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.

The Clear Air of October – Robert Bly – Analysis

A different poem for a contrast … a bit like an abstract compared to a landscape painting …

The Clear Air of October

I can see outside the gold wings without birds
flying around, and the wells of cold water
without water standing eighty feet up in the air,
I can feel the crickets’ singing carrying them into the sky.

I know these cold shadows are falling for hundreds of miles,
crossing lawns in tiny towns, and doors of Catholic churches;
I know the horse of darkness is riding fast to the east,
carrying a thin man with no coat.

and I know the sun is sinking down great stairs,
like an executioner with a great blade walking into a cellar,
and the gold animals, the lions, and the zebras, and the pheasants,
are waiting at the head of the stairs with robbers’ eyes.

Robert Bly (1926 –

A modern contemporary American poet with a liking for Minnesota and according to The Norton Anthology …

… his poetry can be thought of as mystical imagery and …

… Bly’s favourite source is the German mystic Jakob Boehme. The epigraph from Boehme at beginning of Bly’s second book … The Light around the Body … declares “for according to the outward man, we are in this world, and according to the inward man, we are in this world … since then we are generated out of both worlds, we speak in two languages, and we must be understood also by two languages.”

Perhaps he is using a second language in the above poem?

How does the title relate to the images created by the words?

Why do the animals have robbers’ eyes?

I think an answer to the last question provides the key to unlocking meaning behind the poem.

Footnote
Here is a link with more information on Robert Bly from Wikipedia 

Japanese Maple – Clive James – Comments

Clive James is nearing the end of his life. Last year he wrote the poem ‘Japanese Maple’ and he had time to put a lot of thought into the text. It is very much a testimony of his personal state at that time as he considered his approaching ending.

I have broken the poem into six stanzas of four lines and then the closing line. My comments in italics …

‘Japanese Maple’

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ / ^ ^ ^^ ^
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
^ ^ ^ ^^ / ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
Breath growing short
^ ^^ ^
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
^ ^ ^^^^ / ^ ^ ^ ^
If you have read his ‘Poetry Notebook’ you will be aware how much he appreciates form and it is not surprising to encounter rhyme and rhythm and the attention to the syllable structure. But what I like is the break in the third line corresponding to his difficulty in breathing. You can join his shortness in breath when reading that line. Clearly, at the time of writing, he was not in pain.

Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree

In fact he is experiencing a golden time in the highlighting of his senses. And looking at the Japanese maple in the light rain gives great joy – he obviously has to spend time sitting observing because of his failing health. And again we see that short line occur.

And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.

And he can watch the changing garden as night approaches and find delight in little things such as the way the falling light picks up the wet precipitation. (The Amber Room is a world famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leafs and mirrors, located in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. – from Wikipedia)

It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.

This time the short line is at the start. Reflective words on not being around – nature will continue regardless of his demise – then reflecting again, this time bringing to mind his daughter who chose the tree.

Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Then looking to the future, how the tree will look in autumn and setting a goal to see the autumn colours– that will be sufficient. (He did achieve this).

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone

He know equates his very last days with the ‘flood of colours’ – colours that will live on. His mind is ‘burned’ showing how much value he has taken from the world – a shining world -and more recently appreciating the ‘flame’ of the tree.

So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

And the last line with emphasis on how much joy he has encountered in his end days. It is interesting that his enforced change of pace due to illness has given him a new perspective on life and time to really appreciate his limited environment and to look back on the beauty of life with gratitude.

Clive James

Rhyming scheme – abab bcdc ddea eaaf ghgg ijij j

Clive James would like to be more known as a poet and he is a very fine poet but I guess he will be better known as a broadcaster and commentator with that wry twist and sardonic humour. But this poem will surely be one of his classics.

Here is a link to his Website – http://www.clivejames.com/ and a link to information about Clive James on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_James

Passengers are reminded – Melinda Smith – Analysis

Geoff+Melinda

Canberra Poets Melinda Smith and Geoff Page at the ACT Writers Christmas Party, Gorman House, Canberra

Closing the year with a post recognizing the outstanding achievement of Canberra poet Melinda Smith who recently took-out a major poetry award – the Prime Ministers Award for Poetry with her book ‘Drag Down to Unlock or Place an Emergency Call’.

