Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Apologies to all the loyal readers of this blog, but unfortunately the blog won't be updated for an undetermined length of time.  Please check back periodically, as we hope to be up and running again soon.
-The George Hail Library

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

(Spring in Giverny by Claude Monet)

The Blog will be on hiatus for a few days, but we'll be back soon!

Monday, March 12, 2012


(Samuel Menashe, 1925-2011, American poet)

As an infantryman during the Second World War, Samuel Menashe (1925-2011) fought in France, Belgium, and Germany. He took part in one of the bloodiest conflicts, the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944. In that battle, in just one day, only 29 of Menashe’s company of 190 men were not killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.

“When I came back, I heard people talking about what they were going to do next summer,” he later said. “I was amazed that they could talk of that future, next summer. As a result, I lived in the day. For the first few years after the war, each day was the last day. And then it changed. Each day was the only day.”

At first, he wrote stories about his childhood and his years during the war. And then, “one night, I woke up in the middle of the night and a poem started.” His poems are verses of few words, never longer than ten short lines, using very little punctuation. In their brevity and their focus on the sacredness of life and meditations on death, they could be compared to the verses of William Blake. “The more alive you are,” he said, “the more you are aware of death.”


For what I did
And did not do
And do without
In my old age
Rue, not rage
Against that night
We go into,
Sets me straight
On what to do
Before I die —
Sit in the shade,
Look at the sky

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Commendation of Music

(Illuminated manuscript of Gregorian
chant, likely fourteenth century, part
of the collection at McMaster University,
Hamilton, Ontario)

For almost ten years now, I have begun my mornings by listening to Gregorian chants. My favorites are the recordings by the monks of St. Peter’s Abbey, Solesmes, France, and of Stift Heiligenkreuz, near Vienna (click here for a sample of their singing).

Gregorian chant, also known as plainsong, is named after Pope Gregory I (540?-604), who is said to have standardized this form of liturgical music sung in Latin. It is composed of a single vocal line, free of rhythm and sung in unison.

This beautiful and serene music points my day in the right direction. “Chant calls us first and foremost to a sense of unity,” writes Katherine Le Mée in
Chant: The Origin, Form, Practice, and Healing Power of Gregorian Chant, “a unity that exists between singer, listener, and the sound itself. It invites us to join together for a few moments in what is essentially an act of worship. We fall still, and then quietly and gently the chant rises. We are carried along together on the crest of its wave . . . As the wave touches back to shore we remain awake and more at rest. We have experienced what [the French philosopher] Jacques Maritain speaks of as ‘the intercommunion of all things, among themselves and with us, in the creative flow from which all existence comes.’”


When whispering strains do softly steal
With creeping passion through the heart
And when at every touch we feel
Our pulses beat and bear a part;
When threads can make
A heartstring shake,
Can scarce deny
The soul consists of harmony.

When unto heavenly joy we feign
Whate’er the soul affecteth most,
Which only thus we can explain
By music of the wingéd host,
Whose lays we think
Make stars to wink,
Can scarce deny
Our souls consist of harmony.

O lull me, lull me, charming air,
My senses rock with wonder sweet;
Like snow on wool thy fallings are,
Soft, like a spirit’s, are thy feet:
Grief who need fear
That hath an ear?
Down let him lie
And slumbring die,
And change his soul for harmony.

~ William Strode (1600?-1645), English poet

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Afternoon on a Hill

(The Monongahela, a river flowing through Pennsylvania
and West Virginia, white-line woodcut by Blanche Lazelle,
1876-1936, American artist)

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was a prolific writer of novels, libretti, lyric poems, and some of America’s finest sonnets. Her poetry could be flippant and even brittle at times, but her best work reflects a sensitivity and appreciation of beauty and nature.


I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Who’s Who

Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Myra. You can visit her here at Gathering Books.

(Lost Time by Annelisse Molini, artist born
1966 in Puerto Rico)

“There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, ‘You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.’ In the same way I could say of a certain man, ‘Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.’ For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again.”

