Category Archives: Poetry

A Happy Birthday

A Happy Birthday
By Ted Kooser – 1939-

This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

Tomorrow, I will turn 45. Somedays, I can’t believe I am 45 years old, then other days, I feel every minute of my age. However, the depiction of “A Happy Birthday” in this poem by Ted Kooser, sounds like a pretty good way to end a day.

About Ted Kooser
Poet Laureate of the United States, 2004-2006

Ted Kooser was born in Ames, Iowa on April 25, 1939. He received his BA from Iowa State and his MA in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he is currently a visiting professor in the English department. 

He is the author of twelve collections of poetry published from 1980 to as recent as 2018. He has written several fiction and nonfiction books including Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (Bison Books, 2002), which won the Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction in 2003. His honors and awards include two NEA fellowships in poetry, a Pushcart Prize, the Stanley Kunitz Prize from Columbia, and a Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council. In the fall of 2004, Kooser was appointed the thirteenth United States Poet Laureate.


Jesus at the Gay Bar

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

—Genesis 1:27

Jesus at the Gay Bar
By Jay Hulme

He’s here in the midst of it –
right at the centre of the dance floor,
robes hitched up to His knees
to make it easy to spin.

At some point in the evening
a boy will touch the hem of His robe
and beg to be healed, beg to be
anything other than this;

and He will reach His arms out,
sweat-damped, and weary from dance.
He’ll cup the boy’s face in His hand
and say,

      my beautiful child
there is nothing in this heart of yours
that ever needs to be healed.

About the Poem

I saw this posted on Wilson Cruz’s Instagram (@wcruz73), and it just grabbed my heart and nearly brought tears to my eyes. It is such a beautiful poem and a sentiment that we should all remember: “my beautiful child / there is nothing in this heart of yours / that ever needs to be healed.” Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” It does not say God created man in the image of other men or what other men want you to be. He said we were created in “His own image…male and female He created them.” It’s a beautiful thing to remember. No matter what others tell you that you should be, remember, you are who you are because God created you that way, whether that is gay or straight, cisgender or transgender, male or female, or any of the colors of the rainbow, God created you that way.

About the Poet

Jay Hulme is an award-winning transgender performance poet, speaker, and educator. Alongside his writing and regular performances, he teaches in schools, performs sensitivity reads and consults, and speaks at events and conferences on the importance of diversity in the media, and, more specifically, transgender inclusion and rights. In 2017 he gave a TED talk and was featured in Nationwide Building Society’s “Voices” advertising campaign, with him and his work appearing in both TV and radio adverts. 

In recent years Jay has worked alongside and/or consulted with Amnesty International, The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, Stop Funding Hate, and The Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards, among other groups, on inclusion and diversity in literature, especially YA and children’s literature, and has performed confidential inclusion and sensitivity reads for a number of large publishers, improving the quality and accuracy of transgender representation in a number of books.

Jay is currently Poet-in-Residence at ‘The Poet’s Church’, St Giles-in-the-Fields in Central London.

Writer

Jay performs his poetry across the country regularly, as both stand-alone sets, and as part of larger events. He occasionally writes essays as well as poetry, and his work has been published in a number of magazines and journals, as well as anthologies by both independent and well-known publishers, including Bloomsbury and the Ladybird imprint of Penguin Random House.

He has been focusing, most recently, on poetry for children and young adults, and the five-poet collection “Rising Stars”, of which he was a part, was Highly Commended in the 2018 CLiPPA awards – the UK’s biggest award for children’s poetry collections.

His most recent collection, “Clouds Cannot Cover Us” is aimed at teenagers, was published by Troika Books in October 2019, and has been nominated for the 2021 Carnegie Medal – ‘the UK’s oldest and best-loved children’s book award’ (their words).

Speaker

As a speaker, he has given a number of high-profile talks, almost all of which also included the performance of one or more of his poems. Most notably, he’s spoken at 2019’s London Book Fair, the 2018 Children’s Media Conference, and 2017’s TEDx Teen. He has also spoken in Parliament about trans rights, alongside Stonewall and PinkNews, and has worked with large and small companies on LGBT inclusion, as well as working with a number of NHS Hospital Trusts, giving talks and staff training focused on ensuring transgender patients are provided with dignity and adequate medical care.

Educator

As an educator, Jay has taught poetry to adults and children and has worked in libraries and a number of schools, primary and secondary, state and private, working alongside the curriculum to not just expand the pupils’ knowledge of poetry but to generate enthusiasm and excitement for a form that is so often seen as difficult and intimidating. Pupils often express how their perspective on poetry has changed, and their teachers report that their enthusiasm for and engagement with poetry remains long after their visits. Jay also teaches poetry to adults through lectures at universities and through workshops, at venues as varied as libraries and theatres, and at festival sites and pubs. He has also been the coach of the Durham University Slam Poetry Team since its first year. The team has, under his tutelage, won ‘Slam of the North’, and come third in ‘UniSlam’, the UK’s biggest team poetry slam competition.

