The Sun Rising – John Donne – Comments

The Sun Rising
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
               Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
               Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
               Late school boys and sour prentices,
         Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
         Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
               Thy beams, so reverend and strong
               Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
               If her eyes have not blinded thine,
               Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
         Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
         Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.
               She's all states, and all princes, I,
               Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
               Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
               In that the world's contracted thus.
         Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
         To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
John Donne (1572 - 1631)

This is a love poem. The sun has intruded into the bedroom of the lover. And the lover engages in a witty rebuke to the personified sun.

S1 – A question – must lovers heed the seasons, is love independent – Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?  And a complaint – go disturb others who need sentence. But the answer is emphatically given in the last lines – ‘Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime’. And the idea that love is independent of time. And we exist in the rags of time – hours, days, months.

S2 – the sun is so strong but it only takes a wink to deny light. The lover does not want to do this for it will detract from seeing the beauty of his partner. And then the suggestion that the sun might be blinded by the beauty of his lover. And as for all those kings of yesterday, seek them not they are here with me, metaphorically speaking.

S3 – And the hyperbole continues emphasising the now … the room, the bedroom, the love scene … here is all important in this contracted space. Shine here to us and thou art everywhere. The whole world is here to be seen in total focus on the now.

But the sun is everywhere it penetrates all it is such an amazing star. For the sun is intricately involved in all aspects of the solar system. John Donne would not have known that neutrinos come straight through the earth at nearly the speed of light, all the time, day and night, in enormous numbers. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second. Perhaps love too is similarly involved.

Does the sun dictate all life – and does love dictate everything too? And love is of far more importance transcending the universe. And is love internal in some way to all life?

And is the ‘spiritual son’ equally involved in all aspects of life whether recognised or not? Well, that is another matter – excuse the pun.

John Donne is known as the king of the metaphysical. John Donne on Wikipedia.

Morte D’Arthur – Epilogue – Tennyson – Comments

Morte D'Arthur - Epilogue

Here ended Hall, and our last light, that long
  Had wink'd and threaten'd darkness, flared and fell:
  At which the Parson, sent to sleep with sound,
  And waked with silence, grunted "Good!" but we
  Sat rapt: It was the tone with which he read--
  Perhaps some modern touches here and there
  Redeem'd it from the charge of nothingness--
  Or else we loved the man, and prized his work;
  I know not: but we sitting, as I said,
  The cock crew loud; as at that time of year
  The lusty bird takes every hour for dawn:
  Then Francis, muttering, like a man ill-used,
  "There now--that's nothing!" drew a little back,
  And drove his heel into the smoulder'd log,
  That sent a blast of sparkles up the flue;
  And so to bed; where yet in sleep I seem'd
  To sail with Arthur under looming shores.
  Point after point; till on to dawn, when dreams
  Begin to feel the truth and stir of day,
  To me, methought, who waited with a crowd,
  There came a bark that, blowing forward, bore,
  King Arthur, like a modern gentleman
  Of stateliest port; and all the people cried,
  "Arthur is come again: he cannot die".
  Then those that stood upon the hills behind
  Repeated--"Come again, and thrice as fair";
  And, further inland, voices echoed--
  "Come With all good things, and war shall be no more".
  At this a hundred bells began to peal,
  That with the sound I woke, and heard indeed
  The clear church-bells ring in the Christmas morn.

Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

This is the epilogue at the end of ‘Morte D’Arthur’ Tennyson’s famous poem on the death of the legendry King Arthur from the Knights of the Round Table. Not everybody is aware of these lines and it certainly was the case at our local U3A discussion on Tennyson.

It is Christmas Eve and the Parson has been reading and it is long into the evening with the remains of the fire smoldering. It is known that a cockerel will call out repeatedly well before the advent of day. And the cockerel is calling out many more times than three in the denunciation of Peter.

But what the parson had been reading stirred Tennyson into thought so much so that his dreams were of Arthur, King Arthur who is often also equated to his dead close friend Arthur Hallam – ‘I seem’d  /  To sail with Arthur under looming shores’.

I do love the words – ‘when dreams / Begin to feel the truth and stir of day’ which indicate he has been dreaming right up to daybreak when dreams dissolve in the reality of day.

