The Eagle – Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Eagle
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1850 - 1892)

When I first started taking an interest in poetry this poem was given to me as an entry point to define poetic expression in terms of a simple text. It certainly did that and looking at it again today it still invokes admiration.

L1 … Rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration and then personification as claws are transformed into hands. We have become the eagle. Clasps give strength to the fact of maintaining a strong hold. It gives a sense of safety. The many times I go to a lookout I make sure I am safe as I look down.

L2 … Of course, the Eagle is not close to the sun. We know the sun and moon appear to be the same size though the sun is millions of miles away. But this is where the eagle lives and it is not our world, another lonely world. Hopefully, a world far away from the flight path of planes. But lonely suggests the eagle has the sky space to itself.

L3 … He is now standing rather than perched and he is ringed with the azure (bright blue cloudless sky). And we immediately have a picture of dominance against a perfect sky background. Of all birds the eagle is the lion of the sky.

L4 … You will not get a better word than wrinkled to describe the sea from a great height on a quiet day. And the fact that it crawls gives emphasis that it is below and subservient to the eagle.

L5 … This is his lookout where he spends time watching. This is his nature and way of living. So you have a still set in the mind of the reader. A waiting and that comma is so important at the end of the line. When reading it give a pause!

L6 … The thunderbolt dynamism of the last line. The contrast from being still and the crawling sea as we become the falling eagle (not diving or swooping) but falling. I am told birds do close in their feathers tight to provide greater speed in movement at the start of their dive. Therefore, falls may have a factual element as well.

Some time ago my daughter took a photograph of a sea-eagle. When she zoomed the image it had a fish in its claws. You must hand it to the eagle for such fishing skill.

Alfred Lord Tennyson on Wikipedia

Gratitude to Old Teachers – Robert Bly – Comments

Gratitude to Old Teachers

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

Water that once could take no human weight—
We were students then— holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

Robert Bly (1926 – 2021)

I did like this simple poem as Robert Bly is not always easy to fathom (excuse the pun).

The journey of life is like a walk across a frozen lake. And I remember as an eight-year-old testing a frozen pond with parts too thin to walk on. Our walk or life journey is unique, and we walk on the unwalked.

We have underneath support from others all our life. Sometimes completely unknown to us of course. And if we have a spiritual belief maybe we have some form of spiritual guidance. Robert Bly is saying the ice is thickest when we are young for it is at that stage that we need most support; not getting ourselves runover on the roads or in his poem not drowning. And indeed, maybe others prepare for our future stepping in the journey of life, whether a mile or greater distance.

The ‘all around us the stillness’ text does suggest that those that have provided support are no longer alive, or alive to us. And the title ‘Gratitude to Old Teachers’ would suggest the same. And we should be thankful to those that have helped keep us dry.

Something to consider – to what extent do we carry latent within ourselves the influence of others. And is there help when the ice is thin? And like the iceberg is memory all underneath until perhaps it is needed and comes to the surface.

And Teachers of course never retire.

Robert Bly – Wikipedia

Lost words of Shelley – The Existing State of Things – Politics

Friday 8 July marked the bicentenary of Shelley (4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822) and below are some lost words only discovered in 2006 from a political pamphlet.

Shelley’s poem was “lost” for nearly 200 years, before a single copy of the pamphlet was “rediscovered” in 2006, and a decade later bought by Oxford’s Bodleian Library, so finally it could be read by the public again

“Shall rank corruption pass unheeded by, 
Shall flattery’s voice ascend the wearied sky;
And shall no patriot tear the veil away
Which hides these vices from the face of day?
Is public virtue dead? – is courage gone?”

These lines are taken from Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, an excoriation of the moral devastation wreaked in late Georgian Britain two centuries ago. It was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley and published anonymously in 1811, in support of the radical Irish journalist Peter Finnerty, who had been imprisoned for seditious libel after accusing the Anglo-Irish politician Viscount Castlereagh of the torture and executions of Irish rebels challenging British rule.
(I came across them from a recent article in the Guardian Newspaper by Kenan Malik … Long gone, but speaking clearly to our age – Shelley, the poet of moral and political corruption | Kenan Malik | The Guardian)

The lines can relate to the sad state of humanity across the ages. And they are apt today in lamentation at what is happening in many places across the world.

Shelley astounds me by his great productive flow of words throughout his short life.

Shelley on Wikipedia

On love and domestic life – Vikram Seth

Prandial Plaint

My love, I love your breasts, I love your nose.
I love your accent and I love your toes.
I am your slave. One word, and I obey.
But please don't slurp your morning brew that way.