Jay gained a BA (honours) degree in English Literature and Journalism in 2018, focusing, in his final year, on Victorian Sensation novels, and how they informed and reflected the morality and social mores of mid-19th century British society. He has also taken part in short training courses in order to develop his own practice and educational skills, including a course with the National Literacy Trust focused specifically on working with primary school students, and a course run by Pop-Up Projects and Historic Royal Palaces on the use of heritage sites in literary education and as stimuli for creative writing, something which is very much a passion of his.

Bio was taken from his website.

Website: https://jayhulme.com

Twitter: @JayHulmePoet

Instagram: @jayhulmepoet


Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving
By Edgar Guest – 1881-1959

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

About the Poet

On August 20, 1881, Edgar Guest was born in Birmingham, England, to Edwin and Julia Wayne Guest. The family settled in Detroit, Michigan, in 1891. When Edwin lost his job in 1893, eleven-year-old Edgar between working odd jobs after school. In 1895 he was hired as a copy boy for the Detroit Free Press, where he would work for almost sixty-five years. His father died when the poet was seventeen, and Guest was forced to drop out of high school and work full time at the newspaper. He worked his way up from a copy boy to a job in the news department. His first poem appeared on December 11, 1898. His weekly column, “Chaff,” first appeared in 1904; his topical verses eventually became the daily “Breakfast Table Chat,” which was syndicated to over three-hundred newspapers throughout the United States.

Guest married Nellie Crossman in 1906. The couple had three children. His brother Harry printed his first two books, Home Rhymes and Just Glad Things, in small editions. His verse quickly found an audience and the Chicago firm of Reilly and Britton began to publish his books at a rate of nearly one per year. His collections include Just Folks(1917), Over Here (1918), When Day Is Done (1921), The Passing Throng (1923), Harbor Lights of Home (1928), and Today and Tomorrow (1942).

From 1931 to 1942, Guest broadcast a weekly program on NBC radio. In 1951, “A Guest in Your Home” appeared on NBC TV. He published more than twenty volumes of poetry and was thought to have written over 11,000 poems. Guest has been called “the poet of the people.” Most often, his poems were fourteen lines long and presented a deeply sentimental view of everyday life. He considered himself “a newspaper man who wrote verses.” Of his poem he said, “I take simple everyday things that happen to me and I figure it happens to a lot of other people and I make simple rhymes out of them.” His Collected Verse appeared in 1934 and went into at least eleven editions. Edgar Guest died on August 5, 1959.


[ a subway ride ]

[ a subway ride ]
By Joseph O. Legaspi

His artfully unkempt strawberry blonde head sports outsized headphones. Like a contemporary bust. Behold the innocence of the freckles, ripe pout of cherry lips. As if the mere sight of the world hurts him, he squints greenly and applies saline drops. You dream him crying over you. For the duration of a subway ride you fall blindly in love. Until he exits. Or you exit, returning home to the one you truly love to ravish him.

About the Poem

This is not the typical poem that I post. It does not have the usual poetic structure that I prefer. The only structure seems to be that the poem is justified, not aligned on the left or right margin. I probably don’t need to explain this but when you justify text, you give your text straight edges on both sides of the paragraph. Justifying extends each line of your text to the left and right margins. Justifying text might make the last line of text in a paragraph considerably shorter than the other lines. I have to wonder if the justifying of the text is an allegory itself. Sometimes poets use the structure of a poem for a particular purpose. It might be the case with this poem. Maybe the text is justified because the poet is justifying his short-lived obsession with the strawberry blonde he sees on the subway. I think sometimes we feel guilty over carnal thoughts about other men, but we shouldn’t. Yet, the poet describes the man as innocent because of his “freckles, ripe pout of cherry lips.”

Then again, the poem may have just come to Legaspi as he was riding the subway and saw a handsome young man near him. Whether there is a hidden meaning or just a fleeting thought put to paper, I like the “story” that it tells. I think the poem itself is self-explanatory. We have probably all been there and had these same thoughts. 

About the Poet

Joseph O. Legaspi was born in the Philippines, where he lived before immigrating to Los Angeles with his family at age twelve. He received a BA from Loyola Marymount University and an MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program. A Fulbright scholar and two-time NYSCA/New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow, Legaspi is the author of Threshold (CavanKerry Press, 2017) and Imago (CavanKerry Press, 2007), winner of a Global Filipino Literary Award; and the chapbooks Postcards (Ghost Bird Press, 2019); Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014); and Subways (Thrush Press, 2013). In 2004, he cofounded Kundiman, a national organization serving generations of writers and readers of Asian American literature. He works at Columbia University, teaches at New York University and Fordham University, and lives with his husband in Queens, New York. 


My November Guest

My November Guest
By Robert Frost – 1874-1963

My sorrow, when she’s here with me,
  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
  She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
  She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted grey
  Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
  The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
  And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
  The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
  And they are better for her praise.

About the Poem

The title of this poem seemed apropos for today. It’s November, and I have a guest coming. However, I hope my guest’s visit will be a happier one than in “My November Guest.”

