Death of a Naturalist
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber 1999 (1966)
It’s fascinating to read this collection of nearly three dozen short poems, individually each a gem, collectively a story of childhood and young adulthood leading to marriage. It very much reminds me of an album of photographs, or even those selections of instrumental miniatures called Albumblätter or Feuilles d’Album.
What do we observe? Scenes of countryside activities from the author’s childhood in County Derry, glimpses of individual lives in Belfast, reminiscences of a honeymoon taken, a sojourn on the islands of Aran. Vignettes they may be but they’re vivid and intense, self-contained and demanding to be savoured.
I’ve met one or two of these before, for example Blackberry-picking, which inspired me to write ‘I Hunted Dragons Once’, but to encounter them in their entirety is a very different experience. Too many to comment here on each individually, it’s also hard to make a selection of favourites because each one has its own merits; but try I must.
The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam
translated by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah. Appendix: Edward Fitzgerald translation.
Penguin Books 1972 (1967)
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
— Fitzgerald, 11 (1859 edition)
The collection of quatrains, or rubaiyat, attributed to Omar Khayaam (‘Omar the tentmaker’) have been made famous by Edward Fitzgerald’s English version, published in the middle of the nineteenth century, so much so that his rendition is what English-speakers usually think of whenever Rubaiyyat is mentioned. But it has long had a controversial aspect as misrepresenting what the poet is supposed to have both written and indeed meant.
And there is more. Fitzgerald, who wasn’t a Persian scholar but largely taught himself, working from dictionaries to produce the work associated with him, wasn’t as assiduous in conveying the sense of the quatrains as he may have been, and mixed and matched texts as suited his tastes, even stitching together lines from different quatrains. And when he couldn’t understand a word or phrase, he liberally interpreted it.
In the middle of the twentieth century the poet Robert Graves and the Sufi Omar Ali-Shah (Graves had worked with his brother Idries Shah) produced this annotated text in English, claiming it to not only present the original more accurately to an English-speaking audience but also to restore the poet’s Sufic credentials. Have they been successful?
A trio of recent micropoems from sister blogZenrinji which you may have missed: an alphabetical, quizzical and musical triptych
Alpha et omigosh
Aetiologically, behind church dogma
exist fairytales, glossed historical
in Jewish knowledge: legends,
mythological now our periodic questing
reveals said tales unverified;
voices waxing xenial, yet zigzagging.
and a cat
entered a zoo, flew
through a maze. Exits
blocked, quick as a
Impromptu Inspired by a recital given by pianist Llyr Williams
The audience is audibly awaiting:
chattering, anticipating, alert.
Now obbligato applause, a white noise,
greets our soloist, striding then still,
biding by keyboard, lid glinting, spotlit.
A waltz by Chopin, a mazurka or two,
insinuate themselves into the silence.
Tinkles and ripples and staccato notes
stipple the auditorium airwaves.
Seconds pass, minutes; a barcarolle beckons us
for an aural tour right round Europe,
through France and Poland and then into Italy.
But now a crescendo glissando, fortissimo:
an impromptu motorbike adding its basso
to the soundscape again and again.
And again. Then diminuendo.
Now, as Greig’s trolls begin their march
a monotone idée fixe intrudes
its extruded ostinato from the street:
the persistent trill of burglar alarm riffing its repetitive roundelay.
Through the Norwegian notturno it rings
and on into rippling brooklet arpeggios
till suddenly conspicuous by absence.
Interval over, Fauré leads us back
to La Serenissima with a barcarolle.
His nocturne’s punctuated by a percussive bark,
subsiding, stifled, as cough-calming,
transcendental Liszt breathes un sospiro,
his sighs and harmonies du soir checking chair creak
and soft yet sonorous snores.
Tumultuous hail-like clatter greets our virtuoso.
He smiles, he acknowledges, he returns
and settles to our final reward:
Schubert’s G flat Impromptu.
You can hear a piano drop to pianissimo;
a few tear drops are shed, and shared.
More poems, micropoems, senryu, haiku, doggerel and flash fiction on Zenrinji
Le Guin’s fantasy fans will recognize these few lines from The Creation of Éa, Le Guin’s imagined mythology of Earthsea:
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life;
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.
