Eavan Boland – Tribute – ‘And Soul’

 

Irish poet Eavan Boland died at the end of April at the age of 75 from a stroke. Born in Dublin in 1944, Eavan Boland is one of the foremost female voices in Irish literature. She created a much needed female balance to Irish poetry on the same level as Yeats and Heaney.

She was known for documenting women’s lives, including their domestic lives. Her work covered the role of women in Irish history and culture. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards in 2017 for what was described as her art, her eloquence and her stalwart advocacy for poetry.

Her first collection of poems was published when she was still a student and she went on to have a long career as a poet, editor and teacher. In recent years, she divided her time between Ireland the US. She was Professor of English and director of the creative writing programme at Stanford University.

For more information

A link to a tribute to Eavan Boland

A link to Wikipedia


I have chosen the following poem because it reflects her love of Dublin and gives her personal thoughts as she drove through wet weather to visit her dying mother. The Liffey is the river that flows through Dublin.

And Soul

My mother died one summer –
the wettest in the records of the state.
Crops rotted in the west.
Checked tablecloths dissolved in back gardens.
Empty deckchairs collected rain.
As I took my way to her
through traffic, through lilacs dripping blackly
behind houses
and on curbsides, to pay her
the last tribute of a daughter, I thought of something
I remembered
I heard once, that the body is, or is
said to be, almost all water and as I turned southward, that ours is a
city of it,
one in which
every single day the elements begin
a journey towards each other that will never,
given our weather,
fail –
the ocean visible in the edges cut by it,
cloud colour reaching into air,
the Liffey storing one and summoning the other,
salt greeting the lack of it at the North Wall and,
as if that wasn’t enough, all of it
ending up almost every evening
inside our speech –
coast canal ocean river stream and now
mother and I drove on and although
the mind is unreliable in grief, at
the next cloudburst, it almost seemed
they could be shades of each other,
the way the body is
of every one of them and now
they were on the move again – fog into mist,
mist into sea spray and both into the oily glaze
that lay on the railings of
the house she was dying in
as I went inside.

Eavan Boland (1944 – 2020)

Quite clearly it is a soaking wet city and enforces the Ireland rain connection to the mind. But it does give a shadowy grey dismal emotive background associated with pending death.

It is interesting for it is almost as if she connects the unending rain with her mother as if there is a transference or absorption – ‘it almost seems they could be the shades of each other, / the way the body is’. This reflection is readily accessible by the reader and her thoughts obviously dominated by having to journey through the city in wet weather and it being the wettest summer ever.

The title ‘And Soul’ is thought provoking. My thoughts are that ‘soul’ is always secondary and latent, if you like behind everything and in this case very much behind this personal experience when driving in the rain. 

This poem contrasts with my previous Post of Wallace Steven’s poem ‘The Snow Man’ where a different transference is involved and where words need much thought.

RIP – absorbed in Ireland beautiful.

Demain, dès l’aube – Victor Hugo

Demain, dès l’aube

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Tomorrow, at dawn, at the hour when the countryside whitens,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
I will depart. You see, I know you wait for me.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
I will go through the forest and over the mountains.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.
I cannot stay far from you any longer.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
I will trudge on, my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Ignoring everything around me, without hearing a sound,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Alone, unknown, back stooped, hands crossed,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.
Saddened, and the day will be like night for me.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
I will neither see the golden glow of the falling evening,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Nor the sails going down to Harfleur in the distance,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
And when I arrive, I will place on your tomb
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.
A bouquet of green holly and flowering heather.

Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)

This is one of French writer Victor Hugo’s most famous poems. It was published in his 1856 collection Les Contemplations

Harfleur – was the principal seaport in north-western France for six centuries, until Le Havre was built about five kilometres downstream. The suffix fleur comes from Old Norse Flöthe meaning ‘estuary or arm of the sea’ – and not flower. The precise meaning of the prefix “har” is unknown.

It was written after the death of his daughter. A fully focused personal journey of communion. It is a very moving poem.