It is what he dreamed that is so important … if you read the end of the death of Arthur in Tennyson’s poem you will be aware of the bark and the portraying of Arthur’s moving descriptive departure at death …

So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.

Everybody is overjoyed at the return of the legendry King Arthur. And what good would then be accomplished. Equally Tennyson is overjoyed if he is thinking of Arthur Hallam, which is probably the case. And then the link to Christianity as the Christmas Bells peal out in joyous celebration of the arrival of Christmas Day.

Tennyson explored immortality and was hoping for individuality to be retained in any afterlife. He didn’t want the afterlife to be lost in a nebulous generic love cloud. For interest here is a link to a study of Tennyson and immortality – A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘Morte d’Arthur’ – Interesting Literature

Tennyson on Wikipedia – Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Wikipedia

My Mother’s Teeth – A. K. S. Shaw

My Mother’s Teeth
Are they false?  Yes, of course,
                 fitted while she was still young.
You don’t have to look; she’s not a horse.
                 Left and right, gleaming white.
friendly, divisive, bottom and top,
                  up and down they never stop.
As full of chatter as twittering birds,
          mum’s very seldom lost for words;
red in the face and short of breath,
         she’s often said they’ll be her death.
It’s hard to tell at the end of each day
                      who has had the better say.


But now decked out in flannel nightie,
             flat on her back and slack of jaw,
whistling to some listening owl,
    she’s one long-winded toothless snore;
while they on the table by her bed,
      like some old snapper from the deep,
still open wide and full of bite,
            are in mid-flow for want of sleep.
In their glass of fizzy water,
                     still awash with idle chatter,
agitated, nervous, they rattle about,
          long after the midnight hour is out.
A. K. S. Shaw (1941 -

This is a very personal poem about a very personal item coming to life and expressing itself, whether clearly and continually is another matter!

In the first stanza we have a bit of a competition between the inanimate object itself and the mouthing of a mother trying to control her mouth insert. It’s hard to tell which has the better say!

In the second stanza the false teeth have been placed in a glass while mother sleeps. And the toothless sounds of snoring are delightfully compared with the poetic fancy of the ‘still chattering teeth’. The comparison with a ‘snapper’ is so appropriate as the teeth are in water. I can’t think of a better fish name for the metaphor. The solution fizzes as the chemical protecting and cleaning the teeth take effect and they may move around ‘chattering’ as the chemical reaction fades.

The two 12-line stanzas have plenty of end line and internal line rhyming (in S1 – a, b, a, c, d, d, e, e, f, f, g, g). Presumably you can tell a lot about a horse by looking at its teeth. And the poem has a nice chattering rhythm – left and right, gleaming white.

This shows how a very personal object can be used by a poet to great effect. My hearing aids talk to me and nowadays there are plenty of electronic chattering to deal with independent of poetic creation.

Note – this is a personal poem for another reason, A. K. S. Shaw happens to be my brother and the poem clearly describes my mother’s false teeth. I remember them well and can recall them being in a glass in the bathroom at night-time more than by her bedside. I think the compound she used fizzed for a while before settling down. Form my vague memory some type of ‘Pepsodent’ solution. But my brother clearly has better memories. On the side I can clearly remember going to the dentist as a child. And in those days having to endure gas treatment.

A. K. S. Shaw has had poems published in many different publications in the UK and has been the recipient of quite a few prizes.

Death of a Son – Jon Silkin – Analysis

Death of a Son
Something has ceased to come along with me.
Something like a person: something very like one.
And there was no nobility in it
Or anything like that.
Something there was like a one year
Old house, dumb as stone. While the near buildings
Sang like birds and laughed
Understanding the pact
They were to have with silence. But he
Neither sang nor laughed. He did not bless silence
Like bread, with words.
He did not forsake silence.
But rather, like a house in mourning
Kept the eye turned in to watch the silence while
The other houses like birds
Sang around him.
And the breathing silence neither
Moved nor was still.
I have seen stones: I have seen brick
But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood
With flesh of stone
And bricks for blood. A house
Of stones and blood in breathing silence with the other
Birds singing crazy on its chimneys.
But this was silence,
This was something else, this was
Hearing and speaking though he was a house drawn
Into silence, this was
Something religious in his silence,
Something shining in his quiet,
This was different this was altogether something else:
Though he never spoke, this
Was something to do with death.
And then slowly the eye stopped looking
Inward. The silence rose and became still.
The look turned to the outer place and stopped,
With the birds still shrilling around him.
And as if he could speak
He turned over on his side with his one year
Red as a wound
He turned over as if he could be sorry for this
And out of his eyes two great tears rolled like stones,
and he died.
Jon Silkin (1930 - 1997) 

