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May 13th, 2006

05:16 am: Forgotten poets



Forgotten poets, originally uploaded by Wojar.



Going through my library in a rare moment of leisure, I found a small green hardback anthology of the early-20th-century kind I’ve alsways been fond of. It’s called Modern Poetry, edited by Guy N. Pocock M.A. and published by Dutton in New York and Dent in London and Toronto – first edition 1920, my printing 1928. From the days when relatively cheap books were pretty: the illustrations line-drawings, the decoration from William Morris.

As I leafed through it, it occurred to me that now, no longer bound by the canon and no longer obliged to take into account the prejudices of the very young, I can afford to put out on the counter of the little market booth that is this blog whatever moves me – in the hope, and perhaps the trust, that some of these things may move others to discoveries they would not otherwise have made.

So I thought I would put up a few forgotten poems by forgotten poets, and communicate a cautious joy. Cautious, because none of these are marvels or miracles. But a joy, because they have touched a sentiment (all right, a sentimental sentiment perhaps) that when I was an undergraduate at Oxford many years ago made me walk and bicycle the countryside around the magic city, walk the Dorset footpaths, climb stiles and freeze to admire a passing badger; that would make me look up in September at the sky in Kent and think of those contrails, only a few years earlier it seemed, that had marked the end of the beginning; and rejoice with generations of the young who had lived and died with the happiness of that extraordinary country.

So: a deep breath, and here is (oh heavens) Alfred Noyes:


England

A SONG OF ENGLAND

There is a song of England that none shall ever sing;
So sweet it is and fleet it is
That none whose words are not as fleet as birds upon the wing,
And regal as her mountains,
And radiant as the fountains
Of rainbow-coloured sea-spray that every wave can fling
Against the cliffs of England, the sturdy cliffs of England,
Could more than seem to dream of it,
Or catch one flying gleam of it,
Above the seas of England that never cease to sing.

There is a song of England that only lovers know;
So rare it is and fair it is,
Oh, like a fairy rose it is upon a drift of snow,
So cold and sweet and sunny,
So full of hidden honey,
So like a flight of butterflies where rose and lily blow
Along the lanes of England, the leafy lanes of England;
When flowers are at their vespers
And full of little whispers,
The boys and girls of England shall sing it as they go.

There is a song of England that only love may sing,
So sure it is and pure it is;
And seaward with the seamew it spreads a whiter wing,
And with the skylark hovers
Above the tryst of lovers,
Above the kiss and whisper that led the lovely Spring
Through all the glades of England, the ferny glades of England,
Until the way enwound her
With sprays of May, and crowned her
With starts of frosty blossom in a merry morris-ring.

There is a song of England that haunts her hours of rest;
The calm of it and balm of it
And breathed from every hedgerow that blushes to the West:
From cottage doors that nightly
Cast their welcome out so brightly
On the lanes where laughing children are lifted and caressed
By the tenderest hands in England, hard and blistered hands of England;
And from the restful sighing
Of the sleepers that are lying
With the arms of God around them on the night’s contented breast.

There is a song of England that wanders in the wind;
So sad it is and glad it is
That men who hear it madden and their eyes are wet and blind,
For the lowlands and the highlands
Of the unforgotten islands,
For the Islands of the Blessèd, and the rest they cannot find
As they grope in dreams to England and the love they left in England;
Little feet that danced to meet them,
And the lips that used to greet them,
And the watcher at the window in the home they left behind.

There is a song of England that thrills the beating blood
With burning cries and yearning
Tides of hidden aspiration hardly known or understood;
Aspirations of the creature
Towards the unity of Nature;
Sudden chivalries revealing whence the longing is renewed
In the men that live for England, live and love and die for England:
By the light of their desire
They shall blondly blunder higher
To a wider, grander Kingdom and a deeper, nobler Good.

There is a song of England that only God can hear;
So gloriously victorious,
It soars above the choral stars that sing the Golden Year;
Till even the cloudy shadows
That wander o’er her meadows
In silent purple harmonies declare His glory there,
Along the hills of England, the billowy hills of England,
While heaven rolls and ranges
Through all the myriad changes
That mirror God in music to the mortal eye and ear.

There is a song of England that none shall ever sing:
So sweet it is and fleet it is
That none whose words are not as fleet as bords upon the wing,
And regal as her mountains,
And radiant as the fountains
Of rainbow-coloured sea-spray that every wave can fling
Against the cliffs of England, the sturdy cliffs of England,
Could more than seem to dream of it,
Or catch one flying gleam of it,
Above the seas of England that never cease to sing.




I post this poem not because it is great poetry: nothing Noyes wrote is. (The 'little feet' are pushing it. But then, even Victor Hugo wrote 'Lorsque l'enfant paraît, le cercle de famille/Applaudit à grands cris.' Ouch.) But because it is as far removed as possible from what (supposedly) can be thought and written today. And so it too becomes an exploration. A la recherche du temps perdu.

08:18 am: Better poetry. Much better poetry.



Francis Jammes, by Sacha Guitry, originally uploaded by Wojar.


A friend gave me the collected poems of Richard Wilbur, and in them I found that he had translated the admirable, and all too often forgotten, French poet Francis Jammes. This quiet man from the Pyrenees loved God, people, and animals with the same articulate tranquillity, and Wilbur’s translation renders quite beautifully the watchful detail of his art.

A PRAYER TO GOD TO GO TO PARADISE WITH THE DONKEYS

When I must come to you, O my God, I pray
It be some dusty-roaded holiday,
And even as in my travels here below,
I beg to choose by what road I shall go
To Paradise, where the clear stars shine by day.
I’ll take my walking-stick and go my way,
And to my friends the donkeys I shall say,
"I am Francis Jammes, and I’m going to Paradise,
For there is no hell in the land of the loving God."
And I’ll say to them: "Come, sweet friends of the blue skies,
Poor creatures who with a flap of the ears or a nod
Of the head shake off the buffets, the bees, the flies. . ."

Let me come with these donkeys, Lord, into your land,
These beasts who bow their heads so gently, and stand
With their small feet joined together in a fashion
Utterly gentle, asking your compassion.
I shall arrive, followed by their thousands of ears,
Followed by those with baskets at their flanks,
By those who lug the carts of mountebanks
Or loads of feather-dusters and kitchen-wares,
By those with humps of battered water-cans,
By bottle-shaped she-asses who halt and stumble,
By those tricked out in little pantaloons
To cover their wet, blue galls where flies assemble
In whirling swarms, making a drunken hum.
Dear God, let it be with these donkeys that I come,
And let it be that angels lead us in peace
To leafy streams where cherries tremble in air,
Sleek as the laughing flesh of girls; and there
In that haven of souls let it be that, leaning above
Your divine waters, I shall resemble these donkeys,
Whose humble and sweet poverty will appear
Clear in the clearness of your eternal love.



jammes

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