The Prisoner – Alexander Pushkin

The Prisoner

I sit by the bars in my cell, in the damp
A lusty young eagle caged up in a cramp.
A suffering comrade down there waves his wing.
And flaps as he pecks at some blood-spattered thing.

He pecks it and drops it, and looks up at me
As if our ideas were in deep sympathy.
His beckoning call and his eyes seem to say
What he wants from me: ‘come on let’s fly away!

We brothers, free birds of the air, let us go!
Where mountains stand white, with the storm clouds below,
Where rolling blue oceans run off to the sky,
Where I can fly free with the wind - he and I!’

Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837)
translated by A. D. P. Briggs

Ostensibly a poem about a caged eagle. Representative of Russian oppression and the cruel treatment of Russians in the Stalin era. Seeking flight from such conditions and the beauty of nature outside the cage.

Pushkin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. 

Alexander Pushkin on Wikipedia – Alexander Pushkin – Wikipedia

My Papa’s Waltz – Theodore Roethke – Comments

My Papa’s Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head   
With a palm caked hard by dirt,  
Then waltzed me off to bed  
Still clinging to your shirt.

Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

An episode between father and son when Theodore was a child. And you can always value the words from a poet when involving family in their work. Clearly his father was an alcoholic and his mother not improving on his resultant behavior and the impact on her kitchen domain. But the above words give only a limited insight into his character. And interesting Theodore Roethke said this about his father – ‘a great story could be written about my father, for in many ways he was truly a great man. I have never found anyone remotely like him in life or literature’.

I remember the words my father used to say – if you can’t be good be careful. I used to like these words because it gave acceptance to my non good behavior. There is another interpretation in that careful is care full and of course I try to be full of care as I react with people and life. Independent of the fact I don’t want to be had up for speeding. I am actually very good when driving especially if I have my partner at my side.

The father-son relationship is the foundation in the growth of any boy. The effect on the future life of the son is another matter. The new generation is always in conflict in some way with the old. I remember a Cat Stevenssong in relation to the differences in thought for those that can remember Cat Stevens.

There are plenty of poems in similar vein where the father-son relationship is articulated. Seamus Heaney has poems in relation to both his father and mother.

From a poetry point of perspective a lot of thought has gone into this simple story poem. The end rhyme words in the second and final lines of each stanza are well chosen. And there is a subtle stumbling effect in the sound of dizzy and easy as the small boy is twirled around in the first stanza.

Here is a link to a very personal poem from Seamus Heaney in relation to his mother.

Theodore Roethke on Wikipedia

In the Park – Gwen Harwood – Analysis

In the Park

She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.
Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.
Someone she loved once passes by –– too late

to feign indifference to the casual nod.
“How nice,” et cetera. “Time holds great surprises.”
From his neat head unquestionably rises
a small balloon … ”but for the grace of God.…”

They stand awhile in flickering light, rehearsing
the children’s names and birthdays. “It’s so sweet
to hear the chatter, watch them grow and thrive,”
she says to his departing smile. Then nursing
the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
To the wind she says, “They are eating me alive.”

Gwen Harwood (1920 – 1995)
From Poems 1963

Gwen Harwood was an Australian poet and librettist, creating text for musical score. Harwood is regarded as one of Australia’s finest poets. And the above is a poem she is often identified with concerning motherhood.

The title In the Park brings immediate association to any park experience in the mind of the reader with the suggestion that something is going to happen.

S1 … The first three lines define the situation. A bedraggled poorly dressed mother coping with three young children two of which are pulling at her dated skirt. And I guess many seeking peace and quiet from the park would hurry their step as they walked by. But the next line is the key to the occurrence in the park. Someone she once knew under completely different circumstances confronts her painful situation. And this someone is a special person from the past, a lover. And I think many would assume a man but equally it could have been a girlfriend. But she is caught by surprise and can’t feign indifference to the previous relationship. And the break is appropriate as we flow into the section stanza.

S2 … And this lover from the past shows politeness and he says it all ‘Time holds great surprises’.  And there is immense relief that he had avoided being associated with such a life – ‘but for the grace of God‘. He recovers from such emotional thought himself to spend time in conversation pleasantries that flow into the third stanza.

S3 … He takes an interest in the children, their names, and birthdays. The mother then completely denies her situation and contradicts her dire adjustment to motherhood saying a little sarcastically ‘It’s so sweet to hear the chatter, watch them grow and thrive’ as the fellow departs. Contradicting the glory of motherhood and the expectation once held by her and the expectation of society at that time in the role of the mother in family life.

What is interesting is that later in life she penned a different text to give a balance.

A later text …

She sits in the park, wishing she’d ever written
about that dowdy housewife and her brood.
Better, The Memoirs of a Mad Sex Kitten,
or a high-minded Ode to Motherhood
in common metre with a grand doxology.
“They have eaten me alive.” Did she write that?
The sonnet nestles in a new anthology
safe in its basket as a favoured cat.

She sits a while in flickering light rehearsing
the family’s birthdays. “Stop, you bloody fool!”
A young house-father with a pram is cursing
a child whose pushed another in the pool.
She helps him calm them. “Eating you alive?
Look at me. I’ve lived through it. You’ll survive.”

Written in 1992
from The Present Tense (1995)

Two wonderful Petrarchan Sonnets. I think the first eight lines in the above, before the twist have a subtle swipe at the establishment of the day at the time she wrote ‘In the Park’. That sonnet is now safe and valued, perhaps much more than at the time it was written.

The male role in supporting children in family upbringing has changed markedly over the years eating away at the traditional stereotype of motherhood.

Gwen Harwood on Wikipedia – Gwen Harwood – Wikipedia

Nothing Doing – a response to the wanton Ukraine destruction

Nothing Doing
on a visit to a dying nun

and again seeing
the rubble of some impossible buildings
people are emerging through the tangled mess
probably a three-year-old girl
her left hand holds a tatty bear
her right hand is held tight by her mother

the camera focuses on her face
her eyes vacant, expressionless
someone in the nursing-home
presses the remote

the screen blanks

she is propped up by two cushions
prepared for my visit
she gives a gentle smile

as blue eyes spark into life
her frail hand motions
to the chair by her bed
I think it sad that she will
leave this world in such
a hopeless state

soon she will be silent
her body gone

but when Russians fire their bullets
she will be there in her nothing
bleeding her impervious spirit
while holding the hand
of a three-year-old girl

Richard Scutter July 2022

The image of the child portrayed in the above was from TV news footage several months back.

Bobowler – Liz Berry – Comments

Darkling herald, 
see her flower-face on a waning moon
and spake her name aloud
to conjure the voice 
of one you loved and let slip
through the wing gauze of jeth. 

In the owl-light,
when loneliness shines
through your bones like a bare bulb,
she'll come for you,
little psyche bringing missives
from the murmuring dark. 

She comes to all the night birds:
cuckoos, thieves, the old uns
and the babies in their dimlit wums, 
the boy riding his bike 
up Beacon Hill, heart thundering 
like a strange summer storm. 

And the messages she carries 
in her slow soft flight? 
Too tender to speak of, too heartsore, 
but this: I am waiting. 
The love that lit the darkness between us 
has not been lost. 
Liz Berry (1980 –
from her book 'The Republic of Motherhood'.

Liz Berry is a Black Country poet in that she lives and writes poetry in connection with that area known as the Black Country in England an area in the midlands near Birmingham and her book entitled the same includes the use of the local dialect and it won the Forward Prize for the Best First Collection in 2014.

She very kindly sent a reading of the above poem for our U3A Poetry Appreciation Group in Canberra last week. It was wonderful to hear her, and I was totally mesmerized by the touch of humour that pervaded her presentation along with the pronunciation of the local vernacular.

Bobowler = a large moth in the local language
Jeth = deth
Cuckoos = lovers
dimlit wums = homes

Here are my comments …

S1 – quite a pretty moth and shaped in conjunction with the moon appropriately associated with the night as it seeks light … darkling is a not a common usage word and what came to mind was darkling in connection with Thomas Hardy and The Darkling Thrush … but the moth is a herald to the memory of someone loved who let slip through the wing gauze of deathwing in relation to the moth and the flight from life … but the voice of the departed can be conjured into life … indicating a touch of magic in the recreation in her mind … something very special in the relationship.

S2 – Interesting that owl is integrated in the Bobowler title. I do like the way this second stanza expresses how loneliness and loss is subjugated through bones like a bare bulb and bringing missives; messages out of the murmuring night. Missives is an interesting word having a contractual flavour. The subtle shadow communication of the person loved is likened to the flutter of a moth against the light of the bulb. The analogy with the seeking of light.

S3 – A wider generic communication perhaps … she comes to all … of those much loved that have departed … bringing messages … whether to lovers, the aged, babies in their homes (dimlit wums) … or something very specific as a boy struggling on a bike up Beacon Hill … the departed are continually fluttering into our lives to live again so to speak … linked in the mind

S4 – The messages are back to the personal … tender and likened to the slow soft flight of the moth. Love is rekindled and never lost. The love that lit the darkness between us may imply more than just the separation by death.

An example of how something simple in nature like a moth flitting against a light bulb can be used for poetic expression. And how seeking light can be transferred into seeking connection with the dead. And the use of the old dialect may help the recall.

Liz Berry on Wikipedia

Playing with words – A Wislawa Szymborska poem

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold. 

Wisława Szymborska (1923 - 2012)
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Poets do like playing with words. And the choice of words is always a consideration. And so too the way they will present themselves when pronounced. An example is HIS, a wonderful word to be used when talking about a snake in a poem. So, if you are considering creating a poem about a snake make it masculine.

Looking at the three words in the above. Future is a two-syllable word. It is really a past/present word when split into syllables and pronounced. And so does that make all one-syllable words present, well until you release pronunciation of the syllable and then it fades into the past. Well, of course it is continually fading as the sound of the syllable dissipates. In the example of HIS, perhaps you should hold that sound when reading to make that snake a vicious one about to bite the listener.

Silence is not a word to have in a poem for it destroys the intent of what the poet is trying to create. Is it better to have a pause instead when reading the work? And how do you create a pause and hold a break when reading a poem?

Nothing is of course something for NOTHING is beyond comprehension.

So here is a sonnet which contains the word SILENCE … but I am asking the reader not to say the word SILENCE but to make a twenty second break. So that when it is read it is no longer a sonnet – so to speak (sorry about that!).

Wind and Sun

Wind and sun give us a choice,
shouting with their voice.
Drenching rain, din, din, din
soaked again to the skin.

And to add overwhelming proof
some are climbing on the roof. 

Some think of building a new arc
but cut down trees to make a start.

Our children know better though,
they're being taught the way to go.
Wind and sun give us a choice,
shouting with their voice.

Well, we are experiencing unprecedented flooding in Eastern Australian!

See my previous Post on The Joy of Writing by Wisława Szymborska.

The Joy of Writing – Wislawa Szymborska – Analysis

Here is a poem by the famous Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. My comments after each stanza in italics. It does remind me of ‘The Thought Fox’ by Ted Hughes.

The Joy of Writing
Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word 'woods.'
Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

The creative process in the mind of the writer is likened to a doe in the woods that comes for a drink … as though the mind has a thirst to be quenched … but why does this creative process occur … why does the mind do this forcing the fingertips into action …  and there is a period of silence, or if you like thinking that goes on … or rustles across the page … and what has sprouted are letters up to no good … a nice way of saying that there is a lot of work to do to make them good … and I do like the clutches of clauses so subordinate

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply 
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights, 
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment, 
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

The pen becomes a gun that takes aim to produce a hit … the transformation from thought to actual words … a question for consideration is how to get a bullseye so to speak … to hit the target that the mind intended

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

The writer is in total control and will determine what is being said and how it is being said. The writer will halt the process until he or she is ready … that last line holds the doe in mid-flight … but the doe might disappear completely if the wait is to long … those that get a thought in bed and fail to capitalise on their night wonders happening in the mind while in bed

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

Responding to the endless existence of creativity where the writer rules … creativity becomes alive … bind with chains of signs … says something about the transformation to words

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

The power of the written word compared to the mortal hand … preserving … creating a legacy … the ‘I was here’ written in concrete … in books and letters … the immortality of Shakespeare

Wislawa Szymborska (1923 - 2012)
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Wislawa Szymborska on Wikipedia
The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes

Epitaph on a Friend – Robert Burns

Epitaph on a Friend
An honest man here lies at rest, 
As e’er God with His image blest:
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) 

A friend of mine died recently. This poem was on his service sheet at his funeral. All his life he questioned whether there was any afterlife.

The last line is testimony to a well lived life in support of humanity. This was all that mattered to him.

A thought: do we, and Church people in general, spend too much time worrying and pontificating on the nature of any afterlife? Seeking the truth internally and living accordingly is more appropriate without any needless heaven-salvation talk.

Robert Burns on Wikipedia – Robert Burns – Wikipedia