Archive for the Poetry Category

The Key-Note

Posted in Poetry with tags , on January 22, 2017 by telescoper

Where are the songs I used to know,
Where are the notes I used to sing?
I have forgotten everything
I used to know so long ago;
Summer has followed after Spring;
Now Autumn is so shrunk and sere,
I scarcely think a sadder thing
Can be the Winter of my year.

Yet Robin sings through Winter’s rest,
When bushes put their berries on;
While they their ruddy jewels don,
He sings out of a ruddy breast;
The hips and haws and ruddy breast
Make one spot warm where snowflakes lie
They break and cheer the unlovely rest
Of Winter’s pause – and why not I?

by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

 

To a Louse

Posted in Poetry, Politics with tags , on January 18, 2017 by telescoper

Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’, faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her-
Sae fine a lady?
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle,
Wi’ ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whaur horn nor bane ne’er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there, ye’re out o’ sight,
Below the fatt’rels, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right,
Till ye’ve got on it-
The verra tapmost, tow’rin height
O’ Miss’ bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an’ grey as ony groset:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I’d gie you sic a hearty dose o’t,
Wad dress your droddum.

I wad na been surpris’d to spy
You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit dubbie boy,
On’s wyliecoat;
But Miss’ fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do’t?

O Jeany, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin:
Thae winks an’ finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

by Robert Burns (1759-1796)

P.S. This poem was written “On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church 1786” but it – and the last verse is especially – is currently applicable to the pathetic jingoistic posturing of the UK government.

 

 

Meaning, by Czeslaw Milosz

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on December 19, 2016 by telescoper

When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add Up,
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.
– And if there is no lining to the world?
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign,
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day
Make no sense following each other?
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth?
– Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that perish,
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests, screams.

by Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

This poem was read during yesterday’s excellent Words and Music on BBC Radio 3, which was on the theme “Encoded”, which is available on iPlayer.

 

Attempted Assassination of the Queen – by William McGonagall

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on November 30, 2016 by telescoper

God prosper long our noble Queen,
And long may she reign!
Maclean he tried to shoot her,
But it was all in vain.

For God He turned the ball aside
Maclean aimed at her head;
And he felt very angry
Because he didn’t shoot her dead.

There’s a divinity that hedges a king,
And so it does seem,
And my opinion is, it has hedged
Our most gracious Queen.

Maclean must be a madman,
Which is obvious to be seen,
Or else he wouldn’t have tried to shoot
Our most beloved Queen.

Victoria is a good Queen,
Which all her subjects know,
And for that God has protected her
From all her deadly foes.

She is noble and generous,
Her subjects must confess;
There hasn’t been her equal
Since the days of good Queen Bess.

Long may she be spared to roam
Among the bonnie Highland floral,
And spend many a happy day
In the palace of Balmoral.

Because she is very kind
To the old women there,
And allows them bread, tea, and sugar,
And each one get a share.

And when they know of her coming,
Their hearts feel overjoy’d,
Because, in general, she finds work
For men that’s unemploy’d.

And she also gives the gipsies money
While at Balmoral, I’ve been told,
And, mind ye, seldom silver,
But very often gold.

I hope God will protect her
By night and by day,
At home and abroad,
When she’s far away.

May He be as a hedge around her,
As he’s been all along,
And let her live and die in peace
Is the end of my song.

by William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902)

 

 

Famous Blue Raincoat – R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

Posted in Music, Poetry with tags , on November 11, 2016 by telescoper

leonard-cohen

I heard the news this morning of the death, at the age of 82, of the great Leonard Cohen (above). The media are full of appreciations of his work and comments from admirers. I can add very little except that so many of the comments I’ve seen on social media have described his death as like the loss of an old friend, which is exactly how I feel.  He often dealt with dark and troubling themes, but always with defiant humour instead of despair: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

Sadly the light has gone out, this time for good. At least he will live on in our hearts through his music, though sadly he won’t live to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (which I think he deserved more than Bob Dylan).

As a tribute here is what I think is his best song, Famous Blue Raincoat

Rest in Peace, Leonard Cohen (1934-2016).

