Featured Poem: ‘Lucy Gray’ by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lucy Gray’ (1799) is one of his best known. Reading it recently with my daughter–who is fascinated with the idea of ghosts and not at all scared [so far – Ed.]–it struck me that apart from the obvious subject of the loss of a child, there is a very modern sort of guilt expressed here. For me the real horror in this poem is in the father going back to his work while the child goes out into the storm. Wordsworth’s rural poor no doubt had starvation nagging them should they slack off from work, where modern parents have mortgages and car payments, but Lucy Gray is there wherever there is an adult too busy to pay her enough attention.

Lucy Gray

Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray:
And, when I crossed the wild,
I chanced to see at break of day
The solitary child.

No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wide moor,
–The sweetest thing that ever grew
Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the fawn at play,
The hare upon the green;
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen.

"To-night will be a stormy night–
You to the town must go;
And take a lantern, Child, to light
Your mother through the snow."

"That, Father! will I gladly do:
‘Tis scarcely afternoon–
The minster-clock has just struck two,
And yonder is the moon!"

At this the Father raised his hook,
And snapped a faggot-band;
He plied his work;–and Lucy took
The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe:
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse the powdery snow,
That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time:
She wandered up and down;
And many a hill did Lucy climb:
But never reached the town.

The wretched parents all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sound nor sight
To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlooked the moor;
And thence they saw the bridge of wood,
A furlong from their door.

They wept–and, turning homeward, cried,
"In heaven we all shall meet;"
–When in the snow the mother spied
The print of Lucy’s feet.

Then downwards from the steep hill’s edge
They tracked the footmarks small;
And through the broken hawthorn hedge,
And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they crossed:
The marks were still the same;
They tracked them on, nor ever lost;
And to the bridge they came.

They followed from the snowy bank
Those footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank;
And further there were none!

–Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living child;
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome wild.

O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.

[1799]

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Featured poem: Gerard Manley Hopkins

I came across this poem for the first time this weekend whilst flicking through an anthology at my Grandma’s house in London. Not an avid reader of poetry herself, I had to brush back a layer of dust from the cover before I could commence reading. That layer of dust concealed within its pages one of the most enlightening poems I have read for, well, rather a while. I opened the collection at random, not expecting anything really, and upon the open page lay this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I’m not sure whether I was in a contemplative mood, or if the luxury of time that I was afforded meant that I could really relax with the words facing me but I felt a connection to this poem immediately. I read the poem once, read it twice, read it three times and thought, ‘No this poem demands more than a reading, I’m not doing it justice’, standing alone, the images are beautiful but it demands some real time thinking about what the whole is conveying.

It’s like a puzzle sometimes, reading a poem, piecing together the clues and trying to solve the problem. Then like putting in the last piece of a jigsaw, you see the whole image, everything falls into place and a meaning (it’s not that it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) makes itself clear to you. To me, this poem reinforces my own beliefs in the interconnectivity of all life and how that life is born from and returns to a power that is beyond the material of our world but nevertheless a part of it. Possessing this power is not a passive state, we have a responsibility with it and with that we should all be able to realise a certain life for ourselves: if we are aware of the power, accepting of it and act in the way we believe to be the most affirmative of goodness for our lives; it will benefit not only us personally but all surrounding us.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves-goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is-
Christ-for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

from Poems 1876 – 1889

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Favourite Poems Read by Animals

If there is one thing the Web has taught us it is that a lot of people have too much time on their hands. This video is evidence of that. It was recommended to me by Angela Macmillan and is remarkable not only for the quality of the reading (Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’) but the length of time it must have taken to train the dog to speak. And with such lovely vowels too:

Featured Poems: An Easter collection

We realise that we can’t bring you chocolates, or bunnies, or bunches of flowers, but we can bring together many aspects of Easter with the help of some great poets. Below is a collection of ‘Easter’ poems, pulling together a few of our seasonal favourites for you to read whilst you finish off that last slice of simnel cake, prepare the lamb, consume a buttered hot-cross bun, get ready for church or bite the top of your Easter egg. Hopefully they will bring a little something extra to enjoy amongst the festivities.

Easter Wings

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:

With Thee
O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day Thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.

With Thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day Thy victorie;
For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

George Herbert

It was Easter as I walked in the public gardens (1929)

It was Easter as I walked in the public gardens, 
Hearing the frogs exhaling from the pond, 
Watching traffic of magnificent cloud 
Moving without anxiety on open sky— 
Season when lovers and writers find 
An altering speech for altering things, 
An emphasis on new names, on the arm 
A fresh hand with fresh power. 
But thinking so I came at once 
Where solitary man sat weeping on a bench, 
Hanging his head down, with his mouth distorted 
Helpless and ugly as an embryo chicken.

