Three Poems by John Milton

Three Poems by John Milton,  okay it is four, again.  I could not resist the last one.

 

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  His state
Is kingly;  thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

 

On His Dead Wife   (following the death of his wife after childbirth)

Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Who Jove’s great Son to her glad Husband gave,
Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom washt from spot of childbed taint
Purification in the old Law did save,
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in heav’n without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind.
Her face was veil’d, yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shined
So clear as in no face with more delight.
But O as to embrace me she enclined,
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.

 

Sonnet to the Nightingale
O nightingale that on yon blooming spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hopes the lover’s heart dost fill,
While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of day,
First heard before the shallow cuckoo’s bill,
Portend success in love. O if Jove’s will
Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
Foretell my hopeless doom, in some grove nigh;
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet had’st no reason why.
Whether the muse or love call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I.

 

On The University Carrier Who Sickn’d In The Time Of His Vacancy, Being Forbid To Go To London, By Reason Of The Plague
Here lies old Hobson, Death hath broke his girt,
And here alas, hath laid him in the dirt,
Or els the ways being foul, twenty to one,
He’s here stuck in a slough, and overthrown.
‘Twas such a shifter, that if truth were known,
Death was half glad when he had got him down;
For he had any time this ten yeers full,
Dodg’d with him, betwixt Cambridge and the Bull.
And surely, Death could never have prevail’d,
Had not his weekly cours of carriage fail’d;
But lately finding him so long at home,
And thinking now his journeys end was come,
And that he had tane up his latest Inne,
In the kind office of a Chamberlin
Shew’d him his room where he must lodge that night,
Pull’d off his Boots, and took away the light:
If any ask for him, it shall be sed,
Hobson has supt, and ‘s newly gon to bed.

 

I could not resist this last, the demise of Hobson.  Do I spot humour and simple ‘fondness’ for a character?  Anyway, I used to know Slough ( a town threatened by Betjeman’s ‘bombs’ but then recanted) and understand how he might have felt…..but then so did Milton, though it was a few miles away.  Actually it is doubtful if ‘Slough’ existed in his day and a few miles could seem a long way!   And of course, I deliberately misinterpret Milton’s slough for the town…. apologies to Slough.
slough: definition: ‘A place of deep mud or mire’; ‘a state of dejection’: as noted by Longman Concise English Dictionary :

slough (Saxon word): ‘A deep miry place;  a hole full of dirt’: as defined by Dr Samuel Johnson’s first edition: A Dictionary of the English Language

Some places near Slough:   Eton (College), Windsor (Castle), Dorney Wick and Upton (both ‘Royal’ or connected residences in historic times). Stoke Poges(re Gray’s Elegy)

Odd facts:  William Herschel built wooden astronomical telescopes in his garden in Slough.  I read somewhere that much of his significant data was collected and minutely recorded by his sister so she should be accorded a similar respect.   (Perhaps, in the astronomical world, she is, I do hope so).   He/they should be more highly and widely regarded: for further information see the link: William Herschel or Contact Slough Museum.
What is left of ‘Montem mound’ was once used as a place for Eton College boys to beg (but only one day a year, apparently) from travellers along the A4 (Main London to Bristol road for millennia), which is also not many yards from the site of a highway-man’s operating area.  Or at least where he was hanged for said robberies of people and horse and coaches…. Ledger was his name.    Also:        Charles Dickens rented a cottage for Nelly Ternan in Slough High Street for a few years.     I have read these facts but have failed to give bibliographic detail, for which I apologise.

I diverge:

See other Milton Poems on sites in Useful links, or books:  Longman Annotated English Poets, Oxford Book of English Verse, etc etc.

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Bloomfield and Thompson; extracts of each: Spring

The connections between these two excerpts, below:
The Seasons: Spring (James Thomson)      and                                                                          The Farmer’s Boy: Spring (Robert Bloomfield)

