Category Archives: Poetry

A Rispetto on Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning, 1950

From window bay she looks out towards morning

light.  Sun rays illuminate pale blue wooden

cladding. Bent forward in desperate longing,

she seeks relief from her worries. Chiming ten

the clock is unheard by the woman leaning,

scanning beach and beyond  urgently searching

for her son’s return.She discerns no footstep

nor boy coming with wet net dragging to drop.

 

I have been reading about John Berryman and Robert Lowell on the Cape and looking at photographs of this interesting location. Next day, after trying to write this fairly simple verse form I came across an article about the topicality of Edward Hopper in The Guardian and this can be seen at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/mar/27/we-are-all-edward-hopper-paintings-now-artist-coronavirus-age

Details of the Italian form Rispetto can be found along with other simple fotms at

https://owlcation.com/humanities/10-Types-of-Short-Poetic-Forms

 

 

More Lowell and some recommended reading

Sailing Home from Rapallo
BY ROBERT LOWELL
[February 1954]

Your nurse could only speak Italian,
but after twenty minutes I could imagine your final week,
and tears ran down my cheeks….

When I embarked from Italy with my Mother’s body,
the whole shoreline of the Golfo di Genova
was breaking into fiery flower.
The crazy yellow and azure sea-sleds
blasting like jack-hammers across
the spumante-bubbling wake of our liner,
recalled the clashing colors of my Ford.
Mother traveled first-class in the hold;
her Risorgimento black and gold casket
was like Napoleon’s at the Invalides….

While the passengers were tanning
on the Mediterranean in deck-chairs,
our family cemetery in Dunbarton
lay under the White Mountains
in the sub-zero weather.
The graveyard’s soil was changing to stone—
so many of its deaths had been midwinter.
Dour and dark against the blinding snowdrifts,
its black brook and fir trunks were as smooth as masts.
A fence of iron spear-hafts
black-bordered its mostly Colonial grave-slates.
The only “unhistoric” soul to come here
was Father, now buried beneath his recent
unweathered pink-veined slice of marble.
Even the Latin of his Lowell motto:
Occasionem cognosce,

seemed too businesslike and pushing here,
where the burning cold illuminated
the hewn inscriptions of Mother’s relatives:
twenty or thirty Winslows and Starks.
Frost had given their names a diamond edge….

In the grandiloquent lettering on Mother’s coffin,
Lowell had been misspelled LOVEL.
The corpse
was wrapped like panettone in Italian tinfoil.

 

There is a truly fascinating analysis of this poem in one of my favourite books. That is to say -The Secret Life of Poems by Tom Paulin. This useful book gives an excellent insight into the way poetry works. That may sound a cliche but in Paulin’s review of this poem you can see just how the critic discovers the levels of meaning within the poem and finally expresses his open appreciation of it. There are a number of introductions to poetry that I have found helpful – Ruth Padel has done this for me in her two anthologies-

52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life

and

The Poem and the Journey: 60 Poems for the Journey of Life

Poetry In The Library Michael Hofmann - Events - Shakespeare and ...

Michael Hofmann (photo) is yet another poet and critic as well as a brilliant translator. Yesterday I was reading his introduction to John Berryman’s Selected Poems which was also very clear and enlightening.

 

 

 

 

John Berryman as seen by Eileen Simpson

Well with social distancing in vogue, John Berryman may not be an entirely inappropriate choice for this, my 1000th post! Lots of my friends are writing Haikus which is very good practice, I think for trying to count syllables. So reading Eileen Simpson’s Poets in their Youth, here is my effort about Berryman at Harvard during the war, an early period in their marriage after a cold winter:-

The late spring drove ice

and snow away.Trees were in

leaf, John returned books.

There is a very useful and interesting review of this book by the London Review of Books by Christopher Reid https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v04/n22/christopher-reid/john-and-henry

Personally, I find Simpson’s book well written, with engaging descriptions of a wide variety of poets; Delmore Schwartz, R.P.Blackmur and Robert Lowell among others. It shows the struggle of Berryman to deal with his difficult upbringing and offers a vignette of academic life at Boston and Harvard as well as the pressure of life on the dole in New York. Eileen Simpson became a psychotherapist and she shows both considerable insight and sympathy for the young poets she met.

Philip Levine on Lowell and Berryman

 

Here is a sonnet by Berryman and I would be interested in what you make of it;-

Great citadels whereon the gold sun falls
Miss you O Chris sequestered to the West
Which wears you Mayday lily at its breast,
Part and not part, proper to balls and brawls,
Plains, cities, or the yellow shore, not false
Anywhere, free, native and Danishest
Profane and elegant flower,—whom suggest
Frail and not frail, blond rocks and madrigals.

