Brown Penny by W. B. Yeats

I whispered, ‘I am too young,’
And then, ‘I am old enough’;
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
‘Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.’
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

In ‘Brown Penny’, Yeats explores the question of love; specifically in opening lines of the poem the speaker is pondering whether he is in love with a girl or not. Yeats illustrates the internal conflict of the speaker in the first two lines; ‘I whispered, “I am too young,” / And then, “I am old enough.” These two lines seem to confirm to us that this is a coming-of-age, the speaker questions whether he is ‘old enough’ to be in love, but not just if he can be in love, he also seems to wonder whether or not he has the maturity to appreciate love. He ‘threw a penny’, perhaps flipping the coin, to find the answer to his question of whether he ‘might love.’ The speaker does not have to wait long for an answer to his question of whether he ‘might love’, as the penny seems to speak to him, saying: ‘Go and love, go and love, young man / if the lady be young and fair.’ The speaker’s following proclamation, in stating that he is in ‘looped in the loops of her hair’ instantly after the penny gives him his answer somewhat suggests that he already knew he was in love, and asking whether he was or not is simply ‘head-over-heart’ logic. Alternatively his asking of the penny suggests that he may possibly be the victim of blind faith, he is so in love already that he’ll do anything to have it confirmed to him. He is ‘looped’ in his lover’s hair, suggesting an element of confusion, thus extending the metaphor; the speaker is in fact ‘blinded’ by love.

In the second and final stanza the speaker comes to accept that asking the penny for a prediction of his romantic exploits is ultimately futile, as ‘love is a crooked thing, / there is nobody wise enough / to find out all that is in it.’ He concludes that attempting to predict the future is a waste of time and if we obsess over it, we will waste the rest of our lives and will never find any answers; we ‘would be thinking of love / till the stars had run away / and the shadows eaten the moon’, thus implying the events of the end of the world. The speaker finally addresses the ‘brown penny’ again, claiming that ‘one cannot begin it too soon’, referring of course to the attempts at understanding the ‘crooked’ ways of love. If love would take more than a lifetime (and more time than it would take for the world to end), then age is arguably no object, you can love at any age. The act of finding a penny is widely considered as a good omen or good luck in folklore, and so in using a ‘brown penny’ as a motif in his poem, Yeats perhaps draws a parallel between the connotations of chance in finding a penny or throwing a penny into a fountain / well with the speaker’s risk of throwing himself into love.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

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In Paris With You by James Fenton

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m maroonded.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with… all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

Fenton’s poem ‘In Paris With You’ ultimately illustrates the very human methods we use to try to repair a broken heart – specifically ‘the rebound.’ In humanity’s incessant need to be needed and wanted, we can turn to superficial non-relationships that we believe to have no consequences, in order to ‘get over’ a previous love or relationship. In using colloquial language, as evident in the first stanza: ‘when I’ve downed a drink or two’ and consistently maintaining this informal tone throughout the poem, Fenton juxtaposes the elegance and serenity of Paris with very informal and crude language such as ‘sod’ and ‘sodding.’ The speaker also reflects the cynical outlook upon the traditional romantic connotations of Paris through literally suggesting that they and their liaison disregard the monumental landmarks of the ‘city of love’; claiming that they should ‘say sod off to the sodding Notre Dame / … skip the Champs Elysées / and remain here in this sleazy / old hotel room.’ The speaker covertly suggests that this relationship – being a self-professed ‘rebound’ – is purely focused upon sex, wanting to avoid the commitment and responsibility that comes hand in hand with long-term relationships.

The speaker claims that they are angry at the way [they’ve] been bamboozled / And resentful at the mess [they’ve]  been through’, thus implying that they have experienced a negative and ‘messy’ break-up. Their lack of elaboration further intensifies their clear resentment and we are likely to assume that this ‘rebound’ is an attempt to remedy the speaker’s broken heart; they don’t want to talk about love any more, they’ve ‘had an earful’ already. Paris is in fact literal in the sense that the speaker has presumably taken a trip to Paris to escape the woes of their recent break-up; ‘I’m in Paris with you’, but he wishes to shut himself away from the city also. He wishes to disregard everything that Paris has to offer as a city and wants to remain in a hotel room, with only a ‘little bit of Paris in our view’; the speaker can see reality, but does not want to be in its midst.

The final stanza serves to ultimately confirm the speaker’s superficial motives with this partner who is in Paris with them. Fenton illustrates this through having the speaker concentrate upon the physical nature of their new partner, ‘I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth.’ The speaker has no interest in their ‘rebound’s’ personality, they are ultimately a tool to repairing the speaker’s loneliness and broken heart; which ostensibly seems rather antagonistic, but really gives the speaker a sense of humanity. Fenton reinforces the humanity of the speaker through their crudeness; ‘I’m in Paris with…all points south / am I embarrassing you?’; physical affection is all the speaker feels like they need, they need to feel wanted and heal the wound of a broken heart.

