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All posts by Gray Jacobik

Come A Little Bit Closer Now Baby: Elizabeth Bishop’s “Brazil: January 1, 1502”

by Gray Jacobik

Although our lives cannot occur except in an historical context, many contemporary lyrics are written as though only personal history matters. It’s a great joy to encounter a poem grounded in history as thoroughly as Elizabeth Bishop’s “Brazil: January 1, 1502”, particularly one that begins with a cymbal crash, the seeming non sequitur or unusual plural: “Januaries” –– followed by a pace that slows for the next 23 lines until we encounter that deeply-burdened word at the end of line 24 –– “Sin”.

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Come A Little Bit Closer Now Baby: Elizabeth Bishop's "Brazil: January 1, 1502"

by Gray Jacobik

Although our lives cannot occur except in an historical context, many contemporary lyrics are written as though only personal history matters. It’s a great joy to encounter a poem grounded in history as thoroughly as Elizabeth Bishop’s “Brazil: January 1, 1502”, particularly one that begins with a cymbal crash, the seeming non sequitur or unusual plural: “Januaries” –– followed by a pace that slows for the next 23 lines until we encounter that deeply-burdened word at the end of line 24 –– “Sin”.

Come A Little Bit Closer Now Baby: Wallace Stevens’ “Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight”

by Gray Jacobik

Stevens seems to have enjoyed facing the difficult dilemma of writing a poem knowing that, when it comes to the actual, “sense exceeds all metaphor” and it “exceeds the heavy changes of the light.” He loves struggling to come to terms with the limitations of language. He succeeds, though, at least in “Bouquet of Roses in Sunlight” and quite often: his speaker becomes the Zen Master whose finger points to the Moon, directing our gaze, gesturing toward, as Wittgenstein put it so succinctly, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.

Come A Little Bit Closer Now Baby: Philip Larkin’s “Church Going”

by Gray Jacobik

“Church Going” is an atheist’s poem, an ironic atheist’s poem, and a very good one. I remember once hearing the poet, Jack Gilbert, say that one can distinguish the work of a good poet from the work of a great poet primarily by the effectiveness with which the latter controls tone. I always find considerations of tone and of mood an interesting pursuit.

Come A Little Bit Closer Now Baby: Longfellow’s “Snow-Flakes”

by Gray Jacobik

It has been a long winter for me and it is far from over. My first snowy days and nights occurred in Northern Vermont in late November and while the snow there was persistent, slow falling and light, the snow here, in Connecticut, since mid-December has been heavy, quick, and drifting. Habit of mind: when I walk or snowshoe in the falling snow, or watch it descend from inside, lines from snow poems I love come to me. Inevitably, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Snowstorm”––first line tells us, the storm is “Announced by all the trumpets of the sky”.

Here is a short poem that has charmed generations and runs through my mind on snowy days, written by the internationally famous poet-superstar of his era, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.