Once in the car (cave of our radical love)
Your darker hair I saw than golden hair,
And where the dashboard lit faintly your least
Enlarged scene, O the midnight bloomed… the East
Less gorgeous, wearing you like a long white glove!

 

Suggestions for reading material when confined to barracks

Ex-Premier Harold MacMillan’s reputation has had it’s vacillations. However, many recall his stoically reading in a trench Aeschylus’ Prometheus in Greek. So whatever isolation we are advised or requested to endure in our very much more comfortable domestic surroundings, suitable reading matter might become Chicken Soup for the Soul. Glancing around the town’s charity shops and my own bookshelves has given me the opportunity to select some books suitable for longer reading. Here are my suggestions:-

A Pacifist’s War by Frances Partridge

Diaries by Frances Partridge, dating from 1945-60, which provide an account of her association with the Bloomsbury group and focus on her life at Ham Spray in the Wiltshire downs with her partner Ralph, where they exchanged visits with a variety of notable friends. It is an engaging read set against the backdrop of uncertain news. The pace of life in the country in wartime is described with underlying courage and compassion.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics

This volume is listed as a New York Times Best Seller as well as a Sunday Times Bestseller by a prominent journalist and broadcaster, Tim Marshall. When you are felling imprisoned and suffering from severe cabin fever then the spatial constraints of geography assist a useful understanding of the consequent political history. This is what one Amazon reviewer  writes, “I found this book to be an excellent concise summary of how the political world has developed to where it is today. I found the section on Russia particularly interesting and it opened my eyes to some factors driving the current position.The author has an incredible grasp of world affairs and our history. It made me wish I had spent more time in this area and has given me a thirst to spend more time in future.
It has turned me into even more of a dinner bore as I am now able to explain the background behind many of the current world conflicts with such confidence that I go unchallenged! “(Tri Jules)#

Fabled Shore – From the Pyrenees to Portugal by Rose Macaulay 

The author wrote, when this book was published in 1949, “A Greek mariner from Marseilles compiled in the sixth century B.C. a topographical sailing book of his voyage from the Lands of Tin in the northern seas, down the western coast of Portugal and round the Sacred Cape, and so along the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula, through the Pillars, and along the Mediterranean coast to Marseilles, his home. The later part of this sailing book, from the Tartessos region (near Cadiz) to Marseilles, had great detail, describing each bay, each cape, each port, for the benefit of those Greek merchant mariners who adventured and trafficked down that far and fabulous coast to the Pillars of Hercules, and beyond these into the dark and questionable Atlantic where the silver mountains stood back from the Tartessian shore.”#

Fluent in Greek and Latin this book is fluently written and also an introduction to Rose Macaulay’s novels and other writings. There is an interesting biography of Macaulay –

Rose Macaulay: A Biography by Sarah LeFanu

1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro

Well, it was the year of terrorist activity and also the return of the plague but this is book, now available in paperback, traces Shakespeare’s life and times from the autumn of 1605, when he took an old and anonymous Elizabethan play, The Chronicle History of King Leir, and transformed it into his most searing tragedy, King Lear. Well researched and written this is a,fine sequel to the author’s earlier book, 1599.

If, however, you prefer to take it on the chin you could always read Thomas MannDer Tod in Venedig in German or even Albert Camus’s La Peste in French. You might be better off reading Proust in the original if your language skills are up to it- I have an easier version;

Image result for les temps perdus en BD 

 

 

 

Rimbaud on “Ophelia”

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville in northeastern France on October 20, 1854, the second son of an army captain, Frédéric Rimbaud, and Marie-Cathérine-Vitalie Rimbaud, née Cuif. He had an older brother, Frédéric, born in 1853, and two younger sisters: Vitalie, born in 1858, and Isabelle, born in 1860.

Here is a translation of the first and second section of his poem, Ophelia. It rather reminds me of some parts of Alice Oswald’s poetry:-

I

On the calm black water where the stars are sleeping
White Ophelia floats like a great lily ;
Floats very slowly, lying in her long veils…
– In the far-off woods you can hear them sound the mort.

For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.

The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds in a wreath
Her great veils rising and falling with the waters ;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder,
The rushes lean over her wide, dreaming brow.

The ruffled water-lilies are sighing around her ;
At times she rouses, in a slumbering alder,
Some nest from which escapes a small rustle of wings ;
– A mysterious anthem falls from the golden stars.

