Sunday Poetry

sassoon

I’m still thinking about the poets of WWI this week so this is one of Siegfried Sassoon’s most famous poems, Counter-Attack.

We’d gained our first objective hours before
While dawn broke like a face with blinking eyes,
Pallid, unshaven and thirsty, blind with smoke.
Things seemed all right at first. We held their line,
With bombers posted, Lewis guns well placed,
And clink of shovels deepening the shallow trench.
The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs
High-booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;
And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,
Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.
And then the rain began,—the jolly old rain!
 
A yawning soldier knelt against the bank,
Staring across the morning blear with fog;
He wondered when the Allemands would get busy;
And then, of course, they started with five-nines
Traversing, sure as fate, and never a dud.
Mute in the clamour of shells he watched them burst
Spouting dark earth and wire with gusts from hell,
While posturing giants dissolved in drifts of smoke.
He crouched and flinched, dizzy with galloping fear,
Sick for escape,—loathing the strangled horror
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead.
 
An officer came blundering down the trench:
“Stand-to and man the fire step!” On he went …
Gasping and bawling, “Fire-step … counter-attack!”
Then the haze lifted. Bombing on the right
Down the old sap: machine-guns on the left;
And stumbling figures looming out in front.
“O Christ, they’re coming at us!” Bullets spat,
And he remembered his rifle … rapid fire …
And started blazing wildly … then a bang
Crumpled and spun him sideways, knocked him out
To grunt and wriggle: none heeded him; he choked
And fought the flapping veils of smothering gloom,
Lost in a blurred confusion of yells and groans …
Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,
Bleeding to death. The counter-attack had failed.

Sunday Poetry – Wilfred Owen

With Armistice Day only a few days away, I’ve been reading my favourite war poets. This is a less familiar poem by Wilfred Owen with the poignant title The Next War. Unfortunately there’s always a next war. “The war to end all wars” was a phrase that was nonsense almost as soon as it was coined.

War’s a joke for me and you,
While we know such dreams are true.
– Siegfried Sassoon

Out there, we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death,-
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland,-
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We’ve sniffed the green thick odour of his breath,-
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn’t writhe.
He’s spat at us with bullets and he’s coughed
Shrapnel. We chorussed when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier’s paid to kick against His powers.
We laughed, -knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

Sunday Poetry – Adelaide Crapsey

As tomorrow is Halloween, I thought I’d look for a poem about ghosts or ghouls or “things that go bump in the night”. This poem by Adelaide Crapsey (photo from here), To the Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window, starts out spookily enough with the speaker addressing the dead in an irritated voice (the poem is headed Written in a moment of exasperation). Then, we move from the dead in their graves to the speaker lying in her bed, unable to move, told to lie still & be patient when she would rather be outside, walking towards those blue mountains. She refuses to be patient while recognising that she will inevitably soon lie with those quiet sleepers in the graveyard. So, not really a Halloween poem but I think it’s a very poignant poem about suffering & the struggle against illness.

Adelaide Crapsey was an American poet who suffered from tuberculosis & died young; she was only 36. None of her work was published in her lifetime but she was admired by Marianne Moore & Carl Sandburg, who wrote a poem about her. She taught at Smith College & wrote a book on verse forms that was also published posthumously.

There are also some great Halloween & Gothic poems at Interesting Literature here.

How can you lie so still? All day I watch
And never a blade of all the green sod moves
To show where restlessly you toss and turn,
And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees
Stiffened and aching from their long disuse;
I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
To take its freedom of the midnight hour.
Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
The very worms must scorn you where you lie,
A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk,
Meek habitants of unresented graves.
Why are you there in your straight row on row
Where I must ever see you from my bed
That in your mere dumb presence iterate
The text so weary in my ears: “Lie still
And rest; be patient and lie still and rest.”
I’ll not be patient! I will not lie still!
There is a brown road runs between the pines,
And further on the purple woodlands lie,
And still beyond blue mountains lift and loom;
And I would walk the road and I would be
Deep in the wooded shade and I would reach
The windy mountain tops that touch the clouds.
My eyes may follow but my feet are held.
Recumbent as you others must I too
Submit? Be mimic of your movelessness
With pillow and counterpane for stone and sod?
And if the many sayings of the wise
Teach of submission I will not submit
But with a spirit all unreconciled
Flash an unquenched defiance to the stars.
Better it is to walk, to run, to dance,
Better it is to laugh and leap and sing,
To know the open skies of dawn and night,
To move untrammeled down the flaming noon,
And I will clamour it through weary days
Keeping the edge of deprivation sharp,
Nor with the pliant speaking on my lips
Of resignation, sister to defeat.
I’ll not be patient. I will not lie still.