Both poets were admired by John Clare.  Clare said that once discovered, as a young man, he always liked to have a copy of James Thomson’s: The Seasons with him whilst out in the fields working (labouring) or when he was just walking and/or watching the nature of life around him. He certainly admired Robert Bloomfield’s poetry, especially as he was from similar poor stock (though Bloomfield had certain advantages and manner that helped his luck and his poetry). Like Clare he was a ‘Pastoral Poet’.  Bloomfield’s publication of The Farmers Boy was successful from the start and sold some 23,000 copies, unlike Clares first work that only sold a couple of thousand.  I have no idea of the length or quantity of James Thomson’s success with his ‘The Seasons’ but I have a pocket-sized copy of ‘The Seasons and Castle of Indolence’ printed in 1825.  He seems to have been a popular playwright as well as poet and moved to London in 1724, where he died of a fever in 1748.
Both poems were written in the Eighteenth Century, on the countryside, the Seasons, before Enclosures started.
Closeness to John Clare’s interest is why I picked on these two pieces but each ‘Spring’ is only a short extract and the other Seasons are waiting in the wings for you to look at.  Many sites have them, especially Gutenberg project .  There is also an interesting little website for the Robert Bloomfield Society  which has assorted links.  Reading about Bloomfield is informative for  his poetry but with my bias it shows that his mountain to climb was a little easier than Clare’s.  It also makes me aware that Bloomfield should be included in the hierarchy of poetry and not forgotten and that Clare is still gaining recognition he deserves.      link to:  John Clare Society             also, see Useful links tag

The Farmer’s Boy: Spring.              Robert Bloomfield 1766-1850
(first 932 words)
O come, blest Spirit! whatsoe’er thou art,
Thou rushing warmth that hover’st round my heart,
Sweet inmate, hail! thou source of sterling joy,
That poverty itself cannot destroy,
Be thou my Muse; and faithful still to me,
Retrace the paths of wild obscurity.
No deeds of arms my humble lines rehearse,
No Alpine wonders thunder through my verse,
The roaring cataract, the snow-topt hill,
Inspiring awe, till breath itself stands still:
Nature’s sublimer scenes ne’er charm’d mine eyes,
Nor Science led me through the boundless skies;
From meaner objects far my raptures flow:
O point these raptures! bid my bosom glow!
And lead my soul to ecstasies of praise
For all the blessings of my infant days!
Bear me through regions where gay Fancy dwells;
But mould to Truth’s fair form what Memory tells.

Live, trifling incidents, and grace my song,
That to the humblest menial belong:
To him whose drudgery unheeded goes,
His joys unreckon’d as his cares or woes;
Though joys and cares in every path are sown,
And youthful minds have feelings of their own,
Quick springing sorrows, transient as the dew,
Delights from trifles, trifles ever, new.
‘Twas thus with Giles: meek, fatherless, and poor:
Labour his portion, but he felt no more;
No stripes, no tyranny his steps pursu’d;
His life was constant, cheerful, servitude:
Strange to the world, he wore a bashful look,
The fields his study, Nature was his book;
And, as revolving seasons chang’d the scene
From heat to cold, tempestuous to serene,
Though every change still varied his employ,
Yet each new duty brought its share of joy.

Where noble Grafton spreads his rich domains,
Round Euston’s water’d vale, and sloping plains,
Where woods and groves in solemn grandeur rise,
Where the kite brooding unmolested flies;
The woodcock and the painted pheasant race,
And sculking foxes, destin’d for the chace;
There Giles, untaught and unrepining, stray’d
Thro’ every copse, and grove, and winding glade;
There his first thoughts to Nature’s charms inclin’d,
That stamps devotion on th’ inquiring mind.
A little farm his generous Master till’d,
Who with peculiar grace his station fill’d;
By deeds of hospitality endear’d,
Serv’d from affection, for his worth rever’d;
A happy offspring blest his plenteous board,
His fields were fruitful, and his harm well stor’d,
And fourscore ewes he fed, a sturdy team,
And lowing kine that grazed beside the stream:
Unceasing industry he kept in view;
And never lack’d a job for Giles to do.

