CBT in the C18: a poem by Ann Finch

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Buckler fern and Astrantia (and couch grass, naturally), front garden, 11 August

Thanks to Dave Kelly, via Chris Lines, at Liverpool Parks, who tells me the unrecognised shrub of yesterday  is Clerodendrum Bungei, a deciduous shrub ‘with unpleasantly-scented leaves and sweet-scented flowers’…  Thanks Chris, and thanks Dave. I did think the smell was strangely mixed! Will go back to the Old English Garden for another sniff today.

But back to Ann Finch and ‘Hope’ which I started yesterday.

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

Orientikate commented yesterday,

Reading the verse again it feels to me as if the 2 Trees are kind of done and dusted, like – OK, we’ve been told about those – we chose (for better, for worse?) knowledge over life.

Yes, I agree the information about the two trees does seem done and dusted – that happened. Now here we are. Kate also suggested we might read ‘earth’ in line three as the plant of heaven, the only plant…  yes… look at lines three and four again:

Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

If we read it that way we’d have a meaning which was something like: earth (where hope grows) is the only plant Heav’n (God) or Paradise ( or the initial creative act ) could want (need).  Hope then becomes a kind of power of earth directly linking life on earth to  life in heaven – it – could you go so far as to say – almost remakes paradise anew.

Thank you Kate!

Let’s go on into stanza two, which amplifies  Ann Finch’s thinking about ‘hope’ ;

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

The idea that came out of Kate’s reading, that hope is a kind of link between Earth and Heaven, is picked up here in ‘hell knows it not’.  For Christians  of  the seventeenth century, Hell is a third place in the cosmos (which is made of  Heaven, Earth, Hell and at least as far as Milton, which is where I get my information from,  is concerned,  there’s also Chaos or Void). But for us, reading now (and also for Ann Finch and others, at other times, I’d imagine)  ‘hell’ is also those times in life when we have no hope.

Hope is ‘to us alone confin’d’, and cannot be in Hell.  We seem to have moved back into a geo-cosmoligical  level  – the very nature of the universe doesn’t allow it to be there  – it is ‘confin’d’ to us.

The verb ‘confin’d is about keeping within limits, borders.  This is beginning to make me think about what can be where and how some places /states  have atmospheres or the ability to let things grow.

With hell within him, ( ‘where I am is hell’) Satan can never experience hope, as hell is a place  where ‘hope never comes, that comes to all’

No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace [ 65 ]
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d:

Paradise Lost, Book 1

If hope is ‘confin’d’ to us  – to humans, if it sits within a natural border here within us, available only to us – not to  those who are forever in hell, then it is a sign of our possible movement – towards Heaven. It’s a special thing, given to, or held by us as part of that heavenly connection.

Now,  let’s think about cordial.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.

Online Etymological dictionary gives us:

late 14c., “of the heart,” from Middle French cordial, from Medieval Latin cordialis “of or for the heart,” from Latin cor (genitive cordis) “heart,” from PIE root *kerd- “heart.” Meaning “heartfelt, from the heart” is mid-15c. The noun is late 14c., originally “medicine, food, or drink that stimulates the heart.” Related: Cordiality.

So yes, let’s think of it as something that stimulates the heart. But Finch actually writes ‘mind’. What are you thinking when you are depressed, low, brought down, when things are hellish? Your heart may be sick but you need different thoughts. The medicine is hope.  Yet how to get yourself to take it?

I was thinking about the ‘only’  (cordial only to the human mind) and thinking at first of  other minds – animals, dogs, horses.  Do they not experience ‘hope’? But  on second or third reading I wondered if that distinction of ‘only the human mind’ was  more about the set up of the universe, the thing Kate called in her comment, the cosmology.  In all the universe, in the whole shebang,  hope is only found , like a rare and precious metal, in one place. In us.

Shall we  reread the whole poem now?

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

I like that ‘hope’ is a  plant rather than my analogy of a precious metal – it’s a natural cordial, like a herb, which eases the heart. It grows on earth, in us, and is antipathetic to hell. Making me think of magnetic attraction and reulsion: if hell, no hope. If hope, no hell.

