Friday, 19 May 2017

Emily Dickinson - Because I Could Not Stop for Death

Tonight I saw the film A Quiet Passion!  Cynthia Nixon was deeply convincing in the role of the central protagonist, Emily Dickinson. The interaction and conflict within this close-knit family was spellbinding, although distressing especially towards the end of the film which showed Nixon's fine exploration of how Emily must have suffered due to Bright's Disease.

Hard enough for her to have suffered from the derision heaped upon her for being a woman-poet. Only 7 of her poems were published in her lifetime.

The film ended with her poem, 497, Because I Could Not Stop for Death. There can't have been a dry eye in the theatre!

Sad to say, this poem was published posthumously. She never knew that one day she would be so admired and held in such high esteem.

Because I could not stop for Death – 
He kindly stopped for me –  
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –  
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility – 

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –  
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –  
We passed the Setting Sun – 

Or rather – He passed us – 
The Dews drew quivering and chill – 
For only Gossamer, my Gown – 
My Tippet – only Tulle – 

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground – 
The Roof was scarcely visible – 
The Cornice – in the Ground – 

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads 
Were toward Eternity – 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Mary Borden - The Song of the Mud (1917)

Mary Borden by Glyn Philpot, Public Domain

The Song of the Mud by Mary Borden

This is the song of the mud, 
The pale yellow glistening mud that covers the hills like satin; 
The grey gleaming silvery mud that is spread like enamel over the valleys; 
The frothing, squirting, spurting, liquid mud that gurgles along the road beds; 
The thick elastic mud that is kneaded and pounded and squeezed under the hoofs of the horses; 
The invincible, inexhaustible mud of the war zone. 

This is the song of the mud, the uniform of the poilu. 
His coat is of mud, his great dragging flapping coat, that is too big for him and too heavy; 
His coat that once was blue and now is grey and stiff with the mud that cakes to it. 
This is the mud that clothes him. His trousers and boots are of mud, 
And his skin is of mud; 
And there is mud in his beard. 
His head is crowned with a helmet of mud. 
He wears it well. 
He wears it as a king wears the ermine that bores him. 
He has set a new style in clothing; 
He has introduced the chic of mud. 

This is the song of the mud that wriggles its way into battle. 
The impertinent, the intrusive, the ubiquitous, the unwelcome, 
The slimy inveterate nuisance, 
That fills the trenches, 
That mixes in with the food of the soldiers, 
That spoils the working of motors and crawls into their secret parts, 
That spreads itself over the guns, 
That sucks the guns down and holds them fast in its slimy voluminous lips, 
That has no respect for destruction and muzzles the bursting shells; 
And slowly, softly, easily, 
Soaks up the fire, the noise; soaks up the energy and the courage; 
Soaks up the power of armies; 
Soaks up the battle. 
Just soaks it up and thus stops it. 

This is the hymn of mud-the obscene, the filthy, the putrid, 
The vast liquid grave of our armies. It has drowned our men. 
Its monstrous distended belly reeks with the undigested dead. 
Our men have gone into it, sinking slowly, and struggling and slowly disappearing. 
Our fine men, our brave, strong, young men; 
Our glowing red, shouting, brawny men. 
Slowly, inch by inch, they have gone down into it, 
Into its darkness, its thickness, its silence. 
Slowly, irresistibly, it drew them down, sucked them down, 
And they were drowned in thick, bitter, heaving mud. 
Now it hides them, Oh, so many of them! 
Under its smooth glistening surface it is hiding them blandly. 
There is not a trace of them. 
There is no mark where they went down.
The mute enormous mouth of the mud has closed over them.

This is the song of the mud,
The beautiful glistening golden mud that covers the hills like satin; 
The mysterious gleaming silvery mud that is spread like enamel over the valleys. 
Mud, the disguise of the war zone; 
Mud, the mantle of battles; 
Mud, the smooth fluid grave of our soldiers: 
This is the song of the mud.

Please click below to see my article on Mary Borden on Decoded Past.

Article about Mary Borden

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A Special Love Poem for April

Public Domain

Always Marry an April Girl

Praise the spells and bless the charms,

I found April in my arms.

April golden, April cloudy,

Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;

April soft in flowered languor,

April cold with sudden anger,

Ever changing, ever true —

I love April, I love you.

By Ogden Nash

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

It Ain't Easy Being a Poet!

Many Famous Poets had a Tough Time Overcoming Obstacles
Eadweard Muybridge, Public Domain
The poet Wallace Stevens once remarked that he liked being a poet because he could dash off a poem in the morning and have the rest of the day to himself!   Of course, Mr. Stevens had an appealingly skewed wit - and we all know it’s not as simple as that.  No, not even for distinguished poets.
A writing student recently said, ‘Until you write about something, you can't find out what you know about it. I don't even know what I'm thinking sometimes, but I'm finding out by writing. I usually have some order in mind, but I never know what's going to happen.’ 
            Writers have always faced and overcome enormous obstacles in their commitment to writing.  Many nineteenth century women even published their work anonymously to avoid censure from a narrow-minded society.  America’s Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) always listened to her mentor, critic and minister, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who actively discouraged her because he believed her poetry wasn’t good enough.  After her death her sister discovered more than one thousand poems in her room, mostly untitled and undated.  Imagine! only seven were published in her lifetime and although these were well-received, Dickinson would not have experienced the joy of a success her talent so richly deserved. 
            Stevie Smith was a poet who had a tough time.  Abandoned by her father in childhood, her mother died while she was a teenager and the initial success of her work was followed by a sharp downturn in her popularity.  Seamus Heaney said of her, ‘I suppose in the end the adjective has to be eccentric.  She looks at the world with a mental squint’, while Philip Larkin’s view was that she was a ‘feminine doodler and jotter who puts down everything as it strikes her, no matter how silly or tragic.’  It takes guts to carry on when those around you are dismissive of your talent including other writers generally held in high esteem. 

          That’s why you must stay true to yourself and take comfort from your writing as Stevie Smith did.  Take constructive criticism on board but resist destructive comments from those who don’t understand or who have a ‘hidden agenda’.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Dear March, come in! by Emily Dickinson

Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat—
You must have walked—
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the bird’s;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,—I declare,
How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me—
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The First Spring Day Brings Hope

Copyright Janet Cameron
The first day of Spring is not too far away. (Yes, I know it is incorrect to use capital first letters for the seasons, but sometimes I do what I like rather than what is correct.) Besides, I am in good company as Christina Rossetti agrees with me. Need I say more?

The first day of Spring will be 20 March. In preparation, and in addition to the image, here is a poem by Christina Rossetti. It's a sweet poem, with a lot of sadness in the words but a hint of hope in the last line. What Spring is all about really.

The First Spring Day

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun,
And crocus fires are kindling one by one.
      Sing, robin, sing,
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.

I wonder if the Springtide of this year
Will bring another Spring both lost and dear,
If heart and spirit will find out their Spring,
Or if the world alone will bud and sing:
      Sing, hope, to me;
Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.

The sap will surely quicken, soon or late,
The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate;
So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom,
Or, in this world, or in the world to come:
       Sing, voice of Spring,
Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.