Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Who am I? What am I? Just a dreamer...
By Sergei Yesenin (Sergey Esenin)
Translated by Anton Yakovlev
Who am I? What am I? Just a dreamer
Looking for a ring of happiness in the dark,
Living this life as if by happenstance,
Just like others on earth.
And I’m only kissing you out of habit,
Because I’ve kissed many,
And speaking words of love
As though I’m lighting matches.
“Dear”, “darling”, “forever”,
But always one thing on my mind:
If you wake up the passion in a person,
You surely won’t find truth.
This is why my soul has no trouble
Desiring, demanding fire —
You, my walking birch,
Were created for many and for me.
But, always looking for the one
And languishing in callous captivity,
I’m not at all jealous of you,
Not cursing you in the least.
Who am I? What am I? Just a dreamer
Who has lost the blue of his eyes in the dark,
And I only love you by happenstance,
Just like others on earth.
Сергей Есенин Кто я? Что я? Только лишь мечтатель...
Кто я? Что я? Только лишь мечтатель,
Перстень счастья ищущий во мгле,
Эту жизнь живу я словно кстати,
Заодно с другими на земле.
И с тобой целуюсь по привычке,
Потому что многих целовал,
И, как будто зажигая спички,
Говорю любовные слова.
«Дорогая», «милая», «навеки»,
А в уме всегда одно и то ж,
Если тронуть страсти в человеке,
То, конечно, правды не найдешь.
Оттого душе моей не жестко
Ни желать, ни требовать огня,
Ты, моя ходячая березка,
Создана для многих и меня.
Но, всегда ища себе родную
И томясь в неласковом плену,
Я тебя нисколько не ревную,
Я тебя нисколько не кляну.
Кто я? Что я? Только лишь мечтатель,
Синь очей утративший во мгле,
И тебя любил я только кстати,
Заодно с другими на земле.
Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) grew up in a peasant family in the village of Konstantinovo, Ryazan Province but spent most of his adult life in Petrograd (previously St. Petersburg, later Leningrad, now St. Petersburg again). Yesenin called himself “the last poet of the village,” both in the sense of his peasant origins and of being the last among his contemporaries whose poems were mainly concerned with country life. In writing, sometimes nostalgically, always sympathetically, and often with an almost mystical devotion to rural Russia, Yesenin succeeded in cultivating a national identity and mythology so strong and cohesive that his work would forever imprint itself into Russian culture, with the poet becoming a beloved and somewhat mythical figure — a fame that persisted even under Stalin when the poet’s work was blacklisted and when praising or even reading it constituted a risk to one’s very survival. A founding member of the short-lived but influential Imaginist movement (related to the Western Imagism and standing in contrast to Futurism), Yesenin was a star whose public performances were attended by hundreds or thousands of adoring fans across the country. He jousted with fellow poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and was known for publicity stunts. His iconic status continues to this day; it is virtually impossible to find a Russian person who has never heard Sergei Yesenin’s name, and only marginally easier to find someone who doesn’t know at least one of his poems by heart though I suspect many people in the United States have never heard of him.
Yesenin (left) with Anatoly Marienhof in 1915
Despite being married to four different women, most notably Isadora Duncan (with whom he shared no common language), Yesenin, loved men. His poetry was loved for its simplicity and clarity, bridging both high and low culture, including his poems of love to the various men in his life. During WWI, he had a relationship with the poet Leonid Kannegisser (later the assassin of Moisei Uritsky of the secret police), while during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, gay writers continued writing, but gay-positive work was not encouraged under the Soviet regime (after 1933, when Stalin recriminalized homosexuality, no gay-themed works were published.) By the mid-1920s, Sergei entered into a three-year relationship with another fellow poet Anatoly Marienhof, to whom many poems are dedicated, inspired by, or written about. Sergei was a rebellious writer, suffering through bouts of alcoholism, violent behavior, depression, and plagued by his inner demons when he hung himself in a Leningrad hotel at the age of 30. Perhaps it was his failed marriages, the disillusionment that he must have felt when the revolution that he supported failed to live up to his expectations, or that he was a gay man who had simply yielded to the pressures of the world and no longer wanted to fight. Whatever his reasons, we will never know.
