Poem of the Day:

Well, as long as we're going to do old chestnuts along with more obscure stuff...

I don't know that any lover of Western literature or just poetry would call Keats "obscure". Hell, I've got the collected works of Keats, Blake, and Coleridge sitting right next to me at my desk... not to mention Traherne, Pater, and Valery (with Ferdowsi on top after pulling him off the shelf yesterday)

Ferdowsi may be "obscure" in the West but he's a towering figure in World Literature. And Keats? He's in my signature line.;)
Ancient Egyptian Love Song


-Ancient Egyptian dancers in a painting from the Tomb of Nebamun

One alone is my sister, having no peer:
More gracious than all other women.
Behold her, like Sothis rising
At the beginning of a good year:
Shining, precious, white of skin,
Lovely of eyes when gazing.
Sweet her lips when speaking:
She has no excess of word.
Long of neck, white of breast,
Her hair true Lapis Lazuli.
Her arms surpass gold,
Her fingers are like Lotuses...
Lovely when she strides upon the ground,
She has captured my heart in my embrace.

anon. translated by Michael V. Fox in The Song of Songs and Ancient Egyptian Love Songs

Now THIS is what I call "obscure." :) This ancient Egyptian poem predates the Hebrew Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) by 1000 years yet it may have been known in ancient Israel and a model (along with various Greek poems) for the Hebrew love poems. It is interesting that the Egyptian poem idealizes the fair "white-skinned" woman while the Song of Songs praises the dark-skinned Shulamith. The Egyptian ideal of the woman "white of skin" should not be mistaken as a preference for the white skinned women of European heritage, but rather, it is a preference for women of high social status who have never had to work under the sun... as the Hebrew Shulamith does.


-Shulamith/Song of Songs- Sibyl Barham

There are a couple of well-known instances of Western (European) poets singing the praises of dark-skinned lovers. Both are based upon one of the author's lovers... real women of extraordinary lives:

Shakespeare writes of his "Dark Lady" throughout his sonnets. She has been identified as Amelia Bassano, born in 1569 into a family of Venetian Jews who were court musicians to Queen Elizabeth I. At about the age of thirteen (not uncommon at the time) she became mistress to the fifty-six-year-old Lord Hunsdon, Henry VIII’s reputed son by Mary Boleyn. Hunsdon was in charge of the English theatre and would become the patron of the company that performed the Shakespearean plays. Amelia lived with Hundson for a decade, during which time she also had an affair with the playwright/poet, Christopher Marlowe. When she became pregnant, Amelia was exiled from court and next surfaces as the mysterious ‘dark lady’ in Shakespeare’s sonnets. At the age of forty-two, she became the first woman in England to publish a book of original poetry, employing linguistic features resembling the later Shakespearean plays. Some have gone as far as to suggest that she was more than Shakespeare's lover and muse, but also a co-author of some of his works. Of course, there have long been various conspiracy theories concerning Shakespeare's authorship because it was unbelievable to some that the greatest author in the English language was not born of the upper classes.


-Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" Amelia Bassano

Jeanne Duvall was a Haitian-born actress and dancer of French, Creole, and African heritage. She was an actress and the lover of the French poet, Charles Baudelaire for some 20 years. Baudelaire wrote multiple poems in homage to his "Mistress of Mistresses" and "Vénus Noire". She was painted by Courbet and Manet and photographed by Nadar.


-Jeanne Duvall as photographed by Nadar
Last edited:
This is a poem about an event that happened before my time, but happened in my home town. My mother remembered seeing the smoke from its burning when she was a little girl. Sad to say the President decided to hold his rally there at this time of more race riots 99 years later.

