Poems from A Humanities Classroom and A Max Pulan* Education

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Walter Ellison, Train Station (1935, oil on cardboard)
In a Station of the Metro
— Ezra Pound (1913)

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.


descriptive_zoopraxography_pigeons_flying_animated_12
Eadweard Muybridge, Animated pigeons from Descriptive Zoopraxography or the Science of Animal Locomotion Made Popular (1893)
Ars Poetica
— Archibald MacLeish (1926)

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

*

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

*

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.


XIR3675
Pieter Bruegel, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1558, oil on canvas)
Musee des Beaux Arts
W.H. Auden (1939)

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


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Male torso (c. 480-470 B.C., marble)
Archaic Torso of Apollo 
— Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. 1995)

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.


Maximino U. Pulan, Jr., an English professor from the Ateneo de Manila University, is a legend unto himself.

 

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