And in ironic quietude who is
The despot of our days and lord of dust
Needs but, scarce heeding, wait to drop
Grim casual comment on rebellion’s end;
“Yes, yes… Wilful and petulant but now
As dead and quiet as the others are.”
And this each body and ghost of you hath heard
That in your graves do therefore lie so still.

Sunday Poetry – John Donne

More John Donne this week. Last week’s post has had more hits than most of my posts so I thought I’d see if the same thing happens this week. Maybe I should give up writing book reviews & ramblings & just post a poem every week? But then, I don’t write the blog for the statistics, especially as Blogger’s stats are notoriously dodgy. I’m just curious about why some posts attract so many hits. Maybe there are a lot of students studying Donne at the moment & they find my blog when they google his name? Who knows?
This is another of the Songs & Sonnets, Love’s Growth.

I scarce believe my love to be so pure
   As I had thought it was,
   Because it doth endure
Vicissitude, and season, as the grass;
Methinks I lied all winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if spring make’ it more.

But if medicine, love, which cures all sorrow
With more, not only be no quintessence,
But mixed of all stuffs paining soul or sense,
And of the sun his working vigor borrow,
Love’s not so pure, and abstract, as they use
To say, which have no mistress but their muse,
But as all else, being elemented too,
Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do.

And yet no greater, but more eminent,
   Love by the spring is grown;
   As, in the firmament,
Stars by the sun are not enlarged, but shown,
Gentle love deeds, as blossoms on a bough,
From love’s awakened root do bud out now.

If, as water stirred more circles be
Produced by one, love such additions take,
Those, like so many spheres, but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee;
And though each spring do add to love new heat,
As princes do in time of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace,
No winter shall abate the spring’s increase.

Sunday Poetry – John Donne

I’m still on holidays & doing a lot of pottering around. I’ve been out & about this last week (out to lunch four days in a row) so less time for reading. I’ve also just subscribed to Netflix & have started watching Grace & Frankie with Lily Tomlin & Jane Fonda as well as the documentary series Making A Murderer. I was tempted to subscribe by the new series The Crown, about the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth II, which begins next month. There’s a trailer here & it looks fascinating. So, while I’m deciding which anthology to read next, here’s another favourite poem by John Donne, Lovers’ Infiniteness.

If yet I have not all thy love,
Dear, I shall never have it all;
I cannot breathe one other sigh, to move,
Nor can intreat one other tear to fall;
And all my treasure, which should purchase thee—
Sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters—I have spent.
Yet no more can be due to me,
Than at the bargain made was meant;
If then thy gift of love were partial,
That some to me, some should to others fall,
         Dear, I shall never have thee all.

Or if then thou gavest me all,
All was but all, which thou hadst then;
But if in thy heart, since, there be or shall
New love created be, by other men,
Which have their stocks entire, and can in tears,
In sighs, in oaths, and letters, outbid me,
This new love may beget new fears,
For this love was not vow’d by thee.
And yet it was, thy gift being general;
The ground, thy heart, is mine; whatever shall
         Grow there, dear, I should have it all.

Yet I would not have all yet,
He that hath all can have no more;
And since my love doth every day admit
New growth, thou shouldst have new rewards in store;
Thou canst not every day give me thy heart,
If thou canst give it, then thou never gavest it;
Love’s riddles are, that though thy heart depart,
It stays at home, and thou with losing savest it;
But we will have a way more liberal,
Than changing hearts, to join them; so we shall
         Be one, and one another’s all.