~ C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), English writer of essays, poems, and novels, including The Chronicles of Narnia


A shilling life¹ will give you all the facts:
How Father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day:
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researches even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me.

With all his honors on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle, would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvelous letters but kept none.

~ W. H. Auden (1907-1973), English-born American poet and essayist

¹shilling life – a short biographical sketch in the tabloid or penny press

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Hymn to God the Father

(from the series Homage to the Square, by Josef Albers,
1888-1976, German-born American painter, writer, and
theorist of color)

Sooner or later, serious contemplation involves an examination of oneself.

Today’s poem is by John Donne (1572-1631), the greatest of the English Metaphysical poets.


Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Soul and the Body on the Beach

(Martinique, 1971 by André Kertész, 1894-1985, Hungarian-
born photographer)


The soul on the beach
studies a textbook of philosophy.
The soul asks the body:
Who bound us together?
The body says:
Time to tan the knees.

The soul asks the body:
Is it true
that we do not really exist?
The body says:
I'm tanning my knees.

The soul asks the body,
Where will the dying begin,
in you or in me?
The body laughed,
It tanned its knees.

~ Anna Swir (1909-1984), Polish poet, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vermont Spring

(Spring on the Oxtongue River, 1924, by Lawren Harris,
1885-1970, Canadian artist)

“We need the tonic of wilderness — to wade sometimes in the marshes where the bittern and the meadow hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wild and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed. and unfathomed by us, because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American writer and naturalist, from


Walking in spring
never far from the sound
of rushing water
I came to a clearing
in the woods.
A silver birch stood
with me, silent.

A woodpecker beat time,
with my pounding heart,
and, in a marshy pond,
swollen with liquid snows,
something small, unseen,
broke the surface
to breathe the air.

Back in the brittle city,
where voices and corners
are sharp,
the surfaces concrete-hard —
important —
and silence is a memory,
something small, unseen
within me
breaks the surface
to breathe the wooded air.

~ Letha Elliott, American singer and poet

Monday, March 5, 2012

Although the wind

(Number 10, Art Print Poster by Mark
Rothko, 1903-1970, American artist)

Poets, especially, know how to point out apparent contradictions that reveal a truth, as did Emily Dickinson when she wrote, “Who never lost, are unprepared / A Coronet to find.”

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight
also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

~ Izumi Shikibu (circa 974-1034), Japanese poet

Sunday, March 4, 2012


(Red Plum and Moonlight, woodblock print by Utagawa
Hiroshige, 1797-1858, Japanese artist)

From the earliest years of the Christian Church, both clerics and lay people have been reciting the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours. This tradition can be traced to the Jewish practice of saying or chanting certain prayers and psalms to a set schedule of hours of the day and the night. The office of Matins (from the Latin matutinus after the dawn goddess Matuta) was originally said at midnight (at 2 a.m. under the Benedictine Rule). It is now said most often, in anticipation, earlier in the evening.


A sickle of moon is caught
in the branches of cottonwoods
along the ice choked river.

A black night.

Stars in their constellations
so far away,
my prayers fly nakedly,
shadows among them.

It is cold.

With broken star gazers who pray,
I await a reply.
Simple worship does not seek
the approval of an echo.

Freezing, yielding to the shivers
of cooling blood, I stumble in
to wait by my fire
of forest wood.

I hear silver chimes
hanging in the blue spruce
outside my frozen window
played by mercy of sudden wind.

A sickle moon, a star,
a wrung out prayer,
matins sealed with silver chimes.

~ Charles Van Gorkom, Canadian poet, artist, and bootmaker, found here at Rainforest Soul

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sherbourne Morning

(Postcard of Allan Gardens and Sherbourne Street, 1908,
Toronto, Ontario; found at Chuckman Toronto Nostalgia)

“There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and where kindness . . . is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object — we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. . . . It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms; with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.”

