Easter again – the forever day

Easter again
It is in his dying
that existence extends
that distance compacts
that carried forward through the centuries
Christ lives again in our minds
along the road beyond Emmaus.
So, we pray again in hope
against the block-stone
of incomprehension
and our continual nonacceptance.
While within each stinging soul
the suppressed mustard-seed
like the empty tomb
lies dormant waiting.
Richard Scutter

Well, Easter is the key day in the Christian calendar. It is that ‘forever day’ that gives hope to humanity. And of course it is a day of celebration!

The clocks have gone back an hour overnight with the end of daylight saving in Canberra. And according to your belief system we get more than an extra hour because of this day!

Enjoy in the knowledge of the magnitude of this day with family and friends!

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks: Paula Meehan – Comments

I choose this poem by Paula Meehan because last week was St Patrick’s Day (17th March) and we discussed Irish related poetry at a U3A session. It was also a week in which many marched in different Australian cities to protest on violence against women. In part motivated by reports of rape and sexual misconduct within the Australian Parliament.

The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks
It can be bitter here at times like this,
November wind sweeping across the border.
Its seeds of ice would cut you to the quick.
The whole town tucked up safe and dreaming,
even wild things gone to earth, and I
stuck up here in this grotto, without as much as
star or planet to ease my vigil

This sets the dark cold night scene for the personification of a Statue of the Virgin. There is a statue and grotto in the main street of Granard in Ireland. And what a bitter night to be out. I always wondered what quick was in the context of cut to the quick and found out as a child that it referred to the sensitive skin below the fingernail so to be very hurt became synonymous with the cutting of fingernails.

The howling won’t let up. Trees
cavort in agony as if they would be free
and take off — ghost voyagers
on the wind that carries intimations
of garrison towns, walled cities, ghetto lanes
where men hunt each other and invoke
the various names of God as blessing
on their death tactics, their night manoeuvres.
Closer to home the wind sails over
dying lakes. I hear fish drowning.
I taste the stagnant water mingled
with turf smoke from outlying farms.

Granard is close to the border with Northern Ireland. The terrible howling wind coming from that direction with intimations of garrison. The mind goes to all the bloodshed and horrors of the religious conflict of the North and the appropriation of God in support of committing their death tactics.

They call me Mary — Blessed, Holy, Virgin.
They fit me to a myth of a man crucified:
the scourging and the falling, and the falling again,
the thorny crown, the hammer blow of iron
into wrist and ankle, the sacred bleeding heart.
They name me Mother of all this grief
though mated to no mortal man.
They kneel before me and their prayers
fly up like sparks from a bonfire
that blaze a moment, then wink out.

The mated to no mortal man is the incarnate virgin birth to the blessed holy Mary who also being mother to the grief associated with the death of Jesus on the cross. And the towns people who knee before the statue say ineffective prayers. The statue being cold stone and unresponsive. This hints at the ineffective use of prayer to get things done.

It can be lovely here at times. Springtime,
early summer. Girls in Communion frocks
pale rivals to the riot in the hedgerows
of cow parsley and haw blossom, the perfume
from every rushy acre that’s left for hay
when the light swings longer with the sun’s push north.

Well, the statue reflects on the springtime season giving contrast to the bitterness of a squally November night. And in the context of this poem it is critical to mention school girls with a religious connection.

Or the grace of a midsummer wedding
when the earth herself calls out for coupling
and I would break loose of my stony robes,
pure blue, pure white, as if they had robbed
a child’s sky for their colour. My being
cries out to be incarnate, incarnates
maculate and tousled in a honeyed bed.

And then to midsummer and the wedding association of Mary where the earth calls out for coupling. The incarnate birth being the central religious construct. I do like the words – as if they had robbed a child’s sky for their colour – the robbing of the Jesus childhood perhaps. And the statue would like to be incarnate just as those who don’t believe would like to believe (maculate = spotted).