Sunday Poetry – Sir Walter Scott

I raced through Ann Cleeves’ latest Shetland novel, Cold Earth, this week & loved it. As usual, I had no idea of the solution but I hardly ever do work out the murderer before the detective decides to tell me. There’s a great article on Cleeves here.
This beautiful photo of the Bay of Ollaberry was taken by Stuart Wilding & is from here. This week’s poem is more Highland than Shetland but it is Sir Walter Scott & I couldn’t resist the melancholy of Mackrimmon’s Lament. Cha till sin tuille means We shall return no more.
It’s been ages since I read any Scott, I should do something about that – any recommendations? I have a few on the tbr shelves – Rob Roy, Kenilworth & The Antiquary as well as his Journal plus the Complete Works on my Kindle so plenty to choose from!

MacLeod’s wizard flag from the grey castle sallies,
The rowers are seated, unmoor’d are the galleys;
Gleam war-axe and broadsword, clang target and quiver,
As Mackrimmon sings, ‘Farewell to Dunvegan for ever!
Farewell to each cliff, on which breakers are foaming;
Farewell, each dark glen, in which red-deer are roaming;
MacLeod may return, but Mackrimmon shall never!

‘Farewell the bright clouds that on Quillan are sleeping;
Farewell the bright eyes in the Dun that are weeping;
To each minstrel delusion, farewell! – and for ever –
Mackrimmon departs, to return to you never!
The Banshee’s wild voice sings the death-dirge before me,
The pall of the dead for a mantle hangs o’er me;
But my heart shall not flag, and my nerves shall not shiver,
Though devoted I go – to return again never!

‘Too oft shall the notes of Mackrimmon’s bewailing
Be heard when the Gael on their exile are sailing;
Dear land! to the shores whence unwilling we sever,
Return – return – return shall we never!
Cha till, cha till, cha till sin tuille!
Cha till, cha till, cha till sin tuille,
Cha till, cha till, cha till sin tuille,
Gea thillis MacLeod, cha till Mackrimmon!’

Sunday Poetry – Lois Clark

I’ve just finished reading Frances Faviell’s classic memoir, A Chelsea Concerto, & I’m feeling a little bit stunned. I’ll be reviewing it later this week when I’ve had a chance to mull it over a little but I have to say it’s the most impressive & compassionate memoir of WWII & the Blitz that I’ve read.

So, I felt I needed some WWII poetry this week. This is Picture from the Blitz by Lois Clark. Clark drove a stretcher-party car in Brixton during the Blitz & was often among the first to arrive at the site of a bombing.

After all these years
I can still close my eyes and see
her sitting there,
in her big armchair,
grotesque under an open sky,
framed by the jagged lines of her broken house.

Sitting there,
a plump homely person,
steel needles still in her work-rough hands;
grey with dust, stiff with shock,
but breathing,
no blood or distorted limbs;
breathing but stiff with shock,
knitting unravelling on her apron’d knee.

They have taken the stretchers off my car
and I am running
under the pattering flack
over a mangled garden;
treading on something soft
and fighting the rising nausea – 
only a far-flung cushion, bleeding feathers.

They lift her gently
out of her great armchair,
tenderly,
under the open sky,
a shock-frozen woman trailing khaki wool.

Sunday Poetry – The Overlander

I’ve nearly finished listening to the audio book of Mary Durack’s Kings in Grass Castles, the story of her pioneering grandfather & his amazing life in 19th century Queensland & the Kimberley. I already have the sequel, Sons in the Saddle, ready to download & I also have Brenda Niall’s biography of Mary Durack & her sister, Elizabeth, True North, on the tbr pile. I feel a bit of an Australian pioneering history tangent coming on.
The Duracks were great drovers & moved cattle across vast distances between properties or to market. This is a traditional folk song about the drovers or overlanders. If you’d like to hear how it sounds sung by a traditional bush band, here’s the Sundowners version.