In the poem above, I think he is questioning his sexuality or maybe coming to terms with it since this poem was written in 1925, the year he died. When he writes, “And I’m only kissing you out of habit,” I suspect he is talking about one of his wives. He later writes, “But always one thing on my mind: / If you wake up the passion in a person, / You surely won’t find truth.” Here he seems to be saying that if she awakens his sexuality/passion, then she won’t see the truth of his homosexuality. To me, this is a sad poem. In the fifth stanza, he says he writes that he is “always looking for the one,” but he is “in callous captivity” of a world that does not accept a person being gay. The last stanza seems to be saying that he “has lost the blue of his eyes in the dark,” and maybe that is a foretelling of his suicide in the same year.
Monday, February 27, 2023
Sunday, February 26, 2023
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
The United States is supposed to be the “land of the free,” yet that is in jeopardy as long as conservative politicians pander to right-wing extremism. They want to deny LGBTQ+ people our freedoms, whether it is making drag shows illegal if children are present, banning LGBTQ+ books in libraries to keep them away from kids, or making it illegal for teachers to discuss LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom. They know that the younger generations tend to be more socially liberal and more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community because they have seen us as “normal” people. We are the same as them, we just love or have an attraction to someone of the same sex, or we are at odds with our biological sex.
In John 8:32, Jesus says, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” In that verse, Jesus is talking about being a follower of His, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) Jesus’s teachings were about love and acceptance. If the truth (reality) of the world is hidden, then we are prejudicing people against those who are different and hiding any differing point of view. It is by telling the truth and teaching children to be honest and loving that we can truly make the United States the “Land of the Free.”
The USA has never been a “land of the free.” It began as a country that allowed slavery, then when slavery was abolished, new forms of slavery were created: sharecropping and Jim Crow laws. LGBTQ+ individuals were always in bondage because they were prevented from living their truth openly and honestly for fear of imprisonment, being committed to a mental institution, or in some areas, death. We are still fighting for our freedom. Coretta Scott King said, “Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don't believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.” If conservatives and hate groups get their way, not only will we lose the freedoms we have fought for, but eventually, they, too, will lose the freedoms they have become accustomed to. They just don’t see that yet.
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
By May Swenson - 1913-1989
Taking a photo of you taking a photo of me, I see
the black snout of the camera framed by hair, where
your face should be. I see your arms and one hand
on the shutter button, the hedge behind you and
beyond, below, overexposed water and sky wiped white.
Some flecks out of focus are supposed to be boats.
Your back toward what light is left, you’re not
recognizable except by those cutoff jeans that I
gave you by shooting from above, forgetting your
legs. So, if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t know who
you are, you know. I do know who, but you, you know,
could be anybody. My mistake. It was because I
wanted to trip the shutter at the exact moment you
did. I did when you did, and you did when I did.
I can’t wait to see yours of me. It’s got to be
even more awful. A face, facing the light, pulled up
into a squint behind the lens, which must reflect
the muggy setting sun. Some sort of fright mask
or Mardi Gras monster, a big glass Cyclopean eye
superimposed on a flattened nose, that print,
the one you took of me as I took one of you. Who,
or what, will it be—will I be, I wonder? Can’t wait.
About This Poem
"'Double Exposure' was a kind of love poem I’d always wanted––earthy and witty, with a streak of primal strangeness. May Swenson disliked the label lesbian poetry (and told me so, in a letter). While my generation’s identity politics found expression in publishing collectives and coming-out anthologies, Swenson continued hiding in plain sight. With marriage equality decades away, she knew who she was and whom she loved, inventing playful shapes that explored (among other things) intimacy between women.
"Two women ('you' and 'me') photograph each other in a spirit of experimentation that’s both childlike and scientific. The poem reminds us that we’re animals––'the black snout of the camera framed by hair'––and teasingly suggests simultaneous orgasm: 'I / wanted to trip the shutter at the exact moment you / did.' But the poem’s erotic life is as much about the intimacy of minds in dialogue with one another as it is about bodies. The Cyclops Swenson sees in the single glass eye of the camera lens invites fear into the ritual, but danger is part of the thrill. Glee is the state of mind and feeling as we transform each other: 'Who, / or what, will it be––will I be, I wonder? Can’t wait.'" —Joan Larkin
About the Poet
May Swenson was born Anna Thilda May Swenson on May 28, 1913, in Logan, Utah. Her parents were Swedish immigrants, and her father was a professor of mechanical engineering at Utah State University. English was her second language, her family having spoken mostly Swedish in their home. Influenced early on by Edgar Allan Poe, she kept journals as a young girl, in which she wrote in multiple genres.