Vikram Seth (1952 -

From The Times of India

Vikram Seth is one if India’s most renowned writers. He’s known for his fiction and poetry and has been awarded with several honours in both Britain and India for his contirbution towards literature. He’s recieved a Padma Shri, a Sahitya Academy Award, a Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, an Order of the British Empire(Officer) and several other prizes for individual works.

His poetry is known for it’s witty wordplay, it’s rhythm and rhyme scheme. With simple words and thoughtful phrasing he evokes rich imagery, and there’s always a clever message clear towards the end.

And this is clearly evident in the above poem!

Prandial = during or in relation to dinner or lunch, such as a mealtime conversation
Plaint = complaint

What a wonderful humorous poem all about relationships and living together where the sublime and down to earth acceptance is such a contrast. That last line!

Vikram Seth on Wikipedia

Living – Denise Levertov – Analysis

Living

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)

S1 … Summer is a time of growth and there is poetic fire in such happenings. And in Australia summer and fire is synonymous. The green to the eye should be appreciated. We don’t know whether it will be our last summer and summers don’t come round every day.

S2 … The leaves on some trees do appear to shiver in the wind. And with the extremes in climate being experienced in Australia there have been many trees toppled by the wind in recent months. So in this stanza we go from making the most of a season to making the most of each day in that season.

S3/S4 … This is a very detailed look at a red salamander who is just living. A precarious living because of the cold and it is held in the hand of the poet. Life is precarious and precious and so easy to falter. But in this case, it is a hand of help to let the salamander move away albeit very slowly. Life is fragile and can end so easily. (I hope there is a hand of help in your living.)

And the last line considers making the most of each minute. Wherever you are. The clear emphasis is on the now. And no procrastination allowed! It is a carpe diem poem on seizing the day.

Denise Levertov was born in Ilford UK but when she married an American she moved to the United States. The red salamander is found in eastern USA.

Denise Levertov on Wikipedia

And the poem The Orange Tree by John Shaw Neilson comes to mind

It happens all the time in heaven – Hafiz – Comments

It happens all the time in heaven

It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day It will begin to happen
Again on earth -

That men and women who are married,
And men and men who are Lovers,

And women and women who give each other Light,

Often get down on their knees and while 
So tenderly holding their lovers hand, with 
Tear-filled eyes will sincerely say, “My dear,
How can I be more loving to you; my darling, 
How can I be more kind?"

Hafiz Iran/Persia (1320 – 1389)
Translation by Daniel Ladinsky

See this site for more translations of Hafiz

Hafiz was a great fourteen century Persian poet and mystic revered in Iran to this day.

How to be humble and get down on your knees to respond to the one you love. To listen and hear the need in those you love. The poem asks a key question in the last line. The problem is how to respond and be more kind. Perhaps being kind may involve confronting the one you love to address a deeper need.

And I have always wondered whether Jesus gave the perfect response to those he met?

Hafiz on Wikipedia

The Third Body – Robert Bly – Analysis

The Third Body

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, or time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not talking.
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do not know.
The man sees the way his fingers move;
he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him.
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have made a promise to love that body.
Age may come, parting may come, death will come.
A man and a woman sit near each other;
as they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
someone we know of, whom we have never seen.

Robert Bly (1926 – 2021)

This is a poem about an elderly couple sitting on a park bench just totally content in the moment not looking for anything else in life just happy to be together in their comfortable known self. Perhaps they have been married for many years and know each other intimately. So this is really a poem about love, love that has grown from long term companionship. And love exist in in their silence. Perhaps love can always be found in the silence of life that speaks to us continually.

Between then they are one body although a couple. They both share in the one book being held in their hands as it is passed between them. But they are connected to a third common body. And this is the question asked by the poem –

Their breaths together feed  – but who? And a very living body that needs them, feed appears in two lines
They obey a third body – but to whom is their allegiance? And a promise made
someone we know of –attributes known – heard about but never seen … who is the poet talking about?

Like or great poems there is no answer other than in the mind of the reader.

so what can this body be –
perhaps it is marriage itself
their heritage
family
perhaps life
love
the body of goodness
or maybe spiritual connections
the bigger unity withing existence
Jesus or even God

Going back to the couple on the bench and both hands together with the book. Why do you think a book was chosen? And how is the book significant in their relationship? What a difference if it was a ham sandwich.

But there is certainly a feeling that this third body is connected in some way to death. The couple are at that stage when death is on the radar. There is a comfortable feeling associated with this connection and they have added their own personal value to this Third Body throughout their lifetime. They are happy and at peace with the world.

Robert Bly on Wikipedia

South of My Days – Judith Wright – Analysis

South of My Days

South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country,
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-
clean, lean, hungry country. The creek's leaf-silenced,
willow choked, the slope a tangle of medlar and crabapple
branching over and under, blotched with a green lichen;
and the old cottage lurches in for shelter.