Even an autumn burial can work its own pageantry.
The hedges heavy with the burden of fruiting
crab, sloe, berry, hip; clouds scud east
pear scented, windfalls secret in long.
orchard grasses, and some old soul is lowered
to his kin. Death is just another harvest
scripted to the season’s play.

Autumn and death being part of the natural cycle. The mention of death is relevant in ensuing stanzas.

But on this All-Souls’ Night there is
no respite from the keening of the wind.
I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.

The repetition of the horrible conditions of the night. And the portrayal of the dead coming out in judgement of the town because of what is about to happen.

On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,
and she lay down alone at my feet
without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand
and she pushed her secret out into the night,
far from the town tucked up in little scandals,
bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,
and though she cried out to me in extremis
I did not move,
I didn’t lift a finger to help her,
I didn’t intercede with heaven,
nor whisper the charmed word in God’s ear.

The tragic birth from a fifteen-year-old girl in which baby and mother die. The statue or is it religion, and the town that swell the mind as guilty.

On a night like this I number the days to the solstice
and the turn back to the light.
O sun,
centre of our foolish dance,
burning heart of stone,
molten mother of us all,
hear me and have pity.

A prayer for change by the statue. A prayer for light or is it enlightenment within the community culture responsible for this injustice.

Paula Meehan (1955 –

Context – This poem relates to the real-life death of Ann Lovett (6 April 1968 – 31 January shortly after giving birth beside a grotto on 31 January 1984. Her baby son died at the same time and the story of her death fuelled debate on abortion and women giving birth outside marriage. It is also worth noting that Ann Lovett suffered abuse within her family.

All Souls’ Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and the Day of the Dead, is a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died, which is observed by Catholics and other Christian denominations annually on November 2. So it was highly appropriate that Paula Meehan used this day and November in her poem.

The 2015 Poetry Competition ‘A Poem for Ireland’ shortlisted this poem written in 1991by Paula Meehan. 

Some background on Paula Meehan (courtesy of the Internet)

Paula Meehan, one of five children, was born in Dublin’s north inner-city to a working-class family who lived in one of the Corporation tenements flats, the Gloucester Diamond on Mountjoy Square. Meehan’s parents went back and forth to London in search of work, and she was brought up, for periods of time, by grandparents in Dublin.

Her grandfather taught her to read before she went to school, turning her, in her own phrase, into a ‘print junkie’ and she still remembers her love of nursery rhymes, streets rhymes, Mass, prayer, patterns of sound. Phrases such as ‘on the warpath’, ‘I’ll have your guts for garters’ or ‘swing for you’ intrigued her for their images and implications. Her grandfather brought her to the races and the sounds and cadences of the racetrack captured her young imagination. She included them in a poem she wrote in his memory: ‘Evens Swannee River, 7/4 Navarone, 4/1 Rocky’s Doll’.

She grew up in Seán MacDermott St, attended the Central Model Girls’ School but the family moved to Finglas where she attended the local convent – she was later thrown out of the school. ‘I was expelled by the nuns, which in retrospect was the best thing that ever happened to me: I learned the habit of self-direction and independent study.’

After the nuns, she went to the Tech and from there to Trinity College where she was one of what was then the .04% of the student population from working-class backgrounds. ‘Always on the brink of homelessness or living in some terrible kips’, she studied English, History and Classical Civilisation. After college, she set off on her travels: she lived in Crete, the Shetland Islands, and studied at Eastern Washington University.

Back in Ireland, she taught on literacy programmes and in prisons, and organised writers’ workshops. She lived in Fatima Mansions and, fuelled by anger at the oppression and the ghettoised lives of the underprivileged, became involved in workers’ co-ops. She then lived in Leitrim for three years: ‘I wanted to build a garden, watch something grow and harvest it.’

