Something to Celebrate

A new poem by Seamus Heaney, published in the Times.


A Poem for Remembrance Day

Something a little different, but it packs an emotional wallop:

Patterns, by Amy Lowell

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.
My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles
on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon —
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se’nnight.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam,” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Teaching Wilfred Owen

When I told my English 150 students that they would be reading a poem on the occasion of Remembrance Day, some of them exclaimed, “Oh, god, not ‘On Flanders Field’!” This is a little sad, but I imagine Canadian students do get something of an overload of that famous poem.

No, I told them, we are going to read something by an Englishman, Wilfred Owen, and I gave them a copy of “Dulce et Decorum Est”.

This is my 1st year writing class, and we haven’t studied poetry, but I told them to apply the principles we’ve learned to apply to the essays we’ve been reading: purpose, audience, rhetorical strategies, effect. I read it out loud, and surprised myself when my voice broke a little at the end.

I then posted this page up on the screen, and read them the comment from the nurse below Sargent’s painting.

It didn’t take long for them to come up with points, and we talked about the bitter tone, and the incredible way Owen uses all the senses, particularly visual and sound effects. One commented that the soldiers were cattle for the meat-grinder, and I pointed out Owen’s other famous poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” which opens “What passing bells for those who die as cattle?”

When I asked, “Is the poem effective?” there was a resounding “YES!”

For Readers and Teachers of Poetry

This is one of those quote-within-a-quote-within-a-quote things that happen in blogs.

Litlove, in a post for the Sunday Salon is writing about reading Rilke’s Duino Elegies.

This post on its own is worth reading, as she captures vividly the ecstacy of reading Rilke.

But I particularly loved this quote from the critic William Gass, writing about Rilke:

The poet, while composing, struggles to rule a nation of greedy self-serving malcontents; every idea, however tangential to the main theme it may have been initially, wants to submerge the central subject beneath its fructifying self as though each drizzle were scheming a forty-days rain; every jig and trot desires to be the whole dance; every la-di-da and line length, image, order, rhyme, variation and refrain, every well-mouthed vowel, dental click, silent design, represents a corporation, cartel, union, well-heeled lobby, a Pentagon or NRA, eager to turn the law towards its interests; every word wants to enjoy a potency so supreme it will emasculate the others.

That is why I read. That is why I teach.

“The Windhover”: a reading

Gardner Campbell, always a source of great blog material, has produced a lovely reading and interpretation of Hopkins’ “The Windhover.” His reading of the poem actually brought tears to my eyes, because more than any I’ve heard he managed to convey Hopkins’ … rapture, for want of a better word.

PS: my comments on his blog always for some reason seem to get caught in a spam filter. I’m hoping that the “trackback” will work, and he’ll take this post as an admiring comment!

Writer on Poet

This seems like the perfect link for a blog for English. The LiveJournal blogger, “Truepenny,” who is Sarah Monette the author in real life blogs today about Gerard Manley Hopkins. She’s teaching a university course in her area this year, so watch for interesting posts.