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Old 04-01-2017, 01:41 PM
Ian Hoffman Ian Hoffman is offline
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Location: Berkeley, CA
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Default Hidden Gems

I was reading Thomas Hardy's Complete recently (I did not have time to finish it, but I made it fairly far), and I found that, aside from the poems I and everyone knows—"Channel Firing" and "The Darkling Thrush"—there was the occasional poem that I'd never heard and which absolutely bowled me over. Perhaps these poems aren't as unknown as I thought, but I'd like to share them here and see what you all think:

Mad Judy

When the hamlet hailed a birth
...Judy used to cry:
When she heard our christening mirth
...She would kneel and sigh.
She was crazed, we knew, and we
Humoured her infirmity.

When the daughters and the sons
...Gathered them to wed,
And we like-intending ones
...Danced till dawn was red,
She would rock and mutter "More
Comers to this stony shore!"

When old Headsman Death laid hands
...On a babe or twain,
She would feast, and by her brands
...Sing her songs again.
What she liked we let her do,
Judy was insane, we knew.

This poem is great for two reasons: one, here Hardy resists his often obnoxious tendency to ramble on forever (it's hardly a surprise he was a novelist), distilling his observation into three rather morbid, pointed stanzas. And secondly, the last line remains utterly contemporary in its sad wisdom and humour. Also, this poem seems to foreshadow Yeats' "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop", though I doubt the influence is direct.

Then there's this:

The Church-Builder

The church flings forth a battled shade
...Over the moon-blanched sward:
The church; my gift; whereto I paid
...My all in hand and hoard;
......Lavished my gains
......With stintless pains
......To glorify the Lord.

I squared the broad foundations in
...Of ashlared masonry;
I moulded mullions thick and thin,
...Hewed fillet and ogee;
......I circleted
......Each sculptured head
......With nimb and canopy.

I called in many a craftsmaster
...To fix emblazoned glass,
To figure Cross and Sepulchure
...On dossal, boss, and brass.
......My gold all spent,
......My jewels went
......To gem the cups of Mass.

I borrowed deep to carve the screen
...And raise the ivoried Rood;
I parted with my small demesne
...To make my owings good.
......Heir-looms unpriced
......I sacrificed,
......Until debt-free I stood.

So closed the task. "Deathless the Creed
...Here substanced!" said my soul:
"I heard me bidden to this deed,
...And straight obeyed the call.
......Illume this fane,
......That not in vain
......I build it, Lord of all!"

But, as it chanced me, then and there
...Did dire misfortunes burst;
My home went waste for lack of care,
...My sons rebelled and curst;
......Till I confessed
......That aims the best
......Were looking like the worst.

Enkindled by my votive work
...No burning faith I find;
The deeper thinkers sneer and smirk,
...And give my toil no mind;
......From nod and wink
......I read they think
......That I am fool and blind.

My gift to God seems futile, quite;
...The world moves as erstwhile;
And powerful Wrong on feeble Right
...Tramples in olden style.
......My faith burns down,
......I see no crown;
......But Cares, and Griefs, and Guile.

So now, the remedy? Yea, this:
...I gently swing the door
Here, of my fane—no soul to wis—
...And cross the patterned floor
......To the rood-screen
......That stands between
......The nave and inner chore.

The rich red windows dim the moon,
...But little light need I;
I mount the prie-dieu, lately hewn
...From woods of rarest dye;
......Then from below
......My garment, so,
......I draw this cord, and tie

One end thereof around the beam
...Midway 'twixt Cross and truss:
I noose the nethermost extreme,
...And in ten seconds thus
......I journey hence—
......To that land whence
......No rumour reaches us.

Well: Here at morn they'll light on one
...Dangling in mockery
Of what he spent his substance on
...Blindly and uselessly!...
......"He might," they'll say,
......"Have built, some way,
......A cheaper gallows-tree!"