A house is an inanimate object. It only comes to life in association with people, without the human contact you can regard it as ‘dead’. The poem likens the one year old child to be a house; an inanimate object with no life. All the stanzas thread through this fancy –

But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood

The house is silent and the only life is from the birds on the roof. And the birds are singing crazy as if trying to bring life where there is no life only a silence. An incomprehensible silence while the other houses around him sing.

The other houses like birds
Sang around him.

Eventually the silent life of the child becomes still while the birds are in full chatter as though still talking to him as though he can respond to their stirrings. And then the final sad movement in turning over and shedding two huge tears of stone as if apologising for his death.

The something ceased to come along with the father … the something that could never be understood … the something that never quite became a person … the something that had its own religion.

But this something remains forever in this sad personal sharing of his son’s death.

John Silkin is very much known by this poem. He had a prolific literary life. Details on Wikipedia.

Pelicans – Judith Wright – Analysis

Seen at the NSW south coast

Pelicans
Funnel-web spider, snake and octopus,
pitcher-plant and vampire-bat and shark–
these are cold water on an easy faith.
Look at them, but don’t linger.
If we stare too long, something looks back at us;
something gazes through from underneath;
something crooks a very dreadful finger
down there in an unforgotten dark.
Turn away then, and look up at the sky.
There sails that old clever Noah’s Ark,
the well-turned, well-carved pelican
with his wise comic eye;
he turns and wheels down, kind as an ambulance-driver,
to join his fleet. Pelicans rock together,
solemn as clowns in white on a circus-river,
meaning: this world holds every sort of weather.
Judith Wright (1915 – 2000)

The first sentence of the first stanza covers some of those creatures, insects and plants that have known to be of some concern to human inhabitants. And in some cases humans have died due to their venomous nature. The intent is perhaps to promote fear in their name. It is worth noting that snake, octopus and pitcher-plant can be harmless but quite beautiful. But what I think JW is trying to emphasise is that nature can be a dangerous place if you look beyond the surface.

An easy faith would be a superficial faith believing in the positive side of all life; perhaps giving little consideration to the negative. The first stanza ends telling us up not to ponder on this darker side of nature. Don’t look too much on this because it is dangerous; and something will look back at us. The implications here are that we should not dwell on the negative aspects of nature, and indeed life; dwelling on the negative is dangerous in itself. And this proclamation flows into the first sentence of the second stanza.

Look up to the sky and consider the pelican. The pelican is used as a contrast to give a positive to nature. But JW would not have known how brutally murderous pelican siblings are to each other.

But apparently a 16th century Christian would consider a Pelican as a symbol of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Using this knowledge gives a more meaningful perspective on this poem. And it is nice to know that the Pelican is well tuned, well-carved and wise; clearly attributes that are associated with Christ.

And of course the Pelican is a water bird so presumably escaping God’s anger and the need to enter Noah’s Arch by the fact of flight. There is another side to the Pelican mentioned above so kindness is a bit of an oversight. But Christ is somewhat of an ambulance driver in the provision of healing to the world.

The poem ends with the closing proclamation that the world is inflicted with great variety of weather. Whether we know how to deal with such climatic conditions is another matter; and also whether we believe God is involved in anyway to help.

This poem is in Judith Wright’s Birds publication. Her daughter, Meredith Mckinney, commented on this collection … ‘Despite the joy reflected in the poems, however, they also acknowledge the experiences of cruelty, pain and death that are inseparable from the lives of birds as of humans’.

