Death of a Son – Jon Silkin – Analysis

Death of a Son
Something has ceased to come along with me.
Something like a person: something very like one.
And there was no nobility in it
Or anything like that.
Something there was like a one year
Old house, dumb as stone. While the near buildings
Sang like birds and laughed
Understanding the pact
They were to have with silence. But he
Neither sang nor laughed. He did not bless silence
Like bread, with words.
He did not forsake silence.
But rather, like a house in mourning
Kept the eye turned in to watch the silence while
The other houses like birds
Sang around him.
And the breathing silence neither
Moved nor was still.
I have seen stones: I have seen brick
But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood
With flesh of stone
And bricks for blood. A house
Of stones and blood in breathing silence with the other
Birds singing crazy on its chimneys.
But this was silence,
This was something else, this was
Hearing and speaking though he was a house drawn
Into silence, this was
Something religious in his silence,
Something shining in his quiet,
This was different this was altogether something else:
Though he never spoke, this
Was something to do with death.
And then slowly the eye stopped looking
Inward. The silence rose and became still.
The look turned to the outer place and stopped,
With the birds still shrilling around him.
And as if he could speak
He turned over on his side with his one year
Red as a wound
He turned over as if he could be sorry for this
And out of his eyes two great tears rolled like stones,
and he died.
Jon Silkin (1930 - 1997) 

A house is an inanimate object. It only comes to life in association with people, without the human contact you can regard it as ‘dead’. The poem likens the one year old child to be a house; an inanimate object with no life. All the stanzas thread through this fancy –

But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood

The house is silent and the only life is from the birds on the roof. And the birds are singing crazy as if trying to bring life where there is no life only a silence. An incomprehensible silence while the other houses around him sing.

The other houses like birds
Sang around him.

Eventually the silent life of the child becomes still while the birds are in full chatter as though still talking to him as though he can respond to their stirrings. And then the final sad movement in turning over and shedding two huge tears of stone as if apologising for his death.

The something ceased to come along with the father … the something that could never be understood … the something that never quite became a person … the something that had its own religion.

But this something remains forever in this sad personal sharing of his son’s death.

John Silkin is very much known by this poem. He had a prolific literary life. Details on Wikipedia.

Pelicans – Judith Wright – Analysis

Seen at the NSW south coast

Pelicans
Funnel-web spider, snake and octopus,
pitcher-plant and vampire-bat and shark–
these are cold water on an easy faith.
Look at them, but don’t linger.
If we stare too long, something looks back at us;
something gazes through from underneath;
something crooks a very dreadful finger
down there in an unforgotten dark.
Turn away then, and look up at the sky.
There sails that old clever Noah’s Ark,
the well-turned, well-carved pelican
with his wise comic eye;
he turns and wheels down, kind as an ambulance-driver,
to join his fleet. Pelicans rock together,
solemn as clowns in white on a circus-river,
meaning: this world holds every sort of weather.
Judith Wright (1915 – 2000)

The first sentence of the first stanza covers some of those creatures, insects and plants that have known to be of some concern to human inhabitants. And in some cases humans have died due to their venomous nature. The intent is perhaps to promote fear in their name. It is worth noting that snake, octopus and pitcher-plant can be harmless but quite beautiful. But what I think JW is trying to emphasise is that nature can be a dangerous place if you look beyond the surface.

An easy faith would be a superficial faith believing in the positive side of all life; perhaps giving little consideration to the negative. The first stanza ends telling us up not to ponder on this darker side of nature. Don’t look too much on this because it is dangerous; and something will look back at us. The implications here are that we should not dwell on the negative aspects of nature, and indeed life; dwelling on the negative is dangerous in itself. And this proclamation flows into the first sentence of the second stanza.

Look up to the sky and consider the pelican. The pelican is used as a contrast to give a positive to nature. But JW would not have known how brutally murderous pelican siblings are to each other.

But apparently a 16th century Christian would consider a Pelican as a symbol of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Using this knowledge gives a more meaningful perspective on this poem. And it is nice to know that the Pelican is well tuned, well-carved and wise; clearly attributes that are associated with Christ.

And of course the Pelican is a water bird so presumably escaping God’s anger and the need to enter Noah’s Arch by the fact of flight. There is another side to the Pelican mentioned above so kindness is a bit of an oversight. But Christ is somewhat of an ambulance driver in the provision of healing to the world.

The poem ends with the closing proclamation that the world is inflicted with great variety of weather. Whether we know how to deal with such climatic conditions is another matter; and also whether we believe God is involved in anyway to help.

This poem is in Judith Wright’s Birds publication. Her daughter, Meredith Mckinney, commented on this collection … ‘Despite the joy reflected in the poems, however, they also acknowledge the experiences of cruelty, pain and death that are inseparable from the lives of birds as of humans’.

Judith Wright on Wikipedia

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

‘Get Real Man’ – The Christmas Gift

Get Real Man

we are talking about God
the creator of the universe
we are talking about real power!
you have absolutely no idea man
beyond your understanding!

apart from making miracles happen
he showed us in like fashion that
even in the most horrendous injustice
he was here to support our lives
no matter the pain

what an unbelievable gift
isn’t it just wonderful -
that he came here, today, for you and me!
and that he is a little crazy,
get real man!

Richard Scutter Christmas 2020

‘Some Crazy God’ – A Christmas Poem

Some Crazy God

did he cry when he was born?
did he know he was different?
did he get one big shock?
if not in the cradle in the stable
but it would sure come later!

I guess not from Mars
with a green spike on his head
but what galactic storm brought an invisible seed?
and how did it appear for Mary?
did she think she was dreaming?

why did he choose the Earth?
and why didn’t he send a daughter?
or for that matter a naughty angel?
we are told he only had one son,
some crazy God!

Richard Scutter

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