memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

I hear voices

I hear voices.

Dream

Dream.

Sailing to Byzantium (2)

Sailing to Byzantium (2).

Human weakness

Human weakness.

Hemmed in by events

Hemmed in by events.

Her pilgrim soul

W.B. YEATS

W.B. YEATS

When I was young I greatly admired the poem When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats, the middle verse of which I quote:

How many loved your glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true;

But one loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

Now I’m getting to be quite old myself and well, it has more meaning for me and I still like it.

DETAIL OF CARTOON by LEONARDO DA VINCI

DETAIL OF CARTOON by LEONARDO DA VINCI

I wish I had a Sivia Plath

I wish I had a Silvia Plath

Mournfully sings Ryan Adams

On his best-selling album Gold.

I know exactly how he feels.

I too wish I had a Silvia Plath

We too would drink Martinis

Very dry – three parts gin

And drink them

In front of a portrait of

Antonio Benedetto Carpano

The inventor of vermouth

And discuss her art and sullen craft

And how she became a legend

Converting trauma

Into triumphant and terrible words

And why she described Ariel

As a blood-jet.

SILVIA PLATH

SILVIA PLATH

And I’m sure she would agree

To me paying tribute to her

With her last prescient

And perfect poem:

Edge

The woman is perfected.

Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,

The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,

Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:

We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,

One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty.

She has folded

Them back into her body as petals

Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed

From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,

Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.

Her blacks crackle and drag.

 

Dover Beach & Rugby

During the early sixties the Port of Dover still had medium-priced respectable hotels with names like The White Cliffs with potted plants in the lounge and middle-aged bow-tied pianists playing sub-Cole Porter numbers with rolling eyes and a sort of louche panache. The town itself, with its tangy sea-air, its cries of sea-gulls and its dazzling white cliffs seemed to offer shelter and solace from the long and confusing journey through childhood.

WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

And later, as the ship edged out of stone harbour of my boyhood to meet the butting pitching sea, I would linger in the stern watching the shoreline of England – those famous gleaming white cliffs – receding to the horizon and feel an unfamiliar ache in my heart.

(I have since discovered that the Portuguese language, that melancholy vehicle, encapsulates that emotion in one single word – saudades).

Be that as it may, I should now like to share with you another of my favourite poems.

MATHEW ARNOLD

MATHEW ARNOLD

Written by Mathew Arnold (poet-son of Dr. Thomas Arnold, the charismatic and pioneering headmaster of Rugby School,

RUGBY SCHOOL

RUGBY SCHOOL

who features memorably in the novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays

in 1869, it is called Dover Beach:

The sea is calm to-night.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

 

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

 

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The Journey of the Magi

January 6th (the Epiphany, la fête des Rois, die Drei Konigen, the Three Kings) seems an appropriate date to post another favourite poem by T. S. Eliot.

 

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The was deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

 

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

 

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI

 

Sailing to Byzantium (2)

I have always considered that this poem, Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats, to be very beautiful.

Sailing to Byzantium

THAT is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

– Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

 

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

 

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

 

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

a-perfume-brazier-in-the-form-of-a-domed-building

 

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