The Eagle – Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Eagle
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1850 - 1892)

When I first started taking an interest in poetry this poem was given to me as an entry point to define poetic expression in terms of a simple text. It certainly did that and looking at it again today it still invokes admiration.

L1 … Rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration and then personification as claws are transformed into hands. We have become the eagle. Clasps give strength to the fact of maintaining a strong hold. It gives a sense of safety. The many times I go to a lookout I make sure I am safe as I look down.

L2 … Of course, the Eagle is not close to the sun. We know the sun and moon appear to be the same size though the sun is millions of miles away. But this is where the eagle lives and it is not our world, another lonely world. Hopefully, a world far away from the flight path of planes. But lonely suggests the eagle has the sky space to itself.

L3 … He is now standing rather than perched and he is ringed with the azure (bright blue cloudless sky). And we immediately have a picture of dominance against a perfect sky background. Of all birds the eagle is the lion of the sky.

L4 … You will not get a better word than wrinkled to describe the sea from a great height on a quiet day. And the fact that it crawls gives emphasis that it is below and subservient to the eagle.

L5 … This is his lookout where he spends time watching. This is his nature and way of living. So you have a still set in the mind of the reader. A waiting and that comma is so important at the end of the line. When reading it give a pause!

L6 … The thunderbolt dynamism of the last line. The contrast from being still and the crawling sea as we become the falling eagle (not diving or swooping) but falling. I am told birds do close in their feathers tight to provide greater speed in movement at the start of their dive. Therefore, falls may have a factual element as well.

Some time ago my daughter took a photograph of a sea-eagle. When she zoomed the image it had a fish in its claws. You must hand it to the eagle for such fishing skill.

Alfred Lord Tennyson on Wikipedia

Gratitude to Old Teachers – Robert Bly – Comments

Gratitude to Old Teachers

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

Water that once could take no human weight—
We were students then— holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

Robert Bly (1926 – 2021)

I did like this simple poem as Robert Bly is not always easy to fathom (excuse the pun).

The journey of life is like a walk across a frozen lake. And I remember as an eight-year-old testing a frozen pond with parts too thin to walk on. Our walk or life journey is unique, and we walk on the unwalked.

We have underneath support from others all our life. Sometimes completely unknown to us of course. And if we have a spiritual belief maybe we have some form of spiritual guidance. Robert Bly is saying the ice is thickest when we are young for it is at that stage that we need most support; not getting ourselves runover on the roads or in his poem not drowning. And indeed, maybe others prepare for our future stepping in the journey of life, whether a mile or greater distance.

The ‘all around us the stillness’ text does suggest that those that have provided support are no longer alive, or alive to us. And the title ‘Gratitude to Old Teachers’ would suggest the same. And we should be thankful to those that have helped keep us dry.

Something to consider – to what extent do we carry latent within ourselves the influence of others. And is there help when the ice is thin? And like the iceberg is memory all underneath until perhaps it is needed and comes to the surface.

And Teachers of course never retire.

Robert Bly – Wikipedia

Living – Denise Levertov – Analysis

Living

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)

S1 … Summer is a time of growth and there is poetic fire in such happenings. And in Australia summer and fire is synonymous. The green to the eye should be appreciated. We don’t know whether it will be our last summer and summers don’t come round every day.

S2 … The leaves on some trees do appear to shiver in the wind. And with the extremes in climate being experienced in Australia there have been many trees toppled by the wind in recent months. So in this stanza we go from making the most of a season to making the most of each day in that season.

S3/S4 … This is a very detailed look at a red salamander who is just living. A precarious living because of the cold and it is held in the hand of the poet. Life is precarious and precious and so easy to falter. But in this case, it is a hand of help to let the salamander move away albeit very slowly. Life is fragile and can end so easily. (I hope there is a hand of help in your living.)

And the last line considers making the most of each minute. Wherever you are. The clear emphasis is on the now. And no procrastination allowed! It is a carpe diem poem on seizing the day.

Denise Levertov was born in Ilford UK but when she married an American she moved to the United States. The red salamander is found in eastern USA.

Denise Levertov on Wikipedia

And the poem The Orange Tree by John Shaw Neilson comes to mind

The Third Body – Robert Bly – Analysis

The Third Body

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, or time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not talking.
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do not know.
The man sees the way his fingers move;
he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him.
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have made a promise to love that body.
Age may come, parting may come, death will come.
A man and a woman sit near each other;
as they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
someone we know of, whom we have never seen.

