The Mower – Philip Larkin – Analysis

The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling I found
A hedgehog jammed against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably, Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

Unmendably – unamendable

We looked at this poem at our U3A Poetry Appreciation Session. The importance of the punctuation was mentioned in any reading of the poem. And comments were made on the word unmendably this being the central word of the poem – when something happens that can never be mended and in this case due to an innocent accident.

And immediate grief is defined so eloquently in that opening line of the third stanza – Next morning I got up and it did not. It is the absence of presence, the empty space that is so hard to accept. There is such irony in the words – is always the same when of course the whole point is that it is not the same but will always be different.

An interesting discussion ensued on whether the last two lines were needed and perhaps the poem should have ended after the third stanza. Is the enjambment after-thought really needed? And after all PL was not unkind to the hedgehog, in fact he was quite kind and used to feed it. Perhaps he is thinking of a human relationship where he would not like to see a sudden death and where he owed that person a little kindness and some mending needed.

Philip Larkin on Wikipedia.

O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind- John Keats – Analysis

O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind

O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist
And the black elm tops ‘mong the freezing stars,
To thee the spring will be a harvest-time.
O thou, whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness which thou feddest on
Night after night when Phoebus was away,
To thee the Spring shall be a triple morn.

O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet the Evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

A draft copy of this sonnet was sent to his friend John Reynolds on today’s date the 19 February. His friend was suffering from pneumatic fever. He wanted to ‘lift a little time from his shoulders’. Apparently the song of a thrush heard while Keats was out walking was the inspiration for this poem.

It is the only unrhymned sonnet that Keats wrote. It forms the traditional break after the first eight lines – after the full stop, and I have inserted a blank line at this point.

Feddest – feed perhaps
Phoebus – Greek God of light; God of prophecy and poetry and music and healing.

John Reynolds was obviously going through a very dark time. It is appropriate that he mentions the absence of Phoebus, the inability of his friend to write. His illness is conceited to darkness in nature and that Spring will be a great happening – and two lines stress this – a harvest-time and a triple morn.

The last six lines stress the lack of knowledge on the illness and its progression. Again two lines are involved – O fret not after knowledge – I have none, but independent of this his song comes native with warmth.

The last lines give hope that although he, John Reynolds, may think of death in terms of idleness and sleep he is actually awake – and will live, hopefully.

John Keats on Wikipedia

The Waking – Theodore Roethke – Analysis

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

This iambic pentameter villanelle was written in 1953. The poem suggests the nature of life and an approach to living through experience.

In a villanelle the repetitive lines appear together in the last two lines –
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go

These are the key lines that emphasise the main thought concept.

How can you wake to sleep … it seems a contradiction … perhaps what he is saying is that even when awake he is never fully aware … never fully appreciative, so in away asleep of all that is around him as he leads his life … so life is a process of awareness and enlightenment? To take my waking slow … this might be a plea to enjoy life as you live!

Another view to the phrase I wake to sleep … indicating a reluctance to face life for whatever reason?

We learn by going … by life-experience … and hopefully we go where we have to go … do we have an ordained path? … a path specific for us to follow? … how do we work out where we have to go? … only by going and following our heart.

In the third stanza there is a humbleness and respect for others when they are involved – I shall walk softly there.

We think by feeling … I think in a way this is true in that our thinking and feeling go hand in hand and as we think we know and experience a ‘yes this is right’ response within. And life throws many situations at us that cause emotional reaction needing thoughtful response. Whether we are fated is another matter.

In the fifth stanza Great Nature is a beautiful guiding force in growth … but we do not know how, how the tree takes light or light takes the tree.

And in the last stanza – What falls away is always. And is near … experience continually falls away fixed … we cannot change the past … but it may be near to us in how we continue to live especially when we have made a few regrettable decisions.

Theodore Roethke on Wikipedia

 

Fidelity – D. H. Lawrence

Fidelity

Man and woman are like the earth, that brings forth flowers
in summer, and love, but underneath is rock.

Older than flowers, older than ferns, older than foraminiferae,
older than plasm altogether is the soul underneath.

And when, throughout all the wild chaos of love
slowly a gem forms, in the ancient, once-more-molten rocks
of two human hearts, two ancient rocks,
a man’s heart and a woman’s,
that is the crystal of peace, the slow hard jewel of trust,
the sapphire of fidelity.
The gem of mutual peace emerging from the wild chaos of love.

D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930)

foraminiferae = order of protozoans usually marine organism with perforated shells
plasm = colourless coagulation part of blood in which the corpuscles float

This prose style poem is often used as a marriage piece. It highlights the centuries old soul-bond of man and woman. And the foundation of a relationship is on-going trust and fidelity. This is likened to the formation of a gem in a rock to form the conceit. And the words suggest that it is not easy to maintain trust and fidelity within the wild chaos of love. This phrase is repeated emphasising the nature of love and the demands experienced in developing an on-going relationship.

Of course gems and jewels are usually part of the marriage ceremony so these metaphoric words go hand in hand in stressing fidelity.

The problem is that word foraminiferae – what exactly does it mean and how to you pronounce it if you have to read the poem at a wedding! It is a word trap that takes the mind away from focusing on a smooth reading, never the less the emphasis on fidelity is crystal clear!

D. H. Lawrence on Wikipedia

IF – Rudyard Kipling – Comments

IF

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) – Text taken from the Net … it could have errors.

