poetry

poetry month: Milne

And the last one for today.

First I’ve got to come clean: I never have been much of a Winnie the Pooh fan. Even before Disney got hold of that dopey bear, the stories didn’t make much of an impression on me.

But A.A. Milne also wrote poetry for children, and that I can’t get enough of. I read many of his poems to the Girlchild when she was little and she could recite along with me on her favorites.

This poem (you MUST read it outloud to get the full effect) is my all time favorite of his.

The King’s Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, “Certainly,
I’ll go and tell the cow
Now
Before she goes to bed.”

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told the Alderney:
“Don’t forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread.”

The Alderney said sleepily:
“You’d better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade
Instead.”

The Dairymaid
Said “Fancy!”
And went to
Her Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a little red:
“Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But marmalade is tasty, if
It’s very
Thickly
Spread.”

The Queen said
“Oh!”
And went to his Majesty:
“Talking of the butter for
The royal slice of bread,
Many people
Think that
Marmalade
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little
Marmalade
Instead?”

The King said,
“Bother!”
And then he said,
“Oh, deary me!”
The King sobbed, “Oh, deary me!”
And went back to bed.
“Nobody,”
He whimpered,
“Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!”

The Queen said,
“There, there!”
And went to
The Dairymaid.
The Dairymaid
Said, “There, there!”
And went to the shed.
The cow said,
“There, there!
I didn’t really
Mean it;
Here’s milk for his porringer
And butter for his bread.”

The queen took the butter
And brought it to
His Majesty.
The King said
“Butter, eh?”
And bounced out of bed.
“Nobody,” he said,
As he kissed her
Tenderly,
“Nobody,” he said,
As he slid down
The banisters,
“Nobody,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy man –
BUT
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!”

poetry month: Pushkin

Aleksandr Pushkin isn’t very well known these days, and that’s a shame. He was one of those bigger-than-life people who drag revolutions along behind them wherever they go. Pushkin was born in 1799 and showed huge promise right away — as a writer, poet, and activist. Everything he did was rebellious in the bigger sense of the word.

His biggest contribution to Russian literature was this: he gave it a kick in the pants. Formalism and pedantry had a strangehold on literature that Pushkin simply rejected. He used the vernacular in his work (oh no! the language people actually speak!) in a way that reinvigorated storytelling. Some would say that he single handedly created a new literary language by drawing aspects of all the traditions (including Church Slovanic) into a melodious whole. That is his claim to fame, but there is a downside: Pushkin is notoriously difficult to translate. Eugene Onegin (which was Pushkin’s own favorite work) is very short, but Vladimir Nobokov (yes, that Nobokov, of Lolita fame) couldn’t keep it under FOUR volumes when he translated it into English. Things were especially difficult because Onegin is a novel written in verse. In the end, it’s generally accepted that there will never be a translation that really captures Pushkin’s voice, his unique style and the nuances of his language. Even so, Onegin is very much worth reading. Here’s my favorite passage:

He who has lived and thought can never
Look on mankind without disdain;
He who has felt is haunted ever
By days that will not come again.
No more for him enchantment’s semblance,
On him the serpent of remembrance
Feeds, and remorse corrodes his heart.
All this is likely to impart
An added charm to conversation.

Aleksandr Pushkin. Eugene Onegin, 1:46

poetry month: Carolyn Forché

I’m a little late to the party (what else is new), but I thought I’d post a few poems over the next couple days.

To start, this one by Carolyn Forché:

Poem For Maya

Dipping our bread in oil tins
we talked of morning peeling
open our rooms to a moment
of almonds, olives and wind
when we did not yet know what we were.
The days in Mallorca were alike:
footprints down goat-paths
from the beds we had left,
at night the stars locked to darkness.
At that time we were learning
to dance, take our clothes
in our fingers and open
ourselves to their hands.
The veranera was with us.
For a month the almond trees bloomed,
their droppings the delicate silks
we removed when each time a touch
took us closer to the window where
we whispered yes, there on the intricate
balconies of breath, overlooking
the rest of our lives.