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Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Poets, Summer, Read

Robert Graves (1895–1985).

From Fairies and Fusiliers. 1918.

Sorley’s Weather

WHEN outside the icy rain
Comes leaping helter-skelter,
Shall I tie my restive brain
Snugly under shelter?

Shall I make a gentle song
Here in my firelit study,
When outside the winds blow strong
And the lanes are muddy?

With old wine and drowsy meats
Am I to fill my belly?
Shall I glutton here with Keats?
Shall I drink with Shelley?

Tobacco’s pleasant, firelight’s good:
Poetry makes both better.
Clay is wet and so is mud,
Winter rains are wetter.

Yet rest there, Shelley, on the sill,
For though the winds come frorely,
I’m away to the rain-blown hill
And the ghost of Sorley.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Graves, born in London in 1895. His passion was poetry, but he wrote novels to support himself: "Prose books are the show dogs I breed and sell to support my cat." He wrote historical novels such as I, Claudius (published in 1934) and Claudius the God (published in 1934), as well as his memoir about WWI, Goodbye to All That (published in 1929). He said, "Nine-tenths of English poetic literature is the result either of vulgar careerism or of a poet trying to keep his hand in. Most poets are dead by their late twenties."

Bed in Summer by Stevenson, Robert Louis (1850–1894). From A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods. 1913.

IN winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

Just a day for poetry--thinking of July, my favorite month, how fast it goes, I can never seem to love it enough, every day, the summer I love, heat, blue sky, humidity, long days, nights of screaming locust. Mostly good memories of childhood summers, when July did last forever, sleeping late every day, playing, vacation with my dad, heaven.

The Graves poem--calling on Keats and Shelley, and leaving me to wonder--who is Sorley?

And the Stevenson poem--these I love the most. The first poems I remember, a little book we had. The Land of Counterpane--Up In a Swing--and this one. Surely still a little kid's summer complaint.

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