Sunday Poetry – Henry David Thoreau

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Well, it’s still hot, humid & summery in Melbourne. The clocks go back next weekend so, hopefully, the weather will soon be cooler. The football season started on Thursday night & that’s usually a good indication that autumn is here but not this year. So, I’m still reading poems about summer & sighing a lot. We did have a welcome downpour earlier in the week, 30mm, which filled up my water tanks (well, they’re a quarter full now instead of empty) & cheered the garden so I went looking for a summer poem about rain.

This is The Summer Rain Poem by Thoreau.I can’t agree with the first line. The only time I stop reading is when it’s so hot my glasses won’t stay on my nose. But then, I usually switch to an audio book. However, I do like the lazy image of lying under a tree among the violets waiting for the rain.

My books I’d fain cast off, I cannot read,
Twixt every page my thoughts go stray at large
Down in the meadow, where is richer feed,
And will not mind to hit their proper targe.

Plutarch was good, and so was Homer too,
Our Shakespeare’s life were rich to live again,
What Plutarch read, that was not good nor true,
Nor Shakespeare’s books, unless his books were men.

Here while I lie beneath this walnut bough,
What care I for the Greeks or for Troy town,
If juster battles are enacted now
Between the ants upon this hummock’s crown?

Bid Homer wait till I the issue learn,
If red or black the gods will favor most,
Or yonder Ajax will the phalanx turn,
Struggling to heave some rock against the host.

Tell Shakespeare to attend some leisure hour,
For now I’ve business with this drop of dew,
And see you not, the clouds prepare a shower–
I’ll meet him shortly when the sky is blue.

This bed of herd’s grass and wild oats was spread
Last year with nicer skill than monarchs use.
A clover tuft is pillow for my head,
And violets quite overtop my shoes.

And now the cordial clouds have shut all in,
And gently swells the wind to say all’s well;
The scattered drops are falling fast and thin,
Some in the pool, some in the flower-bell.

I am well drenched upon my bed of oats;
But see that globe come rolling down its stem,
Now like a lonely planet there it floats,
And now it sinks into my garment’s hem.

Drip drip the trees for all the country round,
And richness rare distills from every bough;
The wind alone it is makes every sound,
Shaking down crystals on the leaves below.

For shame the sun will never show himself,
Who could not with his beams e’er melt me so;
My dripping locks–they would become an elf,
Who in a beaded coat does gayly go.

Sunday Poetry – John Dryden

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I’ve just finished reading Long Live Great Bardfield, the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood. I enjoyed it very much & read it in great gulps, a hundred pages at a time. At the end of a difficult year for Tirzah she quotes this short verse by Dryden, the Chorus of The Secular Masque, which you can read here. The verse was included in a New Year’s card & sums up theat New Year feeling of taking a breath & hoping the new year will be happier.

All, all of a piece throughout;
Thy chase had a beast in view;
Thy wars brought nothing about;
Thy lovers were all untrue.
‘Tis well an old age is out,
And time to begin a new.

Sunday Poetry – Christina Rossetti

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I enjoy doing the crosswords in the weekend papers. Not the cryptic ones, I don’t have that kind of brain, the general knowledge crosswords. A now-retired friend from the library also enjoys the crosswords & we email each other on Monday mornings to compare & help fill in any gaps. We have rules. We’re allowed to look up 1 across & down & the middle names of people. I’m also allowed to look up Rorschach (had to look it up then – I cannot spell it!).  I’m better at clues about poetry, classical music & obscure English literature, G is better on Australian history, geography & anyone buried at Boroondara Cemetery (where she gives guided walks). We’re both good on books in general although we have very different tastes.

This morning’s crossword had a clue from this poem, Up-Hill, & I did look it up because I could only remember the first verse & the clue was in the second verse. It’s a very poignant poem, especially in a world with an unprecedented refugee crisis. I hope they don’t have to wait to get to Heaven (or their equivalent) before they find rest.

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
   Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
   From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
   You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
   Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
   They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
   Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
   Yea, beds for all who come.

Sunday Poetry – Lucy Maud Montgomery

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I’m not sure that posting poems about autumn is having any effect on the weather (actually I am sure – it’s having no effect whatever) as it’s still hot, humid & rainless in Melbourne. At least it gives me the chance to reread Anne Elliot’s musings,

… repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

However, reading autumn poetry like this suitably romantic poem, An Autumn Evening, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, makes me feel cooler. Can’t you imagine Anne Shirley walking through the woods rhapsodising over the falling leaves while declaiming this? Almost as dramatic as The Lady of Shalott.

Dark hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow
And wake among the harps of leafless trees
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies.

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar,
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star
Above the darkening druid glens of fir
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir.

