Literature Poetry

Autumn and Rilke, Keats usw.

René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke



Rilke’s poem seems apt for the time of the year, although the recent summer might be difficult to describe exactly as  groß.


Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war seht groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

One translation may be found at

The phrase “picture-poems” is suggestive of imagism and Pound and Wyndham Lewis somehow seem to be current in the zeitgeist with the excellent production of Parade’s End on BBC2 adapted by Tom Stoppard in currently much in vogue. There are certainly lines which capture the visual imagination such as,” auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.” Although time and season are obviously central to the poem. This dynamic is reinforced in the second stanza with,” Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin…..” Befiehlen here probably being an invocation so as to arrange, allow or ordain matters so that the fruits attain full ripeness.

The wind, frequently and beautifully referred to in Shakespeare’s sonnets, also connected with time for example Sonnet 54 as wanton, (” As the perfumed tincture of the roses,

Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly

When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:”) adds to the unruly, random, dégringole quality and to the sadness, possibly of the poet himself, in the final stanza.

Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Of course, most English readers will immediately be reminded in this poem of Keats’s Ode to Autumn.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Keats wrote in 1819, ‘How beautiful the season is now–How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather–Dian skies–I never liked stubble-fields so much as now.”

John Keats

For an insightful and a radical and political reading of Keats’s poem, it is worth looking at A Poetry Primer, The Secret Life of Poems by Tom Paulin (

in which the poppies are associated with the repressive/reactionary use of the Redcoats of the British Army and the grim reaper’s sickle with the cavalryman’s sword. If Rilke knew of Keats’s Ode as one imagines he did, he is unlikely to have been aware of such associations.

There is an entertaining discussion of Rilke in Clive James’s splendid collection, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time.

There is a detailed website in German at

Another discussion of Keats’s Ode is at

Book Reviews Uncategorized

“Finding Poland” by Matthew Kelly

Looking at any historical map of Poland anyone may see how its borders have changed over the centuries. Where will you find the Polish home? One answer must be that it is founded deep in the hearts of the Polish people who fought for the liberty and the integrity of the Polish homeland. Now consider the promontory of land around Vilnius, or Wilno as it was then known, which was contained inside Poland in 1921. It was an area in which the small market town of Hruzdowa, comprising some 52 buildings and just large enough to warrant a town hall, was situated. These wild borderlands –known as the Kresy-were fought over for centuries by Austrians, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. It was here that Matthew Kelly’s great-grandfather, who had imbibed the values and élan of the dashing officer class, Rafał Ryżewscy, came to teach with his clever young wife, Hanna. They were deeply committed to progress through education and to peaceably raising their two little daughters. However, the dreadful and calamitous year of 1939, was approaching when Hitler and Stalin partitioned Poland in the most cynical pact.

Matthew Kelly’s intriguing book

The particular attraction of this tale is the engaging manner in which personal and family recollections are intermingled, with a detailed but succinct account, of the history. A tragic history too; its wide parameters were to have a sorrowful effect on the couple and their children. Kelly is a young academic who teaches at Southamptonand gives a thorough background to the action. To give just two instances concerning major figures; he accounts for the vacillations in the policy of the renowned Józef Piłsudski, who steered Poland through the difficult period after 1918 and General Władysław Anders, the leader of the Polish II Corps, is presented as a humane leader in the confused period after the German attack on Russia.. His authoritarianism is recorded and yet the respect that he inspired in the Polish officer class is also described. Kelly’s writing strives to give a fair account and this aspect of his prose engages the reader.

The progressive cultural and linguistic values of thePolish-LithuanianCommonwealth, based on what we might now describe as inclusiveness, are shown to stretch right back to the Reformation. Other strands of nationalism are indicated as well as the conflict that resulted in a temporary dominance of the Poles over the Soviets which resulted in the treaty of Rigain March 1921. This is the necessary background to the love story between Rafał and Hanna, comrades and settlers together in the wild lands. Photographs of their marriage add poignancy to the story as we see and read of Hannah and her two tiny growing daughters, Wanda and Maria. These three were to be so suddenly driven into exile, separated from their very affectionate father, and exposed to multiple dangers during their hurried and harrowing departure, in cattle wagons transported across frozen wastes, eventually toKazakhstan.

