Poem – Rumi on Dancing

There’s a kind of spooky new idea in physics that two tiny particles far away from each other can “communicate” with each other and do it faster than the speed of light. There’s an idea in philosophy that the self is an illusion. I’m grappling with what this means. But long ago, Rumi saw that “you” and “I” were illusions. I feel like Rumi is saying the same truth as the physicists; I just find Rumi’s tone a lot more comforting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement#Meaning_of_entanglement

When you feel your lips becoming infinite
and sweet, like the moon in a sky
when you feel that spaciousness inside
Shams of Tabriz will be there too.


The sun is love. The lover,
a speck circling the sun,

A Spring wind moves to dance
any branch that isn’t dead.


Something opens our wings. Something
makes boredom and hurt disappear.
Someone fills the cup in front of us.
We taste only sacredness.


Held like this, to draw in milk,
no will, tasting clouds of milk,
never so content.


I stand up, and this one of me
turns into a hundred of me.
They say I circle around you.
Nonsense. I circle around me.


I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside!


Real value comes with madness,
matzub below, scientist above.

Whoever finds love
beneath hurt and grief

disappears into emptiness
with a thousand new disguises.

(a matzub is a person in ecstasy)


Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

Note: Dancing just means finding joy in movement. You don’t have to be Fred Astaire.

Image by http://hypnothalamus.deviantart.com/



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Poem – Chekhov on Sakhalin – Seamus Heaney


Chekhov on Sakhalin by Seamus Heaney

So, he would pay his ‘debt to medicine‘.

But first he drank cognac by the ocean

with his back to all he travelled north to face.

His head was swimming free as the troikas

Of Tyumin, he looked down from the rail

Of his thirty years and saw a mile

Into himself as if he were clear water:

Lake Baikhal from the deckrail of the steamer.

That far north, Siberia was south.

Should it have been an ulcer in the mouth,

The cognac that the Moscow literati

Packed off with him to a penal colony -

Him, born, you may say, under the counter?

At least that meant he knew its worth. No cantor

In full throat by the iconostasis

Got holier joy than he got from that glass

That shone and warmed like diamonds, warming

On some pert young cleavage in a salon,

Inviolable and affronting.

He felt the glass go cold in the midnight sun.

When he staggered up and smashed it on the stones

It rang as clearly as the convictschains

That haunted him. In the months to come

It rang on like the burden of his freedom

To try for the right tone – not tract, nor thesis -

And walk away from floggings. He who thought to squeeze

His slave’s blood out and waken the free man

Shadowed a convict guide through Sakhalin

Russian writer Anton Chekhov went to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island (Russian territory north of Japan) for the cause of prison reform, He interviewed thousands of convicts and compiled a census.

On the boat to Sakhalin, Chekhov enjoyed a glass of cognac (“The cognac that the Moscow literati/ Packed off with him to a penal colony”). When he finished the cognac, he threw the glass to the floor as is Russian tradition (“When he staggered up and smashed it on the stones”). He feels like a hypocrite because he is enjoying the luxury of fine liquor on a journey to witness hardship.

Two sounds will haunt Chekhov on his journey: the sound of his glass shattering and the sound of the convicts’ chains.

The burden of the knowledge Chekhov acquires on the treatment of prisoners also haunts him. Though one of history’s great authors, he struggles to offer a perspective that is neither “tract” nor “thesis.” At the same time, he will not let himself gloss over the brutality that he sees (“walk away from floggings.”)

Heaney too has confronted serious sociopolitical issues. He experienced “The Troubles” in the 7os and 80s in Ireland. He feels sympathetic to Chekhov.

Image by http://kamakaev.deviantart.com/

Thanks to David Fawbert, http://fawbie.com/2013/11/22/chekhov-on-sakhalin/.

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Song – “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood

“God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood

If tomorrow all the things were gone
I worked for all my life
And I had to start again
With just my children and my wife

I’d thank my lucky stars
To be living here today
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away

And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I’d gladly stand up next to you
And defend Her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt
I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.

From the lakes of Minnesota
To the hills of Tennessee
Across the plains of Texas
From sea to shining sea

From Detroit down to Houston
And New York to L.A.
Where’s pride in every American heart
And it’s time we stand and say

That I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I’d gladly stand up next to you
And defend Her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt
I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.