II

O pale Ophelia ! beautiful as snow !
Yes child, you died, carried off by a river !
– It was the winds descending from the great mountains of Norway
That spoke to you in low voices of better freedom.

It was a breath of wind, that, twisting your great hair,
Brought strange rumors to your dreaming mind ;
It was your heart listening to the song of Nature
In the groans of the tree and the sighs of the nights ;

It was the voice of mad seas, the great roar,
That shattered your child’s heart, too human and too soft ;
It was a handsome pale knight, a poor madman
Who one April morning sate mute at your knees !

Heaven ! Love ! Freedom ! What a dream, oh poor crazed Girl !
You melted to him as snow does to a fire ;
Your great visions strangled your words
– And fearful Infinity terrified your blue eye !

 

J’suis snob (Boris Vian) – Tatiana Eva-Marie

Baudelaire was interested in the concept of “The Dandy” as a correction to and standing above the faults of democracy. Leaving aside, for a moment, the differences between dandies and snobs, this song sounds rather cuckoo and is definitely not meant to be taken seriously. It is also curiously sweet and mignon.

The lyrics in French and with English translation are at https://lyricstranslate.com/en/jsuis-snob-im-snob.html

Elizabeth Jennings’s Poem – Answers

I kept my answers small and kept them near;
Big questions bruised my mind but still I let
Small answers be a bulwark to my fear.

The huge abstractions I kept from the light;
Small things I handled and caressed and loved.
I let the stars assume the whole of night.

But the big answers clamoured to be moved
Into my life. Their great audacity
Shouted to be acknowledged and believed.

Even when all small answers build up to
Protection of my spirit, still I hear:
Big answers striving for their overthrow

And all the great conclusions coming near.

Jennings was a devout Catholic and it seems that religious themes are present in her work and in this poem in particular.

Heading Home Loaded

“Small Boy”, the Headmaster shouts and points

as the sixth-formers snigger on the balcony above.

The lad in question trembles a little in the assembly beneath.

 

Another small boy before me into the green space.

“Sorry” he says as he cuts swiftly before me through the entrance.

 

He is heavily laden with a quart milk

bottle grasped under his desperate arm.

His earnest apology surprises and charms me.

 

He is in a hurry and speedily treads across

the muddy field.

A little lad with a worried hurried pace

or so it appears to me.

 

He seems keen to assuage some overbearing

parent figure.

I imagine some awful row between his mum and dad-

all he can do perhaps is help fetch the distant provisions.

 

As I watch his rapid progress in the cold and wet morning,

I sense his small act of restitution will be insufficient.

The parents will not be speaking hours into the afternoon

and my eyes tearfully respond at this thought.

 

 

Advent in Causewayhead, Penzance

Bacon sandwich by special arrangement delivered!

A woman sits in the open boot of her car

across the way smoking.

In this cafe gunstig the garlanded kugeln are enormous in

subdued shades of green, transparent red with

broad, unsubtle white-stripes.

 

During the day, the unlit Christmas street decorations

make a telegraph exchange of wires.

People come and go moving swiftly in the busy street;

it is cold.

Everyone has survived the stormy, windy night,

looking somewhat self-congratulatory.

 

The board outside reads:-

“Two slices of toast with jam

and filtered coffee, two pounds fifty.”

Good Cornish value. Over opposite

on the dark green facade and neon-lit Subway

window daubed with large white snowflakes.

Further up in the carpet shop blue lights flicker reassuringly.

Pigeons gobble contentedly from windowsills above.

The Last of the Fire Kings -an extract from Derek Mahon

Five years I have reigned
During which time
I have lain awake each night

And prowled by day
In the sacred grove
For fear of the usurper,

Perfecting my cold dream
Of a place out of time,
A palace of porcelain

Where the frugivorous
Inheritors recline
In their rich fabrics
Far from the sea.

I find these few lines deeply even profoundly moving.  The whole poem may be found at http://www.troublesarchive.com/artforms/poetry/piece/the-last-of-the-fire-kings 

There it states,”Derek Mahon’s reference to an ancient curse can be construed as referring to the weight of tradition in Northern Ireland and the legacies of division and violence.” However, it is the mythological images that it conjures up and which I do not fully understand which particularly appeals to me. Although it may help a little to know that a frugivore is an animal that thrives mostly on raw fruits, succulent fruit-like vegetables, roots, shoots, nuts and seeds. It can be any type of herbivore or omnivore where fruit is a preferred food type.

For those interested in an analysis or interpretation of the whole poem, there is a PhD thesis from Durham at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/108461.pdf