So I remember all of those whose death 
Is necessary condition of the season’s putting forth, 
Who, sorry in this time, look only back 
To Christmas intimacy, a winter dialogue 
Fading in silence, leaving them in tears. 
And recent particulars come to mind; 
The death by cancer of a once hated master, 
A friend’s analysis of his own failure, 
Listened to at intervals throughout the winter 
At different hours and in different rooms. 
But always with success of others for comparison, 
The happiness, for instance, of my friend Kurt Groote, 
Absence of fear in Gerhart Meyer 
From the sea, the truly strong man.

A ‘bus ran home then, on the public ground 
Lay fallen bicycles like huddled corpses: 
No chattering valves of laughter emphasised 
Nor the swept gown ends of a gesture stirred 
The sessile hush; until a sudden shower 
Fell willing into grass and closed the day,
Making choice seem a necessary error.

W. H. Auden

Chocolate Cake

I love chocolate cake.
And when I was a boy
I loved it even more.

Sometimes we used to have it for tea
and Mum used to say,
‘If there’s any left over
you can have it to take to school
tomorrow to have at playtime.’
And the next day I would take it to school
wrapped up in tin foil
open it up at playtime
and sit in the corner of the playground
eating it,
you know how the icing on top
is all shiny and it cracks as you
bite into it,
and there’s that other kind of icing in
the middle
and it sticks to your hands and you
can lick your fingers
and lick your lips
oh it’s lovely.
yeah.

Michael Rosen

(This section of the poem has been reproduced with kind permission by the poet. If you want more you can get it from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here (Puffin Books) or on CD from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here (Abbey Media). I highly recommend both.)

Holy Thursday

‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey-headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames’ waters flow.

O what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

William Blake

I stood tip-toe upon a little hill

I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,
The air was cooling, and so very still, 
That the sweet buds which with a modest pride 
Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside, 
Their scantly leaved, and finely tapering stems, 
Had not yet lost those starry diadems 
Caught from the early sobbing of the morn. 
The clouds were pure and white as flocks new shorn, 
And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept 
On the blue fields of heaven, and then there crept 
A little noiseless noise among the leaves, 
Born of the very sigh that silence heaves:

John Keats

Featured Poem: The Prelude, William Wordsworth

by Sarah Coley, The Reader magazine’s deputy editor.

If you want the company of a great soul, read The Prelude slowly and eagerly, as if for the main news of the day. Now I come to think of it, I’d like the news better and trust the world more if the paragraph or newscaster began, ‘There is a blessing in this gentle breeze’. ‘There is…’ Wordsworth’s literalism does you good even when you can’t believe it.

Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem, The Prelude is rambling, ramshackle and unevenly sublime. He knows very well what matters to him but he cannot predict its presence nor summon it. In a very real sense The Prelude is about the actual power of memory – not the associative recall that goes, ‘Ah, I know this happened because I was listening to the Shipping News at the time, and you were wearing yellow…’, and not the memory that holds onto the past with an unbroken tenacity. The kind of memory that Wordsworth wants is the supplanting and powerful kind that knocks you off your feet with the unchanged impact of the original experience. This memory depends upon a kind of forgetfulness – as if you had to burn off the thoughts you’ve saved (the thoughts that protect you) in order to get back to experience itself. So he writes of his ‘spots of time’:

Oh! mystery of Man, from what a depth
Proceed thy honours! I am lost, but see
In simple childhood something of the base
On which thy greatness stands, but this I feel
That from thyself it is that thou must give,
Else never canst receive. The days gone by
Come back upon me from the dawn almost
Of life: the hiding-places of my power
Seem open; I approach, and then they close;
I see by glimpses now; when age comes on,
May scarcely see at all, and I would give,
While yet we may, as far as words can give,
A substance and a life to what I feel:
I would enshrine the spirit of the past
For future restoration.
(XI, 329-43)

It’s as if the thought itself – the thing beyond recall – almost pushes the mind that thinks it out of the way in order to be thought, ‘I am lost, but see…’ You cannot hold onto the world of sense if you’re to search this mystery from the depths. I love how the senses tumble from sight to feeling: I am lost but see… but this I feel… It sounds almost like Bible-talk when his realisation gathers impetus, ‘But this I feel, / That from thyself it is that thou must give, / Else never canst receive’.