Fled now the sullen murmurs of the North,
The splendid raiment of the Spring peeps forth;
Her universal green, and the clear sky,
Delight still more and more the gazing eye.
Wide o’er the fields, in rising moisture strong,
Shoots up the simple flower, or creeps along
The mellow’d soil; imbibing fairer hues
Or sweets from frequent showers and evening dews;
That summon from its shed the slumb’ring ploughs,
While health impregnates every breeze that blows.
No wheels support the diving pointed share;
No groaning ox is doom’d to labour there;
No helpmates teach the docile steed his road;
(Alike unknown the plow-boy and the goad
But, unassisted through each toilsome day,
With smiling brow the plowman cleaves his way,
Draws his fresh parallels, and wid’ning still,
Treads slow the heavy dale, or climbs the hill:
Strong on the wing his busy followers play,
Where writhing earth-worms meet th’ unwelcome day;
Till all is chang’d, and hill and level down
Assume a livery of sober brown:
Again disturb’d, when Giles with wearying strides
From ridge to ridge the ponderous harrow guides;
His heels deep sinking every step he goes,
Till dirt usurp the empire of his shoes.
Welcome green headland! firm beneath his feet;
Welcome the friendly bank’s refreshing seat;
There, warm with toil, his panting horses browse
Their shelt’ring canopy of pendent boughs;
Till rest, delicious, chase each transient pain,
And new-born vigour swell in every vein.
Hour after hour, and day to day succeeds;
Till every clod and deep-drawn furrow spreads
To crumbling mould; a level surface clear,
And strew’d with corn to crown the rising year;
And o’er the whole Giles once transverse again,
In earth’s moist bosom buries up the grain.
The work is done; no more to man is given;
The grateful farmer trusts the rest to Heaven.
Yet oft with anxious heart he looks around,
And marks the first green blade that breaks the ground;

In fancy sees his trembling oats uprun,
His tufted barley yellow with the sun;
Sees clouds propitious shed their timely store,
And all his harvest gather’d round his door.
But still unsafe the big swoln grain below,
A fav’rite morsel with the Rook and Crow;
From field to field the flock increasing goes;
To level crops most formidable foes:
Their danger well the wary plunderers know,
And place a watch on some conspicuous bough;
Yet oft the sculking gunner by surprise
Will scatter death amongst them as they rise.
These, hung in triumph round the spacious field,
At best will but a short-lived terror yield:
Nor guards of property; (not penal law,
But harmless riflemen of rags and straw);
Familiariz’d to these, they boldly rove,
Nor heed such centinels that never move.
Let then your birds lie prostrate on the earth,
In dying posture, and with wings stretch’d forth;
Shift them at eve or morn from place to place,
And death shall terrify the pilfering race;
In the mid air, while circling round and round,
They call their lifeless comrades from the ground;
With quick’ning wing, and notes of loud alarm,
Warn the whole flock to shun the’ impending harm.

The Four Seasons : Spring.              James Thomson 1700-1748
(First 858words)