“My November Guest” was published in Robert Frost’s first published volume of Frost’s poetry, A Boy’s Will, (1913), which is among the best of Frost’s poems in which he speaks of Fall in rural New Hampshire.

The poem is about sorrow. At some point in his life, the poet must have experienced extreme pain and sorrow during the month of November. There is an air of familiarity created by the poet, and he and his guest have walked and talked along the “sodden pasture lane.” Sorrow is personified as a woman – a friend, companion, and she is considered a regular visitor, and “a guest” She is someone the poet dearly loves. He is very comfortable in her company and doesn’t wish to be separated from her – “She talks and I am fain to list.” She is dressed for the weather – that time of year in New England before the first snows of winter – wearing “simple worsted grey.”

In the very first line, “My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,” marks the peak of the poet’s togetherness with sorrow.

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;

Walking with the poet, she (Sorrow) speaks of the beautiful Autumn days, finds ecstasy in the withered trees, and the autumnal browns. Fall is a season marked with desolate earth, deserted trees, the “sodden pasture lane,” and the departure of the birds. The poet’s Sorrow finds beauty in the Autumn days. She reprimands the poet for not being able to experience the joy in Autumn and asks for an explanation. The phrase “Simple worsted grey is silver now with clinging mist” reflects the mood of the poem, the coexistence of joy and sorrow.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise

In the first three stanzas the poet is forced to listen to his ‘guest” extol the virtues of Autumn, “the dark days of autumn rain” and she seems convinced that he has “no eye for” the beauty that surrounds him at this time of year. Those of us familiar with the poetry of Frost know this to be false and we know that he does appreciate these beauties. However, the constant repetition of “She” creates a sense of easy familiarity with his guest, “She walks,” “She talks,” “She thinks,” “She’s glad” and, out of respect or deference, he doesn’t make any effort to correct his companion, for ‘they are better for her praise.” In actual fact, it was not just yesterday that he discovered this fact, he has known it for many a long day:

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days


The Raven

The Raven
By Edgar Allan Poe – 1809-1849

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
      Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
      Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
      This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
      Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
      Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
      ‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
      Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
      Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
      With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
      Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
      Of ‘Never—nevermore.'”

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
      Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
      She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
      Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
      Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
      Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
      Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
    Shall be lifted—nevermore!

About the Poem

Just as it’s hard to post a poem about autumn without using a Robert Frost poem, it’s hard to post a poem for Halloween without a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Whenever I read “The Raven,” I almost always hear it in the voice of Vincent Price. Is there anyone more perfect to read a Poe poem? Listen to it for yourself:

You can also hear classic readings of Poe’s “The Raven” by James Earl Jones, Christopher Walken, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee, or John Astin.

“The Raven” is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. First published in January 1845, the poem is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow descent into madness. The lover, often identified as a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further distress the protagonist with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore.” The poem makes use of folk, mythological, religious, and classical references.

Poe claimed to have written the poem logically and methodically, intending to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explained in his 1846 follow-up essay, “The Philosophy of Composition”. The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe based the complex rhythm and meter on Elizabeth Barrett’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout.

“The Raven” was first attributed to Poe in print in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845. Its publication made Poe popular in his lifetime, although it did not bring him much financial success. The poem was soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated. Critical opinion is divided as to the poem’s literary status, but it nevertheless remains one of the most famous poems ever written.

About the Poet

Like his life’s work, Edgar Allan Poe’s death remains shrouded in mystery. It was raining in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, but that didn’t stop Joseph W. Walker, a compositor for the Baltimore Sun, from heading out to Gunner’s Hall, a public house bustling with activity. It was Election Day, and Gunner’s Hall served as a pop-up polling location for the 4th Ward polls. When Walker arrived at Gunner’s Hall, he found a man, delirious and dressed in shabby second-hand clothes, lying in the gutter. The man was semi-conscious, and unable to move, but as Walker approached the him, he discovered something unexpected: the man was Edgar Allan Poe. Worried about the health of the addled poet, Walker stopped and asked Poe if he had any acquaintances in Baltimore that might be able to help him. Poe gave Walker the name of Joseph E. Snodgrass, a magazine editor with some medical training. Immediately, Walker penned Snodgrass a letter asking for help:

Baltimore City, Oct. 3, 1849

Dear Sir,

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste,

JOS. W. WALKER

To Dr. J.E. Snodgrass.

On September 27—almost a week earlier—Poe had left Richmond, Virginia, bound for Philadelphia to edit a collection of poems for Mrs. St. Leon Loud, a minor figure in American poetry at the time. When Walker found Poe in delirious disarray outside of the polling place, it was the first anyone had heard or seen of the poet since his departure from Richmond. Poe never made it to Philadelphia to attend to his editing business. Nor did he ever make it back to New York, where he had been living, to escort his aunt back to Richmond for his impending wedding. Poe was never to leave Baltimore, where he launched his career in the early 19th- century, again—and in the four days between Walker finding Poe outside the public house and Poe’s death on October 7, he never regained enough consciousness to explain how he had come to be found, in soiled clothes not his own, incoherent on the streets. Instead, Poe spent his final days wavering between fits of delirium, gripped by visual hallucinations. The night before his death, according to his attending physician Dr. John J. Moran, Poe repeatedly called out for “Reynolds”—a figure who, to this day, remains a mystery.

