Stationary Travellers #poetry #Longfellow #books

Source: Pexels

We travel–to explore the world, experience new places, sounds, smells, cultures, to see the wonders this world has to offer. We travel for adventure, for excitement, for fun, even relaxation. Travel means all this and more. It means to get up and get going, but for us as readers, we can ‘travel’ even without that. Through the books on our shelves, we can have almost all the same experiences, see new sights through the authors’ eyes (and in our minds), learn about new cultures (perhaps even more closely and in more detail than in person), visit magical and fantastical places (Narnia or the lands up in the Faraway Tree) that we never can in real life, and have exciting adventures with the characters we are travelling with!

Travelling!
Image source: Pexels

So each time we open a book, we too travel, enter new worlds, real or imaginary. And this we can do from our comfortable reading nooks. This is just the kind of travel that H.W. Longfellow writes about in ‘Travels by the Fireside’.

Image source: Pexels

In it, he writes of rainy days, of ‘ceaseless rain…falling fast‘ which ‘drives [him] in upon himself’–away from the grey, dreary, and wet atmosphere outside to the cosy comfort of ‘fireside gleams‘, and more importantly, to the ‘pleasant books that crowd [his] shelf; And still more pleasant dreams.’

Image source: Pexels

That is certainly where a cold rainy day or dreary winter evening drives us readers, with a favourite book, sipping some hot coffee/tea, losing ourselves in the worlds that they open up for us! Longfellow reads too of tales sung by bards, ‘of lands beyond the sea‘, and these songs, as he is writing in his later years, bring back to him memories of his youth, when perhaps he went on adventures of his own, the tales he reads of making him relive his own memories. [The songs of the bards and journeys on ‘sea and land’ that he refers to incidentally made me think very much of Odysseus’ adventures, though Longfellow wasn’t really speaking of any specific stories.]

Roman Mossaic depicting Odysseus
Source: Giorcesderivative work: Habib M’henni [Public domain]

His travels through ‘others eyes’ are far more comfortable than real-life adventures for he no longer fears ‘the dust and the heat‘, or ‘feel[s] fatigue‘, nor does he need to ‘toil through various climes‘. He ‘journey[s] with another’s feet‘, and ‘turn[s] the world around in [his] hand‘, through these songs of the bards as he travels over ‘many a lengthening league‘ and ‘learn[s] whatever lies; Beneath each changing zone‘. In fact, he sees ‘when looking with their eyes; better than with [his] own.’

Do you like travelling? Actual travels or do you prefer to like Longfellow (and me 😛 ) travel comfortably in your armchairs? Have you read this poem before? How did you like it?

Find the full poem here.

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How Jack Began to View the World

By Arthur Rackam via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve been seeing plenty of re-tellings lately, also books that explore the stories of what happens to characters from stories after we’ve “left” them–Alice some years later, for instance (like the new Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass movies or Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay, which I have waiting on my NetGalley pile). This post is about one of the later category that is, what happens to a character from a story when he/she has returned from his/her adventure and settled down to a “normal” life. But it isn’t a book, but a poem–‘Stalky Jack’ by William Brighty Rands.

William Brighty Rands (1823-1882) was a writer and a major author of nursery rhymes of the Victorian era, who also worked as a reporter in the House of Commons. Labelled the “Laurete of the Nursery”, he wrote under the pseudonyms Henry Holbeach and Mathew Browne. Find a bio here.

The author: Images from the Victorian Web (here) and AllPoetry.com (here).

Anyway, back to the actual poem now. The poem is about Jack, the boy, “who took long walks; Who lived on beans and ate the stalks“. When we hear of Jack here, he has been a year and a day in the Giants’ Country, where he was lost, but has now returned. But ever since that incident, Jack has no longer been the same but is a much altered boy, and has undergone “A change in notions of extent!

Jack no longer understands things “normal” sized but views them as a giant would. He wants to enter at the second floor, wants a bowl of soup “as large as a hoop”, and thinks a sirloin no more than “a couple of bites”. Not only that, humans themselves to him are “minikin mites”.

As a result he has been bought magnifying glasses, and only since he put them on, has the world for him “come to its proper size”. All the boys. however, point to him, calling him Stalky Jack, and no girl would ever marry him, since she wouldn’t want to be thought three times her proper height. (Didn’t he marry a princess, though?)

That as the author points out to us, is the consequence of “taking extravagant walks; And living on beans and eating the stalks“.