Having established these clearly set out thoughts, Ann speaks directly to the person to whom she writes ( herself, perhaps):

Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

Now I see the poem has arisen from a particular place and a sort of argument, which has been ongoing. She (or the  person to whom she writes) has been denying hope, has not received it. This person is suffering ‘mortal Cares’ –  a double-edged word: these cares are human and they may be actually killing her, they are mortal to her. How do we know she has been actively denying this help?  The last line ‘ nor wave a med’cine’, where ‘wave’ is both wave as in the hand gesture (waving you and your medicine away) but also I think waive as in abandon, give up on.

We’ve got this amazing, rare, precious, transporting thing – use it!

Of course, if you are  badly depressed, no matter how hard you tell yourself, or someone else urges,  you can’t make yourself feel hope.

I read in Wikipedia that Ann Finch suffered depression.

I wonder if the poem’s language and thought pattern is a kind of home-made CBT. It is a set of thoughts, laid down in  a pattern. As your mind reads, it follows the pattern. If you put the word, and larger than that, the concept of ‘hope’ into a mind, there it is in some form, wher before it wasn’t. Psychologists have done many experiments which show that planting words in a mind affects the way it thinks.

Setting hope in this huge context adds perspective – it’s not just little you, an individual with an individual problem. It is a universal problem and there is a structural answer to it.  Read the poem again.

More poems by Ann Finch can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning I found ‘Hope’ through a woman I’ve hardly met

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Anyone know the name of this beautiful,slightly scented, shrub in profuse flower?  It’s on the back wall in the Old English Garden at Calderstones, August 2017 

London day yesterday and no time to slot my morning reading and writing into a very busy early start day. But this morning,  browsing through All The Days of My Life, the anthology put together years ago by my husband for me, because I wanted a good anthology of religious poems, and which became a book, which is now out of print but often available secondhand on Amazon, I found ‘Hope’ by Ann Finch, Countess of Winchilsea. I may have read it through in the past, but I’ve never read it properly and though I know Ann Finch’s name, I don’t think I know any of her works. So, a woman and a poem new to me. And hope is always welcome.

Once you start reading, you need to know something about the Christian story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve. Had Ann Finch read Milton’s Paradise Lost ? She was born a few years before it was published. Was it well read, or well-known, twenty, thirty years later?  I don’t know – possibly. But Ann may more likely have been drawing on the Eden story as it appears in The Bible – King James Version would have been the one she used. Either way –  the Eden story is a model of experience in her mind, and opens up a series of thoughts for her:

Hope

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Hell knows it not, to Us alone confin’d,
And Cordial only to the Human Mind.
Receive it then, t’expel these mortal Cares,
Nor wave a Med’cine, which thy God prepares.

The poem is written to someone, perhaps to herself, though that is not immediately obvious. It seems to start like a set of facts, almost scientifically laid out, like an  argument, the colon at the end of line two acting as a sort of hinge which holds the two  parts of the argument together.

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:

There were two important trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ( but not forbidden the tree of life ) and were tempted into doing so by the serpent. I can’t see any reference to the Tree of Life being removed to heaven after the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as Ann finch asserts here, though there is a reference to the Tree of Life being in Paradise in Revelation 2:7  so I’m going to take it that that was a common understanding  – we ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and tree of life  was removed …those who get to heaven will experience it…)

But I’m getting lost in biblical textual history !! Let me get back to the poem:

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:

In my Shared Reading group I’d be asking, can anyone paraphrase this – can you put it into modern English? What do you think ‘prov’d’ means? Proved it existed? Proved (by eating the fruit) that it was the tree of knowledge?  It’s a sort of test, isn’t it?  Proving bread –  proving as in test? Here’s my modern English version:

In Eden, humans were tested and found disobedient to God, and proved that there was such a thing as the tree of knowledge, and became knowledgeable about sin.

No so concise as poetry! A lot rests on the verb ‘prov’d’. It faces in two directions, proving something about us as well as about the tree.

To continue with my modern translation. Once the above had happened, then:

The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:

Interesting to look up ‘thence’ – I had no idea! (‘From a place or source previously mentioned’.) Is is a combination of time and place – is it related to ‘hence’? Heaven hasn’t been previously mentioned. It’s like ‘then’ – a time word. but it is also place, from thence= from there. Or to heaven – thence to Heaven. Online etymological dictionary  tells me it means ‘from that place’. So the tree of life was from that place (Eden ) removed…and taken to heaven.