Robert Bly (1926 – 2021)

This is a poem about an elderly couple sitting on a park bench just totally content in the moment not looking for anything else in life just happy to be together in their comfortable known self. Perhaps they have been married for many years and know each other intimately. So this is really a poem about love, love that has grown from long term companionship. And love exist in in their silence. Perhaps love can always be found in the silence of life that speaks to us continually.

Between then they are one body although a couple. They both share in the one book being held in their hands as it is passed between them. But they are connected to a third common body. And this is the question asked by the poem –

Their breaths together feed  – but who? And a very living body that needs them, feed appears in two lines
They obey a third body – but to whom is their allegiance? And a promise made
someone we know of –attributes known – heard about but never seen … who is the poet talking about?

Like or great poems there is no answer other than in the mind of the reader.

so what can this body be –
perhaps it is marriage itself
their heritage
family
perhaps life
love
the body of goodness
or maybe spiritual connections
the bigger unity withing existence
Jesus or even God

Going back to the couple on the bench and both hands together with the book. Why do you think a book was chosen? And how is the book significant in their relationship? What a difference if it was a ham sandwich.

But there is certainly a feeling that this third body is connected in some way to death. The couple are at that stage when death is on the radar. There is a comfortable feeling associated with this connection and they have added their own personal value to this Third Body throughout their lifetime. They are happy and at peace with the world.

Robert Bly on Wikipedia

South of My Days – Judith Wright – Analysis

South of My Days

South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country,
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-
clean, lean, hungry country. The creek's leaf-silenced,
willow choked, the slope a tangle of medlar and crabapple
branching over and under, blotched with a green lichen;
and the old cottage lurches in for shelter.

O cold the black-frost night. The walls draw in to the warmth
and the old roof cracks its joints; the slung kettle
hisses a leak on the fire. Hardly to be believed that summer
will turn up again some day in a wave of rambler-roses,
thrust it's hot face in here to tell another yarn-
a story old Dan can spin into a blanket against the winter.
Seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones.
Seventy years are hived in him like old honey.

Droving that year, Charleville to the Hunter,
nineteen-one it was, and the drought beginning;
sixty head left at the McIntyre, the mud round them
hardened like iron; and the yellow boy died
in the sulky ahead with the gear, but the horse went on,
stopped at Sandy Camp and waited in the evening.
It was the flies we seen first, swarming like bees.
Came to the Hunter, three hundred head of a thousand-
cruel to keep them alive - and the river was dust.

Or mustering up in the Bogongs in the autumn
when the blizzards came early. Brought them down; we brought them
down, what aren't there yet. Or driving for Cobb's on the run
up from Tamworth-Thunderbolt at the top of Hungry Hill,
and I give him a wink. I wouldn't wait long, Fred,
not if I was you. The troopers are just behind,
coming for that job at the Hillgrove. He went like a luny, 
him on his big black horse.

                                            Oh, they slide and they vanish
as he shuffles the years like a pack of conjuror's cards.
True or not, it's all the same; and the frost on the roof
cracks like a whip, and the back-log breaks into ash.
Wake, old man. This is winter, and the yarns are over.
No-one is listening
                                                      South of my days' circle
I know it dark against the stars, the high lean country
full of old stories that still go walking in my sleep.

Judith Wright (1915 – 2000)

S1 … this is a winter statement of JW’s home country … and depicts Australia to the core … and at the end of the description of the natural setting the old cottage lurches in for shelter. The cottage needs shelter from the ailments as much as the residents need shelter. But it has survived and has become molded into the bush environment. The land wincing under the winter gives a degree of severity.

Tableland – refers to a plateau and a region of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales where she was brought up

Medlar – a deciduous tree, they produce a delicious fruit in winter

S2 … you certainly get the feeling of comfort from within against the dark night winter cold … and there is nothing quite like a wood fire … and winter is always a time for inside time and talk … equates to age, dying, and memories and old Dan provides … seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones … providing a metaphoric blanket … and are as honey from his life … and summer is another yarn hard to be believed. And whether the stories are true or not is irrelevant. Oral communication was so important in JW’s life. The poem was published in 1946 and refers to the colonialisation of the land long before that. And a few of those old forgotten cottages hang on in a decayed life today.

S3 … The poem breaks for two examples of cattle droving stories. Charleville in Queensland to the Hunter in NSW is a distance of over 1100km. Drought times can be devastating to land and cattle and sixty were lost at the McIntyre encased in dried mud on a riverbed. A sulky came to into camp carrying a dead driver with flies announcing the death. Three hundred were left out of a thousand and they were in terrible condition. Droving was key to JW’s family life and for those interested in her family history and droving I recommend her book ‘The Generations of Men’.