She attended Utah State University, Logan, and received a bachelor's degree in 1934. She spent another year in Utah working as a reporter, but in 1935 she relocated to New York, where she remained for most of her adult life. In New York City, she held various positions—including working as a stenographer, a ghostwriter, a secretary, and a manuscript reader—while writing and publishing her poetry. In 1959, she became a manuscript reader at New Directions Press.
Since her first collection of poems, Another Animal, was published by Scribner in 1954, Swenson's work has been admired for its adventurous word play and erotic exuberance. Her poems have been compared to those by poets E. E. Cummings and Gertrude Stein, as well as Elizabeth Bishop, with whom she was engaged in regular, often frequent correspondence from 1950 until Bishop's death in 1979.
Swenson's other poetry collections include A Cage of Spines (1958); To Mix With Time: New and Selected Poems (1963); Half Sun Half Sleep (1967); Iconographs (1970); New & Selected Things Taking Place (1978); and In Other Words (1987). Posthumous collections of her work include The Love Poems (1991); Nature: Poems Old and New (1994); and May Out West (1996).
She is also the author of three collections of poems for younger readers, including Poems to Solve (1966), More Poems to Solve (1968), and Spell Coloring Book (1976), and a one-act play titled The Floor, which was produced in New York in the 1960s. As a translator, she published Windows and Stones: Selected Poems of Tomas Tranströmer (1972), which received a medal of excellence from the International Poetry Forum.
She left New Directions Press in 1966, having decided to devote herself fully to her own writing. In 1967, she moved to Sea Cliff, New York. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, she served as poet-in-residence at several universities in the United States and Canada, including Bryn Mawr, the University of North Carolina, the University of California at Riverside, Purdue University, and Utah State University.
About her work, the poet Grace Schulman said, "Questions are the wellspring of May Swenson's art... In her speculations and her close observations, she fulfills Marianne Moore's formula for the working artist: 'Curiosity, observation, and a great deal of joy in the thing.'"
Swenson's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ford, Rockefeller, and MacArthur Foundations, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts grant. She received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Bollingen Prize from Yale University, and an Award in Literature from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
In 1967, she received a Distinguished Service Gold Medal from Utah State University, and in 1987 an honorary doctor of letters. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1980 until her death. She died in Oceanview, Delaware, on December 4, 1989, and is buried in the city where she was born.
Four months before her death, Swenson wrote: "The best poetry has its roots in the subconscious to a great degree. Youth, naivety, reliance on instinct more than learning and method, a sense of freedom and play, even trust in randomness, is necessary to the making of a poem."
Why I Chose This Poem
Today is Mardi Gras. I was looking for a poem about Mardi Gras, and found one I liked and was going to use this one next week since it only mentions Mardi Gras masks, but then I looked up the poet of the other poem and realized he’s a member of a far right anti-LGBTQ+ religious group. While I considered posting it anyway, I chose against it. Besides, reading the poem from that perspective, I decided it wasn’t that good anyway.
While Mardi Gras is not observed nationally throughout the United States, a number of traditionally ethnic French cities and regions in the country have notable celebrations. Mardi Gras arrived in North America as a French Catholic tradition with the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, in the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France's claim on the territory of Louisiane, which included what are now the U.S. states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and part of eastern Texas. The brothers celebrated the first Mardi Gras in what is now Biloxi, Mississippi.
Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) has a history traced all the way back to medieval Europe, where early renditions of the holiday known as “Boeuf Gras” (or fatted calf) were celebrated everywhere from Italy to France. In 1699, the Le Moyne brothers settled on a plot of land about 60 miles south of New Orleans and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras.” When their men realized that it was the eve of the holiday, they had an impromptu celebration.
Bienville went on to found the settlement of Mobile, Alabama in 1702 as the first capital of French Louisiana. In 1703 French settlers in Mobile established the first Carnivale or what became known as Mardi Gras. Mobile celebrated the first formally organized Mardi Gras parade in the United States in 1830. The first informal mystic society, or krewe, was formed in Mobile in 1711, the Boeuf Gras Society. By 1720, Biloxi had been made capital of Louisiana. The French Mardi Gras customs had accompanied the colonists who settled there.