Sorry everyone! What a long palaver!

But we have the facts established. I suppose now I want to think, what does it mean that the tree of life is unavailable to us , is up there, is out of reach…

We get the hinge, the colon at the end of that line and the first word of the next is ‘hope’. Read it again:

The Tree of Knowledge we in Eden prov’d;
The Tree of Life was thence to Heav’n remov’d:
Hope is the growth of Earth, the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

It now feels to me that the poem has been heading to this word ‘hope’ from the beginning – read it again and feel the rhythm of it. A lot of stress falls on the word – it’s as if the previous two lines have been building to it, their semi colon and colon leaning forward to announce it: hope!

But it is hope in the absence of the tree of life, is it, grown from earth, of earth. And  does it comeafter those other two have caused us a lot of pain? and yet it is now all we need, better than the tree of life?

the only Plant,
Which either Heav’n, or Paradise cou’d want.

Oddly, when I first read this I read it as ‘either Heav’n or Earth could want….’ I assumed it was a comparison but actually of course it is just two different names for the same place. if hope wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Heav’n or Paradise’ it’s odd that it is a growth of earth, is it?

I’ve spent a long time this morning looking at the King James Bible, so used up my time and only 4 lines of poetry read… finish this one tomorrow.

Shadows in the Water

 

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Fennel shivering in front garden, August 4

This morning I have used up some of my hour looking for what to read next. I’ve been reading more Coventry Patmore and then drifted over towards Wordsworth, but neither seemed to be what I wanted to  think and write about this morning.  I plan to write about some more Denise Levertov poems, but must get organised to get  permissions sorted first. I glanced through  All The Days of My Life, thinking, is there anything in there that I haven’t already read? And here, there was this poem by Thomas Traherne, whose work I love, that I don’t think I’ve ever read. It’ll take more than  one post  to read it.

I’ve glanced at the poem, I’ve scanned it. I’ve realised ‘I don’t know it.’ Now I’m going to read it slowly and try to get the lie of the land – not understanding or even trying to understand most of it, but  getting the feel of its shape and outlines, areas of  difficulty, the words or clauses or lines that seem most important.  If not writing on-screen, I’d be doing this reading with a pencil –  marking bits even when I didn’t really know why I was marking them. I’m going to use a different colour to mark  those points here – but read it yourself at The Poetry Foundation, with none of my marks, first.

Shadows in the water

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
That doth instruct the mind
In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
I fancied other feet
Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
In bright and open space
I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
We other worlds should see,
Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
I plainly saw by these
A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
Where skies beneath us shine,
And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
Where many numerous hosts
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
I my companions see
In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
Are lofty heavens hurled
’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
Some unknown joys there be
Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

By stanza 8, I was lost, couldn’t work out what was being said. I marked it all, and thought I’ll stop reading here, mind overload. Start again more slowly.

Did I get a  glance at the shape of the poem, a rough outline?  Yes – something about the sense of  other worlds, other modes of being perhaps,  which Traherne gained from seeing reflections in a puddle. That this leads him to think something about … hmm, but  I’ve lost it. Need to start again and get it bit by bit.  Odd feeling, because much of the poem is very simple but then you have the suddenly down a rabbit-hole feeling.

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
That doth instruct the mind
In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

I felt at first, I’ll understand this better when I know more about the rest of the poem. But I’ve read through the rest of the poem and am still not very clear, so going to start making a stab at understanding it, knowing that I’ll have to come back later with more understanding… But now I read the opener… I see that may be what he is talking about – that learning process I’ve just described.

As I read this stanza again, I’m thinking of two things: (i) how babies learn and (ii) how I learn.  ‘Inexperienced infancy’ might apply to a child learning something for the first time but it also applies to me  now – with regards to  this poem, I am in ‘inexperienced infancy’, it’s all new to me. I might make a mistake – and as Owl said to Winnie the Pooh, ‘no blame can be attached’, it is a ‘sweet mistake because it comes from ‘inexperience’.

