Monday, September 28, 2009

Three Poems

It's true that think about motherhood and birth and children a lot, but since Valerie is with child and soon to give birth, I’d like to offer these poems in her honor. I do not like them equally, but I appreciate things in each. I'd love to hear what you think, dear reader.

Poem to Ease Birth
Anonymous: Nahuatl (Aztec) translated by Anselm Hollo

In the house with the tortoise chair
she will give birth to the pearl
to the beautiful feather

in the house of the goddess who sits on a tortoise

she will give birth to the necklace of pearls

to the beautiful feathers we are

there she sits on the tortoise
swelling to give us birth

on your way on your way
child be on your way to me here
you whom I made new

come here child come be pearl
come be beautiful feather

All three of these poems, despite the various cultures and doctrines that they represent, recognize the connection between giving birth and God's care for mankind. In this poem, I love the idea that a child is a pearl. Besides the fact that I love pearls, I think it is an apt metaphor. Pearls are formed in the most mysterious and wonderful way in secret. And a child is as luminous and lovely as a pearl. In this poem I like the use of the word swelling, but best of all I like the invitation – the calling forth at the end of the poem which strikes me as the mother’s universal entreaty – certainly at the end of the ninth month when she longs to hold her child, but also her entreaty through life as she calls her child to shine in pure beauty.

by Annie R. Stillman
Just when each bud was big with bloom,
And as prophetic of perfume,
When spring, with her bright horoscope,
Was sweet as an unuttered hope;

Just as when the last star flickered out,
And twilight, like a soul in doubt,
Hovered between the dark and dawn,
And day lay waiting to be born;

Just when the gray and dewy air
Grew sacred as an unvoiced prayer,
And somewhere through the dusk she heard
The stirring of a nested bird,--

Four angels glorifed the place:
Wan Pain unveiled her awful face;
Joy, soaring, sang: Love brooding smiled
Peace laid upon her breast a child.

There are things I like and dislike about this poem. I love the images and the way that the poet creates a palpable understanding of the idea of “twilight,” by describing a flower bud as “prophetic of perfume and in phrases such as “twilight, like a soul in doubt.” Typically, I prefer form poems – that is poems where the stanzas are the same and the end words rhyme, but this poem feels a little stiff an stilted to me; I’m not sure why. I don’t like the last stanza. I think personifying pain, joy, love and peace as angels departs from the original expression of ideas in the rest of the poem.

A Cradle Song
By William Butler Yeats
‘Coth yani me von gilli beg,
‘N heur ve thu more a creena

The angels are bending
Above your white bed,
They weary of tending
The souls of the dead.

God smiles in high heaven
To see you so good,
The old planets seven
Grow gay with his mood.

I kiss you and kiss you,
With arms round my own,
Ah, how shall I miss you,
When, dear, you have grown.

Yeats is one of my favorite poets and this little poem shows why! Compared to the form of the previous poem, this one works better for me. Though I’m startled by the reference to “the dead” in a cradle song, I know it is Yeats’ edgy way of writing. His treatment of angels in this poem fits because all through there is a sense of God’s presence of the fact of a divinity that is dear and inexorably involved in the child’s well-being expressed in not only the reference to angels, but in God’s “smiles (something we don’t often hear about!) and in the planets’ solidarity with God’s’ “mood,” and finally with the statement “arms round my own.” This statement suggests that the poem’s speaker senses God’s embrace when he embraces his child. Lovely thought if ever there was one. So, the poet has filled your mind with lofty and inspiring thoughts and then he ends with the poignant truth that childhood is fleeting – and the suggestion, the “hidden meaning” that my students invariably complain about having to find, is that life itself is fleeting. The unity of the poem is perfect here, in a way, referring back to the reality of our mortality introduced in the first stanza. But recognizing the swift and fragile nature of life is one way of encouraging all to treasure and enjoy it!
Which poem do you like?


  1. Loris, I like them all. Although sometimes the metaphor of birthing a pearl was a little uncomfortable to me, it was beautiful at the same time. It is also interested that it is an Aztec poem, as I am very interested in that culture.

    I have to disagree on the second poem, I actually like that last stanza, I thought it was just the flow of emotions I experienced. I like that Pain was still an angel, and not a demon. Something uncomfortable, yet good and necessary. Especially the peace at the end. When I birthed Naomi (and all the angels came quickly that time, and I was able to experience it without augmentation) the ending Peace was such an amazing experience. A Peace I don't think I have ever really experienced before.

    And I LOVE Yeats (He is also one of my favorites). Mostly I love that it is a dad's experience, and how that is no less precious than the mother giving birth. Justin was just telling me how he loves that moment in the hospital when he got to meet each of his daughters for the first time. And I love the cd Andrea gave Annalia for her birthday - all songs written by a dad, and there is such a sweet joy in watching the miracle of birth and life from a father's eyes.

  2. Thanks Mom. These are all delightful. What a joy to read them all, stilted or not, as my sweet baby's birth approaches. Surely her first breathe will be sung in my own presence and this shall be rare poetry too. Thank you for helping me to look forward.

  3. But thank you for these poems.....I will need to find the baby poem by George MacDonald that I read a few weeks ago.....

  4. Does anyone remember that poem that was read in the Dennis the Menace movie years ago?

  5. come here child come be pearl
    come be beautiful feather

    i really love that.

  6. To Answer Anonymous' question, do you mean Winken, Blinken and Nod?