Featured Poem: ‘The world is too much with us’

This famous poem, written in 1807, needs little in the way of introduction. Wordsworth’s anguish over the lost connection between humanity and nature is expressed in clear and forceful terms: ‘We have given our hearts away’ and for what? Mere ‘getting and spending’:

The world is too much with us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

By William Wordsworth (1807)

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: ‘Sympathy’ by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar‘s poem ‘Sympathy’, first published in 1899, inspired the title to Maya Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and after even the briefest of readings of the poem, it is easy to see why. I myself always return to Dunbar’s poem, for which neither the words ‘sad’ nor ‘happy’ can apply, striking as it does at a deeper chord of human feeling that has to do with one’s assertion of life even in the bleakest hours of struggle – an assertion of the life spirit which forces even those smallest of creatures, such as the small caged bird around which the poem revolves, to persist in their struggle for freedom which in turn requires their having to hold on to what might be regarded as an almost instinctive faith in life.

I read this poem last week at one of my Get Into Reading groups. After I had read it, two other women also wanted to take a turn in reading it. After I had read the poem, one woman, who is about seventy years old and has suffered from depression for most of her life, said ‘I think that is a lovely poem. I relate it to myself – with the prison bars and the bruised wings, I think about myself in here, but I also think about how I always make sure I go out and keep on going out, and walk around.’ I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I continue to do.

Sympathy

I KNOW what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals –
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting –
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,-
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1889

Posted by Clare Williams

Featured Poem: ‘Piano’ by D. H. Lawrence

This poem was given to me to read last week by one of our Get Into Reading group members. K, who has also been volunteering in our office found the piece of paper with the poem on it filed away with a collection of short stories, or rather sandwiched between other things in haste after one of the reading groups. It had been lying there, forgotten about, “It’s time we brought it back out into the light,” K said, “isn’t it?” Urging me to read it, telling me that it was one of the most beautiful poems that he’s ever read, I turned away from my computer screen to do just that.

What struck me most about re-reading ‘Piano’ by D H Lawrence was that it didn’t strike me as being merely an act of nostalgia but a beautifully penned illustration on the nature of memory. One can almost hear the “tingling strings” of the “tinkling piano”. These strike me as being like crystal clear water trickling and tumbling in narrow, rocky streams. So our lives move on, never stopping – like a river – and we’re left, on occasion, with our own “insidious mastery of song” which takes back to somewhere we can never really be again (and we may well not want to be) but in those moments floods our present life all the same.

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

D. H. Lawrence, 1918

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Featured Poem: ‘Weathers’, by Thomas Hardy

The British summer has a lot going for it if you happen to be a meteorologist or a poet. Thomas Hardy wrote a lot about weather, in his poetry and in his novels. The contrast between spring and autumn in these two stanzas is beautifully done, connecting the natural run of the seasons with the human (and animal) needs. For the next few weeks at least let’s have more of the weather the cuckoo likes.

 

Weathers

 

This is the weather the cuckoo likes,

And so do I;

When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,

And nestlings fly;

And the little brown nightingale bills his best,

And they sit outside at ‘The Traveller’s Rest,’

And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,

And citizens dream of the south and west,

And so do I.

 

This is the weather the shepherd shuns,

And so do I;

When beeches drip in browns and duns,

And thresh and ply;

And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,

And meadow rivulets overflow,

And drops on gate bars hang in a row,

And rooks in families homeward go,

And so do I.

 

By Thomas Hardy

____________

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Writers often wish a plague of scabs (and worse) on their editors and Chaucer’s poem about his copyist or scribe, revealed a few years ago as Adam Pinkhurst, is one of the most famous literary outbursts against them. Chaucer’s poem is concise and to the point. Giles Coren came over all medieval in a long email to his subs at The Times and was rather less economical. Adam Pinkhurst, it turns out, worked on many of Chaucer’s best-known manuscripts, and was a ‘favoured scribe’. That makes the following all the more significant:

Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall

Boece or Troilus for to write new,

Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall(1),

But after my makinge thou write mor trew,

So oft a day I mot thy werke renewe

It to correct, and eke to rubbe and scrape,

And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape(2).

1. scab

2. haste

Featured Poem: Emily Bronte, ‘Stanza’

Think of the Brontës and poetry isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. It’s more likely to be Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights or Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (which, incidentally, is the focus of Readers Connect in the current issue of The Reader magazine and one of the novels in our Richard and Judy Poll, which closes at the end of the month). Yet Emily Brontë is widely regarded as one of the most original poets of the nineteenth century, remembered for her lyrics, such as ‘The night is darkening round me’ and for her passionate invocations from the world of Gondal (an imaginary world that she created with Anne), as well as more personal musings and visions, of which ‘Stanzas’ is one. It is vivid in its evocation of the atmospheric landscape of the moors, which are the centre of her thoughts and the place of her inspiration.

There is, however, some doubt as to whether Emily did indeed write this poem; that it should probably be ascribed to Charlotte. Yet Emily’s poetic work, like Wuthering Heights, so often evokes the moorland scenery that surrounds her – something she was more intensely attached to, and concerned with, than her sisters – this poem is no exception. Surely it was Emily? We’ll never know.

