Saturday, December 11, 2010

Off the Shelf Archive - December #1

November's final Off the Shelf poem, Farewell to Florida,  by the American Modernist poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) is now being archived to make room for a selection from the immortal Christina Rossetti. Rossetti was a prolific poet who began writing at the age of 7, and produced a great many exceptional poems, but I'm afraid I'm once again indulging myself by posting my favorite of all her works, Echo, as the next Off the Shelf selection. Please feel free to comment on either poem here, as comments are disabled on all the other pages. Also, suggestions are always welcome for the next selection, so don't hesitate to recommend a poet you'd like to see represented. More information on what Off the Shelf is all about is posted on the Missionary Statement page.

Christina Rossetti was suggested by friend of the blog and excellent poet herself, Fireblossom, who grows poetry at Shay's Word Garden. Thanks, Shay.

Farewell to Florida

Go on, high ship, since now, upon the shore,
The snake has left its skin upon the floor.
Key West sank downward under massive clouds
And silvers and greens spread over the sea. The moon
Is at the mast-head and the past is dead.
Her mind will never speak to me again.
I am free. High above the mast the moon
Rides clear of her mind and the waves make a refrain
Of this: that the snake has shed its skin upon
The floor. Go on through the darkness. The waves fly back

Her mind had bound me round. The palms were hot
As if I lived in ashen ground, as if
The leaves in which the wind kept up its sound
From my North of cold whistled in a sepulchral South,
Her South of pine and coral and coraline sea,
Her home, not mine, in the ever-freshened Keys,
Her days, her oceanic nights, calling
For music, for whisperings from the reefs.
How content I shall be in the North to which I sail
And to feel sure and to forget the bleaching sand ...

I hated the weathery yawl from which the pools
Disclosed the sea floor and the wilderness
Of waving weeds. I hated the vivid blooms
Curled over the shadowless hut, the rust and bones,
The trees like bones and the leaves half sand, half sun.
To stand here on the deck in the dark and say
Farewell and to know that that land is forever gone
And that she will not follow in any word
Or look, nor ever again in thought, except
That I loved her once ... Farewell. Go on, high ship.

My North is leafless and lies in a wintry slime
Both of men and clouds, a slime of men in crowds.
The men are moving as the water moves,
This darkened water cloven by sullen swells
Against your sides, then shoving and slithering,
The darkness shattered, turbulent with foam.
To be free again, to return to the violent mind
That is their mind, these men, and that will bind
Me round, carry me, misty deck, carry me
To the cold, go on, high ship, go on, plunge on.

Wallace Stevens  

Photo posted by czarina369cz  courtesy of Google Image search, originating website.


  1. I'm surprised that this Fireblossom person reads anything more challenging than pop-up books. Stevens will be way beyond her. Try "The Pokey Little Puppy" or something. I'm afraid you're going to do her a brain injury with this stuff. Ease off, woman!

    Seriously, thanks for using my humble suggestion on the Rossetti. "Echo" is so filled with bittersweet yearning. I love it.

  2. A gorgeous poem of longing. It was beautiful to read aloud.

    Shsy has fabulous taste though she hates to admit it.

  3. Gosh, I need to pay attention before posting - I meant Shay, of course!

  4. @ Talon: Your typo made me think of the word "sashay" for some reason. Seems appropriate, somehow. ;-)
    @FB: Yeah, go pull that Pokey Little Puppy bit with yer granny or somethin ...not bonding with Stevens is not a sign of cosmic intellectual meltdown, AFAIK. Glad you like Echo~it's another one that has made a home in my brain at the cellular level.

  5. There is such anxiety and sorrow, anger too in this poem. But I can relate. Being now in the south for 40 years, ripped from my northern home, it was and is an alien terrain. People ask me why I don't write 'southern' stories..and it's because I am still anxious, sorrowful, angry and feel like an alien.

    However, the waves of florida and the waves of mankind in the north are similiar in this poem.

    There is little 'place' in life except what we make for ourselves....little comfort except what we glean out of nature. And perhaps a soul or two, but that is as wavering as water.

    Lady Nyo, who was very affected by this poem.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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