I can get no redress.
Therefore I have made up my mind, in the year of 1893,
To leave the Ancient City of Dundee,
Because the citizens and me cannot agree.
The reason why — because they disrespect me,
Which makes me feel rather discontent.
Therefore, to leave them I am bent;
And I will make my arrangements without delay,
And leave Dundee some early day.

Lines in Reply to the Beautiful Poet who Welcomed News of McGonagall’s Departure from Dundee

Dear Johnny, I return my thanks to you;
But more than thanks is your due
For publishing the scurrilous poetry about me
Leaving the Ancient City of Dundee.

The rhymster says, we’ll weary for your schauchlin’ form;
But if I’m not mistaken I’ve seen bonnier than his in a field of corn;
And, as I venture to say and really suppose,
His form seen in a cornfield would frighten the crows.

But, dear Johnny, as you said, he’s just a lampoon,
And as ugly and as ignorant as a wild baboon;
And, as far as I can judge or think,
He is a vendor of strong drink.

He says my nose would make a peasemeal warrior weep;
But I’ve seen a much bonnier sweep,
And a more manly and wiser man
Than he is by far, deny it who can!

And, in conclusion, I’d have him to beware,
And never again to interfere with a poet’s hair,
Because Christ the Saviour wore long hair,
And many more good men, I do declare.

Therefore I laugh at such bosh that appears in print.
So I hope from me you will take the hint,
And never publish such bosh of poetry again,
Or else you’ll get the famous Weekly News a bad name.

Lines in Praise of Mr. J. Graham Henderson, Hawick

Success to Mr J. Graham Henderson, who is a good man,
And to gainsay it there’s few people can,
I say so from my own experience,
And experience is a great defence.

He is a good man, I venture to say,
Which I declare to the world without dismay,
Because he’s given me a suit of Tweeds, magnificent to see,
So good that it cannot be surpassed in Dundee.

The suit is the best of Tweed cloth in every way,
And will last me for many a long day;
It’s really good, and in no way bad,
And will help to make my heart feel glad.

He’s going to send some goods to the World’s Fair,
And I hope of patronage he will get the biggest share;
Because his Tweed cloth is the best I ever did see,
In the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and ninety-three.

At the International Exhibition, and the Isle of Man Exhibition,
He got a gold medal from each, in recognition
Of his Scotch Tweeds, so good and grand,
Which cannot be surpassed in fair Scotland.

Therefore, good people, his goods are really grand,
And manufactured at Weensforth Mill, Hawick, Scotland;
Where there’s always plenty of Tweeds on hand,
For the ready cash at the people’s command.

Mr Tocher measured me for the suit,
And it is very elegant, which no one will dispute,
And I hope Mr Henry in Reform Street
Will gain customers by it, the suit is so complete.

Lines in Memoriam Regarding the Entertainment I Gave on the 31st March, 1893, in Reform Street Hall, Dundee

’Twas on the 31st of March, and in the year of 1893,
I gave an entertainment in the city of Dundee,
To a select party of gentlemen, big and small,
Who appreciated my recital in Reform Street Hall.

The meeting was convened by J. P. Smith’s manager, High Street,
And many of J. P. Smith’s employees were there me to greet,
And several other gentlemen within the city,
Who were all delighted with the entertainment they got from me.

Mr Green was the chairman for the night,
And in that capacity he acted right;
He made a splendid address on my behalf,
Without introducing any slang or chaff.

I wish him success during life;
May he always feel happy and free from strife,
For the kindness he has ever shown to me
During our long acquaintance in Dundee.

I return my thanks to Mr J. P. Smith’s men,
Who were at my entertainment more than nine or ten;
And the rest of the gentlemen that were there,
Also deserves my thanks, I do declare.

Because they showered upon me their approbation,
And got up for me a handsome donation,
Which was presented to me by Sir Green,
In a purse most beautiful to be seen.

Which was a generous action in deed,
And came to me in time of need.
And the gentlemen that so generously treated me
I’ll remember during my stay in Dundee.

McGonagall would soon enough leave Dundee, & return to the Cowgate once more in Edinburgh, where he would see out his days. Whatever happens in the history of poetry, his laurel crown is assur’d. Altho’ many aficionados of the poetic arts scoff at the quality, they could only dream of achieving the same sales figures & adulation as McGonagall – everything he ever wrote has been collated, pored over & simply adored.