In her teens Meehan wrote song lyrics and began to make poems that would ‘honour the lives I saw, lives of deprivation but also of great courage and of course great humour, which is the signature mode of the city’. She published her first collection Return and No Blame in 1984, Meehan has also written plays, and her most recent collection, Painting Rain, her sixth, was published in 2009. She was appointed to the Ireland Chair of Poetry in 2013 and, in late 2014, was invited to read her poetry in Beijing, on the occasion of President Michael D. Higgins’s State Visit to China.

A Wikipedia Link – Paula Meehan – Wikipedia

And another link to an analysis of this poem on the Internet

Anointing Ann Anonymous – Recognition and Beauty

Following on from my previous Post on John Keats and ‘Beauty’ and legacy … and recognising the so called ordinary in life’…

Anointing Ann Anonymous
when she was a child
and she was quite sure
that no one was looking
she picked up a stick
to scratch in concrete
                    ‘I was here’
each day
as she walked to school
she would see her work
and laugh to herself
no one would know it was her
in her teenager years
she had that teenage crush
and melting against his name
cleared the dust on his car
with words that only she could write
      ‘I love you’
She thought he really knew
but she would never tell,
in later years
when thinking about him
she would laugh inside
with a little embarrassment
she had a long and ordinary life
a husband, children
and memories to drown
and if she could paint the sky
these would be her words
     ‘life is beautiful’
Richard Scutter

Ann’s legacy – I was here / I love you / life is beautiful

Beauty and John Keats – Endymion

Looking at the poem Endymion by John Keats (1795 – 1821)

Context – Diana, Roman goddess of hunting, chastity and the moon, (also known as Selene or Cynthia in this poem) fell in love with a mortal, the handsome shepherd Endymion. According to myth Diana used to come and kiss Endymion when he was asleep on the top of the mountain each night. Diana’s light touch partly drew Endymion from his slumber and he caught a brief glance of her. Incredulous at her beauty, he attributed it to a dream and began to prefer his dreamlike state over mundane daily routines yet he was never awake when she was present. Through her love, Endymion was granted eternal youth and timeless beauty (mainly from Wikipedia)

Endymion (Keat’s Poem of that name)

Many remember the opening lines from this 4.000 line poem, if nothing else …

From Book 1 … an extract …

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Also the ending lines from his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

And from Keat’s Letters of which two hundred and forty survive today. His letters cover everything from the philosophy of poetry to the joys of a juicy nectarine; his darkest depressions to the exhilaration of backpacking in Scotland . And, always, his deep love for his siblings and his Fanny Brawne.

But for interest here are some extracts from his letters involving ‘Beauty’:

On Tuesday 3 February 1818, Keats wrote to John Hamilton Reynolds:

We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us, and, if we do not agree, seems to put its hand into its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself — but with its subject.

How beautiful are the retired flowers! — how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway, crying out …

On Friday 27 February 1818 Keats wrote to his publisher John Taylor:

In Poetry I have a few Axioms, and you will see how far I am from their Centre.

Here is one of his axioms mentioned in this letter …

Its touches of Beauty should never be halfway thereby making the reader breathless instead of content: the rise, the progress, the setting of imagery should like the Sun come natural natural too him — shine over him and set soberly although in magnificence leaving him in the Luxury of twilight — but it is easier to think what Poetry should be than to write it

Letter to George and Tom Keats, 21, ?27 December 1817 (On Negative Capability)

… the excellence of every Art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relationship with Beauty & Truth—Examine King Lear & you will find this exemplified throughout; but in this picture we have unpleasantness without any momentous depth of speculation excited, in which to bury its repulsiveness—The picture is larger than Christ rejected—… I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.

On 23 February 1821 Keats died in Rome. A year earlier he had written to his fiancée Fanny Brawne:

‘If I should die,’ said I to myself, ‘I have left no immortal work behind me — nothing to make my friends proud of my memory — but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.’

Well, I think it great if you have a philosophy of looking for beauty in all life. A little idealistic, and a little romantic perhaps but John Keats was part of the romantic poetry movement at the time.

John Keats didn’t put much value on being remembered stating that he thought his writing was ‘on water’. But little did he know that he would be reverently remembered by his work especially on that word ‘beauty’.

