Reading about Robin Williams’ death, I wanted to read what writers wrote in their last days, in their illness or old age, when they knew they were about to die. That is how I came across these poems by my favourite writer, John Updike.
Poor Andrea del Sarto. A successful Italian painter who was overshadowed by his contemporaries, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. We admire the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael while Andrea del Sarto is almost forgotten. Yet that is what makes him more like most of us.
We may not be remembered outside our own circle of family and friends, but that does not take the edge off the desire and zeal with which you pursue your dreams and aspirations. We may not always get what we want, and we may want more if we do, but that is life. A constant yearning.
Billy Collins, who turned 72 yesterday (March 22), was once called the most popular poet in America by the New York Times. I love some of his poems that speak to me like a friend, telling stories in intimate, picturesque detail; I listen, completely spellbound, unable to interrupt, and the words linger in my mind long after the conversation is over.
He describes books, beaches, houses, the last cigarette he had, incidents from childhood, memory slipping away, in a quiet, intimate voice that makes a deep impression on you. He can be witty, but you are drawn to him because he sounds so personal, so intimate, as he mixes memories with ruminations – and, always, there is the beauty of his word pictures, so vivid, so memorable.
That’s the only way I can describe his poems, by the effect they have on me; I can’t dissect them, analyze them, evaluate them like a literary critic. Nor, do I think, does he want me to. A professor of English, this is how he described that particular attempt at understanding poetry in this poem:
I read this love poem a few days ago on The Writer’s Almanac run by Garrison Keillor and it reminded me of John Donne. It is witty and playful like Donne’s love poems.
People talk of a New York state of mind (below are the lyrics of the song by Billy Joel). Surely, there’s a Singapore state of mind, too.
The American poet Howard Nemerov was born in New York on this day (February 29) in 1920. He died on July 5, 1991.
This poem of his reminds me of Auden’s The Unknown Citizen. This is what the poet himself said about his poem: “Life Cycle of Common Man is probably a bad joke about how we see ourselves treated: in the large, in the mass, as statistical particles. It didn’t turn out really to be a satiric poem, I developed quite a lot of sympathy for myself on the way through.”
It was Auden’s birth anniversary yesterday. He was born in York on Feb 21, 1907, and he died in Vienna on Sept 29, 1973. I love many of his poems, and when I saw this picture of a painting which inspired one of his famous poems, I could not resist having it here. So here is Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, by the Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Breughel, with Auden’s poems, Musee des Beaux Arts.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his Chinese New Year message says:
Ultimately we all want to make Singapore the best home in the world for ourselves, our families and our children. We all want ours to remain an inclusive, meritocratic society where every child has the chance to realise his dreams and aspirations. We all want our children and grandchildren to enjoy many opportunities in Singapore and beyond, even as they remain rooted by a deep sense of belonging in Singapore.
He could have been speaking for everyone in Singapore — and for everyone who loves Singapore.
Gong xi fa cai! It’s the Year of the Dragon from tomorrow.
“The Year of the Dragon is likely to see more uncertainty in the global economy,” said PM Lee. So, here’s wishing everyone good luck.
To sign off, what could be better than a poem on Singapore?
A new poem by the poet laureate in response to England’s dismal Fifa World Cup run.
Afterwards, I found him alone at the bar and asked him what went wrong. It’s the shirt, he said. When I pull it on it hangs on my back like a shroud, or a poisoned jerkin from Grimm seeping its curse on to my skin, the worst tattoo.
I shower and shave before I shrug on the shirt, smell like a dream; but the shirt sours my scent with the sweat and stink of fear. It’s got my number.
I poured him another shot. Speak on, my son. He did.
I’ve wanted to sport the shirt since I was a kid, but now when I do it makes me sick, weak, paranoid.
All night above the team hotel, the moon is the ball in a penalty kick. Tens of thousands of fierce stars are booing me. A screech owl is the referee.
The wind’s a crowd, forty years long, bawling a filthy song about my Wag. It’s the bloody shirt! He started to blub like a big girl’s blouse and I felt a fleeting pity.
Don’t cry, I said, at the end of the day you’ll be back on 100K a week and playing for City.
If asked to name my favourite poem by WH Auden, I would probably say In Memory of WB Yeats though I like any number of his poems: The Unknown Citizen, Lay Your Sleeping Head My Love, O Tell Me the Truth about Love, Funeral Blues, Refugee Blues, Night Mail…
See, the list doesn’t include one of his most famous poems, September 1, 1939, marking the day when Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II, when he was in America.
To be honest, I never particularly liked the opening lines, which are the ones most often quoted. But, while reading an article on him in the Guardian, I looked up the poem again and was moved by the way it rose from despair to anger to the ringing affirmation of faith in humanity in the last lines.