When this came up on my playlist today, I was reminded of M, a dear friend from Jordan with whom I share a mutual affinity for this song. We call each other lightworkers, though I have a long way to go to be called one, yet. As an empath, I tend to enclose myself in a bubble and block out the world to protect my energy. While she is an open, friendly soul radiating positivity and good vibes. Who warms up to everything and everyone around her, reaches out naturally to pick up and cuddle babies when she sees them, and who wouldn’t think twice before walking up to a stranger in trouble to offer help. She is a supremely talented writer and though her poetry does not rhyme it still feels like music, the words gushing forth like water from a spring, and reminds me of pearls scattered across the page.
I wish there were more people in the world like her. I wish I were a little (just a little) more like her. One of them real lightworkers.
More than once I have tried to record the sounds of birds singing on a spring dawn. Most often I have tried this while sitting in a tiny college room behind my beloved Banbury road. But each time, the recording comes out as but a frail echo of the original sounds, reiterating yet again that something as pure as birdsong can only be experienced in the moment.
In the spring I had the pleasure of listening to Liz Berry reading her poems in the characteristic Black Country accent. It was as soothing as listening to birdsong on an early spring morning. Poetry that touches the audience’s heart and connects them with the pure and pristine part of their minds, which is the pinnacle of all great art.
Loved this poem by Philip Ardagh which talks about the rendezvous between ‘a stanza of poets and a chapter of authors’ by an idyllic river, where they exchange words ‘like glittering prizes’.
A stanza of poets and a chapter of authors sounds like a delightful way to describe writers whose essence lies between the lines of their work. A scene of playwrights, perhaps?
My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men’s days
Last weekend I went to Cambridge again and remembered two writers associated with the place who are very close to my heart. Samuel Butler whose novel The Way of all Flesh soothed my soul like nothing else could when I first read it. And Rupert Brooke, my forever crush and the love of my life.
I dreaded turning twenty-eight because I never wanted to be older than Rupert who was lucky in a way to have died young and thus remained forever twenty-seven – his poetry was one of the things that kept me alive during the years of depression. I am not sure anymore if I want to visit his grave at Skyros as I had planned to, once – I would rather remember him as a young man full of life, sitting on the grass beside Byron’s pool, throwing his head back and laughing, reading and writing in the shade of the Old Vicarage. Why did I write ‘remember him’ when I ought to have, when I meant to have written ‘imagined him’? Because Rupert comes across as more alive, more full of life than most people I see around me.
In The Way of All Flesh, young Ernest Pontifex reflects gloomily about death – he hates his overbearing family and equally dreads encountering his unpleasant grandparents in the afterlife. But methinks even the afterlife would be a delightful place if one could see Rupert there with a song on his lips and a twinkle in his spring-blue eyes, tossing his ‘brown delightful head / Amusedly, among the ancient Dead.’
Thank God for immortal poets.
Oh! Death will find me, long before I tire
Of watching you; and swing me suddenly
Into the shade and loneliness and mire
Of the last land! There, waiting patiently,
One day, I think, I’ll feel a cool wind blowing,
See a slow light across the Stygian tide,
And hear the Dead about me stir, unknowing,
And tremble. And I shall know that you have died,
And watch you, a broad-browed and smiling dream,
Pass, light as ever, through the lightless host,
Quietly ponder, start, and sway, and gleam —
Most individual and bewildering ghost! —
And turn, and toss your brown delightful head
Amusedly, among the ancient Dead.
Impulsively, I decided to do the AtoZ blogging challenge for April on the theme of favourite authors. I know it is a little late, but better late than never, as in everything else, there will be double and triple posts to make up for the lost time.
The theme is favourite authors. I will revisit their work, re-reading favourite paragraphs and post a few thoughts on what they mean to me.
A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.