Silenced Cries
by James Coburn

I don’t remember the terror in Greenwood.
I wasn’t there. Never was it taught to me in history books.
1921 burning of the Black Wall Street in Tulsa by white mobs.
I know of racism. I saw the white nationalist march in Charlottesville.
White and black freedom fighters joined to counter them.
I once read a poem about slavery
On the grounds where a white mob fired down a hill
Outnumbering black men and women, a slaughter,
Whose lives and stories were silenced.
A rumor of a black man raping a white woman
Inflamed a weekend.
Festering fear.
Do you not hear the silenced cries?
Planes dropping burning balls of turpentine on rooftops.
Three hundred dead and more wounded.
Ten thousand blacks left homeless.
No one told me in school
Whose lives and stories were silenced.
Black innocents looked up;
Shooters aimed down.
Their story pursued higher ground.
So what do I know but clouds of smoke.
Skeletons of charred buildings of Greenwood
Once filled with restaurants, theaters, businesses thriving
Turning to ash, blackening the sky. Rising.
I read a poem about slavery on the battlefield
Where the Woody Guthrie Center stands.
Words and song dampen fear.
Memory is firm in the grass of Greenwood.
Survivors held stories in their heart
Where no mob may pass.
Even through years of lynching and segregation;
Even when white nationalism marches in Charlottesville,
Torches of dead flame
incite flies to hover on flesh.
Clans of darkness haunt despair
Until we stand united
And glory hallelujah is the call of the land.
What do I know but clouds of smoke
Once rose where memory presses green land.
I didn't mean Keats was obscure. I meant that La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a chestnut, as they call pieces of musical repertoire that have been played a million times.
As far as I know, Shula is a name that means peace or tranquility. A friend of mine is an Iranian Jew and her name is Shulamit. She told me that once. It is the feminine of Shlomo, which actually comes from shalom, meaning peace. :) I used to be represented by her. She has a rather cutting edge gallery in LA: Shulamit Nazarian Gallery.
This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke is, I think, my favourite poem. Below is a coarse translation.

Vorfrühling/Early Spring

Härte schwand. Auf einmal legt sich Schonung
an der Wiesen aufgedecktes Grau.
Kleine Wasser ändern die Betonung.
Zärtlichkeiten, ungenau,

greifen nach der Erde aus dem Raum.
Wege gehen weit ins Land und zeigens.
Unvermutet siehst du seines Steigens
Ausdruck in dem leeren Baum.

Harshness fades. Softness suddenly lays itself
Upon the meadows blanketed in grey.
Rivulets change their tones.
Tendernesses, hesitantly,

reach toward earth from space.
Rays reach far inland and point.
Unexpectedly you see expression
of its rising in the empty trees.

Speaking of Rilke's Art connections, Rilke was married to the sculptor, Clara Westhoff and worked for some time as Rodin's secretary. It was Rodin who taught the poet the value of careful observation.

I am also intrigued to discover that Rilke spent some time in Russia with the family of Boris Pasternak who was recognized as the great Russian poet of the period and is frequently compared to Rilke.
Didn't find an appropriate painting to go with it but I've loved this poem by Longfellow since childhood.
The Song of Hiawatha