The Pendragon Papers (1): The Poemorph & Balzac’s Lucien Chardon

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No, Barbet–no. He is a poet, a great poet; he is going to cut out
Canalis, and Beranger, and Delavigne. He will go a long way if he does
not throw himself into the river, and even so he will get as far as
the drag-nets at Saint-Cloud.

Balzac: Lost Illusions

It is March 2nd, 2023, 8:37 AM, & I am now embarking upon the composition of my Pendragon Papers. The idea is to create a platform, a forward post if you will, from where my further advances into the vast continent of poetry shall continue. My first paper concerns the Poemorph, that is to say the dislocation & projection of the poetic spirit thro a medium that is not poetry, when the suspiration of a secret poet’s soul is finally exhal’d, & the perfume of his pent up poesis permeates & invigorates his prose.

As a verb, To Poemorph means to embed poetry within the mouthpiece of a fictional character. As a noun, it is the presence & poetry of the aforedescrib’d within a piece of fiction. In the case of Honore de Balzac, one of the great 19th century French novelists, his poemorph can be found in the pages of his Lost Illusions (Illusions Perdues), in which Lucien Chardon becomes the mouthpiece of all things poetical in Balzac’s mind. Very much a mirror of Balzac’s own early years as a literary dilettante, Lucien Chardon sets forth with all the bright enthusiasm of a provincial poet & makes a play at becoming a successful poet in the metropolis of Paris. Along the way we gain a wonderful yardstick as to the state of play of poetry in France in 1837, when Balzac began his wonderful, often hilarious, tale. In this year, Baudelaire was only sixteen, & two more decades had to pass before Rimbaud was even born. Let us say Lost Illusions is set in the calm before the hurricane.

When John Milton compos’d, ‘his words, like so many nimble & airy servitors, trip about him at command,’ he could well have been writing about Balzac. A great creative artist, with supreme narrative powers, his Lost Illusions is one of the ninety novels & short stories which make up the Human Comedy, the umbrella term Balzac gave to his oeuvre, which depicts a hybrid world situated on the very boundary between real life & Balzac’s seer-like imagination, where everything is bath’d in the precise & illuminating light of Balzac’s visionary genius. His views on poetry are a case in point, which I have divide into three segments, all of which contain extracts from the actual novel. The translation is by Ellen Marriage,

The first part sees Chardon accepting his fate as a poet, which follow’d, ‘a reading which had shown the two friends that a new sun was shining over the fields of literature,’ he would soon be reading poetry to the ‘High Society’ of his native Angouleme, to no great success, complete disinterest in fact. The second part is taken, from his time in Paris, where on one occasion he, ‘felt like an embryo among these men; he had admired Nathan’s book, he had reverenced the author as an immortal; Nathan’s abject attitude before this critic, whose name and importance were both unknown to him, stupefied Lucien.’ The section we will look concerns a number of sonnets, drawn from the fictional ‘Marguerites’ manuscript, consisting of several pieces from the pens of Balzac’s own friends, including one from the only famous poet among them, Theophile Gautier, author of the Tulip, & future dedicatee of Baudelair’s Fleurs de Mal.

The final part sees Chardon, with the help of a friend, attempting to get his poetry publish’d, & what is remarkable how the vogue for buying poetry books has barely chang’d in two centuries. Altogether, I hope to have extracted some ore from the seam, to pann’d some gold from the bed, for poetry is poetry wherever it is found, any plant ever grown in the soil of Parnassus is important to record in the poetical & botanical diaries of mankind. For easier assimilation, the most important passages I shall highlight in bold.


A few habitues slipped in familiarly among the rest, so did one or two eldest sons; shy, mute young men tricked out in gorgeous jewelry, and highly honored by an invitation to this literary solemnity, the boldest men among them so far shook off the weight of awe as to chatter a good deal with Mlle. de la Haye. The women solemnly arranged themselves in a circle, and the men stood behind them. It was a quaint assemblage of wrinkled countenances and heterogeneous costumes, but none the less it seemed very alarming to Lucien, and his heart beat fast when he felt that every one was looking at him.

