A Summer Walk

One of my favourite poems is William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud. Here’s the first stanza:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Last week, that’s what I did. I followed a trail I seldom took and let it lead me to serendipity, like sighting this bald eagle. I didn’t see any daffodils, but lots of wildflowers which I couldn’t name.

Many, many summers ago, I was pondering about which subject to major in for university. Botany came to mind, for I was fond of plants. At the end, I decided on studying humans instead, hence, remaining illiterate when it comes to flora of all kinds, especially their technical terms. I must say, though, as you may well know, humans are much harder to decipher. Knowing names is the easiest part.

Here are some of the wildflowers I saw. If you can help me name them, so much the better. But let’s start off with this one which I know, and that’s our Provincial Flower: The Wild Rose.


Are these some kind of wild daisies?


Love the colour of these delicate blue petals:


A kind of Goldenrod?


Fuchsia isn’t a favourite colour of mine, but it looks stunning for flowers. This one particularly stands out, for it’s almost 6 ft. high:


I’d to stretch my hands way up to take this closeup:

A similar kind that’s a bright bluish purple. I caught it just when an insect was heading straight to it:


That’s when I realized, surely, for me these might be objects of natural beauty, for many, they are food and sustenance. Like these bees feeding on nectar:


And of course, berries for the birds:

I’ll let Wordsworth have the last word. Just replace daffodils with any of the above…

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

________________

Try it, dancing on the couch.

The Summer Day

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

––– Mary Oliver

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Reading the Season: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

‘Reading the Season’ is my Christmas post every year. It’s always a pleasure to spend some quiet time amidst the hustle and bustle of the festivities to meditate on the essence and meaning of the Season. Yes, something like the perennial “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

In recent weeks, one of my previous ‘Reading the Season’ posts has seen particularly high traffic, and that’s where I selected a few of Madeleine L’Engle’s poems. Indeed, the brilliant L’Engle had given us more than just A Wrinkle in Time. The versatile writer had 63 publications to her credits.

My favourite of her works is The Crosswicks Journal series. In there is the alchemy of wisdom, experience, and faith. Rereading Book 3 The Irrational Season this time, I came upon this verse which I didn’t notice much before. But this year’s different, for there’s a newborn in the family.

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Here’s L’Engle’s short intro before the poem:

“When I wrote the following lines I thought of them as being in Mary’s voice, but they might just as well be in mine––or any parent’s.” (p. 115, The Irrational Season)

Now we may love the child.
Now he is ours,
this tiny thing,
utterly vulnerable and dependent
on the circle of our love.
Now we may hold him,
feeling with gentle hands
the perfection of his tender skin
from the soft crown of his head
to the sweet soles of his merrily kicking feet.
His fingers softly curl
around one finger of the grownup hand.
Now we may hold.
Now may I feel his hungry sucking at my breast
as I give him my own life.
Now may my husband toss him in the air
and catch him in his sure and steady hands
laughing with laughter as quick and pure
as the baby’s own.
Now may I rock him softly to his sleep,
rock and sing,
sing and hold.
This moment of time is here,
has happened, is:
rejoice!

Child,
give me the courage for the time
when I must open my arms
and let you go.

**

And oh what letting go it was for Mary that day at the foot of a cross, that ultimate letting go, and with it, the awakening which must have brought her back to that first night when she gave birth in the manger.

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Above Photo Credit: Diana Cheng. An evening view from Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park, September, 2018.

 

Past Reading the Season Posts:

2017: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

An Easter Sunday Poem

Warbler on tree

The Whole Story

Behind that stone before
it was rolled away
a corpse lay.
There lay all I deplore:
fear, truculence – much more
that to any other I need not say.
But behind that stone I must be sure
of deadness, to allay
self-doubt i.e. so nearly to ignore
the love and sacrifice for our
release; to nearly stray
back into the old
pursuit of virtue.

Once it is clear
it was a corpse that day,
then, then, we know the glory
of the clean place, the floor
of rock, those linens, know the hour
of His inexplicable “Peace;” the pour
— after He went away —
of wonder, readiness, simplicity,
given.