Stanzas

Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:Today, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

Emily Brontë

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Featured Poem: Hen Felin, by Grevel Lindop

Helen Tookey, whose poem ‘At Burscough, Lancashire’ from her book Telling the Fractures we featured a few weeks ago, writes to recommend ‘Hen Felin’ by poet Grevel Lindop, from the collection Playing With Fire (Carcanet Press, 2006) Helen has written a substantial and fascinating exploration of the poem which we’ll publish tomorrow:

 

Hen Felin

 

There is a white house sunk in the long grass

and a spring rises, no one knows from where

 

and there is nothing, nothing and again nothing.

The nothings talk together in the house.

 

The beach breathes when the tide hisses along it,

each pebble bald as a moon; and the moon rises,

 

and the rocks melt and wrinkle the bright sea.

Part of me has been living here for years

 

among the nothings and the silences

which are not nothing and are never silent.

 

And stranded under the long grass and the weeds

a wooden boat, her timbers sprung by time

 

the white wood mildewed, SWALLOW on the bow:

a white moon drowning in a green sea.

 

The knitwork tapestry of furballed goosegrass,

pink spikes of willowherb have run her through

 

but still the unstaunched spring whispers and sings

and will not let her rest and turn to earth

 

but long past hope still sets the empty heart

echoing to the perpetual music of water.

_________________________
‘Hen Felin’, from the collection Playing With Fire by Grevel Lindop is published here with permission from Carcanet Press.

Featured Poem: Sonnet–To Science, by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the strangest and most compelling writers of the Romantic period in the United States. He is well known for his tales, which include landmark detective stories as well as the Gothic suspense and horror tales for which he is most famous. In this poem from 1829 the speaker, clearly caught up in personal passions, accuses science of removing wonder from life. But there is also a sense of awe in the face of the power of science and perhaps a realisation that its truths are themselves a source of wonder. In later work Poe placed science and poetry in balance, the one seeking beauty and the other truth.

 

Sonnet-To Science

 

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!

    Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.

Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,

    Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,

     Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering

To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,

    Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?

Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?

    And driven the Hamadryad from the wood

To seek a shelter in some happier star?

    Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,

The Elfin from the green grass, and from me

The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

Featured Poem: Røros, by Julie-ann Rowell

Julie-ann Rowell is a poet whose first pamphlet collection, Convergence, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Her new collection, Letters North is published by Brodie Press.  Julie-ann will be reading at the Ways With Words Literature Festival, Dartington Hall, on Saturday, 12th July, 2008 at 11am. For further information and to book tickets, go to: http://www.wayswithwords.co.uk/festivals/dartington-hall-10/events/sun-on-the-water-151.

Røros in northern Norway is a strange place to experience an epiphany, and I was also there on business, not pleasure, and yet, amongst the preserved slag heaps and the sparse town, came a moment of revelation about the simplicity of happiness — Julie-ann Rowell

Røros

There was a moment in the old copper town
when I thought I had found something out

about the deep-down universal, as the German girl
and I ambled to the stone church

discussing chance meetings on trains,
divine connections with strangers, relatives

from generations long gone. ‘We all knew
each other once’, said Angela. So the few hours

together in the mining town was a revival
of past ties, friendships, broken promises.

I think I loved her when she embraced me
and said how to find the past right here and now.

To not be afraid. The church came into it –
built in 1784 for the miners and their families.

Prayers said each Sunday for the mine owners
who occupied the prime seats. But so what for social

distinctions if we all knew each other once?
I took my seat amongst the spirits of miners,

three hundred years of them. I was jubilant with
Angela, who was smiling a kind of universal smile.

____

Julie-ann wrote a recommendation of Edward Thomas’s ‘Adlestrop’ for us back in November 2007. ‘Røros’ is published here by permission. Here’s the link to her website.

Britten’s War Requiem

Sixty years ago, Liverpool and Cologne were on opposing sides of a terrible war.  Today in an act of reconciliation, they are twinned cities. Last week, as part of the Capital of Culture programme and in a celebration of unity, choirs and orchestras from both cities performed  Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in Liverpool Cathedral.

A full symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra, organ, two conductors, three vocal soloists, a boys choir and four other major choirs came together in the massive and awesome cathedral space.  Blending the liturgy with secular texts, the work uses the Latin Mass for the dead, interwoven with nine songs for tenor and baritone, based on the war poems of Wilfred Owen.

The combination of all these factors made for an evening of unparalleled experience that no one who was there will ever forget.

In the Dies irae, the soprano’s singing of the Lacrimosa is interrupted by the tenor (on this occasion the sublime voice of Ian Bostridge) singing the words of Owen’s great poem ‘Futility’.

 

Futility

Move him into the sun-

Gently its touch awoke him once,

At home, whispering of fields unsown.

Always it woke him, even in France,

Until this morning and this snow.

If anything might rouse him now

The kind old sun will know.

 

Think how it wakes the seeds-

Woke once the clays of a cold star.

Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides

Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?

Was it for this the clay grew tall?

-O what made fatuous sunbeams toil

To break earth’s sleep at all?

 

The traditional Mass offers ultimate hope of salvation.  Britten’s angry, tender, moving War Requiem ends quietly and inconclusively with no such complete promise but only a resolution of sorts.

 

Posted by Angela Macmillan