I remember Something Beautiful for God a 1971 book by Malcolm Muggeridge on Mother Teresa. The book was based on a 1969 documentary on Mother Teresa (also entitled Something Beautiful for God) that Muggeridge had undertaken. A great legacy – to leave something beautiful for God.

John Keats on Wikipedia

The Sun Rising – John Donne – Comments

The Sun Rising
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
               Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
               Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
               Late school boys and sour prentices,
         Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
         Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
               Thy beams, so reverend and strong
               Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
               If her eyes have not blinded thine,
               Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
         Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
         Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.
               She's all states, and all princes, I,
               Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
               Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
               In that the world's contracted thus.
         Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
         To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
John Donne (1572 - 1631)

This is a love poem. The sun has intruded into the bedroom of the lover. And the lover engages in a witty rebuke to the personified sun.

S1 – A question – must lovers heed the seasons, is love independent – Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?  And a complaint – go disturb others who need sentence. But the answer is emphatically given in the last lines – ‘Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime’. And the idea that love is independent of time. And we exist in the rags of time – hours, days, months.

S2 – the sun is so strong but it only takes a wink to deny light. The lover does not want to do this for it will detract from seeing the beauty of his partner. And then the suggestion that the sun might be blinded by the beauty of his lover. And as for all those kings of yesterday, seek them not they are here with me, metaphorically speaking.

S3 – And the hyperbole continues emphasising the now … the room, the bedroom, the love scene … here is all important in this contracted space. Shine here to us and thou art everywhere. The whole world is here to be seen in total focus on the now.

But the sun is everywhere it penetrates all it is such an amazing star. For the sun is intricately involved in all aspects of the solar system. John Donne would not have known that neutrinos come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second. Perhaps love too is similarly involved.

Does the sun dictate all life – and does love dictate everything too? And love is of far more importance transcending the universe. And is love internal in some way to all life?

And is the ‘spiritual son’ equally involved in all aspects of life whether recognised or not? Well, that is another matter – excuse the pun.

John Donne is known as the king of the metaphysical. John Donne on Wikipedia.

I did not realise that I had covered this poem in 2019

Morte D’Arthur – Epilogue – Tennyson – Comments

Morte D'Arthur - Epilogue

Here ended Hall, and our last light, that long
  Had wink'd and threaten'd darkness, flared and fell:
  At which the Parson, sent to sleep with sound,
  And waked with silence, grunted "Good!" but we
  Sat rapt: It was the tone with which he read--
  Perhaps some modern touches here and there
  Redeem'd it from the charge of nothingness--
  Or else we loved the man, and prized his work;
  I know not: but we sitting, as I said,
  The cock crew loud; as at that time of year
  The lusty bird takes every hour for dawn:
  Then Francis, muttering, like a man ill-used,
  "There now--that's nothing!" drew a little back,
  And drove his heel into the smoulder'd log,
  That sent a blast of sparkles up the flue;
  And so to bed; where yet in sleep I seem'd
  To sail with Arthur under looming shores.
  Point after point; till on to dawn, when dreams
  Begin to feel the truth and stir of day,
  To me, methought, who waited with a crowd,
  There came a bark that, blowing forward, bore,
  King Arthur, like a modern gentleman
  Of stateliest port; and all the people cried,
  "Arthur is come again: he cannot die".
  Then those that stood upon the hills behind
  Repeated--"Come again, and thrice as fair";
  And, further inland, voices echoed--
  "Come With all good things, and war shall be no more".
  At this a hundred bells began to peal,
  That with the sound I woke, and heard indeed
  The clear church-bells ring in the Christmas morn.

Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

This is the epilogue at the end of ‘Morte D’Arthur’ Tennyson’s famous poem on the death of the legendry King Arthur from the Knights of the Round Table. Not everybody is aware of these lines and it certainly was the case at our local U3A discussion on Tennyson.

