Love Advice from Yeats

Never give all the Heart

Never give all the heart, for love

Will hardly seem worth thinking of

To passionate women if it seem

Certain, and they never dream

That it fades out from kiss to kiss;

For everything that’s lovely is

But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.

O never give the heart outright,

For they, for all smooth lips can say,

Have given their hearts up to the play.

And who could play it well enough

If deaf and dumb and blind with love?

He that made this knows all the cost,

For he gave all his heart and lost.



Well, this is sound advice. Keep your woman guessing and she’ll think of you more often. Vex her thoughts by making her wonder, making her uncertain.

Love makes you high, and if you’re high, you’re impaired: deaf and dumb and blind! When you’re smitten, you’re stupid! You act like an idiot, and you can’t play the game. Don’t do it, says Yeats.

Easy to say!


Poems Recited by Colbert

(From his recent interview with Caroline Kennedy about her new book, “Poems to Learn by Heart.”)


Opening lines of Kubla Khan, by Samuel Coleridge:


“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.”


Colbert, being the mighty Tolkien nerd that he is, couldn’t resist slipping in the following, from the hobbits’ encounter with Tom Bombadil in the Fellowship of the Ring. (Peter Jackson omitted this episode from the film, which by all accounts was a sound directorial decision. )


“Oh slender as a willow-wand! O clearer than clear water!

O reed by the living pool! Fair river-daughter!

O spring-time and summer-time, and spring again after!

O wind on the waterfall, and the leaves’ laughter!”


Lastly, e.e. cummings.  This poem is not nearly as exciting in print as it was delivered by Colbert:


“mr youse needn’t be so spry
concernin questions arty

each has his tastes but as for i
i likes a certain party

gimme the he-man’s solid bliss
for youse ideas i’ll match youse

a pretty girl who naked is
is worth a million statues”
― e.e. cummings

No Country for Old Men

“That is no country for old men. ….”

The words sound familiar, of course, because they make you think of a movie featuring a memorable sociopath played by Javier Bardem.

Not sure how Yeats would react, since these are the opening words to his poem, “Sailing to Byzantium.”

Many titles of books and movies, and many well-known expressions and phrases, derive their origins from poetry, which, like an aquifer, provides life to culture, and yet remains hidden from view.  A lot of thirsty writers, parched of inspiration, draw from the well and don’t give credit.

My first encounter with Yeats began with those words, and I’ve since been moved by his mystic, spell-like power. Here are some favorite lines of mine:

The woods of Arcady are dead,

And over is their antique joy;

Of old the world on dreaming fed;

Grey Truth is now her painted toy;

Yet still she turns her restless head:

But O, sick children of the world,

Of all the many changing things

In dreary dancing past us whirled,

To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,

Words alone are certain good.

—- opening lines from The Song of the Happy Shepherd

That’s the type of verse I enjoy reading out loud and memorizing.

Footnotes: Arcady refers to Arcadia, a region in Greece;

“represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry” – Encyclopedia Brittancia. It would be interesting to visit modern-day Arkadía to make a comparison.

Chronos refers to Time, personified.

Meeting a Poet

This weekend I met a fascinating gentleman by sheer chance when I visited a bookstore in Austin, Texas, specializing in rare, out-of-print and antiquarian books.

It’s not every day that you meet a British scholar of Germanic Languages and Literature. If I believe Wikipedia, he will be 87 this year. I hesitate to mention his name because he seems too distinguished to be the subject of one of my blog posts, and it’s not like he agreed to an interview. His letters, including correspondence with well-known figures, are archived at the Harry Ransom Center. (Julia Childs, for example, according to someone present.)

Anyway, he was a soft-spoken, white-bearded gentleman with a cane and a British accent who had studied at Oxford.  To an audience of two booksellers and myself, he read a passage from a poem he had translated. It was by the Roman poet Catullus, and he drew attention to the subtle sexual references, smiling and gently laughing in a most amiable fashion. One bookseller was seeking his signatures for two copies of his work.

The good professor’s own poetic efforts never attracted the recognition he sought to attain, and I could tell he had some regret. Earlier in the conversation, he lamented the Austin Symphony’s decision to collaborate with slam poets, which immediately won me over. I told him how impressed I was to learn of his presence in the Harry Ransom Center, and I stifled the urge to Google him on the spot.

“I mean, the Harry Center!  They have a lock of Milton’s hair. I saw Aldous Huxley’s manuscript of Brave New World there. That’s good company.” I would say it’s somewhat similar to being filed away in the Smithsonian. (I was sensitive enough not to use the phrase “filed away.”)

After some talk about Germany, Nietzsche came up in conversation. I pointed out that Nietzsche wanted to be a poet. Thus Spake Zarathustra, I said, had some poetic passages; he thought the book was pompous, to which I quickly nodded in agreement. (When you write a philosophical manifesto in the imitative style of a Biblical prophet, you can’t help but come off that way.)

I told him I went through a phase of reading Nietzsche, and that I have a book containing a selection of his letters. I confessed I hadn’t really read it, just paged through it, and purchased it after coming across one letter where Nietzsche thanks his mother for sending socks and sausages. It’s funny to contemplate the great Zarathustra, the herald of the coming Übermensch (Overman, or Superman) thanking his mom for a care package.

