Happiness is SO yesterday – On World Poetry Day, who else but John Keats?

keats19Today is World Poetry Day, following swiftly on the heels of the International Day of Happiness. I have to say that this is the day more likely to see me full of passion for life. I downloaded the Happiness Pack yesterday, out of interest, and the air was filled with the smell of pie in the sky. I am sure it is well-intentioned but happiness is not a switch that you can turn on and off at will. Life doesn’t read pretty .pdf documents, or care much whether you have smiled at a stranger this morning.

Please don’t get me wrong – I long for happiness and contentment but have come to accept that life is rather more complex than I would like. That is why I love poetry so much. Poetry, and the good poet, can distil an emotion into so few words that you can hear or read two or three lines and think ‘YES!!’, and know that however you are feeling, someone is or has been with you there.

I have written about my love for the life, letters and of course poetry, of John Keats on here many times. There is a whole page dedicated to links to posts about him, and how people interpret his work. His poetry and letters helped me through some tough times, and I continue to read him widely simply for the pure pleasure of it. So for World Poetry Day I have chosen a poem in which he offers us all (as a celebrity and appearance obsessed society) and anyone tempted to enter a TV talent competition, a proper wake up call. At the same time he writes with such sensuousness, and sexual reference, that much erotic fiction could learn a thing or three….

On Fame

You cannot eat your cake and have it too.”–Proverb.

How fever’d is the man, who cannot look
Upon his mortal days with temperate blood,
Who vexes all the leaves of his life’s book,
And robs his fair name of its maidenhood;
It is as if the rose should pluck herself,
On the ripe plum finger its misty bloom,
As if a Naiad, like a meddling elf,
Should darken her pure grot with muddy gloom:
But the rose leaves herself upon the briar,
For winds to kiss and grateful bees to feed,
And the ripe plum still wears its dim attire,
The undisturbed lake has crystal space;
Why then should man, teasing the world for grace,
Spoil his salvation for a fierce miscreed?

John Keats 1819

The comparative ugliness of the first lines, compared to the relative purity of the final six, shows us how far a drive for fame for fame’s sake can despoil a man’s life. It is a subject Keats wrote about more than once, also comparing fame to a ‘wayward’ girl, who teases the man who would chase after her and who reserves her affections for those more circumspect. We need to leave our roses on the briar, step back and enjoy that crystal space….

Happy World Poetry Day!!

 

Posted in Books, Keats, Literature, Poetry, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sigur Rós – Ekki múkk

keatsbabe:

I had to re blog this post by my artist and writer pal Rivenrod, who has fallen in love with this film, backed by the music of the wonderful Sigur Ros. It is a 10 minute meditation on life, the Universe and everything. Just what I needed as I battle the aftermath of ‘flu…..

Originally posted on Rivenrod:

Absolutely thought provokingly beautiful.

Lalo

Thank you so much Lalocabrujita for introducing this to us.

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‘What’s the use of worrying?’ – Letters from the First World War

Today I welcome another guest to No Wriggling – fellow Pen and Sword author Jacqueline Wadsworth, whose book ‘Letters From the Trenches – The First World War by Those Who Were There’ offers us the most moving personal stories from the pens of the ordinary people whose lives were so utterly transformed by the conflict. Having read it I heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest not only in the Great War, but in humanity and in the triumph of the spirit in the most desolate of circumstances….

Edward Kensit, at home before the war with his fiancee (Courtesy of Sue Collier Jenkins)

Edward Kensit, at home before the war with his fiancee (Courtesy of Sue Collier Jenkins)

‘Had such a nice walk to some French village and had steak and onions. We marched through the lands all red with red poppies.’

You would be forgiven for thinking that this quote describes a peaceful day out in the countryside – although the word ‘march’ probably gives it away. In fact it comes from a letter written from the Western Front in May 1916, and illustrates something I learned very quickly while researching my new book ‘Letters from the Trenches’: most letters were not full of doom and gloom. Instead they were often light-hearted and humorous, written by men (and women) who tried to make the best of things despite the difficulties they faced. The quote above comes from a letter by Private Edward Kensit, a 37-year-old South African soldier who worked as a botanist during peacetime and fought with the British in France. Here’s another scene he described, while in a rest area away from the trenches – his company must have been very reassuring.

