Great Seasonal Poems, Part Two–The Schoolboy, by William Blake

William Blake was only one degree of separation removed from Thomas Jefferson. They were both friends with the great enlightenment thinker and writer Thomas Paine. This poem is very much a poem of that enlightenment, the spirit of which we could use now. This is from Songs of Experience.

The Schoolboy

by William Blake

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn.
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour,
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro’ with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy.
But droop his tender wing.
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father & mother. if buds are nip’d,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip’d
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay.

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear.
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year.
When the blasts of winter appear.

I used to love teaching summer school at the five institutions of “higher learning” where I was employed. There were only two types of students–highly dedicated ones, or those who had no intention of attending class. I forget which one I preferred.

A Poem for the US Supreme Court

Surprise! Members of our Holier-than-thou Supreme Court have been caught meeting, eating and praying with billionaires and their lackeys, and leaking decisions to them so they could get their PR ready. See the NYT story about the same. Here’s a poem for the priestly class wannabees.

This is from Blake’s Songs of Experience:

The Chimney Sweeper


A little black thing among the snow, 

Crying “weep! ‘weep!” in notes of woe! 

“Where are thy father and mother? say?” 

“They are both gone up to the church to pray. 

Because I was happy upon the heath, 

And smil’d among the winter’s snow, 

They clothed me in the clothes of death, 

And taught me to sing the notes of woe. 

And because I am happy and dance and sing, 

They think they have done me no injury, 

And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King, 

Who make up a heaven of our misery.” 

Blake, Songs of Experience

No comment.

Naughty Garden Poetry, German Edition–Erotica Romana, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This is what happens when you download every free translation of a German writer, without paying any attention to the titles. The book is actually a series of twenty four interrelated poems, all about Goethe’s sporty Italian mistress, and the things they got up to in and out of his garden in Rome. By the time I finished the first poem, I knew I was in for some serious laughs.

Perhaps the bawdiest thing to emerge from the 1780’s, this poem begins, and centers on, an old wooden figure of Priapus, the Greek and Roman god of gardens and fertility, that Goethe finds in his garden. The speaker in the last poem is appropriately Priapus himself, and I will include a section that is acceptable for polite society. It turns out that it’s not easy to be a really old god.

Faggots are heaped all about me against the cold of the winter,

Which I hate for the crows settling them down on my head,

Which they befoul very shamefully. Summer’s no better: the servants

Empty their bowels and show insolent, naked behinds.

Filth, above and below! I was clearly in danger of turning

Into filth myself, toadstool, rotten wood!

Now, by your efforts, O noblest of artists, I shall recover

With fellow gods my just place. And it’s no more than my due.

Jupiter’s throne, so dishonestly won, it was I who secured it:

Color and Ivory, marble and bronze, not to mention the poems.

Now, all intelligent men look upon me in kindness. They like to

Form their own image of me, just as the poet has done.

Nor do the girls take offense when they see me–by no means the matrons.

None finds me ugly today, though I am monstrously strong.


Not surprisingly, this poem was censored, but by the writer himself. It was meant for an audience of one, his friend and fellow poet Friedrich Schiller. Literary and musical types will remember Schiller as the author of the “Ode to Joy,” which is the basis of the great ending of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It may not be a coincidence that that poem was also censored, as the original title and subject was “An die Freiheit” (Ode to Freedom), instead of “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy). The German authorities thought that whole freedom thing was too hot to handle.

Our celebration of freedom will be here in a week. Just don’t read this poem anywhere near Disneyworld.

Lunch Poems, Part Two–Eating Poetry, by Mark Strand

A real classic here, and a GOAT. Mark Strand was the US poet laureate, though Mark Twain would have said “Poet Lariat.”

Eating Poetry


Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.

Her eyes are sad

and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.

The light is dim.

The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,

their blond legs burn like brush.

The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.

When I get on my knees and lick her hand,

she screams.

I am a new man.

I snarl at her and bark.

I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

Those last two words are what literary types would call a “word cluster,” or a combination of words that are unforgettable. Poetry–It’s what’s for lunch.

I’m Exhausted of Being Exhausted

Every expert in the cable news media tends to think that I, and most other people, are exhausted. We’re exhausted by (blank)–just fill in your least favorite word–war, politics, masks, Covid. So here is a poem for our times, entitled “Poem”, by Frank O’Hara, from his book called Lunch Poems. Not poetry for lunch again, Mom!

Lana Turner has collapsed! 
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline 
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

Thanks to the American Academy of Poets for this one. I could sing a French song about ennui, or talk about herd mentality instead of herd immunity, but instead I will say to my fellow citizens: we love you. Now get up.

Food First, then Morality–a Poem for Today

Those immortal words came from my favorite writer, the German Bertolt Brecht. In German it is

“Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral”

Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera

Brecht was apparently right at the top of the list of people Hitler wanted to be killed. He fled Nazi Germany, and then the Republican US–but not before exposing the fools on the US House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC). There is actually an audio tape of his testimony, which is so funny that I only listen to it on my birthday, and we happen to have the same birthday, February 10.

Anyway, here is the poem for today.

Long I have Looked for the Truth


Long I have looked for the truth about the life of people together

That life is crisscrossed, tangled, difficult to understand.

I have worked hard to understand it and when I had done so

I told the truth as I found it.


When I had told the truth that was so difficult to find

It was a common truth, which many told

(And not everyone had such difficulty in finding.)


Soon after that people arrived in vast masses with pistols given to them

And blindly shot around them at all those too poor to wear hats

And all those who told the truth about them and their employers

They drove out of the country in the fourteenth year of our semi-republic.


