“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech.”
- Simonides of Ceos

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Saturday, May 4, 2019

“Excelsior” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem "Excelsior" in the early morning hours of September 28, 1841, and it was published for the first time in a periodical four months later. Excelsior is a Latin word which loosely translated means "ever upward" or "always higher". With that in mind, this poem could be interpreted as a sort of allegory on perseverance and always striving against the odds, or alternatively, blindly following your own desires without heeding the advice and counsel of others. Either way you choose to read the piece, it is beautifully written with lots of vivid imagery as the narrative unfolds.

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Program Credits

Announcer: Thomas Lamar
Narrator: J.D. Sutter
Composer: Natasha Green
Sound Design & Mixing: Christopher Green
Photography: skeeze
Producer/Director: J.D. Sutter

Entry on Wikipedia for "Excelsior"
Entry on Wikipedia for Longfellow
Longfellow's Bio on The Poetry Foundation
Analysis of "Excelsior" from poemanalysis.com
Summary of "Excelsior" from beamingnotes.com
Analysis of "Excelsior" from beamingnotes.com

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868

“Excelsior” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
      Excelsior!

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
      Excelsior!

"Try not the Pass!" the old man said;
"Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!"
And loud that clarion voice replied,
      Excelsior!

"Oh stay," the maiden said, "and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast! "
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,
      Excelsior!

"Beware the pine-tree's withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!"
This was the peasant's last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,
      Excelsior!

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,
      Excelsior!

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
      Excelsior!

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,
      Excelsior!

Digital Scan of 1880 Illustrated Edition of "Excelsior" on Google Books

Saturday, December 22, 2018

“Christmas At Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson



First published in a periodical just a few days before Christmas in 1888, "Christmas at Sea" is a vivid narrative poem that pulls the reader into the scenes. The stark contrast between the warm, domestic scene and the freezing weather onboard the ship is very poignant and is the most interesting part of the piece to me. While the Scottish writer is known more for his novels, he also wrote three volumes of poetry with the first one, A Child's Garden of Verses, being the most known to casual poetry fans.

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Program Credits

Announcer: Thomas Lamar
Narrator: J.D. Sutter
Composer: Conner Savoca
Sound Design & Mixing: J.D. Sutter
Photography: Natasha G
Producer/Director: J.D. Sutter

Entry on Wikipedia for Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson's Bio on The Poetry Foundation
Detailed Article on "Christmas at Sea" from The Guardian
"Christmas at Sea" Analysis
A Sailor's Take on "Christmas at Sea"

Robert Louis Stevenson in 1887


“Christmas At Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"In School-days" by John Greenleaf Whittier



Born in rural Massachusetts in 1807, John Greenleaf Whittier began to write poetry at a young age with his first poem being published in the summer of 1826. Shortly thereafter, he began working as an editor of various periodicals. The poem "In School-days" was written in 1869 and Whittier may have drawn a bit on his own experience as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. The poem was praised by the public as well as by other poets with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow commenting, "There is something more in education than is set down in the school-books. Whittier has touched this point very poetically in that little lyric of his." Oliver Wendell Holmes said of the poem in a letter to Whittier, "...I had no sooner read them [the lines] that I fell into such ecstasy that I could hardly find words too high-colored to speak of them to my little household. I hardly think I dared read them aloud. My eyes fill with tears just looking at them in my scrapbook, now, while I am writing."

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Program Credits

Announcer: Thomas Lamar
Narrator: Jeffrey K. Holbrook
Composer: Natasha Green
Sound Design & Mixing: Christopher Green
Photography: P. Ryan Paulsen
Producer/Director: J.D. Sutter

Entry on Wikipedia for John Greenleaf Whittier
Whittier's Bio on The Poetry Foundation
Analysis of "In School-days" by Lauren Bollinger

NOTE: There is an alternate version of the first stanza in some early publications of this poem. We have chosen to use the later version of the text for our program as it was the text included in several authorized editions of Whittier's writings. You can see the alternate text at the bottom of this post.
John Greenleaf Whittier



"In School-days" by John Greenleaf Whittier

Still sits the school-house by the road,
   A ragged beggar sleeping;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
   And blackberry-vines are creeping.

Within, the master’s desk is seen,
   Deep scarred by raps official;
The warping floor, the battered seats,
   The jack-knife’s carved initial;

The charcoal frescos on its wall;
   Its door’s worn sill, betraying
The feet that, creeping slow to school,
   Went storming out to playing!

Long years ago a winter sun
   Shone over it at setting;
Lit up its western window-panes,
   And low eaves’ icy fretting.

It touched the tangled golden curls,
   And brown eyes full of grieving,
Of one who still her steps delayed
   When all the school were leaving.

For near her stood the little boy
   Her childish favor singled:
His cap pulled low upon a face
   Where pride and shame were mingled.

Pushing with restless feet the snow
   To right and left, he lingered;—
As restlessly her tiny hands
   The blue-checked apron fingered.

He saw her lift her eyes; he felt
   The soft hand’s light caressing,
And heard the tremble of her voice,
   As if a fault confessing.

“I’m sorry that I spelt the word:
   I hate to go above you,
Because,”—the brown eyes lower fell,—
   “Because, you see, I love you!”

Still memory to a gray-haired man
   That sweet child-face is showing.
Dear girl! the grasses on her grave
   Have forty years been growing!

He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
   How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
   Like her,—because they love him.

Illustration which accompanied the poem in one of its publications.


Alternate Text of Stanza One

Still sits the school-house by the road,
   A ragged beggar sunning;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
   And blackberry-vines are running.