Along by merry Christmas time – Henry Lawson – Comments

Along by merry Christmas time

Along by merry Christmas time they buy the aged goose,
And boil the dread plum pudding, because of ancient use.
But to sneer at old time customs would be nothing but a crime,|
For the memory of the Past is all bound up in Christmas time.

Then Jim comes home from shearing, and he puts a few away,
With Dad, perhaps, or Uncle, but they’re right on Christmas Day:
For be it on the Never, or ‘neath the church bells’ chime,
The family gets together, if they can, at Christmas time.

And, after tea at Christmas, they clear the things away
And play the dear old silly games our grand-folk used to play
And Dad gives a recitation that used to be the joy
Of all the Western countryside, when Father was a boy.

Along by merry Christmas time, and ere the week is o’er
We meet and fix up quarrels that each was sorry for.
Our hearts are filled with kindness and forgiveness sublime,
For no one knows where one may be next merry Christmas time.

Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922)

S1 – Christmas is all about remembering the past. The birth of Christ and friends and family that are, or have been, dear to us.

At Christmas we reflect on people that are not with us … always hard to come to terms with loss of the precious in our life. But can love deal with the loss of a recent family member. Here is a poignant poem by Louisa Lawson, the mother of Henry Lawson – A Mother’s Answer – Louisa Lawson | my word in your ear

Henry Lawson’s easy flowing rhymed poem was written in 1913, maybe the plum pudding was not what it is today. An aged goose doesn’t sound attractive either. How many people in Australia are planning to eat goose this year, not exactly a first choice! In fact a meat I have never eaten.

S2 – Christmas is all about bringing family and friends together. And regardless of where the family gather – the Never, Never – the outback, or whether the family congregates at Church together. Food and drink are always to the fore. The variety of food and drink on offer has expanded considerably since I was a boy. And many items that were a luxury for us at Christmas are now commonplace throughout the year.

S3 – Christmas is all about sharing family play. And being accepting of the previous generation in the games they used to play. There are always well-known familiar stories associated with relatives in conjunction with the play. And listening without comment maybe hard for the younger generation, however boring! And when I was growing up music renditions by those who could play, piano and violin from my mother and an uncle come to mind.

S4 – Christmas is all about forgetting squabbles and forgiving. And the last line tells us unequivocally to make the best of the time together; for who knows where family and friends will be next Christmas.

Henry Lawson is best known for being a master of the short story – ‘While the Billy Boils’ – rather than his poetry. Although an Australian theme the Christmas expression in this poem has wide universal association in the Western World.

So what can I say – make the most of this coming Christmas Day.

Henry Lawson on 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

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

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

Lana Turner has collapsed – Frank O’Hara

Lana Turner has collapsed

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

Frank O’Hara (1926 - 1956)

This is New York and the weather is not good, and the guy is in a hurry to reach an appointment. He is walking with a friend. And to add to his rush is the fact that it has started to rain and snow. This is very annoying. Who hasn’t been in a similar situation and found the weather irritating? His friend said it is hail. But he has his eye on the weather and knows it is not hail, he knows that it would hit him. So in his irritated mood he must correct his friend; if only mentally.

And the traffic is like the weather annoyingly holding things up in his rush to reach his destination. It is that everything going against you type of thing that we all experience from time to time when the one thing we are trying to do is stopped continually by events happening around us.

Poetically these lines marry in with the rush when you say them quickly. And although it is not a sonnet it has that marked change as the whole key to the poem is in a repeat of the title. The title in capitals. And this guy’s mindset has totally changed. And all that irritation has been subdued by the fact that ‘Lana Turner has collapsed’. Wow, it is there on a newsstand, and it hits much harder to the head than any hail! Well, you don’t really have to know anything about Lana Turner other that it is significant to this guy who is hurrying along the street.

And the last six lines deal with the total change in thought. California and Hollywood come to mind. The weather in California is a little different from New York! And we can now assume that Lana is a party-party high flying actress of some prominence. And like Lana this guy is known to behave disgracefully at times. And the plea is for Lana to get up akin to his likewise ability when in similar circumstances.

Frank O’Hara on Wikipedia

The Day is Done – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Analysis

The Day is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
   Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
   From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
   Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
   That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
   That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
   As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
   Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
   And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
   Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
   Through the corridors of Time. 
For, like strains of martial music,
   Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
   And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
   Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
   Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
   And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
   Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
   The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
   That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
   The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
   The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music
   And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
   And as silently steal away.
Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

Mention of Longfellow immediately reminds me of the ‘Song of Hiawatha’ and the associated rhyme and rhythm and there is likewise a similar sense of musicality in this poem with the second and fourth line of each stanza rhymed. And there is that iambic flow with unstressed and stressed syllables as you read the stanzas; as in the opening lines – the day is done and the darkness / falls from the wings of night.

This is a poem all about sadness and there is that gentle soft fall of sadness akin to a feather wafting down to the ground by an eagle personified as the fall of night. As though the night has taken away something beautiful. The eagle is no longer seen. At the same time something beautiful remains by the feather slowly floating down.

So what is left at the end of the day is just a feather. The end of the day is often seen as a poetic suggestion to the end of life. So here is something beautiful left behind blowing in the wind and disappearing in the night.

Then the lights of the village are blurred as though the sadness has affected the poet’s vision. And there is sorrow with the sadness like with mist and rain; implying perhaps that the sorrow is not overwhelming.

And there is an ask for a simple poem. Not martial words or words from the great masters.  But for a poem from the heart from a humble poet, and someone who has gone through many trials of life but found joy despite all the difficulties. Metaphorical defined as showers from the clouds of summer. And associated with the ask for a poem is an ask for a reading of the poem, for a voice to be heard as a song to enhance the words. The choice of the poem is left up to the reader.

And if this occurs and the request successful cares will disappear akin to Arabs packing up their tents and stealing away. I like the thought that poetry can steal negative emotion and be uplifting.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Wikipedia – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Wikipedia