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
All the air was full of freshness,
All the earth was bright and joyous,
And before him, through the sunshine,
Westward toward the neighboring forest
Passed in golden swarms the Ahmo,
Passed the bees, the honey-makers,
Burning, singing in the sunshine.
Bright above him shone the heavens,
Level spread the lake before him;
From its bosom leaped the sturgeon,
Sparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
On its margin the great forest
Stood reflected in the water,
Every tree-top had its shadow,
Motionless beneath the water.
From the brow of Hiawatha
Gone was every trace of sorrow,
As the fog from off the water,
As the mist from off the meadow.
With a smile of joy and triumph,
With a look of exultation,
As of one who in a vision
Sees what is to be, but is not,
Stood and waited Hiawatha.
Toward the sun his hands were lifted,
Both the palms spread out against it,
And between the parted fingers
Fell the sunshine on his features,
Flecked with light his naked shoulders,
As it falls and flecks an oak-tree
Through the rifted leaves and branches.
O'er the water floating, flying,
Something in the hazy distance,
Something in the mists of morning,
Loomed and lifted from the water,
Now seemed floating, now seemed flying,
Coming nearer, nearer, nearer.
Was it Shingebis the diver?
Or the pelican, the Shada?
Or the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah?
Or the white goose, Waw-be-wawa,
With the water dripping, flashing,
From its glossy neck and feathers?
It was neither goose nor diver,
Neither pelican nor heron,
O'er the water floating, flying,
Through the shining mist of morning,
But a birch canoe with paddles,
Rising, sinking on the water,
Dripping, flashing in the sunshine;
And within it came a people
From the distant land of Wabun,
From the farthest realms of morning
Came the Black-Robe chief, the Prophet,
He the Priest of Prayer, the Pale-face,
With his guides and his companions.
And the noble Hiawatha,
With his hands aloft extended,
Held aloft in sign of welcome,
Waited, full of exultation,
Till the birch canoe with paddles
Grated on the shining pebbles,
Stranded on the sandy margin,
Till the Black-Robe chief, the Pale-face,
With the cross upon his bosom,
Landed on the sandy margin.
Then the joyous Hiawatha
Cried aloud and spake in this wise:
"Beautiful is the sun, O strangers,
When you come so far to see us!
All our town in peace awaits you,
All our doors stand open for you;
You shall enter all our wigwams,
For the heart's right hand we give you.
"Never bloomed the earth so gayly,
Never shone the sun so brightly,
As to-day they shine and blossom
When you come so far to see us!
Never was our lake so tranquil,
Nor so free from rocks, and sand-bars;
For your birch canoe in passing
Has removed both rock and sand-bar.
"Never before had our tobacco
Such a sweet and pleasant flavor,
Never the broad leaves of our cornfields
Were so beautiful to look on,
As they seem to us this morning,
When you come so far to see us!'
And the Black-Robe chief made answer,
Stammered in his speech a little,
Speaking words yet unfamiliar:
"Peace be with you, Hiawatha,
Peace be with you and your people,
Peace of prayer, and peace of pardon,
Peace of Christ, and joy of Mary!"
Then the generous Hiawatha
Led the strangers to his wigwam,
Seated them on skins of bison,
Seated them on skins of ermine,
And the careful old Nokomis
Brought them food in bowls of basswood,
Water brought in birchen dippers,
And the calumet, the peace-pipe,
Filled and lighted for their smoking.
All the old men of the village,
All the warriors of the nation,
All the Jossakeeds, the Prophets,
The magicians, the Wabenos,
And the Medicine-men, the Medas,
Came to bid the strangers welcome;
"It is well", they said, "O brothers,
That you come so far to see us!"
In a circle round the doorway,
With their pipes they sat in silence,
Waiting to behold the strangers,
Waiting to receive their message;
Till the Black-Robe chief, the Pale-face,
From the wigwam came to greet them,
Stammering in his speech a little,
Speaking words yet unfamiliar;
"It is well," they said, "O brother,
That you come so far to see us!"
Then the Black-Robe chief, the Prophet,
Told his message to the people,
Told the purport of his mission,
Told them of the Virgin Mary,
And her blessed Son, the Saviour,
How in distant lands and ages
He had lived on earth as we do;
How he fasted, prayed, and labored;
How the Jews, the tribe accursed,
Mocked him, scourged him, crucified him;
How he rose from where they laid him,
Walked again with his disciples,
And ascended into heaven.
And the chiefs made answer, saying:
"We have listened to your message,
We have heard your words of wisdom,
We will think on what you tell us.
It is well for us, O brothers,
That you come so far to see us!"
Then they rose up and departed
Each one homeward to his wigwam,
To the young men and the women
Told the story of the strangers
Whom the Master of Life had sent them
From the shining land of Wabun.
Heavy with the heat and silence
Grew the afternoon of Summer;
With a drowsy sound the forest
Whispered round the sultry wigwam,
With a sound of sleep the water
Rippled on the beach below it;
From the cornfields shrill and ceaseless
Sang the grasshopper, Pah-puk-keena;
And the guests of Hiawatha,
Weary with the heat of Summer,
Slumbered in the sultry wigwam.
Slowly o'er the simmering landscape
Fell the evening's dusk and coolness,
And the long and level sunbeams
Shot their spears into the forest,
Breaking through its shields of shadow,
Rushed into each secret ambush,
Searched each thicket, dingle, hollow;
Still the guests of Hiawatha
Slumbered in the silent wigwam.
From his place rose Hiawatha,
Bade farewell to old Nokomis,
Spake in whispers, spake in this wise,
Did not wake the guests, that slumbered.
"I am going, O Nokomis,
On a long and distant journey,
To the portals of the Sunset.
To the regions of the home-wind,
Of the Northwest-Wind, Keewaydin.
But these guests I leave behind me,
In your watch and ward I leave them;
See that never harm comes near them,
See that never fear molests them,
Never danger nor suspicion,
Never want of food or shelter,
In the lodge of Hiawatha!"
Forth into the village went he,
Bade farewell to all the warriors,
Bade farewell to all the young men,
Spake persuading, spake in this wise:
"I am going, O my people,
On a long and distant journey;
Many moons and many winters
Will have come, and will have vanished,
Ere I come again to see you.
But my guests I leave behind me;
Listen to their words of wisdom,
Listen to the truth they tell you,
For the Master of Life has sent them
From the land of light and morning!"
On the shore stood Hiawatha,
Turned and waved his hand at parting;
On the clear and luminous water
Launched his birch canoe for sailing,
From the pebbles of the margin
Shoved it forth into the water;
Whispered to it, "Westward! westward!"
And with speed it darted forward.
And the evening sun descending
Set the clouds on fire with redness,
Burned the broad sky, like a prairie,
Left upon the level water
One long track and trail of splendor,
Down whose stream, as down a river,
Westward, westward Hiawatha
Sailed into the fiery sunset,
Sailed into the purple vapors,
Sailed into the dusk of evening:
And the people from the margin
Watched him floating, rising, sinking,
Till the birch canoe seemed lifted
High into that sea of splendor,
Till it sank into the vapors
Like the new moon slowly, slowly
Sinking in the purple distance.
And they said, "Farewell forever!"
Said, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
And the forests, dark and lonely,
Moved through all their depths of darkness,
Sighed, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
And the waves upon the margin
Rising, rippling on the pebbles,
Sobbed, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
From her haunts among the fen-lands,
Screamed, "Farewell, O Hiawatha!"
Thus departed Hiawatha,
Hiawatha the Beloved,
In the glory of the sunset,.
In the purple mists of evening,
To the regions of the home-wind,
Of the Northwest-Wind, Keewaydin,
To the Islands of the Blessed,
To the Kingdom of Ponemah,
To the Land of the Hereafter!

