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

Featured Poem: John Clare’s ‘I am!’

clare.jpg

John Clare is famously a poet of the rural working class and the Northamptonshire countryside, but he is also a well-known inmate of an insane asylum. This poem, reflecting on the poet’s life, his forgotten achievements and abandonment, was written at the the beginning of twenty years or so in the asylum.

I am!

I am! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky.

–John Clare, written around 1845.

And if you thought that was good, take a look at the John Clare blog.

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Featured Poem: The Send-off

I spent most of Sunday riding on steam trains at the East Lancs Railway. There is something very appealing about the size and elemental power of mainline steam locomotives. They harness fire and water in ways that would have impressed Milton or Blake. Railway posters from the 1930s take pride in the scale, speed, and modernity of the venture. The famous ‘summer comes soonest’ poster for Southern Railway, showing a small boy looking up at the driver of a huge engine, was parodied "with apologies" by LNER, using an even smaller child and an engine with even larger wheels. These things were a status symbol then and in steam, 70-odd year-old museum pieces that they are, they are still glorious.

But while they can be beautiful and awe inspiring trains are also suggestive of loss and tragedy: the lovers parted on the platform, the cattle trucks heading for Dachau or Auschwitz, the soldiers off to war. Perhaps more than anywhere off a battlefield, the railway platform is where soft humanity and hard modernity meet. This poem by Wilfred Owen captures that idea of machines in service to humanity’s causes and the  fatal pact we sign with them: "Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp / Winked to the guard":

The Send-off

Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.

Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.

Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.

So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.

Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.

Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.

by Wilfred Owen

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Featured Poem: The Milestone by the Rabbit Burrow

We are celebrating National Rabbit Week here at The Reader and in honour of the occasion our featured poem this morning is Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Milestone by the Rabbit Burrow’, which is actually written from the point of view of a rabbit. Without wishing to disparage the whole tribe of lagomorpha, rabbits have simple worries. Still, as long as gin is allowed, who wouldn’t want to live ‘where no gins are’?

The Milestone by the Rabbit-Burrow

(On Yell’Ham Hill)

In my loamy nook
As I dig my hole
I observe men look
At a stone, and sigh
As they pass it by
To some far goal.

Something it says
To their glancing eyes
That must distress
The frail and lame,
And the strong of frame
Gladden or surprise.

Do signs on its face
Declare how far
Feet have to trace
Before they gain
Some blest champaign
Where no gins are?

–By Thomas Hardy

Posted by Chris Routledge, Powered by Qumana

Featured Anthology: Earth Shattering – Helen Dunmore

The final sections of the Earth Shattering, ‘Forces of Nature’ and ‘Natural Disasters’, combine poems that show the effects of global warming, climate change and question the accuracy of the expression ‘natural disaster’. The anthology ends, after covering man-made environmental disasters and so-called ‘acts of God’, with “planetary catastrophe and Eco-Armageddon.” However, this is not meant as a pessimistic conclusion but a reminder to us all, that as the world’s politicians and multi-national corporations arrange our reckless rush towards Eco-Armageddon, poetry is not a hopeless gesture but that in its detail, the force of each poem effects each reader’s determination for change and adds a voice to the collective call.

The last poem to feature from this anthology is Helen Dunmore‘s Ice coming. A poet, novelist, short-story and children’s writer, Helen Dunmore won the Orange Prize for fiction in 1996. She has written abundantly and successfully: in The Raw Garden she questions our notions of what’s really ‘natural’, the impact of human intervention on the landscape and genetic engineering; exploring our relationships with animals and our own animal nature in Bestiary in her latest collection, Glad of These Times, her poems “capture the fleetingness of life, its sweetness and intensity, the short time we have on earth and the pleasures of the earth, with death as the frame which sharpens everything and gives it shape.”

Ice coming
(after Doris Lessing)

First, the retreat of the bees
lifting, heavy with the final
pollen of gorse and garden,
lugging the weight of it, like coal sacks
heaped on lorry-backs
in the ice-cream clamour of August.

The retreat of bees, lifting
all at once from city gardens –
suddenly the roses are scentless
as cold probes like a tongue,
crawling through the warm crevices
of Kew and Stepney. The ice comes
slowly, slowly, not to frighten anyone.

Not to frighten anyone. But the Snowdon
valleys are muffled with avalanche,
the Thames freezes, the Promenade des Anglais
clinks with a thousand icicles, where palms
died in a night, and the sea
of Greece stares back like stone
at the ice-Gorgon, white as a sheet.

Ice squeaks and whines. Snow slams
like a door miles off, exploding a forest
to shards and matchsticks. The glacier
is strangest, grey as an elephant,
too big to be heard. Big-foot, Gorgon –
a little mythology
rustles before it is stilled.

So it goes. Ivy, mahonia, viburnum
lift their fossilised flowers
under six feet of ice, for the bees
that are gone. As for being human
it worked once, but for now
and the forseeable future
the conditions are wrong.

Helen Dunmore, 2007

(This poem is reproduced with permission from Earth Shattering (2007, Bloodaxe Books), edited by Neil Astley.)

Featured Anthology: Earth Shattering – Frances Horovitz

Today’s Earth Shattering poem comes from the section ‘The Great Web’, which takes its title from Denise Levertov‘s Web (included in this anthology). Levertov’s ‘great web’ that ‘moves through and connects all people and things, both human and inhuman’ is the metaphor that unites all the poems in this section,  evoking humanity’s interpendence and oneness with nature. The rhythym of daily life and the cyclical processes of nature are celebrated by some poets for their strength whereas others recognise lost or disappearing connections.

Frances Horovitz (1938-83) was an English poet, whose perception of the natural world that surrounds her and evocation of human relationships, has led to a remarkable “clarity, precision and attentiveness” in her poetry. This poem considers the amalgamation of spirits of the human and natural world, almost Buddhist or Taoist in its message. Living in the Cotswolds, Cumbria and the Welsh Marches, many of her poems were inspired by remote landscapes, which are revealed through “perfect rhythym and great delicacy”.

Rain – Birdoswald

I stand under a leafless tree
more still, in this mouse-pattering
thrum of rain,
thean cattle shifting in the field.
It is more dark than light.
A Chinese painter’s brush of deepening grey
moves in a subtle tide.

The beasts are darker islands now.
Wet-stained and silvered by the rain
they suffer night,
marooned as still as stone or tree.
We sense each other’s quiet.

Almost, death could come
inevitable, unstrange
as is this dusk and rain,
and I should be no more
myself, than raindrops
glimmering in last light
on black ash buds

or night beasts in a winter field.

Frances Horovitz, 1980

(This poem is reproduced with permission from Earth Shattering (2007, Bloodaxe Books), edited by Neil Astley.)