Poe’s death—shrouded in mystery—seems ripped directly from the pages of one of his own works. He had spent years crafting a careful image of a man inspired by adventure and fascinated with enigmas—a poet, a detective, an author, a world traveler who fought in the Greek War of Independence and was held prisoner in Russia. But though his death certificate listed the cause of death as phrenitis, or swelling of the brain, the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death have led many to speculate about the true cause of Poe’s demise. “Maybe it’s fitting that since he invented the detective story,” says Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, “he left us with a real-life mystery.”

In 1867, one of the first theories to deviate from either phrenitis or alcohol was published by biographer E. Oakes Smith in her article “Autobiographic Notes: Edgar Allan Poe.” “At the instigation of a woman, ” Smith writes, “who considered herself injured by him, he was cruelly beaten, blow upon blow, by a ruffian who knew of no better mode of avenging supposed injuries. It is well known that a brain fever followed. . . .” Other accounts also mention “ruffians” who had beaten Poe senseless before his death. As Eugene Didier wrote in his 1872 article, “The Grave of Poe,” that while in Baltimore, Poe ran into some friends from West Point, who prevailed upon him to join them for drinks. Poe, unable to handle liquor, became madly drunk after a single glass of champagne, after which he left his friends to wander the streets. In his drunken state, he “was robbed and beaten by ruffians, and left insensible in the street all night.”

Others believe that Poe fell victim to a practice known as cooping, a method of voter fraud practiced by gangs in the 19th century where an unsuspecting victim would be kidnapped, disguised and forced to vote for a specific candidate multiple times under multiple disguised identities. Voter fraud was extremely common in Baltimore around the mid 1800s, and the polling site where Walker found the disheveled Poe was a known place that coopers brought their victims. The fact that Poe was found delirious on election day, then, is no coincidence.

Over the years, the cooping theory has come to be one of the more widely accepted explanations for Poe’s strange demeanor before his death. Before Prohibition, voters were given alcohol after voting as a sort of reward; had Poe been forced to vote multiple times in a cooping scheme, that might explain his semi-conscious, ragged state.

Around the late 1870s, Poe’s biographer J.H. Ingram received several letters that blamed Poe’s death on a cooping scheme. A letter from William Hand Browne, a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins, explains that “the general belief here is, that Poe was seized by one of these gangs, (his death happening just at election-time; an election for sheriff took place on Oct. 4th), ‘cooped,’ stupefied with liquor, dragged out and voted, and then turned adrift to die.”

“A lot of the ideas that have come up over the years have centered around the fact that Poe couldn’t handle alcohol,” says Semtner. “It has been documented that after a glass of wine he was staggering drunk. His sister had the same problem; it seems to be something hereditary.”

Months before his death, Poe became a vocal member of the temperance movement, eschewing alcohol, which he’d struggled with all his life. Biographer Susan Archer Talley Weiss recalls, in her biography “The Last Days of Edgar A. Poe,” an event, toward the end of Poe’s time in Richmond, that might be relevant to theorists that prefer a “death by drinking” demise for Poe. Poe had fallen ill in Richmond, and after making a somewhat miraculous recovery, was told by his attending physician that “another such attack would prove fatal.” According to Weiss, Poe replied that “if people would not tempt him, he would not fall,” suggesting that the first illness was brought on by a bout of drinking.

Those around Poe during his finals days seem convinced that the author did, indeed, fall into that temptation, drinking himself to death. As his close friend J. P. Kennedy wrote on October 10, 1849: “On Tuesday last Edgar A. Poe died in town here at the hospital from the effects of a debauch. . . . He fell in with some companion here who seduced him to the bottle, which it was said he had renounced some time ago. The consequence was fever, delirium, and madness, and in a few days a termination of his sad career in the hospital. Poor Poe! . . . A bright but unsteady light has been awfully quenched.”

Though the theory that Poe’s drinking lead to his death fails to explain his five-day disappearance, or his second-hand clothes on October 3, it was nonetheless a popular theory propagated by Snodgrass after Poe’s death. Snodgrass, a member of the temperance movement, gave lectures across the country, blaming Poe’s death on binge drinking. Modern science, however, has thrown a wrench into Snodgrasses talking points: samples of Poe’s hair from after his death show low levels of lead, explains Semtner, which is an indication that Poe remained faithful to his vow of sobriety up until his demise.

In 1999, public health researcher Albert Donnay argued that Poe’s death was a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from coal gas that was used for indoor lighting during the 19th century. Donnay took clippings of Poe’s hair and tested them for certain heavy metals that would be able to reveal the presence of coal gas. The test was inconclusive, leading biographers and historians to largely discredit Donnay’s theory.

