Felix Randal – Gerard Manley Hopkins

Felix Randal

Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

S1 … Felix Randal was a member of Hopkins’ congregation when a minister (priest) in Liverpool, England. So Hopkins gets the news that Randal is dead and therefore his duty as a priest is over. GMH obviously watched the decline of the big-boned handsome farrier as four disorders took control of his body.

S2 … Randal was impatient at the onset of the sickness wanting to get rid of it as it naturally hindered his normal life. But a heavenlier heart helped mend the situation implying a spiritual dimension developed by church involvement under the guidance of GMH – ‘I had our sweet reprieve and ransom / Tendered to him’ – communion.

S3 … Touch and talk helped in his ministration and GMH was very touched himself with the sorry state of the farrier. Sickness endears us to both the individual concerned and the sickness itself. Sickness creates a very personal intimacy between people.

S4 … And there is such a contrast GMH remembering back to the boisterous years when the farrier was well.

We are all touched by similar circumstances in life.

Gerard Manley Hopkins on Wikipedia 

Drowning is not so pitiful – Emily Dickinson

Drowning is not so pitiful

Drowning is not so pitiful
As the attempt to rise.
Three times, ‘t is said, a sinking man
Comes up to face the skies,
And then declines forever
To that abhorred abode

Where hope and he part company,—
For he is grasped of God.
The Maker’s cordial visage,
However good to see,
Is shunned, we must admit it,
Like an adversity.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

This is all about accepting death when death is inevitable. It is part of human nature to fight for survival. So is our attempt to maintain life to the very end pitiful.

Dylan Thomas has a villanelle in the opposition direction as portrayed by the first lines of his well-known poem – ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. He commands us to rage against impending death – ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day’.

The question is when to be accepting of approaching death and view death not as an adversity but as a welcome friend. There is a time to be submissive and a time to burn and rave to squeeze the most out of life. Only at the very last is the former more appropriate – a matter of judgement.

The ED poem implies that death will be the meeting of the cordial visage of our creator. We are inclined to be negative despite the great goodness in God. But didn’t the bible say something along the lines that each hair on your head is of concern and not to be afraid. So do do not worry if you are having a bad hair!

I have taken a view in line with Emily Dickinson in my reply below to the Dylan villanelle, however I have taken a more gentle approach, rather than the pitiful reproach of Emily Dickinson –

Go Gentle and Enjoy Your Last Day

go gentle and enjoy your last day
focus not on the loss of your sight
give a smile as you pass quietly away

a wise man knows how to play
knows exactly what is indeed right
go gentle and enjoy your last day

a good man accepts the pathway
as he enters the door of the night
give a smile as you pass quietly away

a brave man shows strong display
knows it useless in giving a fight
go gentle and enjoy your last day

a grave man will rise up to say
‘the end is turning quite bright’
give a smile as you pass quietly away

so to all I earnestly pray
savour the disappearing light
go gentle and enjoy your last day
give a smile as you pass quietly away

Richard Scutter

… A link to Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia.

 

My Home – Clive James – Analysis

My Home

Grasping at straws, I bless another day
Of having felt not much less than alright.
I wrote a paragraph and put some more
Books in a box for books to throw away.
Such were my deeds. Now, short of breath and sore
For all that effort, I prepare for night,
Which occupies the window, as I climb
The stairs. A step up and I stand, each time,

Posed like the statue of a man in pain,
Although I’m really not: just weak and slow.
This is the measure of my dying years:
The sad skirl of a piper in the rain
Who plays “My Home” If I seem close to tears
It’s for my sins not sickness. Soon the snow
Will finish readying the ground for spring.
The cold, if not the warmth that it will bring,

Is made, each day, to clearly manifest
I thank my lucky stars for second sight.
The children of our street head off for school
Most mornings, stronger for their hours of rest.
Plump in their coloured coats they prove a rule
By moving brilliantly through white light:
We fade away, but vivid in our eyes
A world is born again that never dies.

Clive James (1939 –

This poem was the last poem in the anthology “Best Australian Poems – 2014” edited by Geoff Page: appropriately positioned. There are three eight line iambic pentameter stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘abcacbdd’. As usual  CJ is very respectful of form and structure in his work.

