The Darkling Thrush – Thomas Hardy – Analysis

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928)

Darkling – meaning ‘in the dark’ has a certain musicality when spoken like the call of a bird.
Coppice – dense area of small trees
Spectre-grey – ghostly grey
Dregs – waste particles at the bottom of a liquid, last remaining particles
Lyre – plucked string instrument associated with ancient Greece

S1 … of course it is northern hemisphere winter… and it is a pretty dark dismal affaire … the ‘dregs’ of winter coupled with the weakening eye of pallid sunless days. Dregs conjures up many images of the winter landscape but the end of December is hardly the end of winter although the solstice has passed. Tree branches are tangled and broken against the winter sky like the strings of a broken musical instrument.

S2 … The landscape becomes likened to a dead body (corpse) with coffin not quite closed … and the pulse of germ and birth not heard … nice choice of germ for seed for it has negative connotations … the death life spirit matches the mood of the poet … a somewhat depressive mood. (fervourless = lacking in any energy)

S3 … But then the sound of a thrush is heard against the bleak winter gloom … a full-hearted evensong … with joy (illimited = unlimited) … from a bird aged, gaunt, frail and small … an evensong coming from the most unlikely of birds … not the greatest specimen – mirroring something of beauty coming from the bleak winter (be-ruffled = fluffing out)

S4 … There is nothing to be cheerful about … so little cause for carolling … it is near Christmas … but that is not the perspective from the bird’s point of view … perhaps the bird and nature know better … hope springs eternal.

The theme is the somewhat dark reflection on the closing century for it was written at the end of December 1900. It is certainly an appropriate poem for the end of this decade when it is easy to get hooked by dark happenings. And especially the havoc caused across the world by weather extremes.

However, there is hope … and in the bleakest of times there is always some element of contrast to give joy … some little ray of sunshine, or tiny spark … hopefully something to take you out of depression … to catch your attention away from your troubles … something to look forward to in the New Year, to give hope … in Australia we are taking more than a tiny spark into the New Year!

Happy New Year!

Thomas Hardy on Wikipedia

a related poem on the not-going-away environment concern

… relentless, unprecedented bushfires in Australia this summer, New Year fireworks have been cancelled in Canberra … and it is a very smoky capital today.

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday God decided to take a holiday
and I really can’t blame him at all, I mean
he must have been a little disappointed
with one of his projects going a little off track,
and working twenty-four by seven over the
centuries is, I imagine, quite demanding.
I am sure God knows where to go for a break
and I am sure he won’t want us to turn up!

Today is a little different, I’m happy to report that
the sun is breaking through threatening clouds and
the waste-paper bin is empty, sprawled out on
the desk are his original drawings, a little crumpled,
maybe he believes things can be straightened out –
perhaps he has far more faith than you or I.

Richard Scutter

This follows from my last post on the winning poem at the IPSI Canberra University 2018 competition … this is another poem concerned with the creation of the world – not by a novice angel but by the very Master her/him-self …

… it is so easy to get depressed with the world … but hopefully there is a retrieval from the wastepaper bin … and a JC correction in evidence, rather than a throw-away by God and a turn to a new project …

The question is … are you going to help … I expect you are well aware that quite a lot of help is needed in the correction process!

This poem received recognition on the ‘Narrator International Website’.

Journey into the interior – Theodore Roethke

Journey into the interior

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
— Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birch trees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.

Theodore Roethke (1908 -1963)

Arroyo = a small stream of running water
Butte = flat-topped hill

About not being you
About all the wayside pitfalls in life’s journey
About being in the uncomfortable zone
About the frightening feelings when in the wrong place
About the danger when you veer from your own journey
About being a round peg in a square hole
About being beside yourself in fear
About nature giving a clear message
About the internal battle of self-discovery

This is a list poem with many images on the danger of losing yourself when trying to do the reverse. And reading this poem it is not surprising that Theodore Roethke suffered from depression. There is no easy solution – the ravines ugly.

My only thought on the long journey out of self is to do just that get out of self, out of the interior nightmare, and share and talk with another soul. We all need a ‘life-line’ at some stage to steer us into calmer waters. And if you are in such circumstances my thoughts go with you as you read these words.

Theodore Roethke on Wikipedia

Seed – Paula Meehan – Analysis

Seed

The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop
each like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended

Paula Meehan (1955 –

To be revitalised from depression … from a house of gloom … from winter … from seeing the garden destroyed after a storm … and then to see something precious, not destroyed and to give thanks … all is not lost … to bless the power of ‘seed’ … the power of life continuing … the conspiracy of the sun with the underground … growth from depression is like that in nature … sun and underground – very appropiate words

Religious connotations, remember the mustard seed … something so small has a big outcome and getting out of depression is big! … thank you …

A seemingly insignificant event or observation takes on mammoth proportions as a catalyst to new life releasing PM from a deep depression. I think this is true for many who suffer from depression. I can relate to this from my own personal experience. Whether providence plays a part is another matter. In this poem PM gives thanks to the persistent power of seed and nature (and her stars – so perhaps she has friends on high).

It reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’. … where a Black Rook takes on similar proportions

Paula Meehan is a well respected Irish poet and playwright …   Paula Meehan on Wikipedia

Lupin

… a lupin in full bloom.

A Poem Just For Me – Roger McGough – Comments

A Poem Just For Me

Where am I now when I need me
Suddenly where have I gone?
I’m so alone here without me
Tell me please what have I done?

Once I did most things together
I went for walks hand in hand
I shared my life so completely
I met my every demand.

Tell me I’ll come back tomorrow
I’ll keep my arms open wide
Tell me that I’ll never leave me
My place is here at my side.

Maybe I’ve simply mislaid me
Like an umbrella or key
So until the day that I come my way
Here is a poem just for me.

Roger McGough

Well, some days you wake up and you just don’t feel your normal self … you’re not just there. What have you got to do to regain your Me! … who is this depressing foreigner that has walked into your skin while you have been sleeping … remove at once I want my Me back again … to feel good … like yesterday. Well, we all experience such feelings so it is easy to identify with these words … the question is how do we remove this imposter that has caused such an uncomfortable feeling.

Perhaps Roger’s poem helped him feel better … perhaps a poet always feels happier after creating a poem – well a poem that he thinks is Ok! … and looking at the text above he has put some work in construction and there is a nice flow of rhyme. A nice touch of humour with self-deprecation.

But do we know ourselves enough to know what we really should be doing in life … the true ‘Me’ that fits the jigsaw of existence. Even so we all have our down days and that is part of life – but getting to and doing something always helps don’t you think – so perhaps it is time to put the kettle  on (metaphorically speaking).

A link to Roger McGough on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_McGough

Of the terrible doubt of appearances – Walt Whitman

Of the terrible doubt of appearances

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,
That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable
only,
May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills,
shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be
these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and
the real something has yet to be known,
(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me
and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,
aught of them,)
May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
might prove (as of course they would) nought of what
they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed
points of view;
To me these and the like of these are curiously answer’d by
my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while
holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and
reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom, I am
silent, I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of
identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Well trying to understand life and the way we perceive reality is the issue and do we really know anything at all. Of course we are discovering new things all the time – for example the weather forecast is now increasingly more reliable with updates on my mobile every three hours. And we all know that the more we know the more we don’t know. Still by knowing more life can be more enjoyable – we need only consider the medical advances that are keeping us alive much longer.

Looking at the somewhat convoluted text –

May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and
might prove (as of course they would) nought of what
they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed
points of view

– maybe this way of expression is appropriate in the circumstances of trying to understand what is really going on and the way others perceive the same thing. Nothing is what it seems (milk often masquerades as cream). As we get older I think we are more accepting and more appreciative of the little things in life without that youthful struggle for answers and worrying about the way others look at life. Content perhaps to just ‘enjoy life’.

But what an extreme thought thinking that we are all living in some mystical dream world that could vanish without meaning! Poets are re-known for travelling the tangents and creating their own unique worlds.

Human connectivity is the saving grace –

To me these and the like of these are curiously answer’d by
my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while
holding me by the hand

It brings the flighty down to Earth by providing comfort when the mind is exhausted by the unanswerable. And of course appropriate when we are depressed and the world is a hollow emptiness. Whether ‘the holding of hands’ is sufficient or completely satisfying is another matter. But this poem does highlight the importance of innate human connectivity.

Walt Whitman on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Whitman

… and a quote from Walt Whitman – keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.

… apparently the above poem is a favourite of Stephen Fry when asked to identify his poem for the book of 100 poems that make grown men cry.

Journey to the Interior – Margaret Atwood – Analysis

Journey to the Interior

There are similarities
I notice: that the hills
which the eyes make flat as a wall, welded
together, open as I move
to let me through; become
endless as prairies; that the trees
grow spindly, have their roots
often in swamps; that this is a poor country;
that a cliff is not known
as rough except by hand, and is
therefore inaccessible. Mostly
that travel is not the easy going

from point to point, a dotted
line on a map, location
plotted on a square surface
but that I move surrounded by a tangle
of branches, a net of air and alternate
light and dark, at all times;
that there are no destinations
apart from this.

