The Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.   And I watered it in fears, Night and morning with my tears; And I sunnèd it with smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles.   And it grew both day and night, Till it bore an apple bright; And my foe beheld it shine, And he knew that it was mine,   And into my garden stole, When the night had veiled the pole: In the morning glad I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Literally, Blake was engry with a friend but it went away.  He was angry with a foe and it did not go away.  Instead, it grew as he watered it and sunned it.  It grew until it “bore an apple,” or reached its climax, at which point his foe saw the hatred.  His foe tried to sneak into the his garden, and in the morning was outstretched beneath a tree.

Now.  Here’s what I think it means.  Blake’s mad at this dude.  Dude’s cool with him, so the anger goes away.  Blake’s mad at this other dude.  Dude isn’t cool, so the anger festers.  Blake harvests this anger, but fronts so that his foe, dude who isn’t cool, thinks that the two are in fact cool.  “Sunned it with smiles and with soft deceitful wiles” means that he pretends to be cool with this guy so this guy thinks they’re friends.

This next part gets a littl fuzzy.  Alright, Blake’s got this apple and the dude sees it.  The apple seems to refer to his hatred in the poem, but in my interpretation it works more as the trust the foe has built up for Blake.  So dude see’s this trust and he’s like, “Word, I’ll just go chill in his garden,” in the sense that he now trusts Blake enough to enter his personal territory, like go to dinner with him or crash at his house after a party or something.

BAM!  Poor dude shouldn’t have trusted Blake.  Blake kills him.  Outstretched beneath a tree?  He’s not reclining, he’s hung and gravity is pulling his body down.

Pretty angry, Blake.  Maybe you should get that looked at.

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The Child is Father to the Man

‘THE child is father to the man.’ How can he be? The words are wild. Suck any sense from that who can: ‘The child is father to the man.’ No; what the poet did write ran, ‘The man is father to the child.’ ‘The child is father to the man!’

How can he be? The words are wild.

I’m really not a big fan of Gerald Manley Hopkins.  This poem, I assume, is about Christianity.  As was everything else he wrote about.

Basically, what I took from this is Jesus, the son of God, is the child to which he is referring.  Because the child is father to man, Jesus is father to mankind.  Not mankind as a whole of course, mankind was here before Jesus ever was.  But he’s the father of Christianity and the father of Christians.  Therefore, he’s the father of the men who will be saved.

He questions the statement because Jesus is the son of God but is the father of salvaged mankind.  How can a child be a father to man?  How can an egg bear a chicken?  How can the after (the child, the egg, the baby), bear the before (the man, the chicken, the parent)?  It must be divinely decided that this child may be father to man.  I assume this is the message he hopes to deliver in this poem.

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The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton

at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner

and I don’t know the people who will feed me


I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets

in Ghana are doing these days

I go on to the bank

and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)

doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life

and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine

for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do

think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or

Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres

of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine

after practically going to sleep with quandariness


and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE

Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and

then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue

and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and

casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton

of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it


and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT

while she whispered a song along the keyboard

to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing


The first thing that struck me about the poem is the lack of punctuation.  The poem is one long, run on sentence with one comma in the first stanza.  It’s interesting that the poem itself never ends but is written about/on the day when Lady died.

Literally it’s a recollection of the events he went through on the day that Lady died.  But who is Lady?  A woman?  Perhaps that’s her nickname.  I’m assuming he’s not talking about Lady from Lady in the Tramp.  His poetry is unconventional… perhaps I shouldn’t rule that out quite yet.

 An oddity I found in the poem, first of all, was the lack of punctuation.  I also didn’t see a reference to this Lady once in the poem.  It looms over the poem but never appears in it, perhaps like a ghost?  She follows him through the day, always there but never actually present.  Interesting.

