Friday, February 06, 2015

`The Aesthetic Pretensions Are a Lie'

Are such things still published? I mean C.H. Sisson’s Nine Sonnets, a pamphlet not much thicker than a bookmark, printed by The Greville Press of Emscote Lawn, Warwick, in 1991. The book is a pleasure to hold and admire. There is a crisp, un-fussy neatness about the typeface and design that echoes the poems in inside and their author. Sisson has no patience with dead words or bonhomie. Here is Sonnet 2: 

“Why should one write poems when one is old?
Not, to be sure, in hope of reputation
Which has either come, or else will escape one.
In hope of love perhaps? But what is told
Now, will not strengthen anybody’s hold
On me or mine on them: the time of truth has come,
And yet I lie as I have always done
And leave myself and others unappalled.
Poets are liars, yet no more than others,
Those who are not their sisters are their brothers,
All of the same lying family,
Children of Adam, fond of all evasions,
Blaming, beguiling on the least occasions
And to the last, and so it is with me.” 

No room here for sweet, mincing words, telling the reader what he wants to hear, flattering him with pre-digested, pre-approved sentiments. Sisson wants truth – “the time of truth has come” -- and is sufficiently grown up to know he probably won’t get it. Plato’s indictment: “Poets are liars.” The laughable, self-regarding presumption of poets who claim to speak “truth to power.” The London Review of Books keeps an archive of Sisson’s work for that publication. Of John Bayley on A.E. Housman, Sisson writes: 

“Many people – probably most – do not distinguish between the living word and the dead, just as an alarming number do not distinguish between pictures and buildings which are compellingly beautiful and those of which the aesthetic pretensions are a lie.”


marly youmans said...

You certainly present him here--poem and quote--as a man with a bent for summing up!

Subbuteo said...

And yet, Mr Kurp, you will, presumably concede that the commodity known as truth does exist and that a modicum of it is to be found in what you have written?

Miguel (St. Orberose) said...

I'm just amazed someone in 1991 still writo sonnets with meter and rhyme! I thought poets were too good for that now, with their fascination with lazy vers libre that doesn't demand precision, rigor, vocabulary, patience, order, structure.

Subbuteo said...

They are still written in 2015.Try this one:

One of my Pupils

In Memoriam Muhammed __________
(Died in Syria aged 20 2014)

Our city empty of you, absence your
sole parting gift. Familial fabric rent
and only threads left. In year eight I saw
a mischievous smile, downcast eyes, assent

to being loved. My son your peer. And now
a beauteous boy, Sunday Times pages show
your face. For distance was your choice, was how
you solved your need for definition. So,

explained a restlessness with our embrace.
At home, but embarrassed to deny
your history, you apologized and raced
to folly, though you didn’t say goodbye.

A naïf on the chessboard, no going back,
you accidently found yourself in black.

Miguel (St. Orberose) said...

Ah, thanks for sharing it with me!