message in a bottle

Oct 7, 2021 poetry appreciation

I was interested, the other week, to come across these words from Joyce Glassman: “Artists are nourished more by each other than by fame or by the public. To give one’s work to the world is an experience of peculiar emptiness. The work goes away from the artist into a void, like a message stuck into a bottle and flung into the sea.”

How things have changed. These days, internet and social media allow the artist—let’s say poet, for the sake of convenience—to be more in touch with the ‘public’, that great clamouring mass of people who bay at bookshop doors waiting for the latest slim volume to be released. There’s much more potential for the poet to be ‘nourished’ (or harmed) by readers’ responses than was the case then (Glassman was born in 1935). But it was less this that caught my imagination than the image of art—poetry—as a message in a bottle, flung out into the sea with no sense of where it would land and how it would be received. Is courage required, or desperation, or both, to fling this bit of yourself into the ‘void’?

All of which is a rather circuitous way of getting to the poem which has been in my head this week: the anonymous text ‘Westron Wind‘ (I’ve put a link to it, though it’s definitely out of copyright, because there’s a rather lovely musical setting of it to be accessed be clicking the arrow below the text). We’ve had big rain and ‘small rain’ and every sort of rain in between this last while, and this poem always scrolls across my mind when rain rains. As messages in bottles go, ‘Westron Wind’ is surely a phenomenally successful one. It’s a Middle English text which speaks to us as freshly today as it must have when newly written. Over the years it will have washed up on millions of shores, and the yearning and longing it evokes reach us so vividly across the centuries. Say the poem to yourself as you draw the curtains and listen to the rain on the skylight; when you ache for someone. So simple; so beautiful; so heartfelt. Truth making itself heard.

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