Some of us know that Le Guin wrote poetry before she wrote fiction, but how many of us have read beyond the fragments in her novels? Today, poet and guest blogger Tanya Manning-Yarde tantalizes us with a taste Le Guin’s poetry.
Tanya Manning-Yarde, PhD, is a poet and freelance writer from New York City. A graduate of Rutgers University and University at Albany, she recently worked as a copy editor and contributing writer for Bronze Magazine. She blogs at Tanya Manning-Yarde PhD (Instagram @every_watering_word_author) and is a freelance blogger for the annual Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, NJ.
Prior to pursuing a career as a writer, she was a high school English/Language Arts teacher, Assistant Professor, Instructional Coach, and an educational consultant. Her poems have been published at Literary Mama, Memoryhouse and Random Sample Review. Her first poetry collection, Every Watering Word, was published in 2017 (Wasteland Press).
Ursula K Le Guin’s Finding my Elegy: New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) is a compelling constellation of poems. Spanning fifty years, this collection chronicles selected early writings to contemporary pieces previously unpublished. Although well known for her science fiction writing, Le Guin was also a prolific poet, demonstrating versatility in verse and dexterity in the topics she pondered. This compilation illustrates Le Guin’s agility; her poetry is unfettered, unobligated, reliant neither on topical boundaries nor compliant with poetic structural apparatuses.
I’m not a poetry kind of guy. I don’t curl up with a book of verses to lose myself, or quote passages to fellow aficionados. Poetry I find over-stimulating in a way that’s different from prose. For me the discipline is like solving cryptic crosswords or puzzling out brain teasers: it requires effort from what seems a specific part of the brain and, to be honest, I’m quite lazy.
Not that I’m poetically bankrupt. I appreciate a good turn of phrase, a mind-blowing metaphor, a piquant simile or log-jams of alliteration. I use them — you may have noticed — all the time in posts. It’s just that to put all that into a bag marked Poetry is somehow … just not my bag. It may be to do with it seeming pretentious. Or possibly trite. It could be that I’m put off with all the white space around carefully formatted stanzas. And certainly volumes of verse epics strike me as expeditionary excursions to be avoided.
Thus I’m embarrassed to say that I find myself to be conflicted, even compromised. Because, my dear readers, I write poetry.
Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Every age must feel, at some time, that sense that the days are not only dark and dreary but that they will stretch on for ever. So it must seem in much of the world as 2017 draws to a close, seasonal warmth and cheer notwithstanding. Longfellow in ‘The Rainy Day’ tried to lighten the sad heart by telling us that the sun still shines behind the clouds but it’s hard to summon any optimism in these days of depressing rolling news and indignant instant media.
Emily Brontë’s ‘To Imagination’ has pre-echoes of some of our own despair — “so hopeless is the world without” with its “guile, and hate, and doubt, and cold suspicion” — but holds within it seeds to lighten the heart a little more than the promise of future sunnier weather: seeds of friendship and imagination:
Lines ‘ciphered from a torn & tattered Script found in an ancient Book of Holy Writ; when thou hast o’ercome th’Initial Dread, shalt find a timely Ode writ large instead
After thou hast prepared the charmed circle as heretofore describ’d, recite these words with an almighty voice, never wavering.
HAIL, thou that from this Husk’s late gone,
Acknowledge that I adjure thee to come:
Let no harm come to me nor Wight nor any
Living Creature; thus I bind thee fast, to
Own all Service to me, & Obedience,
Who dost bid thee ne’er part from me
Expressly; without Fraud, Dissimulation or Deceit
Enter into Pact to do whate’er desired
Now & evermore, till discharged be!
Now you may’ve heard of ‘poetry slams’ (confession: I’ve never been to one) so you may quibble at this post’s title: some mistake, surely?
But no, ‘poetry spam’ is what I meant. If you google Spam Lit or Spoetry or Found Literature you’ll get the gist — poems made from the nonsense titles or text in spams — or even the reverse, spam email text based on poetry.
I’m one of those sad people who trawl through my WordPress spam messages — to check if any genuine messages and comments have been mistakenly filtered out, you understand — and you may be one of those types too. Akismet (who despite the odd glitch efficiently sort out the gratuitous from the genuine) has recently netted five of these for me. (This is about average for every week or so, though it sometimes easily rises to double figures.) And while the spam comments didn’t fool me I found them strangely fascinating, with an enigmatic quality.
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.