Excerpt from ‘Aurora Leigh’ – Elizabeth Barrett Browning – Comments

From Book 1, Aurora Leigh – Excerpt II

She liked a woman to be womanly,
And English women, she thanked God and sighed,
(Some people always sigh in thanking God)
Were models to the universe. And last
I learnt cross-stitch, because she did not like
To see me wear the night with empty hands
A-doing nothing. So, my shepherdess
Was something after all, (the pastoral saints
Be praised for’t) leaning lovelorn with pink eyes
To match her shoes, when I mistook the silks;
Her head uncrushed by that round weight of hat
So strangely similar to the tortoise-shell
Which slew the tragic poet. By the way,
The works of women are symbolical.
We sew, sew, prick our fingers, dull our sight,
Producing what? A pair of slippers, sir,
To put on when you’re weary—or a stool
To stumble over and vex you . . “curse that stool!”
Or else at best, a cushion, where you lean
And sleep, and dream of something we are not
But would be for your sake. Alas, alas!
This hurts most, this—that, after all, we are paid
The worth of our work, perhaps.

… from Aurora Leigh (1856), Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s epic novel in blank verse, which tells the story of the making of a woman poet, exploring ‘the woman question’, art and its relation to politics and social oppression.

Aeschylus – the ‘tragic poet’ referenced in the text … he died when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head. The eagle thinking his head was something hard so that it would break the tortoise. He is regarded as the father of tragedy – see this Wikipedia link.

These words outline how difficult it was for a woman to take up anything outside of their homely role in the nineteenth century. Men continue to ‘dream of something we are not’. And the product of the homely life is regarded as of little meaning in relation to the need of women to do and be something else – in the case of Aurora Leigh a poet.

‘We sew, sew, prick our fingers, dull our sight, / Producing what? A pair of slippers, sir, / To put on when you’re weary’ – a cynical response to homely duties. It hurts most that woman are valued by this work which is nothing compared to the woman potential. So after all women are perhaps paid the worth of their work.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a hard life apart from her illness. Her father did not want any of his daughters to marry. And after the secret marriage to Robert and their elopement to France in 1846 her father disowned her and put all her possessions in storage. It was exceptional that she had the ability and the perseverance to develop her poetic voice. And she like Blake and Dickens was a great advocate for social change; especially in regard to the maltreatment of children during the industrial revolution.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Wikipedia.

Good and Clever – Elizabeth Wordsworth – Comments

Good and Clever

If all the good people were clever,
And all clever people were good,
The world would be nicer than ever
We thought that it possibly could.

But somehow ’tis seldom or never
The two hit it off as they should,
The good are so harsh to the clever,
The clever, so rude to the good!

So friends, let it be our endeavour
To make each by each understood;
For few can be good, like the clever,
Or clever, so well as the good.

Elizabeth Wordsworth (1840 – 1932)

A classic poem identifying the two groups of people – the good and the clever, so here is a question – in what sense are the good clever and in what sense are the clever good? Goodness knows the clever response.

The Good – of upright and virtuous character
The Clever – demonstrating mental agility and creativity

I don’t like putting people into categories; giving dominant labels that colour other aspects of the  indidual. And the confusion in the last two lines gives voice to a cross classification – a nice way of obviating the way we view people.

Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth was the great-niece of the poet William Wordsworth. She was the Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, from 1878-1909, when she founded St. Hugh’s Hall, a college for poor female undergraduates, in Norham Gardens, North Oxford.

A Wikipedia link  to Elizabeth Wordswoth

Invictus – William Ernest Henley

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849 – July 1903)

Invictus is Latin for unconquerable. This is a poem that gives emphasis to the personal spiritual power of the individual no matter the adversity. WEH wrote this poem when in hospital suffering from tuberculosis. The concluding couplet are those most well-known lines – ‘I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul’.

This poem is all about being independent, about taking full responsibility for your life in total control of your destiny. It is a statement to the strength within the individual to cope no matter the circumstances.

… for a detailed analysis of this poem visit – https://invictusexplained.wordpress.com/

And from Wikipedia …

William Ernest Henley was an English poet, critic and editor of the late-Victorian era in England who is spoken of as having as central a role in his time as Samuel Johnson had in the eighteenth century. He is remembered most often for his 1875 poem “Invictus”, a piece which recurs in popular awareness (e.g., see the 2009 Clint Eastwood film, Invictus). It is one of his hospital poems from early battles with tuberculosis and is said to have developed the artistic motif of poet as a patient, and to have anticipated modern poetry in form and subject matter.

Re – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Ernest_Henley

Footnote Invictus Games is a Foundation supporting those in the Forces recovering from injury by exercise and sport. Prince Harry, the new Duke of Sussex, and Meghan the Duchess are planning to attend the Invictus Games in Sydney in October 2018.

War Baby – Pamela Holmes

It is Anzac Day today in Australia (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.) Too often we hear male oriented war poems. Here is a poignant poem from the home front, from the other side of the equation.

War Baby

He has not even seen you, he
Who gave you your mortality;
And you, so small, how can you guess
His courage, or his loveliness?

Yet in my quiet mind I pray
He passed you on the darkling way –
His death, your birth, so much the same –
And holding you, breathed once your name.

Pamela Holmes

Pamela Holmes was educated at Benenden School, Sussex. Her husband, Lieutenant F.C. Hall, was posted missing believed killed in December 1942. Their daughter was born four months after his death.

From ‘Poetry of the Second World War’ selected by Edward Hudson, with a preface by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire V.C.

Life continues.

Anzac Day …  a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping.