So: this one is good because, although it is rather long (in typically Hardy-ish style), it is also surprising. Too many of Hardy's long poems just kind of drag on, but this one certainly packs a punch. The enjambment of "and tie// One end thereof" is particularly uncharacteristic and brutally effective. The idea that the whole poem is spoken by a dead man is not wholly uncharacteristic of Hardy ("Channel Firing" is the same), but that he keeps that surprise for the end is also ingenious.

Anyway. I thought I'd post these up here and see if anyone else is familiar with them.

I also invite people to share poems they feel might be "hidden gems"—poems that particularly resonated with you, but are not well-known—along with a short paragraph or the like about why you like them.

Last edited by Ian Hoffman; 04-01-2017 at 01:43 PM.
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Old 04-01-2017, 02:06 PM
Orwn Acra's Avatar
Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is online now
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I love this one by Hardy, an atomism in reverse, which Aaron Poochigian showed me:

Proud Songster

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
INDENTAs if all Time were theirs.

These are brand new birds of twelvemonths' growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales,
But only particles of grain,
INDENTAnd earth, and air, and rain.
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Old 04-01-2017, 10:23 PM
Ian Hoffman Ian Hoffman is offline
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Yeah, that's a good one. The rhyming is quite adventurous, even for TH.
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Old 04-01-2017, 11:57 PM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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Location: Arizona, USA
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Holy moly - I'll be busy in this thread.

My first two recommendations are very old poems, but so worth reading that I almost can't believe we don't hear of them more often.

The first is Gavin Douglas, The Palis of Honoure. See a bit of info here. Ezra Pound was one of Douglas's champions.

Here's just one stanza. There are scads more I could cite that are just as beautiful:

The durris and the windois all war breddit
With massie gold, quhairof the fynes scheddit.
With birneist euir baith Palace and towris
War theikit weill, maist craftelie that cled it,
For sa the quhitlie blanschit bone ouirspred it,
Midlit with gold anamalit all colouris,
Importurait of birdis and sweit flouris,
Curious knottis, and mony hie deuise,
Quhilks to behald war perfite paradise.


The second is another great poem by the Scottish poet, David Lindsay, called The Dreme.

I really, really want to cite another very old Scottish poem, but I can't hunt it up, and I can't remember the author. The poem was called "The Cherry...something" Slaw, shaw...

Anyway, I'll find it. It's one of the best poems I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-24-2017 at 11:58 PM.
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Old 04-02-2017, 09:17 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Good morning, Ian,

Favorite Hardy poems. This one I like enough to copy the whole thing out. Though I believe it's pretty well-known:

The Voice

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Traveling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I: faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

No comment, really. I just find this remarkably beautiful verse, with its weird rhythms. Perhaps especially the last quatrain. It all seems to step outside of time.

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Old 04-02-2017, 09:24 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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My sister gave me Gavin Douglas's Virgil in 2013. I'm embarrassed to see I'm still on page 96. I find the Scots slow going...

"Ad hoc, ad loc., and quid pro quo;
So little time, so much to know."

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Old 04-02-2017, 10:32 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is online now
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I was going to post that Hardy, John. There is an alternative line 11 that goes: "you being ever consigned to existlessness" which I prefer. The sudden shift in meter in the last stanza works beautifully with the content, and there is a version I've seen printed (I don't know which is definitive) that indents in the fourth stanza all but the third line -- a nice visual effect.

Of George Herbert, everyone knows Easter Wings and the Love poems. This is a lesser known favorite:


JESU is in my heart, his sacred name
Is deeply carved there: but th’other week
A great affliction broke the little frame,
Ev’n all to pieces: which I went to seek:
And first I found the corner, where was J,
After, where ES, and next where U was graved,
When I had got these parcels, instantly
I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
That to my broken heart he was I ease you,
INDENTINDENTAnd to the whole is J E S U.