Judith Wright on Wikipedia

Hope – via Emily Dickinson

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -
'Hope' is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —
I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Well, this is the first day of the new year and we all hope for better times in the days ahead. This poem is a definition of hope in terms of a metaphoric internal bird. A nice idea to equate hope to flight. Especially for those in dire circumstances who wish to be elsewhere. And that little bird is there despite the ravages of weather. And hope is without demand; the bird not needing feeding. It just needs to be recognised.

And here is another bird showing hope … this time external … a thrush … giving hope to Thomas Hardy in the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ … The Darkling Thrush – Thomas Hardy – Analysis | my word in your ear

The environment communicating … a case of stopping and listening … and maybe seeing hope?

Hoping you can see hope somewhere today!

Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia … Emily Dickinson – Wikipedia

‘Get Real Man’ – The Christmas Gift

Get Real Man

we are talking about God
the creator of the universe
we are talking about real power!
you have absolutely no idea man
beyond your understanding!

apart from making miracles happen
he showed us in like fashion that
even in the most horrendous injustice
he was here to support our lives
no matter the pain

what an unbelievable gift
isn’t it just wonderful -
that he came here, today, for you and me!
and that he is a little crazy,
get real man!

Richard Scutter Christmas 2020

The Journey of the Magi – T. S. Eliot – Analysis

The Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
just the worst time of the year
for a journey, and such a long journey:
the ways deep and the weather sharp,
the very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
and the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, wanting their liquor and women,
and the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
and the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
and the villages dirty and charging high prices:
a hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
sleeping in snatches,
with the voices singing in our ears, saying
that this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
wet, below the snow-line, smelling of vegetation,
with a running stream and a water-mill beating the
                    darkness,
and three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
and feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, so we continued
and arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
and I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all this way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen Birth and
                 Death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
hard and bitter agony for us, like Death our death
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
with an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Galled – abnormal vegetable growth on a plant – appropriate description for a camel … probably carrying a large load too
Refractory – stubborn, unmanageable
Sherbet – a powdered confection eaten dry or used to make effervescent drinks.

Commentary …

Recounts the journey of the Magi (3 wise men) to the birth of Christ to pay homage (Re: – Matthew 2 v1-12).

One of a series of lyric poems called ‘The Ariel’ poems published as Christmas poems over five years from 1927.

The first five lines are taken from a sermon by Lancelot Andrews – Bishop of Winchester (1555 – 1626).

The poem is a dramatic monologue spoken by one of the wise men outlying the difficulty of the journey.

Three lines of regret balanced by ten lines on the difficulties with camels, the drivers the conditions and the environment. But they continue their ‘quest’ against their better judgement … and travel in darkness (spiritual darkness).

Then a new birth in the journey an awakening … at dawn … winter disappearing with the snow and vegetation … you could say a crossing through a symbolic waste land to something more.

The journey is from death to life in both a physical and spiritual sense … from the death of the old life … of palaces and silken girls bringing sherbet … to the start of a new life. This is symbolised by perhaps the most important line of the poem …

An old white horse galloped away in the meadow’. (Re: white horse – refer Revelations 6:2 … I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer … and 19: 11  … And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.)

Time is represented by the running stream, the water-mill beating the unknown future which is glimpsed unknowingly by this wise man in the foreshadowing of the crucifixion …the three trees (Golgotha), the dicing for silver … and symbolically the vine leaves become empty wine casks to be kicked around.

… then the arrival at precisely the ‘appointed time’ to a ‘satisfactory’ place.

In the last section the wise man reflects back and contemplates the meaning of this event … a Birth and a Death … with more prominence given to the Death than the traditional joy of Birth … the death of the old order … and note the clever change in the wise men returning to their places not their palaces … but the old order still persists though it is now alien and conquered. The narrator glad when the old order has gone … when times can be changed for the better …now a stranger in the community … and in the traditional religious sense glad to see the death of ‘sin’ and a transformation beyond a personal transformation … (however long this might take of course.)

Footnote
T. S. Eliot became an Anglican in 1927 … this poem is a symbol of his spiritual journey from doubt to spiritual faith. It is the drama through his waste land to a life of a new awakening and represents TSE’s own internal spiritual development. His religious development expands later in another important work – The Four Quartets (1943).

T. S. Eliot – Wikipedia