It’s a mistake but it was ‘intending true’, so the intention behind was good – was in itself true – though what you did with it wasn’t quite right. Thomas Traherne  explains this with that series of clauses – look at the punctuation – colon, semi colon, semi colon – as if one thought leads on to another and comes from or winds up inside another.

I look again at the line ‘a seeming somewhat more than view’ – not sure whether it is coming out of the line that preceded it;

Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;

or leading to the line that follows;

A seeming somewhat more than view;
That doth instruct the mind

Now I’ve split them out like that I can it is both, it’s a transitional line – you make a mistake out of ignorance because you had a slightly false/unclear idea of  something rather than a clear view. That  ignorant, unmeant, misapprehension, ‘doth instruct the mind’. It’s not your fault! It is a fault of not knowing.

At the beginning of learning to understand something, the something – let’s say someone else’s state of mind – it is cloudy: you often can’t see it clearly because you have don’t have the mental sight lines, coordinates to  get the perspective.

Ok – that’s all about me, me thinking about how I make mistakes and the effect of not knowing… but when I look again at the stanza, and an hour into my reading of this poem, I can see that Traherne is talking about how kids misunderstand things and sometimes that  creates something beautiful. A silly example:

My mum told me that when she was a child they called the cupboard under the stairs  ‘The Glory Hole’ or The Glory for short. At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Anglicans say or said in her day, ‘For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory…’ Mum, in her child ignorance made the ‘sweet mistake’ as Traherne would call it, of  assuming that meant that God somehow owned ‘The Glory’ under their stairs, that it was a  His place. Lovely mistake, does no harm, is sweet. Based on a ‘seeming’ rather than on clear sight.

Thomas Traherne is now going to tell us such a story of his own. But that’s for tomorrow.

 

Walk away and look back: some perspective from Coventry Patmore

Huge Cliffs overlooking

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Perspective in Kotor Bay, July 2017

This morning marks my return to work after a three-week break.  Odd to have the back-to-school feeling at the end of July instead of the beginning of September!

I loved those September mornings during my  unhappy and unsatisfactory years at secondary school: sunny mornings with the  scents of  early autumn and the possibility of  starting again. And even now, in January and after a break like this, I love the feeling of a new start.

I woke before my alarm and came to my desk to read, wondering if I should set myself some reading task this year, rather than wandering all over the place as usual. So, a brief stock-take:

I’m reading Silas Marner intermittently here on the blog, usually at least once a week. Will continue – know it well, love rereading.

I’m reading some Denise Levertov, maybe a poem or so each month. Great to be meeting an author  whose work is relatively unknown to me. Will continue.

Have been reading in a dip in and out way in the Oxford Book of English Verse and will continue to do that.

Am recording everything I start reading (‘Just Started’) and writing ‘Just Finished’ about things I want to recommend.

But I want something else?

I’m aware of the need for more contemporary poetry here but  the need to clear copyright means I need to be organised in advance. Not sure I can manage that.

I wonder about the possibility of starting a long poem – The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, The Prelude. That would be good  for me as  a regular effort and  I miss those  works when not teaching them on the Reading in Practice MA

Also wondering about my own Anthology of things I love or poems that have built me… that could be a tag.

This morning I wanted to read an old poem I had not read before and leafed through some Emily Bronte, Tennyson and Browning and Clough mainly noting old  friends before coming to this poem by Coventry Patmore which I’m sure lots of people know, but which I think is new to me. It struck a note lingering since my time away and some of the feelings and thoughts arising out of reading Emerson’s Essays. The Latin title (truth is great) is a  glance at a quotation from the Apocrypha – the uncanonised books of the Bible – the truth is great and shall prevail.

I was thinking of Emerson writing about what a fisherman learns from the action of the sea. that seems the same kind of action that is taking place in Coventry Patmore as he writes.

 

Magna est Veritas

Here, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
For want of me the world’s course will not fail;
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.

I’m immediately bothered on my first reading by ‘the lie shall rot’. I don’t know which lie Patmore is talking about. But that’s not a good place to get into the poem! I tell myself to read it again. I read it again.

A second slow reading brings home to me the  clear sense of two halves of the poem –  the before ‘I sit me down’ and the after.  It’s as if the poem takes place at a point of balance, a fulcrum. At this point, ‘I sit me down’ , Coventry Patmore can see both before and after.

