Archive for the Poetry Category

Musée des Beaux Arts

Posted in Art, Poetry with tags , , , on September 11, 2021 by telescoper

Reminiscing about the events of twenty years ago I was reminded of this poem by W.H. Auden, arguably his greatest, which for some reason I have never posted before. The painting referred to in the second part of the poem is Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel the Elder which is in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels, a visit to which inspired Auden to write this poem in 1938. I remember being quite amused when I saw it in the same gallery about 15 years ago, because it took me a while to spot Icarus! It made me think of one of those Where’s Wally cartoons…

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

The Wasp, by John Kendall (aka Dum-Dum)

Posted in Poetry on August 29, 2021 by telescoper

Of those uncertain creatures
Who take a simple joy
In swelling up one’s features
On purpose to annoy,
Things void of natural sweetness,
Aggressive and inhosp.
(Pardon the incompleteness)
You are the first, O wasp.

There is no place we visit
In England’s pleasant land
(It isn’t your place, is it?)
But you must take a hand;
You set the nerves a-jangle,
You turn the tan to chalk
Of anglers when they angle,
Of walkers when they walk.

In no uncertain manner
You bid the bather flee;
You foil the caravanner
Who merely wants his tea;
You raid the earnest hopper,
You break upon our sports,
And are, I’m told, improper
To river girls in shorts.

We slap at you and swat you;
We fell you as we may
(The rapture when we’ve got you
Is more than words can say);
One may see great deeds daily
When men unused to strife
Brave you, albeit palely,
For screaming child or wife.

And we have learnt to fashion
A lure that cannot fail,
Born of a lasting passion
That you confess for ale;
An artful jar that cozens
You in and, when you’re tight,
Drowns you in drink by dozens,
A most immoral sight.

But when the day is sinking
And you retire to rest
That, to my private thinking,
Is where man comes out best;
Armed with his apparatus
He tracks you to the comb
Whence you come forth to bait us;
Then, when the last wasp’s home,

Bring forth, O man, your funnel;
With oil and poison come;
Take heed lest haply one’ll
Pass down a warning hum;
Insert with care the former;
Pour down the latter thick;
That should have made things warmer;
That will have done the trick.

Thus with discreet defiance
We tackle you, and yet,
For all the arts of science,
You don’t seem much upset;
Alert and undiminished
You still appear to prosp.;
I leave the word unfinished
To rhyme with you, O wasp.

by John Kaye Kendall (aka Dum-Dum)

Villanelle for Our Time – Leonard Cohen

Posted in Music, Poetry on July 1, 2021 by telescoper

Today (1st July) is Canada Day so here is something by Canada’s finest, the great Leonard Cohen.

We miss you, Leonard.

This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part

 

Canal Bank Walk, by Patrick Kavanagh

Posted in Maynooth, Poetry with tags , , on June 19, 2021 by telescoper

The Royal Canal, Maynooth (Picture Credit: M. Maher)

Written in 1954 when the poet was recovering from a life-threatening illness this poem – a sonnet by Patrick Kavanagh – is a celebration not only of nature’s powers of regeneration but of the delight in taking things slowly. As he expressed in his lecture Man and Poet:

We are in too great a hurry. We want a person or thing to yield their pleasures and their secrets to us quickly for we have other commitments. But it is the days when we are idle, when nothing appears to be happening, which provide us, when no one is looking, with all that is memorable.

Here is the poem Canal Bank Walk:

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.

April is the cruellest month

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on April 15, 2021 by telescoper
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

So begins Part I, The Burial of the Dead from The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. I thought of it yesterday when I was working in the garden, though I have no lilacs.

The poem is rightly regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th Century and Eliot one of the most important poets but in my opinion one thing he wasn’t good at was reading his own work. I always found his readings of his own work rather flat and dreary. He’s not the only poet I think that of either, but perhaps that’s just me.

Anyway, here is T.S. Eliot reading all of The Waste Land so you can make your own mind up:

Easter Hymn, by A.E. Housman

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on April 4, 2021 by telescoper

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.

But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.

by A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Housman was an atheist. This poem was not published in his lifetime, but is the first poem in More Poems which was published shortly after his death.

 

Good Friday Break

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Poetry with tags , , on April 2, 2021 by telescoper

Garden Update: the daffodils are done but the tulips are still going…

Well, here we are. It’s Good Friday, the start of an extra-long weekend (Friday to Monday inclusive). I’m making it a bit longer by taking a few days off next week too. It’s officially Easter break so there are no lectures next week anyway.

I need a break. This term has been exhausting, and the busiest bit is yet to come. We return for four weeks of teaching then, after a short hiatus, we’re into the examination period followed by marking, Exam Boards and all the rest. Oh and there’s the small matter of yet another virtual Open Day at the end of this month.

I’ve put out-of-office replies on my work email and won’t be attending to messages there until I get back to work at the end of next week. Part of me feels a bit guilty for doing that, but only a very small part.

As it’s a nice day, I spent a couple of hours this morning doing some remedial work in the garden. I may have a late lunch out there too as the weather is nice and I recently invested in a garden table and chairs which I have yet to use properly. If the weather holds I might get the mower out and give the lawn a trim. Judging by the constant noise this morning it seems that everyone in the neighbourhood is doing that too. Some people seem to enjoy the sound of their own lawn mowers.

Talking of which I also trimmed my beard this morning, for the first time since Christmas. I have also acquired some clippers and may actually cut the hair on my head at some point over the weekend too.