                             –– Margaret Avison

 

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Paterson: Of Pug and Poetry

Some movies are like the roaring ocean, waves mounting upon waves rousing up excitement, eliciting continuous, sensational reactions. Some are like a bubbling brook, smaller but still boisterous, teeming with life and sounds. The film Paterson is a quiet stream, water gently flows along, seemingly uneventful, and yet, you can sit there by its side and just watch its quiet swirling.

Paterson has been screened at many film festivals this year. I missed it at TIFF, glad I could catch it when I came home to CIFF. For a film about poetry and a loving couple (not dysfunctional, for a change) with a British bulldog named Marvin, a character in his own right, and helmed by a Palm d’Or winning director, it’s got to be a unique experience.

Director Jim Jarmusch has been garnering accolades at the Cannes Film Festival since 1984, with his early feature Stranger Than Paradise. His most commercially known work probably is Broken Flowers (Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury, 2005) with Bill Murray and Julie Delpy. This year, Paterson has once again brought the director to Cannes as a nominee for the prestigious Palme d’Or. 

Jarmusch ought to be applauded for making a film on poetry, for who in this day of mega explosive, blockbuster productions would think of turning Williams Carlos Williams’ poetic notion into a movie. Yes, WCW himself was a resident of Paterson, New Jersey, and his 5-volume epic poem Paterson must have been the source inspiration for Jarmusch.

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The movie Paterson is about an admirer of WCW and an aspiring poet whose occupation may be furthest from the creative process. But that’s exactly the point. Where do we get inspirations and ideas? What kickstarts our creative process? Do we need to climb to the top of the mountain, soak up a magnificent sunrise to unleash our creativity? Apparently not.

We see in the film that the most mundane of everyday objects, like, a box of matches, can spark off a new poem. Jarmusch has his own style of cinematic poetry making: the deadpan, casual expressions of his main character, thus, embedding humour in the serious. Adam Driver (While We Were Young, 2014) is probably the best person to star in this film, not only in name, but in his demeanour. He is Paterson, a bus driver with a daily route of driving bus route no.23 around the small town of Paterson, New Jersey.

We follow Paterson for a week. He gets up at the same time, around 6:20 am, plus or minus 5 minutes, eats his breakfast cereal, carries his lunch box and goes to work. He drives his no. 23 route around town, overhearing passengers’ small talks, brewing in his mind thoughts and ideas, writing down lines in a note book when he has a chance, has his lunch sitting on a bench overlooking the Great Falls of the Passaic River, then back to work. After work he goes home, has dinner with his loving wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks the pug Marvin, ties him outside the bar, goes in and have his beer, chats with bartender Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley), meets the regulars Everett (William Jackson Harper) and Marie (Chasten Harmon) and listens to their stories, then walks Marvin back home and sleep.

As viewers we see this seven times over. Reminds me of Groundhog Day (1993). But Jarmusch is clever in sprinkling subtle humour and surprises, quite like life. Paterson is a contented soul, driving a bus may be as fulfilling as writing poetry. Wife Laura is more experimental, and takes charge of her creative expressions more explicitly, like learning the guitar to reach her dream of being a country singer, like interior decorating her home according to her obsession with black and white, or baking cupcakes in her own signature style as a step to opening her own cupcake store. Whatever, the two are a loving, contented couple. Creativity manifests in various ways.

Marvin.jpg

And then there’s Marvin, who may be the best pug in pictures. He has a role to play too in this mundane plot. His story line is, again, life as well.

That’s about all I’ll reveal about the movie without giving out the spoiler, yes, even for this seemingly uneventful film. But as I write, I’m thinking of another matter. This film is probably screened only at very limited cities, at arthouse, independent cinemas. So, why am I writing about a film that not many of you will actually be able to see? What exactly is the relevance of writing something that few may relate to? Or… is the review a piece of writing that readers can respond to despite not experiencing the film itself?

If you have some thoughts on this, I’d appreciate your input. Throw your two pebbles into the Pond and create some ripples so I’d have an idea.

Having poured out this puzzling thought that has been troubling me for some time, I’m reminded of Paterson’s poetry writing in the basement of his home, his notebook filled with his private thoughts and lines, which nobody has ever or will ever read. What’s his purpose then?