Come, gentle Spring! ethereal Mildness! come,
And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud,
While music wakes around, veil’d in a shower
Of shadowing roses, on our plains descend.
O Hertford, fitted or to shine in courts
With unaffected grace, or walk the plain
With innocence and meditation join’d
In soft assemblage, listen to my song,
Which thy own Season paints; when Nature all
Is blooming and benevolent, like thee.
And see where surly Winter passes off,
Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts:
His blasts obey, and quit the howling hill,
The shatter’d forest, and the ravaged vale;
While softer gales succeed, at whose kind touch,
Dissolving snows in livid torrents lost,
The mountains lift their green heads to the sky.
As yet the trembling year is unconfirm’d,
And Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
Chills the pale morn, and bids his driving sleets
Deform the day delightless: so that scarce
The bittern knows his time, with bill ingulf’d,
To shake the sounding marsh; or from the shore
The plovers when to scatter o’er the heath,
And sing their wild notes to the listening waste
At last from Aries rolls the bounteous sun,
And the bright Bull receives him. Then no more
The expansive atmosphere is cramp’d with cold
But, full of life and vivifying soul,
Lifts the light clouds sublime, and spreads then thin,
Fleecy, and white, o’er all-surrounding heaven.
Forth fly the tepid airs: and unconfined,
Unbinding earth, the moving softness strays.
Joyous, the impatient husbandman perceives
Relenting Nature, and his lusty steers
Drives from their stalls, to where the well used plough
Lies in the furrow, loosen’d from the frost.
There, unrefusing, to the harness’d yoke
They lend their shoulder, and begin their toil,
Cheer’d by the simple song and soaring lark.
Meanwhile incumbent o’er the shining share
The master leans, removes the obstructing clay,
Winds the whole work, and sidelong lays the glebe
While through the neighbouring fields the sowe stalks,
With measured step, and liberal throws the grain
Into the faithful bosom of the ground;
The harrow follows harsh, and shuts the scene.
Be gracious, Heaven! for now laborious Man
Has done his part. Ye fostering breezes, blow!
Ye softening dews, ye tender showers, descend!
And temper all, thou world-reviving sun,
Into the perfect year! Nor ye who live
In luxury and ease, in pomp and pride,
Think these lost themes unworthy of your ear:
Such themes as these the rural Maro sung
To wide-imperial Rome, in the full height
Of elegance and taste, by Greece refined.
In ancient times the sacred plough employ’d
The kings and awful fathers of mankind:
And some, with whom compared your insect-tribes
Are but the beings of a summer’s day,
Have held the scale of empire, ruled the storm
Of mighty war; then, with unwearied hand,
Disdaining little delicacies, seized
The plough, and greatly independent lived.
Ye generous Britons, venerate the plough!
And o’er your hills, and long withdrawing vales,
Let Autumn spread his treasures to the sun,
Luxuriant and unbounded: as the sea,
Far through his azure turbulent domain,
Your empire owns, and from a thousand shores
Wafts all the pomp of life into your ports;
So with superior boon may your rich soil,
Exuberant, Nature’s better blessings pour
O’er every land, the naked nations clothe,
And be the exhaustless granary of a world!
Nor only through the lenient air this change,
Delicious, breathes; the penetrative sun,
His force deep-darting to the dark retreat
Of vegetation, sets the steaming Power
At large, to wander o’er the verdant earth,
In various hues; but chiefly thee, gay green!
Thou smiling Nature’s universal robe!
United light and shade! where the sight dwells
With growing strength, and ever-new delight.
From the moist meadow to the wither’d hill,
Led by the breeze, the vivid verdure runs,
And swells, and deepens, to the cherish’d eye.
The hawthorn whitens; and the juicy groves
Put forth their buds, unfolding by degrees,
Till the whole leafy forest stands display’d,
In full luxuriance to the sighing gales;
Where the deer rustle through the twining brake,
And the birds sing conceal’d. At once array’d
In all the colours of the flushing year,
By Nature’s swift and secret working hand,
The garden glows, and fills the liberal air
With lavish fragrance; while the promised fruit
Lies yet a little embryo, unperceived,
Within its crimson folds. Now from the town
Buried in smoke, and sleep, and noisome damps,
Oft let me wander o’er the dewy fields,
Where freshness breathes, and dash the trembling drops
From the bent bush, as through the verdant maze
Of sweetbriar hedges I pursue my walk;
Or taste the smell of dairy; or ascend
Some eminence, Augusta, in thy plains,
And see the country, far diffused around,
One boundless blush, one white-empurpled shower
Of mingled blossoms; where the raptured eye
Hurries from joy to joy, and, hid beneath
The fair profusion, yellow Autumn spies.
If, brush’d from Russian wilds, a cutting gale
Rise not, and scatter from his humid wings
The clammy mildew; or, dry-blowing, breathe
Untimely frost; before whose baleful blast
The full-blown Spring through all her foliage shrinks,
From an 1825 pocket edition of Thomson’s: The Seasons and Castle of Indolence

Robert Bloomfield, Three Poems and a fourth…..

Robert Bloomfield  is mainly recognised for the success and quality of  The Farmers Boy,    a substantial poem depicting the life through the seasons of a farm labourer.  He was born in Honington, Suffolk, 1766.  His father died of smallpox when Robert was one year old.  His mother was a school mistress and he had other siblings.   He moved to London as an apprentice cobbler,to a brother. During this period he was encouraged to get his poetry published.  It became reasonably successful.  After some time the London shoe business failed and he was helped to get a rented house in Shefford, Bedfordshire, where he lived until his death in 1823.

see also: Useful links Tag

bloomfield grave crop
Robert Bloomfield stone central; Thomas Inskip grave on right, leaning slightly. wordparc photo

Love Of The Country
Welcome silence! welcome peace!
O most welcome, holy shade!
Thus I prove as years increase,
My heart and soul for quiet made.
Thus I fix my firm belief
While rapture’s gushing tears descend;
That every flower and every leaf
Is moral Truth’s unerring friend.

I would not for a world of gold
That Nature’s lovely face should tire;
Fountain of blessings yet untold;
Pure source of intellectual fire!
Fancy’s fair buds, the germs of song,
Unquicken’d midst the world’s rude strife,
Shall sweet retirement render strong,
And morning silence bring to life.

Then tell me not that I shall grow
Forlorn, that fields and woods will cloy;
From Nature and her changes flow
An everlasting tide of joy.
I grant that summer heats will burn,
That keen will come the frosty night;
But both shall please: and each in turn
Yield Reason’s most supreme delight.

Build me a shrine, and I could kneel
To Rural Gods, or prostrate fall;
Did I not see, did I not feel,
That one Great Spirit governs all.
O heav’n permit that I may lie
Where o’er my corse green branches ware;
And those who from life’s tumult fly
With kindred feelings press my grave.

