October 17, 2008

Poetry Friday: the Writing on the Wall

Epigrams are like the graffiti of the poetic world. They're not generally more than four lines with varying rhyme schemes, and the only real requirement is that they're witty and concise, which is what I suppose what people who scrawl things in public spaces think they're being. (Yet so often, they're just incoherent. Like this bird...thing). I love them, and enjoyed paging through my Norton poetry book to select a few for today. These caught my eye~

Epigram, by Peter Pindar, ca. 1780

Midas, they say, possessed the art of old
Of turning whatso'er he touched to gold;
This modern statesman can reverse with ease --
Touch them with gold, they'll turn to what you please.

It absolutely slays me that this was written in seventeen eighty!!!

Epigram, by Matthew Prior, 1710-20

Rise not till noon, if life be but a dream,
      As Greek and Roman poets have expressed:
Add good example to so grave a theme,
      For he who sleeps the longest lives the best.

A more modern epigram comes from Countee Cullen, and while bringing a smile, also brings a bit of a wince:

For a Lady I Know, 1925

She even thinks that up in heaven
Her class lies late and snores,
While poor black cherubs rise at seven
To do celestial chores.

I don't think Mr. Cullen ever bothered trying to straighten her out. I like his wry tone, and how he carefully doesn't say she's exactly wrong, but... you get the point anyway.

Finally, J.V. Cunningham reminds us that all things will take place -- eventually.

All in Due Time, 1950

All in due time: love will emerge from hate,
And the due deference of truth from lies.
If not quite all things come to those who wait
They will not need them: in due time one dies.

And on that cheery note, I invite to you join the gang at Becky's for Poetry Friday.

6 comments:

jama said...

I enjoyed the two 18th century epigrams best. "He who sleeps the longest lives the best." Good justification. :)

a. fortis said...

These are all excellent!

I'm not convinced that's a bird (or even a bird-thing), though... :D

Sara said...

I'm with jama on the sleep thing. Sleep is my vice of choice. :)

Cloudscome said...

I think it's an angel shooting fire at some slow fool.

I think epigrams must be awfully hard to write. Have you tried some?

Mary Lee said...

Great post for yesterday! We had the day off and after getting up to feed the cat, I went back to bed and slept long. Good stuff, sleep.

Indeed, hard to believe that the first one is from 1780. Not much has changed. But at least the last one you shared gives us hope...sort of.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Epigrams never really showed up on my poetry radar before, but I think I'm going to have to read more and even try to write some for fun. Thanks for introducing these to me!