Here is a reading of the french with a musical background.

I took the translation from the internet. I would prefer some less literal minor changes … for example, in the last stanza –

I will neither see the golden glow of falling evening,
nor the sails going down in the distance at Harfleur,
and when I arrive, I will place on your grave
a bouquet of green holly and heather in flower.

However, I do love the french and nothing can equal the beauty of the original language.

Victor Hugo on Wikipedia … he will always be remembered for Les Miserables

The Afternoon Sun – C P Cavafy – Analysis

The Afternoon Sun

This room, how well I know it.
Now they’re renting it, and the one next to it,
as offices. The whole house has become
an office building for agents, businessmen, companies.

This room, how familiar it is.

The couch was here, near the door,
a Turkish carpet in front of it.
Close by, the shelf with two yellow vases.
On the right—no, opposite—a wardrobe with a mirror.
In the middle the table where he wrote,
and the three big wicker chairs.
Beside the window the bed
where we made love so many times.

They must still be around somewhere, those old things.

Beside the window the bed;
the afternoon sun used to touch half of it.

. . . One afternoon at four o’clock we separated
for a week only. . . And then—
that week became forever.

C P Cavafy (1863 – 1933)
translated by E Keeley

I liked this poem on a first reading. The last stanza had a poignancy that only comes from an intimate personal separation. Grief is rekindled by returning to a house and entering a specific room known well from years ago.

Looking at each stanza and the structure of the poem …

S1 – The first sentence tells it all – this room is significant. And the rest of the stanza states what unfortunately has happened to the house.

S2 – This one line stanza returns to the room, and the poet’s familiarity. It has its own space making the one line stand out in thought. We can imagine the person standing at the open door looking into the room and the emotive response as memories flood back.

S3 – Then what follows is a detailed description of how the room used to be – every item gradually brought to the forefront of memory compared to the new look of the room. And then the significant last sentence, remembering the bed near the window where love took place.

S4 –A one line reflection thinking about the items in the room and what happened to them. Time has taken away physical things as well as emotional loss. Again the one line has space making it stand out in thought.

S5 – The bed has now become the main focus of the poem, and how the sunlight played on half of it. Sunlight has wonderful associations and so to the bed of course. And we can imagine the scene without the need for specifics. And the fact that the sun only touched half of the bed just as coming back only touches part of the original experience.

S6 – And then that poignant statement of the partial separation that became the forever. There is no need for any explanation on why this has happened. The reader can bring to mind his or her own personal experience of intimate loss. So both reader and poet share an emotional intensity.

I like the way this poem is structured as the reader walks-through an instant in life. It is a poem of place as well as grief and memory. The poet goes back to a place of great significance. And when we do this we take our time to absorb the new environment holding the image of the past in the mind as a reference. This is why I like the two one line stanzas because they create a sort of time delay in the reading of the event as it unfolds.

For interest, here is a clip of a sung version of this poem in Greek by Yannis Petritsis. It  might bring an emotional response akin to that experienced from reading the poem. (There are subtitles in English.)

C P Cavafy was an Egyptiot Greek poet, journalist and civil servant. He is one of the most important figures in Greek poetry, and in Western poetry. His poems are, typically, concise but intimate evocations of real or literary figures and milieu that have played roles in Greek culture. Uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia are some of his defining themes. He was a perfectionist, obsessively refining every single line of his poetry. He left 155 poems plus more that were incomplete. His mature style was a free iambic form, free in the sense that verses rarely rhyme and are usually from 10 to 17 syllables. In his poems, the presence of rhyme usually implies irony.

And more on C P Cavafy fom Wikipedia

I must add as a follow-up that there is a time to move on and look to the future, hard as it might be. And although the world is changing rapidly fast, the new-all-different tomorrow will always provide opportunities to enrich us with joy.

 

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.