God’s Grandeur – Gerard Manley Hopkins

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 -1889)

What a powerful first line ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God’. The operative word is ‘charged’ as though the world is some amazing battery of energy and through some unfathomable process became alive – like an umbilical cord of love permeating existence with the grandness of God.  ‘Full’ would not do as an alternative word for ‘charged’ implies the ongoing dynamism of life.

The first 8 lines of this sonnet lament on searing, blearing and smearing – the way humanity has defaced the ‘grandeur of God’ and asks the question ‘why is this so’. The last of these lines give some reason ‘nor can foot feel, being shod’ – a loss of direct contact with nature. So what does this say about the world today with the increasing electronic dislocation with the physical.

But the concluding six lines give hope – ‘nature is never spent’ … and particularly the spirit of God (the Holy Ghost) is still a deep down saving force – ‘with warm breast and with ah! bright wings’. It is nice to end on an optimistic note!

It is Easter when many think of the link between humanity and God and traditionally a God external from the world. But that magnificent first line brings God firmly down to earth. Stephen Hawking in his book ‘The Brief History of Time’ suggests a possible scenario where the universe is a self-contained boundless system with no beginning and no end and he asks where does a ‘creator’ fit into the equation (if you excuse the pun). Well perhaps God has always been here and is very much an integral part in all life and the on-going evolution of the universe. So perhaps we should try more to work with God in the endless journey to improve the universe for all, not easy to do of course!

But Easter Sunday is a great day to just appreciate and celebrate the impressive beauty of our world. Enjoy today whether or not the sun is shining in your world.

More commentary on this poem 

… and my response to that first line

Gerard Manley Hopkins on Wikipedia 

When my love swears – Sonnet 138 – Shakespeare

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

William Shakespeare (Sonnet 138)

This sonnet is all about acceptance … acceptance of the imperfections of another that they too will accept the imperfections that exist in you.

In a way it is a love sonnet for love totally disregards the faults of others … well, perhaps not quite… may be a subtle approach is needed if correction is warranted … timing is important and at this moment there is total acceptance to the extent that both parties delight in a pretense – in imaging the untruth as true.

So perhaps love is a ‘trading of imperfections’ – though we can hardly call age an imperfection but a nice trade to be seen as young again and age to be ignored – And age in love loves not to have years told!

 

Leaving Nancy – Eric Bogle

Leaving Nancy

In comes the train and the whole platform shakes
It stops with a shudder and a screaming of brakes
The parting has come and my weary soul aches
I’m leaving my Nancy, oh

But you stand there so calmly determinedly gay
You talk of the weather and events of the day
And your eyes tell me all that your tongue doesn’t say
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And come a little closer
Put your head upon my shoulder
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows

My suitcase is lifted and stowed on the train
And a thousand regrets whirl around in my brain
The ache in my heart is a black sea of pain
I’m leaving my Nancy, oh

But you stand there beside me so lovely to see
The grip of your hand is an unspoken plea
You’re not fooling yourself and you’re not fooling me
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And come a little closer
Put your head upon my shoulder
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows

But our time has run out and the whistle has blown
Here I must leave you standing alone
We had so little time and now the time’s gone
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And as the train starts gently to roll
And as I lean out to wave and to call
I see the first tears trickle and fall
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And come a little closer
Put your head upon my shoulder
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows

Eric Bogle (1944 –

Eric Bogle left Scotland for Canberra, Australia in 1969. Nancy was his mother and this was the last time he saw her. A very poignant poem (lyrics) the more so for me and anyone who has come to Australia from England and left parents behind; and Eric Bogle captures that moment of departure easily visualised by ‘your eyes tell me all that your tongue doesn’t say’ … it is a moment of such emotional intensity that feelings overwhelm a person negating any attempt at word expression.

There comes a time to leave parents – ‘our time has run out’, just as departure time dictates the leaving of the train. Each stanza has rhyme ‘aaa’ plus the repeat of the lament – ‘Good bye my Nancy, oh’. And the nice rhythm is in line with that of the train as it starts moving, traveling with the same beat of the words of the poem.

The above lyrics are based on his poem of the same name … the poem not having the repetition of the refrain.

There is a very poignant recording of Eric singing this on YouTube.

And details on Eric Bogle on Wikipedia.

Footnote …

There is a difference between metre and rhythm. Meter is the particular formal structure such as iambic pentameter … e.g. – each line = low High (x5) – ‘I love to go a wandering along …’ … whereas rhythm is the beat equivalent to that in music. The underlying beat of a poem is not always stressed by a reader. And a poem may have periodic beat if that is appropriate in the poetic expression of the words.

 

Christmas Day – A Fibonacci Poem

Christmas Day

this
day
is a
special day
for celebration
it is that one day in the year
when Christians stop to honour the birth of Jesus Christ
and Christ love becomes married with all humanity in the destiny of the world

Richard Scutter

The Fibonacci numbers are the numbers in the following integer sequence, called the Fibonacci sequence, and characterized by the fact that every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones: 1 , 1 , 2 , 3 , 5 , 8 , 13 , 21 , 34 , 55 , 89 , 144 , …

A Fibonacci poem … each line has the number of syllables that follow this sequence.

Footnote …

Considering someone who was very Christ-Centric in his spiritual thought …

No work of the great believer Teilhard de Chardin can be understood except in relation to his ‘fundamental vision’ – as Christ as all-in-everything, of the universe moved and com-penetrated by God in the totality of its evolution.

– comment by the French Editor of Le Milieu Divin by Teilhard de Chardin

(com – penetrated  – converting and penetrating)

When ‘we’ create something part of us is always reflected in that creation and when we are not quite happy with it we continue to improve it to the way we eventually would like it to be … unless, of course, it is a continuing improving phenomenon without end.

All the best to everyone in this wonderful wide world.

Enjoy this time with family and friends.