There seems to be a lot about perspective, relative size, point of view. First, the Latin title makes me  think – Latin, the classics, ancient thinking, old-time. Then  when I found it was a biblical or apocryphal quotation that time span seemed to open up even more. So, literally, big is truth, sets the scale of this very small poem. It’s like some kind of telescopic viewer! We  start big and shrink down:

Here, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,

On this spot, ‘here’,  we experience or  remember, or watch from a great  distance a huge scene, which seems to be set in a massive geographical perspective.  The bay looks little, is little. I imagine Scarborough, walking up out-of-town on the cliff paths to a point where you can look back and see the shape of the bay as part of the coast’s huger geography. Yes, it is ‘little’. but as someone who has just walked from the  huge town and in view of the ocean, I see ‘tumultuous life and great repose’, all at once, both of those apparently opposed  things. The view from here, of the  little bay offers me a chance to see it all at once.

I thought at first that the ‘tumultuous life and great repose’ was about the town, but realise now on a fourth reading that it is  the entire bay and everything in it, the town yes, but also the landscape and the seascape. it is everything we are going to see in the next few lines:

Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town

The ocean and the movement of the ocean, the height of the cliffs, the distance from/to the town and the hugeness of the town itself are all visible at once, from ‘here’.

I note the ocean is ‘ purposeless, glad ‘ – that these two words are jammed together inside the line.

I note there’s a sudden rhythmic relief in the next line ‘I sit me down.’I read it all again. I wonder if there’s a separate Biblical echo in ‘I sit me down’? (By the rivers of Babylon).

Feels like a long look round, a long gaze takes place – and if we were Emerson, we’d be thinking, yes, this is how nature teaches. And then we come to the thought:

For want of me the world’s course will not fail;
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.

I wonder about the  piece of life that has been happening before the poem emerged, and which in some sense caused the poem to be born. Why is he out gazing at this huge view? what has he walked away from? What’s the mood?

In the line ‘for want of me the world’s course will not fail’ I might feel a straight forward estimation of reality: it’s just true, each of us is very small and hardly matter in the least to the big sweep.

But I am also thinking, is this an abnegation of responsibility? Could he be imagining a world without him in it, is he suicidal? is he merely frustrated? Has his work gone badly?

When I reread the lines, the ‘;me’ seems very small, very intimate. It’s a very private inner feeling. Is it like thinking  ‘I can’t fix all this?’ But the ‘want of me’  – he’s thinking of not being there. Will it make any difference if he is dead? No, he thinks, it won’t.

Funny thing to balance here between sanity and reality –  you can’t save the world! and abnegation of responsibility – if I go it won’t matter.

Now I reach the line that troubled me at the beginning: ‘when all its work is done, the lie shall rot’.  the pronoun, ‘its’, refers to  the world, or the world’s course,  to the great unfolding of time and history and the planet. Then, when that work is done, ‘the lie shall rot’. Seems like one bog, obvious lie. Just one of it  – ‘the lie’.

Could it be the lie about human value –  every life matters?  Could it be the lie about  the material work of humanity in the world – we’re doing all this, getting money, bringing our children up,  working – but  that’s not what it’s all about? I don’t know why I say ‘children’, because the word Coventry Patmore uses is ‘work’.

Yikes time is way up – I’m late! Will finish tomorrow.

 

 

Sleeping swimmingly

 

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Plumbago creeping through a Perast fence, 16 July

Yesterday I started reading this poem by Samuel Daniel and I’d got about to about line 8, heading towards ‘the night’s untruth’.

Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
Brother to Death, in silent darkness born:
Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.
Cease dreams, th’ imagery of our day-desires,
To model forth the passions of the morrow;
Never let rising sun approve you liars,
To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow.
Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain;
And never wake to feel the day’s disdain.

Think I had read – let me be blotted out, no more consciousness, I want ‘dark forgetting’ –  and had just got to the point of not understanding ‘the torment of the night’s untruth’… I had read forward and  was beginning to think, perhaps that word, ‘untruth’, looks forward into what is coming next, rather than comes from what has been thought so far… I notice now that the first sentence ends here, at ‘untruth.’  The whole rush of that sentence – let me sleep without consciousness – ends with the hope that his eyes will close. New sentence: ‘cease dreams’.