I was on guard at an old farm house the other day and I made myself a nice bean feed – I soaked the beans about 3 hours then the women [locals] put them on the stove for about 5 hours. I put in a 1lb of butter – cost me 3 franks (2s/6d) my chums all paid their share but it was a fine feed … We had milk too.’ He added: ‘There was a grand show of rhododendrons, oh such a grand sight. Here I first saw the forget-me-nots growing, also some rhubarb – but very abnormal.’

Even in the midst of the fighting there was ‘fun’ to be found, and young Frank Woodhouse, who worked in the mines of Nottinghamshire before enlisting, could barely contain his excitement in this letter home after a fire-fight in 1916:

I had my [twentieth] birthday in the trenches in rather an exciting time and you can bet I shall never forget the date. On the night of the 13that about 11.30 we were ordered to strafe the Germans who were known to be working on his parapets & barbed wire etc. All of a sudden we opened rapid fire with rifles & machine guns & rifle grenades & all kind of stuff. The noise was simply deafening. You ought to have seen our boys blazing away despite “Fritz’s” machine guns on our parapets. They carried on fully ¼ of an hour & then things quietened down a bit. I think our fire had good effect on them, since we “opened” so suddenly.

A soldier’s life obviously suited Frank, and the same was true of an officer called Charles Alderton, from Clerkenwell in London, whose middle-class home had been less than challenging:

My life here has been full of interest,’ he wrote to his family from France in 1917. ‘I am now sitting in a dugout about 6ft by 6ft where 5 of us feed and 3 sleep, my bed which is a stretcher is fixed up one end on the steps and one on the table and I can tell you we are really having a fine time and quite enjoying ourselves. There is a very deep dug out lower down leading out of ours which we were going to use only on exploring we (I and another fellow) found the remains of one or two Boche in a really fine decomposed state, so we had them removed and are giving it a chance to freshen up.

Tom Fake with his wife, Charlotte, and son (Courtesy of Jackie Carpenter)

Tom Fake with his wife, Charlotte, and son (Courtesy of Jackie Carpenter)

By contrast, Private Tom Fake was conscripted into the army and would certainly not have chosen to serve, but even he could be humorous in letters he sent to his wife Charlotte in Bristol, although it was sometimes at her expense! When she had her troublesome teeth taken out so that dentures could be fitted, Tom indulged some light-hearted teasing:

I am so glad you sent me a photo of yourself, for I think I should have had a job to recognise you, talk about shock, I think it would have been worse than shell shock, but now I know what to expect … I don’t mind seeing you without teeth. One thing, you will not be able to bite, but if you have lost your teeth, I suppose you haven’t lost anything else. Any rate I did not get mated up to you because you looked pretty, so that will not make any difference to us.

Tom and Frank survived the war, but Edward and Charles did not. Neither did an engaging teenager called Cecil Cadmore, 18, from Herefordshire, whose letter to his cousin Gwen from army camp in England was a real breath of fresh air, gently mocking the training he received:

Last Tuesday we were doing wood fighting. Before we started we were told not to pick blackberries while advancing. We went thro’ one wood in fine style & across & into another wood. We surprised about 60 of the enemy & captured them, & then got cussed for leaving the first wood. Then a Major came up & said he would lead us thro’ the next wood. He pulled out a compass & said we would march by that. Then we gave ourselves up for lost (we always do get lost when marching by compass.) Well! We did get lost & I picked a lot of nuts while we were halted, which we were every minute while the Major consulted his compass. When we did get out of the wood we found the rest of the Battalion had finished the attack & the grub as well. Never mind, I ate nuts all the way home.

Sadly, this was one of his last letters to Gwen, for Cecil was killed two months later in France. His attitude summed up that of many of the letter-writers you’ll find in my book – to quote the old WW1 marching song: ‘What’s the use of worrying? It never was worthwhile.’