~ C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), English writer of essays, poems, and novels, including The Chronicles of Narnia, from The Problem of Pain


I begin to understand the old men, parked on benches
smoking a bit of July, waiting for the early
bottle; the large tears of the passers-by, wrapped
in white cotton, the world bandaged at 7 AM;
when the day goes old, they lean over
and nod into their arms, lovers, one-time carriers
of their separate hearts; their wives, their children
are glass partitions through which they see themselves
crying. Love them, or better yet, imagine a world
without a footstool for the creased and lame; imagine how that
sun above them spins halos for angels gone berserk.

~ Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, born 1949, Italian-born Canadian poet, appointed the second poet laureate of Toronto, 2004-2009

¹Sherbourne – a somewhat run-down street in downtown Toronto

Friday, March 2, 2012


Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is Dori. You can visit her here at Dori Reads.

(Bird and Vine, tapestry fabric by William Morris, 1834-
1896, English textile designer, artist, and writer)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran theologian and pastor, a pacifist who was arrested by the Nazis for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

“The essence of optimism is not its view of the present,” Bonhoeffer wrote while in prison awaiting his execution, “but the fact that it is the inspiration of life and hope when others give in; it enables a man to hold his head high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives him strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for himself instead of abandoning it to his opponent.”

He was hanged in particularly cruel and painful circumstances on April 9, 1945.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I've heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Who Speaks

(Sunrise by J. M. W. Turner, 1775-1851, English Romantic “painter of light,” watercolorist, and printmaker)

This month, we continue with poetry that can lead us to moments of quiet contemplation.

Today’s verse is a song by Tree-Leaf Woman, one of the poets whose works are preserved in a collection of poems by Tibetan Buddhist women from the eighth to the eleventh centuries. It was found in
Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, edited by Jane Hirshfield.

Who speaks the sound of an echo?
Who paints the image in a mirror?
Where are the spectacles in a dream?
Nowhere at all — that’s the nature of the mind!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


(New Growth by Danna Ray, born 1981, American artist)

āmĕʹn (or ah-) int. & n. “so be it,” an exclamation expressed at the end of a prayer or hymn; recorded from Middle English through ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek, from Hebrew “truth, certainty”


It is over. What is over?
Nay, how much is over truly! —
Harvest days we toiled to sow for;
Now the sheaves are gathered newly,
Now the wheat is garnered duly.

It is finished. What is finished?
Much is finished known or unknown:
Lives are finished; time diminished;
Was the fallow field left unsown?
Will these buds be always unblown?

It suffices. What suffices?
All suffices reckoned rightly:
Spring shall bloom where now the ice is,
Roses make the bramble sightly,
And the quickening sun shine brightly,
And the latter wind blow lightly,
And my garden teem with spices.

~ Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), English poet

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Grand Canyon

(National Park Service silkscreen poster
for Grand Canyon National Park, 1938)

“Simplification of outward life is not enough. It is merely the outside. But I am starting with the outside. I am looking at the outside of a shell, the outside of my life — the shell. The complete answer is not to be found on the outside, in an outward mode of living. This is only a technique, a road to grace. The final answer, I know, is always inside. But the outside can give a clue, can help one to find the inside answer.”

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001), American writer and aviator, from
Gift from the Sea


As if there were instead some limit
To this world which follows where we go;
As if we could renounce the many
Habits we acquired long ago;
As if we could embrace the infinite
Spaces we traverse like falling snow;
Or as if we ourselves had any
Substance, and were present; even so,
Just when we are ready to admit
Defeat we find ourselves on this plateau
Staring out across long violet
Reaches filling up with indigo.

~ Stephen Lefebure, American poet

Monday, February 27, 2012


(Kwakiutl House Frame, on Vancouver Island, British
Columbia, circa 1910, by Edward Curtis, 1868-1952,
American photographer)

“Wherever the arts are nourished through the festive contemplation of universal realities and their sustaining reasons, there in truth something like a liberation occurs: the stepping-out into the open under an endless sky, not only for the creative artist himself but for the beholder as well, even the most humble. Such liberation, such fore-shadowing of the ultimate and perfect fulfillment, is necessary for man, almost more necessary than his daily bread, which is indeed indispensable and yet insufficient.

