Sunlight on the Garden – Louis MacNeice – Analysis

Sunlight on the Garden
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

The title – The Sunlight on the Garden – this creates an image in the mind and as soon as you have read the poem an association develops. As the poem is familiar immediate thoughts come to mind. But independently, I do like the image of garden and sunlight and how the garden is brought into prominence by the highlight of the sun. And if we mull over these words and what they conjure in the mind we can think of a garden scene and whether there is an unforgettable event prominent in our own personal thoughts. It is the key image that flows through the poem with repetition of text in the first and last lines. The poem explores a somewhat emotional journey as one specific instance is considered over time.

S1 … sad grief, loss … and that there can be no return to an event that happened … where perhaps choice was involved … where actions could have been different … maybe inappropriate behaviour, a wish that he had done differently … behaviour that cannot now be pardoned … at the same time a golden moment that has held personal value over the years.

S2 … time takes us quickly to an end … the world produces sonnets and birds … the created world, the product of man … and the natural world, both have beauty associations … but more important no time for dances … no time to be close together … a distinct feeling that there is a lamentation on a relationship

S3 … written in 1936 … the situation across the channel a little dark … flying, different birds are now involved, – blue sky shadows of evil iron = warplanes, and sirens suggests warning of air raids … we are dying … becoming history … Egypt symbolises history … his grief marries into the sad foreboding of war and the fact that life is changing not for the better

S4 … we are hardened by life experience … no pardon needed, if that was possible and now an acceptance, a thankyou … the end of reflection on personal experience … for being with someone very special … even if there has been thunder and rain … for sunlight on the garden … a repetition of title and the first line of the first stanza … glad for the golden moment … not troubled … and life can resume with the removal of this mind-shadow perhaps

The poem addresses those critical events in life when we wish we had made different choices. Events that we still hold on too, and perhaps find hard to accept even after many years.

On Wikipedia – Louis MacNeice – Wikipedia

Details on structure and poetic technique from Wikipedia …

The Sunlight on the Garden is a poem of four stanzas, each of six lines. It is a highly formal poem, and has been much admired as an example of MacNeice’s poetic technique. All the lines are loose three-beat lines or trimeters, except for the fifth line of each stanza, which is a dimeter. The rhyme scheme is ABCBBA. The A rhyme in the first stanza (“garden/pardon”) returns in the final stanza, but with the words reversed (“pardon/garden”). In addition to end rhyme, MacNeice makes use of internal rhyme, rhyming the end of the first line with the beginning of the second line (“lances/Advances”) and the end of the third line with the beginning of the fourth line (“under/Thunder”). George MacBeth comments that the rhyme scheme “has the effect of dovetailing the lines together and producing a constant sense of echo emphasising the lingering, fading quality of the joys of life which the poem is talking about.”[8]

The Bright Field – R. S. Thomas – Analysis

The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
R. S. Thomas (1913 – 2000)

R. S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest; so, it is not surprising that there are religious references. Moses and the ‘burning bush’ was the spectacular interaction where God defined the plan for Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. So, ‘The Bright Field’ could be considered, metaphorically speaking, that spectacular event in life that defines a personal focus to living.

The poem asks the reader to consider such personal turning points that define purpose. And to stay focus on that purpose, independent of a religious high being part of the equation. And to concentrate on the now; for indeed life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past.

And the sun breaking through has that latent son religious thought of a spiritual connection whether or not so glaringly stated as in the case of Moses and the burning bush.

It is nice to carry those ‘golden moments’ with us especially if they are of such significance that they define purpose and meaning to life! Especially to remind ourselves when we are overwhelmed by modern day lock-downs and stress; and to continue to follow our dreams regardless.

Enough of the didactic! … here is a special moment from my youth when I had the whole wide world before me (forgive the pun) …

Stopping One Day
I remember one day in June.
The height of summer and the sun
still rising on one of those days
that calls all nature into song.

Biking the back lanes of the Hampshire countryside.
Stopping on a bridge over a stream
the clear sparkling chatter below, while beyond
the fields praising their contentment.

Footnote …

It was one of those startling English summer days in June.  The sun stretching and all nature responded as I cycled down a country lane thinking of my future. I stopped on a narrow bridge over a little stream totally intoxicated with the joy of life.

On Wikipedia – R. S. Thomas – Wikipedia

Photograph of Me Holding the Cat – Janet Frame – Comments

A Photograph of Me Holding the Cat
I see I have fallen into the trap. 
I hold it against my breast
but not on the side of my heart.  If you observe closely
you will see my fingers pressed into the fur
of my liable cat my escape-cat who would much rather be
                             stalking
in the great elsewhere at ground or sky level, seldom in
                             between where people’s heads are.
There is a tenderness in the way I balance its back paws
                             on my palm.
It’s all quite by chance.
I am frowning hard.  I too would much rather be
at my own level where I seldom meet a soul
except perhaps a travelling word or two, hordes of memories,
and because there is a tomorrow, a few meditative dreams
that will accompany me in my pleasurable inward world
my secret mirror of your great here and my great elsewhere.
Janet Frame (1924 – 2004)

The actual photograph is not available for the reader to sight, at least to my knowledge. But we can imagine based on JF’s words. What is more important is the detail and underlying interpretation. It is both a liable and an escape cat – implying a cat that likes the outdoors. And JF, a cat person, is very gentle in her holding.