 

Lucy
Thy favourite Bird is soaring still:
My Lucy, haste thee o’er the dale;
The Stream’s let loose, and from the Mill
All silent comes the balmy gale;
Yet, so lightly on its way,
Seems to whisper ‘Holiday.’

The pathway flowers that bending meet
And give the Meads their yellow hue,
The May-bush and the Meadow-sweet
Reserve their fragrance all for you.
Why then, Lucy, why delay?
Let us share the Holiday.

Since there thy smiles, my charming Maid,
Are with unfeigned rapture seen,
To Beauty be the homage paid;
Come, claim the triumph of the Green.
Here’s my hand, come, come away;
Share the merry Holiday.

A promise too my Lucy made,
(And shall my heart its claim resign?)
That ere May-flowers again should fade,
Her heart and hand should both be mine.
Hark ‘ye, Lucy, this is May;
Love shall crown our Holiday.

 

To His Wife (1804)

shefford building
An original building almost opposite Bloomfield’s house. photo by wordparc.

I rise, dear Mary, from the soundest rest,
A wandering, way-worn, musing, singing guest.
I claim the privilege of hill and plain;
Mine are the woods, and all that they contain;
The unpolluted gale, which sweeps the glade;
All the cool blessings of the solemn shade;
Health, and the flow of happiness sincere;
Yet there’s one wish,—I wish that thou wert here;
Free from the trammels of domestic care,
With me these dear autumnal sweets to share;
To share my heart’s ungovernable joy;
And keep the birth-day of our poor lame boy.
Ah! that’s a tender string! Yet since I find
That scenes like these, can soothe the harass’d mind,
jaded spirits free,
To wander thus through vales and woods with me.
Thou know’st how much I love to steal away
From noise, from uproar, and the blaze of day;
With double transport would my heart rebound
To lead thee, where the clustering nuts are found;
No toilsome efforts would our task demand,
For the brown treasure stoops to meet the hand.
Round the tall hazel, beds of moss appear
In green-swards nibbled by the forest deer,
Sun, and alternate shade; while o’er our heads
The cawing rook his glossy pinions spreads;
The noisy jay, his wild-woods dashing through;
The ring-dove’s chorus, and the rustling bough;
The far resounding gate; the kite’s shrill scream;
The distant ploughman’s halloo to his team.
This is the chorus to my soul so dear;
It would delight thee too, wert thou but here:
For we might talk of home, and muse o’er days
Of sad distress, and Heaven’s mysterious ways;
Our chequer’d fortunes, with a smile retrace,
And build new hopes upon our infant race;
Pour our thanksgivings forth, and weep the while;
Or pray for blessings on our native isle.
But vain the wish!—Mary, thy sighs forbear,
Nor grudge the pleasure which thou canst not share;
Make home delightful, kindly wish for me,
And I’ll leave hills, and dales, and woods for thee.

(Whittlebury Forest, Sept. 16, 1804.)

 

A Word To Two Young Ladies

WHEN tender Rose-trees first receive
On half-expanded Leaves, the Shower;
Hope’s gayest pictures we believe,
And anxious watch each coining flower.

Then, if beneath the genial Sun
That spreads abroad the full-blown May,
Two infant Stems the rest out-run,
Their buds the first to meet the day,

With joy their op’ning tints we view,
While morning’s precious moments fly:
My pretty Maids, ’tis thus with you;
The fond admiring gazer, I.

Preserve, sweet Buds, where’er you be;
The richest gem that decks a Wife;
The charm of female modesty:
And let sweet Music give it life.

Still may the favouring Muse be found:
Still circumspect the paths ye tread:
Plant moral truths in Fancy’s ground;
And meet old Age without a dread.

Yet, ere that comes, while yet ye quaff
The cup of Health without a pain,
I’ll shake my grey hairs when you laugh,
And, when you sing, be young again.

Guy Butler: Stranger To Europe, Poems 1939 to 1949

Published by A.A. Balkema. Capetown       1952                  23 poems

Sth Afr image

Guy Butler 1918 – 2001

Another rummage for old poetry books, this time in a charity shop and I found this title tucked away, also a selection by John Pudney, maybe more of him later……..

This is a collection of early poems by Guy Butler, recalling a moment in 1939 when the recruitment troops went round the townships of South Africa for volunteers to the Second World War.  Ending with a poem entitled,  After Ten Years,  a contemplation of his homeland, South Africa, after his travels round the war-zones of Europe and a period in England.

