And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard’s merry play, Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree To the Shoulder o’ Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.
General Studies, the upper sixth, a doddle, a cinch
for anyone with an ounce of common sense
or a calculator
with a memory feature.
The lines above are from one of Google’s suggestions for Armitage’s top best poems. This poem is actually about teenage sexuality and has a surprising and mildly interesting ending, I think. However, having shared the poets exam room ambience as a youngster, as well as having invigilated many many tests and examinations it is the first few lines that I would like to peruse here.
Miri it is while sumer i-last With foulës song; Oc now neghëth windës blast And weder strong. Ei, ei, what this night is long, And Ich with wel michel wrong Sorwe and murne and fast.
Dis, quand reviendras-tu ?
Voilà combien de jours, voilà combien de nuits, Voilà combien de temps que tu es reparti, Tu m’as dit cette fois, c’est le dernier voyage, Pour nos coeurs déchirés, c’est le dernier naufrage, Au printemps, tu verras, je serai de retour, Le printemps, c’est joli pour se parler d’amour, Nous irons voir ensemble les jardins refleuris, Et déambulerons dans les rues de Paris,
Dis, quand reviendras-tu, Dis, au moins le sais-tu, Que tout le temps qui passe, Ne se rattrape guère, Que tout le temps perdu, Ne se rattrape plus,
Le printemps s’est enfui depuis longtemps déjà, Craquent les feuilles mortes, brûlent les feux de bois, A voir Paris si beau dans cette fin d’automne, Soudain je m’alanguis, je rêve, je frissonne, Je tangue, je chavire, et comme la rengaine, Je vais, je viens, je vire, je me tourne, je me traîne, Ton image me hante, je te parle tout bas, Et j’ai le mal d’amour, et j’ai le mal de toi,
Dis, quand reviendras-tu, Dis, au moins le sais-tu, Que tout le temps qui passe, Ne se rattrape guère, Que tout le temps perdu, Ne se rattrape plus,
J’ai beau t’aimer encore, j’ai beau t’aimer toujours, J’ai beau n’aimer que toi, j’ai beau t’aimer d’amour, Si tu ne comprends pas qu’il te faut revenir, Je ferai de nous deux mes plus beaux souvenirs, Je reprendrai la route, le monde m’émerveille, J’irai me réchauffer à un autre soleil, Je ne suis pas de celles qui meurent de chagrin, Je n’ai pas la vertu des femmes de marins,
Dis, quand reviendras-tu, Dis, au moins le sais-tu, Que tout le temps qui passe, Ne se rattrape guère, Que tout le temps perdu, Ne se rattrape plus
That’s how many days, that’s how many nights, How long have you been gone, You told me this time, it’s the last trip, For our hearts torn, this is the last shipwreck, In the spring, you’ll see, I’ll be back, Spring is pretty to talk about love, We will go together to see the flowering gardens, And stroll through the streets of Paris,
“Dis, quand reviendras-tu ?” est une chanson sortie en 1962, écrite, composée et interprétée par Barbara. Dans cette chanson, l’auteure-narratrice écrit une lettre à un amant dont elle attend inlassablement le retour pour l’inciter à revenir à ses côtés. La qualité exceptionnelle d’écriture de cette chanson ainsi que la sensibilité de l’interprétation de Barbara en font un monument de la chanson française.
I have been perusing in a somewhat feckless manner an introductory chapter in Blake Morrison’s carefully written “The Movement” subtitled, English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s. Here he mentions a poem about Plymouth by Philip Larkin which begins-
A box of teak, a box of sandalwood,
A brass-ringed spyglass in a case,
A coin, leaf thin with many polishings,
(Collected poems page 166)
This appears to be an early poem which concludes with a stanza that explains in which Larkin says of his intentions for his poetry……
Let my hands find such symbols, that can be
Unnoticed in the casual light of day,
Lying in wait for half a century
To split chance lives across, that had not dreamed
Such coasts had echoed, or such seabirds had screamed.
Now when today mourning takes place with great pomp and ceremony it is somewhat salutary to turn to Keith Douglas killed fighting in the Second World War, admired by Movement poets, and his splendid and sparse poem-
I am not here following the caretaker Prime Minister who has resigned but not. He appears to live in some sort of borderland theatre which has become boring beyond belief; I am referring to Boris Drayluk’s collection of poems My Holywood published by Paul Dry Books. I have just finished Jonathan Coe’s Mr Wilder and Me and am currently reading Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist which seem to form a suitable background on which to project Drayluk’s moving collection.
