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

Love – George Herbert – Analysis

Love

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

The poem consists of three six line stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘ababcc’. The poem is more than just the personification of ‘love’. For ‘love’ is representative of God. This is defined in poetic terms as metonymy. This can be clearly seen by replacing ‘love’ by God in the text and rereading the poem. And in (L13) ‘love’ is explicitly stated as ‘Lord’.

Metonymy = a figure of speech in which an attribute of something is used to stand for the thing itself, e.g. ‘laurels’ when it stands for ‘glory’ or ‘brass’ when it stands for ‘military officers’

The ‘guest’ can be regarded as being equivalent to humanity (unkind and ungrateful) and not worthy of the welcome but with a humble ring to the words of the guest.  An interesting concept that we are a guest in this world. Included is the religious notion of mankind being guilty of sin (L2).

The whole poem is a conversation between God and humanity. God counteracting the unworthy nature of man by stating – who made you. And then the taking of the blameand know you not who bore the blame’ – implying ‘love’ or God bore the blame (the blame for his creation). The creator taking responsiblity for the nature of creation.

Then the crucial line in the conversation, an acceptance of this fact by the guest. Acceptance of the faulty nature of humanity and that there is a God-given correction, and in response – then I will serve (L16)

And finally ‘love’ or God says you must sit down at my table and taste my meat (Jesus). Love is seen as a compensating force for the weakness of humanity epitomised by the sacrifice in the death of Christ.

This poetic portrait of Christianity shows God as Love as being central in the support of all in coming to terms with indiscretions. A case of working together for a better world on the basis of love. And George Herbert certainly lived accordingly to this doctrine –

From Wikipedia – He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill and providing food and clothing for those in need.

George Herbert on Wikipedia

The Span of Life – Robert Frost – Analysis

The Span of Life

The old dog barks backward without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Anapaestic tetrameter

Scansion –

^ – / – – – / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ –
The old / dog parks back / ward without / getting up.

– / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ –
I / can remem / ber when he / was a pup.

Line 1 …
Four accented syllables are bunched together –‘old dog barks back’ making it difficult to read with each syllable having a strong consonant ending. The difficult construction of this line mirrors the difficulty when getting old and responding to life … the end of the span of life … in this case metaphorically stated in terms of a dog who can no longer get up to confront the reason for the bark (bark and back being onomatopoetic). And of course when we get old we look backwards in reflecting on the past. Perhaps the poor dog lamented the fact that he did not sniff out the track less travelled.

Line 2 …
This line is in complete contrast in construction. It is a very fluid easy flow of words. This correspons to the easy mobility of youth. No elaboration is given on the nature of the dog when young. The reader must create imagery based on his or her life experience, and perhaps reflect beyond the literal to his or her own early days.

And of course the span of life is a brief affair.

There is much more behind this two line poem after an initial reading. And like Haiku and Tanka several readings and more thought is necessary.

Robert Frost on Wikipedia

We Are Seven – William Wordsworth

We Are Seven

–A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
–Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

This is a conversation ballad between and adult and an eight year old child on the response of the living after close family members die.

Out of interest the adult asks the little girl how many are in her family and then a difference on the understanding of death is clearly seen. The eight year old has lost a sister and a brother but she has four other siblings still alive two living at home (Conway) and two away. Clearly it is a very close family and when asked the number of family members she is adamant to include her departed members. They are still very much alive to her to the extent she goes to the graveyard and sits with them singing to them and having her supper with them.

The adult has a different perspective taking the traditional view of the dead going to heaven in spirit form. And distancing them from daily life for they are dead and should not now be counted as family. This is not a very comforting view of the departed and the dear little child is adamant that they are still very much alive in her daily life and cannot comprehend the strange view taken by the adult. We are seven is the title of the poem and the last line ends with that emphatic statement from the child – we are seven!

This poem poses thoughts on the extent to which the dead continue to live-on in those still alive.

This poem was written in 1798 at a time when there were many children in a family and many deaths of young children, and of course, the child-birth death of a mother was a common cause of death. Children frequently experienced the death of their mother and the death of siblings. How they coped with this is a very personal affair.

This poem highlights the impact of the departed on the living and to what extent the dead live-on. As people age they reflect more and more on those that have been important to them in their lives. Sometimes to the extend that they might be labelled as ‘living in the past’. But on the other hand you could say past lives live-on anew in the lives of the living. Whether such living is healthy and an aid to living or unhealthy and detrimental is another matter.

And a related question, to what extent do we remove ‘death’ from children and from daily life. In many Asian countries the dead are remembered within the community by having shrines and memorials within close contact to family life.