If you’ve just finished reading Howard Jacobson in The Reader 29 and are sharing his near-rebellion against the safe and modern atheism, look to Wordsworth for guidance and be persuaded (almost) that there is a mystery amongst us. Wordsworth is great because he believes you can find almost unspeakably profound thoughts and feelings in ordinary places, with ordinary lives. The ‘future restoration’ that he speaks of at the end means not only the recovery of the memory (in the words of the song, ‘Ah yes, I remember it well’) but the greater fact – the restoration (or even creation) of a self able to feel it. And that in a nutshell is what Jane’s Get Into Reading is all about.

Featured poem: After Rain, Stephen Phillips

I am not one to get down about the weather. Actually that is a complete mistruth. I worship sunshine: the heat, the brightness, colours that were never there before suddenly emerge when sunny rays beat down upon the earth. Everything just seems so much better. Everything is just so much better. Winter sun is good too (not as good but still acceptable). Those exhilarating and bracing crisp, bright days amongst the gloom of the lengthy British winter are a delight, a tonic to keep you going through until spring. What is not okay is rain. Especially wind and rain. So, picture the scene outside my window today: the wind is howling, the sky is so dark that it is almost as if night has descended (or that daylight never arrived) and lashing down are levels of precipitation that would put Thomas Hardy’s pathetic fallacy to shame. My mood, to say the least is not good, it has been a tough day and I blame the rain entirely (yes, I also blame the rain for the tardiness in getting this week’s feature poem posted). Yet there is a glimmer on the horizon, a glimmer that it will, at some point in the near future, stop raining. Hope for the world after rain.

After Rain

After rain, after rain,
O sparkling Earth!
All things are new again,
Bathed as at birth.
Now the pattering sound hath ceased,
Drenched and released
Upward springs the glistening bough
In sunshine now;
And the raindrop from the leaf
Runs and slips;
Ancient forests have relief,
Young foliage drips.
All the Earth doth seem
Like Dian issuing from the stream,
Her body flushing from the wave,
Glistening in her beauty grave;
Down from her as she doth pass
Little rills run to the grass:
Or like perhaps to Venus, when she rose,
And looked with dreamy stare across the sea,
As yet unconscious of the woes,
The woes, and all the wounds that were to be
Or now again,
After the rain,
Earth like that early garden shines
Vested in vines.
O green green
Eden is seen!
After weeping skies
Rising Paradise;
Umbrage twinkling new
‘Gainst the happy blue,
God there for His pleasure,
In divinest leisure,
Walking in the sun
Which hath lately run;
While the bird sings clear and plain
Behind the bright withdrawing rain.
Soon I shall perceive
Naked glimmering Eve,
Startled by the shower,
Venture from her bower,
Looking for Adam under perilous sky;
While he hard by
Emerges from the slowly dropping blooms,
And warm delicious glooms.

Stephen Phillips, 1908

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Featured Poem: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Lord Byron

“I awoke one morning and found myself famous”, said Byron. That morning was 3rd March 1812, the morning that Cantos I and II of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage were first published. “There, for the present, the poem stops; its reception will determine whether the author may venture to conduct his readers to the capital of the East”, Byron, ‘Preface to the First and Second Cantos’. The poem was lauded by critics and was immediately popular with the public. Byron, not known for his modesty, was firmly set on his path to become the eminent, successful poet he knew he was. From this morning in 1812, everyone else knew it too.

This epic poetical work, in which Byron claims there are some “very trivial particulars” (‘Preface to the First and Second Cantos’) that relate to his own personage and experiences to that of the fictitious Childe Harold, is written after his own travels and encounters abroad and it is thought by some, despite Byron’s repudiation, that this work elucidates Byron’s personality more explicitly than any other work of his. For a man who worked so hard on cultivating his stylised, oxymoronic artful-carelessness, to the reader of his poetry, we cannot be sure of what his truth or what is manipulated. Introducing the ‘Byronic Hero’, Childe Harold is typical of the mould: an outsider, argumentative, holding contradictory beliefs to the norm, never content, romantic but unfaithful, and always yearning for new sensations. An extension of Byron’s own beliefs and ideas, perhaps?

Whatever the autobiographical or imaginative qualities of this poem, or our opinions of Byron’s own image, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is an impressive work describing the travels and reflections of a discontented young man, who seeks abroad what he cannot find at home. Disillusioned with his life of revelry and hedonism, Byron’s poem is a reaction to the broader contemporary feelings of melancholy and cynicism felt by the post- French Revolution generation.

from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto I

VIII

Yet oft-times in his maddest mirthful mood
Strange pangs would flash along Childe Harold’s brow,
As if the memory of some deadly feud
Or disappointed passion lurk’d below:
But this none knew, nor haply cared to know;
For his was not that open, artless soul
That feels relief by bidding sorrow flow,
Nor sough he friend to counsel or condole,
Whate’er this grief mote be, which he could not control.