-Thomas Moran: Hiawatha

Washington Irving and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were among the first American authors to be read beyond the confines of the US... in other words, in Europe. I remember Longfellow's poem from grade-school. I still admire a number of his translations of European poets, including Goethe.
Boris Pasternak: My Sister- Life



My sister - life today floods over
and burst on everyone in spring rain,
while monocled folk in their grottoes of fine manners
snap and sting, like snakes in oats.

The grownups, of course, have their reasons.
Most likely, most likely your reason's naive,
that eyes and lawns turn violet in the storm
and the horizon smells of moist mignonette;

so that in May, on the Kamyshin branch-line
the schedule of trains you scan in transit
seem grander than the Holy Script,
even though you've read it before;

and only dusk draws swarms
of women crowding onto one platform.
Restless, I hear it's not my stop,
and the sun, setting, takes the seat beside me.

The last bell splashes and floats away
in a prolonged apology: "Sorry... not yet."
Night smolders under the shutters, and the steppe
stretches from the steps to the stars.

The flicker, blink: my love, a mirage,
and somewhere far away others sleep sweetly
while my heart pour onto every platform
scattering coach doors over the endless plain.


Boris Pasternak is generally deemed as Russia's greatest poet after only Alexander Pushkin. Outside of Russia... and especially in Britain and the US he is known, if at all, for his novel... and the subsequent film, Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak's poems begin to move toward abstraction. They cannot be simply interpreted as having a definite narrative or meaning. Rather, they are more suggestive... conveying a mood or atmosphere as opposed to a clear narrative. In this way, his poetry shares much with the French Symbolists such as Baudelaire, Mallarme, Rimbaud, Paul Valery, etc...

View attachment 1766
-Thomas Moran: Hiawatha

Washington Irving and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were among the first American authors to be read beyond the confines of the US... in other words, in Europe. I remember Longfellow's poem from grade-school. I still admire a number of his translations of European poets, including Goethe.
I almost posted that painting to go with the poem (because I love Moran's paintings) but I didn't think that, beyond the name, it translated to match the poem. ^_^
Song of Solomon 4,9.

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes.

Some words from the song of Solomon are strange to me in the modern text, saying someone's calves reflect pomegranates are not words I would chose. However, I am sure at the time that was such a compliment.
Nonetheless, I've always loved the quotes words above.
Song of Solomon 4,9.

Some words from the song of Solomon are strange to me in the modern text, saying someone's calves reflect pomegranates are not words I would chose.
It is much easier to understand when you know that some of it is the Shulamite woman talking about her love, the shepherd boy and some of it is the Shepherd talking about her and some of it is King Solomon, wanting her for himself. The final part is her affirming her love for her Shepherd and rejecting the King. :)
Pasternak was wonderful with words, even in their translated ilk.


I used to glorify the poor,
Not simply lofty views expressing:
Their lives alone, I felt, were true,
Devoid of pomp and window-dressing.

No stranger to the manor house,
Its finery and lordly tenor,
I was a friend of down-and-outs,
And shunned the idly sponging manner.

