Friday, February 4, 2011
Numbers 59 and 60: Keats, Shelley, Hunt- The Super Bowl of Poetry
To the Nile
Son of the old Moon-mountains African!
Chief of the Pyramid and Crocodile!
We call thee fruitful, and that very while
A desert fills our seeing's inward span:
Nurse of swart nations since the world began,
Art thou so fruitful? or dost thou beguile
Such men to honour thee, who, worn with toil,
Rest for a space 'twixt Cairo and Decan?
O may dark fancies err! They surely do;
'Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste
Of all beyond itself. Thou dost bedew
Green rushes like our rivers, and dost taste
The pleasant sunrise. Green isles hast thou too,
And to the sea as happily dost haste.
It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,--
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.
Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
As of a world left empty of its throng,
And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
'Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
Our own calm journey on for human sake.
-- Leigh Hunt
To The Nile
Month after month the gathered rains descend
Drenching yon secret Aethiopian dells,
And from the desert's ice-girt pinnacles
Where Frost and Heat in strange embraces blend
On Atlas, fields of moist snow half depend.
Girt there with blasts and meteors Tempest dwells
By Nile's aereal urn, with rapid spells
Urging those waters to their mighty end.
O'er Egypt's land of Memory floods are level
And they are thine, O Nile--and well thou knowest
That soul-sustaining airs and blasts of evil
And fruits and poisons spring where'er thou flowest.
Beware, O Man--for knowledge must to thee,
Like the great flood to Egypt, ever be.
--Percy Bysshe Shelley
Hap Notes: Okay, you're just sitting around with your pals one night and you decide to have a little contest. Each of you will write a sonnet on the same topic. It must be in sonnet form. You get 15 minutes. Now, go! (if you really want to try this, here's a little refresher on sonnet forms: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonnet )
The above three poems were what Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and John Keats (1795-1821) came up with in 15 minutes on the chosen subject: the Nile.
If you need a little help understanding the poems here's a few clues, when Keats says "swarts" he's saying "swarthy", in Hunt's poem Seostris was a legendary king of Egypt, Shelley's Aethiopian is just Ethiopian spelled differently- also areal is aerial.
So who won? Well, you decide. Hunt, while a minor poet, wrote a couple of my favorite verses ("Jenny Kissed Me" and "Abou Ben Adhem"). His competition is not to be taken lightly.
Which one do I like better? Hmmmm. It changes every time I read them. I initially thought Keats had the weaker poem, but reading them just now I thought it was very good. I love Shelley so I lean, again, toward him. Hunt's poem is extremely good, though. I guess, today, I'll say I think the stronger poem is Hunt's with Shelley running a very close second.
Here's a little hint for understanding and reading Romantic poetry. Read it aloud. Pause with each comma. Stop for split second at each period. If there is no comma or period read it straight through, regardless of the stanza's form, to end. In other words, even if the line is, for example Keats' line "Green rushes like our rivers, and dost taste"-- don't stop your recitation at "taste" end it after "The pleasant sunrise. " It will all become clearer that way.
I'm counting this entry as two poems today. If you think I'm cheating, I'll add another one on Dec. 9 when we get there.
I'd love to see your 15 minute sonnet. You can post them here. I'll do one, too. And let's have the subject be the same as Hunt, Shelley and Keats: the Nile. Remember, you only get 15 minutes. Should be fun. No, really.