For some reason, the only line I can remember from my first-term-at-Cambridge, deeply-uncomprehending reading of Gawain and the Green Knight is the line ‘Þe snawe snitered ful snart’. The snow snitered a bit this week (though not full snart) out of a beautiful blue sky; very odd and April-ish. We’ve also had some days, though, where ‘that blue has been all in a rush with richness’, so I thought today we could enjoy Hopkins’ lovely hymn to spring (have it read to you here. Poem starts at 1.19):Read More
I don’t know if it’s because one way and another I ended up spending a ridiculously long time in the academic system—schoolchild, student (several times!), lecturer, then student again—but to me autumn has always felt much more like the beginning of things than spring. The changes in light and landscape always wake in me a quiet excitement, a sense simultaneously of possibility and openings and yet also, with the longer evenings and nights, the opportunity for peace, retreat, renewal. That probably sounds paradoxical, I know. But it’s true. So that’s what this hymn to November is about.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.
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
Occasionally I get a bit of a painful meta-position on Being A Poet and wonder quite how tiresome we are as companions. Imagine going for a walk with us. I mean, can’t we just enjoy the first flowers of spring, for goodness’ sake? Wordsworth managed some pleasure and gratitude about the daffs (or was it Dorothy…?); Herrick, however, looks on daffs and thinks of death (a bit like Larkin and his trees, but we’ll get to that in May). I have to confess to having a fair dose of inner Herrick. I love his ‘To Daffodils’ a lot more than the Wordsworth; and, now I’ve said that, you can read the poem here while I sit back and wait to be struck down.Read More
I’m writing this at Gladstone’s Library in North Wales. It’s St David’s Day in 3 days’ time (it’ll be in the rear view mirror by the time this goes live) and a watery nearly-spring sunshine is lifting the air outside. How fitting, then, to read ‘Miracle on St David’s Day’ by Gillian Clarke, a wonderful Welsh poet, about springs of different sorts and the magic wrought by poetry. Be moved by this lovely poem here.Read More