“Did Their Catullus Walk That Way?”
The Desire To Escape (From Academia, New York, Embodiedness, Humanity, And Other Prisons)
The Parallel Octave Chorus has resolved
to convene to record the poems of Lola Ridge, Dunbar, Whitman, and Yeats
in the JHU Arellano Theater (campus map here)
on Sunday, September 9th,
– Walt Whitman, “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer”
– W.B. Yeats, “The Fascination of What’s Difficult” and “The Scholars”
– Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Ships That Pass In The Night”
– Lola Ridge, “Sun-Up,” “Wall Street At Night,” and the long, difficult “Celia.”
Full text of poems, and links, pasted below:
Walt Whitman, “When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer”
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
W.B. Yeats, “The Fascination of What’s Difficult”
The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.
W.B. Yeats, “The Scholars”
Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love’s despair
To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.
All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbour knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?
– Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Ships That Pass In The Night”
Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing;
I look far out into the pregnant night,
Where I can hear a solemn booming gun
And catch the gleaming of a random light,
That tells me that the ship I seek is passing, passing.
My tearful eyes my soul’s deep hurt are glassing;
For I would hail and check that ship of ships.
I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud,
My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips,
And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing.
O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing,
O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark!
Is there no hope for me? Is there no way
That I may sight and check that speeding bark
Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?
Lola Ridge, “Sun-Up.”
(Shadows over a cradle…
throws something in the fire
and a smaller hand
runs into the flame and out again,
singed and empty…,
settling over a cradle…
and a fire.)
Lola Ridge, “Wall Street at Night”
Long vast shapes… cooled and flushed through with darkness…
Glazed with a flashy luster
From some little pert café chirping up like a sparrow.
And down among iron guts
Throwing gray spatter of light… pale without heat…
Like the pallor of dead bodies.
Lola Ridge, “Celia”
glowing on the hearth,
bright red cherry…
When you try to pick up cherry
sticks in you like a pin.
When God throws hailstones
you cuddle in Celia’s shawl
and press your feet on her belly
high up like a stool.
When Celia makes umbrella of her hand.
Rain falls through
big pink spokes of her fingers.
When wind blows Celia’s gown up off her legs
she runs under pillars of the bank—
great round pillars of the bank
have on white stockings too.
Celia says my father
will bring me a golden bowl.
When I think of my father
I cannot see him
for the big yellow bowl
like the moon with two handles
he carries in front of him.
(Light all about you…
ginger…pouring out of green jars…)
You don’t believe he has gone away and left his great coat…
so you pretend…you see his face up in the ceiling.
When you clap your hands and cry, grandpa, grandpa, grandpa,
Celia crosses herself.
It isn’t a dream…
It comes again and again…
You hear ivy crying on steeples
the flames haven’t caught yet
and images screaming
when they see red light on the lilies
on the stained glass window of St. Joseph.
The girl with the black eyes holds you tight,
and you run…and run
past the wild, wild towers…
and trees in the gardens tugging at their feet
and little frightened dolls
shut up in the shops
crying…and crying…because no one stops…
you spin like a penny thrown out in the street.
Then the man clutches her by the hair…
He always clutches her by the hair…
His eyes stick out like spears.
You see her pulled-back face
and her black, black eyes
lit up by the glare…
Then everything goes out.
Please God, don’t let me dream any more
of the girl with the black, black eyes.
Celia’s shadow rocks and rocks…
and mama’s eyes stare out of the pillow
as though she had gone away
and the night had come in her place
as it comes in empty rooms…
you can’t bear it—
the night threshing about
and lashing its tail on its sides
as bold as a wolf that isn’t afraid—and you scream at her face, that is white as a stone on a grave
and pull it around to the light,
till the night draws backward…the night that walks alone
and goes away without end.
Mama says, I am cold, Betty, and shivers.
Celia tucks the quilt about her feet,
but I run for my little red cloak
because red is hot like fire.
I wish Celia
could see the sea climb up on the sky
and slide off again…
I’d beg the world with you…
Celia…holding on to the cab…
hands wrenched away…
wind in the masts…like Celia crying…
Celia never minded if you slapped her
when the comb made your hairs ache,
but though you rub your cheek against mama’s hand
she has not said darling since…
Now I will slap her again…
I will bite her hand till it bleeds.
It is cool by the port hole.
The wet rags of the wind
flap in your face.
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