Thomas Hardy not a man  you’d want to be in love with but if you were he’d write about your failings & his feelings very well

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Gorgeous  denim-coloured osteospermum’s in Angie’s garden

I’ve been reading, slowly, meditatively,  Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Going’ here for most of the week:

The Going

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.

Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal?  We might have said,
‘In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.’

Well, well!  All’s past amend,
Unchangeable.  It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing-
Not even I—would undo me so!

We’d got to this point – Hardy, at first complaining, and later seeing his own part in both the silence and the loss, realising everything is now altered. That everything includes the inner state of himself.  Now we come, in stanza 3, to the strong presence of  the woman in his altered consciousness –

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

There is still an air of complaint here, his question, why, is more than a straight-forward questioning. The querulousness comes from that ‘why do you?’ ‘Why do you?’ is almost a stock phrase from an unhappy relationship, isn’t it? Or an unhappy moment in a good relationship?  It is a rhterorical complaining question: why do you always walk upstairs with muddy shoes on? Why do you always forget to start the dishwasher?

Is the word ‘make’ also part of the complaint? As an action of the woman, it is so active compared to the passive presence at the beginning of the poem. Except, as I look again, was it ever passive? No – I’m misremembering. She acted decisively – she was quick , calm and indifferent in her leaving of him. He feels hurt, the victim. Perhaps that points us to the double edge of this verb, make, which more than intimates he doesn’t want to leave the house, she’s got some unhappy power over him. To make someone do something is to assert power or force. To be made to do something is to feel forced, over-pwered by anothers will.

But Hardy is a poet of complex emotion. Look at the word ‘breath’ in line two, which changes that  querulousness into hope:

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs

The hope soon goes and he is left with bad feeling: nothing, empty.

And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

She was once – many times, so often – there in this spot ‘at the end of the alley of bending boughs’ and I assume he saw her there, then, and did not follow her. There was a distance. There is a disjunction of time and space. Then – before she left – he migth have followed her, spoken to herbut he did not. Now he does follow her – or something, his own guilt, perhaps his longing, his hope  – but she is no longer there.  He is left with nothing, the yawning blankness, the sick feeling.

I always think, I’m so glad I didnt know Tom Hardy as  living man.  I dislike so much about  him, particularly his relations with women, but also with other things – his own powerful despair (last time I read Jude The Obscure, maybe fifteen years years, I swore  ‘I am never going to read this book ever again.’ Stuck to that, so far.) Yes, he drives me mad. And yet –

There is much I admire, love in the poetry and I believe that means also in the man. I do not know another poet who is so good at nailing  complex, real, contradictory feelings with words, and those feelings being so often feelings one has in intimate relationships with others. He may not be a man  you’d want to be in love with  but if you were you could rest assured he would write about your failings and his feeings very well. Who else can write that  massive blankness of  lost feeling regretted?

And now, as he reels from that feeling he gloriously remembers  her, before  they split:

You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.

But I must stop now. I started late today because  I was reading for long time  before I got to my desk and missed the quiet time in which I usually write  and have had a lot of interruptions and  got work piling up around me…

Next stanza tomorrow. Good, though, isn’t it?

Slow reading: Thomas Hardy, ‘The Going’

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Long Border at Calderstones Park  still lfiring on all cylinders, 23 August

For the past few days I’ve been reading Thomas Hardy’s poem, ‘The Going’. Yesterday I’d read most of stanza 2 but reading  that post over just now, I realised that I hadn’t finished it. I’d missed the last couple of lines. Welcome to life with the slowest reader in the universe.  Let’s read the poem aloud again now, to get going, nice and slow and paying attention to the punctuation – remember when you are reading aloud you are always scanning the next bit of punctuation, a place to take a breath:

The Going

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.

Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal?  We might have said,
‘In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.’

Well, well!  All’s past amend,
Unchangeable.  It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing-
Not even I—would undo me so!

 

We’re going to start again in stanza 2, so let’s just read that again to gret the lovely rhythm of it:

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

I want to think about rhythm and line endings for a moment,  something the poem seems to demand, so exceptionally powerful is it in those areas. Look at the first two lines, where the meaning fits into the line. The commas hold a clause, the clause (‘never to bid goodbye’) holds a complete unit of thought or feeling, and is  completed, marked by, the finality of the line ending. Having thought/felt ‘never to bid goodbye’, Hardy  can only close the feeling and then start again, comma, new line: ‘or lip me the softest call’.