Lucien, luckless poet that he was, did not know that there was scarce a soul in the room besides Mme. de Bargeton who could understand poetry. The whole matter-of-fact assembly was there by a misapprehension, nor did they, for the most part, know what they had come out for to see. There are some words that draw a public as unfailingly as the clash of cymbals, the trumpet, or the mountebank’s big drum; “beauty,” “glory,” “poetry,” are words that bewitch the coarsest intellect.

He announced in an uncertain voice that, to prevent disappointment, he was about to read the masterpieces of a great poet, discovered only recently (for although Andre de Chenier’s poems appeared in 1819, no one in Angouleme had so much as heard of him).

Lucien began with Le Malade, and the poem was received with a murmur of applause; but he followed it with L’Aveugle, which proved too great a strain upon the average intellect. None but artists or those endowed with the artistic temperament can understand and sympathize with him in the diabolical torture of that reading. If poetry is to be rendered by the voice, and if the listener is to grasp all that it means, the most devout attention is essential; there should be an intimate alliance between the reader and his audience, or swift and subtle communication of the poet’s thought and feeling becomes impossible. Here this close sympathy was lacking, and Lucien in consequence was in the position of an angel who should endeavor to sing of heaven amid the chucklings of hell. An intelligent man in the sphere most stimulating to his faculties can see in every direction, like a snail; he has the keen scent of a dog, the ears of a mole; he can hear, and feel, and see all that is going on around him. A musician or a poet knows at once whether his audience is listening in admiration or fails to follow him, and feels it as the plant that revives or droops under favorable or unfavorable conditions.

When, like the dove in the deluge, he looked round for any spot on which his eyes might rest, he saw nothing but rows of impatient faces. Their owners clearly were waiting for him to make an end; they had come together to discuss questions of practical interest. With the exceptions of Laure de Rastignac, the Bishop, and two or three of the young men, they one and all looked bored. Lucien felt profoundly discouraged; he was damp with chilly perspiration; a glowing glance from Louise, to whom he turned, gave him courage to persevere to the end, but this poet’s heart was bleeding from countless wounds.

“Do you find this very amusing, Fifine?” inquired the wizened Lili, who perhaps had expected some kind of gymnastics.

“Don’t ask me what I think, dear; I cannot keep my eyes open when any one begins to read aloud.”

“I hope that Nais will not give us poetry often in the evenings,” said Francis. “If I am obliged to attend while somebody reads aloud after dinner, it upsets my digestion.”

“It was very well declaimed,” said Alexandre, “but I like whist better myself.”

After this dictum, which passed muster as a joke from the play on the word “whist,” (whisht = hush) several card-players were of the opinion that the reader’s voice needed a rest, and on this pretext one or two couples slipped away into the card-room. But Louise, and the Bishop, and pretty Laure de Rastignac besought Lucien to continue, and this time he caught the attention of his audience with Chenier’s spirited reactionary, Iambes. Several persons, carried away by his impassioned delivery, applauded the reading without understanding the sense. People of this sort are impressed by vociferation, as a coarse palate is ticked by strong spirits.

The intoxication of the poetry was upon him; he was far away from the hateful world, striving to render in speech the music that filled his soul, seeing the faces about him through a cloudy haze. He read the sombre Elegy on the Suicide, lines in the taste of a by-gone day, pervaded by sublime melancholy

Mme. de Bargeton sat with one hand buried in her curls, heedless of the havoc she wrought among them, gazing before her with unseeing eyes, alone in her drawing-room, lost in delicious dreaming; for the first time in her life she had been transported to the sphere which was hers by right of nature.

“The French language does not lend itself very readily to poetry, does it?” Astolphe remarked to Chatelet. “Cicero’s prose is a thousand times more poetical to my way of thinking.”

“The true poetry of France is song, lyric verse,” Chatelet answered.

“Which proves that our language is eminently adapted for music,” said Adrien.

When Francis and the Bishop joined the little group where Lucien stood, the circle who gave him the cup of hemlock to drain by little sips watched him with redoubled interest. The poet, luckless young man, being a total stranger, and unaware of the manners and customs of the house, could only look at Mme. de Bargeton and give embarrassed answers to embarrassing questions. He knew neither the names nor condition of the people about him; the women’s silly speeches made him blush for them, and he was at his wits’ end for a reply

“Do you work quickly?” asked Lolotte, much in the way that she would have asked a joiner “if it took long to make a box.”