So charming and lovely! Herbert's play with the letters' sound and shape feels modern, but there is a long history of utilizing letters for mystical means. Also, my ex-boyfriend's last name is De Jesus, so it had extra meaning then.
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Old 04-02-2017, 10:51 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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I have the feeling that in this forum, we can chat about poems we love? Orwn, thank you for giving me that alternative line: my Hardy is an old edition (1923), and lacks variants. I like that more as well. In defense of this old edition, it does indent the final stanza, I just don't know how to tab (or use italics or bold) in these reply windows. I guess I can format in Word and then post.
I once told a friend I thought Herbert was "nice", and she said "What do you mean? He is great" , which on reflection I found apt. Limpid stuff, and evidently deeply felt. I open Herbert at random, to "Time":

Meeting with Time, 'Slack thing,' said I,
'Thy sithe is dull; whet it, for shame.'
No marvell, sir,' he did replie,
'If it at length deserve some blame;
But where one man would have me grinde it,
Twentie for one too sharp do finde it.'

And so on.

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Old 04-02-2017, 01:05 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Funny, Ian, I've been reading a Hardy poem every day or two out of my Complete for a few months, sometimes reading the same ones a few times before moving forward--so I'm not very far into it.

One thing I've been most interested in is variety of verse forms. He's ever experimenting the effects form has on rhythm in ways I've been trying to replicate in drafts. Sometimes I'll find a narrative of his utterly dull, but be enchanted by the form.

For instance, I don't love "The Alarm," but its rhythm has been haunting me for weeks:

.....In a ferny byway
.....Near the great South-Wessex Highway,
...A homestead raised its breakfast-smoke aloft;
The dew damps still lay steamless, for the sun had made no skyway,
..........And twilight cloaked the croft.
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Old 04-02-2017, 01:32 PM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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I'd be remiss if I didn't post what is perhaps my favorite poem in free verse.

The following is taken a wee tad out of context, since it's an untitled part of a long series called "Heart and Clock", but it works perfectly fine as a stand-alone poem. It will help to know that Reznikoff was Jewish and wrote extensively on Jewish history and biblical themes.


I will write songs against you,
enemies of my people; I will pelt you
with the winged seeds of the dandelion;
I will marshall against you
the fireflies of the dusk.

- Charles Reznikoff

To me, this is one of the greatest expressions of passive resistance I've ever read. It's "turn the other cheek" in five lines. I have an overly aggressive older brother I share an apartment with, and he's in love with his fists, his guns, and his assumptions about power: ie, he believes power and brute force are equal. As much as I explain to him that power, true power, does not require muscle to back it up, he simply gets angry and warns me about "running my mouth". When I tell him the only way he can silence me is to kill me, he shakes with rage, unable to understand. I've taken a beating from him a few times now, and the more he tries to hurt me, the more his disease affects him. I always come out unscathed, except for the odd knot on the noggin.

Edited in: I should mention that my brother outweighs me by about a hundred pounds. He's a big guy. I would be absolutely insane to strike him back, as that would give him license to REALLY pound on me, and I always remind him of this fact. Nonetheless, I stand right in his face and tell him exactly what I think, and I don't mince words. The other night, after he clubbed me in the back of the head with his fat mitt, I turned and told him point blank, "You're the stupidest man I've ever known." (And he's also a genius. I think true stupidity requires intelligence.) The best thing about this relationship is that we love each other, and I know he won't ever really try to bash my brains in - unless and until I start swinging my baby hands. But that won't happen. So, he ends up crying and apologizing, and we make little steps toward tearing him away from his need for violence.

Turning the other cheek is not about allowing someone to have power over you, as some people imagine; it's about considering the source, about rising above brute aggression and violence with reason and patience - and Love. When we meet violence with violence, we feed the animal in the idiot who resorted to his knuckles when he realized he had run out of ideas (to paraphrase H.G. Wells), and worse than that, we feed the animal in ourselves.

All that being said, I don't advocate pacifism as a political answer to the dangerous idiots in the world. Far from it. Pacifism is fine for an individual, in certain situations where it will be more productive than swinging one's mitts; but as a collective effort, it puts innocent people in harm's way.

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-24-2017 at 11:58 PM.
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