Then it seems as if the same thing is going to happen again – he’s still thinking of her part in it, blaming her, really, in a gently complaining sort of way. It’s his third  thought/feeling of this sort: ‘or utter a wish for a word’. But this time  it does not  end there, instead of commas+ line-ending, we get comma and a new bit of thought. The dimensions shift, the world moved,  and it flashes through his mind ‘there’s me (as well as her )’. It comes out as a parallel time-thought, ‘while I’.

And now the thought doesn’t fit the line. There’s no comma, we have to keep going with it, following the twist of his thought process.

                                                  while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Instead of questioning her, he zooms out and seems to see himself as if from above, somewhere else, watching himself watch dawn break by the light it casts on the wall. Yesterday we noticed the verb ‘harden’ and its connection to ‘unmoved’  – but I’m drifting off course, let’s jut stay with line endings for a moment.

‘Saw morning harden upon the wall,’ is a unit of sense, connecting back to the hinge of ‘while I’, but not necessarily connecting forward. So once we again we get the comma and line ending to mark an  end of  bit of thought. The next line  is monumentally strong, like to great columns raised up: ‘unmoved, unknowing’. As a line it is both complete and incomplete.

The unit of sense/paraphrase is something like ‘ while I remained  unmoved because I did not know you’d gone.’ The sense of blame shifts. Who are you, to only be moved once you know? Why were you not moved before?

‘Unknowing’ has no  comma and the sense  takes us over the line end, but it doesn’t have to, those two words could stand alone. They are the essence, the heart, of the poem.  It is like a shorthand for the feeling which is drawn out into comprehensible meaning in the bigger clause:

                 unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment,

Just look at that as a clause, a unit of meaning. Hardy is as  precise as surgeon here, cutting away his other feelings to reveal that  hurtful fact: there was moment when you went,  and I did not know.

‘Unknowing’ is a great coinage ( if it is a coinage – Wordsworth might have  used such a word), that implies something like  ‘I did know but I didn’t want to know and deliberately let myself forget’.

The final clause in this stanza leads to whats going to happen next in the poem and sheds light on what’s just come before. ‘And altered all’. The meaning might be paraphrased as: how can it be that something big happened (you went) and everything was changed at a particular point in time and I was there awake and did not know?

But how did everything alter? The next stanza puts the departed person into the present tense and I’d say that in itself is part of the great alteration. In the first stanza  Hardy says  she’s gone,

Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

I seem to have missed thinking about that when I read the first stanza!

Am I not going slowly enough?

I should have asked, where is such place? The wings, the great swoops of those swallow flights in the sky, put me in mind of angels. She’s dead, of course. But here she is now, almost present:

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

But that is my time up for the day.  I had wanted to look at the rhymes, but will have to save that for another day. What a tremendous and lovely poem it is … more tomorrow.

A pattern of meaning, arranged over a hundred years ago by a dead man, is now live in my mind. I am thinking another human’s thoughts. 

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What’s this lovely leaf growing among the Japanese Anemones?

Yesterday I started ‘The Going’ by Thomas Hardy.

Here it is:

The Going

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.

Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal?  We might have said,
‘In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.’

Well, well!  All’s past amend,
Unchangeable.  It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing-
Not even I—would undo me so!

I’ve had the rhythms of the poem, and some of its phrases,  in the back of my mind for the past twenty-four hours, and I’ve been thinking about what it is to know a poem and have it stored in your mind.  It’s as if re-reading it has switched it on – it had been there, as it has been for decades, invisible and not in consciousness, but present, like something packed away in storage. Now I’ve opened the cupboard and taken and shaken it out. Or like a circuit in a transistor (for  younger readers…that is  a form of ancient  pre-digital technology) it was  there but not  in use: once you throw the switch, it lights up. As if – the stored  duvet, the dark circuit – they were now back to life.

A pattern of meaning, arranged over a hundred years ago by a dead man, is now live in my mind. I am thinking another human’s thoughts.

Because they are another human’s thoughts, I have to  rest my way into them by staying there a while, with each word, each word-cluster, each clause, sentence, line ending, rhyme, stanza. Thomas Hardy  did that when he composed this thought-feeling-transfer for me, now I have to copy, in reverse, his actions, unpacking  the pattern into consciousness.  That’s what I call reading. That’s why, as it’s best, reading must be slow.

I had about got through the first stanza yesterday and was some way into the second. So let’s start there.

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

First, I want to think about what Hardy has written here – the language pattern he has created – but then I want – if there is time this morning – to think about what it might be doing at my end. Of course, a lot of that is guess-work, or perhaps intuition.

