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Mr. Yeats, would you please step forward. October 8, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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OMG! Here we are posting about life and so forth here at Poor Richard’s Almanac while over in the UK it’s apparently National Poetry Day. Yaaaa!!! Now we feel like such rubes.

Our friend Ben of course wanted to seize the opportunity to post an original poem in honor of the day, but was dissuaded by Silence Dogood, who pointed out that OFB had already posted an original poem (“Hawk Watching”) just last week. “How about something by Yeats?” she said.

Well, alrighty then. We love poets from Homer to Milosz and Transtromer, Walcott and Heaney. But when push comes to shove, we love William Butler Yeats. So here is a short and stunning poem by Mr. Yeats, one among many we could have chosen, but one that rings in the memory as if sounded on a brass gong:

                   That the Night Come

She lived in storm and strife,

Her soul had such desire

For what proud death may bring

That it could not endure 

The common good of life,

But lived as ’twere a king

That packed his marriage day

With banneret and pennon,

Trumpet and kettledrum,

And the outrageous cannon,

To bundle time away

That the night come.


Hawk Watching September 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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This is the time of the great autumn migration, when hawks, eagles, falcons, and other birds (and monarch butterflies) migrate in their thousands over the Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania on their long flight south for the winter. At Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, which is part of the Kittatinny Ridge, on a good day you can see an awe-inspiring number of thrilling birds of prey (collectively known as raptors), and it’s always exciting to see the monarchs drift past like flakes of living fire.

The reason the raptors and others follow the Kittatinny like an aerial road is that the ridge produces thermals, currents of warm air that can bear the birds and butterflies along almost effortlessly. They can glide on the thermals rather than having to constantly flap their wings, so by riding the thermals they save precious energy for the arduous flight.

To see a raptor swept up by a thermal is amazing. You’re watching a hawk, let’s say, flying along, when it suddenly shoots up into the air, in seconds becoming a mere speck in the sky before disappearing from view completely. Whoa! Where did it go?!!

Another thing about birds of prey: Like people, they have what are known as sighted brains, because for both, sight is the primary sense and it’s through sight that we receive most of our information. Sitting at North Lookout, the highest overview at Hawk Mountain, and looking way, way out at the patchwork of farms and forest spreading out below, our friend Ben can only imagine the scene from a hawk’s eye view.

One last thing before we get to the “art part” of this post: Much of the language used about raptors dates back to the days of falconry. When a falcon or other bird of prey drops down from the sky onto its prey, it’s said to “stoop.”

This poem commemorates a beloved relative who, in the autumn of the year, made the final migration that awaits us all.

(Once again, sorry about the spacing between lines. I don’t know why WordPress does this or how to fix it. Please bear with me!)

                       Hawk Watching

Through the sighted brain of a bird,

Movement or light, pressure of wind

Carries you to my boundaries.

Over ragged amaranth stalks

A Cooper’s hawk circles and stoops.

Now that the ground is conversational

And trees have lost all but the highest tones,

You’re brought to mind, stark Northern bird

Swept on the ridge and hurled

Up the warm air from this sighted world.

Through the green fuse. July 14, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was much struck by a quote from the naturalist Donald Culross Peattie in Benjamin Vogt’s recent post, “Chlorophyll = Blood” on his blog, The Deep Middle (http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com/). I urge you to head on over there and read the entire quote, which Peattie wrote of his study of chlorophyll in the lab. But here’s the core: “Chlorophyll is green blood,” wrote Peattie. “It is designed to capture light; blood is designed to capture oxygen.” What an image! What romantic, passionate, hot-blooded soul would not trade mere air for light?

Such a soul was Dylan Thomas, who has always stood in our friend Ben’s mind as the poet of spring, of chlorophyll, of light, though his best-loved poems (the birthday poems, “Do not go gentle into that good night”) are about endings, not beginnings. Perhaps I think of springtime in conjunction with Thomas because death took him so young—he was just 39—or because he has been with me from my own green beginnings: My mother read me Thomas’s poems in the cradle. I grew up with his cadences, his fabulous imagery, and by the time I was five, I could read his poems, too, though it took somewhat longer to pass from sound to understanding.

Whatever the reasons, when I saw Peattie’s “Chlorophyll is green blood. It is designed to capture light,” I thought of another favorite Dylan Thomas poem, “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.” Though it is about death as well as life, it too “is designed to capture light.” I present it here, so those who know and love it can come again to spend time with an old friend, and those who come to it now for the first time (I envy you, coming upon “How time has ticked a heaven round the stars” for the first time) can feel the vitality that words in the hands of a master can create. (Apologies for my Luddite limitations; I don’t know how to close up the lines on WordPress.) Like all good lyric poems, it should be read aloud, so you can hear and feel as well as see the music:

             The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower


The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees

Is my destroyer.

And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose

My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.


The force that drives the water through the rocks

Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams

Turns mine to wax.

And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins

How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.


The hand that whirls the water in the pool

Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind

Hauls my shroud sail.

And I am dumb to tell the hanging man

How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.


The lips of time leech to the fountain head;

Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood

Shall calm her sores.

And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind

How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.


And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb

How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.