CJ is nearing the end of his life and this has been the case for several years now. As indicated in the text he is not in pain but he has breathing problems and consequently his mobility is limited – the first line could easily be ‘G(r)asping at straws, I bless another day’ – and the simple task of walking up the stairs is a great effort as he has to rest after each step – ‘A step up and I stand, each time’.

The ‘sad skirl’ (shrill whirling sound) of the lone piper playing ‘My Home’ – which is a reference to a traditional Scottish or Northumbrian pipe tune. It is used by military bands as a march past, but a slow march contrasting with quick march pasts such as “Highland Laddie” (information from Wikipedia).

For obvious reasons the spring will be cold for CJ as he anticipates the imminent closure of his life. And reflecting on his life there are regrets defined by his ‘sins’ – perhaps chosen for the s alliteration in this line.

The key to his mental outlook is in the line – ‘I thank my lucky stars for second sight.’ For CJ is referring to his new life in his modified state on approaching death. Ironically it is a golden time for him and he is very thankful that he has this second sight or second chance to look at life from quite a different perspective. Another of his poems is illustrative of this fact see ‘The Japanese Maple’ 

And sight and light are seen in the last stanza in double capacity. For CJ light is fading compared to the children who are ‘brilliantly walking in white light’ for they are the on-going metaphor for the eternal life cycle – ‘A world is born again that never dies’ – and this fact (rule) is ‘vivid in our eyes’. A nice way of putting it by using the word ‘rule’ which associates with school and learning.

And ‘My Home’ gives thought to the duality of the physical place that is home and the spiritual connection to the home of eternal life.

 

An Inevitable

An Inevitable
(a follow-up to ‘An Unseen’ by Carol Ann Duffy)

I watched death come, anticipating, tears, cold,
empty, taking away;
deep winter, hard crunch on barren ground, life-unborn.
Death forever patient, today, tomorrow
each farewell, the future known, an inevitable.

Down the long corridor, day after day, to her room
my hello, her departing,
death, arms wide open, to embrace
bedside waiting, for that moment
when all moments coalesce.

Silence, forever silence
the remnant, memories, imprint
death-gift receipt, for the living,
before a church service, the walk home
the mind a ransom.

Richard Scutter May 2017

Death in Leamington – John Betjeman – Analysis

Death in Leamington

She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the ev’ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa.

Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have work’d it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high ‘mid the stands and chairs-
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs.

She bolted the big round window,
She let the blinds unroll,
She set a match to the mantle,
She covered the fire with coal.

And ‘Tea!’ she said in a tiny voice
“Wake up! It’s nearly five.”
Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness,
Half dead and half alive!

Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
Do you hear the plaster drop?

Nurse looked at the silent bedstead,
At the grey, decaying face,
As the calm of a Leamington ev’ning
Drifted into the place.

She moved the table of bottles
Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
Turned down the gas in the hall.

John Betjeman 1906-1984 (from Mount Zion 1932)
This was one of the first poems published by JB.

S1 … The first line defines the death and place of death without adjective and as a matter-of-fact statement, leaving the reader to furnish an image from his or her own thoughts. Time-wise she died at the time the evening star – Venus – the planet of love and beauty – was visible from her window, an appropriate marriage with death. The window had expensive plate glass and looked out over Leamington Spa – a royal town noted for those seeking heath cures.

S2 … Death is transferred to the unfinished crochet work … the fingers are dead in line with the voice. How the crochet will come alive again and finished is another matter. It points to how the lady was using her last days – the scene is easy to picture.

S3 … The Nurse enters with her tea-things pre-occupied with her the jobs at hand and her internal thoughts and oblivious to the death. What a brilliant way to put it – ‘alone with her own little soul’ – and again the tea-things are personified in a similar way. A clear separateness is established between the death and the Nurse.

S4 … the Nurse goes about her routine evening work … she is fully focused on this … before having time to address the sick lady

S5 … then with some cheeriness the Nurse announces the arrival of tea … asking for her patient to wakeup … you can imagine her speaking with the back to the bed … the Nurse is very much alive and of course her ladyship very much dead … the room is distinctly divided … ‘half dead and half alive’ nicely gives a comparison between the two.

S6 … then still not aware of the situation and not looking at the bed the Nurse comments on the state of the plasterwork … death is personified in the falling plaster … and the Nurse says ‘do you know that the heart will stop’ referring to the arches … (if the lady could speak she would say ‘Yes indeed’!)