While Donnay’s test didn’t reveal levels of heavy metal consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning, the tests did reveal elevated levels of mercury in Poe’s system months before his death. According to Semtner, Poe’s mercury levels were most likely elevated as a result of a cholera epidemic he’d been exposed to in July of 1849, while in Philadelphia. Poe’s doctor prescribed calomel, or mercury chloride. Mercury poisoning, Semtner says, could help explain some of Poe’s hallucinations and delirium before his death. However, the levels of mercury found in Poe’s hair, even at their highest, are still 30 times below the level consistent with mercury poisoning.

In 1996, Dr. R. Michael Benitez was participating in a clinical pathologic conference where doctors are given patients, along with a list of symptoms, and instructed to diagnose and compare with other doctors as well as the written record. The symptoms of the anonymous patient E.P., “a writer from Richmond” were clear: E.P. had succumbed to rabies. According to E.P.’s supervising physician, Dr. J.J. Moran, E.P. had been admitted to a hospital due to “lethargy and confusion.” Once admitted, E.P.’s condition began a rapid downward spiral: shortly, the patient was exhibiting delirium, visual hallucinations, wide variations in pulse rate and rapid, shallow breathing. Within four days—the median length of survival after the onset of serious rabies symptoms—E.P. was dead.

E.P., Benitez soon found out, wasn’t just any author from Richmond. It was Poe whose death the Maryland cardiologist had diagnosed as a clear case of rabies, a fairly common virus in the 19th century. Running counter to any prevailing theories at the time, Benitez’s diagnosis ran in the September 1996 issue of the Maryland Medical Journal. As Benitez pointed out in his article, without DNA evidence, it’s impossible to say with 100 percent certainty that Poe succumbed to the rabies virus. There are a few kinks in the theory, including no evidence of hydrophobia (those afflicted with rabies develop a fear of water, Poe was reported to have been drinking water at the hospital until his death) nor any evidence of an animal bite (though some with rabies don’t remember being bitten by an animal). Still, at the time of the article’s publication, Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House Museum in Baltimore, agreed with Benitez’s diagnosis. “This is the first time since Poe died that a medical person looked at Poe’s death without any preconceived notions,” Jerome told the Chicago Tribune in October of 1996. “If he knew it was Edgar Allan Poe, he’d think, ‘Oh yeah, drugs, alcohol,’ and that would influence his decision. Dr. Benitez had no agenda.”

One of the most recent theories about Poe’s death suggests that the author succumbed to a brain tumor, which influenced his behavior before his death. When Poe died, he was buried, rather unceremoniously, in an unmarked grave in a Baltimore graveyard. Twenty-six years later, a statue was erected, honoring Poe, near the graveyard’s entrance. Poe’s coffin was dug up, and his remains exhumed, in order to be moved to the new place of honor. But more than two decades of buried decay had not been kind to Poe’s coffin—or the corpse within it—and the apparatus fell apart as workers tried to move it from one part of the graveyard to another. Little remained of Poe’s body, but one worker did remark on a strange feature of Poe’s skull: a mass rolling around inside. Newspapers of the day claimed that the clump was Poe’s brain, shriveled yet intact after almost three decades in the ground.

We know, today, that the mass could not be Poe’s brain, which is one of the first parts of the body to rot after death. But Matthew Pearl, an American author who wrote a novel about Poe’s death, was nonetheless intrigued by this clump. He contacted a forensic pathologist, who told him that while the clump couldn’t be a brain, it could be a brain tumor, which can calcify after death into hard masses.

According to Semtner, Pearl isn’t the only person to believe Poe suffered from a brain tumor: a New York physician once told Poe that he had a lesion on his brain that caused his adverse reactions to alcohol.

A far less sinister theory suggests that Poe merely succumbed to the flu—which might have turned into deadly pneumonia—on this deathbed. As Semtner explains, in the days leading up to Poe’s departure from Richmond, the author visited a physician, complaining of illness. “His last night in town, he was very sick, and his [soon-to-be] wife noted that he had a weak pulse, a fever, and she didn’t think he should take the journey to Philadelphia,” says Semtner. “He visited a doctor, and the doctor also told him not to travel, that he was too sick.” According to newspaper reports from the time, it was raining in Baltimore when Poe was there—which Semtner thinks could explain why Poe was found in clothes not his own. “The cold and the rain exasperated the flu he already had,” says Semtner, “and maybe that eventually lead to pneumonia. The high fever might account for his hallucinations and his confusion.”

In his 2000 book Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, author John Evangelist Walsh presents yet another theory about Poe’s death: that Poe was murdered by the brothers of his wealthy fiancée, Elmira Shelton. Using evidence from newspapers, letters and memoirs, Walsh argues that Poe actually made it to Philadelphia, where he was ambushed by Shelton’s three brothers, who warned Poe against marrying their sister. Frightened by the experience, Poe disguised himself in new clothes (accounting for, in Walsh’s mind, his second-hand clothing) and hid in Philadelphia for nearly a week, before heading back to Richmond to marry Shelton. Shelton’s brothers intercepted Poe in Baltimore, Walsh postulates, beat him, and forced him to drink whiskey, which they knew would send Poe into a deathly sickness. Walsh’s theory has gained little traction among Poe historians—or book reviewers; Edwin J. Barton, in a review for the journal American Literature, called Walsh’s story “only plausible, not wholly persuasive.” “Midnight Dreary is interesting and entertaining,” he concluded, “but its value to literary scholars is limited and oblique.”