In 1723, the capital of Louisiana was moved to New Orleans, founded in 1718. The first Mardi Gras parade held in New Orleans is recorded to have taken place in 1837. The tradition in New Orleans expanded to the point that it became synonymous with the city in popular perception and embraced by residents of New Orleans beyond those of French or Catholic heritage. Mardi Gras celebrations are part of the basis of the slogan Laissez les bons temps rouler ("Let the good times roll"). On Mardi Gras Day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the last parades of the season wrap up and the celebrations come to a close with the Meeting of the Courts (known locally as the Rex Ball). Other cities along the Gulf Coast with early French colonial heritage, from Pensacola, Florida; Galveston, Texas; to Lake Charles and Lafayette, Louisiana; and north to Natchez, Mississippi and Alexandria, Louisiana, have active Mardi Gras celebrations.
Monday, February 20, 2023
Sunday, February 19, 2023
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38-39
Last night, I had a sudden and very debilitating migraine attack. Once it started, I had to shut everything down and go to bed, almost immediately. I took the medicines that I have and slept for about an hour, and I woke up thinking I was feeling better. However, it only took a few minutes to know that it was still there and just as bad as before. So, I decided to give up for the night. I went to bed, put a cold compress over my eyes, and tried to sleep. Eventually, I was able to fall asleep. When I woke up this morning, again, I thought my headache was better, and it was. It wasn’t as bad as it was last night, so I fed Isabella and then realized, I needed to go back to bed, at least for a little while. I slept for another hour or so before finally getting up.
While my headache is better this morning, it is not completely gone. Sadly though, I have a workshop to teach this afternoon. I can’t cancel or reschedule, and there is no one who can substitute for me. I’ll just have to persevere. The verse above is about perseverance and God’s love. No matter what life throws at us, God’s love is still there. No matter how much someone tells us that God’s love is conditional: that we cannot be gay and Christian, that we cannot have relationships, sex, or love because God has deemed it a sin, or that we are disgusting and an abomination in the eyes of God, none of these things “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” All the conditions put on us about God’s love are manmade. They do not come from God, no matter how much they may wish they do. God is a loving God. We are His creation, and He loves us, unconditionally and eternally.
I know this post is a bit shorter than many of my Sunday devotionals, but headache or not, just like the workshop I have to teach today, I think this message is an important one. I know of a dear friend of mine who is struggling with the conditions man has set upon us about God’s love, but nothing man can say or do can separate us from God’s love.
Saturday, February 18, 2023
Thursday, February 16, 2023
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning - 1806-1861
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43,” often referred to as “How do I love thee?”, is arguably the most famous love poem in history. EBB, as she is sometimes referred to, was born on March 6, 1806, at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England. She was an English poet of the Romantic Movement.
When she was 14, Elizabeth developed a lung ailment that plagued her for the rest of her life. Doctors began treating her with morphine, which she would take until her death. While saddling a pony when she was fifteen, Elizabeth also suffered a spinal injury. Despite her ailments, her education continued to flourish. Throughout her teenage years, Elizabeth taught herself Hebrew so that she could read the Old Testament; her interests later turned to Greek studies. Due to her continually weakening health, she was forced to spend a year at the sea of Torquay accompanied by her brother Edward, whom she referred to as “Bro.” He drowned later that year while sailing at Torquay, and Elizabeth returned home emotionally broken, becoming an invalid and a recluse.
After the death of her brother, Elizabeth Barrett spent the next five years in her bedroom at her father’s home. She continued writing, however, and in 1844 produced a collection simply titled Poems. This volume gained the attention of poet Robert Browning, whose work Elizabeth had praised in one of her poems, and he wrote her a letter. Over the next twenty months, Elizabeth and Robert, who was six years her junior, exchanged 574 letters. In 1845 they met each other in person for the first time. Their correspondence, courtship, and marriage were carried out in secret, for fear of her father's disapproval, for good reason.
Their romance was bitterly opposed by her tyrannical father, who did not want any of his children to marry. In 1846, the couple eloped. The couple moved to Pisa and then Florence, where they continued to write. They had a son, Robert "Pen" Browning, in 1849. Her father never spoke to her again. Elizabeth’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, dedicated to her husband and written in secret before her marriage, was published in 1850. Critics generally consider the Sonnets—one of the most widely known collections of love lyrics in English—to be her best work. It is in Sonnets, that “How Do I Love Thee?” first appeared. Admirers have compared her imagery to Shakespeare and her use of the Italian form to Petrarch.