I’d said that the mention of lips had told me that although in the first stanza the person who has left seems almost a tenant, a lodger, someone who has merely  left the place, in fact, Hardy loves or loved this person.  A tenant would never ‘lip me the softest call.’ But I need to read those opening three lines more closely. I am entirely uncertain in what  kind of time zone ‘never’ exists. The poem’s conversation is taking place – Hardy talking to the departed one  – in a future after her departure. ‘Never to bid goodbye’ is  a closed possibility for ever. Yet he is talking to her, or the memory of , her,or talking to himself. He is living with, experiencing now, in that word ‘never’, the permanence of death, her ‘great going.’ But it seems mixed up with a kind of domestic, every day irritation like ‘Why didn’t you put the bin out?’

The time zone worry returns in line three, when Hardy positions himself  in a parallel universe:

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved,

Two different universes seem to exist here. In one, she would lip him the softest call and/or utter a  wish for word (from him?) and he would be there to receive it. This is the universe of his longing and remorse, an ‘if only’ universe.

And here is the other, parallel, in another room, perhaps  on the other side of a wall between them,

while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved,

She did not call, and he did not care. He was, at that moment, before he knew she had gone, unmoved by the  wall (literal or metaphorical) between them. A day like any other dawned for him, a hardening. I’m thinking of Lear, wondering about the unkindness of his daughters:

‘let them anatomize Regan. See what breeds about her heart. Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?’ (King Lear, Act 3, Scene 5)

Hardy’s ‘harden’ is not only on the wall, but in him. The word connects with ‘unmoved’ but then the connection slips to ‘unknowing’. The knowing of her going  makes all the difference to him, and alters all.

Her death changes his mind. He is no longer hardened. He can – am I pushing it? – now hear her lipping him the softest call.

When I receive  Hardy’s  thought transmission into my mind and heart, how do I understand it?

I draw on my own experience, which is what lies on my side of our shared language. when I read this poem my activated feelings (are they thoughts of feelings? or a mixture of the two?) are largely about the death of my mother.

That’s a very different relationship to  Hardy’s. What connects us  is not biography – I don’t come from Dorset, live in a cottage or imagine stories like Jude The Obscure.  We’re connecting two different experiences, in both cases, deeply  personally-felt and the connection is at the deepest level – I have felt (something like) this. This is  empathy.

I’m still reading Hardy’s poem (still experiencing Hardy’s brain-heart map), but I am calling on my own experience to  activate feelings that match or touch or mirror his.

I say ‘I am calling’ but actually it is he who is doing the calling, thought the language and pattern of the poem. He calls my feeling up in me.  I read his story, but  I feel my feelings, I think I sort of borrow my feelings to illuminate his circuit.

Time’s up.  Another stanza tomorrow.

 

What to read in a Shared Reading group: Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Going’

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Geranium ‘Rozanne’ doing well on the back door step 22 August

It’s a long  while since I read Thomas Hardy.  This morning I’ve reread some poems I half-remember from previous readings, long ago, when I used to teach his work in my Continuing Education classes.  Some of those poems are more than half-remembered, I know them inside and out, probably by rote, because at some point they mattered so much that they became part of me, written in the heart, felt along the blood.  ‘The Voice’, ‘The Self-Unseeing’, ‘The Haunter’, ‘Shadow on the Stone’, ‘In the Time of Breaking of Nations’. Occasionally I’ve read a poem of his in Shared Reading, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever read this one in group. The ‘Poems of 1912-13’ from which this is taken are strong medicine. You’d use them with caution.

So it’s some time since I’ve read today’s poem ‘The Going’, one of those which seem to have become part of my body my being, I know it so well.

My most recent connection to this poem comes through Jeanette Winterson’s writing about it  in her terrifically moving memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. (A great read for a group, too). I can’t find a copy of that wonderful book here this morning – perhaps I’ve given mine away again, so I can’t look it up and give you chapter and verse. Only to say that at a time of great distress, following the breakdown of yet another relationship, there the poem is, in Jeanette’s head, waiting to be read, or said, repeated, recited or whatever it is we do with poems we know inside out when they rise into consciousness and may or may not be spoken aloud.

There are things you can look up about Hardy and the biographical details of these poems. I’d say, don’t do that. Or if you must do it,  do it, and then read the poems as if you’ve forgotten all about it all. He wrote them as poems. They were published as stand alone items. Understanding them is not about knowing to whom he writing,  or where  they were standing, or what she wore, but about entering the human emotional experience he captures in language, and entering that experience and making it real with our own  knowledge and experience.