That’s what he doesn’t want now – dreams which would  lead him towards his lost beloved , whatever, whoever, that is  – ‘the shipwreck of my ill-adventured youth’ . What he does want is  the ‘dark forgetting’, is no thought, no dream, no consciousness.

Cease dreams, th’ imagery of our day-desires,
To model forth the passions of the morrow;

It’s almost as if  Samuel Daniel wants to be in some other mode – or absence – of consciousness. What happens by day – ‘day-desires’ – is not possible, cannot be. Therefore  there is no point in  dreams which ‘model forth the passions of  the morrow’ – there is no morrow,  no reality to model. He doesn’t want to dream, he wants nothing. If he did dream, those dreams would be liars:

Cease dreams, th’ imagery of our day-desires,
To model forth the passions of the morrow;
Never let rising sun approve you liars,
To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow.

If he did dream, the return of day-consciousness would only prove his dreams to be liars and that would make him feel worse, adding ‘more grief to aggravate my sorrow.’ It’s as if things are so bad by day consciousness that he cannot bear the thought of   going out of that sorry state only to have to return.

This makes me remember Wordsworth’s poem ‘Surprised by Joy’ which I’ll maybe read in the coming week.  Meanwhile, Daniel, almost wishing for death? – concludes:

Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain;
And never wake to feel the day’s disdain.

He wants the kind of sleep, deep, unconscious, which simply gives you a break from  your conscious  life. I don’t like the ‘never wake’, which seems to take me back to the beginning of the poem where care-charmer sleep was ‘brother to death.’

All the same, it’s a feeling most of us will have recognised at some point: let me  and my bloody consciousness be blotted out. Daniel’s in misery by day and wants only blankness by night, a rest from it.

That’s not the kind of sleep I’m  actually sleeping here on holiday. This sleep is more like sea-swimming: a lovely immersion in a  refreshing element.  Now where’s a poem about that?

 

Over-sleeping

prob boug
Bougainvillea outside a Venetian Empire dwelling in Perast, Bay of Kotor, 15 July

Last night, after a hard day at the beach, where I’d swum, eaten, drunk, read but, mostly, slept for about 7 hours,  stopping only to buy some eggs and some insect bite cream,  I made my way back home to Perast, watched one episode of Due South (of which perhaps there will never be another mention here) and then fell asleep, reading Granta Best New Young American Novelists 3, at about 10.00pm.

Some readers have  sussed my nocturnal (English, workaday)  habits – bed by 10.00pm up by 5.00am …but readers, things are very different here. I woke this morning at 8.10am.

O.k., this ancient Venetian waterside building (Perast was a major town in the Venetian republic) has two foot deep silencing walls, and thick wooden shutters keep almost all light out, and the noise of the air-con makes you think, if you do  rise up into consciousness, that it’s pouring with rain so you may as well go back to sleep… but even so,  ten hours sleep in one night? after a day where I probably slept for  another four in that waterside shade?

As I stumbled towards my coffee, the opening lines of this poem by Samuel Daniel came into my mind, so I decided to read it this morning.

Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
Brother to Death, in silent darkness born:
Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.
Cease dreams, th’ imagery of our day-desires,
To model forth the passions of the morrow;
Never let rising sun approve you liars,
To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow.
Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain;
And never wake to feel the day’s disdain.

Reading it now,  it feels as if I have never read it before. I know the opening line off by heart and then –  nothing. But that’s not true, I know I have read this before.  Even so, I’ve lost it – don’t understand it, by line 6 am all at sea, except for the feeling of mess, mess. And a sense of  ‘this isn’t me’ :  whatever I’ve been in – long complicated interconnected dreams  of the sort I rarely  have at home – complete rest, black out of consciousness, it doesn’t have the same flavour as Daniel’s poem.  But never mind that… let me just read it.

The sonnet is made up of just two sentences, and my  first instinct is to read the first whole sentence to  get the run of the thing – what ‘s it about. But that is hard:

Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
Brother to Death, in silent darkness born:
Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.