This is such a cute and fun poem–it certainly brought a smile to my face. I honestly don’t think I would have thought of how perceptions (of size) would change if one were exposed to a world of such different proportions. I don’t remember my Gulliver all that well, though I know there were chapters between his different voyages. Did his own world, the “normal” world seem too big or too small (not as things should be) when he returned from Lilliput or Brobdingnag?


Gulliver and the King of Brobdingnag, James Gillray [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I do remember that when he returns from the land of the horse-people, the Houyhnhnms, he is unable to adjust to life with his own kind, and lives as much away from them as he can.


Gulliver with the Houthnhnms, Grandville [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Exposure to different people, cultures, places does open up new ideas, bring out in us new perceptions of what might be good or right, or make us see our own world with new eyes. Whether we can readjust, or like Gulliver shun those of our kind since we’ve seen better, or need goggles like Jack to make the world seem normal again, adventures, an understanding of different places/cultures do change us in one way or other which Stalky Jack shows us in a fun and enjoyable way.

And while I may have taken off on a tangent in this post, this is a light-hearted poem to read for a laugh or at least a smile. Find the full poem on the Victorian Web here.

Christmas for Everyone

Merry Christmas to everyone!!!

I haven’t written a poetry-based post for a bit, and had this one in mind for a while, which is rather “perfect” for the day and the season. I especially love the sentiment that it conveys. The poem is “Eddi’s Service” by Rudyard Kipling and appears in his book Rewards and Fairies (1910), which is the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill. It is set in A.D. 687.

The poem is about “Eddi, priest of St Wilfrid“, in a chapel at Manhood’s End. It is Christmas eve, and Eddi organises a midnight service for all that care to attend. But it is stormy night, and no one appears for the mass, although Eddi rings the bell. However, Eddi is neither disheartened not deterred.

“Wicked weather for walking,”

Said Eddi of Manhood End

But I must go on with the service

For such as care to attend.”

And so he begins the service by lighting the altar candles. Just as he is doing this, an old marsh donkey arrives, “Bold as a guest invited“, and as the storm gets stronger, water beating at the windows and splashing on the floor, another guest arrives, this time “a wet, yoke-weary bullock“.

Source: publicdomainvectors.org

Eddi observes his guests and thinks:

“How do I know what is greatest,

How do I know what is least?

This is my Father’s business,”

With this sentiment, Eddi proceeds with the service, narrating the story of Christ–of Bethlehem and the rider who rode to Jerusalem. His “audience” listens patiently, and does not stir, and only when the gale blows away, and day breaks, they leave the chapel together.

The Saxons, who have been keeping Christmas, but haven’t attended the mass, mock Eddi, but his belief still strong, he says,

“I dare not shut His chapel,

On such as care to attend.”

As I wrote already, I loved the sentiment that is in this poem, that all creatures great or small are the same in the creator’s eyes, or at least that we (humans) cannot know who “greater” or “lesser”, who is more “important” and who is not, and so our duty is to treat them all the same. At least, that’s a more general message that I feel we can take away from this, and one that is relevant to us as much today, since so many are rather callous when it comes to our fellow living creatures who are not the same as us. After all, they too are on this earth, and equally entitled to be here. If we (humans) consider ourselves so very superior to these “animals”, doesn’t it fall to us to make space for them, to let them live, rather than demonstrate our mastery over them or our disdain for them as being “lesser” creatures?

Eddi I think did get the point, and I hope more and more of us do too!

Find a little about the “real” St Wilfrid and his chapel, and Eddi here, and another post on this poem, here.

Have you read this poem before? What are your thoughts? Looking forward to hearing them!!!

Images: both from pexels.

Will Your Aunt be Eaten Up?

Yet another post ‘inspired’ by booktube, well not inspired really but on something I was reminded of because of a video I saw there. Before I start however, I’d just like to clarify that despite what the title might suggest, this is a post on something humorous, not spooky. So, a few days ago I was watching this chat/discussion video with three booktubers, and one of them said something about an aunt, and went on to talk about how the word is pronounced. As far as I was aware, the ‘aunt’ vs ‘ant’ difference was one of British vs American pronunciation, but one of them brought up the point that this may be a Canadian vs American thing (as well) (which I am not aware of so won’t comment on). [The video is here– it’s a long one but the point comes up at the start; around 2:39.]. Also, please note this post has spoilers so in case you are bothered by this, don’t read on.

