Saturday, 5 October 2013

Poetic Justice

     It was National Poetry Day on Thursday and I fully intended to write something about it. Sadly for all readers, I got sucked into an overcaffeinated vortex of George Osborne, and Michael Gove’s Cumface. So slightly belatedly, here we are.

     I remember the first poem that ever truly resonated with me. I was six years old, and deliberately annoying my ten year old sister by reading her school exercise books, pointing out the spelling mistakes (I wasn’t a child genius, just a word obsessed bookworm). In her English class they’d been studying poetry and she’d carefully copied out the words to ‘Green’ by DH Lawrence.

The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine
Held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal inbetween
She opened her eyes and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

     It’s fairly obvious to me why this meant so much. Because, alone of my family (all blue-eyed), I have green eyes. And up until this time, I was slightly ashamed of them. It was a marker of me being different, Not Like The Rest Of Us, a faintly embarrassing dark shadow cast across Them. I was The Green Eyed Monster, the changeling, the weird one. Now suddenly, green eyes weren’t necessarily A Bad Thing. In fact, they had the potential of beauty (I’m saying potential, sadly there’s only so much you can do with a pig’s ear). This poem has stayed with me – slightly cringy teenage memory of writing it down and sticking it to my bedroom wall – even long after I blushingly realised what Lawrence actually meant by it. But it opened my (green) eyes to the way in which poetry can convey thoughts and emotions in a way that other forms of the written word can’t.

     School was fairly useless at introducing our young minds to the beauty of poetry. We were mostly taught tumpity tumpity tum tum tum rhymes like Mariana, ‘If’ and ‘Invictus’. The year that I spent in English Literature A Level trying to admire William Blake was pretty much wasted on me. But it didn’t matter because I’d already found the escape hatch into other poets. Things like John Fuller’s ‘Valentine’ (if you can read that and not fall a little bit in love with him, it’s safe to say that you and I are never going to be good friends), or Edna St Millay’s ‘Sonnet II’. Vicki Feaver’s ‘Coat’. The delicious joy of listening to John Hegley perform (sadly only saw this once in the flesh so far). ‘Apprehensions’* in Birthday Letters… actually, no, hang that, the whole of Birthday Letters, that utterly catastrophically soul destroying collection of poems that never fails to bring me to tears. I can pluck any poem out of that book and be caught afresh by it. 

     And if you really want to get me sobbing, then just shove any of Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy’ poems at me (please don’t play The Divine Comedy’ssong of the same, it will break me a little). Or 'When You Are Old' by Yeats. 

     When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
     And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look 
     Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

     How many loved your moments of glad grace,
     And loved your beauty with love false or true,
     But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

     And bending down beside the glowing bars,
     Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
     And paced upon the mountains overhead
     And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 See? I... hang on, something in my eye... Seriously, how the hell did Maud Gonne resist someone who could write like that about her? I suppose he got his revenge in the end, when he wrote 'There is grey in your hair, young men no longer catch their breath when you are passing.'  Ouch. I'll bet that hurt.

     Recently The Boy has been starting to read poetry too, which pleases me enormously. I suggested he try Shel Silverstein (whom I loved when I was a child) and ‘Jabberwocky’, which, let it never be forgotten, was the inspiration for The Slithy Gove. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. If it helps, here are a few lines from MacBeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted candles
The way to dusty. Death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

     Dunno about you, but I feel better for that. Or, to put it another way ‘we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep'. So despair not! One day you will experience the blessed and merciful release of death, and when that happens you need never have to think again of The Cumface of The Slithy Gove. But until then…

      Don't have nightmares!

      I am running away so fast you will never catch me.

*Maddeningly, I can't find 'Apprehensions' online anywhere, if you do ever come across it on a site, let me know. It's making me feel lemonlipped to not provide a link to it.

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