A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 20 February 2015

The River Of Words (2): Fons Et Origo

I have loved poetry from an early age — partly, I think, because it was one of my mother's passions. I clearly remember many of the poems of which she was fond: Robert Browning's Home Thoughts, from Abroad, Thomas Hood's I Remember, I Remember, Rudyard Kipling's If, Rupert Brooke's The Soldier and The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, all of John Betjeman. Her taste was nostalgic and traditional, typical of a generation which grew up during the war and the post-war years of austerity, and which looked back romantically at the perceived stability of the past: a colonial England where everyone knew their place, an idyllic, semi-mythical England of cricket matches, country churchyards and village greens. She lived first in London, then in Doncaster — both big railway centres (her father was a draughtsman for the LNER — indeed, he helped design the coaches for the famous locomotive, The Flying Scotsman). An only child, her heart lay, not in the smoky town or city, but in rural Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, where her cousins lived. As a young woman, she joined the Searchlight Regiment; then, after the war, worked in a bank, cared for her mother who had breast cancer, and met and married my father, becoming a partner in his milling business. But I digress.

Where was I? Ah, yes — books, books . . . Somehow the memories of books become entwined with all sorts of other memories: memories of childhood, of school, of holidays, of adolescence. As I've related before on this blog, my mother used to keep diaries and commonplace books, and folders full of poems, aphorisms and other quotations she'd written out in a neat hand. Her character was quite serene and philosophical — and she had a quiet sense of humour too. Recently I found this, which she'd copied from The Dalesman magazine (my family was steeped in religion, agriculture and country living):

A farmer knocked at the pearly gate,
His face was scarred and old.
He stood before the man of fate
For admission to the fold.
'What have you done' St Peter asked
'To gain admission here?'
'I've been a farmer, sir', he said
'For many and many a year.'
The pearly gate swung open wide
As St Peter touched the bell.
'Come in' he said, 'and choose your harp,
You've had your taste of hell!'

I also came across this wry piece by Spike Milligan:

The Dog Lovers

So they bought you
And kept you in a 
Very good home
Central heating
A deep freeze
A very good home.
No one to take you
For that lovely long run —
But otherwise
A very good home.
They fed you Pal and Chum
But not that lovely long run
Until, mad with energy and boredom,
You escaped — and ran and ran and ran
Under a car.
Today they will cry for you —
Tomorrow they will buy another dog.

In my mind I can hear my mother reading these out loud as though it were yesterday.

My mother, Joan, as a young woman.


George said...

This is a lovely remembrance of your mother, Robert. It's easy to see from whence you come, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Spike Milligan has just gone up in my estimation.

am said...

This is quite moving. Your mother's bright spirit living on. Her voice still present.

Vagabonde said...

Your mother was a lovely and sensitive woman and she certainly influenced you. To have someone close to you interested in poetry would have an imprint on you. I tried to recall the poems I liked the most when growing up, they are French of course. I gathered three and realized that they all have something to do with the sea and travel – no wonder that I wanted to take a ship and go to a far away land. I think I don’t have to translate, you understand them? I’ll give just the beginning.

From « Océano Nox » de Victor Hugo ( my favorite)

O combien de marins, combien de capitaines
Qui sont partis joyeux pour des courses lointaines
Dans ce morne horizon se sont évanouis!
Combien ont disparus, dure et triste fortune!
Dans une mer sans fond, par une nuit sans lune,
Dans l'aveugle océan à jamais enfouis! ….

From “La Brise Marine” of Stéphane Mallarmé

La chair est triste, hélas! et j'ai lu tous les livres.
Fuir! là-bas fuir! Je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres
D'être parmi l'écume inconnue et les cieux !
Rien, ni les vieux jardins reflétés par les yeux
Ne retiendra ce coeur qui dans la mer se trempe …

From « Marine » of Paul Verlaine

L'Océan sonore
Palpite sous l'oeil
De la lune en deuil
Et palpite encore, ….

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, George.

Sackerson (Dominic) — :)

Am (Amanda) — yes, the spirit lives on.

