Posts Tagged poems. poetry

Favourite Poems LVII: Death

The first two lines — “Because I could not stop for Death,/He kindly stopped for me” — must be among the greatest opening lines of any poem.


Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

— Emily Dickenson


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A Poem for Victoria Day

By a poet hostile to her reign. “Good, you were good, we say,” he writes. “You had no wit to be evil.” Probably worth remembering on the commemoration of her birthday Victoria herself was not immune from controversy, and that debate on the value of monarchy is very old indeed. (No nursy or any other blog posts today — doing things traditionally associated with the holiday — planting the garden, a barbeque and maybe fireworks later.)

An address on her jubilee year.

Madam, you have done well!  Let others with praise unholy,
Speech addressed to a woman who never breathed upon earth,
Daub you over with lies or deafen your ears with folly,
I will praise you alone for your actual imminent worth.
Madam, you have done well!  Fifty years unforgotten
Pass since we saw you first, a maiden simple and pure.
Now when every robber landlord, capitalist rotten,
Hated oppressors, praise you—Madam, we are quite sure!

Never once as a foe, open foe, to the popular power,
As nobler kings and queens, have you faced us, fearless and bold:
No, but in backstairs fashion, in the stealthy twilight hour,
You have struggled and struck and stabbed, you have bartered and bought and sold!
Melbourne, the listless liar, the gentleman blood-beslavered,
Disraeli, the faithless priest of a cynical faith out-worn,
These were dear to your heart, these were the men you favoured.
Those whom the People loved were fooled and flouted and torn!

Never in one true cause, for your people’s sake and the light’s sake,
Did you strike one honest blow, did you speak one noble word:
No, but you took your place, for the sake of wrong and the night’s sake,
Ever with blear-eyed wealth, with the greasy respectable herd.
Not as some robber king, with a resolute minister slave to you,
Did you swagger with force against us to satisfy your greed:
No, but you hoarded and hid what your loyal people gave to you,
Golden sweat of their toil, to keep you a queen indeed!

Pure at least was your bed? pure was your Court?—We know not.
Were the white sepulchres pure?  Gather men thorns of grapes?
Your sons and your blameless spouse’s, certes, as Galahads show not.
Round you gather a crowd of bloated hypocrite shapes!
Never, sure, did one woman produce in such sixes and dozens
Such intellectual canaille as this that springs from you;
Sons, daughters, grandchildren, with uncles, aunts, and cousins,
Not a man or a woman among them—a wretched crew!

Madam, you have done well!  You have fed all these to repletion—
You have put a gilded calf beside a gilded cow,
And bidden men and women behold the forms of human completion—
Albert the Good, Victoria the Virtuous, for ever—and now!
But what to you were our bravest and best, man of science and poet,
Struggling for Light and Truth, or the Women who would be free?
Carlyle, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Arnold?  We know it—
Tennyson slavers your hand; Argyll fawns at your knee!

Good, you were good, we say.  You had no wit to be evil.
Your purity shines serene over Floras mangled and dead.
You wasted not our substance in splendour, in riot or revel—
You quietly sat in the shade and grew fat on our wealth instead.
Madam, you have done well!  To you, we say, has been given
A wit past the wit of women, a supercomputable worth.
Of you we can say, if not “of such are the Kingdom of Heaven,”
Of such (alas for us!), of such are the Kingdom of Earth!

— Francis Adams

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