Old Age Gets Up – Ted Hughes – Comments

Old Age Gets Up

Stirs its ashes and embers, its burnt sticks

An eye powdered over, half melted and solid again
Ponders
Ideas that collapse
At the first touch of attention

The light at the window, so square and so same
So full-strong as ever, the window frame
A scaffold in space, for eyes to lean on

Supporting the body, shaped to its old work
Making small movements in gray air
Numbed from the blurred accident
Of having lived, the fatal, real injury
Under the amnesia

Something tries to save itself-searches
For defenses-but words evade
Like flies with their own notions

Old age slowly gets dressed
Heavily dosed with death's night
Sits on the bed's edge

Pulls its pieces together

Ted Hughes (1930 - 1998)

The difficulty in awaking to the day when old = how to give life to burnt sticks? Can a little flame be resurrected … in due course maybe?

The eyes a little hard to adjust to daylight … they maybe half-melted but we must be thankful that they do eventually adjust … at the same time those early morning thoughts are quick to fade away … focusing on the day and remembering in the opening haze of early awareness

The window frame is compared with old age … strong, long lasting condition, never changes each day, will be around for many years, centuries maybe

All is gray with no colour to the day. And then that beautiful cynical statement on age deterioration ‘Numbed from the blurred accident / Of having lived, …’ and perhaps that inescapable condition of losing memory … and emphasis on how sad this is … being a real injury – like a broken leg … and later words evade like flies with their own notions … highlights the difficulty the mind has in focusing on words when there is lost recall and searching is in place

The window frame is seen as a scaffold … it is a strong metaphor dictating the emotional feeling of the aged associated with impending death? … time leads us all to the ‘scaffold’

something tries to save itself … a wonderful personification … and to survive to get up, movements are slow … and that slow awaking coming alive … heavily dosed with death’s night … coming to the end of life, equated to night … however, eventually some success in the sitting on the edge of the bed and the pieces have been put together for the body to function.

A little depressive and a bit of a bleak view of life; but you must give credit to the creative words in generating the groping of awareness in early morning awaking.


Ted Hughes on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Hughes
He was Poet Laureate in 1984 and held the office until his death

In the Valley of Cauteretz – Tennyson

In the Valley of Cauteretz
All along the valley, stream that flashest white,
Deepening thy voice with the deepening of the night,
All along the valley, where thy waters flow,
I walked with one I loved two and thirty years ago.
All along the valley, while I walked today,
The two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away ;
For all along the valley, down thy rocky bed,
Thy living voice to me was as the voice of the dead,
And all along the valley, by rock and cave and tree,
The voice of the dead was a living voice to me.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

Tennyson went to the Pyrenees with Arthur Hallam in 1830. This was his favourite valley. Hallam was a very close friend from days at Trinity College Cambridge. Hallam died of a stroke at the age of 22. This had a profound effect on Tennyson and resulted in one of his most memorable of poems ‘In Memoriam’.

Tennyson went to this valley again in 1861. And at the time of his birthday around 6 August Tennyson composed these lines. He wrote the piece ‘after hearing the voice of the torrent seemingly grow deeper as the night grew’. And he said afterwards that ‘I like the little piece as well as anything I have written’.

This is a poem about memory and grief and how personal association can trigger a deep emotional response. He again heard the voice of his dead friend albeit a mind voice. And he was back again when he was first walking with Hallam in the valley – ‘the two and thirty years were a mist that rolls away’.

How do you handle those golden moments of life that assail the mind long after their initial impact? They are precious and a handy resource … for use in meditation perhaps … or any time when you are low and need a lift. A case of distilling the essence from life experience to hold for spiritual sustenance. Hopefully a relive of joy and peace as day to day life continues.

Note … Tennyson appreciated nature. He was an avid walker and at one stage while in Cornwall walked 10 miles each day for ten consecutive days. The poem also poses the question on how the natural environment communicates with us. A background to our definition.

Tennyson became Poet Laureate after Wordsworth.

Alfred Lord Tennyson on Wikipedia – Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Wikipedia

Hope – via Emily Dickinson

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -
'Hope' is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —
I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Well, this is the first day of the new year and we all hope for better times in the days ahead. This poem is a definition of hope in terms of a metaphoric internal bird. A nice idea to equate hope to flight. Especially for those in dire circumstances who wish to be elsewhere. And that little bird is there despite the ravages of weather. And hope is without demand; the bird not needing feeding. It just needs to be recognised.

And here is another bird showing hope … this time external … a thrush … giving hope to Thomas Hardy in the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ … The Darkling Thrush – Thomas Hardy – Analysis | my word in your ear

The environment communicating … a case of stopping and listening … and maybe seeing hope?

Hoping you can see hope somewhere today!

Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia … Emily Dickinson – Wikipedia

The Journey of the Magi – T. S. Eliot – Analysis

The Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
just the worst time of the year
for a journey, and such a long journey:
the ways deep and the weather sharp,
the very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
and the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, wanting their liquor and women,
and the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
and the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
and the villages dirty and charging high prices:
a hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
sleeping in snatches,
with the voices singing in our ears, saying
that this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
wet, below the snow-line, smelling of vegetation,
with a running stream and a water-mill beating the
                    darkness,
and three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
and feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, so we continued
and arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
and I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all this way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen Birth and
                 Death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
hard and bitter agony for us, like Death our death
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
with an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Galled – abnormal vegetable growth on a plant – appropriate description for a camel … probably carrying a large load too
Refractory – stubborn, unmanageable
Sherbet – a powdered confection eaten dry or used to make effervescent drinks.

Commentary …

Recounts the journey of the Magi (3 wise men) to the birth of Christ to pay homage (Re: – Matthew 2 v1-12).

One of a series of lyric poems called ‘The Ariel’ poems published as Christmas poems over five years from 1927.

The first five lines are taken from a sermon by Lancelot Andrews – Bishop of Winchester (1555 – 1626).

The poem is a dramatic monologue spoken by one of the wise men outlying the difficulty of the journey.

Three lines of regret balanced by ten lines on the difficulties with camels, the drivers the conditions and the environment. But they continue their ‘quest’ against their better judgement … and travel in darkness (spiritual darkness).

Then a new birth in the journey an awakening … at dawn … winter disappearing with the snow and vegetation … you could say a crossing through a symbolic waste land to something more.

The journey is from death to life in both a physical and spiritual sense … from the death of the old life … of palaces and silken girls bringing sherbet … to the start of a new life. This is symbolised by perhaps the most important line of the poem …

An old white horse galloped away in the meadow’. (Re: white horse – refer Revelations 6:2 … I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer … and 19: 11  … And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.)

Time is represented by the running stream, the water-mill beating the unknown future which is glimpsed unknowingly by this wise man in the foreshadowing of the crucifixion …the three trees (Golgotha), the dicing for silver … and symbolically the vine leaves become empty wine casks to be kicked around.

… then the arrival at precisely the ‘appointed time’ to a ‘satisfactory’ place.

In the last section the wise man reflects back and contemplates the meaning of this event … a Birth and a Death … with more prominence given to the Death than the traditional joy of Birth … the death of the old order … and note the clever change in the wise men returning to their places not their palaces … but the old order still persists though it is now alien and conquered. The narrator glad when the old order has gone … when times can be changed for the better …now a stranger in the community … and in the traditional religious sense glad to see the death of ‘sin’ and a transformation beyond a personal transformation … (however long this might take of course.)

Footnote
T. S. Eliot became an Anglican in 1927 … this poem is a symbol of his spiritual journey from doubt to spiritual faith. It is the drama through his waste land to a life of a new awakening and represents TSE’s own internal spiritual development. His religious development expands later in another important work – The Four Quartets (1943).

T. S. Eliot – Wikipedia

Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram – Jennifer Strauss – Analysis

Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram

Impossibly black
Amid the impudence of summer thighs
Long arms and painted toenails
And the voices
Impossibly obscure
She hunches sweltering
Twists in sweating hands
A scrap of paper – address, destination,
Clue to the labyrinth
Where voices not understood
Echo
Confusing directions.

(There was a time
They sent them out of Greece
In black-sailed ships
To feed the minotaur.
Whose is the blind beast now
Laired in Collingwood,
Abbotsford, Richmond,
Eating up men?)

Street-names in the glare
Leap ungraspably from sight
Formless collisions of letters
Impossibly dark
She is forlorn in foreign words and voices,
Remembering a village
Where poverty was white as bone
And the great silences of sea and sky
Parted at dusk for voices coming home
Calling names
Impossibly departed.


Jennifer Strauss (

The first stanza gives such startling contrast between a black migrant covered up in dress and the summer Oz girls who are a little undressed with their bare arms and painted toenails. And their chattering voices are totally meaningless as she tries to decipher the foreign words written for her on a scrap of paper.

The use of the word ‘impossibly’ throughout the poem … unbelievably or perhaps dreadfully … against black, obscure, dark, departed … stresses the alienation of the migrant woman as she tries to negotiate an alien environment in search of an address. If it is the sixties in Melbourne then a black migrant lady would be an unusual traveller on the tram.

There is an excellent analysis of this poem and other poems by Jennifer Strauss at the end of this text. Here is the explanation of the second stanza from that Site …

Lost in such a labyrinth, Strauss connects the migrant woman’s life with the myths of the Cretan Minotaur in several ways. First there is the monstrous shame of their dark foreignness . Next there is the labyrinthine displacement that they feel. Finally there is the image of sacrifice. To appease Crete, the ancient Athenians sent youths and maidens, “In black-sailed ships” to be fed to the monster housed beneath the Cretan capital Cnossus. In this poem “the blind beast now” is the industrialised new-world city devouring the newly arrived migrants, which is yet again a metaphor for the relentless cannibalistic appetite of capitalism, “Eating up men”.

