Monday, September 26, 2011

`To Cheer & Check Fears'

A reader in Juba, South Sudan, suggests I might enjoy Edward Hirsch's The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems 1975-2010, in particular one of the new poems, “The Case Against Poetry”:

“While you made the case against poetry—
Plato’s critique of the irrational,
Homeric lying, deluded citizens—
to a group of poets in Prague

“night deepened in old windows,
swallows gathered on a narrow ledge
and called to the vanishing twilight,
and a beggar began to sing in the street.”

I’ve never bought the so-called case against poetry, Plato’s or anyone else’s, though I strongly endorse the case against badly written poetry (and prose), based as it is on a literary application of Gresham’s law. Hirsch’s understanding of poetry is a little too mushily Romantic for my taste – swallows, twilight, singing beggar – but at least he pits his poem against the positivists. Also, Hirsch wrote a piece about John Clare some years ago which I remembered being useful. A rereading partially confirmed my impression:

“Clare was a prodigious walker, a solitary who sought out the secret recesses of nature, a hidden, underappreciated, overlooked country, which he detailed with a sharp eye and a naturalist's sensibility. Accuracy was a scrupulous habit, a moral imperative.”
That’s a quality I expect of good poetry and prose – the scrupulous habit of accuracy, which is never contrary to a vigorous imagination. Fancy rooted in particulars is almost the definition of art – and a “moral imperative.” Richard Mabey devotes some of the best pages in Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants to Clare’s close observations of the natural world in his native Northamptonshire. Mabey praises Clare for writing about plants and animals as “things-in-themselves, not as a colourful palette of symbols and metaphors,” and his celebration of the poet sent me back to The Natural History Prose Writings of John Clare (ed. Margaret Grainger, Clarendon Press, 1983). Once you’ve accustomed yourself to Clare’s unschooled spelling and grammar, his prose can be photographically scrupulous without being dull or uninspired. In his journal for Sept. 10, 1824, Clare writes, like Hirsch, about swallows:
“My health woud permit me to do nothing more than take walks in the garden today what a sadly pleasing appearence gardens have at this season the tall gaudy holliock with its melancholy blooms stands bending to the wind and bidding the summer farewell while the low asters in their pied lustre of red white & blue bends beneath in pensive silence as tho they mused over the days gone by & were sorrowful the swallows are flocking together in the skies ready for departing & a crowd has dropt to rest on the wallnut tree where they twitter as if they were telling their young stories of their long journey to cheer & check fears”

[On Saturday I watched Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch again. As the bunch rides out of Angel’s village, his people sing the beautifulLa Golondrina – “The Swallow.” The song is reprised at the end of the film, after the massacre at Agua Verde, over Freddy Sykes’ laughter.]

1 comment:

Slobodan said...

*Thank you! So interesting, I can say. Also, THANK YOU SO MUCH especially for your words about "La Golondrina" -song of Narciso Serradell Sevilla! This Mexican song sometimes is titled as "Las Golondrinas", also is often thought of as "traditional"(!). Also, there are beautiful versions titled "Adios Amor". The English version is "She Wears My Ring", known by recordings of Elvis, Roy Orbison, etc...but also there exists the same song with different words and title ("I Wear His Ring"). LA GOLONDRINA is so beautiful song, I must say. I am collector of versions of this song w.wide /now more than 900 instrumentals & songs -and counting/, sure, I am searching for more... Best wishes and thank you once more!