Well, it turns out the good professor had translated that very book! He took no offense. It’s great to meet a serious scholar who doesn’t take himself too seriously. I hope I can see him again.

Stephen Colbert and Finding your Voice

I was pleased to see this!

The comedic and the poetic are cousins, and Colbert’s enthusiasm reaffirmed my committment to this new blog. I used to perform stand-up comedy, and since I’ve let that go, I’ve been trying to fill the resulting void. Colbert’s recital of poetry and interview with Caroline Kennedy about her book, “Poems to Learn by Heart”  hit me like a good omen.

One comment of Colbert’s that stuck with me is when he said (in a radio interview, perhaps on Fresh Air): “I’m not a comedian, I’m a character.” This resonates with me: my best moments on stage occurred in the guise of a character.

I also recall the words of Lenny Bruce: “I’m not a comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce.”  The successful artist must be willing to find his voice, his persona, his signature style – no matter what. Otherwise, he will remain a mediocrity. A successful mediocrity, perhaps, but he will never set himself apart.

Everyone has limitations. Conan O’Brien noted that it would be absurd for him to play a comedic actor in a romantic comedy, Jon Stewart feels like a failure in the realm of movies, and comedian Mark Maron invigorated his career when he turned to pod-casting.

One thing that intrigues me is when genius strays from its realm of talent, only to fail utterly. I love the German philosopher Nietzsche and I love the writer H.P. Lovecraft, but they both failed at writing poetry. It was not meant to be.

We mock celebrities when they fail in a new endeavor: an actor who tries to sing, a singer who tries to act, etc. Consider the reverse: the unsuccessful artist who doesn’t try anything new, but had untapped potential elsewhere. Maybe the struggling comedian would have excelled at acting.  Maybe the bassist in the band who excels at marketing could be making big money — promoting better talent.

And then there’s Mitch Hedberg, who illustrates the need to stay the course and resist being led astray:

“As a comedian, I always get into situations where I’m auditioning for movies and sitcoms, you know? As a comedian, they want you to do other things besides comedy. They say ‘alright you’re a comedian, can you write? Write us a script. Act in this sitcom.’ They want me to do shit that’s related to comedy, but it’s not comedy, man. It’s not fair, you know? It’s as though if I was a cook, and I worked my ass off to become a really good cook, and they said “alright you’re a cook… can you farm?”

Hedberg found his calling, but what if you’re residing in the wrong slot, in the wrong niche? Perhaps you need to create your own niche, because the pre-exisiting ones can’t contain you. Perhaps you are complacent with average competence — when you could be shining with greatness!

One example: Early in his career, Jim Carrey excelled at impressions. He made very good money in Vegas, but after a while, he knew he was stagnating. So he stopped doing them, cold turkey. Someone remarked – Why would you stop?! That’s like cutting off your right arm! To which he replied – I’ll just learn to use my left. (I’m paraphrasing.)  He didn’t settle, he deliberately chose to innovate.

I hate when people say, “Don’t ever give up! If you believe in it, it will happen.” This is a pile of bullshit, with some corny kernels of truth mixed in. I’ve watched people attempt stand-up comedy for years, slogging away at open mics, and going nowhere. Some of it has to do with their work ethic: they think that merely appearing at open mics is enough. Well, a body-builder doesn’t win competitions by relentlessly entering them and displaying himself on stage, he wins by working on his body of work in private, outside the limelight. Nearly all comedians could benefit immensely by increasing their writing output. They complain about it all the time: “I’m so tired of my jokes!” (I know I did.) But then there are people who I instinctly know will never be funny! They aspire to attain a character trait they admire, because that trait is nearly absent from their personality.

I believe in the virtue of persistence – very much so.  Don’t give up, yes. But after a some hard work, step back and assess. Occasionally you need to shift gears, branch out, try new things. You will fail, perhaps spectacularly. But it could be that you’re failing now. You’re trying to farm on land in a desert, when you should be drilling for oil. You need to tap that.

Donne Deflowers Virgin

John Donne (pronounced “done” as in “well done, sir”) will be making some regular appearances here at Man Verses Poetry.

He’s old school —  1572-1631 — and a bit of a challenge at times for the modern reader. He’s also known for his love poetry and is considered the founder of the metaphysical school.

Thumbing through my copy of his selected works, I came across this passage that I starred in pencil a long time ago:

“Thy virgin’s girdle now untie,

And in thy nuptial bed (love’s altar) lie

A pleasing sacrifice; now dispossess

Thee of these chains and robes which were put on

T’adorn the day, not thee; for thou, alone,

Like virtue and truth, art best in nakedness;

This bed is only to virginity

A grave, but, to a better state, a cradle;

Till now thou wast but able

To be what now thou art; then that by thee

No more be said, I may be, but I am,

Tonight put on perfection, and a woman’s name.”

I believe this is a photograph taken of a port...

Donne: I don’t just get physical, I get metaphysical. I like my women like I like my truth: naked.


From Epithalamions

Advice for Poets

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, 17th century rock star poet

If you have any interest in writing poetry, here are a few words of advice from Lord Rochester:

“To write what may securely stand the test

Of being well read over, thrice at least,

Compare each phrase, examine every line,

Weigh every word, and every thought refine,

Scorn all applause the vile rout can bestow

And be content to please those few who know.”

This is a small excerpt from An Allusion to Horace. The 10th Satire of the 1st book.

More on that later.