They are all Gone into the World of Light

They are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit ling’ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.

It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest,
After the sun’s remove.

Henry Vaughan

There’s lots more. I’ve always loved the line, ‘Like stars upon some gloomy grove’, which is why I picked this poem (or part of it).

Yup, I’ve already decided that I won’t read a better book this month than Romantic Moderns, which I enjoyed more than any novel I’ve read recently. I’d been wanting to read it since it came out (2010), so I snatched it off the ‘just returned’ shelf at the library when I saw it there. It begins particularly beguilingly for me:
Toller Fratrum is a small village in Dorset … Beside the farmhouse and a clutch of other stone buildings is the tiny church of St. Basil.
Yes! I’ve been there! Toller Fratrum is at the back of beyond, up a steep winding hill and quite hard to find. The point of visiting the church is to see the ancient font, which John Piper photographed in 1936. If you make the pilgrimage today, you will see his name in the visitors’ book, helpfully (not) marked in biro. Church crawling was a passion which Piper shared with John Betjeman.

The book is subtitled ‘English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper.’ It sets out to show how artists and writers moved from bleak, minimalist, international modernism, advocated by the art critic Roger Fry and constructed by le Corbusier and others, towards an English art which was both modern and romantic. It was a battle between ‘concrete and curlicues’, between dogmatists and those they saw as traitors.
Artists who had previously felt compelled to disguise themselves as avant-garde Frenchmen were now to be found on English beaches sheltering their watercolours from the drizzle. Anthologists … collected up the verse of eighteenth century parsons …There were church murals, village plays, campaigns to save historic buildings. There were Paul Nash’s megaliths, the erotic dramas of Graham Sutherland’s landscapes, Vita Sackville West’s old roses at Sissinghurst, Edward Bawden’s copper jelly moulds, Bill Brandt’s photographs of literary Britain, Florence White’s regional recipes.
The war intensified all this, because of a desire to record what then existed in case it should be destroyed.

Was this trend a betrayal of modernism?
Was it a betrayal of the modern movement to be in love with old churches and tea-shops; … Is Auden any less a ‘modern’ thinker because he wept with nostalgia while writing a devoted introduction to a selection of Betjeman’s prose?
These are Harris’s themes, explored in detail and with a wonderful command of sources. The book is also beautifully illustrated.

It’s interesting that today people flock to Sissinghurst and other National Trust properties and that Paul Nash, Edward Bawden and John Piper are so much admired. No doubt many writers and artists currently see this as retrograde; the English typically wallowing in nostalgia instead of creating a Brave New World. No doubt a researcher of the future will write a book about it. I’m not qualified to review this book as I’m no art expert; nor am I a worshipper of Virginia Woolf , and there’s an awful lot of Woolf in Romantic Moderns. Even so, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

From Continual Dew by John Betjeman, 1937

That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty;

Shakespeare’s daffodils wouldn’t have been like the ones in our gardens; more like those Wordsworth wrote about, I imagine. The principle remains though: however foul the weather, the daffodils don’t fail us. There are masses of daffodils of the larger type in my garden but they’re not out yet. They were all here when I moved in. The miniature ones I planted myself, in front of the potting shed, where they do very well. I had to cut this little beauty because I wasn’t prepared to lie down on wet grass just to get a photo.

Yesterday was a glorious spring day and I could garden outside feeling the warmth of the sun. Today we’re back to the November-like murk which has plagued us for the past week. But still there are daffodils. By the end of their season, I always feel they have delighted us long enough, but it’s worth waiting for the late flowering of the beautiful Pheasant’s Eye type, as shown in the userpic.
I’m late to this, only just realised it was on. The theme is memory, i.e. poetry you remember well enough to recite.

Spring & Fall: to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

G M Hopkins
more upbeat )
Yesterday evening, feeling flaked out, I thought, ‘Must be something on BBC4’ and was just in time to catch Great Poets in Their Own Words. This was a fascinating compilation of archive TV footage and radio broadcasts, most of it new to me. T S Eliot, for instance, seems such a figure of the first half of the twentieth century that it’s easy to forget that he lived until 1965, in time to appear on television, reading his own work and looking pretty uncomfortable about it. W H Auden was on the Michael Parkinson show! Can you imagine such a great man chatting to Graham Norton? Edith Sitwell was well able to cope with John Freeman’s notoriously tough questions on Face to Face. And what a pleasure to see Stevie Smith reading Not Waving but Drowning. I must have listened to a lot of her readings at one time because I now hear her voice when I read her poems.

Apart from the works of Hugh MacDiarmid and R S Thomas, which mean nothing to me, every line read was familiar and so doubly delightful. The programme made me wonder why I bother reading anything except poetry. After all, I could spend the rest of my life at it and still not read the half of what is worth reading. If the aim of the programme was to send viewers back to the texts, it succeeded admirably. Highly recommended and I’m looking forward to the next episode.


