Nesbit Likes: During Wind and Rain by Thomas Hardy

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To put it bluntly, everything must come to an end. All life will extinguish at some point. 25-30 years if you’re a horse, 150 years if you’re a tortoise.

Hardy accepts this in sturdy poetry. In four stanzas, we’re given a pleasant image, flavoured in rhyme and positive imagery. Then, each stanza rounds in despair, the loss of life, the weight of change. The consistent stanza length furthers the inevitable loss and decay. The seasons come and go, bringing in their bodies happiness and laughter, and in their departures sadness and grief.

But to call this a tragic poem is, I think, a mistake. Upon my first discovery, x many years ago, I focused on all the negativity. I assume most people would, what with the repeated verbal cries, shattering the perfect pictures. The final ‘sick leaves’, how the ‘rotten rose is ript from the wall’; despite the majority being in light, the rounding two lines of each stanza carry more gravity than the rest. And whilst it seems to be Hardy’s intention, to highlight how things must come to an end, that’s not to be taken as a bad thing.

Although we may see death as the main theme, family, love, and happy times are of more importance. Yes, the poem ends with the narrator stood amongst tombstones. Yes, it’s during wind and rain, harshly reiterating the many years passed. But there’s a note of optimism. The use of the word ‘ploughs’, hanging on until the last minute, brings forth the images of agriculture, of renewed land, fresh soil. New life. This isn’t an end but rather the story of this person, and their surroundings, moving onto another chapter. Tolkien perfectly captures this through Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings:

No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

Those moments, singing, gardening, being with family, they are gone. The memories, however, are certainly not. They are cemented in our brains, never to be changed with season, for us to cherish in the future as we move on from the past.


During Wind and Rain

They sing their dearest songs—
He, she, all of them—yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face …
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss—
Elders and juniors—aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat…
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See the white storm-birds wing across!

They are blithely breakfasting all—
Men and maidens—yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee…
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them—aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs…
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

Nesbit Likes: When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be by John Keats

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Any person will probably be able to tell you they’ve had an idea for a story, perhaps in the form of a poem, a screenplay or theatre script, that has been nestled in their mind for years, even decades. It’s evolved, it’s decayed, it’s been mentally tweaked and shaped by years of thinking. However, any person will also tell you they’ve not got round to penning it. We know we should, it could be the next best seller, it could bring joy, entertainment and hope to others, but we’ll never know until it’s down on paper.

John Keats, in the title poem, is like most writers. He yearns to write everything down, all of his ideas, all of his thoughts, to reach success before he dies. Of course, Keats had every reason to fear an early death, losing both of his parents at a relatively young age and his younger brother, too.

Now, the poem itself it outstanding. I love the images of his pen extracting these ideas, harvesting them from his brimming brain. His metaphor, “to trace / [The] shadows” of the beautiful, mysterious aspects of nature, is perfect, vivid and wonderfully ambitious.

However, what makes this poem special, for me, is how is encompasses his life. The real tragedy of John Keats is, when he knew he was dying (which itself is tragic, being only 25), he was utterly convinced he had no legacy to leave behind. In his letter (February 1820) to Fanny Brawne, he wrote:

“I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.”

He felt as if he didn’t quite fit in, too. Both Shelley and Byron, also second generation Romantics, acknowledged his work, citing it to be good, but he wasn’t taken that seriously due to his age. His expression, in his last letter to Charles Brown, “I always made an awkward bow,” is truly humble and embodies the full character Keats thought himself to be.

It’s the insecurities that make this poem so real. Keats surely had plenty of things he still hoped to write, but the poems he did get down will carry his flame and remain a prime example of how talented he was. If only Keats had known how well he had done, how his work is considered some of the greatest of all time. This poem portrays his person, where his mind was, how he felt, and that’s why it’s todays pick.


When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high pil`d books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Nesbit Likes: Table Talk by Wallace Stevens

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Wallace Stevens’ poetry I both love and never fully understand. Perhaps it’s a lack of deep reading, perhaps it’s not knowing more of Stevens for the person he was, or perhaps I love his work just because.

I feel somewhat excused for it, the passion without reason, in the case of Table Talk. As per his words, sometimes we like things and we don’t know why, and why we like them is not important.

From the title, we expect the casual conversation; perhaps a simple statement on life or love, a broad and applicable remark. But we’re not met with this in the poem. It’s a little convoluted, it’s a little repetitive, and there’s an air of unfinished thought. In his book Modernism from Right to Left, Alan Filreis states that Stevens wasn’t completely happy with the poem, leaving it unpublished. Critics, too, weren’t massively impressed.

Now, whilst I might suggest some reasons why this is today’s pick (because the poem is wonderfully sporadic, because it resists the traditional function of poetry) there doesn’t have to be a reason.

Ultimately, what (I think!) Stevens is saying is simple. We have only one life, so don’t worry about those things, especially when they’re not so important. You like something? You love something? That could just happen to be, and that’s okay. In the same way, I love this poem, but can’t entirely figure out why. Maybe you’ll feel the same. Nevertheless, Stevens, you’ve got me again!


Table Talk

Granted, we die for good.
Life, then, is largely a thing
Of happens to like, not should.

And that, too, granted, why
Do I happen to like red bush,
Grey grass and green-gray sky?

What else remains? But red,
Gray, green, why those of all?
That is not what I said:

Not those of all. But those.
One likes what one happens to like.
One likes the way red grows.

It cannot matter at all.
Happens to like is one
Of the ways things happen to fall.

Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney

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Whether or not we follow in the footsteps of our fathers, of our mothers, is a real question for some. In every profession, you’ll find strings of generations all of whom took position as their ancestors did. Sheriffs, doctors, painters, presidents, all sorts. This could be because the opportunity and exposure was potent enough growing up, the job just seemed right. For some it’s all they have known. But not everyone takes the same parental path.

Seamus Heaney tackles this subject – among many other ideas – in the form of digging, as titled. His father digs, just as his grandfather dug, both of whom could wield a spade as another limb. To put it simply, whilst he admires their strength and skill, Heaney is no digger. Instead, he’s a writer, and discovers he’ll more appropriately ‘dig’ with his pen.

I’d say this is one of my favourite poems of all time, for two reasons. First, the use of language is perfect. The art of digging is so clearly presented – the ‘clean rasping sound,’ ‘Nicking and slicing neatly’ – and its brings the actions to life. The descriptions are heavy with weighted words – ‘his straining rump’, ‘lug’, ‘heaving sods’ – which flourish the effort and strength required for the job. It’s nicely contrasted to the way he brought his father milk from ‘a bottle / Corked sloppily with paper’.

Secondly, it dispelled the fears of the question ‘what to do in life.’ As mentioned, a lot of people turn to the work of their parents. It can be difficult when you realise the work of your parents isn’t for you. Perhaps you don’t have the skill, perhaps not the interest. For generations who’ve done the same thing, there can be a perceived pressure not to break the chain. But, as Heaney writes, what really matters is that you work hard; you strive to accomplish your goals, you sweat and burn for them, whatever the profession or occupation.

In this case, the torch is translated, the ‘living roots’ have been ‘cut’: the pen has become the symbol of hard, honest work, that Heaney is able to utilise and manoeuvre as well as his old man and a spade. He can carry the legacy of commitment to a craft. As Heaney puts it, you dig, you pause for milk, and then you carry on.


Digging

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Nesbit Likes: ‘Lighght’ by Aram Saroyan

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That’s it. That’s the poem. One word, seven letters. Lighght. 

Before we start, this poem has a tendency to divide people. Some see it none other than a smudge, where Saroyan tried to spell ‘light’ and then mashed his forehead onto the keyboard. Others may view it as a 6ft canvas dabbed with a single drop of blue paint that someone labelled ‘art.’ Pretentious, perhaps.

Some, however, consider this one of the most important movements in writing, and the development of language on paper, and I’d like to explore this.

Now, there’s a lot to this poem, more so in the actual writing and submission than anything else. Whilst there’s a hundred things to discuss, today we’ll take it for what it is, at face value. (If you are intrigued for more information, I’d recommend this article, it’s all very interesting and explains why this spawned mass discussion).

So, what does it mean? Well, it’s widely open to interpretation. There are all sorts of ideas. Most commonly, however, it’s thought to present one simple thing: lighght is the turning on of a light.

Remember schools had those old, long tubes that ran across the ceiling, that stuttered and flickered when switched on? This is the visual and verbal representation of that. Sort of.

So, the light-switch is clicked and the first flash, or blink, is shown in the ‘ligh’. The flicker, produced milliseconds after, blind to us, gives the ‘ght’. It’s like waking up, that double-take of consciousness in the morning as you open your eyes. The absence of the letter ‘t’ in the middle – a harsher, tinny sounding letter – aids the image of the light not coming to it’s full brightness until the end. That’s more or less it, but it’s portrayed in two ways.

First, the word ‘light’ immediately illuminates. One syllable, a quick word to say, a soft sounding start with a solid end to staple the brightness of a bulb. You could say it’s a visual form of onomatopoeia; instead of the word sounding like it does in reality, this is where the word looks like the meaning. Another example of this (off the top of my head!) is the word ‘llama’. The word itself looks like the animal, with the two l’s for the neck and the ‘ama’ for the body. ‘Bed’ is another example, the ‘B’ for the headboard, ‘e’ for the mattress and ‘d’ for the foot of the bed; ‘shark’ is another, the ‘h’ for the top fin, the ‘k’ for the tail, the ‘s’ for the nose. These are all coincidental and fun, whereas Lighght stands out, depicting an action, something that happens.

Second, it’s delivered all at once. Other poems, as Saroyan explains, have a beginning, middle and end, in some shape or form. This poem is instant. The whole of it presented as quick as light.

In his 2007 article, Ian Daly writes ‘”Lighght” is something you see rather than read.’ I don’t think anyone could put it better. It’s the beauty of language in its most condense form. This poem, and you might agree, pushes the boundaries on what writing can do for the reader; where a sentence could have taken it’s place, seven letters instead depict the whole event.

Would I call this poetry? Absolutely. Would I call it great poetry? Yes! It invokes an image, an action, in multiple ways, more than some other poems can do in stanzas.

Imagine if an entire book was written in the same way, and how that story could be furthered in detail, simply by playing around with the words and letters….

…it’d be a nightmare to read, probably! Nonetheless, this really is something special. Not a splurge of letters, but a well designed piece of poetry, word economy to the max. I hope you think so, too!

Nesbit Likes: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

TS EliotIn light of Halloween (or perhaps the dark?), I thought this weeks edition of Nesbit Likes should be somewhat horror themed. Of course, the obvious choice would be The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe – no other poem is quite as scary and no other poem is associated more with terror and fear. Whilst Eliot’s The Waste Land isn’t known for being scary, nor particularly frightening, it is unsettling, and I’m certain that word falls under the Halloween category.

The section below is taken from the first part of the poem titled The Burial of the Dead. Because the poem is such a mismatch of themes, it’s sensible to include only this one (also, it’s over 400 lines long!). I studied the poem a few years ago and this stanza always stuck with me. The imagery, of the ghosts of people walking like zombies to the dead tolls of the bell, flowing in a mass of sad, sulking death, shook my bones and rocked my core. It was first to come to mind when thinking of this weeks feature.

It’s clear this isn’t a happy piece, what with the images of the corpse, the dog that could dig it up, the unresponsive Stetson potentially shellshocked by the First Punic War, and it’s all wrapped in references and allusions to Dante’s Inferno which truly exemplifies what kind of a Hell this is.

The opening to the poem really sets the tone for the piece:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

…but I feel it’s with the section below where the depressing nature really catches wind and thrusts the reader into a world they might not want to be aware of.

Along with Joyce, Eliot was considered the most major of poets for Modernism, propelling the movement further than anyone could have thought. This section is only a small example of his work but nonetheless disturbing, and brilliantly depicts a vision that thoroughly haunts. Hopefully, this will be enough to send a shiver through you!

Happy Halloween!


Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: “Stetson!
“You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
“Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
“Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
“Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
“You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

Nesbit Likes: Funhouse by Charles Bukowski

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Anyone who knows Bukowski knows he’s straight to the point in his poetry. No fluff, no clutter, just pure, clear moments, pinpointing times in his life and revealing the poetic essence they contain, whether it be morbid or lush.

But I’ll argue his poem Funhouse is a little more open.

Bukowski writes about the distain he has for a burned-down amusement pier; he wishes the pier, and the homeless people (or ‘madmen’ as he puts it) inhabiting the thing were gone, ‘vanished’. He ends on the note telling us that the pier is where he walked when he was eight years old.

If we dive a little deeper, we know that things weren’t all that great in his younger years. His father was abusive, he was bullied for his severe acne as well as his accent of thickly blended English German.

In his interview with Martin Coenen, 1987, when he comments on how other writers bore him, he states:

“…each line must be full of a delicious, little juice flavour; full of power.” 

He does this in all of his poetry. He gives it. No cutting corners, no layers, he just writes about it, beautifully. But does Bukowski defer from this rule of his in Funhouse?

Is Bukowski describing how he wants to have the pier removed because the madmen, and the state of the pier, are invading his joyful memories of being eight years old and his time on the pier? Or does he wish the memories he has of being eight years old were gone, and the pier, sticking out like a sore thumb, is a only a prompt for the rough, early years he had?

We can all agree poetry, or any art form, is open to interpretation; this could be completely estranged and far from original intention, but Funhouse lingered, in that I wasn’t sure if we truly were told everything, and that truth mattered. The poem could have a lot more weight than first conceived, and a darker tone than first understood. Perhaps you could smile after reading, perhaps not.

But as I said at the start, anyone who knows Bukowski knows he’s straight to the point in his poetry. Maybe, that’s the way it always is.


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I drive to the beach at night

in the winter

and sit and look at the burned-down amusement pier

wonder why they just let it sit there

in the water.

I want it out of there,

blown up,

vanished,

that pier should no longer sit there

with madmen sleeping inside

the burned-out guts of the funhouse . . .

it’s awful, I say, blow the damn thing up,

get it out of my eyes,

that tombstone in the sea.

 

the madmen can find other holes

to crawl into.

I used to walk that pier when I was 8

years old.