From me they took my little house and car

Which I had earned by hard work.

(I was able to save my furniture.)


When I crossed the frontier I thought:

More than my house I need the truth.

But I need my house too. And since then

Truth for me has been like a house and car.

And they took them.

Bertolt Brecht

Thanks to the Brits and Methuen publishers for this translation. Food, house, and car first, indeed.

Great Garden Poems, Part Ten–To Penshurst, by Ben Jonson

Something of an idealized description of the old English country estate, though at least it has a great description of the garden.

To Penshurst


Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Of touch or marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told,
Or stair, or courts; but stand’st an ancient pile,
And, these grudged at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
Thou hast thy walks for health, as well as sport;
Thy mount, to which the dryads do resort,
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,
Beneath the broad beech and the chestnut shade;
That taller tree, which of a nut was set
At his great birth where all the Muses met.
There in the writhèd bark are cut the names
Of many a sylvan, taken with his flames;
And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke
The lighter fauns to reach thy Lady’s Oak.
Thy copse too, named of Gamage, thou hast there,
That never fails to serve thee seasoned deer
When thou wouldst feast or exercise thy friends.
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies; and the tops,
Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sidney’s copse,
To crown thy open table, doth provide
The purpled pheasant with the speckled side;
The painted partridge lies in every field,
And for thy mess is willing to be killed.
And if the high-swollen Medway fail thy dish,
Thou hast thy ponds, that pay thee tribute fish,
Fat aged carps that run into thy net,
And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,
As loath the second draught or cast to stay,
Officiously at first themselves betray;
Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land
Before the fisher, or into his hand.
Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,
Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours.
The early cherry, with the later plum,
Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come;
The blushing apricot and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
And though thy walls be of the country stone,
They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan;
There’s none that dwell about them wish them down;
But all come in, the farmer and the clown,
And no one empty-handed, to salute
Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit.
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples; some that think they make
The better cheeses bring them, or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands, and whose baskets bear
An emblem of themselves in plum or pear.
But what can this (more than express their love)
Add to thy free provisions, far above
The need of such? whose liberal board doth flow
With all that hospitality doth know;
Where comes no guest but is allowed to eat,
Without his fear, and of thy lord’s own meat;
Where the same beer and bread, and selfsame wine,
This is his lordship’s shall be also mine,
And I not fain to sit (as some this day
At great men’s tables), and yet dine away.
Here no man tells my cups; nor, standing by,
A waiter doth my gluttony envy,
But gives me what I call, and lets me eat;
He knows below he shall find plenty of meat.
The tables hoard not up for the next day;
Nor, when I take my lodging, need I pray
For fire, or lights, or livery; all is there,
As if thou then wert mine, or I reigned here:
There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay.
That found King James when, hunting late this way
With his brave son, the prince, they saw thy fires
Shine bright on every hearth, as the desires
Of thy Penates had been set on flame
To entertain them; or the country came
With all their zeal to warm their welcome here.
What (great I will not say, but) sudden cheer
Didst thou then make ’em! and what praise was heaped
On thy good lady then, who therein reaped
The just reward of her high housewifery;
To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh,
When she was far; and not a room but dressed
As if it had expected such a guest!
These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all.
Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal.
His children thy great lord may call his own,
A fortune in this age but rarely known.
They are, and have been, taught religion; thence
Their gentler spirits have sucked innocence.
Each morn and even they are taught to pray,
With the whole household, and may, every day,
Read in their virtuous parents’ noble parts
The mysteries of manners, arms, and arts.
Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee
With other edifices, when they see
Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else,
May say their lords have built, but thy lord dwells.

Ah, the good old days, when a poet had to suck up to rich people, just to get a decent meal. At least now, they just have to kiss the Dean’s butt, to stay off of public assistance.

Great Garden Poems, Part Nine–Ah! Sun-Flower, by William Blake

Readers of this series will recall that Blake and his wife would spend time in their garden while totally nude. They must have also grown sunflowers.

Ah! Sun-flower


Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done. 

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: 
Arise from their graves and aspire, 
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

To finish with a quote from another favorite, “The One Song,” by Mark Strand.

Flowers bloom

Flowers die

More is less

I long for more

Comment–that sound like Blake’s fashion sense.

Great Garden Poems, Part Eight–A Bird, came down the Walk, by Emily Dickinson

The Belle of Amherst wrote more nature poems than you can swing a cat at, but this is one of the best. Also sometimes given the title of “In the Garden.”

A Bird, came down the Walk – (359)


A Bird, came down the Walk – 
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw, 

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –

He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. – 

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers, 
And rowed him softer Home –

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim. 

I have always been jealous of Ms. Dickinson, as the she was considered a “no-hoper” in college, because the powers that be thought that her soul, or chance for salvation, was without hope. She left the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary after one year. Her brother was allowed to go to Harvard. Guess which one is remembered now.

Great Garden Poems, Part Seven–Is my Team Ploughing? by A. E. Housman

I loved this poem the first time I read it, though it still gives me the willies. Maybe more farming than gardening, but it involves cultivation, so here it is.

Is My Team Ploughing


“Is my team ploughing,
   That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
   When I was man alive?”

Ay, the horses trample,
   The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
   The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
   Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
   Now I stand up no more?”

Ay the ball is flying,
   The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
   Stands up to keep the goal.

“Is my girl happy,
   That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
   As she lies down at eve?”

Ay, she lies down lightly,
   She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
   Be still, my lad, and sleep.

“Is my friend hearty,
   Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
   A better bed than mine?”

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
   I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
   Never ask me whose.

Thanks again to the incredible Poetry Foundation. Even more thanks to our favorite classical scholar who wrote this gem.


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