Sunday, February 11, 2018

`The Moon was a Ghostly Galleon'

Just the other day, while walking the dog and apropos of nothing, I found myself singing/chanting this:

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.  
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.”

The most convincing argument in favor of verse that follows the pulse of regular rhythm and the soul-satisfying ring of rhyme is sheer memorability. Our heads are filled with poems and songs because of their music. You can’t sing Charles Olson and no sane person has tried to memorize his poems. I make no grand critical claims for the lines above, but I’m glad to have them cued up in my mental jukebox. Why did they start playing the other day? No wind was blowing. The sun shone and the moon hadn’t risen. I suspect it was cadence, the words called up by syncing my gait to the dog’s, whose full name, Luke the Drifter, is an hommage to the poet Hank Williams. The poem is Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman.”

We all need teachers, regardless of our age or theirs. Among the most reliable is Boris Dralyuk, who is half my age. Boris has just translated “Smugglers” by Eduard Bagritsky (1895-1934). Boris writes of his fellow Odessan’s ballad-like song: “I’ve carried the poem in my head for decades, repeating its refrain over and over again.  In my translation, I drew on the spirit of English chanteys and ballads, and found special inspiration in John Masefield’s `Sea Fever.’” I hear that tradition and another: the great English adventure stories – Stevenson, Henty, Haggard, Kipling. I hear echoes of Masefield’s “A Wanderer’s Song” and Tennyson’s “Break, Break, Break.” Like “The Highwayman,” these are heroic, declamatory poems that invite performance as much as solitary consumption. That’s a tradition long discredited by critics, poets and readers, and the loss is ours. Read this and try not wanting to read more:

“The wind blew out from Bergen from the dawning to the day,
There was a wreck of trees and fall of towers a score of miles away,
And drifted like a livid leaf I go before its tide,
Spewed out of house and stable, beggared of flag and bride.”  

1 comment:

Brian said...

" ...nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round." - Aubade, Philip Larkin

Repetition, rhyme, assonance, alliteration, consonance, strong dactyls and spondees spiking the iambic and piping a song we may joy to hear, and joy to say. Could a whole poem keep up such symphonic instensity? Yup.

Why would there be such widespread love for the “dark” poetry of Philip Larkin? Read my lips, stupid.

I have a small few poems I have worked to memorize. They have rewarded me beyond measure over the years: sonnets by Shakespeare, Keats, and Donne; Hopkins' Windhover and Margaret; Wordsworth's Ode; Chaucer's prologue; several by Blake, Frost, and Larkin. Also, a host of fragments that visit regularly. It is no bragging to say I have the world's worst memory, but these poems have insinuated themselves.

It is among the worst nonsense to slag teachers for besmirching poetry by dragging it through the classroom. A teacher is a preacher and the gospel of poetry needs to be proclaimed. To borrow the Larkin syntax, any country that spends less time teaching poetry than science isn't worth living in.