For Semtner, however, none of the theories fully explain Poe’s curious end. “I’ve never been completely convinced of any one theory, and I believe Poe’s cause of death resulted from a combination of factors,” he says. “His attending physician is our best source of evidence. If he recorded on the mortality schedule that Poe died of phrenitis, Poe was most likely suffering from encephalitis or meningitis, either of which might explain his symptoms.”

Source: “The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” by Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian Magazine, October 7, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN


Annabel Lee

Annabel Lee
By Edgar Allan Poe – 1809-1849

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
  In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
  I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
  Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
  In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
  My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
  And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
  In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
  Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
  In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
  Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
  Of those who were older than we—
  Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in heaven above,
  Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
  Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
  Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
  Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
  In her sepulchre there by the sea,
  In her tomb by the sounding sea.

About the Poem

“Annabel Lee” is the last complete poem composed by Edgar Allan Poe. Like many other of Poe’s poems including “The Raven.” “Ulalume,” and “To One in Paradise,” “Annabel Lee” hauntingly follows the theme of the death of a beautiful woman, which Poe called “the most poetical topic in the world.” In “Annabel Lee,” the narrator fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young He loves her so strongly that even angels are envious. He continues to love her even after her death. 

Scholars debate who, if anyone, was the inspiration for “Annabel Lee.” Like women in many other works by Poe, she marries young and is struck with illness. Many women have been suggested, but Poe’s wife Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe is one of the more credible candidates. The couple were first cousins and publicly married when Virginia Clemm was 13 and Poe was 27. Biographers disagree as to the nature of the couple’s relationship. Though their marriage was loving, some biographers suggest they viewed one another more like a brother and sister. In January 1842, she contracted tuberculosis, growing worse for five years until she died of the disease at the age of 24 in the family’s cottage, at that time outside New York City.

A local legend in Charleston, South Carolina, tells the story of a sailor who met a woman named Annabel Lee. Her father disapproved of the pairing and the two met privately in a graveyard before the sailor’s time stationed in Charleston was up. While away, he heard of Annabel’s death from yellow fever, but her father would not allow him at the funeral. Because he did not know her exact burial location, he instead kept vigil in the cemetery where they had often secretly met. There is no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe had heard of this legend, but locals insist it was his inspiration, especially considering Poe was briefly stationed in Charleston while in the army in 1827.

The poem focuses on an ideal love that is unusually strong. The narrator’s actions show that he not only loves Annabel Lee, but he worships her, something he can only do after her death. The narrator admits that he and Annabel Lee were children when they fell in love, but his explanation that angels murdered her is in itself childish, suggesting he has failed to mature since then. His repetition of this assertion suggests he is trying to rationalize his excessive feelings of loss. Unlike “The Raven,” in which the narrator believes he will “nevermore” be reunited with his love, “Annabel Lee” says the two will be together again, as not even demons “can ever dissever” their souls.

Poe wrote “Annabel Lee” in 1849. The poem was not published until shortly after Poe’s death that same year.

About the Poet

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States, and American literature. Poe was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story and is considered to be the inventor of the detective fiction genre, as well as a significant contributor to the emerging genre of science fiction. Poe is the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

I am not going to go into great detail about Poe’s life. It was a life filled with much sadness as can be seen in many of his poems. However, I will relate one of my favorite stories about Poe. After accruing substantial gambling debt during his freshman year at the University of Virginia, an 18-year-old Poe found himself desperate for financial stability. Like any reasonable teenage poet with massive debt and a gambling addiction, he joined the Army. Poe enlisted as an artilleryman and soon distinguished himself enough to become an artificer, a respected billet for someone with a mechanical mind adept at preparing explosives. Just two years into his five-year enlistment, Poe was promoted to sergeant major, the senior rank for noncommissioned officers. Despite excelling in the Army, Poe felt he had served “as long as suits my ends or my inclination,” and began searching for an early way out. He found an unorthodox solution through an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Poe traveled to West Point and enrolled as a cadet on July 1, 1830. Poe did well academically but was soon undone by continued quarrels with his foster father and money problems. During his first term, he decided to leave West Point but could not resign without the consent of his foster father. When Allen did not consent, Poe set out to get himself court-martialed and dismissed. In his seven months at West Point, he accumulated an impressive record—though not of the sort to which a cadet usually aspired. The Conduct Roll for July–December 1831 lists the number of offenses committed by cadets and their corresponding demerits. Poe’s name appears about midway down the list of top offenders, with 44 offenses and 106 demerits for the term. The roll for January alone shows Poe at the top of the list with 66 offenses for the month. It would appear that Poe was trying very hard to get kicked out of West Point. Legends of his misconduct range from him being constantly drunk to him showing up for formation naked. The story goes that West Point’s regulations for cadets stated that cadets must attend formation in belt, gloves, and boots (or something to that effect). Poe supposedly showed up in a belt, gloves, boots, a smile, and nothing else. However, there is no mention in West Point’s official records of Poe reporting for drills in “a belt, gloves, boots, a smile, and nothing else,” as has often been rumored and given as a reason for his expulsion, but trust me, a lot of things at military academies don’t go in the official record. On February 8, 1831, he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. He tactically pleaded not guilty to induce dismissal, knowing that he would be found guilty.