I took to the Internet to find more information about him and his writing.  I found  few sites and they only gave basic details of birth, death, marriage and children’s names.  Plus brief bibliographic details of his poetry, plays  autobiographic works, and his positions in a South African University.  But, despite the quality of his poetry, nothing seems to be currently available unless tucked into anthologies. There was a collected volume published some years ago (1999), now o.p..  Maybe he was not prolific or did not persevere as a poet.

I did find two poems on the site of ‘Poetry Nation Review 9’  (1979) and that was it.  From the same pages, written by David Wright, is a quote from an unnamed friend of his:  “were I asked to name the first wholly South African poet writing in English, I would point to someone few readers of poetry outside South Africa are likely to have heard of: Guy Butler, born 1918, the first to stick it out at home.”

I have no idea of the solidity of these words, I only recognise Butler’s use of language as a young man of twenty in 1939 and his acute observation of scene and mood as he was shuttled round various European theatres of war, followed by four years in England.  His subjects are different perspectives of his life throughout that period.  By 1949 his voice is still clear narrative, full of his native country though time has given him an older voice made harder, maybe, by the sights seen and time lost from his homeland.  He deserves a place as a war poet for this collection alone and I have read that his later poetry often reflected his war years and the losses and difficulties that echoed from them.  I believe his love of South Africa, its lands and heritage, drew him back to his homeland.

His remaining in South Africa through the years of apartheid may well have restricted if not  stifled his work and recognition around the English speaking world.  However, he may have felt it more important to remain in the landscape he loved.  Certainly the poetry in this book gives us colours, views and perspectives that are South African and obviously different to a strictly UK writers world.

The first poem in the book, written when he was twenty-one establishes his stance at once:
Karoo Town, 1939

In a region of thunderstorm and drought,
Under an agate sky,
Where red sand whirl-winds wander through summer,
Or thunder grows intimate with the plain, and rain
Is a great experience like birth or wonder:
By the half-dry river
The village is strung like a bead of life on the rail,
Along whose thread at intervals each day
Cones of smoke move north and south, are blown
By the prevailing winds below the clouds
That redden the sundown and the dawn.

Here the market price of wool
Comes second only to the acts of God:
Here climate integrates the landsman with his soil
And life moves on to the dictates of the season
Sth Afr image

The recruiters arrive and 31 more lines show their effect on the small town and people, but finally the landscape is superior to all:

But cannot shake the rockstill shadows of the hills
Obeying remote instructions from the sun alone.

Karoo town 1939  sets the scene, the almost timelessness of the African scene of the day.  Even the village along the railway line and the way of life seem to fit within the overall scale and continuity of a natural, unhurried flow.

And then in brief lines, the call to arms, like a sudden bugle call disrupts the scene.  The second half of the poem changes tone, focusing on people, colonial war and control.  The words harder and lines sharper, imitating the shock of war and harsh reality it brings.
But the circle is closed with a movement back into the last two lines that despite the seeming man-made tumult, the land continues, implacably influenced by greater things in the Universe.  Little rhyming, natural rather than designed, a nice alliterative, effective line towards the end but the final word has for me a rhyme, a reverberation with five lines back which effectively closes the poem.  In turn it offers a little wider reflection.

A formative poem, setting the scene for what is a set of poems, a narrative over ten years. But be aware for the last poem, After Ten Years, as the man, the poet, the landscape, has changed.

The poems have a timeline of ten years; they always retain their direct image and story but later ones stretch through the emotional hardships and losses of the war and its effects. When finally back home, in   After Ten Years   he describes this new, city-view and bemoans the dramatic changes in the streets, as the city itself and for those living there.

Mostly, this poem moves to confirm the losses of contact with the soil, magnificence of Nature and God, by the world and especially himself.  Politics of the day is not mentioned but knowing a little of the period you feel that this last poem encompasses that distress in those cities, for all its inhabitants.
Finally he vows to put past encumbrances (effects of war; reasons for loss of faith) and look to the future with an open mind.
Poems picked out: Though the whole book gives a rolling perspective of aspects of life and the poet and should ideally be read at one sitting:
Common Dawn;   Mirage;   Air Raid Before Dawn;   Bitter Little Ballad,   and Farewell in a Formal Garden

Final comment: I am so pleased to have discovered this poet and will look for his collected works, just hope I can find one.  Guy Butler could join the ranks of war poets;  also a poet to be considered for an anthology of Writers in English around the World if he is not already included somewhere.