The Generations of Men’ is the pioneering story of the ancestors of Australia’s best-known poet, Judith Wright. The names, dates and events are factual and are based on diaries, letters and personal reminiscences. Wright has taken this factual material and with her poet’s imagination turned it into a reconstruction of a past era; people, places and even moods. This is a beautifully written family history that documents not only the settling of Wright’s own family into New South Wales, but also the life of a nation, as Australia was colonized by ‘generations of men’ unsuited in many ways to the historical and geographical context of their new environment. For many years unavailable, Judith Wright’s elegant chronicle is fascinating both as a historical document and a personal meditation.

S4 …  Different climatic conditions to deal with, the Bogongs refers to an area of the high country of Victoria where snow frequents. And brought them down; we brought them

down, what aren’t there yet is typical vernacular of the day. Tamworth is in northern New South Wales and Thunderbolt is the name of a famous bushranger. And there is a typical though subtle regard for authority in the response of the drover to Thunderbolt.

S5 … Well old Dan, when reflecting on his memories as they come to mind, may be subject to poetic and entertaining reconstruction due to both his age and a creative spirit. And I do like the analogy of shuffling a pack of cards as he skips from one year to another. Then the frost on the roof and the back log on the fire find a voice to break his thoughts, or a request from JW to wake up. No one is listening to history. And this is truly relevant in relation to JW’s life-long concern in relation to the mistreatment of Aboriginal people and the destruction of their culture. But JW holds the stories as she reflects on the past. They still go walking in her sleep. And they are very dark in her night sky.

Judith Wright on Wikipedia – she was an outstanding Australian poet who spent much of her life campaigning for the environment and Aboriginal land rights.

The Day Lady Died – Frank O’Hara – Comments

The Day Lady Died
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday  
three days after Bastille Day, yes 
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine 
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner 
and I don’t know the people who will feed me 
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun  
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy 
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets 
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank 
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard) 
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or 
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres 
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness 
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE  
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and 
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue 
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and 
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton 
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it 
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of 
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT 
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing 
Frank O’Hara (1926 - 1966)

The actual day in 1959 is particularly important and this is defined in terms of Bastille Day (14 July), three days after making it 17 July. And it is very hot in the New York summer indicated by the sweating in the last stanza. But what is it that is so important about this day and who was ‘Lady’ (she was known as ‘Lady Day’).

This is a poem about place, the place being New York and if you don’t know New York it is difficult with all the references. Frank O’Hara is walking the streets and picks up a paper. It was Billie Holliday on the cover of the New York Post he bought. 

The sudden realisation that Lady, that great Jazz Queen, has died and he and like those who know her are momentarily stunned on hearing of her death.

If you appreciate Jazz and know New York this poem will have more depth of meaning as you walk the same path. For example, you would know that …

The Five Spot Café was a jazz club located at 5 Cooper Square (1956–1962) in the Bowery neighborhood of New York City, between the East and West Village. In 1962, it moved to 2 St. Marks Place until closing in 1967. Its friendly, non-commercial, and low-key atmosphere with affordable drinks and food and cutting edge bebop and progressive jazz attracted a host of avant-garde artists and writers. It was a venue of historic significance as well, a mecca for musicians, both local and out-of-state, who packed the small venue to listen to many of the most creative composers and performers of the era.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

And Frank O’Hara certainly knew New York. He was part of the New York Poetry scene and he frequented Five Spot where he appreciated the voice of Billie Holliday firsthand.

And even if you know nothing of the City, I am sure you can appreciate the bohemian flavour of a poet on his regular walk not exactly knowing how Mike and Patsy will feed him in the evening. It looks as though he buys something to take, alcohol for Mike and something to read for Patsy. Verlaine was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement and the Decadent movement. He details exactly what he did that day from the 12:20pm time he started walking to the name of the teller at the Bank. And he is obviously familiar with the theatre.

And it is a poem about the sudden notification of a death in the midst of on-going life that stuns a person ‘breathless’. There is a spiritual connection in the last stanza as Billie Holliday’s voice enters his mind, Mal Waldron was a jazz musician.

I can remember when Diana died, I was at an early morning church service that Sunday in the village of Hartley Wintney when the minister spoke about that tragic overnight car crash. Later that day we flew out from Heathrow with no delays despite possible pandemonium at the airport.

This is perhaps the most well-known poem by Frank O’Hara.