That’s enough inconsequential rambling for today. Here is a poem on the subject of Good Friday by Christina Rossetti:

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Laocoön and his Sons

Posted in Art, Biographical, Poetry with tags , , , , on March 15, 2021 by telescoper

Yesterday I was remind of the above very famous statue which is on display in the Vatican. It dates from antiquity but was unearthed almost intact during an excavation in Rome in the 16th Century. It’s an extraordinary work that depicts a legendary episode in the Trojan wars of priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents. Evidently it was very cold that day…

This scene is described in Book II of Virgil‘s Aeneid which happens to be the text I studied for Latin O-level back in the day. Virgil’s verse takes the form of a strict (dactylic) hexameter which provides a rhythmic pulse perfectly designed for action sequences such as this. Before this part, Laocoön (whose name has to be spoken as four syllables – Lah-o-co-ohn – in order to scan correctly) warns the Trojans about their gift of a wooden horse using the most famous phrase in the entire Aeneid:

Primus ibi ante omnis magna comitante caterva 40
Laocoon ardens summa decurrit ab arce,
et procul: ‘O miseri, quae tanta insania, cives?
Creditis avectos hostis? Aut ulla putatis
dona carere dolis Danaum? Sic notus Ulixes?
Aut hoc inclusi ligno occultantur Achivi, 45
aut haec in nostros fabricata est machina muros,
inspectura domos venturaque desuper urbi,
aut aliquis latet error; equo ne credite, Teucri.
Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis

Then, while about to sacrifice a bull to the god Neptune, he and his sons meet their grisly end:

Laocoon, ductus Neptuno sorte sacerdos,
sollemnis taurum ingentem mactabat ad aras.
ecce autem gemini a Tenedo tranquilla per alta
(horresco referens) immensis orbibus angues
incumbunt pelago pariterque ad litora tendunt;
pectora quorum inter fluctus arrecta iubaeque
sanguineae superant undas, pars cetera pontum
pone legit sinuatque immensa volumine terga.
fit sonitus spumante salo; iamque arva tenebant
ardentisque oculos suffecti sanguine et igni
sibila lambebant linguis vibrantibus ora.
diffugimus visu exsangues. illi agmine certo
Laocoonta petunt; et primum parva duorum
corpora natorum serpens amplexus uterque
implicat et miseros morsu depascitur artus;
post ipsum auxilio subeuntem ac tela ferentem
corripiunt spirisque ligant ingentibus; et iam
bis medium amplexi, bis collo squamea circum
terga dati superant capite et cervicibus altis.
ille simul manibus tendit divellere nodos
perfusus sanie vittas atroque veneno,
clamores simul horrendos ad sidera tollit:
qualis mugitus, fugit cum saucius aram
taurus et incertam excussit cervice securim.

(You can find a translation into English here.)

The colour and energy of this verse, propelled by the remorseless rhythm, brings the horrific episode to life in truly compelling and typically gore-filled way. You don’t really have to be fluent in Latin to appreciate its quality. The line sibila lambebant linguis vibrantibus ora is particularly brilliant. It’s no surprise that Virgil is regarded as such a literary superstar.

My Latin teacher at school pointed out that epic poetry like this would probably have been performed in the Roman era by an actor as a dramatic recitation, probably with a drum pounding out the rhythm and with various sound and lighting effects to boot.

Anyway, today is the Ides of March so I thought I’d keep up classical theme by posting this  priceless bit of British cultural history relevant to such a fateful day.

This is from the First Folio Edition of Carry On Cleo, and stars the sublime Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar delivering one of the funniest lines in the whole Carry On series. The joke may be nearly as old as me, but it’s still a cracker…

 

 

A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2021 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, and a lovely spring morning it is too, so I wish you all a big

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

The daffodils in my garden have come out in celebration, apart from the clump under the tree which are reluctant to emerge:

It has become a bit of a St David’s Day tradition on this this blog to post a piece of verse but instead of the more usual R.S. Thomas I thought I’d carry on with the theme of daffodils with this wonderfully moving poem by Gillian Clarke inspired by Wordsworth’s famous poem and called Miracle on St David’s Day:

‘They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude’

The Daffodils by W. Wordsworth

An afternoon yellow and open-mouthed
with daffodils. The sun treads the path
among cedars and enormous oaks.
It might be a country house, guests strolling,
the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs.

I am reading poetry to the insane.
An old woman, interrupting, offers
as many buckets of coal as I need.
A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens
entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic

on a good day, they tell me later.
In a cage of first March sun a woman
sits not listening, not seeing, not feeling.
In her neat clothes the woman is absent.
A big, mild man is tenderly led

to his chair. He has never spoken.
His labourer’s hands on his knees, he rocks
gently to the rhythms of the poems.
I read to their presences, absences,
to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks.

He is suddenly standing, silently,
huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow
movement of spring water or the first bird
of the year in the breaking darkness,
the labourer’s voice recites ‘The Daffodils’.

The nurses are frozen, alert; the patients
seem to listen. He is hoarse but word-perfect.
Outside the daffodils are still as wax,
a thousand, ten thousand, their syllables
unspoken, their creams and yellows still.

Forty years ago, in a Valleys school,
the class recited poetry by rote.
Since the dumbness of misery fell
he has remembered there was a music
of speech and that once he had something to say.

When he’s done, before the applause, we observe
the flowers’ silence. A thrush sings
and the daffodils are flame.

To Solitude – John Keats

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on February 24, 2021 by telescoper

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep, —
Nature’s observatory — whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
‘Mongst boughs pavilion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

by John Keats (1795-1821)

Yesterday (23rd February) marked the bicentenary of the death of John Keats who passed away in Rome of tuberculosis at the age of just 25. The theme of the poem also fits the times we’re living in!