Poem of the Day: ‘Shadows’ by Samuel Daniel 

Yesterday’s Poem of the Day was ‘Chorus Sacerdotum’ by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke. Not only a good poet, he was a great administrator and from 1614 he was also Chancellor of the Exchequer. Ah, Renaissance man, thou should be living at this hour!

I thought I might want to return to it today and, reading it slowly, I got deeply caught up in Fulke Greville’s sense of the tense complexity of being human. But in the end I decided it goes against the spirit of Poem of the Day to come back  – ‘oh I kept it for another day,’ as Robert Frost nearly says in ‘The Road Not Taken’. So I turned the pages in The Oxford Book of English Verse – passing poems mainly about love: I don’t want them, love is not one of my  live subjects. That’s to say, it’s not something I’m engaged in learning about.

What am I saying? That’s not accurate. Of course I am learning about love! I’ve been married for over thirty years. I’m learning about love over a long time but there are not many poems about long love, love still glowing after thirty years, love beyond the early stages in the early pages of TOBOEV. So I kept turning until I came to a poem that I sort of know and don’t think I have ever read carefully, ‘Shadows’ by Samuel Daniel.

Are they shadows that we see?
And can shadows pleasure give?
Pleasures only shadows be
Cast by bodies we conceive
And are made the things we deem
In those figures which they seem.

But these pleasures vanish fast
Which by shadows are expressed;
Pleasures are not, if they last;
In their passing is their best.
Glory is most bright and gay
In a flash, and so away.

Feed apace then, greedy eyes,
On the wonder you behold;
Take it sudden as it flies,
Though you take it not to hold.
When your eyes have done their part,
Thought must length it in the heart.

It was the final line that arrested me. To be specific, it was the verb ‘length’, which is really about time but feels about space. For some reason, ‘length’ made me thinking of dancing, perhaps connected to the old word ‘measure’.

My reading process went something like – ah, yes, are they shadows, hhmm I know this one… skim down, yes…blah di done their part/thought must -wow, what’s this – length it ! – what?- in the heart. Read it again, Jane. Thought must length it in the heart.

Going back to the beginning, the first line now seems huge: how did he arrive at this giant question? ‘Are they shadows that we see?’ . I was thinking at first – he’s thinking of a woman he loves , or women he loves, he’s thinking of beauty, but then I thought of other beauties that come and go – trees in new leaf, babies, moments of loving friendship’s laughing face, reading to a child of six who will soon be sixteen and then twenty-six and then sixty-six…… all these pleasures must, sooner or later, go, passing, as  Hamlet says ‘through nature to eternity’.  Can we really take pleasure from such fast-moving stuff? We can and we must, says Daniel, perhaps because they are so fast-moving.

Because I have been thinking about some of the working (or not-workings) of my own mind, the poem touches a place of concern. Can I make or affect things by thinking about them?   I couldn’t have affected Storm Doris’s effect on our Bear Hunt by thinking about it. But can I affect my mind’s pained reaction to it?  I look at the  bud on the magnolia and feel pleasure. Is the pleasure somehow in the sense of transience?   Is it to do with being in the moment? I observe the loveliness of the bud. It is already passing:

But these pleasures vanish fast
Which by shadows are expressed;
Pleasures are not, if they last;
In their passing is their best.
Glory is most bright and gay
In a flash, and so away.

and so I come back to the end that got me interested in the first place:

Feed apace then, greedy eyes,
On the wonder you behold;
Take it sudden as it flies,
Though you take it not to hold.
When your eyes have done their part,
Thought must length it in the heart.

The moment ends because the thing you are looking at changes, moves through time, disappears, dies. Yet the part of it that is unaffected by that transience remains – ‘thought must length it in the heart’.

Whether that is sighing after the beloved when they are not present, longing for signs of spring or remembering a baby’s lovely fat wrists, thought – the action of our consciousness – takes it back home to the heart.

I will take this to a shared reading group for more thinking about. Terrific poem. Made me go over my time limit.

6 thoughts on “Poem of the Day: ‘Shadows’ by Samuel Daniel 

  1. Heather Jones March 3, 2017 / 11:09 am

    Thank you for this. It is wonderful. I, also shall be taking it to a shared reading group.

    • drjanedavis March 3, 2017 / 11:41 am

      Thanks, Heather – so glad my hour of reading and writing about a poem a day is useful to someone other than myself!
      I am really glad I met a man on a train which was massively delayed by Storm Doris, who, pitying me when he heard about the wipe-out of Bearhunt, kindly gave me his book,Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris (I’d noticed it because I’m always looking for good business books – he was still in the middle of it, too! ) and in that book Tim talks about morning routines and that made me think, Why am I wasting half an hour a day reading The Times when I could be reading a poem. Thanks Tim, and thanks John O’Neill, the man on the train. And thanks Heather, for reading!

  2. Lydia Moore March 3, 2017 / 5:12 pm

    I’ve read your posts with great pleasure, and you’ve made me think about the poems, too. How you have time for this in the middle of your busy life is a mystery. Thank you!

    • drjanedavis March 3, 2017 / 9:40 pm

      Hi Lydia – I’ve stopped reading The Times in the morning, which I’ve done for years… got really fed up of not having time to read or write… so now I have half an hour or sometimes an hour…a much better use of time. Glad you’ve enjoyed reading the posts.

  3. Jamie March 5, 2017 / 12:15 pm

    Hi Jane,

    loved your poem of the day. I re-read it myself only a few days ago.

    I agree about that word length being crucial. I remember the first time I read it the last two lines took my breath away…so true I thought, though I wasn’t sure what that truth was. It was something to do with paying attention – there is the initial attention – the eyes. But in taking attention back to something important enough to pay attention to in the first place it’s as though it’s allowed to grow with us – becomes part of the ‘length’ of us… and so, in a way, it contradicts that ‘not to hold’, though, that seems important – these are not things we contain within us – they are not ours to own – they have to be respected as their own being but they can enhance ours.

    It’s interesting how it starts off like a riddle – and I like the idea that the things we find pleasure in are not the focus – that the real pleasure is the shadow…something that needs the physical and the light to create it… something that is sort of in between worlds. When I read it the other day it reminded me of a thought I had the other week – about how the things that we desire are not really what we want – they are merely symbolic of something deeper – for instance I might wander in a book shop and wish to possess lots of books but really it is the type of books I am looking to buy that tell me what it is I’m really looking for. I thought wow it’s as though the soul is infant like: desire is the inarticulate wailing of the soul jumping through into human flesh.

    Jx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s