Great Poems Into Great Songs

— Poetic & Musical Creativity at its best!

“There is a song in my head. I get my songs from books that I’ve read. I write a song when I’m with you. I get my words from things that you do … you are my song!” — Michael Weddle

A Short Story

During my mid-to-late teens I was a runaway from home and I hitchhiked all over New England writing poetry. So young and creative, I should have become a musician. But my guitar teacher told me to stick to Little Brown Jug and Yankee Doodle when I wanted and knew I could play Apache. I quit my lessons and my basement band caused nearly all of my guitar strings to break. So poetry filled my young life instead of music.

A youth product of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, throughout the ’60s, I hitched everywhere I could whenever I could — mostly around New England. But I did have several ventures onto New York City’s Greenwich Village scene and I hitched to peace protests at Washington DC. All this time I was writing poetry and high on a variety of different drugs. I was convinced that drugs made my poems better. Did they?

I’ll never know. All of this poetry got lost both from the wear of my travel and when my life got rudely interrupted by getting drafted into the military. Having repudiated higher education, knowing they were gonna get me and knowing I would not kill anyone, I arranged my draft status so I’d become a 1-AO non-combatant conscientious objector, meaning legally they could not force me to carry a weapon.

So I was happy when one day I received my 1-AO status approval notice in the mail. But I became sad when the next day I received an order to report for military induction. I always wondered how they organized it that way. Anyway, I was in Los Angeles when I got copied. This meant I’d have to hitchhike back to New Hampshire.

The trip was made interesting due to so many people on the West Coast heading east to the Woodstock Concert. Sadly, I had to go further east in order to put my foot into the military. Life then seemed very unfair. It’s more ironic than funny how unfair it was then compared to how unfair it is today. As Kurt Vonnegut aptly put it … “and so it goes!”

Three of us panhandled enough money to begin our hitchhiking journey. One guy had hardly anything, I had a reasonable amount and the third guy panhandled a lot of money. We had just barely enough to eat hot dogs and beans or grilled cheese sandwiches all the way east.

Back to “unfair” again. Just outside San Bernardino, California a cop came upon us. The guy who had the most money among us, afraid of the cop, jumped the fence and ran away before the cop could get to us. We never saw him again! We were told it was illegal to hitchhike on the state highway. He gave us a ticket for hitchhiking and booted us off the highway. California still managed to become the world’s 5th largest economy without our paying the fine for the hitchhiking ticket. So it goes!

We eventually made it East. The story on how we got there a book in itself. We hitched East with thousands of hippies heading to Woodstock — t’was a whole lotta fun! Sometimes I wish I’d taken the left to Woodstock instead of going straight on New Hampshire … but duty beckoned. It would have been so easy to have gone to the concert and then slip into Canada to escape the US military and the horror of its wars.

As life turned out, not only did I miss the greatest rock n’ roll concert ever on earth, I also managed to lose all of the poetry I had written. I guess I was done being a poet as I had become a soldier.

On August 20, 1969, into the belly of the beast I went. Once in the army it seemed all the soldiers I met were buying records that opposed the war. I bought my Dylan (Masters of War), my Donovan (The War Raged On) … I used my military paycheck to buy ’em all. Perhaps it was the anti-war records that caused me to become a GI Resistance organizer.

When the army mocked my request for a discharge as a full conscientious objector I went AWOL. I hid away in the guest house of a monastery along the Hudson River in New York. There, I wrote a huge document deploring war and describing my beliefs. When it was completed I turned myself in at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and requested my honorable discharge. While waiting to get discharged, I started a GI newspaper, a GI coffee house and I helped organize anti-war protests at the front gate.

After all, I was a poet. I certainly was no soldier!

I continued working with the peace movement until the war ended. After that, I organized and managed rock n’ roll bands. Finally, in the 1980s, I taught myself how to play guitar, began writing songs and became a backbench folksinger.

When I turned 60 years old, I finally went electric on my guitar and put a three-piece band together called The Rolling Beatles. When the other songwriter passed away, the remaining musician and I formed a new band called Climate Change, my current band. We perform original material and do not do cover tunes.

One of my original songs became a team-up with the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I took his poem Kubla Khan and converted it into a song.

Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge & Michael Weddle

— Performed by The Rolling Beatles

’Tis a stately pleasure dome I be,

Surrounded by a sunless sea.

Here a deep and sacred river ran,

Caverns steep, measureless to man.

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

Under blossomed, incense-bearing trees,

Embroidered forms of greener.

Here were forests ancient as the hills,

Gardens bright, sinuous thrills.

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

Miles and miles and miles of fertile ground,

Towers tall, wall girdled ‘round.

Hear anscestral voices rang,

Over dancing rocks a sweet siren sang.

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

Over veins of gold twilight twinned,

In the dim of old her dulcimer shined.