His collection begins with a mixture of recollection and nostalgia-
This much is clear :the good old days have passed
Some giant fig trees, a few pygmy palms
deep broken shade on disenfranchised grass;
This magnificent collection by the Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books has many lovely poems. Dralyuk has a stirring feeling for the dilapidated landscape of Los Angeles and a wide understanding of the hinterland of European Culture. He is a skilled translator and his poems have a deep moving quality appropriately relieved by wit and humour. Here is one short example-
Above the tongue-tip is an air so blue
I can compare it only to how you
who once consumed me in a yellow heat,
now scarcely singe me when we meet.
Dralyuk writes of loss and passing time and of memory under the condition of exile. I particularly enjoyed Stravinsky at the Farmer’s Market; here are two stanzas.
Christopher Isherwood is a disciple, slipping
off to the Viertals on the weekends far from Swami,
swimming naked. In Brentwood, Schoenburg lobs grapefruits
and insults at Feuchtwanger’s wife.
Herr Doktor Faustus, exile is no bargin.
You move von heute auf morgen.
Stravinsky lunches at the Farmer’s Market.
The Firebird is plucked, Petrushka’s henpecked.
Here there are layers of sorrow portrayed in a dream-like landscape. Here is a photograph of the poet and a YouTube interview on this collection.
If I should go away, Beloved, do not say ‘He has forgotten me’. For you abide, A singing rib within my dreaming side; You always stay. And in the mad tormented valley Where blood and hunger rally And Death the wild beast is uncaught, untamed, Our soul withstands the terror And has its quiet honour Among the glittering stars your voices named.
Alun Lewis is a poet whose writing is associated with the Second World War in which he died in Burma in 1944. It is then naturally a poetry of partings, separation and yet shows the tenderness which is expressed in the poem above. See also https://allpoetry.com/Alun-Lewis
However, it is the following lines which grasped my attention and which are shown here from a poem called Destruction:-
In this intriguing passage, the viaduct arches feels like an image, perhaps from a dream suggesting transportation, crossing a gulf as well as the industrial Welsh scenery which it also evokes. The polluted river contrasts remarkably with the dreaming girl. I discover that attar of roses, also called otto of rose, essence of rose, or rose oil, fragrant, colourless or pale-yellow liquid is an essential oil distilled from fresh petals. This is followed by a striking consideration of the fragility of the poet’s writing and how it can be affected by the sudden hostility of his own feelings- the destructive feelings which he acknowledges. This too is beautifully expressed in a line of tragic s sounds- “Like a schoolboy’s sling that slays a swallow.” A swallow that might be otherwise be free to rise to otherwise unreachable places. Lewis goes on to compare this to the devastation of war with words that must remind a contemporary reader of the current conflict in Ukraine-“the impersonal drone of death Trembles the throbbing night” so that possible connection is broken as the viaduct is destroyed.
This link for what is possibly Alun Lewis’s most famous poem is also worth exploring:-
I have read for the second time now an article in the TLS by someone who goes by the name of Docx. This curious appellation reminds me somehow of XTrapnell, a strange character in Antony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time”. In this article, a book review, Docx pins down the theatrical absurdity of Johnson’s manipulation of Parliament and reiterates the latter’s motivation in his illegal prorogation of Parliament. He touches on the psychology of Boris, recently referred to as delusional by the Leader of the opposition and quotes D.W.Winnicott’s notion of the False Self to underline the splits in the man’s psyche. Johnson avoids guilt and the expectation is that paranoia features as his acting becomes increasingly absurd.
This acting resembles the theatre of the absurd which once was called Pataphysics. The loss of meaning which we see in the plays of Beckett and Ionesco is acted out on the floor of the House of Commons. The audience of Conservative MPs are complicit in the act and the opposition, though more in touch with compassion, find it difficult to bring the charade to a meaningful conclusion.
I have just finished reading the most remarkable life story of Richard Brinley Sheridan which is written by the outstanding Irish writer and political commentator, Fintan O’Toole. It is called A Traitor’s Kiss. There are many reasons for recommending this book so I shall confine myself to just three. Firstly, because it so closely illustrates this connection between politics and the theatre. Sheridan’s father, with whom he had a particularly interesting oedipal conflict, taught rhetoric so that Sheridan imbibed and used the power of heightened speech in his drama and in his political speeches. One only need consider the figure of Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals to grasp his power over language. Secondly, O’Toole’s explanation of the basic integrity of Sheridan’s love for Ireland, democracy and far sighted anti-imperialist radicalism is thoroughly illuminating with respect to Eighteenth Century political shenanigans. Thirdly, the biography is imbued with a real feeling for the duelling, the striving for status, the struggle against poverty, the wenching and resulting illegitimacies pursued in the chaotic Regency times. The reader comes away with some understanding of the complexities of both Whig factions and the decide lack of safety considerations within the candlelit Drury Lane theatre.