S7 … then attention is turned to the bed and bedside … and Nurse becomes well aware of what has happened … and there is a still calm about the death scene and equally the still of a Leamington evening drifts into place as the day dies in unison

S8 … the Nurse is very careful now to show great respect by moving bottles to safety at the bedside and then quietly leaving without disturbing the peace of death to quietly tip toe down the stairs and to turn down the hall gas – (symbolic sympathy by this action)

It is so easy to picture the scene … beautifully crafted with the dying day and the dying plaster… with just enough detail in the account of the transaction focusing on specific actions … showing the respect between Nurse and patient together with a sort of matter of fact acceptance of death which Nurse knew was coming soon.

It is easy to see why this was chosen as the first up poem in my ‘Best of Betjeman’ book.

John Betjeman was Poet Laureate of the UK from 1972 to 1984 and here is a link to John Betjeman on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Betjeman

And here is a reading of this poem on YouTube (by Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams) …   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dI8SYa8Szo

Dead Nun – Nicola Bowery – Analysis

Dead Nun

Flattened crow, wheeled out
like a lesson in arithmetic.
Death, minus one,
taught by a pickled nun.

I’m not ready for instruction.
Spiders stiffen quietly in corners,
an ant kisses the sand.
I am as virgin of death as they come.

Mother Agatha is dead.
Hurry girls, form a line.
I don’t want to. She’ll smell.
Move on, move on!
You’re not at death’s door yet.

She wasn’t a person, not even a beetle.
Kept in the back room to wither in secret
then served up on a trolley after homework.
She’s gone to Jesus. Say goodbye.
I don’t want to say goodbye.

The line is moving at the pace of one peep only,
the chapel suffocates in chrysanthemums.
There’s a faint whiff of fish,
the smug stare of too many candles,
the sputter of a giggle about to burst.

She’s very neat in her tight-fitting box,
a cardboard cut-out, black feathered still,
her tiny paper hands folded in a holy posture.
She looks beyond the fuss of genuflection.
What about her bridal gown, her smile for Jesus,
the hole her soul escaped from?

I want to jab her toe
and ask her where she’s going
but my knees are melting.
I want to be horizontal and carted away.
There are too many candles in Heaven.

Hush girls, off to bed.

Nicola Bowery, Bloodwood, Bunda Press 1996

The following is my interpretation on the above and as always read the poem and ponder your own thoughts before the colouring of your mind by my words.

Looking at each stanza …

S1 … great opening stanza …goes straight to the focus of the poem – the wheeling out of a dead nun – a nun who taught maths …nice number framing of a death (-1 teacher, or Life – 1 = Death + 1) taught by a pickled nun – on first reading I had the impression the nun taught while ‘pickled’ – could be a cynical view of nuns in general as being preserved for heaven.

S2 … well a different form of instruction now taking place! – first death experience – compare with her current experience of death (crushed ant or a spider) … we can start to put an age on the girl

S3 … the herding by the nuns … very believable language and response … reluctance, and and the young girls equating death to yuk

S4 … tells it all on how this girl felt about nuns – or this nun in particular … kept in a backroom nicely fits the preservation concept and now after death she is being served up (not to heaven – but to the girls on a trolley) … she may have gone to Jesus – but you get the feeling she is very much here

S5 … you can imagine the girls slowing passing the body and the various reactions … and the proliferation of candles which view with a smug stare (well, they are still alive) … and the abundance of flowers

S6 … genuflection was a word that tripped me – it looks like reflection across the generations – I wanted to look it up in the dictionary straight away
(genuflection = to bend the right knee to the floor and rise again as a gesture of religious respect, especially in a Roman Catholic or Anglican church)
But ‘the hole her soul escaped from’ – implies distaste for the nunnery-life – akin to the preserved in a jar from the first stanza. The act of going to Jesus has an unknown and cynical flavour.

S7 … the unknown journey from death makes her think – where has she gone – if only she could tell me – ‘I want to jab her toe’ … but it is all too much – she would like to be horizontal too (bed time) – the proliferation of candles combines to overwhelm – the thought of heaven too much

Summary – I really like this poem for it gives a vivid description of a very believable school experience and the early age personal confrontation with death – combined with a questioning of the life of the nun – it reminds me of that wonderful 1959 film ‘The Nun’s Story’ with Peter Finch and Audrey Hepburn.