Wystan Hugh Auden
As a self taught reader of poetry, I had not chanced upon many poems of W.H.Auden except a few of the most famous ones in anthologies, when I began to come across frequent references to his poetry in the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, a writer whom I admire greatly for the warmth of humanity that shines through his work. Inspired by Professor McCall Smith’s frequent references to Auden’s life and poetry through the reflections of philosopher Isabel Dalhousie in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, I turned to the poet’s collected works and was surprised to find that the more I read of Auden’s poems, the more I found that his voice had very similar overtones to that of McCall Smith. There is the finesse of craft, the excellence of technique in multiple verse forms, the rich allusiveness to literature, culture, art, science and society. The gentle humour, the empathy with the fragility of the human condition, the sparkling wit which complements the wisdom within his words and above all, the sense of kindness that pervades his lines which seem to reach out to all of humanity.
A few quotes from the poet who evoked tenderness in ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love’, heart-wrenching pathos in ‘Miss Gee’ and ‘Funeral Blues’ and echoes a reader’s feelings in his poet’s tribute ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’.
On loving kindness.
“How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.”
W.H.Auden (The More Loving One)
Incidentally, the above lines describe the attitude of many of McCall Smith’s characters. Isabel Dalhousie personifies this view most of the time, as does Barbara Ragg from The Corduroy Mansions series, in a scene where she breaks up with the mean and selfish Oedipus Snark during a weekend getaway with him and as she leaves, pays the bill for both of them.
“I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.”
W.H.Auden (As I Walked Out One Evening)
“Not to be born is the best for man
The second best is a formal order
The dance’s pattern, dance while you can.
Dance, dance, for the figure is easy
The tune is catching and will not stop
Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.”
W.H.Auden (Death’s Echo)
Or simply, a poet who seems to have enjoyed his work, and had a lot of fun writing delightful verse like this one.
When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I’m picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.
W.H.Auden (O tell me the truth about love)
Describing Auden’s poetry transcending the human experience into that on a higher plane, Professor McCall Smith says in his book ‘What W.H.Auden Can Do for You‘ that “There are plenty of poets, especially those given to the writing of confessional verse, who are ready to tell us about their particular experience of love. We listen sympathetically, and may indeed be touched or inspired by their insights. But few poets transcend the personal when talking about love. They are talking, really, about how they felt when they were in love; Auden digs far deeper than that. He talks about love and flesh as it can be experienced by all of us – he transcends the specific experience in a particular place and time, to get to the heart of what we are.”
As a serious reader of both these authors, I feel that the above words apply equally to both of their work.
One of the many pleasures of reading poetry is to recognise the echo of a poet’s voice in another poet’s work. A reflection of ideas, an influenced style or similar references to things, places or events. It is a joy to discover such connections between books and authors.
Two poems by Rupert Brooke and Elizabeth Jennings, written several decades apart reflect the same thought, in two unique voices.
‘Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star’s impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.’
From Delay, Elizabeth Jennings
‘And yonder star that burns so white,
May have died to dust and night
Ten, or maybe, fifteen year,
Before it shines upon my dear.’
From Fafaia, by Rupert Brooke
Vikram Seth conveys a similar thought in his poem Time Zones when he says,
‘I dreamed of her but she could not alas humour my will;
it struck me suddenly that where she was was daylight still’
Though all three poems are unique and charming in their own way, I like Rupert’s version best –
“Heart from heart is all as far,
Fafaia, as star from star.”
Love may have eluded these beloved poets when they penned these lines, but their songs and thereby their thoughts continue to flow across time and space and find responding echoes in many a reader’s mind.
As Rabindranath Tagore wrote in ‘The Gardener’, evoking a spring morning perhaps a hundred years ago,
‘Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence? I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds. Open your doors and look abroad.From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before.In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years.’
A poet reaches out to the reader with a greater level of intimacy than any other kind of writer.
Today I am grateful for poets, for the gift of their poetry. For Rupert and Jennings and Seth and Tagore, and also for Bharati and T.S.Eliot and W.H.Auden and Tennyson and Pushkin and Rumi and Kabir and Maya Angelou and Gillian Clarke and Sylvia Plath and Carol Ann Duffy and Wendy Cope and many, many other blessed songbirds of language.
Bards who belong to all the world like air, and sunlight, and springtime, and stars in the sky. They belong to all, and they are mine.