For choosing friendship in the ranks
Of working people, though no rebel,
I had the honour to be stamped
As also one among the rabble.

The state of basements, unadorned,
Of attics with no frills or curtains
Was tangible without pretence
And full of substance, weighty, certain.

And I went bad when rot defaced
Our time, and life became infested,
When grief was censured as disgrace
And all played optimists and yes-men.

My faith in those who seemed my friends
Was broken and our ties were sundered.
I, too, lost Man, the Human, since
He had been lost by all and sundry

Boris Pasternak
We pray for our life of tomorrow,
Ephemeral life though it be;
This is the habit of our mind
That passed away yesterday.

~ Ikkyū
Wonder by Thomas Traherne

How like an angel came I down!
How bright are all things here!
When first among his works I did appear
O how their glory me did crown!
The world resembled his eternity,
In which my soul did walk;
And ev’ry thing that I did see
Did with me talk.

5d7bc14ee75a0eb00fd6c7b9_LRM149-HER27 Hereford Cathedral, Audley chantry, Thomas Traherne stai...jpg

The skies in their magnificence,
The lively, lovely air;
Oh how divine, how soft, how sweet, how fair!
The stars did entertain my sense,
And all the works of God, so bright and pure,
So rich and great did seem,
As if they ever must endure
In my esteem.

A native health and innocence
Within my bones did grow,
And while my God did all his glories show,
I felt a vigour in my sense
That was all spirit. I within did flow
With seas of life, like wine;
I nothing in the world did know
But ’twas divine.

Harsh ragged objects were conceal’d,
Oppressions tears and cries,
Sins, griefs, complaints, dissensions, weeping eyes
Were hid, and only things reveal’d
Which heav’nly spirits, and the angels prize.
The state of innocence
And bliss, not trades and poverties,
Did fill my sense.


The streets were pav’d with golden stones,
The boys and girls were mine,
Oh how did all their lovely faces shine!
The sons of men were holy ones,
In joy and beauty they appear’d to me,
And every thing which here I found,
While like an angel I did see,
Adorn’d the ground.

Rich diamond and pearl and gold
In ev’ry place was seen;
Rare splendours, yellow, blue, red, white and green,
Mine eyes did everywhere behold.
Great wonders cloth’d with glory did appear,
Amazement was my bliss,
That and my wealth was ev’ry where:
No joy to this!

Curs’d and devis’d proprieties,
With envy, avarice
And fraud, those fiends that spoil even Paradise,
Flew from the splendour of mine eyes,
And so did hedges, ditches, limits, bounds,
I dream’d not aught of those,
But wander’d over all men’s grounds,
And found repose.

Proprieties themselves were mine,
And hedges ornaments;
Walls, boxes, coffers, and their rich contents
Did not divide my joys, but all combine.
Clothes, ribbons, jewels, laces, I esteem’d
My joys by others worn:
For me they all to wear them seem’d
When I was born.


Thomas Traherne was a fascinating visionary poet (1637-1674) who might have been a precursor to William Blake, Wordsworth, Thoreau, and even Walt Whitman... had his work been known. Traherne published only one text during his lifetime, an obscure tract arguing fine points of Catholic law.

In 1896 two manuscripts were purchased by a hymnologist from a London bookstall. One contained 37 poems in Traherne's own handwriting, the other contained Traherne's masterpiece, Centuries of Meditations. The author of both was not identified until the early 20th century. A few years later, another manuscript was discovered in the British Museum. This manuscript was written in another hand, but contained variations of the poems in the first manuscript as well as 40 other poems. Two more manuscripts by Traherne were discovered decades later: Select Meditations in 1964, and Commentaries of Heaven in 1967 found in a burning London trash heap. The whole of Traherne's oeuvre was not identified until 1982.

Unfortunately, Traherne was not served well by the two people who were his literary executors: his brother Philip Traherne and Susanna Hopton. Philip was a clergyman like Thomas, and Susanna was the leader of a religious society. Both sought not to properly see to the publication of Thomas' literary efforts, but rather to publish the works in an effort to aid in the reader's salvation. Philip, whose hand was that of the manuscript found in the British Museum, sought to "improve" his brother's literary efforts according to the standards of the age, and more importantly, to tame his often radical (like William Blake) theology. When Susanna, a quarter-century after Thomas' death, offered another Traherne volume (Thanksgivings) for publication, she didn't even inform the publisher that she was not the author.

Similar threads