Barnes & Noble, 1999

Barnes & Noble, 1999
By Jesús I. Valles

I was a boy in a bookstore, “a bathhouse,” I’ll joke
when I am older. But then, I wasn’t. I was in a gallery
of things to be cracked open; all their spines & mine.
I tell you, I was a hungry pickpocket, plucking
what language I could from books & men who stood hard
before me. This is what it means to be astonishing;
to thieve speech and sense from the undeserving.
I tell you, I was a boy and they were men, so all
the words I know for this I made into small razors,
some tucked between my teeth, under my tongue,
and when they said what a good mouth I had,
I smiled, the silver glint of sharp things in me
singing, “I’ll outlive you. I’ll outlive all of you.”

About the Poem

“During a writing workshop, I was asked to write an ode to my younger self. I quickly became envious of that past-me, of the haphazard bravado and willfulness that allowed me to explore my queerness in the aisles and shelves (and bathrooms) of that bookstore where words broke me open, where worlds broke open. In revisiting this site and self, I also found a lasting resentment and latent pity for the adult men who were willing to usher me in this way, for their aging bodies, for that bookstore (which is now a Ross Dress-For-Less), for all our lost selves.”—Jesús I. Valles

Back in 1999, I was in college in Alabama. There wasn’t much of a gay scene, and I was still trying to understand and coming to terms with my sexuality. The only place I knew where gay men regularly congregated, besides the newspaper office at my college, was the local Barnes & Noble. I could peruse the books and the men. I bought my first gay book (Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin) at that bookstore. I never talked to any of the gay men at the bookstore; I was far too scared and shy to do anything like that. This poem really speaks to me in so many ways. The poem begins with “I was a boy in a bookstore, ‘a bathhouse,’ I’ll joke when I am older.” I’ve also always loved books, so Barnes & Noble combined my love of books with my first baby steps towards understanding my sexuality.

By the way, the other book that I clandestinely purchased at that Barnes and Noble was Finding the Boyfriend Within: A Practical Guide for Tapping into Your Own Source of Love, Happiness, and Respect by Brad Gooch. This book was billed as a guide for gay men searching for greater self-acceptance. Gooch advised his readers to live every day as if they were expecting to entertain a dream lover for tea or dinner. I learned a lot about accepting myself for who I was first. I had to learn to love myself and come out to myself before I could venture into the real world of gay men perusing bookstores.

It might not sound like much, but that local Barnes & Noble helped to change my life and to allow me to accept who I am.

 About the Poet

Jesús I. Valles is a queer, Mexican immigrant writer-performer from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and El Paso, Texas. The recipient of fellowships and support from CantoMundo, Lambda Literary, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Idyllwild, Undocupoets, and Tin House, they live on stolen Pequot, Nipmuc, Niantic, Narragansett, and Wampanoag land.


The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost – 1874-1963

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I realize that I have posted Robert Frost poems three weeks in a row, but Autumn seems like the perfect time to read some Frost. I was not going to post another one this week. However, on Saturday, I was out walking and taking some pictures of the fall foliage in Vermont, and I took this picture because the scene reminded me of this poem.

About the Poem

Everyone can quote those final two lines. David Orr writes in his book The Road Not Taken that everyone gets the meaning wrong. The usual interpretation is that the poem is praised as an ode of individuality, to not follow the pack even though the path may be more difficult. Except Frost notes early in the poem that the two roads were “worn . . . really about the same.” There is no difference. It’s only later, when the narrator recounts this moment, that he says he took the road less traveled.

“This is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices (as opposed to what was chosen for us, or allotted to us by chance),” Orr writes. “The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism,” he continues. “It’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives.”

Wrongly referred to by many as “The Road Less Traveled,” the poem’s true title, “The Road Not Taken,” references regret rather than pride. That’s by design. Frost wrote it as somewhat of a joke to a friend, English poet Edward Thomas. In 1912, Frost was nearly 40 and frustrated by his lack of success in the United States. After Thomas praised his work in London, the two became friends, and Frost visited him in Gloucestershire. They often took walks in the woods, and Frost was amused that Thomas always said another path might have been better. “Frost equated [it] with the romantic predisposition for ‘crying over what might have been,’” Orr writes, quoting Frost biographer Lawrance Thompson.