I read a couple of times, trying to follow the movements of thought. The first two lines are an address, they name and place ‘Sleep’ as a type of thing. Sleep is a ‘care-charmer’ –  I think of a snake charmer – of  the power to make something dangerous behave in ways it might not otherwise do. I’m thinking of cares as snakes, the dangerous things that might hurt. Sleep is ‘son of the sable night’, that is to say (unlike me) Daniel doesn’t sleep by day. Sable is  a word for black: only under cover of darkness does sleep appear. And when sleep does appear, then Daniel’s thought connects it with death, ‘Brother to Death, in silent darkness born’.  I stop here to think on this for a while. Think of my long night’s sleep, my almost passing out sleep in the shade at the waterside.  Sleep is like death in that you may lose consciousness, go as it were ‘out’. Not when full of dreams, as I was last night. But sleep like blackout, yes, perhaps it is brother to death.

Having thought these thoughts about what sleep is,  Daniel  then asks sleep to come to him in order to

Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:

great moves between light and dark here, between consciousness and lack of consciousness, knowing and forgetting. I read all four lines but only to get the  pattern of it, the  rhythm. actually I only need to read the first two, where Daniel asks sleep to

Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;

The rich rhyme of  ‘languish‘ and the implied echo word ‘anguish‘ is terrific: you get both meanings in one word.  But it is the movement  between ‘dark’ and ‘light’ which is most powerful, because inverted:  going to sleep, being put out of consciousness feels to Samuel Daniel like ‘restore the light’ – it is absence of pain, ‘with dark forgetting of my cares’.

But then the word ‘return’ on the end of the line! The three words beginning with ‘r’ make a kind of wish-list:  relieve, restore, return.  If sleep would come and blot out consciousness, returning, it would both relieve and restore.

And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.

Day, when we have  consciousness, is long enough to know, ‘to  mourn/The shipwreck of my ill-adventured youth’

(Struck in passing by ‘shipwreck’, a word i know from John Clare’s poem of human desperation, I Am. Clare speaks of ‘the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems’. I wonder here,  is this word consciously picked up from Samuel Daniel – did Clare read him?  or is shipwreck a  common metaphor – as  the word ‘car-crash’ might be for us? If  I had time I might out of interest look this up. I  like knowing  which poets read each other.)

going back to the poem and re-reading  those last four lines, I realise I do not understand the line ‘without  the torment of the night’s untruth’. I reread the whole poem, to  get another, longer run at it.

Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
Brother to Death, in silent darkness born:
Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.
Cease dreams, th’ imagery of our day-desires,
To model forth the passions of the morrow;
Never let rising sun approve you liars,
To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow.
Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain;
And never wake to feel the day’s disdain.

Is  the night’s untruth looking forward in what is going to come next?

But time is up for today. I’ll finish reading this tomorrow.

More Golden Numbers

palms
Palm Trees outside the Camellia Shopping Centre in Kotor, Montenegro

Yesterday I started reading ‘Sweet Content’ by Thomas Dekker.

Sweet Content

ART thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers?
O sweet content!
Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplex’d?
O punishment!
Dost thou laugh to see how fools are vex’d
To add to golden numbers golden numbers?
O sweet content! O sweet, O sweet content!
Work apace, apace, apace, apace;
Honest labour bears a lovely face;
Then hey nonny nonny—hey nonny nonny!

Canst drink the waters of the crispèd spring?
O sweet content!
Swim’st thou in wealth, yet sink’st in thine own tears?
O punishment!
Then he that patiently want’s burden bears,
No burden bears, but is a king, a king!
O sweet content! O sweet, O sweet content!
Work apace, apace, apace, apace;
Honest labour bears a lovely face;
Then hey nonny nonny—hey nonny nonny!

I was beginning to think that the poem offered a flexible series of  possible thoughts  – are you poor yet content, are you rich yet punished … thirdly,  whether you are rich or poor;

Dost thou laugh to see how fools are vex’d
To add to golden numbers golden numbers?
O sweet content! O sweet, O sweet content!

Are you free of vexatious concerns about money?  ‘Golden’ here seems a false word, as if  ‘golden numbers’ are anything but – they seem meaningless partly through repetition, but there’s also that obsessive feeling of worry, ‘golden numbers golden numbers’, the same old thought going round and round. Free of that? Oh sweet content!