“In this precisely do I see the meaning of that statement in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, ‘We work so we can have leisure.’”

~ Josef Pieper (1904-1997), German philosopher, from Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation


This is the house
that must be entered,
the house whose doors
do not lock,
whose walls are shadows
of moving trees,

the house whose table
is heavy with food
already blessed,
waiting under
the mouths in need
of food, of blessings,

the house whose windows
were polished until
they vanished,
whose moon and sun
once painted there
moved inside,

the one whose chimney
breathes a visible
breath at night,
the house whose walls
must be swept
with the wing of a bird.

~ Paulann Petersen, born 1942, American poet and current poet laureate of Oregon

Sunday, February 26, 2012


(Hedgehog by Hans Hoffmann, circa 1530-1591, German
artist whose watercolors of animals are sometimes mistaken
for Albrecht Dürer’s work)

Carmen Bernos de Gasztold (1919-?) was a French poet whose best-known works are two collections of poems expressing the thoughts of a menagerie of animals, Prayers from the Ark and The Creatures’ Choir.

These were translated into English by the British novelist Rumer Godden. She wrote, “‘Anyone could write such poems,’ said one critic when [the poet] first showed them to him. Perhaps the simplest answer to such obtuseness is that no one but Carmen de Gasztold has ever done it. . . . Each animal, bird, fish, reptile, or insect voice makes, as it were, a statement of its situation, its circumstances — what, perhaps, we humans would call its problem.”


Yes, Lord, I prick!
Life is not easy —
But You know that —
and I have too much on my shoulders!
I speak of my prickles
but thank You for them.
You at least
have understood me,
that is why You made me
such a pinball.
How else can I defend myself?
When people see me,
my anxious nose
searching for the fat slugs
that devastate the garden,
why can’t they leave me alone?
Ah! But when I think proper,
I can roll myself up
into my hermit life.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets

(Rainy Day in Brussels by Léonard Misonne,
1870-1943, Belgian photographer)

Thomas Lynch (born in 1948), the poet who wrote the sonnet below, is also a funeral director in Michigan.

To him, the work of a poet and of a mortician are “the same enterprise.”

“But here’s the quiet little truth of the matter,” Lynch wrote in a collection of essays,
Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality. “Requiems and prosodies, sonnets and obsequies, poems and funerals — they are all the same. The arrangement of flowers and homages, casseroles and sympathies; the arrangement of images and idioms, words on a page — it is all the same — an effort at meaning and metaphor, an exercise in symbol and ritualized speech, the heightened acoustics of language raised against what is reckoned unspeakable — faith and heartbreak, desire and pain, love and grief, the joyous and sorrowful mysteries by which we keep track of our lives and times.”


It came to him that he could nearly count
How many late Aprils he had left to him
In increments of ten or, say, eleven
Thus: sixty-three, seventy-four, eighty-five.
He couldn’t see himself at ninety-six —
Humanity’s advances notwithstanding
In health-care, self-help, or new-age regimens —
What with his habits and family history,
The end he thought is nearer than you think.

The future, thereby bound to its contingencies,
The present moment opens like a gift:
The greening month, the golden week, the blue morning,
The hour’s routine, the minute’s passing glance —
All seem like godsends now. And what to make of this?
At the end the word that comes to him is Thanks.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Each Friday we provide the link to the blog that is hosting a celebration of poetry around the blogosphere. At that site you can find the links to the many other blogs that are posting poems (new and old), discussions of poems, and reviews of poetry books.

Enjoy the festivities!

The host this week is MsMac. You can visit her here at Check It Out.

(Grandmother Knits by David Foggie, 1878-
1948, Scots painter)

“I can’t tell if the day is ending, or the world, / or if the secret of secrets is within me again.” ~ Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), Russian poet


So much of what we live goes on inside —
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.

~ Dana Gioia, born 1950, American poet and critic