Poetry I Like
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1. Thoughts on poetry:
“... poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed and made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seemed possible, remind us of kinship where all that seems possible is separation.”
(From ‘My Hero’ by Eve Ensler, Guardian 07.04.12.
Adrienne Rich died on
Further thoughts about poetry below.
2. Poems - arranged alphabetically by name of author:
Simon Armitage Julia Copus Ivor Gurney Pierre de Ronsard Elena Shvarts Edward Thomas W.B. Yeats.
Zoom! By Simon Armitage (from Zoom! Pub. Bloodaxe)
It begins as a house, an end terrace in this case
but it will not stop there. Soon it is an avenue
which cambers arrogantly past the Mechanics’ Institute, turns left
at the main road without even looking and quickly it is
a town with all four major clearing banks, a daily paper
and a football team pushing for promotion.
On it goes, oblivious to the Planning Acts, the green belts,
and before we know it it is out of our hands: city, nation,
hemisphere, universe, hammering out in all directions until suddenly,
mercifully, it is drawn aside through the eye of a black hole
and bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy, emerging smaller and smoother
than a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn.
People stop me in the street, badger me in the check-out queue
and ask: “What is this, this that is so small and so very smooth
but whose mass is greater than the ringed planet?” It’s just words
I assure them. But they will not have it.
Julia Copus (from The World’s Two Smallest Humans, Faber 2012):
She stands for a long time, next to the brightening window,
the quiet expanse of bed like a field behind her;
below her the lane, the bed-like field beyond.
The Kaffir-lily’s ablaze by the gate, the pigeons cu-
coo ru cu-coo. But she’s mute as a nun
in her blue flannel gown; she levels her gaze on the sill –
the thick gloss paint, the silver nail file,
the shop-bought testing-stick she’s prized apart,
in pieces now beside the weeping fig...
She takes it all in, like a small, controlled explosion:
here is the inch-long stiff, absorbent pad –
a stopped tongue, the damp on it still, and the plastic housing,
with its cut-out windows. And here’s the latex strip
(two lines for yes), the single band of purple
and beside it the silvery ghost of a second line
willed into being – frail as the arm of a sea-frond
trailed in the ocean – but failing to darken or turn
into more than a watermark.
Ivor Gurney: The Silent One (from Collected Poems by Ivor Gurney, Fyfield Press):
Who dies on the wires, and hung there, one of two –
Who for hours of life had chattered through
Infinite lovely chatter of Bucks accent;
Yet faced unbroken wires; stepped over, and went,
A noble fool, faithful to his stripes – and ended.
But I weak, hungry, and willing only for the chance
Of line – to fight in the line, lay down under unbroken
Wires, and saw the flashes, and kept unshaken.
Till the politest voice – a finicking accent, said:
“Do you think you might crawl through there: there’s a hole?” In the afraid
Darkness, shot at: I smiled, as politely replied –
“I’m afraid not, Sir.” There was no hole no way to be seen.
Nothing but chance of death, after tearing of clothes.
Kept flat, and watched the darkness, hearing bullets whizzing –
And thought of music – and swore deep heart’s deep oaths.
(Polite to God) – and retreated and came on again.
Again retreated – and a second time faced the screen.
Pierre de Ronsard: Quand vous serez bien vieille.
Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant:
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.
Lors, vous n’aurex servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.
Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os:
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos:
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,
Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain:
Cueillez des aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.
Candle at a Wake, by Elena Shvarts, (from Birdsong on a Seabed, pub. Bloodaxe) translated by Sasha Dugdale
I love fire so,
That I kiss it,
Reach out towards it
Wash my face in it,
Since the gentle spirits
Inhabit it, like a bud,
And a band of magic
Thinly rings it.
This is their home, you see,
Their shell, their comfort,
And everything else
Is too earthy for them.
I set my fringe alight,
I singed my eyebrows,
I thought… it was you
Flickering there in the flame.
Perhaps you wanted
To whisper a word of light,
The flame quivers,
But I am filled with dark.
The Owl, (1915) by Edward Thomas (in Collected Poems).
Downhill I came, hungry, and not yet starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.
Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry
Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.
And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.
The Penny Whistle, (1915) by Edward Thomas (in Collected Poems).
The new moon hangs like an ivory bugle
In the naked frosty blue;
And the ghylls of the forest, already blackened
By Winter, are blackened anew.
The brooks that cut up and increase the forest,
As if they had never known
The sun, are roaring with black hollow voices
Betwixt rage and a moan.
But still the caravan-hut by the hollies
Like a kingfisher gleams between:
Round the mossed old hearths of the charcoal-burners
First primroses ask to be seen.
The charcoal-burners are black, but their linen
Blows white on the line;
And white the letter the girl is reading
Under that crescent fine;
And her brother who hides part in a thicket,
Slowly and surely playing
On a whistle an olden nursery melody,
Saying far more than I am saying.
When You are Old, by W.B. Yeats (in 1983 Collection The Rose) – see Ronsard above.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And, nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.
How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountain overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
See also: www.bewilderingstories.com/issue177/ronsard_helene.html for notes on the Yeats and Ronsard poems.
2. Some further thoughts on why I like poetry:
- from Seamus Heaney (quoted by Colm Toibin, Guardian 21.08.10):
‘When a poem rhymes, when a form generates itself, when a metre promotes consciousness into new postures, it is already on the side of life. When a rhyme surprises and extends the fixed relations between words, that in itself protests against necessity. When language does more than enough, as it does in all achieved poetry, it opts for the condition of over-life, and rebels at limit.’
‘The vision of reality which poetry offers should be transformative...’
- from John Donne (quoted in Introduction to the Metaphysical Poets, Pelican, edited by Helen Gardner, p 18), from The Triple Foole:
‘I thought, if I could draw my paines,
Through Rimes vexation, I should them allay,
Griefe brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For, he tames it, that fetters it in verse.’