And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I’d gladly stand up next to you
And defend Her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt
I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.


If you’re American, you’ve probably heard this song more times than you can count. When you hear it, your brain probably goes into sleep mode and if you think about the song at all, the mental conversation is something like, “Oh yeah, there’s that really patriotic song again.” And that’s fine. But if I left things after seeing their superficial meanings, I wouldn’t be Asad123.

Isn’t there something a little funny about saying, “And I’m proud to be an American/ Where at least I know I’m free?” What is “at least” doing in there? See, “at least” isn’t a phrase you use in ideal circumstances. You use “at least” when you’re afraid you’re not getting anything and you want to hold on to one little thing. Here’s an example, “You can throw out my clothes but at least leave me one pair of khakis.” In a sense, the speaker (Lee Greenwood) is saying “You can get rid of all my cool American stuff like supersized fries, giant SUV’s, Wal-Marts as big as European capitals, but at least leave me my freedom.”

And though it’s subtle, I can’t help but detect of whiff of the smell of fear in this song. Now look at how this song begins.

If tomorrow all the things were gone
I worked for all my life
And I had to start again
With just my children and my wife

Whoa, that’s sad. One day you have everything. The next day, everything’s gone – the house, the car, the gadgets – except the wife and kids. Then he says that he’d rebuild all he lost and thank God for the opportunity which is fine. But what I wonder about is – why is he afraid of this happening? Isn’t because America is a place where it’s far too likely that you can spend your whole life building up a bank account that can one day, through no sin greater than bad luck, drop down to zero?

There is no safety net in America, not one that can be counted on when it matters. And maybe there shouldn’t be one. Maybe that’s the price of that freedom we are so oft told “isn’t free.”

Image by abcartattack, http://abcartattack.deviantart.com/


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Poem – “One Third of the Calendar” Ogden Nash


In this poem, Ogden Nash whines
 about being a parent in the wintertime. 

One Third of the Calendar
In January everything freezes. 
We have two children. Both are she'ses. 
This is our January rule: 
One girl in bed, and one in school.
In February the blizzard whirls. 
We own a pair of little girls. 
Blessings upon of each the head –– 
The one in school and the one in bed.
March is the month of cringe and bluster. 
Each of our children has a sister. 
They cling together like Hansel and Gretel, 
With their noses glued to the benzoin kettle.
April is made of impetuous waters 
And doctors looking down throats of daughters. 
If we had a son too, and a thoroughbred, 
We'd have a horse, 
And a boy, 
And two girls 
In bed. 

Image by deviantart's SexyKnees



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Poem “I Desire” by Allama Muhammad Iqbal

Love for the Divine and the desire for cosmic union are so hard to capture in words. It’s so abstract. It lacks the signifiers we are used to seeing in human desire like blushing or embraces. But look at the line, “I just want something unbearable to test my fortitude.” The poet combines the insight that God overwhelms the senses with the idea that loving God is the greatest task a human can undertake.

I want to have the extremes of your Love,

See, how silly I am, wishing for the unachievable.

I don’t care if you maltreat me or promise to unveil your beauty

I just want something unbearable to test my fortitude


Let the God-fearing people dwell in Paradise.

For, instead I want to be face to face with you.


O fellows, I am here for a few moments, as a guest,

Like the morning star I will fade and vanish in a few moments.


I disclosed the secret in public,

I need to be punished for being so rude.




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Poem – Queen-Anne’s Lace- William Carlos Williams