O cold the black-frost night. The walls draw in to the warmth
and the old roof cracks its joints; the slung kettle
hisses a leak on the fire. Hardly to be believed that summer
will turn up again some day in a wave of rambler-roses,
thrust it's hot face in here to tell another yarn-
a story old Dan can spin into a blanket against the winter.
Seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones.
Seventy years are hived in him like old honey.

Droving that year, Charleville to the Hunter,
nineteen-one it was, and the drought beginning;
sixty head left at the McIntyre, the mud round them
hardened like iron; and the yellow boy died
in the sulky ahead with the gear, but the horse went on,
stopped at Sandy Camp and waited in the evening.
It was the flies we seen first, swarming like bees.
Came to the Hunter, three hundred head of a thousand-
cruel to keep them alive - and the river was dust.

Or mustering up in the Bogongs in the autumn
when the blizzards came early. Brought them down; we brought them
down, what aren't there yet. Or driving for Cobb's on the run
up from Tamworth-Thunderbolt at the top of Hungry Hill,
and I give him a wink. I wouldn't wait long, Fred,
not if I was you. The troopers are just behind,
coming for that job at the Hillgrove. He went like a luny, 
him on his big black horse.

                                            Oh, they slide and they vanish
as he shuffles the years like a pack of conjuror's cards.
True or not, it's all the same; and the frost on the roof
cracks like a whip, and the back-log breaks into ash.
Wake, old man. This is winter, and the yarns are over.
No-one is listening
                                                      South of my days' circle
I know it dark against the stars, the high lean country
full of old stories that still go walking in my sleep.

Judith Wright (1915 – 2000)

S1 … this is a winter statement of JW’s home country … and depicts Australia to the core … and at the end of the description of the natural setting the old cottage lurches in for shelter. The cottage needs shelter from the ailments as much as the residents need shelter. But it has survived and has become molded into the bush environment. The land wincing under the winter gives a degree of severity.

Tableland – refers to a plateau and a region of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales where she was brought up

Medlar – a deciduous tree, they produce a delicious fruit in winter

S2 … you certainly get the feeling of comfort from within against the dark night winter cold … and there is nothing quite like a wood fire … and winter is always a time for inside time and talk … equates to age, dying, and memories and old Dan provides … seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones … providing a metaphoric blanket … and are as honey from his life … and summer is another yarn hard to be believed. And whether the stories are true or not is irrelevant. Oral communication was so important in JW’s life. The poem was published in 1946 and refers to the colonialisation of the land long before that. And a few of those old forgotten cottages hang on in a decayed life today.

S3 … The poem breaks for two examples of cattle droving stories. Charleville in Queensland to the Hunter in NSW is a distance of over 1100km. Drought times can be devastating to land and cattle and sixty were lost at the McIntyre encased in dried mud on a riverbed. A sulky came to into camp carrying a dead driver with flies announcing the death. Three hundred were left out of a thousand and they were in terrible condition. Droving was key to JW’s family life and for those interested in her family history and droving I recommend her book ‘The Generations of Men’.

The Generations of Men’ is the pioneering story of the ancestors of Australia’s best-known poet, Judith Wright. The names, dates and events are factual and are based on diaries, letters and personal reminiscences. Wright has taken this factual material and with her poet’s imagination turned it into a reconstruction of a past era; people, places and even moods. This is a beautifully written family history that documents not only the settling of Wright’s own family into New South Wales, but also the life of a nation, as Australia was colonized by ‘generations of men’ unsuited in many ways to the historical and geographical context of their new environment. For many years unavailable, Judith Wright’s elegant chronicle is fascinating both as a historical document and a personal meditation.

S4 …  Different climatic conditions to deal with, the Bogongs refers to an area of the high country of Victoria where snow frequents. And brought them down; we brought them

down, what aren’t there yet is typical vernacular of the day. Tamworth is in northern New South Wales and Thunderbolt is the name of a famous bushranger. And there is a typical though subtle regard for authority in the response of the drover to Thunderbolt.

S5 … Well old Dan, when reflecting on his memories as they come to mind, may be subject to poetic and entertaining reconstruction due to both his age and a creative spirit. And I do like the analogy of shuffling a pack of cards as he skips from one year to another. Then the frost on the roof and the back log on the fire find a voice to break his thoughts, or a request from JW to wake up. No one is listening to history. And this is truly relevant in relation to JW’s life-long concern in relation to the mistreatment of Aboriginal people and the destruction of their culture. But JW holds the stories as she reflects on the past. They still go walking in her sleep. And they are very dark in her night sky.

Judith Wright on Wikipedia – she was an outstanding Australian poet who spent much of her life campaigning for the environment and Aboriginal land rights.