James Fenton (1949-)

James Fenton (1949-)

Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face by Jack Prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place–
be glad your nose is on your face!

Prelutsky’s humorous ‘Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face’, being aimed at children, follows the simplistic ABAB rhyme scheme, and using a simplistic lexis to follow suit. The message of the poem itself is also rather elementary; be grateful for what you have, and be aware that changing these things could bring about disastrous consequences. Through using the nose as a metaphor for something that we have in our lives,Prelutsky is able to illustrate that if our noses were in any other place it would not benefit us at all. He describes our noses as being ‘precious’ and important, and humorously places it in the most peculiar places around the body; the feet, the head and the ear.Prelutsky’s placing of the nose as being ‘sandwiched in between your toes’ evokes both an image of comedy and also discomfort at the thought of being ‘forced to smell your feet.’ This constant state of discomfort ultimately points out to the young reader – in a covert fashion of course – that changing the position of something so important could hold very irreversible consequences, so we should be grateful for the things we have got, and not seek out to change things that are perfectly good as they are.Prelutsky’s poem shows the reader that it is sometimes easy to overlook some of the positive things in our lives, and it is also very easy to concentrate on the negative facets of these things. The desire to change things can often be overwhelming, butPrelutsky goes on to give further examples of the consequences of change. He claims that if our noses were on our heads then it ‘would drive [us] to despair, / forever tickled by [our] hair’, a parallel to the discomfort of positioning a nose between toes on the foot. This is continued again in the third stanza, in which the nose has been placed within the ear and this is described as being ‘an absolute catastrophe’, and that the ‘brain would rattle’ whenever we sneezed.Prelutsky comes to, in the final stanza, the very same conclusion that was stated at the beginning of the poem; that you should ‘be glad your nose is on your face!’, it can be dangerous to attempt to change something that was perfectly fine to begin with.

Jack Prelutsky (1940-)

Jack Prelutsky (1940-)

 

 

A Poison Tree by William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

 

Here in this poem, William Blake warns of the consequences of retaining the vice of hate and voices how feelings brought forth by conflict should be resolved; by presenting the effects of ‘bottled up’ malice through metaphor. Blake highlights how the hate of a ‘foe’ can utterly consume us as opposed to voicing our disappointment with a ‘friend’ who upsets us in some way. The first stanza points out that abandoning communication when angry will only result in more anger in the future; and the speaker does this by using an anecdote of a time when – they say – ‘I was angry with my foe: / I told it not, my wrath did grow.’

The second stanza goes on to reveal the duality that such internal malice can bring about, the speaker ‘watered [their wrath] with fears’ and tears but also ‘sunned it with smiles’; pointing out the extremities such hate can make us feel. This is where the parallel between this contained malice and a poison tree really begins, with Blake depicting wrath as something that can be ‘watered’ and ‘sunned’ and if it is, it will continue to grow to colossal heights and even out of control. If we consider our own personal breadth of emotion to be comparable to the way in which a tree grows, and wrath as the vice that poisons that tree, the third stanza depicts the malicious infection spreading and embedding itself as a part of the body of the tree. The tree is said to ‘grow both day and night, / Till it bore an apple bright’, that the foe wishes to steal and eat as it is property of the speaker. The result of the foe going into the speaker’s metaphorical garden and stealing the apple is an unsettling one for the reader, even more so when the speaker confesses that ‘in the morning glad I see / My foe outstretched beneath the tree.’

The final lines of Blake’s poem hit the reader rather hard with the message that he has taken effort to convey. The speaker has emerged triumphant over their foe but at impossibly high costs; the apple that had grown from the speaker’s hate served to kill the one who ate it. ‘A Poison Tree’ is Blake’s warning to the reader about what such poisoned anger can result in, and such an emotion can inevitably poison our minds if ‘watered’ to grow. Releasing emotions through discussion and conversation is a vital action before they fester into a tragic conclusion for both parties.