Let’s read it now:

The Going

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!

You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.

Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal?  We might have said,
‘In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.’

Well, well!  All’s past amend,
Unchangeable.  It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing-
Not even I—would undo me so!

Wonderful, sad, deep reality of loss. Read it slowly and let the words sink in before we begin to look more closely at the stanzas.  In a group I’d let the poem rest there for a while, and let people respond to it in whatever way they felt before perhaps reading again. It’s a big poem and there’s a lot to absorb.  Then I’d be anything to get some group members voices into the room – maybe ‘what do you make of it?’ and someone will answer something like, ‘He’s battered, isn’t he? He’s done in.’  or surprisingly, wonderfully, someone will say ‘Brilliant that he can write it out, though, isn’t it? When you feel like that and it’s all locked in… that’s what does you in.’

And after a while as we  feel the reality of some of this powerful feeling, I’ll say, let’s read the first one or two stanzas again shall we?

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

 

It begins as if part of a conversation and  perhaps a complaint. It’s very easy, this conversation, feels  as  if the two people are used to each other, are intimate. It just begins, like someone walking into a room and no need for any sort of introduction, ‘Why did you give no hint?’

But then there’s  time in this – ‘that night’ and ‘the morrow’ – and I ‘d ask here what the time-frame feels like – short of long? Is this way after the event? or days after or weeks , months?

‘That night’ makes it feel as if it is some time again. ‘That’ is a word that points to a particular point in the past. Shall we just look at the opening four lines?

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone

It seems even more like a complaint than it did before. ‘Why?’ asks Hardy. The person he is talking to has gone – quickly and calmly – and with no notice, and to him this feels like indifference. The departed person might have been, from the language at this point, a lodger! They have closed up their ‘term’.

It’s interesting that two specific times are mentioned – ‘night’ and ‘morrow’.

This could have been a whole sentence. And when you are reading it, it does feel as if it is a whole chunk of meaning, yet Hardy doesn’t put a full-stop in, but carries on, and that onward rushing to what comes next transforms what we’ve just read – we glance back : he loves her!

Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!

The swallow-like swoop of the rhythm here does something, lifts and drops you as you read. We know we are not reading the story of a lodger, a tenancy. The desire to follow, the uplift of swallow, tells me, this is love.

So a lover’s complaint, in the old broken-heart sense. You went! you didn’t tell me! and the big wail: why?

Let’s read the next verse now, because the rush of the not quite visible swallow’s wing pulls us along with Hardy’ feeling:

Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

She went without saying goodbye, or allowing him to say it. And he uses the words ‘lip’ and ‘softest’ as he thinks of  her, so that we think of kisses –  though that word does not, can not, even enter the poem. She did not call him, no nor ask him to speak to her.

And while this  ‘great going’, her death, was taking place, he was somewhere else, unaware, and did not know and did not feel:

while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing

Oh dear, time’s up . Gosh, talk about a flow state. More tomorrow.

 

One for Sally Porter: ‘Wives In The Sere’, a poem by Thomas Hardy

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Where Nasturtiums Rule, back garden 21 August

I was looking through the Helen Gardiner OBEV  for something to read this morning and came upon this short lyric by Thomas Hardy which I’ve not read before. I was  lingering around TH because I’d noticed a tweet from Sally Porter, English teacher extraordinaire of this parish, in which she was searching twitter for Thomas Hardy memes.

I don’t  think I  really understand what a meme is, but I got Sally’s drift. No memes, she says, mention his novels or poetry… and somewhere in back of my mind, I thought, I’ll mention him.

I suppose it is because I am approaching my 34th wedding anniversary  that I was struck – almost offended I might say – by the title of this poem. ‘Sere’ is a word I only know from Macbeth – ‘My way of life/ Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf’ – and I think it means dried up. Let’s check. Yep, dry or withered. Wives in the Sere. Oh dear, not a good start to Monday. But let’s read it. Let’s read it in the spirit of meeting someone on the road and wanting to know – who are you?

Wives in the Sere

I

Never a careworn wife but shows,
If a joy suffuse her,
Something beautiful to those
Patient to peruse her,
Some one charm the world unknows
Precious to a muser,
Haply what, ere years were foes,
Moved her mate to choose her.

II

But, be it a hint of rose
That an instant hues her,
Or some early light or pose
Wherewith thought renews her –
Seen by him at full, ere woes
Practised to abuse her –
Sparely comes it, swiftly goes,
Time again subdues her.

