He knew better than to admire a chair and say
What does it mean?
He loved everything that accepted the unfailing hospitality of his
five senses. He would say Hello, caterpillar or So long, Loch Fewin.
He wanted to know how they came to be what they are: But he
never insulted them by saying Caterpillar, Loch Fewin, what do
In this respect he was like God, though he was godless – He knew the difference between What does it mean to me? and What does it mean?
That’s why he said, half smiling, Of course, God, like me, is an atheist.
He knew better than to admire a chair and say
A little late, but the old haiku masters’ take on New Year’s…
New Year’s Day
the same as ever
Issa (1763 - 1827)
Has spring already come?
I feel wealthy this New Year
with five sho of old rice
New Year’s Day
nothing good or bad -
just human beings
Shiki (1867 - 1902)
(Seen at Lumpy Pudding)
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.
There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.
Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.
And I ask myself:
“Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?”
Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.
Hart Crane, 1926
All is lithogenesis—or lochia,
Carpolite fruit of the forbidden tree,
Stones blacker than any in the Caaba,
Cream-coloured caen-stone, chatoyant pieces,
Celadon and corbeau, bistre and beige,
Glaucous, hoar, enfouldered, cyathiform,
Making mere faculae of the sun and moon,
I study you glout and gloss, but have
No cadrans to adjust you with, and turn again
From optik to haptik and like a blind man run
My fingers over you, arris by arris, burr by burr,
Slickensides, truité, rugas, foveoles,
Bringing my aesthesis in vain to bear,
An angle-titch to all your corrugations and coigns,
Hatched foraminous cavo-rilievo of the world,
Deictic, fiducial stones. Chiliad by chiliad
What bricole piled you here, stupendous cairn?
What artist poses the Earth écorché thus,
Pillar of creation engouled in me?
What eburnation augments you with men’s bones,
Every energumen an Endymion yet?
All the other stones are in this haecceity it seems,
But where is the Christophanic rock that moved?
What Cabirian song from this catasta comes?
Deep conviction or preference can seldom
Find direct terms in which to express itself.
Today on this shingle shelf
I understand this pensive reluctance so well,
This not discommendable obstinacy,
These contrivances of an inexpressive critical feeling,
These stones with their resolve that Creation shall not be
Injured by iconoclasts and quacks. Nothing has stirred
Since I lay down this morning an eternity ago
But one bird. The widest open door is the least liable to intrusion,
Ubiquitous as the sunlight, unfrequented as the sun.
The inward gates of a bird are always open.
It does not know how to shut them.
That is the secret of its song,
But whether any man’s are ajar is doubtful.
I look at these stones and know little about them,
But I know their gates are open too,
Always open, far longer open, than any bird’s can be,
That every one of them has had its gates wide open far longer
Than all birds put together, let alone humanity,
Though through them no man can see,
No man nor anything more recently born than themselves
And that is everything else on the Earth.
I too lying here have dismissed all else.
Bread from stones is my sole and desperate dearth,
From stones, which are to the Earth as to the sunlight
Is the naked sun which is for no man’s sight.
I would scorn to cry to any easier audience
Or, having cried, to lack patience to await the response.
I am no more indifferent or ill-disposed to life than death is;
I would fain accept it all completely as the soil does;
Already I feel all that can perish perishing in me
As so much has perished and all will yet perish in these stones.
I must begin with these stones as the world began.
Shall I come to a bird quicker than the world’s course ran?
To a bird, and to myself, a man?
And what if I do, and further?
I shall only have gone a little way to go back again
And be like a fleeting deceit of development,
Iconoclasts, quacks. So these stones have dismissed
All but all of evolution, unmoved by it,
(Is there anything to come they will not likewise dismiss?)
As the essential life of mankind in the mass
Is the same as their earliest ancestors yet.
Hugh MacDiarmid - excerpt from “On a Raised Beach”
That they lasted only till the next high tide
bothered me, not him whose labour was to make
sugar lattices demolished when the bride,
with help from her groom's hot hand, first cut the cake.
His icing hand, gritty with sandy grains, guides
my pen when I try shaping memories of him
and his eyes scan with mine the rising tides
neither father nor his son could hope to swim.
His eyes stayed dry while I, the kid, would weep
to watch the castle that had taken us all day
to build and deck decay, one wave-surge sweep
our winkle-stuccoed edifice away.
Remembrance like ice cake crumbs in the throat,
remembrance like wind-blown Blackpool brine
overfills the poem's shallow moat
and first, ebbing, salts, then, flowing, flood this line.
Some jumbled thoughts on this:
- There is rough beauty in Harrison's memories of his father, a wedding-cake decorator, and the childish conflation of this in the poet's mind of making sand castles on Blackpool beach, and the way the memories conjure the father, so his hand guides the poet's pen. In the jumbled bewilderment of grief, sand becomes cake crumbs, winkle-stuccoed (what a compound phrase that is - the twin k and cc sounds foreshadowing the grief-catch of the cake crumbs in the throat) becomes sugar lattices.
- The rhyming scheme is more apparent when seen written down, than when read out - to me the greater rhymes are those in the centre of the lines: the 'dry' and the 'I' in line 9, or the 'hand' and sandy' in line 5. In fact the vowel rhymes are like signposts, or lollipop battlements in the sand.
- And those last two lines: the intrusion of the poetic structure and creation (hinted at in the guided pen) seem somehow clumsy to me, but, then again, the last line with its sobbed single syllables is a brilliant melding of the rise of the tide and the onrush of grief.
- 'The main thing is to remember and make poems in the face of the rising tides and not fret that they will be engulfed or swept away' Tony Harrison.
Now through the grating of my cell
I look up at a strip of autumn sky
And often, chalked across the blue,
There’s a vapour trail,
A vapour trail…
And then, I don’t know why,
I start to think of you.
Dawn brings these planes from distant lands,
Red-eyed tycoons from far-flung ports of call.
Dawn lifts the luggage through the flaps
Onto the carrousel
And wakes the baggage hall.
Dawn will bring you, perhaps.
Perhaps that vapour trail is where
Your plane passed over me here in my jail.
That line is the trajectory
Of your breakfast tray,
Your breakfast tray.
Perhaps that is your trail
And you look down on me.
Look down on me, my friend, look down
And think of me now as I think of you
And think of us as we were then
From your vapour trail,
Your vapour trail…
Your line of chalk on blue.
Think well of me again, > My friend—
Whatever hurt I may have done,
For I intended none.
Forgive the hurt that I did not intend
And let it mend. Think well of me again.