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Category Archives: Poetry

The Mermaid Tavern

Sketch of John Keats.

Sketch of John Keats. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Souls of Poets dead and gone,

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern,

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

Have ye tippled drink more fine

Than mine host’s Canary wine?

Or are fruits of Paradise

Sweeter than those dainty pies

Of venison? O generous food!

Drest as though bold Robin Hood

Would, with his maid Marian,

Sup and bowse from horn and can.

        -from Lines on the Mermaid Tavern by John Keats

I’ve always enjoyed Keats’ poetry and Lines on the Mermaid Tavern is one of my favorite poems from him. However, because of my woeful knowledge of history I never realized that the Mermaid Tavern had been a real tavern in London.

While browsing through another collection of poetry, “Ben Johnson and the Cavalier Poets” (W.W. Norton, 1974 – does Norton know how to do anthologies or what?) I came across a reference to the Mermaid Tavern in conjunction with Richard Corbett, another poet. Further research yielded some details. It seems that the Mermaid Tavern was a celebrated meeting place for scholars, lawyers and poets during the early- to mid-1600s. It was located in London’s Cheapside, east of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The “Friday Street Club,” a literary club started by Sir Walter Ralegh in 1603, held its meetings there. The Mermaid’s other famous patrons included Ben Jonson, John Donne and William Shakespeare.

What is it with English writers and pubs?

Unfortunately, the Mermaid Tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September of 1666. It was memorialized in verse by Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont and, nearly 200 years later, John Keats.

Souls of Poets dead and gone,

What Elysium have ye known,

Happy field or mossy cavern,

Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in History, Poetry

 

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On the Road

This week I got my hands on a fascinating little volume at the local library’s ongoing book sale. “American Journeys, An Anthology of Travel In the United States,” (Travel Vision in association with the Exxon Travel Club, 1975) is a collection of excerpts from pioneer diaries, explorer’s journals and articles about travel in America from the late 1600s up to the lunar landing.

It includes pieces from such writers as Benjamin Franklin (describing his trip to, and first night in, Philadelphia), Charles Dickens (writing about a steamboat trip with his wife in 1842. He did not like it), Mark Twain (a description of a stagecoach trip, excerpted from his book “Roughing It”) and John Muir (recounting one of his long walks among California’s sequoia trees).

This book reflects an important characteristic of the American people; the urge to travel and explore. For over 200 years the call of the open road has stirred something in our souls. Even if it’s only a trip into town:

When labor is light and the morning is fair,

I find it a pleasure beyond all compare

To hitch up my nag and go hurrying down

And take Katie May for a ride into town;

For bumpety-bump goes the wagon,

But tra-la-la-la our lay.

There’s joy in a song as we rattle along

In the light of the glorious day.

From “Riding to Town” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1896.)

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Book Hunting, Grazing, History, Poetry

 

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A Postcard From A.D. 1247

Cropped screenshot of Olivia de Havilland and ...

Cropped screenshot of Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn from the trailer for the film The Adventures of Robin Hood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently gave you a brief overview of my reading so far in “A World Lit Only By Fire” by William Manchester. Now I’ll give you a taste, a postcard from the book so to speak.

Hear underneath dis laihl stean

las Robert earl of Huntingtun

neer arcir yer az hie sa geud

And pipl kauld in Robin Heud

This is an inscription on a gravestone in Yorkshire, England. The final line is “Obiit 24 kal Decembris 1247.” Robin Hood lived, folks. Now as to what he was really like, Manchester writes, “Everything we know about that period suggests that Robin was merely another wellborn cutthroat who hid in shrubbery by roadsides, waiting to rob helpless wayfarers. The possibility that he stole from the rich and gave to the poor is . . . highly unlikely.”

Visions of Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits.”

However, this two sentence brush-off does nothing to explain how the stories of Robin Hood developed and why he became such a large folk-hero to people then and now. Plain highway robbers wouldn’t have inspired John Keats:

So it is: yet let us sing,

Honour to the old bow-string!

Honour to the bugle-horn!

Honour to the woods unshorn!

Honour to the Lincoln green!

Honour to the archer keen!

Honour to tight little John,

And the horse he rode upon!

Honour to bold Robin Hood,

Sleeping in the underwood!

Honour to maid Marian,

And to all the Sherwood-clan!

Granted, the real Robin was probably nothing at all like Errol Flynn and was more than likely not a very nice man. But something is his life and exploits was tale-worthy. Something endeared him to the peasants who built his legend. A history made of facts alone and stripped of all lore tells us very little about the humans who lived in it. The facts and the stories must go together.

I have a copy of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” by Paul Creswick, who was one of England’s best children’s writers. According to the introductory material that came with the book, it has been in print ever since it came out in 1902. It is filled with the stories of Robin Hood. It also has gorgeous illustrations by a different legend, N.C. Wyeth. If you’ve ever seen any of Wyeth’s work you’ll understand why I used the word legend.

With due respect to William Manchester, I’ll be reading this book soon and hopefully learning more about Robin and life in the middle ages.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2012 in Grazing, History, Ideas, Poetry, What I'm Reading

 

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Poet? Texas? Same Sentence?

Poet? Texas? Same Sentence?

As a matter of fact, yes.

I picked up this slim volume of verse about a week ago at a library book sale. It’s titled “Between Eternities” and the author was Grace Noll Crowell. She was originally born in Iowa in 1877 and moved to Texas in 1917. She was appointed the Poet Laureate of Texas in 1936 and held the position for three years.

“Between Eternities” (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1944) was published during World War II and contains some poignant lines about faith in a time of war.

Yet many have shared the agony of God,

The day his Son was nailed upon a cross;

They, too, have given clean sons who have trod

Dark calvary, and bravely borne their loss.

From the poem “Wartime Mothers.”

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Old Books, Poetry, What I'm Reading

 

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Irish Cats and Scribes

From a ninth-century manuscript by an Irish scribal scholar, quoted in “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” by Thomas Cahill:

I and Pangur Ban my cat,

„Pangur Bán“

„Pangur Bán“ (Photo credit: Михал Орела)

‘Tis a like task we are at:

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night.

 

‘Tis a merry thing to see

At our tasks how glad are we,

When at home we sit and find

Entertainment for our mind.

 

“Gainst the wall he sets his eye,

Full and fierce and sharp and sly;

‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I

All my little wisdom try.

 

So in peace our task we ply,

Pangur Ban my cat and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,

I have mine and he has his.

 

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Old Books, Poetry

 

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