Saturday, 30 April 2011

Upon Prue, His Maid by Robert Herrick

In this little urn is laid
Prudence Baldwin, once my maid,
From whose happy spark here let
Spring the purple violet.

Summer by John Clare

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover's breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover's breast;
I'll lean upon her breast and I'll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o'sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.


I've been studying the splendid 'Dover Beach' with my son, for his AS level English. Of course many people know about Arnold's definiton of culture as being "the best which has been thought and said", but I think it is worth quoting the whole paragraph from the introduction to Culture and Anarchy:

The whole scope of the essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically.

What I like best is "turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions", the (given current orthodoxies - stock notions - which tend to assume the superiority of Now) paradoxical idea being that the past can make rosy the future by curing the present, and that if you want fresh and free thought, look back - to Arnold, say - rather than simply gathering your stock notions, either staunchly or mechanically, from the Opinion pages of the Daily Mail or the Guardian.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A Bit of Shelley

Here's a verse from 'Peter Bell the Third', quoted by Leavis in his essay on Wordsworth in 'Revaluation'. I reprint it because I love the rhyming of "eunuch" with "tunic". It seems so cheeky and modern. PBS, by the way, is referring to Wordsworth himself - rather unfairly I think.

But from the first 'twas Peter's drift
To be a kind of moral eunuch;
He touched the hem of Nature's shift,
Felt faint - and never dared uplift
The closest, all-concealing tunic.

This puts one in mind of Ruskin as well, and of course it could be Byron writing (indeed I can almost see Byron leaning over Percy's shoulder as he wrote - "Wordswords" was Byron's name for Wordsworth.)

Monday, 18 April 2011

Machines by Michael Donaghy

I came across this poem while seeking poems that might be appropriate for the Olympics. I couldn't get out of my head that line "The machinery of grace is always simple": does it mean less than it suggests or more? And why is it so beautiful?

A pavan is a grave and stately court dance in slow duple time. In movies these are the dances where ladies and gentlemen nod their heads at one another and smile, very slightly. There may occasionally be a meeting of eyes. It used to be thought that the dance was named after the stately movements of the peacock. Grace is all.

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Galaxy Quest

Having come upon it by accident, I have just watched again the metafictional comedy masterpiece that is 'Galaxy Quest'. This is about as perfect a movie as it is possible to imagine. Not only is it funny it is also exciting, not only preposterous but also moving. Pathos, wit, moral engagement and exploding spaceships. What more could one possibly need?