A Poem for National Poetry Day

Swan
I was planning to write a book review tonight, but it seems that my muse has deserted me. But maybe that’s happened for a reason. Today is National Poetry Day, so it seems like it’s time to post that poem that’s been in the back of my mind for a while now.

The given theme for the day is heroes and heroines. I’m interpreting that fairly widely – my poem provided one of my literary heroines with a title, and maybe it inspired her.

Earlier in the year I read The Swan in the Evening by Rosamond Lehmann. I had a feeling the title came from a poem, but I couldn’t place it. I was right, but it was a poem I had only come across in a musical setting. It is lovely set to music but I think it is even lovelier to simply read.

Here it is:

She Moved Through The Fair
by Padraic Colum

My young love said to me,
My mother won’t mind
And my father won’t slight you
For your lack of kind”
And she stepped away from me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
Till our wedding day”

As she stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there
And then she turned homeward
With one star awake
Like the swan in the evening
Moves over the lake

The people were saying,
No two e’er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear.

Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in
So softly she came
That her feet made no din
As she laid her hand on me
And this she did say
It will not be long, love,
‘Til our wedding day

You can learn more about the poet, and read more of his work, here.

Persephone Poetry Books

Verity has written about Persephone’s wonderful non-fiction titles, but I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned the poetry yet.

There are two novels in verse: Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles and Amours de Voyage by Arthur Clough. Both look intriguing and are very definitely on my wishlist.

And then there are two collections of verse.

There’s Consider the Years by Virginia Graham, a wonderfully readable and evocative collection of verse about England between 1938 and 1945. Momentous years! I’m wending my way through the pages and I’ll write more when I’m done.

I’ve only flipped through It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst, but I can already see that it is a gem. It dates from the late 1960s and is a wonderful, frequently darkly comic, record of those times.

I’m disappointed that it’s one review on LibraryThing suggests that it is a volume that will date badly and soon disappear. My impression so far is that it succeeds in being both of its time and timeless.

Here is one poem that I think stands up wonderfully. In fact, it reminds me of a particular friend of my mother – she’s a lovely lady, but she has one particular trait …

IDA, THE ONE WHO SUFFERS

Whatever happens to me
Has already happened to Ida the one who suffers,
Only worse,
And with complications,
And her surgeon says it’s a miracle she survived,
And her team of lawyers is suing for half a million,
And her druggist gave a gasp when he read the prescription,
And her husband never saw such courage,
Because (though it may sound like bragging) she’s not a complainer,
Which is why the nurse was delighted to carry her bedpan,
And her daughter flew in from the sit-in to visit,
And absolute strangers were begging to give blood donations,
And the man from Prudential even had tears in his eyes,
Because (though it may sound like bragging) everyone loves her,
Which is why both of her sisters were phoning on day rates from Denton,
And her specialist practically forced her to let him make house calls,
And the lady who lean insisted on coming in Sundays,
And the cousins have cancelled the Cousins Club meeting,
And she’s almost embarassed to mention how many presents
Keep arriving from girlfriends who love her all over the country,
All of them eating their hearts out with worry for Ida,
The one who suffers
The way other people
Enjoy.

And finally, of course, there are the endpapers. These are based on a 1960s Liberty print, and they provide a wonderful burst of warmth and colour after the subtlety of the dove-grey jacket.

Viorst Endpapers

Persephone Reading Week is being hosted here and here.

Knights of Love: After The Lais of Marie de France by Jane Tozer

knights-of-love

“Whoever has a poet’s voice
And, by the grace of God, enjoys
The gift of learning, holds in trust
A precious treasure, which she must
Not hide away, less moths and rust
Corrupt us and it turns to dust.
Heaven has given you a voice
So sing your heart out, and rejoice”

I swooped on this book when I saw the words “Lais of Marie de France”. I worried when I saw that it was a modern translation but I didn’t need to – I was in safe hands.

Jane Tozer has made some fairly radical changes to her source material, but she explains very clearly and thoroughly what she has done and why, and her love for the lais always shines through.

The prologue is beautifully – and cleverly – handled and then there are the Lais:

Guigemar: The Lais of the Silver Hind

Guigemar is is a young knight who seems quite unable to feel romantic love. One day, on a hunting expedition, he mortally wounds a white doe, but he is injured as well. Before dying, the deer speaks to him, leaving a curse that his wound can only be healed by a woman who will suffer for love of him, and he will suffer as much for her. Guigemar wanders through the forest until he finds a river and a boat with no crew. He rests there and when he wakes he finds that the boat is sailing, he knows not where.

The boat takes him to an island where the king has imprisoned his wife out of jealousy. The queen and her servant find Guigemar, tend to his wound and give him shelter. Guigemar and the queen fall in love and, to bind them together, the queen ties a knot in his shirt that only she can untie without tearing and he gives her a chastity belt.