Check out  Useful links Tag.

Extract of Karoo Town, 1939 from copy of above book, acknowledgement to AA Balkema, Capetown 1952.

Useful links

I sometimes add links to blogs but realised it would also be  useful to have them plus others on a single page.   They will be added to when I get  a round tuit (as they say) and no doubt may fall off over time.  Most will have links to other sites.   This ought to be a page not a post but it is a start.  Also havent yet checked the links work.  (Oh the shame of amateurism versus enthusiasm).  Many offer similar items such as poetical form but always the one you want.  Usually have examples, which is useful

There are thousands of sites and here but a sample………

All UK based (as far as aware)  unless country noted e.g. USA

blackbox manifold               Current poems and poets, online mag.  Uni. Sheffield site.

enotes.com             USA              A site for students and teachers.  Can be useful as a quick double/check on people and terms.      For full service there is a subscription.

Friends of Dymock Poets       Covers an area of beautiful countryside which attracted poets to live and visit, specifically supporting:  Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Robert Frost, Wilfrid Gibson, Edward Thomas

Guardian Poetry page            Regular articles and reviews from this Guardian site.

Ivor Gurney Society               Composer and poet:  often considered a war poet (WW1) but he considered music and song as his priority.

John Clare Society                 John Clare possibly positioned himself as a ‘peasant poet’  for public consumption of the day.  Wrote a huge amount of poetry and natural history notes.   It is now possible to visit Clare’s Cottage in Helpston.

literacyadvisor                        Based in Scotland but a blog that is interesting for teachers, primary plus as information and links that could be useful to all at some time.

literature Wales                      Focused interest, I first looked for inf. on Alun Rees

National Poetry Day             Part of Forward Arts Foundation, see site for full range.

Poetry Book Society              Founded in 1953 by T.S. Eliot and friends

Poetry Foundation                USA:  Putting poetry into American culture.  Publish online poetry magazine.

Poem Hunter                          assumed USA        As it says; good way of finding poets and poems of all description.  Includes audio poems.

poetry pf home page              North London based.  Regular events  and listing of current poets and poems.

Robert Bloomfield Society      poet 1766-1823.  author of  The Farmer’s Boy

Shadow Poetry                         USA:  Another useful site, covering many styles of poetry with examples plus other resources.

The Victorian Web                  a superb site for literature and history et al of the Victorian period

War Poets Association       UK:   A good listing of names and work of War Poets plus relevant events and comments.  Not restricted to  era.   Seems a reasonably new site and likely to be another.  Pleased to see Vernon Scannell listed.

Algernon Charles Swinburne: Selections from Poetical Works

Selections from the Poetical Works
of
Algernon Charles Swinburne

Pub. Chatto & Windus, 3rd edition, 1889

swinnpic1837 -1909

Well, this is no review of the book, more brief comment on the poetry it contains, this particular book being 125 years old and o.p.

I have to admit to it being my first rush into his writings and as the collection is so old I almost hope there must be many other poems, short or long that create a better overall impression.

There is no named editor for the selection so maybe from the most popular of the day or Swinburne’s own choice, maybe his friend Theodore Watts.  From the work here you would assume that his favourite pastime was living on the coast and spending much time collating verbs, adverbs and adjectives that would slide gratefully into seemingly endless ABAB; blank versed and sea-soaked with a bit of limited descriptive nature thrown in, poetry.  I like Tennyson, Chaucer and Milton and rolling description etc. but I fear, for me, Swinburne has over-egged a rather samey pudding.  I must admit that I partially exaggerate (?) as the ballad formats do work but then I get overwhelmed by the existence of just so much.

Full marks for maintaining levels of rhythm and rhyme that would trip all but the best. However, a reader of today ( well, me) would be thankful for greater variation in subjects and formats and perhaps a little lightness of touch in a few poems.  Comments are based on this, limited, content.  I am aware that he was part of the pre-raphaelite movement and wrote large amounts over many years and covered/experimented with different poetical genres.  He was extremely successful in his early years of writing, having public acclaim and disapproval in equal measure for pushing the subjective boundaries of the day.   I get the impression that he liked long poems, alliteration, repetition and verbiage, death and the darker elements of love.  Large quantities of which seem to both over-egg and dissipate the basic themes or direction of most if his poems despite great skill with words that facilitated his rhyming.  Below are a couple of his shorter poems that benefit (in my eyes) from being more succinct.  His later poetry could be considered calmer but maybe missing the sheer exuberance (desperation?) of his Ballads and early work.