Another contrast is evident, the economic reason for migrating and the devouring nature of capitalism. Of course the reason for migration may be entirely family related.

The last stanza highlights the difficult of the language and the words displayed as she travels on the tram. And ‘ungraspably’ defines the impossibly of understanding. She becomes forlorn and travels back to her homeland. And having hard poverty defined as white as bone is a nice contrast with the white Australian girls in the first stanza who are perhaps in party mood.

And then she hears the voices of her own language calling her home – hopefully giving some comfort as she struggles on.

Reference

Ithaca – C. P. Cavafy – Comments

Ithaca
As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon- don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon- you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
C. P. Cavafy (translated by Edmund Keeley?)

Cavafy was an Egyptiot Greek poet.  His consciously individual style earned him a place among the most important in Greek and Western poetry. And there are plenty of references to Greek mythology in this poem.

Ithaca – a Greek Island – as well as being a metaphoric life goal in this poem.

Laestrygonians – were a tribe of man-eating giants from ancient Greek mythology. They were said to have sprung from Laestrygon, son of Poseidon.

Cyclops – a one-eyed giant first appearing in the mythology of ancient Greece.

Poseidon – was god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses and is considered one of the most bad-tempered, moody and greedy Olympian gods.

Phoenicians – the Phoenicians occupied a narrow tract of land along the coast of modern Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. They are famed for their commercial and maritime prowess

S1 … don’t be afraid of imaginations … don’t carry fear with you as you live! … put your soul into life to get more out of experience

S2 … a plea of hope that you will find many diverse wonderful sensations as you experience life … and may you travel and learn much … but always keep Ithaca in mind.

S3 … the journey is all important, always hold on to what you want to achieve as you progress in life … keep them in background as you stay focused on what you are doing

S4 … looking back on your ‘Ithacas’ you will understand life and meaning, and some may be poor but that is the nature of ‘Ithacas’ … but you will understand because you have become wise,

And it is very appropriate to have a reading of this poem by Sean Connery, coupled with more background material.

C P Cavafy on Wikipedia

The Galley-Rowers – John Masefield

The Galley-Rowers
Staggering over the running combers
The long-ship heaves her dripping flanks,
Singing together, the sea-roamers
Drive the oars grunting in the banks.
A long pull,
And a long long pull to Mydath.
"Where are ye bound, ye swart sea-farers,
Vexing the grey wind-angered brine,
Bearers of home-spun cloth, and bearers
Of goat-skins filled with country wine?"
"We are bound sunset-wards, not knowing,
Over the whale's way miles and miles,
going to Vine-Land, haply going
To the Bright Beach of the Blessed Isles.
"In the wind's teeth and the spray's stinging
Westward and outward forth we go,
Knowing not whither nor why, but singing
An old old oar-song as we row.
A long pull,
And a long long pull to Mydath."

John Masefield (1878 – 1967)

John Masefield is known for the opening line … I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky …  from his poem ‘Sea Fever’. He was Poet Laureate from 1930 – 1967.

This is another sea poem based on long boats powered by galley rowers. In times gone by galley-slaves were convicted criminals, prisoners of war or actual slaves. And the poem reflects songs sung by the rowers. A long pull, and a long long pull mirror the physicality of rowing. I equate Mydath to death as many died but it could be metaphoric too.

The second stanza asks the question of their destination. They are swart sea-farers in other words swarthy and presumably muscular especially those that survived years of rowing. And the reply is to Vine-Land and to the Bright Beach of the Blessed Isles which equates to an escape to paradise. And as they are rowers finding a bright beach and an island is appropriate all be it in the mind.

The last stanza stresses the togetherness in song independent of the why and where of the journey. And the rhythmic flowing words accompany the movement of the oars. A great example of using words, poetry and song are in harmony with repetitive physical activity.

So how much does words, poetry, song and indeed music help us in the struggle in life?

John Masefield on Wikipedia.

Today – Billy Collins – Comments

Well spring is here in Australia and the initial thrust is now behind us but there were certain days that exploded in delight and Billy Collins uses this theme in a rather exaggerated way in the following poem –

Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

Billy Collins ( 1941 -

It is based on a Northern Hemisphere spring when snow is often around as spring makes itself known. Snow covered cottages are not really the scene in Australia.

Spring is certainly the time for getting outdoors and appreciating the environment and the changes in colour and the burst of growth. And if you have been locked up by winter and the virus just getting out in the sunshine is a real treat.

And there may be a day that you feel so elated and alive that, as Billy Collins suggests, you feel like releasing the inhabitants from their inside bondage. Breaking loose with poetical damage to the home. A very effective way of emphasising a state of high emotion. Setting the canary free so to speak.

Of course, not everybody may share your enthusiasm for getting out and about. But I must add it is now a delight to be out in the Canberra spring and in a virus free city.

Billy Collins on Wikipedia.

A peony in bloom seen at The Red Cow Farm at Sutton Forrest NSW.