But then in the last six lines she uses the cat’s likeness for its own level to define her own level.

JF states that she is content with being away from people but still connects using letters (travelling words) and she also connects by recalling the hordes of memories. This indicating the poem was written late in life.

But the key to her soul is her pleasurable inward world – and her secret mirror.

And if you read her autobiography (written in 1984); especially the last of the three-volume trilogy (An Envoy from Mirror City) you will glean clear meaning to that association. The Mirror City is her understanding of life experience created by imagination – her mirror city. It is her very special personal world as she looks into that hazy glass called reality. And she becomes a messenger in the form of an envoy. An envoy from another world … the world of imagination … where she devoted her life to literature and writing.

I do like that last line – your great here (life) and my great elsewhere (interpretation).

She was very gifted and led quite an amazing life. Her literary talent was discovered in her writing of short stories and the winning of a prestigious award while incarcerated in a mental institution in New Zealand. She was awarded a grant and travelled to London in 1956 at the age of 32. This was the opening to many adventures and eventually literary success and recognition in London after spending time in Ibiza and Andorra.

A film was made by Jane Campion based on her life called – An Angel at My Table. The title of the second book of her three book autobiography.

Janet Frame – Wikipedia

A link to her poem The Icicles.

The Icicles – Janet Frame – Comments

The Icicles

Every morning I congratulate
the icicles on their severity.
I think they have courage, backbone
their hard hearts will never give way.
Then around ten or half past,
hearing the steady falling of drops of water
I look up at the eaves. I see
the enactment of the same old winter story
– the icicles weeping away their inborn tears,
and if they only knew it, their identity.

Janet Frame (1924 - 2004)
'The Icicles' from The Goose Bath (Vintage, 2006), and in Storms Will Tell:
Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2008)

This is all about the personification of an icicle. And of course like most of nature the movement from one state to another is without thought and if you like a total acceptance; humans are a little different!

There are perhaps some deep underlying thoughts promted by the text. The question to consider is whether we weep our way through life traveling through the winters of experience. And what do we become as we change state in our final dissolution? And do we transform into a new identity?

I will leave it for readers to ponder such questions, if they so desire!

The following are some details on the New Zealand writer Janet Frame; mainly from Poetry Archive webpage –

She is known primarily as a prose-writer, but Janet Frame’s passion since the age of nine was for poetry. Desperately unhappy because of family tragedies, later judged as ‘abnormal’ and spending years in mental hospitals, she never stopped writing poems, expressing the recurrent themes of nature, animals, people, death and writing itself, and aiming for a “truthful vocabulary of what is and is not”. Yet she only published one volume of poetry, The Pocket Mirror, during her lifetime. A posthumous selection of the overwhelming number of poems she left behind was published in The Goose Bath, the title referring to the container in which Frame kept the poems.

Janet Frame on Wikipedia

Footnotes on a timeline – Ellen Van Neerven – Commentary

Footnotes on a timeline

Burnt in blue to circumnavigate the strange land of
evanescence, the blue line they call time moving all forward,
blueing the blackfellas they dared call savage –
you can’t steal from savages. There was infinite wealth to steal.
Do you understand what it means to be a beneficiary of
colonisation? Can we creep through the timeline and draw
against the ancient-modern binary?

I can point on one side of the wave to my ancestors’ story,
I trace it through. They thought they cleaned it up but they
built the shallowest grave. They sold their soul for gold and
coal and oil and we line our stomachs with water, it will
be our armour, we are the people that can live inside our
dreaming, live inside the sea, live inside a turtle’s heartbeat,
live inside the sun on the sand, warm this country for
centuries because we are the real entities.

Don’t turn a blind eye, please, all we need for you to see is
that climate is our only bank. If we don’t have healthy water,
air, earth, we got nothing. So where does your money go,
where does your time go? My time and your time are on this
timeline.

There’s time for us to read out all of the footnotes, go over
the fine print. They burnt records of us in fires, they stole
the evidence of our survival. But check my blood, I’m from
here. This country is a haunted house, governments still
 playing cat chasing marsupial mouse. How many lies on
your timeline? Have you ever felt like you’re just killing
time? We’re still smoking sores. Let’s carbon date it, baby.
We have time to read out all the footnotes of a timeline in
Reckitt’s blue .