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My sincere thanks to Jacqueline for taking the time to write for my blog.

Letters from the Trenches is published by Pen and Sword Books, RRP£19.99. Jacqueline Wadsworth is a freelance writer and has written two books to coincide with the WW1 Centenary: ‘Bristol in the Great War’, ‘Letters from the Trenches’, both published by Pen and Sword Books. A third, ‘Weymouth, Dorchester and Portland in the Great War’ is due out in November 2015. She lives near Bristol with her family and when not at her desk she is a keen cyclist, follower of Liverpool FC, fan of American roots music, and supporter of The Donkey Sanctuary. You can find out more about Jacqueline and read further extracts on her website www.soldierletters.blogspot.co.uk

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Love Poems You Didn’t Write: Since Feeling is First

keatsbabe:

Over the past few days I have been posting a series of pieces headlined ‘Love poems you wish you had written’, from an idea originally mooted by David J Beauman, AKA The Dad Poet. When David saw that I was returning to the series, after a break of two years, he reciprocated, reblogging a couple of my selections (or rather the poems requested by my mates on social media). So today I return the compliment, because he has posted an intriguing poem by E E Cummings, and compares the ‘syntax of things’ to cooking a meal for the man he loves. Creating something delicious needs a basic technique, but a whole lot more magic to make it special…..

Thanks for all the inspiration David. Here’s to a poetic 2015 :-)

Originally posted on The Dad Poet:

tumblr_mpsffcmQRE1styy8io1_500So I changed the title. Please feel free to submit a formal complaint to the management. You can consider this the fourth and final installment of the “Love Poems You Wish You Had Written” series for 2015. There is about a half hour left in the day of the man who died to marry people (or so the story of St. Valentine goes). My sweetheart is in a food coma on the couch and we haven’t even gotten to dessert yet. I guess I overdid it.

Having worked in the restaurant industry, at first by choice and then as a means of survival, the last place I wanted to be was out on the town tonight. So I cooked, oh boy did I cook. Brie with apricots, honey, pecans and golden raisins; Caesar salad with red onions and red romaine; and Brian’s favorite, chicken Parmesan with my own pasta sauce…

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On St Valentine’s Day – Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #4 – UA Fanthorpe

love_poem_400x400So we come to the ‘big day’ itself. The 14th of February, St Valentine’s Day and apparently the most romantic day of the year. Of course, for many it is nothing like that, by circumstance or choice.  There is something rather uncomfortable (and occasionally nauseating) about seeing rows and rows of red cards of various design (and taste) in the shops as soon as Christmas cards are swept into the stock room once more.

However, the sentiment is a fine one and when I called for requests this year, asking my readers and friends on social media to suggest love poems for this short series, one stood out as distilling my feelings for my own Valentine – my lovely husband Peter. And it isn’t by John Keats (though I was sorely tempted of course!)

fanthorpe180U (Ursula) A Fanthorpe was a British poet who died in 2009 and I have to admit that I didn’t know much about her poetry at all, until prompted by Jessamy Carlson  (‏@rjc_archives ) on twitter. Her obituaries describe her as ‘a great role model for all of us who could do with a bit of ‘late flowering’ ‘ and I am determined to read more of her work in the future. I think this poem sums up that kind of love that, whilst ‘everyday’, is vital for the maintenance of another’s happiness and which inspires devotion, understanding and acceptance. I have a very ‘suspect edifice’ at times, and regularly require a metaphorical re-wiring and re-pointing. This is quite different from Donne, Auden or Yeats, but utterly believable and real.

Atlas

UA Fanthorpe, from Safe as Houses (Peterloo Poets, 1995)

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.

What do you think? Do you still find it romantic, as I do, despite the imagery being more practical than poetic?

Sadly, I could not find a reading on YouTube and there is no recording of Fanthorpe reading Atlas on The Poetry Archive, although she reads three other poems, including ‘Earthed’.