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Other Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

While We Were Young: Wearing the Hat of Authenticity 

A Quiet Passion (2016) at TIFF16

A Quiet Passion at TIFF16

“A Quiet Passion” is a biopic of the reclusive 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson. It is written and directed by the esteemed English auteur Terence Davies, who brought us the adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel “The House of Mirth” in 2000, “The Deep Blue Sea” based on Terence Rattigan’s play in 2011, and last year’s “Sunset Song”, a beautiful cinematic rendition of Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s work.

Literary filmmaking is Davies’ repertoire. If a movie is about a poet, under his helm, it is only natural that it would be crafted like poetry. In this sense, “A Quiet Passion” is a fine example. Every frame is meticulously composed and lit, the atmosphere dense with meaning. We also hear lines from Dickinson’s poems read out as voiceover. We experience poetry in sight and sound.

However, not all poetry is of the Romantics, roaming vales and hills, dancing with the daffodils. Davies’s Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) is confined in her father Edward’s (Keith Carradine) Amherst house. Her main human interactions are with her immediate family, a stern father, a depressed mother (Emily Norcross), an attorney brother Austin (Duncan Duff), and her younger sister (Jennifer Ehle). If she ever felt claustrophobic, there’s her sister-in-law Susan Gilbert (Jodhi May) and her close friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey). Too narrow a social circle? Not really, for they are all responsible for sharpening her views and words. And they make a wonderful cast.

 

a-quiet-passion
Terence Davies, Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Jodhi May, Catherine Bailey
Under the direction of Davies, Cynthia Nixon (of ‘Sex and the City’ fame) portrays Emily Dickinson with an austere persona restrained by social mores and troubled by unrequited romantic pursuit. She might have been a rebel with a just cause in confronting restrictive societal norms, but I was surprised to see Dickinson here as a verbal combatant, a bitter and belligerent soul. Somehow from my limited reading of her poetry, that image has not set in my mind.

“A Quiet Passion” is a mixed bag of oxymoron. In an austere setting, characters deliver ornate speeches like you only hear in a stage play. Shrouded in a confining milieu, you hear comedic exchanges and humorous, deadpan facial expressions, even LOL moments. While the cinematography is meditative and calm (as in Davies’ last work “Sunset Song”), the feeling evoked is unsettling anticipation.

Emily’s supportive and devoted sister Lavinia (Vinnie), well played by Jennifer Ehle (of Elizabeth Bennet fame), gives me a breath of fresh air, for often she is the quiet passion supporting the poet, a gentle strength and a moral compass. Vinnie is the pragmatic and rational voice, like reminding Emily that Rev. Wadsworth—on whom Emily has a romantic crush—is a married man. But she is ever so sweet and pleasant as Jennifer Ehle is, even when admonishing.

The sisterhood between Nixon’s Emily and Ehle’s Vinnie makes me think of another literary sisterhood, that of Jane and Cassandra Austen. But what a difference. I long for Jane’s joie de vivre, something that’s missing here in this relatively harsh portrayal of Emily Dickinson. Further, I couldn’t help but compare this film with another that’s also about a poet: Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” (2009), a beautiful cinematic rendering of the English Romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

The last scenes are as severe as they are heart breaking. Death may be a frequent motif in Dickinson’s poetry, as Emily had experienced the passing of her parents, but the constant pounding of her own illness makes me think of another oxymoron: superfluous suffering. The repeated scenes of seizures Emily goes through in the last section of the film may be a bit too much to watch for some, although Nixon has certainly given us a true-to-life performance. I can’t imagine all the takes she had to repeat, acting out those excruciating seizures on her bed.

When asked about the seizures in the Q & A after, Nixon replied that she had not done any research or specifically prepared; she just went ahead and did it. All the research had been done by Davies. He had read up on volumes of Dickinson’s biographies for the film.

What “A Quiet Passion” has done for me is stirring up my curiosity in finding out what Emily Dickinson the person was really like, and, I want to delve into more of her poetry. I have to remind myself though that the cinematic portrayal here is only Davies’ own interpretation and personal response to her poetry. I just like to explore on my own.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

 

 

I’m nobody! Who are you?

