The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript

 

Here is a poem from TS Eliot, which I should think harks back to his roots in New England, although he spent most of his life in the UK, working and writing in London. I suppose the Boston Evening transcript is an evening newspaper, like the London Evening Standard or the Birmingham Evening Post, although I don’t know if it is real or invented. Anyway, it harks back to a time when newspapers were important, and people would eagerly await the arrival of the latest edition. That lasted until quite recently, and it used to be the case in my house when growing up. Of course, as with much of Eliot, it is also a nod and a wink to an aspect of a very middle-class life style.

The Boston Evening Transcript

BY T. S. ELIOT

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.

When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173473&gt;

There is a sly, wry humour running through this poem. The readers of the newspaper are like ears of corn shifting in the wind, ie they are malleable, do not exercise their own free will or faculties of critical thinking. Might he have said like sheep?

And then he contrasts the impact of evening on those whose appetites for life are awakened with those who are merely waiting for the newspaper, implying the latter are more like zombies. The poet is himself carrying the newspaper home to his cousin Harriet and as he goes in to the house he bids farewell to intellectual stimulation, as epitomised by the image of La Rochefoucauld, the great French wit and author of epigrams, and enters the house where the newspaer will reign over barren, unthinking discourse. This is a very inventive metaphor, with La Rochefoucauld standing for adventure and intellectual stimulation, the street becoming a time machine and Cousin Harriet and the newspaper the mind-numbing intellectual torpor of the conventional middle-classes.

The Poetry Dude

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Nature, rien de toi ne m’émeut, ni les champs

Here is a poem by Paul Verlaine which expresses a level of world-weary angst and existential doubt that is could almost be called nihilistic. It certainly conveys a sense of depression in which the poet denies himself many of the normal consolations and comforts of existence. Appropriately, it is entitled “L’angoisse” or Anxiety. It is a sonnet.

 
L’angoisse

Nature, rien de toi ne m’émeut, ni les champs
Nourriciers, ni l’écho vermeil des pastorales
Siciliennes, ni les pompes aurorales,
Ni la solennité dolente des couchants.

Je ris de l’Art, je ris de l’Homme aussi, des chants,
Des vers, des temples grecs et des tours en spirales
Qu’étirent dans le ciel vide les cathédrales,
Et je vois du même œil les bons et les méchants.

Je ne crois pas en Dieu, j’abjure et je renie
Toute pensée, et quant à la vieille ironie,
L’Amour, je voudrais bien qu’on ne m’en parlât plus.

Lasse de vivre, ayant peur de mourir, pareille
Au brick perdu jouet du flux et du reflux,
Mon âme pour d’affreux naufrages appareille.

From <http://www.cerisepress.com/05/13/anguish&gt;

The first three stanzas enumerate everything which a “normal”, balanced human being might find pleasure in. First off, it is the contemplation of nature, with its fertile fields, pastoral sounds, lovely dawns and solemn sunsets which fail to inspire the poet.

In th second stanza, the poet mocks Art and the entire creative endeavour of men – music, poetry, Greek temples and cathedral spires, and he makes no difference between good and bad art and presumably between good and bad men. So neither nature or art are of any use to our forlorn poet up to this point.

In the third stanza, the poet rejects religion, intellectual pursuits and love. Hard to think what else could hold no attraction for him – travel perhaps or the pleasures of food and drink. But you can only put so much into a sonnet and we get the idea.

The final stanza turns the focus back directly on to the poet himself – tied of living but fearful of dying, and therefore in a state of limbo with nowhere to turn for consolation. As the final line says, his soul is on course for a dreadful shipwreck.

Or as some would say – get a life, Mr. Verlaine!. Fortunately there are some more cheery poems in his work.

The Poetry Dude

Si os partiéredes al alba

I guess you would consider Lope de Vega to be the closest parallel to Shakespeare in his versatility of dramatic and poetic output and his prolific body of work. There is much to choose from, and surely I will come back again to Lope’s poetry. I also love his drama, and remember seeing a great production of El Caballero de Olmedo at the Odeon Theatre in Paris in the early or mid1990s.

The main reason I chose this lyric for today’s posting is the use of the imperfect subjunctive tense in the first line – that always grabs my attention and admiration. So here goes…

Canción 46

Lope de Vega

Si os partiéredes al alba
quedito, pasito, amor,
no espantéis al ruiseñor.

Si os levantáis de mañana
de los brazos que os desean,
porque en los brazos no os vean
de alguna envidia liviana,
pisad con planta de lana
quedito, pasito, amor,
no espantéis al ruiseñor.

From <http://poesiadeoro.wikispaces.com/Cancion+46,+Lope+de+Vega+%28Paula+Moreno%29&gt;

The subject of the poem is a pleading from the poet to his loved one – if she gets up early to leave his arms in the morning, please don’t frighten the nightingale. Tread lightly, slowly, lovingly. In other words, the poem captures the special attraction of the poet’s lover, his desire that she doesn’t leave him and the implication that she is comparable to a nightingale. All stated or implied with an economy of language and imagery that is truly captivating. And yet Lope still finds space to dazzle us with that imperfect subjunctive (a bit like Coutinho’s goal for Liverpool against Southampton last Sunday) .

Very nice…

The Poetry Dude

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be

Many countries paid tribute to their war dead, particularly from World War 1, by erecting monuments to an unknown soldier, an unidentifiable body recovered from the battlefield who would symbolize the sacrifices and tragedies of all ordinary soldiers who lost their lives in these great conflicts. This concept is echoed in the title of WH Auden’s poem, “The Unknown Citizen”, but here it is not heroism or sacrifice which is celebrated, but the banal ordinariness of most people’s everyday lives. Other poets also touched on this theme, TS Eliot for example in “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”, but this poem is a particularly nice example, wryly mocking the language and tone of official tributes to deserving and meritorious citizens or soldiers. The poem even underlines that it is to be inscribed on a marble monument, erected by the state. I would like to see that…

The Unknown Citizen

W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

From <http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/unknown-citizen&gt;

In addition to being a tongue-in-cheek commentary of the sheer banality of ordinary existence, it is also perhaps a vision of a surveillance state, a 1984-style Orwellian society where actions, opinions and statements are monitored and evaluated by those in authority. All of the statements in the poem about the Unknown Citizen are purportedly taken from official reports, surveys and enquiries. And all of these show the evidence that this citizen lived entirely in the mainstream of majority opinion and activity. If this were not so, there would be grounds for suspicion, it is implied. And, of course, questions of freedom or happiness are absurd in this totalitarian worldview. Conformity is the only value which matters.

Are we there yet? In many countries, for sure, and perhaps  everywhere…

The Poetry Dude

Yver, vous n’estes qu’un vilain

On the day of posting this blog, much of North America is in the grip of a cold, snowy and icy winter, as is much of northern Europe. For all those tired of shovelling snow, or cursing the cancellation of their flights out of Boston or New York, remember that hard winters are not new, and that defenses against winter were likely much more inadequate five hundred years or so ago. So here is Charles d’Orleans cursing the hardships of winter – “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain”, Winter, you are but a knave…
Charles d’ ORLEANS   (1394-1465)

Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain;
Esté est plaisant et gentil
En témoing de may et d’avril
Qui l’accompaignent soir et main.

Esté revet champs, bois et fleurs
De sa livrée de verdure
Et de maintes autres couleurs
Par l’ordonnance de Nature.

Mais vous, Yver, trop estes plein
De nège, vent, pluye et grézil.
On vous deust banir en éxil.
Sans point flater je parle plein,
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain.

From <http://www1.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Yver,_vous_n%27estes_qu%27un_villain_%28Claude_Debussy%29&gt;

After the opening declaration, full of misery and despair at the hardships of winter, the first two stanzas go into the contrasting joys and pleasures of summer and spring, pleasant, mild, the woods and flowers in bloom, greenery everywhere, and Nature showing off its abundant beauties. Such a prospect must have seemed distant indeed in a world with no photos, movies, internet, or cheap flights to sunnier climates. If you were a nobleman, like Charles, you hunkered down in your castle, with fires blazing in the enormous chimneys; you ate the food stored away at harvest time and hoped it would last until spring; and you were wrapped in furs 24 hours a day. If you were a peasant, you shivered in your hovel, hoping some Good King Wenceslas would come out and give you some food and firewood.

The third and final stanza brings us back to this reality – the snow, wind, rain and hail which made up the daily misery of the winter months. The poem concludes – Winter, you are but a knave.

See also the anonymous Irish poem, “I bring you news”, posted here on February 12th 2015 for another take on this subject, not so different.

So switch up your thermostat, or jump on a plane to Spain or the Caribbean and be glad you live in modern times.

The Poetry Dude

Recap of first 150 poems on this blog

Today, this blog reaches another milestone – 150 poems posted in 150 days, so I am sticking to the challenge I set myself. The main fun I am getting out of this is to rediscover poems and poets that I used to know well, but have neglected. There is enough raw material in that category that I don’t have to try and discover new poets or poems. That would be fun also, but I have chosen to go the direction of revisiting what I know I like, and getting pleasure and surprise from those poems.