So this week of love poetry has been fun for me, and asking for requests took the pressure off a little as I struggled to sift through the many, many poetry books that fill my shelves. There were other poems suggested, including Because I liked you, a sombre piece by A E Houseman, How do I love thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, La Vita Nuova by Dante and a number of poems by Carol Ann Duffy, two of which were included on a companion post by the lovely Dad Poet. My thanks to everyone who got in touch.

So on Valentine’s Day love and be loved, or take heart in the thought that somewhere out there is the person for whom, one day, you can find a just the right poem. I hope the past few days, and my previous posts on poetry (just search in the box above or find ‘poetry’ in the word count to the right) have given you a few ideas.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #3 – W. B Yeats

William_Butler_Yeats_by_George_Charles_BeresfordWell, haven’t I had some wonderful suggestions for this series of love poems for St Valentine’s Day and beyond? Donne, Auden and now Yeats. This one, I have to admit, is one that I have loved since my teens, with that vain hope that one day someone would write something like it for me….

Hey ho, such is real life that nothing has yet been forthcoming and a limerick might be the best I can hope for now. But that doesn’t prevent me, and it seems many of my Facebook friends, dreaming. This great poem – Aedh (or He) Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven was suggested by Jane Earthy, Ada Mournian and Deborah Metters, amongst others and it is one of those poems that itch to be learnt by heart.

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 and became one of the foremost literary figures of the twentieth century. His protestant background did not prevent him breaking with tradition and affirming his Irish nationality and as a young man he was intrigued by Irish myth and the occult and dabbled in spiritualism. There is so much to say about his life, and his love life, that I can’t hope to summarise here, so I recommend you visit The Poetry Foundation website.  It offers a  succinct biography that details his life and influences; he was a fascinating man and a great poet.

He wishes for the cloths of heaven, published in The Wind Among the Reeds in 1899is brilliantly imaginative and colourful; the poet admits to financial poverty but offers his love his dreams instead, seeming appealingly vulnerable (they are ‘only’ dreams). However, the richness of the words (and cloth) he spins are so utterly compelling that who could resist? The musicality of some of the lines is wonderful – I particularly love The blue and the dim and the dark cloths/Of night and light and the half-light…..

He wishes for the cloths of heaven

W B Yeats 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I have found another lovely reading, this time by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Brief, but beautiful.

Could you trample on the dreams of anyone who wrote those words for you? Thanks to everyone who suggested this one – truly a poem anyone could wish to have written, or have written for them!

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Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #2 – W.H. Auden

220px-AudenVanVechten1939For the second of my posts, specially written as we approach St Valentine’s Day, I focus on a poem by W.H. Auden. Anyone who has seen Four Weddings and a Funeral will know the poem which starts ‘Stop all the clocks…’, so movingly read by John Hannah at the funeral of his dead partner, played by Simon Callow. It is chokingly good, and bitterly sad.

However, for this week, as requested by historian Jessica Meyer on Twitter, I am reproducing another great love lyric by Auden – Lullaby. Sometimes referred to by the first line ‘Lay your sleeping head my love…’ it is about time passing, the inevitable fading of beauty and the enduring nature of love. Auden was born in 1907 and is now regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  He was a great poetic technician, but also wrote remarkable prose on profound topics. He is a poet I love to read, although I have never studied his work in depth. So I simply respond, and in this poem I like the way a classic meditation on love is subverted – most particularly by the lover’s ‘faithless’ arm. Is this a reference to atheistic beliefs? Is this about a night spent making love to someone other than the poet’s regular partner (with a further reference to fidelity in the third stanza)? Or is it simply a recognition that we are all frail, imperfect human beings when it comes to love and that in that moment there is no-one more entirely beautiful and adored than the sleeping lover? What do you think?

Lullaby
W. H. Auden, (1907 – 1973)

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

Again, I have found a reading  – sometimes it helps to hear a poem read aloud (although I always like to read it to myself, under my breath or out loud and proud if I am alone in the house!) and this version is accompanied by some sweet music. I would love to know what you think, and as always do let me know your own favourite poems.

Posted in Books, Literature, love the universe and everything, Poetry, Random musings on family life, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments