Thursday, 13 July 2017

"I Am" by John Clare - to Mark his Birthday Today, Born 13 July 1793

Wikimedia, Public Domain

Today, 13th July, is the birthday of Romantic poet John Clare, who was born in Helpston, Northamptonshire, in 1793 and died in 1864. He was the son of a farm labourer and his poems were generally rural.

He was a depressed, impoverished, insane and, sadly for him, unrecognised for his poetry in his lifetime.

Here's his most famous poem I Am, written when he was confined in the General Lunative Asylum in Northampton.

I am: yet what I am, none cares or knows
My friends forsake me like a memory lost,
I am the self-consumer of my woes -
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love's frenzied, stifled throes -
And yet I am, and live - like vapours tossed.

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dream,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems
Even the dearest, that I love the best,
And strange - nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept -
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie,
The grass below - above the vaulted sky.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Percy Bysshe Shelley - This Day in 1822, on the 8 July, the Much-Loved Poet Died in Italy

Dover, (c) Janet Cameron
Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley had a short, but intense life. Shelley was a rebel and an eccentric, whose outrageous behaviour shocked society.

When the Dover steam packet was introduced and crossed regularly from Dover to Calais in the 1780s, it proved a great success with the aristocracy, who began writing about their travels, describing them as "Grand Tours."
Soon the Dover cutters were so highly regarded that they were patronised by bankers, politicians, merchants and lawyers, as well as a love-struck poet. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) who had good reason to be glad of Dover's efficient port. The great poet, who is famous for such sublime poetry as "To a Skylark," was already married when he fell in love with sixteen-year-old Mary Godwin, daughter of publisher, William Godwin and women's rights champion, Mary Wollstonecroft.
Born in Horsham in Sussex, Shelley was a rebel and a rabble-rouser, intense, imaginative and unconventional. At school he was known as "Mad Shelley" or the "Eton Atheist."
Percy Shelley's First Elopement – Harriet Westbrook
Harriet was the daughter of the proprietor of a coffee-house, and when she was sixteen, she and Shelley eloped to Scotland and were married in Edinburgh in August 1811. For three years, the two young people led a nomadic existence. Their relationship was far from conventional, as apparently Shelley tried to share her with his friend T.J. Hogg. It's not too clear from literary references whether he was successful in persuading Harriet to comply.
By 1814, the marriage collapsed – which is unsurprising since Shelley disapproved of marriage, along with eating meat, religion and royalty. The couple had two children and the effect of Shelley's abandonment of them had dire effects on the whole family. Harriet became suicidal, making distressing scenes to try to get her husband to remain with her.
Ménage à Trois with Mary Godwin and Jane Clairmont
In 1814, when he was twenty-two, Shelley and Mary decided to elope. But first, Shelley invited along Mary's stepsister, Jane (Claire) Clairmont, who was just fifteen years old. The three of them made for Dover, boarding the first steam packet they could find. The carefree threesome travelled through France to Switzerland, where Shelley wrote to his wife, Harriet Westbrook, naively suggesting she should join them.
Instead, in 1816, Harriet threw herself into the Serpentine in London, leaving her unfaithful husband free to indulge his scandalous ménage à trois. His second wife, Mary Shelley, was the author of Frankenstein, and she began to write her great work in the summer of 1816, by Lake Geneva, where she spent her time with her husband and the poet, Lord Byron. Their ménage à trois continued until Percy Shelley's death in 1822 aged thirty-years.
In his essay "On Love," composed in July, 1818, Shelley says: "What is love? Ask him who lives, what is life; ask him who adores, what is God? The poet concludes: "So soon as this want or power is dead, man becomes the living sepulchre of himself, and what yet survives is the mere husk of what once he was."
  • "On Love," Percy Bysshe Shelley, Romanticism An Anthology, Ed. Duncan Wu, Blackwell, 1994.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

A Poem for When Everything Changes and Does Your Head In!

Copyright Janet Cameron

One thing is for sure, everything changes. Shelley knew this and right now, I need this poem!

MUTABILITY by Percy Bysshe Shelley

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!--yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest.--A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.--One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!--For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

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