 

Dirty Beasts.jpg

 

But that discussion reminded me of a poem that I like very much, and one that pokes fun at this very thing–the Ant-Eater by Roald Dahl, which appears in the book Dirty Beasts. The poem has some of the same themes as many Dahl stories, spoilt rotten brats who ultimately end up paying the price for being as they are.

The poem is about this very spoilt child called Roy, the only child of a wealthy American family, who lived somewhere near San Francisco Bay. Roy is

 

“A plump and unattractive boy –

Half-baked, half-witted and half-boiled,

But worst of all, most dreadfully spoiled.” (Dahl, The Ant-Eater)

 

Somewhat like Verruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (or even Harry Potter’s cousin Dudley)Roy is bought everything that he desires by his parents, whether toy cars and model airplanes or a colour TV, besides all sorts of animals, his house being filled with “sufficient toys; To thrill half a million boys” but he continues to demand more and more and more. Then comes a point at which he is hard pressed to think of something new that he doesn’t have, and after giving it some thought, he comes upon a really novel idea. He demands a peculiar pet, one no one else has–a “Giant Ant-Eater”.

 

Of course, as soon as his father hears of it, he begins to try and locate one, writing to all the zoos and such but finds they are simply not sold. So he begins looking elsewhere. Ultimately, he manages to find “an Indian gent” living “near Delhi, in a tent”, who has what they want but demands a price of 50,000 gold rupees (were there ever gold rupees, I am not sure).

 

Naturally, the price is paid and the ant-eater arrives, but demands food as soon as he reaches for no one has looked after him or fed him on the way. But heartless Roy is not one to be bothered by things such as this, and saying that he wont give him bread or meat sends him off to look for ants, for that’s what ant-eaters eat. The poor ant-eater hunts high and low, and finding not a single ant desperately asks Roy for food once again, only to be told “Go, find an ant!”.

 

One day, it so happens that Roy’s old aunt Dorothy, a lady of eighty-three arrives for a  visit. Roy is keen to show off his new pet, and takes her down and indicates the poor animal, all skin and bones. He calls the Ant-Eater to meet his ‘ant’ for:

 

(Some people in the U.S.A.

Have trouble with the words they say.

However hard they try, they can’t

Pronounce simple words like AUNT.

Instead of AUNT, they call it ANT,

Instead of CAN’T, they call it KANT.)

–Dahl, The Ant-Eater

 

The ant-eater pricks up his ears at this, and asks whether that is indeed an ant? And of course, goes on to do just what Roy had told him, since he has found his ‘ant’. This scares Roy who tries to run and hide, but, as the nephew of an ‘ant’…

 

This is such a fun poem, which I only ‘discovered’ when a friend mentioned it, and I loved it since I first read it. I love how Dahl pokes fun at the differences in accent in such an amusing way. Also, one can’t help smiling, in fact, laughing as the events unfold, cheering on the poor Ant-Eater, and fairly glad for what happened to Roy. One can’t help but feel just a little sorry for ‘Ant’ Dorothy, though, for it wasn’t really her fault that her nephew was quite so rotten.

 

This has turned out more a summary of the poem than a comment on it, but since I enjoy it so much, I’m going ahead and posting it anyway.

 

Have you read this poem before or any others in this collection (I haven’t read the others)?  Did you enjoy it/them as much as I did? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Chills Down Your Spine

keats.jpg

Source: William Hilton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Keats is definitely one of the first names that comes to mind when thinking of this season, with his Ode to Autumn almost always quoted. But this is also the season of spooks and creepiness, and I came across another of his poems, a very short one, that certainly sent chills down my spine, which makes it another one apt for it is also nearly Halloween. There is a very good (and proper) analysis of this poem, The Living Hand, on Interesting Literature here,exploring its different themes,so do look that up but in this short post, I’m  just planning to stick to the very creepy aspects of this one. 

Keats writes of a “living hand” which, at the moment is “warm and capable“, and thus perhaps comforting, something that one might want to hold. But if that very same hand were on the other side of the tomb, it would have a very different effect. I think the effect is best when you read the full poem, so here it is:

 

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed – see here it is –
I hold it towards you.