Ellen Van Neerven (1980 – ) from her book ‘Throat’

Ellen van Neerven is an Aboriginal Australian author, educator and editor. The timeline refers to the colonisation of Australia in the eighteenth century.

Reckitt’s Blue was a product used in hand washing as a whitener, to help delay the yellowing effect you can get when cotton gets older.

It is also an ekphrastic poem as there is a painting of the same name. See this link … Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue (detail) 2017 – The Drawing Room – ABC Radio National.

The poem is based on the colour blue and the product ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ in reference to the clash of cultures and the destruction occurred by the white invasion of the country. And as you can see Reckitt’s Blue was an appropriate product in connection with the whitening of Australia that took place against the indigenous culture.

The title is very apt as Aboriginal peoples associate so strongly with the land. Bare foot walking gives a sense of home. These notes is the vein of a poem come straight from the heart of Aboriginality.

Looking at each stanza –

S1 … Well, it is all to do with the ancient-modern binary; the coming together of two very different peoples due to the journeys across the blue. And in a different understanding of blue, the blueing of the blackfellas. And the infinite wealth to steal is not the wealth from mining exploration. And we have the reference to the Reckitt’s Blue painting with that verb draw. And this is the big question – what are the benefits of colonisation?

S2 … The painting has a wave of blue and this is used to portray two different sides of the story. The selling of the land for what it contained; gold, coal and oil within the shallowest of graves. Implying a loss of Aboriginal life. Against this that which is impossible to steal articulated using Aboriginal culture such as the living inside the dreaming. And the deep association with the land and nature with that metaphoric statement to live inside a turtle’s heartbeat.

S3 … A telling statement on the environment for we are all on the same timeline – my time and your time are on this timeline. Care of environment is paramount to survival.

S4 … Here the timeline of the colonisation years is shrouded in the lies of non-recognition of what happened in those years of destruction; the stealing of the evidence of survival. Often a timeline is a continual statement across time denoting a whole list of events. This might not be a true representation from a white interpretation; but the poem ends providing that marvelous metaphoric footnote in terms of Reckitt’s Blue.

It seems appropriate to include this poem as last week was NAIDOC (National Aborigine and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week which is always the first full week in July.

And here is a link to a poem from Oodgeroo Noonuccal famous for promoting acceptance many years ago – We are going – Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) Comments | my word in your ear– with similar sentiments on the nature of the impact of  colonisation on the indigenous peoples of Australia.

And Ellen Van Neerven on WordPress – Ellen van Neerven | Mununjali author (wordpress.com)

On Wikipedia … Ellen van Neerven – Wikipedia

After great pain – Emily Dickinson

After great pain

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs –
The stiff Heart questions “was it He, that bore,
And “Yesterday, or Centuries before”?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the snow –
First – Chill – then stupor – then the letting go –

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

This poem was written in 1862 and in the life of ED what great pain she experienced is not known. However, the generic nature allows the reader to make personal association based on life experience.

S1 – the poetic structure of the opening first line stresses great pain …

After / great pain, / a for / mal feel / ing comes – (using trochee – long short stress and spondee long long) … iambic pentameter is used elsewhere.

The nerves are equated to tombs in that sensitivity of body becomes a dead holding place. A numbing effect takes place. The heart, the central piece of the body, becomes stiff equating to why, why is such pain happening. And then there is the religious connotation on the ‘He’ perhaps relating to Jesus who was the answer to all sin both past and present in the act of atonement on the cross. An immeasurable pain unknown.

S2 – This is the aftermath of a painful event, whatever the nature of that pain. Life carries on but in a numb sort of way as everything turns to cardboard. But something happens from this pain and something of value internalises in the person like the forming of quartz -a common hard, crystalline mineral. And there is a contentment in this hardening of life. A contentment after coming to terms with what has happened.

S3 – This is the way of life defined in the hour of lead … by the example of a person experiencing snow then the chill and the subconscious stupor as all sensitivity is lost in the letting go. This continue process is shown poetically by the discrete break up of the words and the use of the hyphen in that last line – First – Chill – then stupor – then the letting go –. But does that ever happen?

ED defines the nature of life as we experience a succession of falling pain. But there is never total closure for we carry the scars despite moving on and hopefully growing as a person. And whether quartz can become diamond is another matter; especially if forgiveness is involved.

Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia

In Jerusalem – Mahmoud Darwish – Analysis

In Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy,
because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself:
How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a
stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted: Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die
Mahmoud Darwish
translated by Fady Joudah

Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet and author who was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He won numerous awards for his works. Darwish used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. According to the Internet he has been described as incarnating and reflecting ‘the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry’.

Born in a village near Galilee, Darwish spent time as an exile throughout the Middle East and Europe for much of his life. He was imprisoned in the 1960s for reading his poetry aloud while travelling from village to village without a permit. Under the influence of both Arabic and Hebrew literature, Darwish was exposed to the work of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda through Hebrew translations.

