Poetry Feature

Editors' Prefaces
   Poetry I
   Poetry II
Special 8-Piece Cycle by D. Nurkse
Contributor Notes

© 2001 Margo Berdeshevsky (Contact)

~ . ~ . ~


Lovelace "To Althea"
Coleridge "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison"
Wordworth "Nuns Fret Not"
Hopkins "The Caged Skylark"


Wilde "Reading Gaol" (excerpt)
Rilke "The Panther" (new translation)
cummings "my love is building a building"
Crane "The Broken Tower" (excerpt)

~ . ~ . ~

To Althea, from Prison
Richard Lovelace

When Love with unconfinèd wings
   Hovers within my gates;
And my divine Althea brings
   To whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair,
   And fettered to her eye;
The birds, that wanton in the air,
   Know no such liberty.

When flowing cups run swiftly round
   With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with roses bound,
   Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
   When healths and draughts go free,
Fishes that tipple in the deep,
   Know no such liberty.

When (like committed linnets) I
   With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
   And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud, how good
   He is, how great should be,
Enlargèd winds that curl the flood,
   Know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
   Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
   That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my Love,
   And in my soul am free;
Angels alone that soar above,
   Enjoy such liberty.


~ .~

This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison
Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834)

In the June of 1797 some long-expected Friends paid a visit to the author's cottage; and on the morning of their arrival, he met with an accident [his wife poured scalding milk on his foot] which disabled him from walking during the whole time of their stay. One evening, when they had left him for a few hours, he composed the following lines in the garden-bower. (SC)

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimm'd mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again,
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge,
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell, of which I told;
The roaring dell, o'erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge;—that branchless ash,
Unsunn'd and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne'er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fann'd by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.

               Now, my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hunger'd after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.

               A delight
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark'd
Much that has sooth'd me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch'd
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov'd to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting'd, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight: and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
'Tis well to be bereft of promis'd good,
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share.
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross'd the mighty Orb's dilated glory,
While thou stood'st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o'er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.


~ . ~

Nuns Fret Not
William Wordsworth

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their private citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in the foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the sonnet's scanty plant of ground;
Pleased if some souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.


~ . ~

The Caged Skylark
Gerard Manley Hopkins

As a dare-gate skylark scanted in a dull cage,
        Man's mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells—
        That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life's age.

Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage
        Both sing sometimes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
        Yet both droop deadly sometimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.

Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl needs no rest—
Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest,
        But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.

Man's spirit will be flesh-bound, when found at best,
But uncumbered meadow-down is not distressed
        For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bones risen.

[ - - ] ~ . ~

Oscar Wilde

~ . ~

The Panther
R.M. Rilke
In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His gaze is weary from scanning the bars
blank as the nothing his look contains.
To him they seem the thousand bars that are
and beyond a thousand bars no world remains.

Soft, his gait, all grace and strength
revolves in the smallest orbitide
like a dance of force around a center
where will stands huge and stupefied.

On rare occasion, his pupils' curtain
parts without a sound. In comes imagery,
enters the tense stillness of his limbs
and ceases in the heart to be.

(from New Poems, 1907, 1908)
(Transl.: M Holm)

~ .

Der Panther
Im Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd' geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

~ . ~

my love is building a building
e.e. cummings


my love is building a building
around you, a frail slippery
house, a strong fragile house
(beginning at the singular beginning

of your smile) a skilful uncouth
prison, a precise clumsy
prison (building thatandthis into Thus,
Around the reckless magic of your mouth)

my love is building a magic, a discrete
tower of magic and (as i guess)

when Farmer Death (whom fairies hate) shall

crumble the mouth-flower fleet
He'll not my tower,
                            laborious, casual

where the surrounded smile

(from Sonnets - Actualities)

~ . ~

The Broken Tower
Hart Crane

The bell-rope that gathers God at dawn
Dispatches me as though I dropped down the knell
Of a spent day—to wander the cathedral lawn
From pit to crucifix, feet chill on steps from hell.

Have you not heard, have you not seen that corps
Of shadows in the tower, whose shoulders sway
Antiphonal carillons launched before
The stars are caught and hived in the sun's ray?

The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;
And swing I now not where. Their tongues engrave
Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score
Of broken intervals. …And I, their sexton slave!

[ … ]

And builds, within, a tower that is not stone
(Not stone can jacket heaven)—but slip
Of pebbles—visible wings of silence down
In azure circles, widening as they dip

The matrix of the heart, lift down the eye
That shrines the quiet lake and swells a tower …
The commodious, tall decorum of that sky
Unseals her earth, and lifts love in its shower.


~ . ~ . ~