 

I know some of the themes associated with the poem (see the Interesting Literature analysis linked above, and this one here), include of course, Keats’ thoughts of his own impending death, and what his fiancee would go through after she loses him. But when I simply read the poem without the context, the image it conjures up for me is very very different. I think of a living person here on earth haunted by a icy hand stretched out from the depths of the underground, reaching out for the living person. That hand stretched out haunts one so much, that one wishes oneself deprived of life (“thine own heart dry of blood“) so as not to be haunted anymore, to be free of that hand that is seeking you out. Though here of course, Keats having addressed the poem to a loved one comes through even without context, for why else would one wish oneself deprived of blood so as to reanimate the one who has gone.

 

spooky 2.jpeg

But most chilling for me is the image thrown up by the last part of the poem (“see, here it is–I hold it towards you“), for whether  he means it or not, all it has me thinking of is that icy stretched hand just waiting to pull the living person right into the tomb with it!

 

Have you read this poem before? Or even if you just read it now, what did you think of it? Bone-chilling, or not so much? Any scary, spooky poems that you’d like to recommend?Looking forward to hearing about them!

Love, Valour, and Some Reflections on Human Nature

The Glove and the Lions by Leigh Hunt seemed an apt choice for my poetry post this month, a ‘fit’ with my theme of ‘Kings and Queens’. There are after all, two kings in it–King Francis whose realm Hunt takes us to, and the lions, kings of their own realms, though in the human arena, they are mere prisoners, at the receiving end of much ill-treatment, and objects of ‘entertainment’ for their captors, rather than living beings.

The poem by Leigh Hunt immediately transports the reader into a world back in time, a world of kings, queens, and knights, of chivalry and courage, but also of things that weren’t the best part of that world. The poem is set in an arena, where a battle between lions has been organised, to ‘entertain’ the court, with King Francis, ‘a hearty king‘ who ‘loved a royal sport‘ sitting down to watch among his nobles, who include the Count de Lorge and the ‘one for whom he sighed‘.

roman arenas.jpg

Picture: Pompeii: Battle at the Amphitheatre

Source:By WolfgangRieger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The scene down in the pit below may well have been a ‘royal sport’ but even picturing it in one’s mind, and the image that Hunt’s description conjures up, for me is very much like the Roman arenas–and while there aren’t any gladiators here,  animals are being made to fight each other, and there is obviously pain, and injury, and in all likelihood (though not explicitly mentioned) blood. These five lines of the second stanza that describe the scene down in the pit, bring alive the sights and sounds that one would have witnessed and heard–the blows, the thunderous roars, the sand, and froth–taking us right there amidst King Francis and his nobles.

“Ramped and roared the lions, with horrid laughing jaws;

They bit, they glared, gave blows like beams, a wind went with their paws;

With wallowing might and stifled roar they rolled on one another,

Till all the pit with sand and mane was in a thunderous smother;

The frothing foam above the bars came whisking through the air;”

 

Painting_from_the_Amphitheatre._Hunter_with_lioness_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Painting from the Amphitheatre: Man with a Lioness

Source:By Unknown – mQFpkLIpgXBDjw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29859501

Thinking about this scene makes one wonder what pleasure human beings could possibly get or what makes them get any pleasure from watching others (human or animal) fight each other, cause each other hurt–what makes them ‘enjoy’ others’ suffering? And is fighting the only way might or superiority or strength can be proved? And why really does it have to be proved?

But of course, the role of this scene in the arena in the poem is very different, probably not so much intended to make us reflect on humans and blood sport but more to set the scene for that other aspect of human nature that the poem is really talking about–vanity, supposed glory–valued by so many above feelings that really matter in the end. The scene down in the pit, the roaring lions, the froth, and blows are simply meant to convey the danger down below, King Francis remarking at the end of that second stanza, “Faith, gentleman, we’re better here than there“.

Count de Lorge’s beloved (we aren’t given names) however, seems to think otherwise, or at least value other things much above the love the Count has for her, for she has no qualms asking ,or rather quite literally challenging de Lorge to go down into the pit by throwing her glove down there, asking him to ‘prove his love‘ and bring her ‘great glory‘.

“She thought, ‘The Count my lover is brave as brave can be;

He surely would do wondorous things to show his love of me;

King, ladies, lovers, all look on; the occasion is divine;

I’ll drop my glove to prove his love; great glory will be mine.”

 

knight 2

 

And so she does. de Lorge is not lacking in valour, certainly and immediately as he receives her ‘challenge’, not expressed in words, but simply conveyed by a look and  a smile, he unhesitatingly and in a flash jumps into the pit, and retrieves her glove. But, wait! things do not quite turn out quite as the lady had envisioned. For the Count is not only brave but able to see the lady’s action for what it is. So fittingly,

“He bowed, and in a moment leaped among the lions wild:

The leap was quick, return was quick, he has regained his place,

Then threw the glove, but not with love, right in the lady’s face.”

