Tag: hope

difficult thoughts

When times are hard, is it helpful or appalling to read something and realise that times have been hard in the same way before (and therefore probably will be again)? Mostly, as you’ll know by now, I tend to think it’s helpful to read and know you are not alone; but when today’s poem presented itself for duty in my head, seeming apt for the times, resonant and gloomy, I did initially feel a bit droopier than I already had been. So, see what you think: do you feel droopier when you read ‘The Leaden Eyed‘ by Vachel Lindsay? (Note: in versions I’ve seen in print there is a stanza break between lines 4 and 5, which doesn’t appear in this online version.)

‘The Leaden Eyed’ evokes a world without dreams, meaning, hope. As the repetitions in the second stanza insist, it is not so much the matter but the manner of how things are which is so tragic. The poem is full of fear that the world as it is will lead to the ‘smother[ing] out’ of ‘young souls”—a fear much like that at the heart of MacNeice’s magnificent, passionate ‘Prayer Before Birth’ (which you can hear here or read here). ‘The Leaden Eyed’ seems to have been published in the 19-teens (can’t find an exact date, sorry), and ‘Prayer before birth’ was first published in 1944, so given that both were written in the shadow of war it’s perhaps not surprising that they share a mood of dread and ominousness.

And I suppose these poems feel resonant because it is impossible not to know that there are many ‘leaden-eyed’ in the world at the moment: those who have not had a fair crack at things, to say the least—the disenfranchised, the silenced, the unrepresented, the lost, the disillusioned, the powerless… those who have had enough of how things are but may not have energy enough left to protest. Reading the news it’s sometimes hard not to wonder whether there are any dreams left to dream at all.

But as I continued to sit with this poem it came to me that both the Lindsay and the MacNeice are written from outside the “dreamlessness”. They only exist because the authors have a desire for things to be different, and an awareness of what they do not want. Rueing the reality they see, they still retain a sense of how things might be other: the poems themselves carve out that small space in which to stand and from which to look around at what still might be, instead of the grimness of what currently is. And that space, small enough to be sure, is a place where “dreams” and ‘gods” and ‘reap[ings]’ and ‘deeds’ may still exist, blaze brightly… Perhaps this is yet another way that poetry can be a ‘lifeline’ or ’emergency’lantern’, as Libby Purves described in that article we looked at last year.

And, thinking that, I felt less leaden. That is part of the point of art, surely: to make a place for us to remember—to imagine—how things might yet be different.

bandaged moments

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.)

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feeding the cats

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:

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postmen, like doctors

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?

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a blessing

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.

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listening to our breathing

There is good stuff in amongst all the strangeness at the moment, as a lot of people are noting. Some are doing so with a vim and perkiness which I find quite annoying—I rarely find Uplift uplifting—but it’s good to hear the quieter, less trumpety tales. And to notice things, too. Driving up to Scotland last week I was moved to see an oystercatcher walking across the M6 in front of me. I’m kinda glad the world is getting a rest from us.

The Horses‘ by Edwin Muir is one of the poems which has been echoing round my mind these last few weeks. Though it offers a post-apocalyptic vision it’s not an unmitigatedly doomy one, and I don’t offer it with a gloomy sense of prophecy. Rather, it’s because I’ve been aware of how strange and lovely I am finding the current silence, or relative silence, on my (rare and legitimate, guv’nor) sorties into the outside world. And silence is what Muir’s poem opens with. (Here are a couple of readings of it, too, one much more fruity and declamatory than the other. See what you think.)

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a prodigal thing

Given the state of the world at the moment, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s a plethora of books about with titles like The Happiness Project, The Happy Life Formula and Happiness: a Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. Hmmmm. Sounds like it might be a lot of work, even if you do buy into the idea that we can make ourselves feel any given way.

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westward, look…

I left you last week with the promise of handrails and lifelines. Ta-daa! Here they are: ‘Say not the struggle nought availeth’, another poem straight out of the C19th’s death-throes-of-faith anguish which has, however, long performed the handrail/lifeline functions for me. You can read the poem here and or last week’s reader can read it for you here. Alternatively, Derek Jacobi reads it here; I much prefer his reading but could do without the music. The poem is there to create the mood all by its little self, after all. However… See what you think.

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