A Wikipedia link to Wordsworth – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wordsworth

At the end of two months’ … – Stephen Spender – Analysis

At the end of two months’ holiday there came a night
When I lay awake and the sea’s distant fretless scansion
By imagination scourged rose to a fight
Like the town’s roar, pouring out apprehension.
I was in a train. Like the quick spool of a film
I watched hasten away the simple green which can heal
All sadness. Abruptly the sign Ferry to Wilm
And the cottage by the lake, were vivid, but unreal.
Real where iron lines, and, smashing the grass
The cars in which we ride, and real our compelled time:
Painted on enamel beneath the moving glass
Unreal were cows, the wave-winged storks, the lime:
These burned in a clear world from which we pass
Like rose and love in a forgotten rhyme.

Stephen Spender (1909 -1995)

Scansion = the way a poem scans according to the rules of metre
Scourge = agent of punishment

A sonnet with rhyming scheme ‘abab’.

Lines 1-4 … It seems to be the end of a holiday and lying in bed SS listens to the sea which … if the sea is a poem the sea has a fretless rhythm … the natural unthinking motion of the sea … in his imagination SS is perhaps reminded that he has to do likewise in his poetry now that his holiday is over. It looks as though he has escaped from poetry work to go to the country and he is now going back to town life … and another sound occurs a roar is in an apprehensive ear … for he doesn’t know how he will deal with getting back to work … presumably in an urban environment in contrast to the country.

Lines 5-8 … he is in a train reflecting on the holiday … the simple green that can heal all sadness … he has been in the country away from his normal life at a time when he has needed healing … but now that time has gone … it is real in his mind – the cottage, the Ferry to Wilmington?, the lake … but it is also unreal because of the removal by the passage of the train – like the quick spool of a film … history

Lines 9-12 … what is real is compelled time – what he is forced to do … what is real is the movement of the train compared to the outside scene … the painted enamel beneath the window is a metaphor for the change … a great contrast to the countryside

Lines 13-14 … the countryside burned (destroyed) in the clear world seen through the glass of the window … and to connect with poetry again like losing rose and love in a forgotten rhyme … the unclear world of poetry?

This is quite a brilliant poem about being a poet and having to perform.

Stephen Spender on Wikipedia

Goodnight – Shelley

Poets play with words and Shelley was no exception … clearly evident in the following poem …

Goodnight

Goodnight? ah no, the night is ill
Which severs those it should unite;
Let us remain together still,
Then it will be good night.

How can I call the lone night good,
Though thy sweet wishes wing its flight?
Be it not said, thought, understood;
Then it will be good night.

To hearts which near each other move
From evening close to morning light
The night is good; because my love,
They never say goodnight.

P. B. Shelley (1792 – 1822)

It is essential to have the words before you to understand this poem. There is a difference between good night and goodnight!

In stanza one the night will not be good if ‘you’ are not by my side, implying a close relationship with someone.

In stanza two the night will not be good if there is thought or an understanding of a separation; even though the person has sweet wishes.

And in stanza three, for those that are in total commune with their soulmates, there is no need to say goodnight – no break in the spiritual connection that Shelley associates with the word goodnight. The night will always be good.

The philosophy and poetry of P. B. Shelley

Shelley 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

Fall – Mary Oliver – Analysis

Fall

the black oaks fling
their bronze fruit
into all the pockets of the earth
pock pock

they knock against the thresholds
the roof the sidewalk
fill the eaves
the bottom line

of the old gold song
of the almost finished year
what is spring all that tender
green stuff

compared to this
falling of tiny oak trees
out of the oak trees
then the clouds

gathering thick along the west
then advancing
then closing over
breaking open

the silence
then the rain
dashing its silver seeds
against the house

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

Well it is autumn in the southern hemisphere and in this part of the world. This is a poem from Mary Oliver based on an American autumn where there are a proliferation of oak trees, and there are many types of oak trees too.

S1 … I guess acorns fall all over the place into nooks and crannies … or as she puts it pock pocking into the pockets of the earth … … I like the use of onomatopoeia … they do have a round sort of shape enabling them to roll into all sorts of places
S2 … they must make a noise as they fall … knocking against the thresholds … coming to rest at the edges like filling the eaves in a line … and the trees could be regarded as flinging them if it is windy.
S3 … and autumn is gold and comes at the finish of the year in the northern hemisphere … and Mary Oliver delights in autumn … in contrast to the dull stereo type that highlights spring as the so called brighter season
S4 … and she loves the falling of the acorns … oak trees out of oak trees … well, potentially oak trees … (the acorns are great fodder for pigs of course … and I do like the little hats they wear)
S5 … then the weather dictates her thoughts … you can imagine her watching from a window as clouds gather in intensity and the pre-storm silence is broken by the dashing of rain (lashing would have been my preference)
S6 … and the rain makes itself known to those inside the house … rain = silver seeds … an equation giving value to water and a nice word fit to the acorn=seed … and rain does seed into the ground too.

Mary Oliver a lover of nature.

A link to Mary Oliver on Wikipedia

And a tribute link, for she died earlier this year