This poem consists of four eight line rhyming iambic pentameter stanzas. The whole poem is instruction on the way to live life – a father talking to a son. Instruction is based on the word IF … the Ifs that may happen in life and the advice response is elaborated.

This poem came in #1 in the search for the most favourite poem by the UK Bookworm programme in 1995. So the advice offered must have had some resonance with the UK public. And maybe his father had lived through some harrowing experiences such as risking all his money on one turn of pitch-and-toss.

And if the son succeeds in making that appropriate response then the son becomes ‘a Man’, it being so important for the son to succeed and become ‘a Man‘. The son having more importance than a daughter which is still prevalent in so many societies and situations! The poem must be viewed against the historical context.

The poem can have a universal dimension of instruction with a few amendments such as …
S1 … line 3 … If you can trust yourself when everybody doubts you,
S4 … line 4 … If all peoples count with you, but none too much;
And in the last line … And – what is more – you’ll be some hero!

However, this loses something for it is Father-Son talking and poems must adhere to the concrete of the text of the poet, so the latent universal is there for the reader to accept independent of Father-Son and those looking for some kind of gender equality should do so in this light and not colour appreciation this way.

If you can read a poem for full appreciation
without letting personal preference shade your understanding.

There are, of course, many cases where text is changed for gender equality but poetry is not the case!

Full details of the poem IF on Wikipedia
A link to Rudyard Kipling on Wikipedia

Awash in Smoke – Australian Bushfires

 

SmokePoem

Burnt Bush – Batemans Bay, NSW

Awash in Smoke

in the shock aftermath death knell
on a day hard to happen
a dull blue twist slowly ascends
into the sullen smoke hangover

the stubborn littered ground aglow
as the after-life scrub still smoulders,
like a discarded cigarette butt
menacing cancer

blackened tangled gum trunks
twist fingers into the lost sky
while a dead kangaroo silhouetted
dissolves in the shifting smoke

life stalls in the depressed choke
of the continued fall of dust cladded air

Richard Scutter 9 January 2020

Context –

The current Australian bushfires are unprecedented in their magnitude and destruction. They have been extensive across all States and have destroyed massive areas of bush. And they are still burning at the time of this Post. The current loss is 2,316 homes and over 24 lives coupled with considerable stock loss.

World Wildlife Conservation estimate that 1.25 billion animals have died and of course their habitat decimated. Australia is a very large country and continent and some of the tracks of land involved in the fires are bigger than European countries.

Smoke from these fires has clouded and polluted many towns and cities not directly connected with the destruction and fires. This has been the case in Canberra over the last three weeks. The intensity of the smoke depends on wind direction but on some days Canberra has been the most polluted major city in the world.

The world-wide response to this on-going tragedy has been quite amazing. I give my heartfelt thanks for all this support and to those that have donated to the funding of the recovery effort. Unfortunately the scars are severe and it will take many years for the regrowth to take hold but the bush is resilience and it will recover!

Angels – Mary Oliver – Comments

Angels

You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it’s not really
hard. The whole business of
what’s reality and what isn’t has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don’t care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That’s a place
you just can’t get into, not
entirely anyway, other people’s heads.

I’ll just leave you with this.
I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

This is all to do with how we and others see the world. We know what we see and how we feel. How we articulate this in a way that others can understand is another matter. And equally the converse is true.

And how much do we understand another person? But to help there is that intersecting commonality between peoples based on common life experience and the fact that we are all of the human variety.

In this poem by Mary Oliver there is a plea to be accepting of what others say however ridiculous it might seem. And she suggests living in the ‘perhaps’ for it is true that we can never really get into the head of another. So if someone says they have seen an ‘angel’ or anything else truly out of the ordinary then who are we to deny the sighting and in due course perhaps we might see the same.

Of course ‘angels’ come in many forms and there is one sitting in the chair across the room at the moment. I don’t know about the dancing element!

Perhaps the first stanza is sufficient combined with the first line of the second, if I might suggest my perhaps on first reading this poem.

Mary Oliver died in January last year … a Wikipedia link 

Smoke – Michael Symmons Roberts – Comments

Smoke

First one tree, then another, horizons close
towards us, house-lights dim and drown.
The huge, low moon dissolves. Pray in us,

spirit, animus, holy ghost among
the wet leaves, in the smoke’s mute song.
Eyes sting. All perspective gone.

One building bleeds into another.
Torch beams shrink to dandelions
Headlamps fade to dull gems set in cars.

Distances collapse. Shouts could cross
streets, valleys, oceans. Silence, broken
by a siren on another continent.

And what burns? Sweet and salt,
bracken, berries, hair. What new edifice
hardens within, waits for world to sharpen.

Michael Symmons Roberts (1963

Animus – hostility
Edifice – structure

This poem, written by UK poet Michael Symmons Roberts in 2011, marries nicely with the smoke drenched city of Canberra as the wanton bushfires send their hangover dust into Canberra from the devastation on the NSW south coast.

A clear message that is not going away – long after the smoke dissipates!

Unfortunately the Australian Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) is not showing the leadership needed to address climate change in an adequate way – waiting for some serious sharpening.

Below Black Mountain Tower, Canberra shrouded in smoke (3 January 2019) …

20200103_112105[1]

A link to Michael Symmons Roberts on Wikipedia.