Queen Annes LaceFrom Cliff’s Notes
“With a botanist’s meticulous eye, Williams composed “Queen Anne’s Lace” (1923), a minutely detailed, impressionistic study of the small white blooms that form the compact flower head known as Queen Anne’s lace. A member of the carrot family, it is a standard among American wildflowers and thus often overlooked as nothing special. The poet’s transformation of the white flower into sexual stirring demonstrates a ready embrace of beauty and passion.
Williams, a master of surprise, disarms the reader with a fresh approach to sexual attraction. The irony of the flower’s “taking / the field by force” reverses the romantic notion of femininity compromised by heavy-handed male passion. As though examining a human patient, the poet-speaker imagines arousing the flower to “the fibres of her being.” Implicit in his reverie is the inborn flaw, the purple center that mars the unblemished whiteness of each stalk. Williams expresses its uniqueness in an optical corollary: If the flower were totally white, the field would vanish in the unity of color. As it exists in nature, the flower’s modified purity halts the scene from “[going] over” into the nothingness of perfection.”
From enotes:
“In Poets of Reality (1969), critic J. Hillis Miller observes that “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” also admirably represents “Williams’s power to charge a whole scene with sexual meaning,” a “constant mode of his relation to the world” that is demonstrated throughout his work. Indeed, the poem reflects the relaxed sexual mores of the 1920’s in the United States, for Williams openly depicts the flower-woman’s sensual arousal and rapture under the sun-poet’s touch. The poem does not, on the other hand, embody the era’s new freedoms for women (for example, the right to vote guaranteed by ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in August, 1920). Displaying his opposition to such freedoms, Williams portrays the woman and the flower in “Queen-Ann’s-Lace” as both earthbound and submissive. In contrast, the sun and the man that touch them are unrestrained and dominant. The flower may thus prevail over “the grass/ [which] does not raise above it” and take “the field by force,” but it blossoms only wherever the male sun’s “hand has lain.” Likewise, the woman can only respond to the man’s erotic touch, which fulfills her “pious wish to whiteness,” purifies her, and makes her more than “nothing.” She (and the flower which represents her) may be lovely and sensual, but she owes her existence to the poetic hand and imagination that created her.”
Her body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot* taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over—
or nothing.
*Wild Carrot is another name for Queen-Anne’s Lace
Image by deviantart’s Althytrion
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Poem – The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd – Sir Walter Raleigh


“The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” is exactly what it says it is: a poem from a girl to a young shepherd boy, written in response to a poem said girl originally received from the aforementioned boy. That poem is Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (see yesterday’s post, http://asad123.com/2015/01/11/poem-passionate-shepherd-love-christopher-marlowe/.

Straightforward though the title may be, it points out an interesting facet of literary culture during the 1600s. What we haven’t made a big deal about is the fact that the kind of poetic dialogue that Marlowe and Raleigh have going on here is actually not that unusual. That’s right—people wrote “replies” and “responses” to other people’s poems all the time.  It’s somewhat similar to fan fiction on the internet today. If Marlowe is J.K. Rowling and “The Passionate Shepherd” is the first Harry Potter book, then Raleigh is a teenage fan and his poem is a piece of fan fiction where Harry and Hermione have six kids.

Sir Walter Raleigh is quite a good poet, though he’s rarely recognized as such. He had a rather remarkable life in which he was a politician, spy, explorer, and writer. Perhaps if he had been chiefly a poet his work would have more popularity today.

The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd


If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.
Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel* becometh dumb,
The rest complains of cares to come.
The flowers do fade, and wanton fields,
To wayward winter reckoning yields,
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.
Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.
Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
The Coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.
But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee, and be thy love.
*Philomela – a tragic heroine from Greek myth. Philomela’s brother-in-law, Tereus, raped her and cut out her tongue. She prayed to the gods for help. They turned her into a nightingale so Tereus would leave her alone.
A Modern poet takes Sir Walter Raleigh’s side:
Image by deviantart’s Pandora-Effekt
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Poem – The Passionate Shepherd to His Love – Christopher Marlowe


Love does not have to be complicated. The shepherd in this poem offers his love a simple life of natural pleasures. It is remarkably enticing.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Christopher Marlowe
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks, 
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks, 
By shallow rivers to whose falls 
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies, 
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold, 
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

Image belongs to amaltheea.deviantart.com/
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Poem – A Red, Red Rose – Robert Burns

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796

A Red, Red Rose

Robert Burns


This poem is quite old, about as old as the U.S. Constitution. I find the language here surprisingly easy. The speaker certainly has a lot of love for his sweetheart. He believes his love will last longer than the oceans (“Till a’the seas gang dry.”) Burns uses unique spellings for words like “love” and “melody.” Burns was a proud Scotsman. When I read this poem, I find myself slipping into a Scottish accent. Try it and see.


A Red, Red Rose


O, my luve is like a red, red rose,

That’s newly sprung in June.

O my luve is like the melodie

That’s sweetly played in tune.


As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I,

And I will have thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.


Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun!

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.


And fare thee weel, my only luve,

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

Though it were ten thousand mile!

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Poem – “Nature is What We See” Emily Dickinson

“Nature” is what we see


“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.



Image by deviantart’s deadspare

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