Then we come to a bit which seems at odds with what has come before:

Work apace, apace, apace, apace;
Honest labour bears a lovely face;
Then hey nonny nonny—hey nonny nonny!

Like the mention of ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ at the opening, the word ‘work’ seems to set off chain reactions of opinions in readers.  This poet, someone will say is telling poor people they should work hard to be happy. Yes, another will agree, it is the protestant work ethic enforced by the elite.

Oh dear oh dear my friends,  I  think it is much odder than that. But please – let’s read what is there rather than knee jerk our own pre-judgement. The three lines seem to me all different.

First – ‘work apace, apace, apace, apace;’ feels frenetic – four repetitions? –  and I’m not sure  it is offered as a command. Perhaps  a feeling of what it is like to be working ‘apace’. I looked up apace- thinking it meant ‘fast’ but actually the dictionary offers  at a steady e.g walking, pace. Perhaps it means ‘be steady’.

Honest labour bears a lovely face;

This is the line that always gets someone’s back up. Perhaps it is that old class warfare scars run deep. Perhaps readers are scared of being judged as ‘masters’ who would enforce’ labour’ from workers. Whatever the underlying trauma, it is the wrong reaction because there’s no evidence here that  the poet is trying to inflict this – with or without irony – on anyone.  It is a statement. You might agree or disagree with  it.

Does honest labour bear a lovely face? I’d say it is does. Why honest? and I wonder now if there is a connection with the line that came before? If ‘work apace’  is about steadiness rather than a more modern frenetic activity…might ‘honest labour’ be the same as ‘work apace’ – work steadily.

A new thought now occurs to me: could this be a poem against gambling? or something like gambling – the creation of money out of money?

And ‘hey nonny nonny’?  It’s nonsense – like tra-la-la or oooh ah  in a modern lyric.

The second verse follows the same pattern, and the point at which I’d want to concentrate reading energy is the central line which seems to offer a balance point, where calm becomes gold, and gold ceases to be about money:

Then he that patiently want’s burden bears,
No burden bears, but is a king, a king!

There’s a difference between being told to bear your burden patiently by someone who has power over you (and is suffering no burden) and learning to bear your burden patiently yourself.

What would you do, I ask myself, if you were reading in a group and someone  continued to keep reading as if this poem were a piece of class warfare?

I’d  let them  have their say, but at the same  I’d be looking for other people in the group who  wanted to read differently, closer to the actual text, from a less pre-set place. I’d be asking people to test certain of the poems  lines against their own experience, lines where those pre-formed notions will break down a bit. honest labour bears a lovely face is one of those.

At the conference in Newcastle, one of our readers described the difference in trying to sleep when you’ve done nothing all day and  then how you feel when you’ve walked the dog, been to the gym, done things.  That may not be paid labour but it is  labour and perhaps bears a lovely face. Doing things feels good.  Why is it ‘honest’?   You put the work in… dishonest labour? You get the reward – free money!! – without the effort.

is there an underlying principle about honesty and  the lovely nature of  labour? I think  there is – that is a truth almost like the truth of physics – if you   put the effort in here, then this follows….

So can you patiently bears want’s burden? and if so, does the burden disappear?

Then he that patiently want’s burden bears,
No burden bears, but is a king, a king!

This poem is about mind-control, how we think about what we (must) do.  If you can control your own mind, or rather your mind’s response to external reality, then you do have absolute power: you are a king. You can’t change ‘want’, you may not be able to change how rich or poor you are, but you can change the way you feel and mentally respond to your situation.

Can only a rich, powerful person think this? I would be asking this to get my group thinking beyond the bounds of rich and poor. Part of the poem’s purpose is to ask us to ditch those easy distinctions.

The poem seems to argue  that the rich powerful person can’t do this – this person is a fool, vex’d by ‘golden numbers’.

If we move the conversation from the arena of rich and poor and into a more personally worked example  – what do you do with a thing you can’t change, an illness for example, a chronic condition… I know in most Shared Reading groups there will be at least one person living with such a condition, and learning to become the person who ‘patiently want’s burden bears’.