The spell the lady has held over him thus stands broken, for while he might have loved her, she seemed to love glory more, and ends up receiving just the response she deserves. King Francis approves his Knight’s action:

“‘By Heav’n!’, said Francis, ‘rightly done!’ and he rose from where he sat;

‘Not love,’ quoth he, ‘but vanity, sets love a task like that.'”

So while Leigh Hunt takes us into the world of long ago, of knights and kings, of valour, chivalry, and of ‘royal’ sport, what he’s really showing us is human nature, leaving us with a couple of thoughts that make us question why we consider ourselves so very superior to other life, when we derive pleasure, even glory, from causing pain or danger to others (human or non-human); how we can claim to be ‘civilised’ when such (or at least some form of) blood sport continues even today; how we can claim to be ‘better’ than other creatures when all we value much of the time is fame, glory, (wealth), and power?

 

Of Spaces to Play and Nature (or what substitutes for it)

Finally, a post about a poem, after not being able to do this the last two months. The poem I picked this time around (not related to my theme this month) is A City Sand-Pile by Edmund Leamy. Leamy (1848-1904) (I hope I looked up the right one) was an Irish MP, and Barrister, who also wrote poetry and some collections of Irish Fairy Tales.

DINNER_(held_by)_HAMBURG-AMERIKA_LINIE_(at)__SCHNELLDAMPFER___VICTORIA_LUISE____(SS;)_(N
(Not quite the right picture, but you get the idea!)
Source:Wikimedia Commons(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DINNER_(held_by)_HAMBURG-AMERIKA_LINIE_(at)_%22SCHNELLDAMPFER_%22%22VICTORIA_LUISE%22%22%22_(SS;)_(NYPL_Hades-275556-476655).jpg)

This is a short (only three stanzas) light-hearted poem about a sand-pile left in the street by “building men” who little know the sheer joy their carelessness or thoughtlessness (“Little did they think or care”) would bring to a whole lot of little children who come upon the pile and rush eagerly to play in it.

The poem captures beautifully the children’s surprise and delight at not only finding the sand-pile, but more importantly at a chance to really play and enjoy themselves, a chance that makes it for them a golden day―a contrast to that “dingy street” on which the sand-pile is or the “cloudy skies” of the city, a city which is dull and grey, and offers them little chance to play as children need. This second stanza captures these feelings and contrasts so well that the reader can literally hear the children’s shrieks as they play, and sense the rapture that they must be feeling at a chance to be children. My own words can’t describe it as well, so here are Leamy’s own:

Children in a sand-pile
On a golden day,
Glory! How their eager cries
Filled the city’s clouded skies
As with unrestrained surprise
They found that they could play.

This stray sand-pile that the building men little thought about, that was perhaps no longer much use to them, has given so many so much happiness. This for children, as the third stanza tells us, who have never known the beach, or sea, the mountains or fields, trees or streams, at least he writes they have this sand-pile still, that makes their lives complete. Their happiness in a way feels so much “deeper” than perhaps if they had access to fancier gadgets or toys.

While Leamy’s poem is light and cheerful, and captures one of the joys of childhood, in this last stanza is what I’ve been noticing in some other things I’ve been reading as well, a lament in a way over that contrast between cities and city life with nature, open, vast green spaces, whether mountains or fields, trees, or water-side places, where not only children but adults too can feel calm, peaceful, happy, and which also gives them a chance to be themselves, each in their own way. I remembered something I read in Virginia Wolf’s The Common Reader (1925) where discussing Chaucer, she writes,

Chaucer was helped to this to some extent by the time of his birth; and in addition he had another advantage over the moderns which will never come the way of English poets again. England was an unspoilt country. His eyes rested on a virgin land, all unbroken grass and wood except for the small towns and an occasional castle in the building. No villa roofs peered through Kentish tree-tops; no factory chimney smoked on the hill-side.

Also in Bookworm (2018), which I recently read (review on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/review-bookworm/), the author Lucy Mangan describing her childhood reading, writes of various books set in the countryside (which living in London she wasn’t familiar with) and at one point (I was a little lazy here and didn’t look this up) writes something to the effect that at least there was a countryside when she was a child, and children now wouldn’t have a chance to really know the places these books take us to. But then at least we have these books to take us to those places, while it isn’t the same as being there, we can at least step into these pages and experience it second-hand (like Longfellow’s traveller by the fireside).