So as in the previous recaps, after 50 poems and after 100 poems, I will try to summarise the poets and poems that I have featured, and which appear to be most popular with the readers of this blog. Here goes…
After 150 poems posted, here are the top 10 in terms of the number of times they had been viewed. By all the visitors to this blog:

1. Clement Marot – “A Une Damoyselle Malade“, from 16th century France (blog post Oct 12, 2014)
2. Siegfried Sassoon – “The General“, from 20th century England (blog post Oct 5, 2014)
3. TS Eliot – “Hysteria“, from 20th century England (blog post Nov 19, 2014)
4. Paul Verlaine- “Mon rêve familier“, from 19th century France (blog post Dec 2, 2014)
5. Christina Rossetti- ” Song“, from 19th century England (blog post Jan 6, 2015)
6. Francis Jammes – “J’aime dans les temps Clara d’Ellébeuse” from 19th century France (blog post Dec 18, 2014)
7. Pierre de Ronsard – “Bel aubépin“, from 16th century France (blog post Dec 5, 2014)
8. Rosalia de Castro – ” Del rumor cadencioso de la onda“, from 19th century Spain (blog post Dec 7, 2014)
9. WB Yeats – “An Irish airman foresees his death“, from 20th century Ireland (blog post Nov 27, 2014)
10. Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant – “La Pipe“, from 17th century France (blog post Jan 21, 2015)
 

To get to 150 poems, I have so far chosen from the works of 44 named poets, plus some anonymous medieval ballads from Spain and Ireland. Of the 44, 18 wrote in English, 13 in French and 13 in Spanish . ( I include Galician and Catalan verse in the Spanish category)

In terms of the number of poems in each language, English poems come top, with 53, then 50 in Spanish and 47 in French.
In terms of when these poems were written, here is the distribution by century:

9th: 1 poet, 1 poem
15th – 3 poets, 11 poems
16th – 9 poets, 32 poems
17th – 5 poets, 20 poems
18th -1 poet, 2 poems
19th – 8 poets, 28 poems
20th – 18 poets, 56 poems

And once again I have compiled the top 10 poets, in terms of the numbers of views for all their poems combined, posted so far. Here it is, and it represents a slight reshuffle compared to the first 100, but no dramatic changes:

1. Clement Marot
2. Pierre de Ronsard
3. TS Eliot
4. Antonio Machado
5. Siegfried Sassoon
6. Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant
7. Luis de Gongora
8. WB Yeats
9. Rosalia de Castro
10. Francisco de Quevedo

Although I would have liked all 46 poets to get into the top 10, I realise that might be a bit unreasonable. I can console myself with the fact that they must all be in the top 50. I find it slightly surprising that neither Shakespeare nor Baudelaire made it into the top 10 – surely these are the elite of poets in any selection, perhaps it is because people think they are already too familiar with their work. Well, maybe, but I am finding that there is a lot of pleasure and discovery in revisiting familiar works. Try it…

As always, please feel free to send me any comments or suggestions to poetrytreasures@gmail.com, or, of course, you can post comments directly on the site.

 
The Poetry Dude

My Love is of a birth as rare

The title of this poem from seventeenth century English poet Andrew Marvell promises The Definition of Love – not a definition of love but the real thing, the definitive answer. Who would not rush to read this and find out the solutions to one of life’s eternal conundrums? Well, we don’t quite get that lofty ambition fulfilled, but we do get a very good poem in which the forces of attraction are stymied by the forces of separation, or as Marvell frames it, Love versus Fate. Can love win out? Read on…

The Definition Of Love

 
My Love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis for object strange and high:
It was begotten by despair
Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone.
Could show me so divine a thing,
Where feeble Hope could ne’r have flown
But vainly flapt its Tinsel Wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended Soul is fixt,
But Fate does Iron wedges drive,
And alwaies crouds it self betwixt.

For Fate with jealous Eye does see.
Two perfect Loves; nor lets them close:
Their union would her ruine be,
And her Tyrannick pow’r depose.

And therefore her Decrees of Steel
Us as the distant Poles have plac’d,
(Though Loves whole World on us doth wheel)
Not by themselves to be embrac’d.

Unless the giddy Heaven fall,
And Earth some new Convulsion tear;
And, us to joyn, the World should all
Be cramp’d into a Planisphere.

As Lines so Loves Oblique may well
Themselves in every Angle greet:
But ours so truly Paralel,
Though infinite can never meet.

Therefore the Love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debarrs,
Is the Conjunction of the Mind,
And Opposition of the Stars.

 
Andrew Marvell

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-definition-of-love/&gt;

The poet sets the bar high for a possible triumph of love in the very first stanza when he characterise s his love as “begotten by despair upon impossibility”. Unfortunately for all romantics, the poem continues, stanza after stanza, to talk up the strength of Fate and the feebleness of Hope and love. The two lovers are like parralel lines which can gaze across at each other but never meet. (A nice short geometry lesson can be read in the seventh stanza. And the random thought occurs to me, could the great 1970s album from Blondie, Parralel Lines, have a subtext of unrequited love?)

And so on to the conclusion, in the final stanza – Fate decrees the eternal separation of the lovers, therefore they can only be joined by the mind – an intellectual love, not a physical love. Contrast this with The sensuousness of Marvell’s “To his coy mistress”, posted here on October 7th, 2014, and you can see a great contrast in the poet’s treatment of love.

The Poetry Dude