It is Christmas Eve and the Parson has been reading and it is long into the evening with the remains of the fire smoldering. It is known that a cockerel will call out repeatedly well before the advent of day. And the cockerel is calling out many more times than three in the denunciation of Peter.

But what the parson had been reading stirred Tennyson into thought so much so that his dreams were of Arthur, King Arthur who is often also equated to his dead close friend Arthur Hallam – ‘I seem’d  /  To sail with Arthur under looming shores’.

I do love the words – ‘when dreams / Begin to feel the truth and stir of day’ which indicate he has been dreaming right up to daybreak when dreams dissolve in the reality of day.

It is what he dreamed that is so important … if you read the end of the death of Arthur in Tennyson’s poem you will be aware of the bark and the portraying of Arthur’s moving descriptive departure at death …

So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.

Everybody is overjoyed at the return of the legendry King Arthur. And what good would then be accomplished. Equally Tennyson is overjoyed if he is thinking of Arthur Hallam, which is probably the case. And then the link to Christianity as the Christmas Bells peal out in joyous celebration of the arrival of Christmas Day.

Tennyson explored immortality and was hoping for individuality to be retained in any afterlife. He didn’t want the afterlife to be lost in a nebulous generic love cloud. For interest here is a link to a study of Tennyson and immortality – A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘Morte d’Arthur’ – Interesting Literature

Tennyson on Wikipedia – Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Wikipedia

My Mother’s Teeth – A. K. S. Shaw

My Mother’s Teeth
Are they false?  Yes, of course,
                 fitted while she was still young.
You don’t have to look; she’s not a horse.
                 Left and right, gleaming white.
friendly, divisive, bottom and top,
                  up and down they never stop.
As full of chatter as twittering birds,
          mum’s very seldom lost for words;
red in the face and short of breath,
         she’s often said they’ll be her death.
It’s hard to tell at the end of each day
                      who has had the better say.

But now decked out in flannel nightie,
             flat on her back and slack of jaw,
whistling to some listening owl,
    she’s one long-winded toothless snore;
while they on the table by her bed,
      like some old snapper from the deep,
still open wide and full of bite,
            are in mid-flow for want of sleep.
In their glass of fizzy water,
                     still awash with idle chatter,
agitated, nervous, they rattle about,
          long after the midnight hour is out.
A. K. S. Shaw (1941 -

This is a very personal poem about a very personal item coming to life and expressing itself, whether clearly and continually is another matter!

In the first stanza we have a bit of a competition between the inanimate object itself and the mouthing of a mother trying to control her mouth insert. It’s hard to tell which has the better say!

In the second stanza the false teeth have been placed in a glass while mother sleeps. And the toothless sounds of snoring are delightfully compared with the poetic fancy of the ‘still chattering teeth’. The comparison with a ‘snapper’ is so appropriate as the teeth are in water. I can’t think of a better fish name for the metaphor. The solution fizzes as the chemical protecting and cleaning the teeth take effect and they may move around ‘chattering’ as the chemical reaction fades.

The two 12-line stanzas have plenty of end line and internal line rhyming (in S1 – a, b, a, c, d, d, e, e, f, f, g, g). Presumably you can tell a lot about a horse by looking at its teeth. And the poem has a nice chattering rhythm – left and right, gleaming white.

This shows how a very personal object can be used by a poet to great effect. My hearing aids talk to me and nowadays there are plenty of electronic chattering to deal with independent of poetic creation.

Note – this is a personal poem for another reason, A. K. S. Shaw happens to be my brother and the poem clearly describes my mother’s false teeth. I remember them well and can recall them being in a glass in the bathroom at night-time more than by her bedside. I think the compound she used fizzed for a while before settling down. Form my vague memory some type of ‘Pepsodent’ solution. But my brother clearly has better memories. On the side I can clearly remember going to the dentist as a child. And in those days having to endure gas treatment.

A. K. S. Shaw has had poems published in many different publications in the UK and has been the recipient of quite a few prizes.

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.