The bludgeon stroke stunned Lucien, but he raised his head at Mme. De Bargeton’s reply–

“My dear, poetry does not grow in M. de Rubempre’s head like grass in our courtyards.”

“Madame, we cannot feel too reverently towards the noble spirits in whom God has set some ray of this light,” said the Bishop, addressing Lolotte. “Yes, poetry is something holy. Poetry implies suffering. How many silent nights those verses that you admire have cost! We should bow in love and reverence before the poet; his life here is almost always a life of sorrow; but God doubtless reserves a place in heaven for him among His prophets. This young man is a poet,” he added laying a hand on Lucien’s head; “do you not see the sign of Fate set on that high forehead of his?”

Glad to be so generously championed, Lucien made his acknowledgments in a grateful look, not knowing that the worthy prelate was to deal his deathblow.

Mme. de Bargeton’s eyes traveled round the hostile circle. Her glances went like arrows to the depths of her rivals’ hearts, and left them twice as furious as before.

“Ah, monseigneur,” cried Lucien, hoping to break thick heads with his golden sceptre, “but ordinary people have neither your intellect nor your charity. No one heeds our sorrows, our toil is unrecognized. The gold-digger working in the mine does not labor as we to wrest metaphors from the heart of the most ungrateful of all languages. If this is poetry–to give ideas such definite and clear expressions that all the world can see and understand–the poet must continually range through the entire scale of human intellects, so that he can satisfy the demands of all; he must conceal hard thinking and emotion, two antagonistic powers, beneath the most vivid color; he must know how to make one word cover a whole world of thought; he must give the results of whole systems of philosophy in a few picturesque lines; indeed, his songs are like seeds that must break into blossom in other hearts wherever they find the soil prepared by personal experience. How can you express unless you first have felt? And is not passion suffering.

Poetry is only brought forth after painful wanderings in the vast regions of thought and life.

“And what are you going to create for us?” asked Chatelet.

“If I were to announce such conceptions, I should give myself out for a man of genius, should I not?” answered Lucien. “And besides, such sublime creations demand a long experience of the world and a study of human passion and interests which I could not possibly have made; but I have made a beginning,” he added, with bitterness in his tone, as he took a vengeful glance round the circle; “the time of gestation is long—-“

“Then it will be a case of difficult labor,” interrupted M. du Hautoy.

“Your excellent mother might assist you,” suggested the Bishop.

The epigram, innocently made by the good prelate, the long-looked-for revenge, kindled a gleam of delight in all eyes. The smile of satisfied caste that traveled from mouth to mouth was aggravated by M. de Bargeton’s imbecility; he burst into a laugh, as usual, some moments later.

“Monseigneur, you are talking a little above our heads; these ladies do not understand your meaning,” said Mme. de Bargeton, and the words paralyzed the laughter, and drew astonished eyes upon her. “A poet who looks to the Bible for his inspiration has a mother indeed in the Church.–M. de Rubempre, will you recite ‘Saint John in Patmos’ for us, or ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’, so that his lordship may see that Rome is still the ‘Magna Parens’ of Virgil?”

“What do you think of our poet and his poetry?” Jacques asked of the Marquise. Jacques used to shoot over the lands belonging to the Pimentel family.

“Why, it is not bad for provincial poetry,” she said, smiling; “and besides, such a beautiful poet cannot do anything amiss.”

Every one thought the decision admirable; it traveled from lip to lip, gaining malignance by the way. Then Chatelet was called upon to accompany M. du Bartas on the piano while he mangled the great solo from ‘Figaro’; and the way being opened to music, the audience, as in duty bound listened while Chatelet in turn sang one of Chateaubriand’s ballads, a chivalrous ditty made in the time of the Empire.


Lucien was in his old place by the time that Lousteau reached the table; as the first comer, he greeted his acquaintance; they soon struck up a conversation, which grew so lively that Lucien went off in search of the manuscript of the ‘Marguerites’, while Lousteau finished his dinner. He had obtained leave to lay his sonnets before the journalist, and mistook the civility of the latter for willingness to find him a publisher, or a place on the paper. When Lucien came hurrying back again, he saw d’Arthez resting an elbow on the table in a corner of the restaurant, and knew that his friend was watching him with melancholy eyes, but he would not see d’Arthez just then; he felt the sharp pangs of poverty, the goadings of ambition, and followed Lousteau.