But looking at such similar lines of thought at different periods of time made me wonder (as other situations and contexts have too), it is really the same problems, the same issues that people face, worry about, irrespective of time, only the degree perhaps changes.

Review: Following Ophelia

Following OpheliaFollowing Ophelia by Sophia Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
I picked this one because the description was on the same lines as another book I read last year―Wings over Delft (which was of course in a whole different time period and setting, and really a completely different story as well). This one tells of sixteen-year-old Mary Adams who arrives in London to work as a scullery maid, a job she isn’t really cut out for, but which is the only option available to her as she has lost her previous situation. But along the way, she catches the eye of a group of young pre-Raphaelite painters, many of whom wish to paint her. When one of them convinces her to be his model, Mary begins a double life of sorts, maid by-day, and artist’s model whenever she is needed. Her ‘second’ life takes her into society, parties, meetings with famous artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Millais among them, and she is soon the talk of the town. Soon enough she begins dreaming of a better life, and the path to achieving it seems open before her. But when trouble creeps into her life in more than one form, she must take some difficult decisions which might take life in a completely different direction.

I found this book to be a fast-paced, engrossing read, pretty much from the start. Mary was a likeable character, coming across as a believable sixteen-year-old, and one finds oneself rooting for her throughout. The other characters too develop realistically rather than as ‘storybook’ ones―people one likes may not always turn out as one expects them to (although that doesn’t necessarily make them ‘bad’ people, just people), and friendship and help at times comes from completely unexpected quarters. And that indeed is what can be said about the plot and the story as well. I enjoyed the world of art that the book takes us into―although it doesn’t go into it in depth (I couldn’t help comparing it on this count with Wings over Delft); while it creates the atmosphere of the world of art/artists, it remains a light read. What adds to the atmosphere the book creates, and lends it more authenticity, is the combination of both fictional and historical figures (the artists, their muses) in the story which was another element I really enjoyed about it. While I do like reading books on art etc. (the Great Artists Series, especially since it gives one a good introduction to different artists and their works, styles, etc.), the pre-Raphaelite movement was not one I was familiar with, and reading this led me to look into it, and the paintings mentioned in the book. But it is not only art, poetry and poets, and Greek mythology are also elements around which the story is woven. But at the centre of it all is Mary’s story of course, which I found interesting throughout, and it would be fun to see what the next leg of her adventures leads her into (we already know where!).

View all my reviews

Shadows of Days Past

I didn’t think I’d be returning to writing about poetry quite so soon, but when reading Wives and Daughters (which I’m reading in serial with a group on goodreads), I found a reference to John Gilpin (Cowper’s The Diverting History of John Gilpin), which I was all set to revisit during the week and write about, since it is among the funniest poems I’ve read so far (though yes, I still haven’t read very many poems overall). But anyway with a busy week I never did get down to reading it (I hope to sooner than later and will write about it). But I also ended up remembering Kipling’s The Way Through the Woods which I first read some years ago as part of his book Rewards and Fairies, the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill, and also liked very much.

This beautiful (and haunting) poem takes me (or rather my thoughts) to two different things each time I read it. Kipling writes in it of a road that “They shut…Seventy years ago” which has been reclaimed by the woods, the weather, and the rain, where there are now “coppice and heath” and “thin anemones”, so

now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods.

Part of this poem paints this picture of nature becoming “free” again, to grow, to go about life with no fear—the ring-dove brooding, badgers rolling at ease, trout-ringed pools, and the otter, whistling to his mate, for:

“(They fear not men in the woods
Because they see so few)”

Man’s presence and influence more often than not spells trouble for nature, constraining it rather than allowing it to blossom, even to be, destroying it for “development”, or his own greed, or mere entertainment. So of course the description of a place free of man’s influence, his interference, which forms most of the first stanza and part of the second as well, leaves one with a sense of peace, of freedom, rejoicing in her joy, watching the badger roll, or listening to the otter whistle to its mate, none worried that someone might harm them.

The second stanza on the other hand, is rather haunting, for while one mightn’t know that there was once a road through the woods,

“Yet if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late…”

The shadows of the past are still there:

“You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through,
The misty solitudes,
As though they practically knew,
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods!”