Vagabonde — thanks so much for this. How interesting all your choices are about travel and the sea. Yes, I do understand them, and particularly like the Mallarmé. For those who don't know French, here's my own translation:

The flesh is sad, alas! and all the books are read.
Flight, only flight! I feel the birds rejoice
In the wild foam and unfamiliar skies!
Nothing, not even ancient gardens reflected in the eyes
Shall restrain this heart from plunging in the ocean...

Vagabonde said...

Your translation of Mallarmé’s Sea Breeze is perfect! Here is the rest of the poem:

Ô nuits ! ni la clarté déserte de ma lampe
Sur le vide papier que la blancheur défend
Et ni la jeune femme allaitant son enfant.
Je partirai ! Steamer balançant ta mâture,
Lève l'ancre pour une exotique nature !

Un Ennui, désolé par les cruels espoirs,
Croit encore à l'adieu suprême des mouchoirs !
Et, peut-être, les mâts, invitant les orages,
Sont-ils de ceux qu'un vent penche sur les naufrages
Perdus, sans mâts, sans mâts, ni fertiles îlots ...
Mais, ô mon coeur, entends le chant des matelots ! - Stéphane Mallarmé (1841-1898)

Vagabonde said...

I just saw an explanation of this poem – here is the start of it: it explains that this early work of Mallarme reflects the impossible quest for the absolute that haunted him all his life.
I just saw an explanation of this poem – here is the start of it: it explains that this early work of Mallarme reflects the impossible quest for the absolute that haunted him all his life.

C’est en 1865 que Stéphane Mallarmé rédige, dans le sillage des Fleurs du Mal de Baudelaire, un poème qui fera date : « Brise Marine ». Publiée un an plus tard dans Le Parnasse Contemporain, cette œuvre de jeunesse traduit l’impossible quête de l’absolu qui hanta Mallarmé toute sa vie. Nous étudierons cette problématique selon une triple perspective : après avoir expliqué que le poème se présente comme une opposition entre le monde des réalités et de la banalité quotidienne qui est celui du spleen, et l’appel de la mer qui traduit la soif de l’idéal et du voyage, nous essaierons de montrer que ce divorce entre la vie et l’art, dans la perspective symboliste, débouche sur une réflexion essentielle quant au pouvoir évocateur de la poésie."

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, that preoccupation of the Symbolists with Spleen and Ideal, Vagabonde — the contrast of romantic yearning and crushing despair.

I've long been fascinated by Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud. This from Baudelaire's magnificent 'Le Voyage':

'Mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent / Pour partir; cœurs lègers, semblables aux ballons, / De leur fatalité jamais ils ne s’écartent, / Et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!” (“But the real travellers are only those / Who leave for leaving’s sake; hearts light as air, / They never do their destiny oppose; / Not knowing why, they always say: I dare!'

You may be interested in some posts I did on a previous blog about Baudelaire and Rimbaud: https://turnstone.wordpress.com (Just scroll down a little and you'll come to six posts dated 17-22 Feb 2013).

Vagabonde said...

I recall reading Le Voyage years ago. It is from the Fleurs du Mal I think? I have the book somewhere in the house, I’ll go back and read it again. I’ll also take a look at the two posts you linked to, thank you. I also took part of a poem by Beaudelaire called “L’Invitation au Voyage” and made a small post from it – my translation is not the best though. You can see it here: http://avagabonde.blogspot.com/2011/02/blog-intermission-no-8-entracte.html.

Anonymous said...

Kind of off the point but do you ever listen to Something Understood? It was totally gripping this week, I thought.


dritanje said...

Your mother sounds - and looks - wonderful. And Baudelaire's qui partent/pour partir....
The first sentence beginning a chapter in one of Ella Maillart's book was - 'To set off.' Captures it all, I think.
Thank you for this.

The Solitary Walker said...

Vagabonde — your link didn't work, but I found your Baudelaire post through the search box.

Dominic (Sackerson) — I often listen to that programme and really enjoy it. Unfortunately I missed last Sunday's edition, but someone else told me it was good.

Morelle (Dritanje) — 'partir pour partir' — love this! As I've already said, I must read Ella Maillart.