Upon Julia’s Breasts and Other Poems

One poem every day through 2015. This week I fell behind a little but fortunately was able to recover myself to be able to present seven poems in this post.

22nd January 2015
“Upon Julia’s Breasts” (text)
Robert Herrick

Display thy breasts, my Julia, there let me
Behold that circummortal purity;
Between whose glories, there my lips I’ll lay,
Ravished in that fair Via Lactea.

It has been a tough week. My kitchen and bathroom are being refurbished, the cooker has been removed – no hot food until 11th February – and my laptop has broken down. I am writing these words on my old one. It is rather doddery, though, and not making the task easy.

And yet, how can I be downhearted when I have the opportunity to re-read Robert Herrick’s latest paean of praise to Julia’s obviously inspirational breasts?

For as you may recall, I read his poem Upon the Nipples of Julia’s Breast (here) on 4th January. In regards this one, what you see above is the entire poem. I strongly suspect that it was scribbled down while her back was turned (“Robert, are you writing about my boobs again?”, “I’m just admiring nature’s work, my dear…”).

I really must find out who Julia – and what her relationship to Herrick – was. I presume (hope) they were lovers as he asks her to expose herself to him. As if that wasn’t forward enough, he then tells her he will ravish himself on her milk road (‘Via Lactea’). That’s quite a way to describe her nipples. I hope he didn’t make baby jealous.

23rd January 2015
“The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” (text)
Ezra Pound

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.

I am very conflicted about these lines. On the one hand, the speaker’s beloved calmed his emotionally wrought state during his teenage years – a very difficult time for children. Further to this, his beloved not only helped him to stop scowling but awoke love in him, so much so that he declares his desire that their bodies be together even when they are dead and dust.

From a religious perspective, the reference to dust, while being very Biblical (‘from dust you came…’), also comes across as being rather unintentionally sad. There he is talking about dust when it could be talking about them living in glory together in heaven.

24th January 2015
“What Should I Say” (text)
Thomas Wyatt

Can ye say nay?
But you said
That I alway
Should be obeyed?
And thus betrayed
Or that I wiste—
Farewell, unkissed.

Marriage or relationship break-ups are never fun but there is a great deal to be said for maintaining one’s dignity when either happens. This, Thomas Wyatt signally fails to do in his moany little poem. He should have put down his pen and picked up a mug of ale. It would have done him a world of good.

25th January 2015
“Address to a Haggis” (text)
Robert Burns

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

Last Sunday, the 25th, was, of course, Burns’ Night so I decided to read his Address to a Haggis. If you have never eaten one, I thoroughly recommend it. Offal never tasted so good (I’m not being ironic, either, I like it alot).

As for the poem itself, the fact that it was written in dialect did make it difficult to understand and I wish very much that I could have read it in the appropriate accent. However, I  heartily agree with the sentiment. All the more so since I no longer own a cooker.

26th January 2015
“A Man’s A Man For A’That” (text)
Robert Burns

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

I stuck with Burns on Monday. Here, Scotland’s poet gets to the heart of the matter – rank is nothing, a man is still valuable be he ever so poor. 2015 is election year in Britain. It would nice if, come April and May, the political parties remembered Burns’ poem rather than waste their time rubbishing one another. And if the newspapers could remember that all the time – wouldn’t that be a thing.

27th January 2015
“Portrait of a Lady” (text)
T S Eliot

I keep my countenance,
I remain self-possessed
Except when a street-piano, mechanical and tired
Reiterates some worn-out common song
With the smell of hyacinths across the garden
Recalling things that other people have desired.
Are these ideas right or wrong?

When I first read this poem, the language so entranced me that upon reaching the end I had to confess to myself that I had no idea what Eliot was actually saying. In the beauty of the sound, no words or lines jumped out at me. Reading the poem again just now, however, and the above lines made a big impression. We live in a post-Christian age where new ideas, some quite opposite to the historic faith have gained acceptance. What is a Christian to do? There may be no salvation outside the Church but the Holy Spirit still blows where He pleases. We can’t simply reject, therefore, what appears be at first glance wrong. It may still be if God. The last two lines of this poem seem to speak very specifically to one particular issue that is very do mint these days and the question that it evokes.

By-the-bye, Portrait of a Lady opens with the following quotation from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta,

Thou hast committed —
Fornication: but that was in another country,
And besides, the wench is dead.

which I assume is the origin of the title of one of Inspector Morse’s adventures.

28th January 2015
“Of a Rose Sing We” (text)
T S Eliot

Of this rose was Cryst y-bore,
To save mankynde that was forlore;
And us alle from synnes sore,
Prophetarum carmine.

As with the Burns’ poems Of a Rose Sing We was also difficult to understand. I should have gone to a website with a glossary. It is, of course, a hymn to Mary. All the stanzas are beautifully constructed and worthy of quotation. I picked the above as it gets to the heart of what Mary’s role in Salvation History is about. Just as all roads lead to Rome; Mary always leads one to Jesus.

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This entry was posted in Eighteenth Century Poetry, Mediaeval Poetry, Seventeenth Century Poetry, Sixteenth Century Poetry, Twentieth Century Poetry and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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