One can’t see the road through the woods anymore but one can feel its presence—its memories and shadows remain, and perhaps the wood remembers where the road once was. It feels as through past and present are there at the same time. Yet these shadows, though uncanny, are not really frightening—they bring back memories, make one think of the days past, and perhaps also the thought that where man once was there is always a mark of some kind.

But one also can’t help but wonder when one is lost in this picture, whether it is that this is the only way that the two can coexist? Nature blooming, joyous, thriving, and at peace only in a place where there is no human presence―just shadows of what was―no longer anyone to disturb or destroy…

Winter in Verse

Before I even start, I’d like to say that I’m not so much a poetry person―don’t read much of it, have written just one for school, so any comments or observations of mine are pretty much those of a layperson―and pretty literal. That said though, I have been trying time and again to read a few poems, but don’t end up doing this regularly.

Anyway, now on to what I actually want to write about―winter―or more specifically three poems on winter that I read which paint pictures of very different facets of the season, positive and negative, how it impacts nature and people’s lives. Winter by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, for instance describes the effect frost has on both people and nature. The first stanza suggests it is written sometime at the beginning of the new year since the frost has “bitten the heel of the year gone by”. From people’s point of view it means fires burning, the wood becoming more withered, and fuel dear. And in nature, so many creatures have vanished from sight, the frost having “rolled [them] up away”―the plump dormouse, probably hibernating, the bees being stilled, and flies dying. However while the frost may have bitten into a lot of things, “into the heart of the house”, “into the heart of the earth”, the poet doesn’t allow it to bite into his own heart―not letting the chill affect him, and in the final stanza is optimistic about spring being nearer, even as the woods are “searer”, fuel “dearer”, and fires burn “clearer”. While Tennyson is certainly writing about the cold, dreary atmosphere outside (and indoors as well) causing all “life” to disappear and people to stick closer to their fires, his own attitude is optimistic, his own heart warm and happy for he doesn’t allow it to affect him, and looks optimistically on at the coming spring (this part reflecting perhaps a later time in winter).

Cold and near-isolation outdoors, and warm and welcoming hearths are pictures painted by T.S. Eliot’s “The winter evening settles down”, the first of the preludes (though the book I read it in had it as a separate poem). Here Eliot describes the end of a cold winter day―six o’clock―when most people are presumably back home. He writes not only of sights but of the sounds and smells of a winter evening. He doesn’t really take us into the house but outside in passageways are the smells of steaks, which in itself for me conjured up pictures of people sitting by their firesides, warm, away from the weather outside, enjoying their steaks. Outdoors though (this one is of course in a town/village), is a very different story―withered leaves under one’s feet, perhaps fluttering as a gusty shower throws them up, as it does newspapers lying about, while the showers beat against “broken-blinds and chimney pots” adding to the already dreary and somewhat isolated atmosphere. The only beings that seem to be outdoors braving the weather are the “lonely cab horse” who “steams and stamps”, and perhaps the lamplighter for there is the “lighting of the lamps”.

While Eliot and Tennyson write of the chilly winter atmosphere and frost “biting” into homes and into the earth, the third poem I read “Frost” by L.M. Dufty (interestingly while I have this poem in the book, the poem nor the poet seem to appear in any internet searches―the only result that I got was Silver Bells, the book I read it from) which focuses not on the chill the frost brings with it but the very pretty picture that frost creates when it comes. Frost for Dufty is a “busy sprite” who leaves the meadows all “sparkling and clean” and fashions “fringes of silver” for the grey wintery grasses which so far looked soiled and dim. Frost may make places icy, but for the poet, he has actually changed muddy hollows and cart-ruts into a diamond floor. His final stanza describing what the frost does to windows is the prettiest:

“And windows are studded
With drawings like dreams
Of fragile white forests
And towers and streams.”

So a much more positive and certainly aesthetically appealing picture of the chilling Mr Frost! (I love the accompanying illustration in the book―wish I could have shared it here).

So winter may be chilling and grey, cold and dreary, a time when nature goes to sleep or into hiding (when Persephone goes to Hades), yet one can find comfort in the fact that there are warm firesides to sit by, and hot meals to eat (for those of us lucky enough to have them), and certainly beautiful pictures to see, clean, sparkly surrounds, fringed with white which frost has painted for us. And then again, as Tennyson tells us, even if the frost has chosen to bite into everything, into nature, and our surrounds, our hearts can always remain happy and warm, and choose not to let Mr Frost chill them too.