The article which underlined for me this connection between politics and the theatre was an edited version of a lecture given on behalf of the Voltaire Association in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on March 17th. It was given by the Harvard Professor, Robert Darnton and entitled Despotism Centre Stage- Theatricality and violence in Paris on the eve of revolution. It appeared in the March 25th, 2022 copy of the Literary Supplement and so very fascinating that I have read it several times to appreciate just how the masses in the streets of Paris, the Parlement and the Chatelet Court all became embroiled in a political carnival in which magistrates acted out their remonstrances (a forcefully reproachful protests) with speeches and gestures so that Paris itself became a free for all vaudeville. with the aristocracy and the monarchy as the players caught in a tragedy. Here is a small example of the scenes on the streets leading up to the Revolution:-
For anyone who wishes to hear the lecture itself:-
the new LG TV with its True Voice advanced technology.
The channel didn’t matter, what we cared about was clarity
and pitch, the digital dialling down
of background noise, homing in on the frequency
of the newsreader’s voice: far off famine
wars, a politician sacked, another
celebrity whose phone was hacked. We sat
in the sweet spot, the speakers concentrating
I tend to collect books of poetry and poetry magazines and came across the above poem which I have not copied in full in the Poetry Review Volume 101:2 Summer 2011 This edition was subtitled The New Political Poetry and inside Dautch has written a letter to Emily Dickinson in which she writes about the Talmudic tradition in which contradictory truths are allowed to co-exist. and also about doubt in contradistinction, she says to a Western Tradition that emphasises single truths or epiphanies. This seems apparent too in the first section of the poem -or perhaps prose poem quoted above.
As is widely known Friday evenings in Jewish families constitute the advent of Shabbat and the poem has a certain cosiness, one might say Gemutlich quality about it. Yet also there exists a troubled contrast between the technical sound quality and the dreadful news on the radio which has been arbitrarily chosen. In the remainder of the poem, there is a concern shown about the intensity of the experience becoming overwhelming.
All that evening, as we transformed secular time into Shabbat, everything seemed heightened: the candles, bread, wine, vibrating; each molecule its own distinct, sacred, world.
There are several ways of looking at this feeling. Psychologically Melanie Klein might refer to feelings of envy overwhelming what on a deep level might represent the maternal perfect breast. This state also reminds me of certain lines from the beautiful hymn by W.Chalmers Smith (1824-1908) Immortal, Invisible, God only wise–
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light.
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render:O help us to see
Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.
and in the next verse-
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccesssible hid from our eyes
…..and in this poem, of course, our ears as well although the background sound of snow shuffling down the roof paradoxically helps the evening feel complete. Reading Col Toibin’s book Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know just yesterday on W.B.Yeat’s artist’s father and the concept of the gaze, I came across the former’s well known poem about the Second Coming-
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun…
In any event Aviva Dautch is worthy of future consideration and here is a discussion on displacement, migration and exile in which she takes part:-
has to fight its way through every scattered grain.
I had not heard of Herbert, born 1961 in Dundee until I recently came across this poem in Ruth Padel’s instructive collection; The Poem and the Journey -60 Poems for the Journey of Life. It appeals to me very much and I am asking myself just why.
These first eleven lines interweave the process of getting up for breakfast with the contrasts in the outside landscape. Being cold and having no clothes on and breakfast itself – perhaps “Frosties” (crunch sucrose flake) and perhaps a suggestion of tiredness or exhaustion. The gradual awakening takes place with engaging contrasts as Padel makes clear in her own interpretation. There is cold sharpness against and before the sunlight. There are contrasting colours orange-yellow with the blue flanks of the horses. An image which might suggest the paintings of Franz Marc.
Then there is the poet’s usage of engaging tropes like “cold was urban” and “sepia…medieval photographs”. These encourage the reader to use his imagination. It is interesting too that the latter photo image reinforces the element of time which is clearly passing along during the course of the poem.
These lines from MacNeice’s poem written in 1938 sadly seem apposite today. The lines refer to the bombing of Barcelona when fascists killed some 1300 people. They also refer to his response which is to seek solace in sleep. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Barcelona
Now, of course the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the melancholy tone of Autumn Journal resonates with my personal feelings about current events. Firstly, weapons have become vastly more destructive and in a few days the casualties and destruction have become enormous and sadly mch more about to be revealed. In both conflicts, ethnic and religous belief would appear to be active. Although mercenaries and International Brigades are involved the ideological factors such as a belief in Marxism are radically different in form.
The cock which crowed in respect to Barcelona is an Easter image relating to betrayal. Just as with Covid the current response by politicians to the current crisis is totally underwhelming and indicates too how domestic and isolationist narratives have obscured a wider view as to how to resolve or even contain this conflict.
So this melancholia pervades from 80 or more years ago-