Photo: The Guardian
I can be a proper grump at this time of year. While everyone else is raving about how wonderful the lighter evenings are, I’m complaining that longer, lighter evenings are freezing cold and it doesn’t seem decent to draw the curtains against daylight. There are things to enjoy, though. First, the way the daffodils and primroses which now fill the garden glow palely in the dusk. Second, hearing a blackbird singing in the early evening. This poem by John Drinkwater was a favourite of mine when I was a child. I mentally transposed it to our own suburban garden and felt it summed up the time of year.


He comes on chosen evenings,
My blackbird bountiful, and sings
Over the garden of the town
Just at the hour the sun goes down.
His flight across the chimneys thick,
By some divine arithmetic,
Comes to his customary stack,
And couches there his plumage black,
And there he lifts his yellow bill,
Kindled against the sunset, till
These suburbs are like Dymock woods
Where music has her solitudes,
And while he mocks the winter's wrong
Rapt on his pinnacle of song,
Figured above our garden plots
Those are celestial chimney-pots.
Hardy wrote this poem at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Thomas Hardy

Photo BBC

Even people who don’t read much poetry know some lines from Kipling.

‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’
‘If you can keep your head when all about you’
‘Watch the wall my darling, while the gentlemen go by’
‘The Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady Are sisters under their skins’
‘They shut the road through the woods Seventy years ago.’
If you’re my age, you may have sung Non Nobis Domine at school and know the chorus of The Road to Mandalay because it was so familiar to your parents. If memorability is one of the criteria for great poetry, Kipling is up there.

This new selection, published by Cambridge University Press, is taken from the same editor’s massive work containing the complete poems. Thomas Pinney has chosen 100 of these, twenty five of which must be old, that is, well known, and seventy five new; poems never reprinted by Kipling. He writes:

“The idea of this selection from Rudyard Kipling’s many poems is to contrast the familiar with the unfamiliar: the list includes 25 of the first kind, and 75 of the second. Any collection will have those first 25; no other collection will have all 75 of the other kind – probably not more than one or two, if any. They come from many different sources, a few of them unpublished, none of them ever reprinted by Kipling himself. They have rested, unvisited, in inaccessible Indian newspapers, in manuscript, in the files of long-dead magazines.”

We are never told which are the familiar ones, a possible problem for someone coming to Kipling for the first time. What I wanted from the good professor was a little explanation as to why he chose just those twenty five familiar poems and those seventy five unfamiliar ones? This is the kind of book it’s very frustrating to read on a Kindle. You keep wanting to flip back and forth, checking this and that, and it’s a tedious business. I have two collections with which to compare this one: Songs for Youth, 1924 and A Choice of Kipling’s Verse made by T S Eliot with an Essay on Rudyard Kipling , 1941. I decided to read every one of the 100 poems and compare the choices made in the other books.
lots more )
Field of Autumn

Slow moves the acid breath of noon
over the copper-coated hill,
slow from the wild crab’s bearded breast
the palsied apples fall.

Like coloured smoke the day hangs fire,
taking the village without sound;
the vulture-headed sun lies low
chained to the violet ground.

The horse upon the rocky height
rolls all the valley in his eye,
but dares not raise his foot or move
his shoulder from the fly.

The sheep, snail-backed against the wall,
lifts her blind face but does not know
the cry her blackened tongue gives forth
is the first bleat of snow.

Each bird and stone, each roof and well,
feels the gold foot of autumn pass;
each spider binds with glittering snare
the splintered bones of grass.

Slow moves the hour that sucks our life,
slow drops the late wasp from the pear,
the rose tree’s thread of scent draws thin -
and snaps upon the air.

Laurie Lee

This poem was in an anthology I was given as a child, and I was very taken with it.
Suddenly, the Christmas decorations look a little silly. I spent much of the morning gardening and before I came in, picked a spray of roses.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Peotry is sissy stuff that rhymes
So says the great sage Molesworth, who then informs us that the only poem in the English language is The Brook. He does also mention Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Tennyson, 't s eliot christopfer fry auden etc' and that famous poem SIR THE BURIAL SIR OF SIR JOHN MOORE SIR AT CORUNNA SIR, so something is sticking in his brane. Apart from Hilary McKay in her Exiles books, I can’t think of a modern children’s author whose books are full of literary references.* That’s a pity, because it’s a painless introduction. It was reading Arthur Ransome that taught me about the red glare on Skiddaw rousing the burghers of Carlisle, the boy standing on the burning deck and stout Cortes on a peak in Darien.

dovegreyreader’s post about learning poetry by heart inspired these thoughts. Like Lynne, these days I can’t even remember my own mobile number yet my head is stuffed with poetry of various kinds. Is there a difference between words you just remember (nursery rhymes, hymns) and something you learn deliberately? Either can be invaluable for plucking from the mind at a suitable moment. I learnt Henry V’s Agincourt speech when I was young and found it terribly useful at the dentist’s. An elderly woman told me that when she was in hospital and very weak, it was a comfort that she could recall chunks of the Prayer Book without effort.