In the late afternoon the journalist and the neophyte went to the Luxembourg, and sat down under the trees in that part of the gardens which lies between the broad Avenue de l’Observatoire and the Rue de l’Ouest. The Rue de l’Ouest at that time was a long morass, bounded by planks and market-gardens; the houses were all at the end nearest the Rue de Vaugirard; and the walk through the gardens was so little frequented, that at the hour when Paris dines, two lovers might fall out and exchange the earnest of reconciliation without fear of intruders. There, on a bench beneath the lime-trees, Etienne Lousteau sat and listened to sample-sonnets from the ‘Marguerites’.

“The sonnet, monsieur,” said he, “is one of the most difficult forms of poetry. It has fallen almost entirely into disuse. No Frenchman can hope to rival Petrarch; for the language in which the Italian wrote, being so infinitely more pliant than French, lends itself to play of thought which our positivism (pardon the use of the expression) rejects. So it seemed to me that a volume of sonnets would be something quite new. Victor Hugo has appropriated the old, Canalis writes lighter verse, Beranger has monopolized songs, Casimir Delavigne has taken tragedy, and Lamartine the poetry of meditation.”

“Are you a ‘Classic’ or a ‘Romantic’?” inquired Lousteau.

Lucien’s astonishment betrayed such complete ignorance of the state of affairs in the republic of letters, that Lousteau thought it necessary to enlighten him.

“You have come up in the middle of a pitched battle, my dear fellow; you must make your decision at once. Literature is divided, in the first place, into several zones, but our great men are ranged in two hostile camps. The Royalists are ‘Romantics,’ the Liberals are ‘Classics.’ The divergence of taste in matters literary and divergence of political opinion coincide; and the result is a war with weapons of every sort, double-edged witticisms, subtle calumnies and nicknames ‘a outrance’, between the rising and the waning glory, and ink is shed in torrents. The odd part of it is that the Royalist-Romantics are all for liberty in literature, and for repealing laws and conventions; while the Liberal-Classics are for maintaining the unities, the Alexandrine, and the classical theme. So opinions in politics on either side are directly at variance with literary taste. If you are eclectic, you will have no one for you. Which side do you take?”

“Which is the winning side?”

“The Liberal newspapers have far more subscribers than the Royalist and Ministerial journals; still, though Canalis is for Church and King, and patronized by the Court and the clergy, he reaches other readers.–Pshaw! sonnets date back to an epoch before Boileau’s time,” said Etienne, seeing Lucien’s dismay at the prospect of choosing between two banners. “Be a Romantic. The Romantics are young men, and the Classics are pedants; the Romantics will gain the day.”

The word “pedant” was the latest epithet taken up by Romantic journalism to heap confusion on the Classical faction.

Lucien began to read, choosing first of all the title-sonnets.

           EASTER DAISIES.

The daisies in the meadows, not in vain,
In red and white and gold before our eyes,
Have written an idyll for man’s sympathies,
And set his heart’s desire in language plain.

Gold stamens set in silver filigrane
Reveal the treasures which we idolize;
And all the cost of struggle for the prize
Is symboled by a secret blood-red stain.

Was it because your petals once uncurled
When Jesus rose upon a fairer world,
And from wings shaken for a heav’nward flight
Shed grace, that still as autumn reappears
You bloom again to tell of dead delight,
To bring us back the flower of twenty years?

Lucien felt piqued by Lousteau’s complete indifference during the reading of the sonnet; he was unfamiliar as yet with the disconcerting impassibility of the professional critic, wearied by much reading of poetry, prose, and plays. Lucien was accustomed to applause. He choked down his disappointment and read another, a favorite with Mme. De Bargeton and with some of his friends in the Rue des Quatre-Vents.

“This one, perhaps, will draw a word from him,” he thought.

           THE MARGUERITE.

