Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Riders on the Storm

For me last night's storm wasn't so real. Just a series of low, menacing rumbles and flashes that turn the grass into a sheet of suddenly sodden and ghastly whiteness. And tonight's posting isn't original. It's the posting I made last night on Brits in the USA.

There are heavy clouds, rolling like ironclads over the estuary where the ironclads first fired in anger. I never really got used to American storms that can bring devastating winds and tornadoes that can rip apart lives.

Storm at home were more of a rarity. When I grew up they were a form of entertainment. We'd huddle by the window and watch them turn the sky purple and count the seconds between the flash and the rumble. Although there were tales of lightening strikes just as there were craggy old trees in the forest, bereft of all life, that bore testimony to the ferocity of the storm, it was all so distant from our window.

Here it's not so predictable. Two years ago a twister touched down near the house ripping down trees and power lines across the street and wiping out the village choked with antique shops a mile down the road. And I have a recurring dream that I toil across a landscape of beaten down cornfields, unremittingly flat and terrible where a black sky is painted over the drifting blue air.

Then I see it, the evil shaped funnel cloud, marching across the margins of a field, tearing aside trees like matchstick soldiers. Like the all seeing eye of Mordor it is wrapped up in its wicked intent and spies me isolated in a field. I usually wake as it veers in my direction.

This sense of foreboding is unfortunate because there's something exhilarating about storms, about the way they make the trees dance and suck the heaviness from the lead infused air. One night back in Wales when we were younger and more foolish we went out on a night of high winds when the sky was a screaming symphony full of razor edged clouds. Richard, Mark, Brian and myself walked along the banks of the Taff as the waters rose and trees snapped around us and the moon slipped in and out of the clouds like a reveller at a jig.

The howling wind and the falling trees infused us with a sense of delirium and and excitement. If we could duck and dive and dodge fast falling death and the fleet flowing river there was surely nothing we couldn't do. We were alone in the chaotic wilderness but we mastered the stormy night and walked into the early hours until we saw the shuttered tower of Llandaff Cathedral wrapped in the pale strands of dawn.

We could do anything but did we? Did we really write? Did any of us write? Instead we forgot about the storm and committed our lives to interminable meetings in airless offices, compliant executioners in the death of the human soul.

A Thunderstorm by Archibald Lampman

A moment the wild swallows like a flight
Of withered gust-caught leaves, serenely high,
Toss in the windrack up the muttering sky.
The leaves hang still. Above the weird twilight,
The hurrying centres of the storm unite
And spreading with huge trunk and rolling fringe,
Each wheeled upon its own tremendous hinge,
Tower darkening on. And now from heaven's height,
With the long roar of elm-trees swept and swayed,
And pelted waters, on the vanished plain
Plunges the blast. Behind the wild white flash
That splits abroad the pealing thunder-crash,
Over bleared fields and gardens disarrayed,
Column on column comes the drenching rain.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Verse of the Day by William Blake

After a day of too much sun and too much wine,and vines stretching to the distant blue hills, I thought I'd post a summer poem. But the strange thing about these summer days are the way they can leave me exhausted, wishing someone could hand me another weekend to get over this one.

William Blake doesn't sum up summer in Virginia very well. I always associate him with those dark, satanic mills. But I'm a fan of most of his work and this poem makes me think of those temperamental summers in England;of those summer days I could never quite take for granted because rain could be sheeting across sodden fields the very next day.

To Summer by William Blake

O thou who passest thro' our valleys in

Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched'st here thy goldent tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam'd who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sylvia Plath's anger with her Daddy

This posting missed Father's Day, but it's still probably worth making because we surely need more than one token day a year to reflect on this issue of parenting.

Plath's poem Daddy is dark. It's probably one of the darkest mainstream poems of recent times. It goes to the dark heart of a poet who killed herself soon afterwards, not to mention the dark heart of Europe. It's crude but sophisticated in its language, and makes a passing swipe at Plath's husband, indicating Ted Hughes, who she was married to for seven years, reminded her of her dreaded father.

The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year/Seven years, if you want to know.

Robert Phillips writes in far more depth about this terrible poem.

"Finally the one way the poet was to achieve relief, to become an independent Self, was to kill her father’s memory, which, in "Daddy," she does by a metaphorical murder. Making him a Nazi and herself a Jew, she dramatizes the war in her soul. It is a terrible poem, full of blackness, and one of the most nakedly confessional poems ever written."

Although the poem hints at darkness less is known about Plath's relationship with her father Otto, who died when she was just eight-years-old.

But it's clear the poet's strong and conflicting emotions of love, hate, anger and grief at the loss of her father were to affect her for the rest of her life.

Daddy by Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Verse of the Day - Oscar Wilde

Sonnet on Approaching Italy by Oscar Wilde

I reached the Alps: the soul within me burned,

Italia, my Italia, at thy name:
And when from out the mountain's heart I came
And saw the land for which my life had yearned,
I laughed as one who some great prize had earned:
And musing on the marvel of thy fame
I watched the day, till marked with wounds of flame
The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned.
The pine-trees waved as waves a woman's hair,
And in the orchards every twining spray
Was breaking into flakes of blossoming foam:
But when I knew that far away at Rome
In evil bonds a second Peter lay,
I wept to see the land so very fair.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Philip Larkin and the Poetry of Lawnmowing

I stumbled on this fascinating article from the Guardian about how there's a surprising genre of poetry devoted to lawnmowing.

I have always thought of lawnmowing as a chore rather than an art form, so this was enlightening, espcially as a move beckons which will involve considerable time cutting grass.

"The poetry of lawnmowing, a surprisingly capacious subgenre of English literature running from Louis MacNeice to Andrew Motion, usually hones in on the touching futility of the ritual. The great lyricist of mowing the lawn is Philip Larkin, who mentions it throughout his poems and letters. "Have bought a new lawnmower ready for the spring offensive," he wrote to a friend in 1981. "Must get the flamethrower serviced, and invest in a few gallon drums of Weedol," writes Joe Moran.

Larkin certainly seems to have a thing about cut grass.

The Mower by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.