Frank O’Hara – Frank O’Hara – Wikipedia

Billie Holliday – Billie Holiday – Wikipedia

Separation – Colin Campbell Analysis

Separation
a card arrives 
“happy birthday  fondest love”
i stand it on the fridge
whilst  half a world away
she has forgotten that she sent it
but recalls the usual things
peeling the vegetables  making the bed  sweeping  dusting
later  her head nods over a page  and
the once-friendly words turn away and hide
thin rain oozes from the mossy tiles 
and the bare brown trees stare through the afternoon 
and drip  she tries to remember what it is 
that she must thaw for tea 
and the kitchen  silent as lino  will not tell her
dealt from a well-worn pack of tidy habits 
(what ought to be done rather than the needful)
hours are laid out in patterns on the day’s thin fabric
(so much is to do with the turn
of one moment to cover the last)
whilst indifferent  greedy  thieving Time
gnaws the afternoon
rubbing a hole in the window’s condensation 
she watches the cold  flat Suffolk landscape
turn and shiver beneath the winter sky
and  looking up  she sees the cold rain in the trees …
… and i remember it
Colin Campbell (1941 -

Colin uses spaces in his text to denote a pause while reading. For example – and the kitchen  silent as lino there are two spaces between kitchen and silent. So the more spaces between words in the text the longer the pause.

Colin is a member of our U3A Poetry Appreciation Group and this is a poignant poem from his book ‘Poems’ published at the end of 2021. Looking at each stanza I can give some context to give more depth behind the words which might help the reader.

S1 … The poem addresses Colin’s mother in England while he himself is living in Australia. The first three lines refer to Colin placing a card from his mother on the fridge. This is then a trigger to a reflection on his mother who is living with dementia in Suffolk, England. Maybe he has mentioned the card in a telephone conversation and his mother has no recollection of sending it.

But with a failing mind his mother is confined to keeping track of everyday happenings.

And I like the way words are personified as they hide their meaning as she struggles in daily life.

S2 … It is a dreary winter day … the trees have lost their leaves … it is fitting in connection with the loss or separation taking place in the struggle with domestic life. And little things once easily performed are now hard to fathom out … again, the wonderful personification of the kitchen lino – silent – and unable to help.

S3 … Habits do die hard … worn down by the years … she would like to keep her house tidy but is this really needed … and the day’s thin fabric give that sense that the day itself is fading akin to perhaps the fading of clothes now worn by his mother. And the complexity of each moment as it turns on itself in the effort to combat the lack of mind progression in dealing with dementia … clearly there is separation in the ability to deal with everyday life

And Time is capitalised to give strength to the personification as it gnaws away life … nicely connecting to the problem with trying to remember what’s for tea previously mentioned in the second stanza.

S4 … we have a picture of Colin’s mother looking out on the dreary winter Suffolk environment … creating a small window hole on life outside … the hole that is dementia in reducing life, and she sees the cold rain descending …

… and Colin too remembers the Suffolk scene … and there is a sense of beauty in his recollection of his Suffolk days … perhaps different to the way his mother sees the countryside … but although there is separation there is that strong personal connection.

This is a poem that will relate to those coming to terms with dementia in whatever way the condition manifests.

Vitai Lampada – Henry Newbolt – Comments

Vitai Lampada
There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
'Play up! play up! and play the game! '

The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; —
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game! '

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—
'Play up! play up! and play the game!
Sir Henry Newbolt (1862 – 1938)

Born in Bilston, Staffordshire in 1862, Newbolt was educated at Clifton School and Oxford University. After his studies Newbolt became a barrister. Higly respected, Newbolt was a lawyer, novelist, playwright and magazine editor. Above all, he was a poet who championed the virtues of chivalry and sportsmanship combined in the service of the British Empire.

Written in 1892 Vitaï Lampada was published in Newbolt’s first collection of poetry, Admirals All in 1897. It is probably the best known of all Newbolt’s poems, and for which he is now chiefly remembered. The title is taken from a quotation by Lucretius and means The torch of life. It refers to how a schoolboy, a future soldier, learns selfless commitment to duty in cricket matches in the famous Close at Clifton College. And of course, extension of duty goes far beyond the cricket field.

This is all about playing the game regardless, being part of the team is all important – and concentrating on doing your bit for King and country.

This is a propaganda poem using mate-ship to rally the war cause. And mate-ship is based on that old school tradition of loyalty to your friends. I think times have changed markedly and soldiers have now learned to think for themselves without blindly following orders! Unless of course, they are coerced by authoritarian regimes.

Here is my own propaganda. Seen on the back window of a car parked at the Balloon Festival in Canberra, the following words –
UNITED
in
TRUTH – LOVE – PEACE

Sir Henry Newbolt on Wikipedia … Henry Newbolt – Wikipedia