Thursday, February 02, 2012

And a poem

I have no idea if the "Blogger's silent poetry reading in honor of St. Brigid" (or Candlemass, or Grounhog's Day, or I think, Imbolc (? someone who knows the old Celtic holidays better than I do is free to correct me on that) is still going on. It was out there for a couple of years but a quick Internet search this morning fails to turn up anything for this year.

Oh well. I know a lot of people have given up blogging in favor of stuff like Tumblr or Twitter. But me, I like words, and I like the flexibility to post a lot of words if I want.

And I like poetry. I know bits and pieces of a surprising number of poems. For one thing, we were required to memorize some poetry in high school (both in English and in French, and if I am well-rested and have a few moments to think about it, I can still recite most of Victor Hugo's "Demain, des L'Aube")

I also know a lot of odd bits of lines...I've been known to mutter the opening of Yeats' "The Second Coming" when the news looks particularly bleak on a given day.

(I suppose this is one way in which I reside in a very specific sort of "bubble" - there's been some talk on some blogs in recent days about a new Charles Murray* book coming out, that contains a test that allegedly tells you how much you are a part of the "insulated" upper-middle class. (In my case: pretty much, it seems). I think, however, my particular bubble has a lot to do with education and reading and books and such - I grew up in a household that was full of books, library trips were a weekly (sometimes twice a week in the summer) event. My dad's dad had tons of books (some of which I have inherited). My mom's family, even though they didn't have the same income or education level as my dad's (I believe she was the first one in her family to finish college) had lots of books - her grandfather didn't learn to read until adulthood but I'm told that forever after that, he always had books and newspapers around (making up for lost time?). So books and reading were a big deal when I was a kid, and I probably DO assume that people around me are fairly familiar with literature when some people may be not.

Also, poetry: it seemed to be taught a lot in school. I remember learning the different poetic forms and how to write some of them (we never attempted sonnets!) in third grade. And in fifth grade, one of the projects I remember - because I enjoyed it so much - we were encouraged to find poems we liked in the various readers and compilations in the library, and copy them out into a sort of chapbook, and we could even illustrate the chapbook if we liked. I remember two of the poems I chose: Sandburg's one about fog ("The fog comes in on little cat feet...") and William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow".

So I kind of grew up immersed in poetry (some of my older relatives used to recite poetry as well, having learned it in school). I recognize that some people did not. And yet, at the same time, I think the fact that I know it and like it isn't anything I should have to apologize for or be ashamed for. (A funny tendency in some aspects of U.S. society: people who are educated in specific ways are sometimes made to feel like somehow that level of education IMPLIES a form of snobbery, and it's better off to reject it. I'm not saying that very well... but there is a certain inverted-snob strain in our society that seems to suggest that if you care about stuff like poetry, there's something wrong with you.)

(*I find myself thinking of Wrinkle in Time, and being annoyed, because this is not the lovable Charles Wallace Murray I knew)

At any rate. Here's a poem I've been thinking about lately, the first line popping into my head.

On Wenlock Edge

On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

(A. E. Housman. From "A Shropshire Lad.")

There's also a nice Vaughn Williams setting of it to music:

(Yes, I also like those kinds of song-settings of well-known poems**. (And after all: that's what most hymns are - a poem someone wrote that was set to music; many hymns have alternate tunes)

One thing I've read about Housman's poem-cycle is that though it took some effort to get it published (it was turned down by numerous publishers), once it came out, it became quite popular: apparently the poems appealed to the mood of the time. Probably the best-known of the "A Shropshire Lad" poems is "On an Athlete Dying Young," which explores a theme not totally unrelated to the theme of the poem I'm quoting. Though it seems that theme probably runs through many of the poems in that cycle...)

(**There's also apparently a musical setting (for baritone) of Demain, des L'aube, but I've never heard it.)

1 comment:

L.L. said...

Yes, it is Imbolc, and there are still the silent poetry readings for Brigid going around. Nice selections!