Here, I’m fed on honey dew, nature’s spice,

’Tis here I drink the milk of paradise.

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

— Xanadu … Kubla Khan

The Actual Coleridge Poem:

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

— Performed by Phil Ochs

PART ONE

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding —

Riding — riding —

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.

They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

His pistol butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.

He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked

Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.

His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,

But he loved the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.

Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say —

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,

But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;

Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,

Then look for me by moonlight,

Watch for me by moonlight,

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,

But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand

As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;

And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,

(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

PART TWO

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;

And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,

When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,

A red-coat troop came marching —

Marching — marching —

King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.

But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.

Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!

There was death at every window;

And hell at one dark window;

For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.

They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!

“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say —

Look for me by moonlight;

Watch for me by moonlight;

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!

She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!

They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years

Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,

Cold, on the stroke of midnight,

The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.

Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.

She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;

For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

Blank and bare in the moonlight;

And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?

Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,

The highwayman came riding —

Riding — riding —

The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!

Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.

Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,

Then her finger moved in the moonlight,

Her musket shattered the moonlight,

Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him — with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood

Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!

Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear

How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.

Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;

When they shot him down on the highway,

Down like a dog on the highway,

And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

. . .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

A highwayman comes riding —

Riding — riding —

A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

The Song of Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yeats

— Performed by Donovan

I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire a-flame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

Snow (from A Midsummer’s Night Dream by Shakespeare), by Archibald Lampman, Loreena McKennitt

— Performed by Loreena McKennitt

White are the far-off plains, and white
The fading forests grow;
The wind dies out along the height,
And denser still the snow,
A gathering weight on roof and tree,
Falls down scarce audibly.

The road before me smooths and fills
Apace, and all about
The fences dwindle, and the hills
Are blotted slowly out;
The naked trees loom spectrally
Into the dim white sky.

The meadows and far-sheeted streams
Lie still without a sound;
Like some soft minister of dreams
The snow-fall hoods me round;
In wood and water, earth and air,
A silence everywhere.

Save when at lonely intervals
Some farmer’s sleigh, urged on,
With rustling runners and sharp bells,
Swings by me and is gone;
Or from the empty waste I hear
A sound remote and clear;

The barking of a dog, or call
To cattle, sharply pealed,
Borne echoing from some wayside stall
Or barnyard far a-field;
Then all is silent, and the snow
Falls, settling soft and slow.

The evening deepens, and the gray
Folds closer earth and sky;
The world seems shrouded far away;
Its noises sleep, and I,
As secret as yon buried stream,
Plod dumbly on, and dream.

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

— Performed by Donovan

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;

Long time the manxome foe he sought —

So rested he by the Tumtum tree

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe

— Performed by The Alan Parsons Project

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —

Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —

Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door —

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; —

This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you” — here I opened wide the door; —

Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” —

Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; —

’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing farther then he uttered — not a feather then he fluttered —

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before —

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never — nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite — respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —

On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —

Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore —

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting —

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted — nevermore!

Sonnet 29 by Shakespeare

— Performed by Rufus Wainwright

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

— Performed by Bernd Wahlbrinck

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,

Knocking on the moonlit door;

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses

Of the forest’s ferny floor:

And a bird flew up out of the turret,

Above the Traveller’s head:

And he smote upon the door again a second time;

‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.

But no one descended to the Traveller;

No head from the leaf-fringed sill

Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,

Where he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners

That dwelt in the lone house then

Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight

To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,

That goes down to the empty hall,

Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken

By the lonely Traveller’s call.

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,

Their stillness answering his cry,

While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,

’Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote on the door, even

Louder, and lifted his head: —

‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,

That I kept my word,’ he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners,

Though every word he spake

Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house

From the one man left awake:

Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,

And the sound of iron on stone,

And how the silence surged softly backward,

When the plunging hoofs were gone.

John Cale — Do Not Go Gentle Into The Night by Dylan Thomas

— Performed by The Stedelijk Helmonds Concertkoor & The Metropole Orkest, Produced by Brian Eno

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Lucy by William Wordsworth

— Performed by The Divine Comedy

I travelled among unknown men,

In lands beyond the sea;

Nor, England! did I know till then

What love I bore to thee.

’Tis past, that melancholy dream!

Nor will I quit thy shore

A second time; for still I seem

To love thee more and more.

Among thy mountains did I feel

The joy of my desire;

And she I cherished turned her wheel

Beside an English fire.

Thy mornings showed, thy nights concealed,

The bowers where Lucy played;

And thine too is the last green field

That Lucy’s eyes surveyed.

Pandemonium — A Great Movie About Poets

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Michael Weddle

Founder of Boston’s Climate Change Band; former NH State Representative; Created Internet’s 1st Anti-War Debate; Supporter of Bernie Sanders & Standing Rock!