 

William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake (1757-1827)

 

 

Autumn Fires by Robert Louis Stevenson

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires Autumn-Wallpaper-autumn-35867786-1280-800
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

 

As it’s coming up to the first day of Autumn – my favourite season – it seems only appropriate that today’s poem’s subject follows suit. There’s not so much to read into with this one, it’s simply a gorgeous tangle of imagery of the transition of the seasons; the transition from summer to autumn. Stevenson draws a beautiful parallel between the season of Autumn and a blazing fire; ‘the autumn bonfires.’ It’s as if ‘all the summer flowers’ have been set alight and burned to the crispness of the leaves in Autumn, in all the shades of red, orange and yellow; a flickering flame. The grass beneath the trees are covered by these leaves like flames that lick the green grass and sets the blades burningThis poem fills me with excitement for the Autumn and the parallels drawn to fire can be taken in the literal sense with the days beginning to chill as we close in on October. The time for knits and mittens grows nearer, and I wish you all a very happy and fiery Autumn.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

 

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 

In translation, ‘invictus’ is Latin for ‘unconquerable’ or ‘undefeated’, and from the very onset of Henley’s poem it is made very clear that despite any bleakness, mental strength outwits all. The speaker in this poem is metaphorically covered by the night and in a black pit, existing in darkness; but in spite of his perpetual darkness, he thanks the gods for his ‘unconquerable soul.’ He does not pray for strength as the presence of a metaphorical  darkness at first suggests, but gives thanks for the strength that he already possesses, thus giving the first stanza an unexpected and positive spin on bleakness. The courage the speaker has defined in the first stanza is firmly continued in the second, Henley talks of ‘the fell clutch of circumstance’ and ‘the bludgeonings of chance’ and how he – through all these harsh tests – has ‘not winced nor cried aloud’, he has metaphorical scars and a ‘bloody’ head but keeps his head held high and ‘unbowed’; he has no intention of surrendering to the jarring facets of life.

The speaker goes on to directly address his indifference towards the malice of death which he as ‘the Horror of the shade’ which he maintains that he is ‘unafraid’ of. In using emotive language which hold connotations of utter dread and despair throughout the entire poem – most notably in the third stanza in which Henley depicts ‘this place of wrath and tears’ – it is even more impressive to the reader that the speaker has been able to overcome this. It is also worth noting that perhaps ‘the Horror of the shade’ is a sweet release from ‘this place of wrath and tears’, it ultimately brings an end to mortal suffering.

My favourite part in the entire poem is the final two lines, in which the speaker declares ‘I am the master of my fate : / I am the captain of my soul.’ It seems to indicate a fundamentally important lesson (which I have only just recently learnt myself): that the only actions we are truly in control of are our own. We cannot dwell upon the hardships that have been thrust upon us, but instead should concentrate on ways in which we can better ourselves from them to acquire an unconquerable soul – an ‘invictus’ soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

 

 

 

I Am Very Bothered by Simon Armitage

I am very bothered when I think
of the bad things I have done in my life.
Not least that time in the chemistry lab
when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
and played the handles
in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
then called your name, and handed them over.

O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked,
the doctor said, for eternity.

Don’t believe me, please, if I say
that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
of asking you if you would marry me.

 

I’d say the most interesting thing about this particular Armitage poem is the way in which it follows the traditional length of the romantic sonnet; although abandons all of the other usual facets. A sonnet professes the poet’s love for the recipient and in a strange and unconventional way, this poem does exactly that. It describes a juvenile love and the innocent disregard for consequences and the ‘butterfingered way[s]’ we use to get attention when falling in – what we then are convinced is – love at a young age. The language used massively juxtaposes what one would expect to find  in the traditional sonnet; roses and wine are replaced with white-hot scissors, Bunsen burners and ‘the stench of branded skin’…not quite the pinnacle of conventional romance; and it is in some ways endearing how the speaker still holds some guilt over his actions so many years into the future

Marriage is used as a covert motif throughout the poem and is finally professed as the speaker’s intentions in the final line. Armitage refers to the victim of the speaker’s ‘butterfingered ways’ as ‘slipping [your] thumb and middle finger in / then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings.’ Now, this particular line is a very interesting one. As opposed to the ring finger, Armitage puts emphasis upon the fact that the unnamed girl is using other fingers to use the scissors, perhaps suggesting that she is blatantly not ready for even contemplating the thought of marriage in the same way that the speaker’s immature act proves his lack of readiness. Of course a lack of readiness for marriage at the age of thirteen is to be both expected – to a degree – encouraged, but the following line which depicts that the girl ‘couldn’t shake off the two burning rings, Marked / the doctor said, for eternity’ seems to imply that just because these two are not ready for marriage in that present moment, they are in some way destined for each other and ‘marked’ to be together.’  The speaker’s anecdote of how he burned the hand of a girl he loved to draw her attention suggests an entirely positive message overall; it denotes that an action does not have to be lavishly brimming with romance for it to be romantic in itself uniquely.

Simon Armitage (1963-)

Simon Armitage (1963-)