‘In Jerusalem’ is considered one of his most important poems. Jerusalem is the centre city of the three religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And remains the centre of conflict on legitimacy over it. This poem was a popular response after Donald Trump supported Israel in making it capital.

Jerusalem is first depicted as the personification of love and peace (lines 1 -7). And then the rising-up from the ashes. A personal rising as well as the rising of Palestine. A forgetting of any past religious association – I walk from one epoch to another without a memory. A bathing in the pure light of the holy – all this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. The stone could refer to the Foundation Stone behind the ‘Wailing Wall’ which could be regarded as the fountain of all true light from God.

Then the transformation and transfiguration to a true state outside both time and place. The message from Isaiah that redemption is possible on belief. The white biblical rose has a flavour of Christianity and purity but there is no ascension and the reference is to the prophet Muhammad.

The poem ends with a return to Earth and the dramatic ending by a woman solider shouting: It’s you again? Didn’t I kill you? This is followed by that wonderful response – I said: You killed me … and I, forgot, like you, to die.

Death cannot destroy; and the survival of Palestine is inferred – or in fact life in general, whether Jew or Arab. A poem that transcends all the waring religious factions. Perhaps, in due time, Jerusalem will revert to the love and peace denoted in the opening lines.

Muhammad Darwish on Wikipedia

Memorial day for the war dead. Yehuda Amichai – Analysis

Memorial day for the war dead.
Add now the grief of all your losses to their grief, 
even of a woman that has left you.  Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.
Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread, 
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God. 
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding." 
No use to weep inside and to scream outside. 
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.
Memorial day.  Bitter salt is dressed up 
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.
The flautist's mouth will stay like that for many days. 
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.
A flag loses contact with reality and flies off. 
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.
A great and royal animal is dying 
all through the night under the jasmine
tree with a constant stare at the world.
A man whose son died in the war walks in the street 
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
"Behind all this some great happiness is hiding."
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

Yehuda Amichai was born in Germany to an Orthodox Jewish family and became steeped in Judaism and fluent in Hebrew. The family moved to Israel when he was 12 years old. He is considered, both in Israel and internationally, as Israel’s greatest modern poet, and one of the leading poets worldwide. Note that this is an English translation from the Hebrew.

The Title – Memorial Day started as an event to honour Union soldiers who had died during the American Civil War. It was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honoured their dead. … This meant that from 1971, the Memorial Day holiday has been officially observed on the last Monday in May.

S1 … However, as you will realise when reading the poem Memorial Day has been expanded by his words to include all who suffer from the death of a loved one. This includes the metaphorical death associated with the separation by a woman. And what is suggested in the very first stanza that why not make it a Memorial Day for all who are in a state of grief. A mixing of sorrow with sorrow.

 S2 … There is so much sorrow in the world, and so much sorrow caused by the sad imperfection of humanity that there is a complaint to a toothless God who does nothing to alleviate the situation. Is this a factual statement though? But there is a to touch of optimism in that maybe some sweet happiness exists behind the horror

S3 … Children who are perhaps impervious to grief, or at least extensive grief, join in the memorial walking as if stepping over broken glass. I do like the way grief is identified with the symbol broken glass.

S4 … I don’t know how long it takes a flautist’s mouth to reshape. Perhaps the suggestion that grief is likewise lasting. A dead soldier swimming above little heads indicates to me the dead are alive to the children but above their comprehension. The dead are in an alien environment like existing in water and needing to swim.

S5 … Memorial days tend to give emphasis to nationality and sometimes this becomes too dominant – a flag loses contact with reality and flies off. Israel and Judaism can be symbolically compared to a beautiful woman dressed up on display. Blue and white are theologically important colours in Judaism. But there is always a certain shadow when thinking of Israel. In this poem represented by three languages attaching to everything alluding to the Palestine conflict with the resultant language death. Hebrew and Arabic and the respective nations must coexist although as we have seen so clearly in recent days any hope for a lasting peace between the warring factions is unlikely.

S6 … My thought is that the great royal animal must have religious significance. This may be a reference to the dying of ‘that religion’ as it looks on in disgust at what is happening in the region. Again inaction is associated with staring and this is in line with the toothless nature of God already mentioned in the second stanza.

S7 … A very moving way to carry a dead person within the grief of the living – like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb. But the ending line is not a line of ‘perhaps’ but a line stating that behind all this some great happiness IS hiding. There is a note of optimism.

Hopefully that latent happiness will surface with the advent of a lasting peace in the region. But this is a poem about sorrow in general and for those in great sorrow for whatever reason there is still that great hidden happiness however hard it may be to realise.

Yehuda Amichai on Wikipedia – Yehuda Amichai – Wikipedia