Oh there’s a trade you all know well it’s bringing cattle over
I’ll tell you all about the time that I became a drover
I wanted stock for Queensland to Kempsey I did wander
And bought a mob of duffers there and began as an overlander

Chorus
So pass the bottle round boys and don’t you leave it stand there
For tonight we’ll drink the health of every overlander

Well when the cattle were counted and the outfit ready to start
The lads were all well mounted with their swags left in the cart
I saw I had all sorts of men from Germany France and Flanders
Lawyers doctors good and bad in the mob of overlanders

The very next morning I fed up where the grass was green and young
And the squatter said he’d break my snout if I didn’t push along
Says I my lad you’re very hard but dont you raise my dander
For I’m a regular knowing card I’m a Queensland overlander

If ever our horses get done up of course we turn ’em free
And you can’t expect a drover to walk if a pony he can see
So now and then we bone a prad and believe me it’s no slander
To say there’s many a clever trick done by an overlander

In town we drain the whiskey glass and go to see the play
We never think of being hard up nor how to spend the day
We shear up to them pretty girls that rig themselves with grandeur
And as long as we spend our cheque my lads they love the overlander

A little girl on Sydney side, she said dont leave me lonely
I said it’s sad but my old prad has room for one man only
And now my lads we’re jogging back this pony she’s a goer
We’ll pick up a job with a crawling mob along the Maranoa

Sunday Poetry – Charlotte Brontë

I’m reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë – the first edition with all the libelous bits, of course. I’ve had this copy for about 30 years & I also have a copy of the third edition with the changes Gaskell was forced to make. In Charlotte’s Bicentenary year, it felt like the right time to reread the first &, in some ways, the best biography because Gaskell knew Charlotte. I’ve also recently read Hermione Lee’s Biography : a Very Short Introduction which has made me aware all over again of the motives of biographers. Often it’s more about the biographer than the subject. That’s why I can read several biographies of the same person as all of them emphasize different aspects of the life. Then there are memoirs & autobiographies. John le Carré’s memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, has just been published in the UK & his biographer, Adam Sisman, has just written a very gracious article in the Guardian about the experience of being le Carré’s biographer & the difference between memoir & biography. I enjoyed Sisman’s biography & I’m looking forward to reading The Pigeon Tunnel.

As this is supposed to be Sunday Poetry, not Sunday Biographical Ramblings, here’s one of Charlotte’s poems.

If thou be in a lonely place,
If one hour’s calm be thine,
As Evening bends her placid face
O’er this sweet day’s decline;
If all the earth and all the heaven
Now look serene to thee,
As o’er them shuts the summer even,
One moment ­think of me !

Pause, in the lane, returning home;
‘Tis dusk, it will be still:
Pause near the elm, a sacred gloom
Its breezeless boughs will fill.
Look at that soft and golden light,
High in the unclouded sky;
Watch the last bird’s belated flight,
As it flits silent by.

Hark ! for a sound upon the wind,
A step, a voice, a sigh;
If all be still, then yield thy mind,
Unchecked, to memory.
If thy love were like mine, how blest
That twilight hour would seem,
When, back from the regretted Past,
Returned our early dream !

If thy love were like mine, how wild
Thy longings, even to pain,
For sunset soft, and moonlight mild,
To bring that hour again !
But oft, when in thine arms I lay,
I’ve seen thy dark eyes shine,
And deeply felt, their changeful ray
Spoke other love than mine.

My love is almost anguish now,
It beats so strong and true;
‘Twere rapture, could I deem that thou
Such anguish ever knew.
I have been but thy transient flower,
Thou wert my god divine;
Till, checked by death’s congealing power,
This heart must throb for thine.

And well my dying hour were blest,
If life’s expiring breath
Should pass, as thy lips gently prest
My forehead, cold in death;
And sound my sleep would be, and sweet,
Beneath the churchyard tree,
If sometimes in thy heart should beat
One pulse, still true to me.

Sunday Poetry – William Shakespeare

I’m off to the movies this afternoon to see the Almeida Theatre production of Richard III with Ralph Fiennes & Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret. It’s had some interesting reviews here & here.
As a member of the Richard III Society I disagree with a lot of Shakespeare’s ideas, but I do love this play & this opening speech by Gloucester, soon to be King, laying out his evil plans right from the start. Such a famous speech with some wonderful images – the dogs barking as he halts by them & “descant on mine own deformity” as he observes his shadow & the first four lines ending on that sombre “buried” & the pun on son/sun.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Ralph Fiennes makes of it & I’m sure I’ll have to reread Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time afterwards as well as several issues of The Ricardian.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.