 

P.S. I don’t mind telling you that I’ve just about had enough of 2016.

 

 

 

Too Brave To Dream

Posted in Art, Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2016 by telescoper

berave

One day last week I found this wonderful item had been delivered to my house. Is a new book called Too Brave To Dream which contains about three dozen previously unpublished poems by R.S. Thomas, who died in 2000. After his death, two seminal studies of modern art were found on his bookshelves – Herbert Read’s Art Now (1933/1948) and Surrealism (1936), edited by Read and containing essays by key figures in the Surrealist movement. Poems handwritten by Thomas were later discovered between the pages of the two books. These poems written in response to a selection of the many reproductions of modern art in the Read volumes, including works by Henry Moore, Edvard Munch, George Grosz, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Graham Sutherland – many of whom were Thomas’s near contemporaries. Written between 1987 and 1993, these poems are published in Too Brave To Dream for the first time – alongside reproductions of the works of modern art that inspired them. They poems are instantly recognizable as works of R.S. Thomas. According to the publishers blurb:

Thomas’s readings of these often unsettling images demonstrate a willingness to confront, unencumbered by illusions, a world in which old certainties have been undermined. Personal identity has become a source of anguish, and relations between the sexes a source of disquiet and suspicion. Thomas’s vivid engagements with the works of art produce a series of dramatic encounters haunted by the recurring presence of conflict and by the struggle of the artist who, in a frequently menacing world, is ‘too brave to dream’.

The poems vary considerably in style and mood. Some are wry and playful – although Thomas isn’t perhaps best known for his sense of humour, he certainly wasn’t averse to playing with words and you can find puns throughout his work including in these new poems. Others are bleaker in tone, reflecting the disturbing nature the artworks to which they respond.

Incidentally, these poems were all written after Thomas had, after forty years of service, retired from his post as an Anglican priest. He seems to have experienced something of a crisis after his retirement, perhaps because of the lack of daily routine and regular duties require of him by the Church. He wrote to a friend in 1978, just before his retirement

I am retiring at Easter. I shall be 65. I could stay till 70, but I am glad to go from a Church I no longer believe in, sycophantic to the queen, iconoclastic with language, changing for the sake of change and regardless of beauty.

The form of his religious faith was never straightforward to R.S. Thomas but it did continue to dominate his poetry. He may have given up on the Anglican Church but that does not imply he had given up on religion altogether.

The poem that gives this book is title is a response to one of Henry Moore’s Shelter Sketches. During the ‘Blitz’ the London Underground served as a shelter for Londoners – who not only used the platforms as refuges, but also slept there. Moore produced a group of drawings based on his observations of people in the shelters. They’re are revelation if you think of Moore only as a sculptor but in any case they are very powerful images. I can’t reproduce the particular example that inspired the poem in question here for copyright reasons, but it is dated 1941 and is a sombre image of a figure in what appears to be a restless sleep, presumably during an air raid, with one hand rolled into a fist. Here is Thomas’s poem:

Hand clenched
on the dark dream
where the sleeper wanders
far from the crackling
meadows and the sharp flowers
with their smell
of combustion. Alas
that waking to safety
should be waking also
to survivors poking
among the remains of others
who were too brave to dream.

 

I’ve enjoyed dipping into this book enormously not only for the “new”poems by one of my favourite poets but also because of the interesting cross-section of influential works of art that it includes, including a number of artists who were completely new to me. If you’re interested in poetry or art you’ll find this book fascinating!

P.S. The cover image is Gorse on a Sea Wall, by Graham Sutherland.

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on October 26, 2016 by telescoper

This very famous and very wonderful sonnet, considered the highlight of Keats’s first volume of poetry, was written on this day in October 1816 and is thus exactly 200 years old.  It was originally a gift for his friend, Charles Cowden Clarke. The two men had spent an evening reading George Chapman’s superb 17th century translation of the Iliad and Odyssey. Here is the original hand-written version (which I got here)

chapman

And here’s a more legible version:

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific–and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise–
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.