Measured Extravagance

2000-09-22 - 1:16 a.m.

Somewhere, in one of the still-packed boxes in my dining room, there is an anthology that contains Theodore Roethke's "Four for Sir John Davies." Elsewhere, probably up in the TV room, there is a sheet of yellow paper with the ending of Yves Bonnefoy's French translation of "The Circus Animals' Desertion." The sense-memory of both poems has been glimmering in the back of my brain for a couple of days now - not the actual memory of the poems themselves, seeing that I can't call the precise words to my conscious mind, but the giddy sensation of reading them. Giddiness? Oh yes. Good poetry can have that effect on me - the words so perfectly matched to each other that I'm breathless at their music. I can't resist reading them aloud to myself, feeling them resonate in my mouth as well as in my bones.

It's a shivery feeling, coming across poems like that - from what I've read, I can't think I would have had any patience for Willie Yeats in person, but God, what writing! (I feel the same way about Beethoven, for that matter.)

To quote from the Roethke:

"Is that dance slowing in the mind of man
That made him think the universe could hum?
That great wheel turns its axle when it can;
I need a place to sing, and dancing-room,
And I have made a promise to my ears
I'll sing and whistle romping with the bears.

...I take this cadence from a man named Yeats;
I take it, and I give it back again:
For other tunes and other wanton beats
Have tossed my heart and fiddled through my brain.
Yes, I was dancing-mad, and how
That came to be the bears and Yeats would know."

(The full poem can be found at

Another poet who can simultaneously chill and cheer me with his cadences is Michael Drayton. He's best known for the sonnet "Since there's no help, let us kiss and part..." Earlier last month, I caught sight of several other Drayton poems in two other anthologies I owned - which eventually led me to seek out his entry at The Luminarium site (

From there, I printed out "Idea" ( to read during slower moments on the Ontario Ale Trail. There's plenty of heartbreaking gorgeousness in it - which made me all the more delighted to come across this funny little fancy, sonnet #25:

"O why should Nature niggardly restrain
That foreign nations relish not our tongue?
Else should my lines glide on the waves of Rhene
And crown the Pyrens with my living song.
But, bounded thus, to Scotland get you forth,
Thence take you wing unto the Orcades;
There let my verse get glory in the North,
Making my sighs to thaw the frozen seas;
And let the Bards within that Irish isle,
To whom my Muse with fiery wing shall pass,
Call back the stiff-neck'd rebels from exile,
And mollify the slaught'ring Gallowglass;
And when my flowing numbers they rehearse,
Let wolves and bears be charmed with my verse."

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