There are many moving vignettes which will remain in the reader’s mind long after completing the book. There is mention of an unfortunate small child who incurred her mother’s desperate wrath by spilling a small supply of flour during the severe Siberian winter. The sacred vigil that Wanda kept by the window on Christmas Eve waiting for the first star to appear that indicated the start of celebrations. Throughout, Matthew Kelly indicates the importance of Catholic Christianity in sustaining believers in dark times; these links with the historic concept of Poland as a martyr nation. Hanna, the long-suffering mother, had to be wrapped in layers and layers of clothing to labour on the construction of a railway or her back-breaking gleaning on a collective farm. Dire images of body lice being burnt during long evenings in crackling candle flames are recorded. Then finally, the moment arrives, afterGermanyattackedRussia, when Polish troops are assembled into a ragged bootless army. Most touching is, when after a hazardous journey across the Caspian, the whole family escape to the gentler, more fertile climes ofPersia. However this was still wartime, travel arduous and hazardous and their final destination inIndia,AfricaorMexicoundecided. This was in the uncertain hands of official authorities, American, British and Polish; once again, and for a long while the outcome remained indeterminate.

Well supplied with notes and reference material, the only lack is a map to supplement Nana’s sketch map on which to track the vast distances involved before the final return to Devon. Otherwise, ‘Finding Poland is a magnificent and constantly informative account covering everything from the Katyn massacre to the persecution of Kulaks, the organisation of the Polish army to allegations of anti-Semitism. Informative on these and many other issues, it highlights the background of the Polish struggle to establish identity. It is deeply stirring as it describes the cost of conflict upon the author’s family. It is also very well-written and, at this price, something of a bargain.

Book Reviews Uncategorized West Cornwall (and local history)

Glass, The Strange History of- by Lyne Stephens Fortune

In this panoramic view of two Cornish families spanning two centuries all sorts of characters make an appearance. Not only are we educated in the ambience of English Merchants in Portugal but people as diverse as Southey, William M.Thackery, John Lemon and Canning, to mention but a few, all make an appearance. It begins by relating the making of a fortune by William Stephens, grandson of the Vicar of Menheniott and an enterprising genius. Her is the story of a merchant who becomes a manufacturer of glass.

William was educated at Exeter Free Grammar School, having left the area near Saltash, where he grew up. He went on to serve on the Lisbon packets upon arrival in Portugal became involved with the intrigues of Carvahlo, the Marquis of Pombal. He was next to witness the destruction of Lisbon by the great earthquake in 1755. As Jenifer Roberts interestingly points out, high waves from the latter were still above 8 foot when they made boats in St Ives rise more than eight feet. Then William opened a glass factory in Marinha Grande and securing exemption from taxes, charmed princes and queens so as to build a fabulous fortune.

The profits from the Stephens fortune passed also into the hands of their Lyne relations also living in both Portugal and Cornwall. The author outlines the family history, which involves wars and rebellions and diverting interludes. Eventually some of the fortune ends up in the hands of a feisty French ballerina and into the hands of various lawyers settling claims upon it. This is a splendid tale, well written and for those who find truth stranger than fiction, a great historical and biographical account.

The Strange History of the
Lyne Stephens Fortune


Book Reviews Penwith Poetry Uncategorized

Bardhonyeth Kernow,Poetry Cornwall (Volume 27)

Bardhonyeth Kernow

This issue contains a wide variety of contributions from over sixty poets from Scotland(which also provides the lichen encrusted wheel arch cover image from Callander) to Germany, from Wales to Spain. Naturally the emphasis are on Cornish poems and it is the landscape of Kernow which provides the inspiration for many of these verses in dialect and Kenewek with a translation and interpretation section carefully chosen by Grand Bard, Mick Paynter. It is good to see the enthusiasm for good poetry in the Duchy from such various sources as French, Scots Gaelic and even the Romany language of Gurbet. This is a collection which is not afraid to approach the edge, like Sam Harcombe, who at Warren Cliff approached, ignoring stakes and danger signals:-

Hoping to catch sight of seal,

I wanted to look closer at the inlet far below, but

riddled with rabbit holes and

cracks it was obviously dangerous.

I went a few steps past the stakes

And still saw not enough

Bernard Jackson prefers the sylvan safety of the Sunlit Leaves as the sun sinks and he wanders entranced by the magic of a slow watered stream:-

Eternal is the flame that ne’er consumes,

Yet blazons leaves, nor shall one instant fade.

From woodland reign that readily assumes

This seasoned garb, immortally arrayed.

In traceries where sunlight shines between,

God’s glory is a miracle of green.

Bardhonyeth Kernow’s Editor Les Merton

Besides such nature poems form Perranuthnoe to Predannack, there are some moving poems inspired by the cheerful and encouraging words from the nursing staff on Geevor Ward which as Donald Rawe puts it “Restore humanity to the clinical desolation”. There are sad, human reflections on Casualty and Geriatric Wards. There are too the lifting memories of repairing with his father My Pink Bicycle by Graham Rippon:-

“Paint it any colour you like”

But the only colour we had was Pink

This little collection is a gem and a tribute to the current interest in poetry in our Duchy.