And so I wander through the shadows still,
And look and listen with a rapt delight,
Pausing again and yet again at will
To drink the elusive beauty of the night,
Until my soul is filled, as some deep cup,
That with divine enchantment is brimmed up.

Sunday Poetry – William Cowper

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William Cowper lived in Norfolk for the last years of his life & was buried in St Nicholas Church in East Dereham. This beautiful stained glass window (photo by John Salmon from Wikimedia Commons) above his tomb depicts Cowper reading to his pet hares, Bess, Tiney & Puss. This poem, Epitaph on a Hare, was written when Tiney died.

Cowper suffered from depression throughout his life & lived a retired life. His poetry is often about the delights of the countryside which is probably why it appealed to Jane Austen who gives Marianne Dashwood & Fanny Price his lines to quote. I like the mock-serious attitude of this epitaph about a beloved pet whose habits Cowper had obviously observed closely, even down to his favourite foods.

Here lies, whom hound did ne’er pursue,
    Nor swifter greyhound follow,
Whose foot ne’er tainted morning dew,
    Nor ear heard huntsman’s hallo’,

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
    Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domesticate bounds confined,
    Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
    His pittance every night,
He did it with a jealous look,
    And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
    And milk, and oats, and straw,
Thistles, or lettuces instead,
    With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
    On pippins’ russet peel;
And, when his juicy salads failed,
    Sliced carrot pleased him well.

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
    Whereon he loved to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
    And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
    For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching showers,
    Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
    He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out all his idle noons,
    And every night at play.

I kept him for his humor’s sake,
    For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
    And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
    He finds his long, last home,
And waits in snug concealment laid,
    Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more agèd, feels the shocks
    From which no care can save,
And, partner once of Tiney’s box,
    Must soon partake his grave.

Sunday Poetry – John Clare

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More John Clare this week. He writes so well about weather & the seasons that I wanted to explore his poetry a little more. We’re still experiencing unseasonably mild summer weather in Melbourne. It rained for a few hours this morning & the sun is just coming out now although there are more showers to come (according to the Bureau’s radar). I spent an hour or so weeding & tidying up in the garden this morning & think I’ll get out for a walk before it rains again. I’ll feel entitled to settle down with a cup of tea & an archaeology magazine after a brisk walk.

This poem is just called Summer. It’s a lovely vision of a perfect summer’s day.

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover’s breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover’s breast;
I’ll lean upon her breast and I’ll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o’sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.

Sunday Poetry – John Clare

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Much of Australia is experiencing extreme heat this weekend but in Melbourne, it’s cool & grey. John Clare’s poem, Autumn, conjures up images of the season that, hopefully, isn’t too far away.

I was also reminded of John Clare by the latest episode of In Our Time on BBC radio. You can listen to it here or download the podcast from wherever you get your podcasts.

The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

Sunday Poetry – John Keats

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I realise it’s still summer but I’m allowed to dream of autumn. I’ve just finished reading Alexandra Harris’ latest book, Weatherland, a study of English weather in the work of writers & artists. I especially enjoyed the section on Keats & this beautiful poem, one of my favourites,  was quoted in full.

It hasn’t been a particularly hot summer in Melbourne so far but today it’s humid & I’m waiting impatiently for the promised cool change, thunderstorm & rain. Until it arrives, dreaming of an English autumn will have to do.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Sunday Poetry – Sir Thomas Wyatt

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I’ve mentioned this terrific site before, Interesting Literature (do sign up for their daily email newsletter, I’m often reminded of an author or poem I love). Here they discuss one of my favourite poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt. I’m fascinated by his life which seems to have been so unsatisfied & thwarted by political & personal misfortunes. It’s partly his connection to Anne Boleyn & the court of Henry VIII but I also find him an attractive figure & one of my favourite poets, for all the difficulty of deciphering his allusive poetry. Nicola Shulman’s book, Graven with Diamonds, is an excellent account of Wyatt’s life & times & helped me understand the poetry more than anything else I’ve read about him.

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

Sunday Poetry – Thomas Hardy

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Hardy can make any subject seem melancholy, even a gentle, English summer. That’s probably why I enjoy his poetry so much. In This Summer and Last, the speaker remembers a lovely summer in his past that can never be matched.

Unhappy summer you,
Who do not see
What your yester-summer saw!
Never, never will you be
Its match to me,
Never, never draw
Smiles your forerunner drew,
Know what it knew!

Divine things done and said
Illumined it,
Whose rays crept into corn-brown curls,
Whose breeze heard a humorous wit
Of fancy flit.—
Still the alert brook purls,
Though feet that there would tread
Elsewhere have sped.

So, bran-new summer, you
Will never see
All that yester-summer saw!
Never, never will you be
In memory
Its rival, never draw
Smiles your forerunner drew,
Know what it knew!