I’m sure I’d read more Emily Dickinson if my Complete wasn’t roughly the size and shape of a large housebrick; tricky to read in the bath, y’know… Anyway, someone brought some ED to an online poetry share the other day, and it inspired me to strap on the wrist supports and spend some time with the housebrick. So many poems I could have brought, but today I choose number 360, which you can read here. (There’s an interesting article about Dickinson here at the Poetry Foundation, too.)Read More
Someone confided in me, earlier this week, their feelings in re: all the pain, confusion and madness in the world at the moment: “I don’t like it”. It was offered as if I was being let into an important secret, and there was something very disarming about it—so honest and un-clever and childlike. Not to mention unarguable. It put me in mind of the wonderful ‘Dirge Without Music‘ by Edna St Vincent Millay. There’s what I think is a very good reading of it there at the Poetry Website (click the red arrow by the title), and a different one here; or you could enjoy this fragment which, I think, catches the same mood as the PF reading. Have a listen. See what you think.Read More
For once I don’t need to send you off somewhere else on the interweb to read this week’s poem. It’s given in full here on the site, by kind permission of its author, R[osie] V Bailey (I’m trying to sound casual about that but really I’m rather proud and thrilled). I’ve been wanting to write about ‘Feeding the Cats’ for a while but it seems particularly right for right now. Here it is:Read More
Larkin’s magnificent, monumental poem ‘Aubade‘ speaks with a terrible, alchemical beauty about death and the fear of death. It closes with the line ‘Postmen like doctors go from house to house’ which, in context, says something very Larkin-y and shiversome about death’s inevitability; we’ll all get those visits from doctors, sooner or later. Would Larkin be horrified, though, if he knew how that line popped into my head with a totally different feel to it, about half an hour ago, when the postman delivered two unexpected letters and, with them, great joy?Read More
Or rather, remember, that poems can be instruction manuals for us in times of crisis (see Libby Purves, above). As one who usually needs a walk in the morning if I’m to greet the world with anything other than a scowl, snarl or sob, I really relate to ‘How to Regain Your Soul‘ by William Stafford. It feels like a useful entry in the How to: Life guide at the moment. See what you think.
I love the specificity here. ‘[T]hat one place where the valley floor opens out’, as well as inviting us into the poem and, in its intimacy, suggesting that we’re fellow-travellers welcomed by the poet, this tells us how well-known this place is to the speaker. This first stanza is full of precise detail: the poet is steeped in the place, grounded in it, and can evoke it with a vividness possible only when you’ve really allowed yourself to be in a place—have a relationship with it (and it with you). It’s a place to ‘[p]ut down your pack’; a place, then, you might’ve made some effort to get to, but which is worth the trek. A place and time to be savoured.
And time expands in the second stanza, back into the distant and then the unimaginably distant past. There is freedom here—’Above, air sighs’; the dazzle of the ‘white butterflies danc[ing]/ by the thousands in the still sunshine’—and a sense of access into eternity and the “sudden” knowledge that ‘anything/ could happen to you’. A moment of grace, or ephipany: your soul taking its right place in the soul of the world, as part of the world, and then ‘shin[ing] back through the white wings to be you again’. This is a drink of cool well-water on a hot day. This is refreshment. We all need this at the moment.
I can’t say I get my third eye opened every time I shuffle, stride or sometimes scamper (a solo thing, that!) through the woods and up onto the scar behind my house. But there is always something about attention to the place and its small wonders which lifts and frees me, and partly because of my familiarity with it. Yesterday, walking in all that spring-shaggy greenness, I rejoiced in the multilayered birdsong echoing through the damp air. I spotted a jay, a woodpecker, a tree creeper, many squirrels and the rat which lives near that big limestone outcrop (you know, the one by the steps up onto the dancing green where the bench is?). The grass was made beautiful by rain and the orchids poked their magenta up through the silvered green. It was magic. And I regained enough of my soul to function as a reasonably civilised human being again.
Until the following morning, at least.
That extra time we’re supposed to be having at the moment, during which we relax, read, knit ourselves cunning new kitchens, all that lot… It hasn’t been like that for me. I seem to have spent a startling amount of time doing I know not what. But one of the things I have managed to achieve, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, is get hold of some WS Merwin.Read More
A few weeks back I mentioned that we’d get to Larkin’s trees in May. Well, it’s May, and here are ‘The Trees‘. You can hear Larkin reading the poem, and watch an accompanying animation (commissioned by the BBC on the 30th anniversary of Larkin’s death), here.Read More
I’ve heard and read in many places these last few weeks a lot of stuff about how “we’re all in a heightened emotional state at the moment”: operating at a higher pitch; a bit more thin-skinned than usual. It’s not surprising. So I don’t know if it’s what’s going on in the macrocosm or in my own microcosm which makes me so susceptible to this poem, ‘A Blessing‘ by James Wright (have it read to you here). But susceptible I am. It moves me greatly. See what you think.Read More
I’ve no idea how well known this poem is, but it’s relatively new to me, and its refrains have been pulsing their steady rhythm through me for the last week or so. So here it is: ‘Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day‘ by Delmore Schwartz.Read More