I am the Marguerite, fair and tall I grew
In velvet meadows, ‘mid the flowers a star.
They sought me for my beauty near and far;
My dawn, I thought, should be for ever new.
But now an all unwished-for gift I rue,
A fatal ray of knowledge shed to mar
My radiant star-crown grown oracular,
For I must speak and give an answer true.
An end of silence and of quiet days,
The Lover with two words my counsel prays;
And when my secret from my heart is reft,
When all my silver petals scattered lie,
I am the only flower neglected left,
Cast down and trodden under foot to die.

At the end, the poet looked up at his Aristarchus. Etienne Lousteau was gazing at the trees in the Pepiniere.

“Well?” asked Lucien.

“Well, my dear fellow, go on! I am listening to you, am I not? That fact in itself is as good as praise in Paris.”

“Have you had enough?” Lucien asked.

“Go on,” the other answered abruptly enough.

Lucien proceeded to read the following sonnet, but his heart was dead within him; Lousteau’s inscrutable composure froze his utterance. If he had come a little further upon the road, he would have known that between writer and writer silence or abrupt speech, under such circumstances, is a betrayal of jealousy, and outspoken admiration means a sense of relief over the discovery that the work is not above the average after all.

           THE CAMELLIA.

In Nature’s book, if rightly understood,
The rose means love, and red for beauty glows;
A pure, sweet spirit in the violet blows,
And bright the lily gleams in lowlihood.

But this strange bloom, by sun and wind unwooed,
Seems to expand and blossom ‘mid the snows,
A lily sceptreless, a scentless rose,
For dainty listlessness of maidenhood.

Yet at the opera house the petals trace
For modesty a fitting aureole;
An alabaster wreath to lay, methought,
In dusky hair o’er some fair woman’s face
Which kindles ev’n such love within the soul
As sculptured marble forms by Phidias wrought.

“What do you think of my poor sonnets?” Lucien asked, coming straight to the point.

“Do you want the truth?”

“I am young enough to like the truth, and so anxious to succeed that I can hear it without taking offence, but not without despair,” replied Lucien.

“Well, my dear fellow, the first sonnet, from its involved style, was evidently written at Angouleme; it gave you so much trouble, no doubt, that you cannot give it up. The second and third smack of Paris already; but read us one more sonnet,” he added, with a gesture that seemed charming to the provincial.

Encouraged by the request, Lucien read with more confidence, choosing a sonnet which d’Arthez and Bridau liked best, perhaps on account of its color.

           THE TULIP.

I am the Tulip from Batavia’s shore;
The thrifty Fleming for my beauty rare
Pays a king’s ransom, when that I am fair,
And tall, and straight, and pure my petal’s core.

And, like some Yolande of the days of yore,
My long and amply folded skirts I wear,
O’er-painted with the blazon that I bear
–Gules, a fess azure; purpure, fretty, or.

The fingers of the Gardener divine
Have woven for me my vesture fair and fine,
Of threads of sunlight and of purple stain;
No flower so glorious in the garden bed,
But Nature, woe is me, no fragrance shed
Within my cup of Orient porcelain.

“Well?” asked Lucien after a pause, immeasurably long, as it seemed to him.

“My dear fellow,” Etienne said, gravely surveying the tips of Lucien’s boots (he had brought the pair from Angouleme, and was wearing them out). “My dear fellow, I strongly recommend you to put your ink on your boots to save blacking, and to take your pens for toothpicks, so that when you come away from Flicoteaux’s you can swagger along this picturesque alley looking as if you had dined. Get a situation of any sort or description. Run errands for a bailiff if you have the heart, be a shopman if your back is strong enough, enlist if you happen to have a taste for military music. You have the stuff of three poets in you; but before you can reach your public, you will have time to die of starvation six times over, if you intend to live on the proceeds of your poetry, that is.

“I say nothing as to your verses; they are a good deal better than all the poetical wares that are cumbering the ground in booksellers’ backshops just now. Elegant ‘nightingales’ of that sort cost a little more than the others, because they are printed on hand-made paper, but they nearly all of them come down at last to the banks of the Seine.

You may study their range of notes there any day if you care to make an instructive pilgrimage along the Quais from old Jerome’s stall by the Pont Notre Dame to the Pont Royal. You will find them all there –all the ‘Essays in Verse’, the ‘Inspirations’, the lofty flights, the hymns, and songs, and ballads, and odes; all the nestfuls hatched during the last seven years, in fact. There lie their muses, thick with dust, bespattered by every passing cab, at the mercy of every profane hand that turns them over to look at the vignette on the title-page.