The lovers are soon discovered and the the couple are parted. Both go through trial and tribulation before they are finally reuntited and able to release each other from their bonds.

A wonderful story and very well execeuted.

Equitan

This is a much shorter story, a comic tale of adulterers who try to rid themselves in their spouses but find themselves snared by their own trap. For me this one didn’t quite work, but I think the problem lay more with that nature of the material than the translation.

La Fresne

This is lovely. A noblewoman accuses her rival of adultery, claiming that her twin children can only come from two different fathers. In time though she herself gives birth to twin daughters of her own. Rather than risk ridicule she abandons one daughter at a convent. And so two sisters grow up in very different worlds. Eventually of course they meet and wrongs are righted.

Bisclavet

The tone darkens here, with the story of a werewolf who is trapped in lupine form by the treachery of his wife. Another gem.

Lanval

And then the tone changes again for the story of a knight at King Arthur’s court. Lanval is overlooked by the king, but he wooed by a fairy lady and she gives him all manner of gifts by her, though he must promise to never reveal his identity. problems begin when the Queen makes advances to Lanval, which he rejects. She accuses him of shaming her and the King forces him to he reveal his mistress. Although Lanval has broken his promise, his lover eventually appears to justify Lanval, and to take him with her to Avalon.

Wonderful story telling, but it doesn’t work as well as some of the other lais, maybe because the fairy lady’s motivation is never explained.

Les Deus Amanz

A tragic tale. A widowed king takes comfort in raising his beautiful daughter, and he is reluctant to let go of her when she is of marriageable age. He challenges all her potential suitors to prove themselves by carrying her up a nearby mountain. Many try and fail. When the king’s daughter falls in love , she tells her suitor of a magical potion that will renew his strength and allow him to carry her all the way up the mountain. He obtains the tonic , but when he tries to carry her up the mountain, he refuses to take it, believing that love should give him the strength he needs. And he succeeds in bringing her to the summit, but then he collapses from exhaustion and dies. She dies of a broken heart. This provides a nice contrast to the many neatly resolved tales.

Yonec

Another tale of a beautiful woman kept prisoner by a jealous husband. Her lover takes the form of a goshawk, which allows him entry to her rooms. Of course the lovers are discovered and the goshawk is trapped and killed. But not before a son is conceived, who will one one day put things right. Some lovely moments but the end is a little unsatisfying.

L’Austic

Lovers talk through opposite windows, both saying that they are watching a nightingale. When the woman’s jealous husband kills the nightingale the romance ends. lovely verse, but a slight tale.

Milun

Lovers conceive a child. Because the woman is unmarried they hide the pregnancy and the child is sent away. Later her father arranges her marriage. Later still father and son recognise each other on the battlefield. And later again, the woman’s husband dies and she is reunited with both her son and her lover. Wonderful – the episodic nature of the story works well.

Chatrivel

A lady is loved by four knights. They joust to decide who will win her. I just couldn’t take to this one.

Chevrefoil

A snippet from the story of Tristan and Isolde. they have been separated but seize a chance to meet briefly. Enchanting, but it leaves you wishing for much more.

Eliduc

The last lais is the longest and this allows it to take a more complex storyline. It works well.

Eliduc is a valiant knight in the service of the King of Brittany, who banishes him based on false rumors. Eliduc decides to seek his fortune as a mercenary and leaves the kingdom, promising his wife that he will remain faithful.

Eliduc comes across a king who is at war because he will not give away his daughter in marriage. Eliduc y helps defeat the king’s enemies and is rewarded with power over the king’s lands. Guilliadun, the king’s daughter, falls in love with Eliduc and she with him. They live happily together until Eliduc is realled to Brittany. It seems the lovers must be parted. Like Guigemar and his queen back in the first lais, the lovers go through much trial and tribulation before finally being happily reunited.

“So ends the history of these three
The courtly bard of Brittany
Composed this most affeting lai
– Of its kind a nonpareil –
That those who hear or read this song
May remember well and long
God send you all a loving friend
And, in ripe time, a happy end.”

And so, this is a wonderfully diverse collection of tales linked by many common themes.

I am not a critical or scholarly reader, just a lover of words, and I found in this book both wonderful tales and perfectly constructed verse.

I could have asked for nothing more.

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe

nevermore_intro

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

“The Raven”

By Edgar Allan Poe.

I have never learned the language of poetry so I cannot explain why “The Raven” is so wonderful, but I know that it is.

Next week BBC Radio 3 takes “The Raven” as the theme of it’s daily programme “The Essay. Link here.

It should be possible to listen to the programmes anywhere in the world either live or using the “listen again” feature on the BBC website.