In The Faber Popular Reciter (1978), Kingsley Amis says, ‘When I was a schoolboy before the Second World War, the majority of poems in this book were too well known to be worth reprinting.’ He says the book is intended not for reciting in the way that people used to but for reading aloud. The qualities required are ‘absolute clarity, heavy rhythms and noticeable rhymes with some break in the sense preferred at the end of the line.’ This means including a lot of ‘good bad’ poetry and leaving out some of the best, to fit the brief. These are the kinds of poems that Nancy and Peggy Blackett and countless other children were made to learn by heart: Sir Patrick Spens, The Royal George (one of Molesworth’s!), Gray’s ‘Elegy’, Upon Westminster Bridge, The Village Blacksmith, Home Thoughts From Abroad, The Charge of the Light Brigade, O Captain! My Captain! And many, many more.

I can still remember odd things I was made to learn at school, from ‘Overpopulation is too many people living in a country for the resources of that country to support.’ to Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus. One teacher I knew used to make his class learn the American Declaration of Independence (they were very proud of it) while another would dazzle his pupils by reciting the entire Periodic Table, inspiring them to want to do the same. These were not especially bright children but they enjoyed the competitive element. So is it cruel to make children learn poetry, or will they thank you for it later? I’ve just found this. Perhaps fashions are about to change.

*Correction. I remembered later that Jacqueline Wilson is another.
As it’s National Poetry Day, here’s a poem.

The Fall of Rome

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

W H Auden

The last four lines are a marvel to me.
The sky is leaden, the field on the other side of my hedge thick with frost. I've just watched a fox loping across and Keats' poem came into my head:

St. Agnes' Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

Plenty more verses but this one seems so appropriate.
How frustrating! I walked into the kitchen, where the Today programme was on, and caught someone reading this old favourite poem:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams

I certainly haven't time to Listen Again, so if anyone can tell me why it was being quoted, I'd be grateful.

This apparently simple poem is one that stays with you always and I don't know anyone who doesn't like it.
Yesterday evening, it really did. I kept peeking out in awe and wonder at how light it was compared with the usual inky dark; the trees beyond the field were quite clear in outline. I could almost see the frost forming and there were real moon shadows.


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy coat the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Walter de la Mare

This poem is often found in anthologies intended for children but I think anyone can enjoy it.
The whole of Radio 4's Front Row programme this evening was devoted to the poet Tony Harrison, who is coming up for seventy and ought to be Poet Laureate. The son of a baker, from a home without books and with parents who were 'inarticulate', he went on to study classics, translate Greek drama for the National Theatre and become a major poet. At his grammar school he was banned from reading Keats aloud in class because of his strong Yorkshire accent. Ironic, considering that Keats was snobbishly looked down on in his own lifetime because he spoke like a Cockney. Harrison has kept his accent and his fondness for his roots; this irritates some people, who think he should have 'got over it' and ceased to be chippy. I've admired his poetry for years and this is a favourite:

In the interview Harrison said that his academic success was due to the 1944 Education Act and six scholarships. How many children today, coming from working class backgrounds, have the opportunity of learning Latin & Greek? The study of classics will soon be as exclusive a privilege as it was before universal education. Where are the Tony Harrisons of the future?
Newspapers, radio and television seem full of articles and programmes about how not enough fuss is being made about the Auden centenary. Wystan Hugh Auden was born one hundred years ago today and if anyone disagrees with me that he is one of our greatest poets, they can just go on disagreeing, that's all. I enjoyed Sunday evening's South Bank Show on the subject, which included a delightful interview with Alan Bennett. You don't often see him roaring with laughter. Bennett described Musée des Beaux Arts as 'a perfect poem' and it's hard to disagree. I haven't really got a favourite Auden poem, rather a host of favourite Auden lines which hang around in my head.

Here's a list for readers to add to.
People who like Auden: Alexander McCall Smith
Edit [profile] hartleyhare

People who don't like Auden: Simon Gray

Listening to Poetry Please this afternoon I jumped up, as pleased as if I had just heard the start of a favourite record on Sounds of the Sixties. I'd heard the first words of a poem I'd forgotten about, Milk for the Cat by Harold Munro. I daresay there are poetry snobs who dislike a programme featuring 'my favourite poem' but I almost always find something to enjoy. The programmes devoted to just one poem or aspect of poetry can be very good indeed. After the prog. I scanned my poetry shelves but I've had so many purges, particularly of anthologies, that I couldn't find this particular poem to read again. So I googled for it and it's after the cut for everyone who loves cats. Read more... )



January 2017



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