There are differences
of course: the lack of reliable charts;
more important, the distraction of small details:
your shoe among the brambles under the chair
where it shouldn’t be; lucent
white mushrooms and a paring knife
on the kitchen table; a sentence
crossing my path, sodden as a fallen log
I’m sure I passed yesterday

(have l been
walking in circles again?)

but mostly the danger:
many have been here, but only
some have returned safely.

A compass is useless; also
trying to take directions
from the movements of the sun,
which are erratic;
and words here are as pointless
as calling in a vacant wilderness.

Whatever I do I must
keep my head. I know
it is easier for me to lose my way
forever here, than in other landscapes

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is better known as a Canadian author of books rather than a poet. She is a prolific writer and very creative so it is interesting to look at this poem. 

S1 … This is obviously an internal journey within contrasted with travelling in the external environment. The first line states that there are ‘similarities’. The eyes define the scene as a wall to be broken … perhaps a ‘flat wall’ as the scene only comes ‘known’ when entered at a personal level. But what is found in S1 is that the environment is endless as ‘prairies’ and that it is ‘poor country’ and not easy going.

Well, to get to know yourself – who you really are – is perhaps a difficult and endless task. But this is the start of the journey so, hopefully, the country will improve with travel. It is interesting that the cliffs cannot be seen for what they are except at a very base level.

S2 … Destination is unknown except to be vague as a dotted line between points on a map. The endless light and dark could relate to both day and night as well as emotional highs and lows. I guess when we start any internal search we have little idea of what might be revealed … and again it is a difficult journey to untangle.

S3 … It is the small details in life that have internal effect. Small details can absorb much of our thinking if they have sufficient deep association. ‘A shoe among the brambles under a chair/ where it shouldn’t be’ – this implies an unfortunate meeting with another person – the ‘shoe’ indicating crossing another’s journey. White mushrooms are immature mushrooms and a paring knife is used to peel fruit to make it edible. What significance these hold for the poet is not known. You could of course liken the personal journey to that of fruit being made acceptable.

A ‘sentence crossing’ my path has double meaning – life as a sentence, and the written sentence of the poet that is now ‘sodden as a fallen log’ whereas yesterday it was more acceptable – ‘I’m sure I passed yesterday’.

S4 and S5 – this search for self is circulating into deep depression to the extent of self-danger. The poet knows within of this danger – ironic self knowledge given the circumstances.

S6 – There is no solution not from any words, not from the poet’s writing or from the Sun (whether or not indicating religious connotation). There is a cry for help.

S7 – The solution is internal – to stay focused and rational – ‘keep my head’  … a double meaning in a very real sense.

Here is a Wikipedia link  to Margaret Atwood.

Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines – Dylan Thomas – Analysis

This poem by Dylan Thomas is not easy to master and is open to personal interpretation … my thoughts are in italics after each stanza …

Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines

Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glowworms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.

… light only comes from darkness … light can only be recognised in terms of darkness … and the ‘heart pushes’ into new territory not like the sea which comes and goes to the same boundaries … the ‘waters of the heart’ can be equated to spiritual light … they are like ‘broken ghosts with glow-worms’ because such light is latent within the body as an abstraction … and so file through the flesh quite separate from the flesh that decks the bones …

A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,

A candle in the thighs has sexual connotations as well as representing time … with time the seed of youth is burnt away as a candle burns and no seed is produced

The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.

… and with time wrinkled man unwrinkles in the stars … the ‘fruit of man’ – with light as bright as the stars … the fig an appropriate choice of fruit (it was under the fig tree that Buddha received enlightenment) .… and you could say that with time when the candle burns to the end instead of a wick we have the silver hairs of age

Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.

… light and awareness in general comes from within … and dawn may break unseen (‘behind the eyes’) … ‘blood’, the waters of the heart seeks enlightenment like a spreading sea … but from the sky comes light …the divining rod searching for water spouts… and then ‘a smile’ and oil – coming as a healing to the tears of the search …the rod and oil having religious connotations

Night in the sockets rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter’s robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.

… night takes its toll … and any warmth is taken by ‘skinning gales’ … when daylight comes it meets the bone … spring will happen hopefully but it is now ‘hanging from the lids’ … this speaks to me of morning light encountering a dark depression in the body

Light breaks on secret lots,
On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics die,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.

… but light has a mystery to its work … subtle and beyond logic … ‘on tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain’… what a marvellous line … and light comes only when attempt at logic is abandoned … the secret of light comes through the hidden soil of the eye … as a plant would grow from that that’s hidden below the ground … and when spring is here ‘blood jumps in the sun’… an awakening … but what does dawn find ‘above the waste allotments’ no recognition, no response and in such areas dawn is ineffective … perhaps a plea for a response to light

Dylan Thomas

…  I’m sure further light will come when I re-read