Frost thought his friend “would take the poem as a gentle joke and protest, ‘Stop teasing me,’” Thompson writes. He didn’t. Like readers today, Thomas was confused by it and maybe even thought he was being lampooned. Matthew Hollis, Edward Thomas’ biographer, suggested that “The Road Not Taken” goaded the British poet, who was indecisive about joining the army. “It pricked at his confidence . . . the one man who understood his indecisiveness most acutely — in particular, toward the war — appeared to be mocking him for it,” writes Hollis. Thomas enlisted in World War I and was killed two years later.

Orr writes that “The Road Not Taken” is “a thoroughly American poem. The ideas that [it] holds in tension — the notion of choice, the possibility of self-deception — are concepts that define . . . the United States.” It is also, as critic Frank Lentricchia writes, “the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

I have always equated this poem with what Jesus says during the Sermon on the Mount about the narrow gate. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Frost’s religious beliefs have long been speculated upon. Raised by a mother who was a follower of Swedenborgianism, a Swedish mystical belief, many of Frost’s biographers have noted his apparent atheism or agnosticism. But he was deeply interested in Christianity.

Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College and a prominent Frost scholar Jay Parini said that “Robert Frost called himself an ‘Old Testament Christian. Which meant he was really more focused on the Torah and the old Biblical stories. Things like the Book of Job, the first five books of Moses, the Book of Proverbs and the Psalms were hugely important to Frost as a poet, a man and a thinker.”

No matter how you interpret “The Road Not Taken,” it is still one of the most famous American poems.


Two October Poems

October
By Robert Frost – 1874-1963

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

In “October,” Robert Frost urges nature to slow down—before the leaves fall and the chilly weather begins. Frost has been hailed, and quite correctly in my opinion, as the “the poet of New England.” Like in many of his nature poems, Frost was inspired by New England’s beautiful scenery.

As with many of Frost’s poems, it is a simple and elegant poem which in this case describes a beautiful crisp October morning. With his usual graceful prose, Frost sets the scene of a quiet morning in early October, much like this morning was (though it was chilly at 27 degrees here). The air is silent but for the distant sound of crows. He speaks of the ripened leaves of fall with their multitude of colors-green, red, gold, and brown. It is a simple scene rendered instantly familiar to anyone whose experienced New England in the fall. You don’t have to look any further than that, but like all of Frost’s poems, it is more complex than simply setting a scene.

In truth, October is a grimly solemn poem, dealing with topics far heavier than a mere fall morning. Simply put, October is about death, a fact that becomes uneasily apparent upon closer inspection. Frost offers us the first hint of this within the first few lines when he references the crows that may “form and go” tomorrow. This works in two different ways. First and foremost, it must be noted that the crows are specifically brought up in order to point out their oncoming departure. However, just as significant is the fact that Frost particularly noted that they were crows, birds that are associated with death.

This said, Frost primarily relies on the oncoming winter to represent death, something he then contrasts with day, which serves to represent life. Rather than setting the two as enemies, he is content to ask only that the morning “Begin the hours of this day slow” allowing him as much time as possible before the cold finality of winter sets in.

The Native American poet Evalyn Callahan Shaw wrote a poem with the same title. It’s a popular name for poems. There is one by the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar; another by Massachusetts native Helen Hunt Jackson who wrote a poem for each month; and Louise Glück, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003-2004 also wrote a poem titled “October.” I am not going to use the ones by Dunbar, Jackson, or Glück, but I do want to include the one by Shaw. Evalyn (sometimes listed as Eva, Evelyn, or Jane Evylin) Callahan Shaw was born around 1861 and lived in Wagoner, Indian Territory. She was the daughter of Samuel Benton Callahan of the Creek Nation.

October
By Evalyn Callahan Shaw

October is the month that seems
All woven with midsummer dreams;
She brings for us the golden days
That fill the air with smoky haze,
She brings for us the lisping breeze
And wakes the gossips in the trees,
Who whisper near the vacant nest
Forsaken by its feathered guest.
Now half the birds forget to sing,
And half of them have taken wing,
Before their pathway shall be lost
Beneath the gossamer of frost.
Zigzag across the yellow sky,
They rustle here and flutter there,
Until the boughs hang chill and bare,
What joy for us—what happiness
Shall cheer the day the night shall bless?
‘Tis hallowe’en, the very last
Shall keep for us remembrance fast,
When every child shall duck the head
To find the precious pippin red.

In Shaw’s “October,” she presents the month of October as “woven with midsummer dreams.” She says the month brings us “golden days,” “smoky haze,” the “lisping breeze,” and “gossips in the trees.” Shaw talks about how half of the birds have left while the other half forget to sing. For Shaw, October also represents the coming death of the year. The golden days of October give way to the boughs that “hang chill and bare.” But instead of ending with the death of the year, she speaks of the joy of Halloween with children bobbing for apples (the precious pippin red). For me, Shaw’s October is as beautifully written as Frost’s, but where Frost ends with him asking nature to slow down its march to the death of the year, Shaw ends with the joyous festivities of Halloween and children playing. Personally, I like them both. I love a melodic poem that rhymes, and both of these do that, but Shaw’s seem a bit more optimistic in its ending.