IX

And none did love him: though to hall and bower
He gather’d revellers from far and near,
He knew them flatt’rers of the festal hour;
The heartless parasites of present cheer.
Yea! none did love him – not his lemans dear –
But pomp and power alone are woman’s care,
And where these are light Eros finds a feere;
Maidens, like moths, are ever caught by glare,
And Mammon wins his way where Serpahs might despair.

X

Childe Harold had a mother – not forgot,
Though parting from that mother he did not shun;
A sister whom he loved, but saw her not
Before his weary pilgrimage begun:
If friends he had, he bade adieu to none.
Yet deem not thence his breast a breast of steel:
Ye, who have know what ‘tis to dote upon
A few dear objects, will in sadness feel
Such partings break the heart they fondly help to heal.

XI

His house, his home, his heritage, his lands,
The laughing dames in whom he did delight,
Whose large blue eyes, fair locks, and snowy hands,
Might sake the saintship of an anchorite,
And long had fed his youthful appetite;
His goblets brimm’d with every costly wine,
And all that mote to luxury invite,
Without a sigh he left, to cross the brine,
And traverse Paynim shores, and pass Earth’s central line.

Lord Byron, 1812

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Featured Poem: London Snow by Robert Bridges

Selected by Angela Macmillan 

‘London Snow’ by Robert Bridges was much enjoyed by reading groups in care homes for the elderly this week. The first half of the poem beautifully captures the absolute wonder of snowfall, making us almost nostalgic for the times when seven inches of snow was not a particular rarity. For children the snow is ‘crystal manna’: a blessing falling from heaven. But for the rest of us, snow is the enemy, holding up the daily round and we must wage war against it with snow-plough and gritter. Yet even as we grown ups tramp to work through the brown slush we glimpse the charm of the once pristine loveliness we have spoiled.Born in 1844, Robert Bridges qualified as a doctor and served as a physician in London hospitals including Great Ormond Street, before ill health forced him to retire early. Apart from a few poems Bridges is rarely read today so it may come as a surprise that he was once Poet Laureate. He is perhaps best known now as champion and literary executor of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

London Snow

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled – marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder!’
‘O look at the trees!’ they cried, ‘O look at the trees!’
With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul’s high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

Robert Bridges, 1890

Featured Poem: Winter, A Poem. By James Thomson

For some reason the weather seems to to have a strong bearing on the poetry featured here. I have no idea whether this is a preference of my own or a tendency in poetry itself, but today’s poem fits the pattern nonetheless. The name of Scottish poet James Thomson (1700-1748) is not well known now, but some of his words most certainly are: “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves: / Britons never will be slaves.” Beyond writing the original lyric to the famous patriotic song Thomson was a powerful descriptive poet and often wrote about the area around the border between Scotland and England; though he lived the second part of his life in London, Thomson was especially fond of Jedburgh.

Here is an excerpt from his poem Winter, which is part of a long poem called The Seasons. The whole poem can be found at this link. For the last week or so we have been enjoying sharp, frosty nights and bright sunny days and Thomson clearly enjoyed weather like this too. I especially like the lines “This of the wintry Season is the Prime; / Pure are the Days, and lustrous are the Nights”:

from Winter
CLEAR Frost succeeds, and thro’ the blew Serene,
For Sight too fine, th’Ætherial Nitre flies,
To bake the Glebe, and bind the slip’ry Flood.
This of the wintry Season is the Prime;
Pure are the Days, and lustrous are the Nights,
Brighten’d with starry Worlds, till then unseen.
Mean while, the Orient, darkly red, breathes forth
An Icy Gale, that, in its mid Career,
Arrests the bickering Stream. The nightly Sky,
And all her glowing Constellations pour
Their rigid Influence down: It freezes on
Till Morn, late-rising, o’er the drooping World,
Lifts her pale Eye, unjoyous: then appears
The various Labour of the silent Night,
The pendant Isicle, the Frost-Work fair,
Where thousand Figures rise, the crusted Snow,
Tho’ white, made whiter, by the fining North.
On blithsome Frolics bent, the youthful Swains,
While every Work of Man is laid at Rest,
Rush o’er the watry Plains, and, shuddering, view
The fearful Deeps below: or with the Gun,
And faithful Spaniel, range the ravag’d Fields,
And, adding to the Ruins of the Year,
Distress the Feathery, or the Footed Game.

___

James Thomson, 1726. Here’s the link to the whole poem again.

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thursday this week is of course Valentine’s Day, so our featured poem really had to be a love poem. So here is arguably the best love poem in English, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. For the geeks amongst you it is worth noting that this poem is also available in programming languages including ActionScript, which you can find here on Boing Boing.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana