The Snow Village – Glyn Maxwell – Analysis

The Snow Village

In the age of pen and paper,
when the page was a snow village,
when days the light was leafing through
descended without message,

the nib that struck from heaven
was the sight of a cottage window
lit by the only certain
sign of a life, a candle,

glimpsed by a stranger walking
at a loss through the snow village.
All that can flow can follow
that sighting, though no image,

no face appear – not even
the hand that draws across it –
though the curtains close the vision,
though the stranger end his visit,

though the snow erase all traces
of his passing through the village,
though his step become unknowable
and the whiteness knowledge.

Glyn Maxwell (1962 – ) used by permission of the author
from The Nerve (Picador, 2002)

S1 … we are talking of times when things could be written down … when communication could take this form – the age of pen and paper … the page likened to a snow village – waiting for some ‘prints’ … just as plants wait for a break through based on light … the poet waits for a breakthrough all he or her has is the white sheet of paper

S2 … it appears communication was initiated from ‘heaven’ – the nib struck from heaven … the mind connected with some spiritual force … to a window in a cottage in the village where life is the simple flame of a candle … indicating somewhat tenuous beginnings … but there is a certainty of this life, this flame, this fire which shows some importance … the window indicating an ‘opening’ … and the poet is able to make a start – there is inspiration and footprints in the snow can be seen as the stranger (poet) starts to make his mark on his journey

S3 / S4 … the stranger (poet) is at a loss lacking understanding on where to go … and only glimpses what has happened in the window, not seeing how the message was born but everything flows from that brief encounter, that sighting of the candle. The inspiration is only momentary and the curtains close on the window and the sighting lost but of importance there is impact on the stranger … akin to making a start by a poet in the creation process … enough for something to follow – All that can flow can follow that sighting – not being privy to the initiator or the process, not seeing the motivator or understanding the fire of inspiration that brought the message-flame to life – but the stranger takes something away with him or her – from this insight there is some direction on where to go and he or she takes up the journey and leaves footprints (writing) in the snow.

S5 … after passing through the village the snow (white pages) cover up again … the poet leaves snow or white pages behind as time erases … but although the snow covers up the snow has that latent knowledge within from the printing that has taken place by the stranger. The snow is more than just snow. Time has a continuous history.

Perhaps we all live in a local snow village of some sort and as we pass through pick up the lost prints of those that have gone before who left some message and created knowledge, in particular thinking of the poet who leaves a poem for posterity.

Glyn Maxwell (born in 1962) is a well regarded British poet, playwright, librettist, and lecturer.

A reading of this poem by Glyn Maxwell can be heard from this link.

‘Poetry on the Move’- Canberra 2017

POETRY ON THE MOVE is a festival of poetry, taking place in Canberra University and other local venues from the 14th to 21st of September 2017. Paul Munden, Festival Director,  explains this year’s program …

The theme for this year is ‘Border Crossings’ …

The theme emerged naturally. ‘Borders’ of all sorts are very much in the news, and poetry reflects that. We have an event at the National Portrait Gallery (Saturday the 16th), exploring issues of identity and migration. Another session considers cultural boundaries within Australia, led by poets who have done exceptional work with regional communities. And we’re fortunate to have a number of distinguished Japanese poets attending, so poetry in translation became another major focus, relating to the theme.

The poets-in-residence this time are …

Two wonderful poets, both from the UK. Vahni Capildeo won the prestigious Forward Prize last year for her collection Measures of Expatriation(yet another connection to the Boundary Crossings theme). And Glyn Maxwell, whose collections have also won major prizes, is particularly well known for his book On Poetry. Simon Armitage, one of last year’s guests has called it ‘the most compelling, original, charismatic and poetic guide to poetry that I can remember’.

Full details can be referenced here


Walking Away – Cecil Day-Lewis – Comments

Walking Away

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Cecil Day-Lewis

Apparently this poem is dedicated to Day-Lewis’s first son, Sean, and recalls a day when he was watching Sean go in to school, reflecting back after many years.

This poem is all about moving on … leaving behind that which has been … and growing up you can never return to the way it was … whether it be childhood or not … but you have this something to take with you and carry latent as a force in your future … whether or not that childhood has been happy or not … and for those left behind as you walk away it is always a sad affair but part of life. Love must be proved in the letting go.

It is particularily hard for parents to release their off-spring when they are moving away from home. And in the same vein it is hard for those that have had strong personal bonds in a relationship when it is time to say good-bye whether or not of a permanent nature.

Rhyming in the first, third and fifth lines of each stanza. And an interesting thought in the last stanza. God gives and walks away expecting some development. How selfhood begins with a walking away – humanity standing on its own two feet so to speak but I do think it kind of needs a little direction at times even if from a far away place. Hopefully there is still some form of contact!

Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) CBE (27 April 1904 – 22 May 1972) was an Anglo-Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. He also wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. He is the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and documentary filmmaker and television chef Tamasin Day-Lewis.

More on Cecil Day-Lewis via Wikipedia


Adlestrop – Edward Thomas – Comments


Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)

It was as though the train stopped on purpose so that all the passengers good savour an early summer day when the world itself seemed to stop and all was peace. The joy of nature showing contentment voiced in the beautiful birdsong of the English countryside. It is moments like these, unexpected moments of joy, that become so meaningful when we reflect back. I think we all have such images that retain lifelong pleasure on recall.

It is a very simple four stanza poem with rhyming in the second and fourth lines. The short factual statements are all that is needed in defining the essence of the moment as experienced by the traveller as he looks out the window. The text ‘And for that minute’ is pivotal in holding the image in the eye of the reader.

And of course many will relate to the experience of a train stopping before reaching the destination but whether thay will be relaxed about it is another matter.

Edward Thomas will be remembered by this poem more than any other just as Adlestrop will always be associated with this poem. An example of how a poem can define a specific place due to experience. Adlestrop was axed in the Beeching cull of railway stations in the Sixties as were many other sleepy country stations. However the railway sign displaying the name is still very much in evidence.

And from Wikipedia …  it was due to Edward Thomas that Robert Frost came to write his famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’

The American poet Robert Frost, who was living in England at the time, in particular encouraged Thomas (then more famous as a critic) to write poetry, and their friendship was so close that the two planned to reside side by side in the United States. Frost’s most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken”, was inspired by walks with Thomas and Thomas’s indecisiveness about which route to take.

Tragically Edward Thomas was killed soon after he arrived in France during the first World War.

And more details of Edward Thomas via Wikipedia 

Adam and Eve – Paradise Ignored

Here is another take on Adam and Eve …

Wenzel Peter’s Painting: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
courtesy of the Vatican Museum

Paradise Ignored
(on viewing Wenzel Peter’s Painting ‘Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden’)

greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for a friend
John 15 v13

Images of more than two hundred animals
perfected in paint in unreal detail
carefully positioned in a still of verdant harmony
show an intricate love of the animal world
and for the very marvel of creation
in all its great variety and abundance.

For one brief moment
we are invited into this paradise
but as we enter this unreal world

there is a certain foreboding
an animal premonition prevails …

a flock of birds stir into the air
scurry above the tree of knowledge
give the danger warning
the wise owl sits atop another tree
knowing of the unknown perhaps
that knowledge is truly a dangerous thing
the cockerel at the foot of Eve
exhibits a full throttle crow –
an ominous omen
and the monkey appears to taunt
all ready in mischievous mood
proffering the reason for the disquiet.

At Adam’s right hand
dogs sit true to the letters of their name.
Below the left foot of Eve
lambs are bleating their concern, for …

Eve has left the paradise party
locked herself out to a deadly world
her skin is turning a shade pale
now separated from eternal life
alone, cold, knowing she must die
makes her desperate plea for company.

But Eve is Adam’s very own flesh and blood
his one and only friend and in a state of total need
can he not ignore! – he has no choice –
surely love and surely God
would equally agree.

Richard Scutter
from the selected poems publication ‘My Word In Your Ear’

Imperial Adam – A. D. Hope : Comments

Imperial Adam

Imperial Adam, naked in the dew,
Felt his brown flanks and found the rib was gone.
Puzzled he turned and saw where, two and two,
The mighty spoor of Yahweh marked the lawn.

Then he remembered through mysterious sleep
The surgeon fingers probing at the bone,
The voice so far away, so rich and deep:
“It is not good for him to live alone.”

Turning once more he found Man’s counterpart
In tender parody breathing at his side.
He knew her at first sight, he knew by heart
Her allegory of sense unsatisfied.

The pawpaw drooped its golden breasts above
Less generous than the honey of her flesh;
The innocent sunlight showed the place of love;
The dew on its dark hairs winked crisp and fresh.

This plump gourd severed from his virile root,
She promised on the turf of Paradise
Delicious pulp of the forbidden fruit;
Sly as the snake she loosed her sinuous thighs,

And waking, smiled up at him from the grass;
Her breasts rose softly and he heard her sigh —
From all the beasts whose pleasant task it was
In Eden to increase and multiply

Adam had learned the jolly deed of kind:
He took her in his arms and there and then,
Like the clean beasts, embracing from behind,
Began in joy to found the breed of men.

Then from the spurt of seed within her broke
Her terrible and triumphant female cry,
Split upward by the sexual lightning stroke.
It was the beasts now who stood watching by:

The gravid elephant, the calving hind,
The breeding bitch, the she-ape big with young
Were the first gentle midwives of mankind;
The teeming lioness rasped her with her tongue;

The proud vicuna nuzzled her as she slept
Lax on the grass; and Adam watching too
Saw how her dumb breasts at their ripening wept,
The great pod of her belly swelled and grew,

And saw its water break, and saw, in fear,
It quaking muscles in the act of birth,
Between her legs a pigmy face appear,
And the first murderer lay upon the earth.

A. D. Hope

This is a well-crafted eleven stanza poem with rhyming scheme (abab) and more importantly showing plenty of imagination, and what a wonderful build-up to an immense last line.

S1 and S2 – well here is Adam … hopefully he did not experience any pain during the night … remembering in his sleep hearing a voice … perhaps he had a dream of something beautiful … ‘the spoor of Yahweh’ – well he himself is a similar product. It is interesting that the word spoor is chosen as this associates the creator as animal. We will see later that the animal world is very evident in this poem.

S3 – what a shock … but he knew her at first-sight … woman part of man … woman and man inextricably connected … he noticed her in need (allegory of sense – poetic expression of this urge – allegory = a picture that can reveal a hidden meaning) … (he didn’t say ‘I have a bone to pick with you’!)

S4 – and what was this that winked at him … he was aware of the difference … Eve not tempting with an apple but with other fruit … a nice touch that a pawpaw is associated with Eve

S5 – again another fruit reference (nice to have different fruit from the Eve-apple association) – a gourd (hard celled fruit for decoration) … such an appropriate choice … and the typical female seductive stereotype written by a male in snake terms

S6 – all the animals that have been enjoying sex are there watching … nice contrast … and interesting when later we see these animals are of a friendly nature

S7 – so Adam in line with the animals … copying … has the first sexual act with a woman … it might have been a surprise to find the changes to his body in this encounter

S8 – Eve has achieved her purpose … her need satisfied … a triumphant cry while the animals watch and in S9 and S10 become loving midwifes as Eve’s body changes with pregnancy … great imagination … all the animals seem friendly and Adam is regarded as one of them

S11 – Adam watches the first human birth in fear … and then that confronting last line that stuns the thought of the reader.

And so began the fragmentation of the empire of Imperial Adam.

Here is a link to the Australian poet A. D. Hope on Wikipedia …

Shelley’s Preface to Prometheus Unbound

Shelley’s preface to Prometheus Unbound is well worth reading in understanding the something of the nature Shelley …

It is interesting to see what he has to say about his hero Prometheus compared to Satan detailed in ‘Paradise Lost’ (Milton) …

‘… the only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgement, a more poetical character than Satan because, in addition to courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the traits of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which is the hero of ‘Paradise Lost’… … Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and truest motives to the best and noblest ends.’

The only thing I can say to that … Satan can’t be perfect can he …but seriously, again we see Shelley (= Prometheus) willing to stand-up … even against omnipotence

On the imagery – ‘ … drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed’… Shelley says this is unusual in the poetry of his day … with the exception of Shakespeare and Dante (especially Dante) … he also applauds the Greek poets who had no antecedent

He pays homage to the way literature fuelled a better interpretation of the Christian Religion …

We owe the great writers of the golden age of our literature to that fervid awakening of the public mind which shook to dust the oldest and most oppressive form of the Christian Religion’

I agree that in one sense ‘poetry is a mimetic art’ … the influence of others is unavoidable … Shelley states the following generalisation …

‘A Poet, is the combined product of such internal powers as modify the nature of others, and of such external influences as excite and sustain these powers; he is not one but both. Every man’s mind is in this respect modified by all the objects in nature and art, by every word and every suggestion which he ever admitted to act upon his consciousness; it is the mirror upon which all forms are reflected, and in which they compose one form. … Poets, not otherwise than philosophers, painters, sculptors, musicians, are in one sense the creators and in another the creations of their age.’

… finding similarity between Homer with Hesiod, Aeschylus and Euripides, Virgil and Horace, Dante and Petrarch, Shakespeare and Fletcher and Dryden and Pope … and in the need to read the work of others …

‘He might as wisely and as easily determine that his mind should no longer be the mirror of all that is lovely in the visible universe, as exclude from his contemplation the beautiful which exists in the writings of a great contemporary’

Footnote …

from Wikipedia on Prometheus Unbound … Prometheus Unbound is a four-act lyrical drama by Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in 1820.  It is concerned with the torments of the Greek mythological figure Prometheus, who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment and suffering at the hands of Zeus.

‘Tsanga’ – Book Launch Poem

The following poem was written specifically for the Ebook launch of Tsanga in Canberra on 18 July. This book by Heather Powell describes her life in a Rhodesian recovery centre while working there in the years 1975-1979. This was during the Bush Wars when Ian Smith had declared independence and before the establishment of present-day Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe. Tsanga was located in the beautiful eastern highlands of the country. Many of those treated at Tsanga were the result of landmines planted by those opposing the minority white rule of Ian Smith. An unorthdox approach based on laughter was part of the way taken to aid recovery (see the Lauch Invite below the poem).

At Tsanga1 (1976-1979)

pain is not black or white
pain has mutuality that threads its thorns
beyond the superficiality of colour and age

the war wounded and suffering disabled
had a commonality of understanding
that defined a special communion

damaged and partial, bodies without limbs
were challenged in the enormity of physical change
to find a unique resource in tragic adversity

Imagine being twenty and living in Africa
when a ‘biscuit tin’2 explodes in your face.
You wake up in a medical centre to be
discharged with paralysis in the left leg
and a brain injury that causes stumbling.
How would you feel your future fucked!

Welcomed at Tsanga; given-up by others
it’s hard to accept your predicament
but you gradually improve
encouraged by staff and exercise
and the friendship of others
less or more afflicted.

Out walking the scenic bush-mountain track
you fall on your knees to confront the ground.
Dick Paget3 bends down and face-to-face enquires
‘what exactly are you doing’ – you reply
‘just looking for my contact lenses, Sir’
and you smile as Dick laughs.

Then you break into laughter
and both of you can’t stop laughing.
At the bar in the evening others hear
this story, they too break into laughter.
Laughter, laughter – laughter abounds.
And for the first time – a total acceptance.

Richard Scutter May 2017

1Tsanga Lodge was a recovery centre set up by the Rhodesian Army in 1967
located in the beautiful scenic highlands of eastern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
2Biscuit Tin – colloquial name for a roadside landmine during the Bush Wars in Rhodesia
3 … Dick Paget was the commanding officer at Tsanga

For those that may be interested in obtaining this ebook here is a link

And below is the Launch Invite …