I have a neat little book called ~” Poems of Cornwall” withdrawn from the County Library Service. The preface is by W.Herbert Thomas and is dated, “Penzance July !892”. A couple of months before the last down train from Paddington on Brunel’s broad gauge had run. It is a collection of some 30 poets of whom photographs of 18 appear inside the front cover. There is a poem by Sir Humphry Davy beneath an engraving of his statue.
St Michael’s Mount
Majestic Michael rises – he whose brow
Is crown’d with castles; and whose rocky sides
Are clad with dusky ivy: he whose base,
Beat by the storm of ages, stands unmov’d
Amidst the wreck of things-the change of time.
That base, encircled by the azure waves,
Was once with verdure clad; the towering oaks
Here waved their branches green: the sacred oaks ,
Whose awful shades among the Druids stay’d
To cut the hallowed mistletoe, and hold
High converse with their gods.
Interesting this connection that early scientists felt for poetry and nature. Most obviously found in Goethe perhaps. Davy enjoyed angling and travelled widely across Europe to fish, I believe on the Dalmatian coast-Shakespeare’s Illyria from Twelfth Night. Which information I seem to recall from that fascinating book,”The Age of Wonder” by Richard Holmes. Count Orsino’s castle became the Mount in that great production of Twelfth Night by Trevor Nunn in 1996. Returning to Davy’s poem, I suppose some of the vocabulary now sounds antiquated, although the original “awful” sounds like that recent commonly used word,”awesome”. I rather like the line -“Amidst the wreck of things-the change of time.” which reminds me somehow of that biography of Malcom Muggeridge which he entitled “Chronicles of Wasted Time”. A title which comes from the lovely sonnet 106 of Shakespeare:-
When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they look’d but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
Returning to the main thread -what is otherwise called (aus den „Wahlverwandtschaften“ von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:) the roter Faden -“Poems in Cornwall”, the editor W.Herbert Thomas was in fact a journalist who is described as “the son of a mine-smith of St Day. For seven years a mining clark, he was afterwards a reporter for two years on the San Francisco “Examiner” and is now on the staff of the” Cornishman” -however I would like to draw attention to a short poem by W,F.Woodfield. It is rather poignant and all that is said of him is that he lived in Penzance, he wrote a collection called “Serpentine Worker” and ,”is now in Australia”.
The Emigrant’s Farewell to Mount’s Bay
Farewell Mount’s Bay! A long farewell
I bid thy rock-bound shore;
My heart nigh breaks with grief to think
I ne’er may see thee more.
From infancy I have watched thy waves,
And roamed thy rocks and sands;
But I must leave thee beauteous bay,
To toil in other lands.
My heart grows faint-tears blind me so,
Words fail my love to tell;
My very soul so yearns for thee
I scarce can say -farewell.
But Manhood bids me dry my tears,
And brace me for the fight;
Adieu, adieu belove’d bay!
Farewell my heart’s delight.
Sincerely felt lines at any rate. It gives us a feeling of the process of uprooting that is involved in emigration and ought, I think, make us consider the plight of refugees with sympathy and support.
Immer fand ich den Namen falsch, den man uns gab:
Das heißt doch Auswandrer. Aber wir
Wanderten doch nicht aus, nach freiem Entschluss
Wählend ein andres Land. Wanderten wir doch auch nicht
Ein in ein Land, dort zu bleiben, womöglich für immer
Sondern wir flohen. Vertriebene sind wir, Verbannte.
Und kein Heim, ein Exil soll das Land sein, das uns da
Unruhig sitzen wir so, möglichst nahe den Grenzen
Wartend des Tags der Rückkehr, jede kleinste Veränderung
Jenseits der Grenze beobachtend, jeden Ankömmling
Eifrig befragend, nichts vergessend und nichts aufgebend
Und auch verzeihend nichts, was geschah, nichts verzeihend.
Ach, die Stille der Sunde täuscht uns nicht! Wir hören die
Aus ihren Lagern bis hierher. Sind wir doch selber
Fast wie Gerüchte von Untaten, die da entkamen
Über die Grenzen. Jeder von uns
Der mit zerrissenen Schuhn durch die Menge geht
Zeugt von der Schande, die jetzt unser Land befleckt.
Aber keiner von uns
Wird hier bleiben. Das letzte Wort
Ist noch nicht gesprochen.
At present there is much discussion over emigration/immigration and this rather beautiful poem was written by Brecht upon his partial escape from the Nazis in 1937 into Denmark. He states that, he always finds the name emigrant a false term as it is not through free will that he is forced to escape but for survival. This might remind us too that many journeys are made out of necessity; choice does not come into the matter. “Vertriebene sind wir”- we are in fact expelled! In such a state, people are innocent and eager to ask each new arrival across the border and question each new arrival coming across the border. The overbearing silence of an authoritarian regime does not hide, “Wir hören die Schreie” the cries of pain from the lost homeland. As we pass dressed in rags and tatters through the crowds, testifies to the disgrace that stains our land right now. However, it appears that the poem ends with hope- “Das letzte Wort
Ist noch nicht gesprochen.” -the last word is yet to be spoken. Tyranny will be defeated.
The poem is thoroughly and clearly analysed in German –