Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poetry Corner

I remember back in school I was not over-enamoured with poetry. That may have been due to the poets that I was exposed to. In high school the only poem that I found really interesting was Coleridge's Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, and I can thank Geoff Reed, my 3rd-year English teacher, for that. Geoff was a very tall red-haired chap with a rich West Country accent which he put to good use reading to us aloud from such classics as Leon Garfield's "Black Jack". It was the first time a book had inspired me to go out to the library and seek out more of the author's work. Unfortunately for Leon Garfield, though, I did not find any of the rest of his work half as entertaining as Black Jack.
In the 6th form we studied a lot of poetry in English Lit., a class which was made more interesting because of the teacher than the subject matter. Jacqui Bousfield was, er, what is the phrase? Out there. She was a wild woman. From her leopardskin-dyed crewcut to her multitude of jewellery hanging from every available point on her ears and fingers (and who knows where else!), to the tight sprayed-on pants, we knew she was hip. She was not some young thing, either. She was at least late thirties or older. Can't put a precise age on her. I hope wherever she is right now, that she hasn't changed at all. Needless to say though, listening to her talk about her life was way more entertaining than Shakespeare or Jane Austen, and those were better than the poetry which the curriculum dictated she teach about. We had a poetry textbook, with several poems by each poet, but we didn't get to read them all, just three poets. The book was full of great ones, including Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney. But the three we had to deal with were Ted Hughes, Sir John Betjeman and Norman Nicholson.

Nicholson was born in the small industrial town of Millom on the edge of the Lake District. He lived in the same house for most of his life and suffered from pulmonary TB. His poems I found very dull because he wrote in very simple, direct terms, using the vernacular of the people in his hometown. I did not care for his style, it seemed very bleak, though I did like parts of his scathing anti-nuclear poem, Windscale, named after the local power station, now known as Sellafield...

The toadstool towers infest the shore:
Stink-horns that propagate and spore
Wherever the wind blows...

This is a land where dirt is clean,
And poison pasture quick and green,
And storm sky, bright and bare;
Where sewers flow with milk, and meat
Is carved up for the fire to eat,
And children suffocate in God's fresh air.


But just recently I've been getting back into poetry. A few of them seem to speak to me on some deep visceral level. And some, it has to be said, make me tear up. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm a softie. Recently while at the library I discovered one that was so simple and yet so moving that I have to reproduce it here. It is translated from Japanese, originally written by Fujiwara no Kiyosuke (1104-1177):

I may live on until

I long for this time

In which I am so unhappy,

And remember it fondly.

And I love this one by W.E. Henley. It bucks me up when my spirits are low.


OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow'd.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


Another poet whose work I admire is A.E. Housman.

XIII. When I was one-and-twenty

from "A Shropshire Lad" (1896)

WHEN I was one-and-twenty

I heard a wise man say,

‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas

But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies

But keep your fancy free.’

But I was one-and-twenty,

No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty

I heard him say again,

‘The heart out of the bosom

Was never given in vain;

’Tis paid with sighs a plenty

And sold for endless rue.’

And I am two-and-twenty,

And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.


LIV. With rue my heart is laden

from "A Shropshire Lad" (1896)

WITH rue my heart is laden

For golden friends I had,

For many a rose-lipt maiden

And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping

The lightfoot boys are laid;

The rose-lipt girls are sleeping

In fields where roses fade.


Lastly, for today at least, I want to post one of my favorite poems. It is probably familiar to those of you who've seen the movie "Four Weddings And A Funeral". It is read by John Hannah (one of the most underrated actors ever, in my opinion) as Matthew, on the occasion of the funeral of Gareth, his partner (portrayed brilliantly by Simon Callow). It is a poem by W.H. Auden and is known to most people as "Stop All The Clocks..." but is in fact titled "Funeral Blues".

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,

Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

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