April is still here I’m glad. Here’s a timely piece to join in the celebration of National Poetry Month.

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I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there are two of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

 

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Oh the comfort of anonymity, no need to trend, to like or be liked, to climb the social media ladder, to reach new heights with more followers. Dickinson sure enjoyed her reclusive life, felt fine with being an unknown. Most of her poems were published posthumously, including this one.

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Risen for Hope

The photo was taken just yesterday. Due to illness in the family, I’ve been staying mostly indoor as a caregiver. Yesterday was the first time I went out to greet spring and the birds. A Downy Woodpecker darted right into frame.

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While we’re enjoying an early spring this year, there had been times when it felt like spring would never come. A few years ago, I wrote this poem at Easter, when winter lingered and spring seemed so far away… and it was already April.

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April is the month of empty dreams
Half the days gone
waiting for words and spring
still frozen ground
and on the screen
a frigid page as white as snow.

Brown could be the color of hope
After the white
for all I know
green is too much to wish for
I’m contented to see a patch
of dry and withered brown.

The sun is a perpetual sign
that there’s still hope
But it’s no herald of the seasons
for its presence comforts all year long
warming my blank and barren state
as I await for words and spring.

But Easter is an apt reminder
that The Word had come
spoken clear to half-frozen ears
His body hung on a lifeless tree
Blood and water flowed
onto parched and dusty earth

So what if no words come to me
That dreaded writer’s block
reigning the winter of sterility
numbing senses,
snatching thoughts,
seizing any sign of spring.

It’s not about a post or a blog,
Or even buds and melting snow.
The Word had come
lived and loved among us,
broken, bled, died and rose,
melting frozen hearts to greet
a new dawn and eternal Spring.

– by Arti, April 2011

  ***

We look not towards the climate, but the Christ.

Happy Easter to all!

 

 

Vermont: More than Scenery

Vermont has so much to offer on top of the scenery. But I’ll start with that.

The hills are alive overlooking a breathtaking view of the distant Green Mountains. That was what attracted the von Trapp Family to settle there. Right, that’s the Family von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame. Goerg and Maria moved to Vermont in 1941 and bought a 300 acre farm near Stowe, as that location reminded them of their native Austria. There on the mountain top they started a guest lodge and had since developed into what is now an upscale resorts on 2,500 acres.

The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT, owned and operated by the eldest son of Maria and Georg von Trapp:

Trapp Family LodgeJust 36 miles west of Stowe was Lake Champlain on the edge of Burlington, a vibrant college town. The Lake is a large body of fresh water, once called the sixth of the Great Lakes. It borders the States of Vermont, New York and stretches up north to Quebec, Canada.

At the pier of Lake Champlain:

Lake ChamplainI totally get how this boat is named:

DSC_0096I took the Vermont scenic drive Rt. 100 and headed south from Stowe. My destination was Bennington in the southwest corner of the State.

Not far from Stowe I arrived at Waterbury, a town with lots of restaurant choices for such a small place. I visited two major tourist sites there.

Just off RT 100 was the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, and they sure were prepared for the hundreds of visitors on the day I was there. A well organized and informative factory tour let me see how two college buddies’ $50 investment on an online ice cream making course had come to fruition. What’s impressive is their commitment to use supplies from local farms and cows that are steroids-free. A fair trade business to ensure global responsibility. (no, I don’t get a buck for writing this.)

Product MissionIn contrast, not far from the madding crowd at Ben & Jerry’s was the serene Waterbury Reservoir. When I got there it was already past sunset. So glad I could still take these photos:

Waterbury Reservoir

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Reservoir

Continued on Vermont Rt. 100 south I came by this most interesting site in the fields outside the small town of Waitsfield, population: 1,719 (2010). Here I found The Big Picture Theater, screening The Martian:

DSC_0103Two posters at the door caught my attention:

Kickstarter FFDownton Talk

One was a “Kickstarter Film Festival”. An indie film festival in this area? I was most impressed.

