Essential Pleasures

A Poem, An Execution

By Robert Pinsky on 4.02.09

As I say in the introduction to the “Stories” section of Essential Pleasures, the idea that young Tichborne wrote this poem “with his own hand in the tower before his execution” may be a fiction. If so, it is a very effective fiction, well suited to the relentless, kettle-drum quality of these formal patterns, rhymes, repetitions—all emphasizing the theme that this life is just beginning and at the same time ending.

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My Mountain Belly and My Rocky Face

By Robert Pinsky on 4.01.09

Cupid is traditionally blind, but the woman Ben Jonson is courting in this poem makes him think Love sees well but is deaf, since she notices his unattractive body while ignoring the supremely attractive verses he displays here.

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On Barnabe Googe and Billie Holiday

By Robert Pinsky on 3.30.09

There’s a fascinating similarity between Googe’s poem and the lyrics Billie Holiday wrote for her great jazz song, “God Bless The Child”. The way Googe slows up his line with the four words “Fair face show friends” then releases that strain with the accelerating “when money doth abound” reminds me of Holiday, too. And the sentiment expressed is pretty much the same, with pretty much the same terms. I don’t mean that Billie Holiday had been reading Barnabe Googe, but that two great artists were akin, finding ways for that language to express a bitter, harsh experience.

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America’s First Poet: Anne Bradstreet

By Robert Pinsky on 3.30.09

Bradstreet. Sometimes described as America’s first poet, also wrote the first book of poems to be published by a woman in England. A careless reading of this poem might condescend to it, or even dismiss it, as naive: a mistake. This kind of plainness and directness demand great skill, and Bradstreet knows what she is doing. As in Philip Sidney’s poems, “My True Love Hath My Heart and I Have His” (Essential Pleasures, page 230), the singing quality of the rhymes is never sing-song, and the unadorned quality of the language conveys sincerity.

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