She died in Florence on June 29, 1861, and was buried in the English Cemetery. Robert and Pen Browning soon moved to London. During his wife’s lifetime, Robert Browning was not known as much as a poet as the husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is not until after her death that Robert became known as a renowned poet in his own right.
Of all the poets I have featured on this blog, Browning is the only one whose grave I have visited. Though I went to the cemetery to research Americans in Florence, the cemetery is best known for the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and people come from all over to pay homage to Browning and celebrate her work.
|Grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning at the English Cemetery, Florence, Italy|
It wouldn’t be a real Valentine’s Day post without a picture of my card from Susan. Every year, they are always so beautiful and special.
Monday, February 13, 2023
- Did you watch the Super Bowl?
- How did you watch the game? Alone? At home? With friends? At a bar? Etc.
- Did you have any good Super Bowl snacks?
- Did your team win?
- What commercial was your favorite?
- I watched the Super Bowl until halftime after I watched Rihanna’s halftime show. After that, I was feeling tired, and I wasn’t interested in the game, so I just went to bed.
- I watched it at home and alone.
- I did not have any snacks. I’ve been trying to eat better lately.
- If I had to choose a team, I’d probably have chosen Philadelphia, so no, my team did not win.
- A few of them, I couldn’t even tell you what they were advertising, and none of them particularly stood out for me. I probably missed some by turning off the game, but if there were really good ads, I’ll probably see them in the news or many, many times as I watch TV.
Sunday, February 12, 2023
And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
A Beautiful Life
Also known as “Each Day I’ll Do a Golden Deed”
By William M. Golden (1918)
Each day I’ll…do a golden deed,…
By helping those…who are in need;…
My life on earth…is but a span,…
And so I’ll do the best I can…the best I can.
Life’s evening sun…is sinking low,…
A few more days, …and I must go…
To meet the deeds…that I have done,…
Where there will be no setting sun…no setting sun.
To be a child…of God each day,…
My light must shine…along the way;…
I’ll sing His praise…while ages roll,…
And strive to help some troubled soul…some troubled soul.
The only life…that will endure,…
Is one that’s kind…and good and pure;…
And so for God…I’ll take my stand,…
Each day I’ll lend a helping hand…a helping hand.
I’ll help someone…in time of need,…
And journey on…with rapid speed;…
I’ll help the sick…and poor and weak,…
And words of kindness to them speak…to them speak.
While going down…life’s weary road,…
I’ll try to lift…some trav’ler’s load;…
I’ll try to turn…the night to day,…
Make flowers bloom along the way…along the way.
“A Beautiful Life” is a Christian hymn that was written by William M. Golden. It was published in 1918. Golding was born on January 28, 1878, in Webster County, Mississippi. He died on May 13, 1934, in a traffic accident near Eupora, Mississippi. It is said he wrote most of his songs while serving an eight-year sentence in the state penitentiary. In addition to “A Beautiful Life,” he was also known for the song “Where the Soul Never Dies” and many others.
I used to love to sing this song in church. The congregation had to know what they were doing to sing this song properly. In the video below, you can hear it sung alternating between tenor and bass. The song begins with the tenors singing, and where the ellipses are, it alternates to the basses repeating the phrase before. It always reminds me of the Johnny Cash song, “Daddy Sang Bass.” When done properly, “A Beautiful Life” is a beautiful song.
Not only is it a beautiful song to listen to, but it also has a beautiful message. If each day we’d “do a golden deed by helping those who are in need” and did the best we can, how wonderful would this earth be! We should make the effort to let our light “shine along the way” and “strive to help some troubled soul.” If we do our best to live a life “that’s kind and good and pure,” how can we go wrong? And so, the song goes. It’s just a really good message on how to live one’s life, and if we just strove to do what this song suggests, then we really could make this world a better place.
Many of you may not have ever heard this song before. If you haven’t, I hope you’ll listen to the Statler Brothers' version below. I looked and listened to a number of versions of this song, but these are closest to how I remember it always being sung sans the instrumental musical accompaniment. Growing up in the church of Christ, we always sang A Capella. Musical instruments were not allowed.