In Memory of Basil, Marquess of Dufferin and Ava – John Betjeman

In Memory of Basil, Marquess of Dufferin and Ava

On such a morning as this
with the birds ricocheting their music
Out of the whelming elms
to a copper beech’s embrace
And a sifting sound of leaves
from multitudinous branches
Running across the park
to a chequer of light on the lake,
On such a morning as this
with ‘The Times’ for June the eleventh
Left with coffee and toast
you opened the breakfast-room window
And, sprawled on the southward terrace,
said: “That means war in September.”

Friend of my youth, you are dead!
and the long peel pours from the steeple
Over this sunlit quad
in our University city
And soaks in Headington stone.
Motionless stand the pinnacles.
Under a flying sky
as though they too listened and waited
Like me for your dear return
with a Bullingdon nose of an evening
In a Sports-Bugatti from Thame
that belonged to a man in Magdelen.
Friend of my youth you are dead!
and the quads are empty without you.

Then there were people about.
Each hour, like and Oxford archway,
Opened on long green lawns
and distant unvisited buildings
And you my friend were explorer
and so you remained to me always
Humorous, reckless, loyal –
my kind heavy-lidded companion.
Stop, oh many bells, stop
pouring on roses, and creeper
Your unremembering peal
this hollow, unhallowed V. E. Day, –
I am deaf to your notes and dead
by a soldier’s body in Burma.

John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

From 1945 Poems ‘New Bats, And old Belfries’

Marquess – a nobleman ranking between a duke and an earl.
Headington stone is a limestone from the Headington Quarry area of Oxford
V.E. Day – 8 May 1945 – Victory in Europe
The Bullingdon Club – the notorious all-male Oxford University dining club.
Sports-Bugatti – a rather nice sports-car

Basil Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava died on 25 March 1945 at age 35 at Burma, killed in action. He was educated at Eton College, Windsor, Berkshire, England and at Balliol College, Oxford University. He was an intimate contemporary friend of John Betjeman. He was exceptionally talented and led an extrodinary life.

If, in the first stanza, the poem relates to an image of life on 11 June 1939 then Basil would have been 29 years old and John Betjeman a little older. Clearly they were staying together perhaps near Oxford. The opening of a breakfast window to a beautiful June summer morning reminds me of the opening words of Mrs Dalloway. These words portray a lazy carefree picture of upper-class life. The last line is important in making the contrast link to the pending war which is about to complete destroy this somewhat idealistic picture of England.

JB’s Oxford life is the backdrop of his memory to times with his friend. And he awaits the return of his friend as a he once did when waiting for him to turn up at the Bullingdon Club in a dashing sport car. The bells are ringing out from the steeple and we find out in the last stanza that it is V. E. Day a day of celebration but it is a hollow unhallowed day because JB lost his close friend in the war in March. And the cry goes out to Stop, oh many bells, stop.

JB did not make friends easily but he did he lavish affection upon old friends. In this personal elegy we see him share his deep feelings in the words of this poem.

John Betjeman was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1972 until his death.

JB on Wikipedia

Nurse no longer grief – Mary Gilmore

Nurse no long grief

Oh, could we weep,
And weeping bring relief!
But life asks more than tears
And falling leaf.

Though year by year
Tears fall and leaves are shed,
Spring bids new sap arise,
And blood run red.

Nurse no long grief
Lest the heart flower no more;
Grief builds no barns; its plough
Rusts at the door.

Dame Mary Gilmore (1865 – 1962)

This is a simple poem with a strong message. Grief is necessary but long grief not. The life events that cause grief can never be removed and how we internalise and deal with them is an individual matter. In the last two lines Mary Gilmore alludes to action as a way of escape – go build your barn and use your plough.

Mary Gilmore is the great-great aunt of the current Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. On the 50th anniversary of her death in 2012 he delivered a tribute to her in federal parliament.

Scott Morrison was elected as Prime Minister of Australia for a further 3 years on 18 May 2019 to the great surprise of the Labour Party who had been strongly favoured to win. How that Party deals with such grief is being worked out.

Mary Gilmore had to survive life when nursing many radical political views.

Mary Gilmore on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Gilmore

Futility – Wilfred Owen – Remembrance Day 2018

Today marks 100 years since the end of WW1 in 1918.

