Wednesday, January 28, 2015

17th, 18th & 20th January1915- three significant poems.

The Unknown Bird, The Mill-Pond and Man and Dog.
All three have notebook entries as possible origins, and The Unknown Bird has a passage in The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans, a sad passage where the bird is forlorn and seems to bring sorrow with it. Yet not so in this poem, more a transcendence,
                    'if sad
Twas only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. '

The note-takers /naturalists miss this transcendence - 'natural history [is in} danger of falling into the hands of mere takers of notes.'  He too was ambivalent about his own incessant note-book filling and in this poem - compared with Man and Dog- he has begun to find more of himself.

The Unknown Bird     
Three lovely notes he whistled, too soft to be heard
If others sang; but others never sang
In the great beech-wood all that May and June.
No one saw him: I alone could hear him
Though many listened. Was it but four years
Ago? or five? He never came again.
Oftenest when I heard him I was alone,
Nor could I ever make another hear.
La-la-la! he called, seeming far-off—
As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,
As if the bird or I were in a dream.
Yet that he travelled through the trees and sometimes
Neared me, was plain, though somehow distant still
He sounded. All the proof is—I told men
What I had heard.
                                   I never knew a voice,
Man, beast, or bird, better than this. I told
The naturalists; but neither had they heard
Anything like the notes that did so haunt me,
I had them clear by heart and have them still.
Four years, or five, have made no difference. Then
As now that La-la-la! was bodiless sweet:
Sad more than joyful it was, if I must say
That it was one or other, but if sad
'Twas sad only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. But I cannot tell
If truly never anything but fair
The days were when he sang, as now they seem.
This surely I know, that I who listened then,
Happy sometimes, sometimes suffering
A heavy body and a heavy heart,
Now straightway, if I think of it, become
Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore.
The Mill-Pond
The sun blazed while the thunder yet
Added a boom:
A wagtail flickered bright over
The mill-pond’s gloom:

Less than the cooing in the alder
Isles of the pool
Sounded the thunder through that plunge
Of waters cool.

Scared starlings on the aspen tip
Past the black mill.
Outchattered the stream and the next roar
Far on the hill.

As my feet dangling teased the foam
That slid below
A girl came out. ‘Take care!’ she said—-
Ages ago.

She startled me, standing quite close
Dressed all in white:
Ages ago I was angry till
She passed from sight.

Then the storm burst, and as I crouched
To shelter, how
Beautiful and kind, too, she seemed,
As she does now!

Edna Longley's thoughts on this are so interesting but hard to summarise: querying why the poem seems to fade and maybe sentimentalise rather than build to power, she describes it as neither a war or a love poem and speculates on why that be. She contrasts it with the waters in A Dream.

Man and Dog
A very easy-to-love poem, straight from his prose and giving a social history through an individual. It reminds me of Frost's hired worker in Death of The Hired Man but still more of a character in Wordsworth.
''Twill take some getting.' 'Sir, I think 'twill so.'
The old man stared up at the mistletoe
That hung too high in the poplar's crest for plunder
Of any climber, though not for kissing under:
Then he went on against the north-east wind--- Straight but lame, leaning on a staff new-skinned, Carrying a brolly, flag-basket, and old coat,---
Towards Alto, ten miles off. And he had not
Done less from Chilgrove where he pulled up docks. 'Twere best, if he had had 'a money-box',
To have waited there till the sheep cleared a field
For what a half-week's flint-picking would yield.
His mind was running on the work he had done
Since he left Christchurch in the New Forest, one
Spring in the 'seventies,---navvying on dock and line From Southampton to Newcastle-on-Tyne,---
In 'seventy-four a year of soldiering
With the Berkshires,---hoeing and harvesting
In half the shires where corn and couch will grow.
His sons, three sons, were fighting, but the hoe
And reap-hook he liked, or anything to do with trees.
He fell once from a poplar tall as these:
The Flying Man they called him in hospital.
'If I flew now, to another world I'd fall.'
He laughed and whistled to the small brown bitch
With spots of blue that hunted in the ditch.
Her foxy Welsh grandfather must have paired
Beneath him. He kept sheep in Wales and scared Strangers, I will warrant, with his pearl eye
And trick of shrinking off as he were shy,
Then following close in silence for---for what?
'No rabbit, never fear, she ever got,
Yet always hunts. To-day she nearly had one:
She would and she wouldn't. 'Twas like that.
The bad one!
She's not much use, but still she's company,
Though I'm not. She goes everywhere with me. So
Alton I must reach to-night somehow:
I'll get no shakedown with that bedfellow
From farmers. Many a man sleeps worse to-night
Than I shall.' 'In the trenches.' 'Yes, that's right.
But they'll be out of that---I hope they be---
This weather, marching after the enemy.'
'And so I hope. Good luck.' And there I nodded
'Good-night. You keep straight on,' Stiffly he plodded; And at his heels the crisp leaves scurried fast,
And the leaf-coloured robin watched. They passed,
The robin till next day, the man for good,
Together in the twilight of the wood.                             

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