Looking at the first poem in that publication ‘Passengers are reminded’… my commentary appears below the text.

Passengers are reminded

The 11.44 Emu Plains service will depart in six minutes … L1
a cigarette butt is stuck to the black spiked heel of my left shoe … L2
L1-2 … the announcement of the imminent departure is synchronised with this passenger noticing that her shoes have spiked a cigarette butt – perhaps implying concern for her dress.
This service is experiencing a slight delay due to a sick customer at Town Hall … L3
in L3 we see that there will be delay … concern for a different passenger on another station
I have been carrying the lilies too long … L4
in L4 the waiting passenger is more concerned about the lilies she is carrying – so there is some urgency in the matter
This service is experiencing continuing delays due to a sick customer at Town Hall … L5
the petal edges fray to bruised brown, like old lettuce … L6
L5-6 extents the situation in each direction greater delay/ greater urgency – reflected in the state of the lilies
Customers wishing to travel on the Western line are advised to proceed to platform twelve … L7
my black stockings are bunched and twisted … L8
L7 appears to be incidental and the waiting passenger is again concerned about her dress this time her twisted stockings in L8
Customers are reminded … L9
The 13.00 funeral service … L10
will commence promptly at the appointed time … L11
whether I am there or not … L12
L9-12, appear to be a thought response back to the platform announcer … the service that she wants to attend is a funeral service – it is something one could easily do while waiting – especially if a little annoyed at the delay – re: ‘whether I am there or not’.
This is the 12.09 Lithgow service … L13
First stop – … L14
Rust-coloured crumbs of lily pollen on my black suit … L15
L13-14 give more incidental train announcements– but the focus is on her dress and the crumbs of lily pollen in L15
– then all stations to – … L16
my mind is still not full enough … L17
L16 – the continuing incidental announcement on the Lithgow service is in the background … to the exasperation of the passenger asking the telling question in L17- my mind is still not full enough– the question being how much longer must she fill her mind with distracting thoughts before the bloody train arrives!
Doors closing. Please stand clear. … L18
L18 – I think this is a very clever three-way closure – closure in the train announcement, closure in what she is saying in her mind-dialogue (L13), and closure to the poem.

Melinda Smith 2013

Summary

I love the duality of the interplay between a passenger waiting for a train and the station announcements on the train service. And who has not been in a similar situation. Expecting a train to arrive on time only to be thwarted by continual delay. Well, what do you do while you are waiting … talk with others, go for coffee, look at the station Ads, play with your mobile or just stand in thought … and what you think at the time may not always be poetic if annoyed at having to wait!

In the publication there are gaps of blank lines between lines. I think this is intentional to highlight the waiting situation experienced on the station. In other poems of this nature it is common to differentiate voices using italics or changes in font. By not doing this it adds to the mystery of the station environment and it leaves the poem open to different interpretation. The last line also adds some mystery in that we don’t actually know if this is her train and she is about to enter. But does this really matter? A good poem should always make the reader think.

In that regard others that have reviewed this poem have commented that the poem is a ‘memento mori’  poem – a reminder of death and mortality ‘Passengers are reminded’. Life being a journey. And that we try to fill our mind with other things to avoid thinking about death. This is the reason there are lines with incidental ‘noise’ and why the penultimate line is ‘my mind is still not full enough’ – seeing the waiting woman as one who does not want to think about death and the death of the person. But the final line makes it clear that there is no avoiding the inevitable separation – with every death the doors close and the rest of us just have to stand clear.

I must admit I had not thought of the poem in that light concentrating my focus on her need to be at the funeral and perhaps not being able to say her final good-bye in the company with friends.  But taking this direction it is certainly not her actual train that is moving off and the woman continues to wait – whether or not thinking of her own mortality in the meantime.

A wonderful thought provoking poem to include as the first poem in Melinda’s book.

Here is a link to Melinda’s Blog with more information on this poem … http://melindasmith.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/passengers-are-reminded/