Another poster was about a talk on “The Costumes of Downton Abbey”. Here’s what the poster says if you can’t see it clearly (above right):
“Jule Emerson, former Costume Designer and Theater Professor at Middlebury College will discuss the fashions worn by Lady Mary and her family in the popular PBS series Downton Abbey. Free and Open to the Public”

No place is too remote for films and the Crawleys.

Rt. 100 offered some fall scenery very different from NH. I was attracted by the clumps of trees in distant hills along the road. It was a cloudy day, so instead of seeing bright and cheery foliage, I was captivated by the moody atmosphere. Just as beautiful:

Moody

Before arriving at Bennington, I stopped by South Shaftsbury to visit Robert Frost Stone House Museum. Frost bought the stone house and its 80 acres land in 1920, moving from the White Mountains in NH to warmer Vermont mainly for “a better place to farm and especially grow apples.” Aren’t we glad that he threw in some poems as well in his time-off from apple-picking.

In this fertile soil Frost not only gathered apples but poetic harvests as well. In the Stone House, there’s a “Stopping by Woods” Room where the Poet wrote his most famous “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” A facsimile of the handwritten manuscript and many other pertinent materials – parody included – were displayed. Trust my words. I didn’t want to get caught taking pictures in a ‘Photography Forbidden’ premises.

I did take photos outside of Frost’s Stone House:

Frost's Stone Houseand his juicy legacy, the apple tree in front of the house:

DSC_0205From Shaftsbury I drove the few blocks to Bennington, There at the back of the First Congregational Church was the cemetery where Robert Frost was buried.

Yes, the sky was that blue that day:

DSC_0270Frost’s grave gathered no pens or pencils as I saw in Authors Ridge of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord ; instead, people have left pennies there. If they were meant to be tributes to the Poet, it’s simply mind boggling to see how people could think a penny would suffice. Allow me to offer a little alteration to a common saying, standing in front of Frost’s grave: If you don’t have anything poetic to leave there, don’t leave anything.

DSC_0251Coming up: my last stop, Lenox, MA.

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Follow my New England series:

Camden, ME: A Gem of a Town

The scenic drive from Rockport (last post) led me to the town of Camden where I was welcomed with free parking everywhere. A walk down the streets could make you feel you’re stepping right into a movie set.

Camden's Main Street

Camden's Street

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Camden Harbor

But the stunning view came later when I drove up to the summit of Mt. Battie in the Camden Hills State Park. There at the highest point of the town, a panorama of Penobscot Bay and its surrounding countryside was fully displayed:

The Summit

View from the top 3

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View from the top 4That was the same breathtaking view a young aspiring poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950) beheld, inspiring her to write the famous poem “Renascence”. Her epiphany at the top of Mt. Battie set off a poetic expedition which eventually led the Poet to the literary summit of a Pulitzer in 1923. There on the mountain top was this plaque honoring ‘America’s finest lyric poet.’

Edna St. Vincent Millay Plaque“And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
I screamed, and—lo!—Infinity
Came down and settled over me…”

– lines from “Renascence”

Every time I feasted my eyes and mind, my stomach would in turn crave for my attention. So after a lingering at this inspiring site, I went down the slope back to town and found my way to the popular Cappy’s Chowder House. There I had the best chowder of my life: A Lobster/Oyster/Mussel/Seafood Chowder, yes, all of them in a Cappy’s cup for $9.99

Best ChowderAll substanceA good finish to a rewarding day.

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Follow my New England series:

Voice of the Poet: Things Fall Apart

April is National Poetry Month, and three quarters of the days are already gone. Still not too late for me to offer a poetry post. At present, I’m reading Joan Didion’s essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem (more about that in a later post). To start off her book, Didion uses W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”, from which her book title originates.

Yeats wrote the poem in 1919, shortly after WWI; it was published in 1920. Didion used it like an epigraph for her book published in 1968, about fifty years later, apparently finding it speaks to her collection of essays on her experiences in 1960’s America.

Now almost another fifty years later, the poem still has not lost its relevance. Yeats’ mythical references aside, and just listen to the clearer and more direct words, I can hear the Poet’s voice speak hauntingly to our present world.

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The Second Coming 
by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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Especially the first stanza… hear what I mean?