The lack of punctuation really strikes me.  Forgive me for harping on it.  But I think I understand why he did it.  Well, some of it.  Not quite all.  The fact that there’s never a period makes the sentences and the poem never ending.  A period marks the end but there isn’t one.   The poem never dies.  It juxtaposes the title, The Day Lady Died, but it goes along with a theme of the poem.  Lady died, but follows him through the day.  She’s always looming over him and following him like a ghosts.

Ghosts are eternal, this poem is eternal.  Not even using words, O’Hara conveys a powerful message about death.  A person may die, but their spirit can live on.  Perhaps not a literal spirit, but their memory remains and the fact that they were once alive will not change.  Author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said in one of his novels:

“When a person dies, he only appears to die.  He is still very much alive in the past…  All moments, past present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.”


Basically, O’Hara is helping people cope with the loss of a loved one.  His day still goes on though Lady is gone.  She may have died, but she is always with him.  She’s always a presence in his life.  And that’s something very comforting to think about after the passing of a loved one.


Camouflaging the Chimera

We tied branches to our helmets.
We painted our faces & rifles
with mud from a riverbank,
blades of grass hung from the pockets
of our tiger suits. We wove
ourselves into the terrain,
content to be a hummingbird’s target.

We hugged bamboo & leaned
against a breeze off the river,
slow-dragging with ghosts

from Saigon to Bangkok,
with women left in doorways
reaching in from America.
We aimed at dark-hearted songbirds.

In our way station of shadows
rock apes tried to blow our cover
throwing stones at the sunset. Chameleons

crawled our spines, changing from day
to night: green to gold,
gold to black. But we waited
till the moon touched metal,

till something almost broke
inside us. VC struggled
with the hillside, like black silk

wrestling iron through grass.
We weren’t there. The river ran
through our bones. Small animals took refuge
against our bodies; we held our breath,

ready to spring the L-shaped
ambush, as a world revolved
under each man’s eyelid.

This is obviously about the Vietnam war.  The VC, the jungle…  There’s no question as to what this about.  Now it’s just a matter of finding the deeper meaning. The title of the poem works with what he’s saying.  It’s about how they’re trying to hide in Vietnam.  They’re painting their faces and rifles with mud and stuffing their pockets with grass to blend in with the surrounding.  The surroundings are even beginning to absorb the soldiers into it.  Small animals are nesting against them and the chamelion is changing to match their uniforms.  Camouflage is everywhere.  Only the apes try to expose the soldiers. What could the chimera be.  A chimera is a mythical monster composed of one or more creatures.  The first would be men, the soldiers evident in the poem.  But what else can they be?  They’re creating this war, so can the embodiment of war be a part of the chimera?  Or could it be the surroundings.  They’re men, but they’re blending into the scene around them.  Perhaps them, combined with the elements of the Vietnamese jungle are creating a chimera.  This chimera is man and war and nature and trees and animals.  This chimera is everything in Vietnam.  Does that work? “As a world revolved under each man’s eyelid.”I’d like to address this line.  I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I do have a guess.  These men are surrounded by war and death.  The line does not say THE world, like the earth as a whole, but A world.  This is specific to each person.  The men are thinking of their lives.  Their girlfriends, their wives, their families, their friends…  These men have their own life and their own world but have been ripped from it and put into this foreign dangerous world.  The men may not see their old lives again, and they know this as they remember what waits for them back home. I feel as though Yusef is against war but is not denying its inevitablity.  The imagery is natural and camouflaged.  War is part of nature and blends in with the lives of people.  It’s inevitable.  The only opposition to the soldiers in the jungle were the monkeys.  No one listened to the monkeys; they stayed in the jungle and continued on in the war.  The rest of the imagery is mostly natural and flows with nature.  The last stanza is what makes me believe Yusef doesn’t support war.  The last line abuot the worlds in the eyes of the soldiers is haunting.  It leaves the reader with a forlorn feeling.  They’re depressed.  They realized all the soldier had to give up and may never regain in order to fight in the war.  The war that is inevitable because it’s so natural for humans to perform.

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