Such a poignant ending to the film when Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn) leaves the convent, her vows and the life and friends she has known, to walk through the door by herself to start her life as a new person – into the ‘real’ world bustle, ‘real’ life. I remember watching this very moving film when I was a schoolboy.

Nicola Bowery is a local Braidwood poet … here is a link for those interested in reading more of Nicola’s work – – http://actwritersshowcase.com/Writers/A-E/Bowery_Nicola.shtml

Closure on the life of a terrorist

Closure

don’t slam the door kid, when you leave your room
don’t slam the door tight when you enter the night
go quietly; go gently, as you enter the night
go gently as you vanish from sight

at that age when there is no age
and when the rolling of the years
matters only to another
and the inscription on the wall
is left for others to recall
and when they resurrect your name
will they relinquish certain blame?
let them shed their tears kid!

how can that have any meaning
is there meaning in a flower?
you knew exactly who you were kid!

don’t slam the door kid when you leave your room
don’t slam the door tight when you enter the night
go quietly; go gently, as you enter the night
go gently as you vanish from sight

Richard Scutter 15 October 2015

In memory of a twelve year old who reluctantly self-detonated before reaching his target in order to save the lives of others.

‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’

…  children are constantly being abused and the world is in a sorry state … in the above I wanted to consider this twelve year old and his actions … with certain ‘poetic licence’ because, of course, we will never know the mind of this young boy as he failed to carry out the treacherous demands put on him.

… looking to the positive …

… he didn’t kill innocent people.

… his family gets financial support.

… there is one less to look after in his family, more food to go round the table.

… and of course he exists to a quieter, better world, his new home – depending on your point of view, and hopefully he ‘didn’t slam the door when he left his room’ … and that he took something of beauty with him from his short existence.

Beach Burial – Kenneth Slessor – Analysis

SeaGrave

This memorial is dedicated to the men and women lost at sea from merchant vessels in war and peace. The photo was taken in the grounds of the National ANZAC Centre. Albany Western Australia. It was from Albany that the first fleet of vessels left carrying Australian and New Zealand troops for WWI battlefields, leaving on the first of November 1914. A second fleet of vessels left in December of that year. (ANZAC = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps).

Beach Burial

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin –

“Unknown seaman” – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.

El Alamein

Kenneth Slessor

I think this is one of the most moving and well-constructed of all Australian war poems. Look at the construction of the third line in each stanza. For example … At night they sway and wander in the waters far under – ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^^ ^ ^ ^^ ^ ^^ thirteen syllables, a long line reflecting the action of the drifting dead over time, internal rhyme and alliteration with a bobbing rhythm.

Apart from a quiet, muted, sad voice in the choice of apt but simple words one thing that gives added poignancy is the fact that it is an after the event poem … the outcome of war set against the background of the action … a reversal of the theatre … and easily visualised by beach oriented Australians. And in the end, despite the many differences, the coming together of humanity entering the afterlife as one.

Isn’t it sad too that they were lost in the waves and then after burial their inscriptions are lost too by the rain.

In a lecture to students Kenneth Slessor did explain his intent by the last words of the last line … the other front. I have no record of this but my interpretation is that all humanity may be regarded as enlisted by the creator. In other words created for a common purpose involving action. The nature of the other front is up to debate but my take involves the path to eternity.

Footnote …

Here is a link to Kenneth Slessor on Wikipedia.

Some have labelled his work lacking … Judith Wright for instance uses the terms “skeletal” and “lacking in content” (from Preoccupations in Australian Poetry 1965). I do not find him so … maybe there is confusion between poetry and philosophy.

We should not let the philosophy of a person colour the way we view the work … I find his Five Bells poem for instant over-flowing in a desire to find out a reason behind life and in this way full of content. Apparently he wrote some light verse which I have not seen … in contrast to the well-known Five Bells and Beach Burial.

Note – El Alamein was really the turning point in the second World War. It was the first major battle that the Allies won. Although the battle was fought on the sands of Egypt there were plenty of losses at sea. Rommel was desperate for supplies of oil and ammunition and two crucial relief merchant ships were sunk at the time of the battle in October 1942.