Some lovely things in this, despite my initial grim feminist annoyance at TH  looking at me in this way. Yes, it felt that personal.

But… thinking of the poem as a fellow-creature I might meet on the road… I know Tom Hardy of old and can forgive him much. After all, he did also write ‘I Look Into My Glass’:

I LOOK into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, “Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!”

For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

But back to ‘Wives in the Sere’. let’s read the first stanza:

Never a careworn wife but shows,
If a joy suffuse her,
Something beautiful to those
Patient to peruse her,
Some one charm the world unknows
Precious to a muser,
Haply what, ere years were foes,
Moved her mate to choose her.

It is cares that do us in, not just the passing of time. I’ve been reading a book about play (search Just Started) and have in the back if my mind the  famous quote (from variously wrongly attributed sources) ‘children are young because they play, and not vice versa; and he might have added, men grow old because they stop playing, and not conversely, for play is, at bottom, growth,’ (Wikipedia tells me these words  actually come from G. Stanley HallAdolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education (1904). Could playfulness be the long-sought anti-ageing serum? But back to the poem.

The poem starts  with the doom-laden bell clanging word  ‘Never’ and yet by the end of the line something else is happening. By the end of the line we get to ‘but shows’. You see the pattern but something can break it. As cares attach to us, so they wear us down. And this is a norm. ‘Never a careworn wife’  points at a class of human beings. There are many of us.  Against ‘careworn’ Thomas Hardy sets ‘joy’ and between them, that small balancing act, tipping point, ‘if’. And by the end of the verse we are back in youth, at the moment when someone fell in love with her – moved to choose her.

But I want to look at the rhymes! I don’t know what it is called when a rhyme spreads over several words, but it is a characteristic of  Hardy’s verse-making:

suffuse her/peruse her/a muser/choose her

You’ve got to be patient, looking at her, to catch this swift rollback of years.  Good that ‘shows’ rhymes with ‘unknows’, isn’t it? Something is shown that the world cannot (or cannot any longer?) see. The world  knew it once, and now it unknows, because the woman is careworn, sere.  But it is still there.

I’m still fighting the idea that ‘years are foes’. I’ve been fighting this thought in this part of Thomas Hardy since I first met it in ‘I look into my glass’ in  thirty-five years ago. Of course, these days, I do look into my glass and I do view (what a horribly true word) my wasting skin. But I fight it! Not so much with anti-ageing cream, though I do  slap that on from time to time, but mentally, I fight it. I do not want to embrace myself as wasted, sere, no, nor feel the years as ‘foes’.  So that’s why I balk at the second verse, where Hardy rubs my nose in it:

But, be it a hint of rose
That an instant hues her,
Or some early light or pose
Wherewith thought renews her –
Seen by him at full, ere woes
Practised to abuse her –
Sparely comes it, swiftly goes,
Time again subdues her.

I know, I know! ‘sparely it comes, swiftly it goes’ that whatever we had that was lovely once and yes, ‘time again subdues her’. Hhm. It is a way of seeing but I want to object. I want something else.  Though when I read this I think of my Nan, Annie Smith, and my grandad Syd, and I wonder if these words work in my memory of them together? I think they do.

But on Saturday when my son arrived and I was in the garden happily lopping off the sere and yellow leaves of old geraniums, he said ‘Mum! you’ve turned yourself into one of those old gardening ladies!’ He meant my  garden boots and unkempt hair ( no time, it might rain soon) and those very unattractive – but no one will be looking at me –  long  khaki shorts, which I’d slightly rolled up, and that handy  but horrible sleeveless deep-pocketed jacket.  Hhm, there I was,  not so much  at that moment care-worn as careless, though perhaps weather-beaten.

And yes –  I had  turned myself into that old gardening lady.  And to my own surprise I later  went to the shops that get-up.  I didn’t care! I  needed some horticultural grit for my gardening game! But you know what, I thought my 21-year-old self would have recognised me. She didn’t care, either.

So what is lost – if it is not simply what Shakespeare called rosy lips and cheeks? What does time wipe out? Well,  yes, it shows in looks, Tom, but as you know,  the damage takes place much deeper. As you say in ‘I look into my glass’

‘…Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;’

and that’s the painful mix. I’m sixty-one and twenty-one at the same time. It’s the grieving that does us in. Let’s not grieve for looks!

Is there anyone writing  poetry about this kind of thing?

Perhaps some Sharon Olds will help?

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

Perast.JPG
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

 

plumbago.JPG
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?