Scattered throughout his poetry are some fine lines and ideas but for me they are lost in excess.  I am not sure whether I can’t see the wood for the trees or I am trapped in a thicket and can’t escape!   Swinburne surely wrote for effect, maybe to shock, and was talented in that respect but from this selected collection his themes are limited.  If we knew the selector of the verses we might have a partial answer.  His earlier verses produced public outrage, this collection has nothing dated so no clue gained there.

Some 39 poems (including several chunky extracts from his epics) and I found few that stood out as memorable for me.  I liked the idea behind ‘The Sunbows‘ but got, well, disinterested, I suppose, by the time I got to the end.  My failure may be as a ‘modern’ reader who has spent too much time on more concise poems, but I am not wholly convinced by that thought.  I suppose I should find a recently selected collection rather than one that is one hundred and twenty five years old.  However I would read it in hope rather than expectation of finding much to savour.

I did quite like ‘A Forsaken Garden‘ and also ‘A Child’s Laughter‘ but they were a respite to the length of most others.  One or two ‘Cradle Songs‘ nearly got there but the stand-alone poem was ‘Iseult at Tintagel(from Tristram of Lyonesse) which I found very interesting in subject and handling though still suffering from Swinburne’s usual overflow. Maybe I have just forgotten how to read and appreciate Ballads and Epic poetry.

I have found some shorter Swinburne poems that I prefer.  He was fond of  ‘Rondel’, a form he took from the French and a sample is shown below. The few I have found I like more.  If you to look at his poetry more widely he did break ‘new ground’ in content for the period and suffered disapproval in many quarters for it.  Swinburne was part of the pre-raphaelite movement and maybe Christina Rosetti might be a stand-in for a muse (?) but skimming over his life offers only more questions and I don’t feel inclined to search out any serious biographies, sorry!  He has gained more respect again in recent years as his subjects suffer less criticism and appreciation of his metrical innovation has been noted, perhaps despite his facility for excess and using old, excessively coloured wrappers!  But this specific collection has not gained me as a friend or regular reader.  I will have to take the advice of others before I venture much further with Algernon Charles Swinburne.
The other side of my coin might be that I am just feeling too old to read many epics or ballads of epic length when there is a welter of other poetry in various formats out there, neglected or otherwise.
0What’s that?  Kid in a candy store?  Yes, I have dipped in this bag and found it not really to my liking so will have to try another dip.                                 See also Useful links Tag

 

A Forsaken Garden
In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee,
Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead.

The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
To the low last edge of the long lone land.
If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest’s hand?
So long have the grey bare walks lain guestless,
Through branches and briars if a man make way,
He shall find no life but the sea-wind’s, restless
Night and day.

The dense hard passage is blind and stifled
That crawls by a track none turn to climb
To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
Of all but the thorns that are touched not of time.
The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
These remain.

Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
Over the meadows that blossom and wither
Rings but the note of a sea-bird’s song;
Only the sun and the rain come hither
All year long.

The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
Only the wind here hovers and revels
In a round where life seems barren as death.
Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
Years ago.

Heart handfast in heart as they stood, “Look thither,”
Did he whisper? “look forth from the flowers to the sea;
For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
And men that love lightly may die—but we?”
And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
And or ever the garden’s last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
Love was dead.

Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
And were one to the endÑbut what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them ?
What love was ever as deep as a grave ?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air now soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
We shall sleep.

Here death may deal not again for ever;
Here change may come not till all change end.
From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
Till a last wind’s breath upon all these blowing
Roll the sea.

Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.

 

RONDEL
These many years since we began to be,
What have the gods done with us? what with me,
What with my love? they have shown me fates and fears,
Harsh springs, and fountains bitterer than the sea,
Grief a fixed star, and joy a vane that veers,
These many years.

With her, my love, with her have they done well?
But who shall answer for her? who shall tell
Sweet things or sad, such things as no man hears?
May no tears fall, if no tears ever fell,
From eyes more dear to me than starriest spheres
These many years!

But if tears ever touched, for any grief,
Those eyelids folded like a white-rose leaf,
Deep double shells wherethrough the eye-flower peers,
Let them weep once more only, sweet and brief,
Brief tears and bright, for one who gave her tears
These many years.