“What is it about?” continued Dauriat, addressing Lucien’s protector.

“It is a volume of magnificent poetry.”

At that word, Dauriat turned to Gabusson with a gesture worthy of Talma.

“Gabusson, my friend,” he said, “from this day forward, when anybody begins to talk of works in manuscript here–Do you hear that, all of you?” he broke in upon himself; and three assistants at once emerged from among the piles of books at the sound of their employer’s wrathful voice. “If anybody comes here with manuscripts,” he continued, looking at the finger-nails of a well-kept hand, “ask him whether it is poetry or prose; and if he says poetry, show him the door at once. Verses mean reverses in the booktrade.”

“Bravo! well put, Dauriat,” cried the chorus of journalists.

“It is true!” cried the bookseller, striding about his shop with Lucien’s manuscript in his hand. “You have no idea, gentlemen, of the amount of harm that Byron, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Casimir Delavigne, Canalis, and Beranger have done by their success. The fame of them has brought down an invasion of barbarians upon us. I know ‘this’: there are a thousand volumes of manuscript poetry going the round of the publishers at this moment, things that nobody can make head nor tail of, stories in verse that begin in the middle, like ‘The Corsair’ and ‘Lara’. They set up to be original, forsooth, and indulge in stanzas that nobody can understand, and descriptive poetry after the pattern of the younger men who discovered Delille, and imagine that they are doing something new. Poets have been swarming like cockchafers for two years past. I have lost twenty thousand francs through poetry in the last twelvemonth. You ask Gabusson! There may be immortal poets somewhere in the world; I know of some that are blooming and rosy, and have no beards on their chins as yet,” he continued, looking at Lucien; “but in the trade, young man, there are only four poets –Beranger, Casimir Delavigne, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo; as for Canalis–he is a poet made by sheer force of writing him up.”

Lucien felt that he lacked the courage to hold up his head and show his spirit before all these influential persons, who were laughing with all their might. He knew very well that he should look hopelessly ridiculous, and yet he felt consumed by a fierce desire to catch the bookseller by the throat, to ruffle the insolent composure of his cravat, to break the gold chain that glittered on the man’s chest, trample his watch under his feet, and tear him in pieces. Mortified vanity opened the door to thoughts of vengeance, and inwardly he swore eternal enmity to that bookseller. But he smiled amiably.

“Poetry is like the sun,” said Blondet, “giving life alike to primeval forests and to ants and gnats and mosquitoes. There is no virtue but has a vice to match, and literature breeds the publisher.”

“And the journalist,” said Lousteau.

Dauriat burst out laughing.

“What is this after all?” he asked, holding up the manuscript.

“A volume of sonnets that will put Petrarch to the blush,” said Lousteau.

“What do you mean?”

“Just what I say,” answered Lousteau, seeing the knowing smile that went round the group. Lucien could not take offence but he chafed inwardly.

“Very well, I will read them,” said Dauriat, with a regal gesture that marked the full extent of the concession. “If these sonnets of yours are up to the level of the nineteenth century, I will make a great poet of you, my boy.”

“If he has brains to equal his good looks, you will run no great risks,” remarked one of the greatest public speakers of the day, a deputy who was chatting with the editor of the ‘Minerve’, and a writer for the ‘Constitutionnel’.

“Fame means twelve thousand francs in reviews, and a thousand more for dinners, General,” said Dauriat. “If M. Benjamin de Constant means to write a paper on this young poet, it will not be long before I make a bargain with him.”


Well, there we have it, the first of my Pendragon Papers, playfully presented in the main by Honore de Balzac, a man who possess the enormous psychic proportions which enable a major poetical personality to exist within the pages of one his many novels. Lucien Chardon was there all along, straining to burst from the pages of prose that were his chains, & just speak to the real poets of the world. I hope in this paper, a little of his voice can now be heard, with the rest waiting to be heard in the marvellous, Lost Illusions. As for French poetry, TS Eliot describes the arrival of Baudelaire’s counter-romanticism, & an end to the poetical society in which Lucien Chardon had attempted to forge his name;

‘The invention of language, at a moment when French poetry in particular was famishing for such invention, is enough to make of Baudelaire a great poet, a great landmark in poetry.’