PoppiesWarMemorial

The hand-woven poppy display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Futility

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

Sonnet structure of two 7 line stanzas with slant rhyming scheme …

Wilfred Owen technique is to use slant rhyme; this poem is no exception. It has an AABABBB rhyming pattern in the first stanza, then alternating slant-rhyming lines in the last stanza. Slant rhymes (such as “sun” and “once”) are a subtle way of giving a poem unity, where the words may echo each other, without being an obvious rhyme. The reader gains a sense of coherence without, initially at least, being conscious of how it is done. However, in certain contexts, such as this poem, the near rhymes may signify discord, a rhyme that is not ‘quite right’. Refer – https://genius.com/Wilfred-owen-futility-annotated

S1 – Farm labourers had no comprehension of what they were in for when they enlisted in WWI. This poor fellow is mortally injured as his mates move him into the sun. It is cold as there is snow on the ground and the sun will provide warmth. The sun is personified as a healer capable of giving recovery. In England the sun has always been a friend to him waking him and giving life to his fields. Even in France it has been with him in the mornings. Perhaps ‘the kind old sun will know’ how to revive him.

S2 – The sun brings life to seeds and from the text it appears that it brought life to the universe – ‘woke, once, the clays of a cold star’ … and much has been achieved in the evolution of life and the advancement of humanity … ‘limbs, so dear achieved’ … so is it too much to ask the sun for help akin to asking a mate for help.

This is a poem about grief following what has happened to a rural worker enlisted in WW1, with anger vented at the creator and maintainer of life represented by the sun.

Is the sun an uncaring mate (sun=creator, son, God) ?

And the poem poses the question if life has been created by an uncaring unintelligent ‘sun’ then what is the purpose of life!

A link to Wilfred Owen on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Owen

Note – 

The Canberra Rotary Peace Bell is available today for residents and visitors to sound … see https://canberrapeacebell.org/ This is done in conjunction with reading the following words by the Chinese Philosopher Laozi … (the bell is sounded after each statement is read).

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours.

If there is to be peace between neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

Bell

 

One Art – Elizabeth Bishop – Analysis

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979)

This poem is a villanelle consisting of five tercets rhyming ‘aba’ and a quatrain of rhyming ‘abaa’ Traditionally the lines are iambic pentameter.

The title One Art.

The title cannot be understood until reading the poem. If the way life to be lived is defined as the ‘The Art of Living’ and if this can be subdivided into countless components such as ‘The Art of Working’, ‘The Art of Communication’, etc. then perhaps one such component could be defined by ‘The Art of Losing’ and this is what life is all about and so too this poem – ‘One Art’ one very important art!

Looking at each stanza –

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Life can be regarded as a continual disappearance game as we lose things all the time – so this must be expected – it’s life! A villanelle as many repetitive lines so very appropriate to the nature of loss.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

We mislay things often and find then quickly hopefully and quite often these are things we use all the time like keys. Annoying and time consuming events that are just part of everyday life and not hard to master!

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

You meet many people visit many places and you lose them as they fade from current life. The question is – are they still latent in your life story. Perhaps of more importance to your thoughts are the places and people you have always been meaning to visit. This is a far different kind of loss because it engenders failure.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

No we start talking of those things of great value to who we are. Items of personal significance and places that have been are home through the years. We lose them as we move on but do not forget their significance or do we.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Then geography and countries and cities are condemned to loss. More so of course as you age and are confined to place after many years of experiencing travel and life in different countries. Elizabeth Bishop lived in Brazil for 15 years before her return to Massachusetts. Maybe not a disaster in that happy memories instils warmth to current life.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Here we end with the greatest loss perhaps – that of a close loved one; whether a partner or family member. And (Write it!) says with such emphatic voice that ‘losing’ is so hard.

This poem is the ‘Art of Losing’ and quite different from ‘The Art of forgetting’.

Elizabeth Bishop on Wikipedia

And an excellent analysis of this poem is on this Site