Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Poets in the Park

Sitting in the park at the rapidly advancing dusk of autumn, wrapped warm in the turning air, reading Yeats, watching the world and their dogs pass by. Wind in the trees providing the music, the alterations of air and feeling, allowing your sedentary poise not to turn to restlessness, allows your eyes, heart, mind to focus on the poems (in that order).

For my money there are three English (language) poets of the first half of the twentieth century who truly matter to me and they are Hardy, Muir and Yeats. By which I mean that were I allowed to keep only three, these would be the three I kept.

All three sought roots in communities that were threatened by the onrush of modernity and celebrated them (as they lamented their passing). They saw them with clear eyes, none are sentimental, and all three looked for ways of resistance, Muir and Yeats more effectively than Hardy. 

For Muir and Yeats had given their heart and soul to a transcendent tradition. Muir intuitively, Yeats as a dedicated learning. Their's was a vision rooted in timelessness, Hardy surrendered this to his own agnosticism, all he was left with was the matter of time, and his particular matter, the way it was arranged and lived, was unravelling fast, leaving him with tragedy (and snatched celebration).

But what a poet Hardy was - to have abandonned one career as a novelist and enlivened a second as a poet - and to have produced a body of work in both mediums that stands comparison with the best to be found anywhere, is a rare achievement. I try to think of others. There is Tagore in India (who throws in social reformer, educationalist and artist, alongside his poems, songs and novels) and Hesse, whose poems in Germany are as valued as his novels. 

Hear Hardy...

At Lulworth Cove a Century Back 

Had I but lived a hundred years ago
I might have gone, as I have gone this year,
By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know,
And Time have placed his finger on me there:

"You see that man?" -- I might have looked, and said,
"O yes: I see him. One that boat has brought
Which dropped down Channel round Saint Alban's Head.
So commonplace a youth calls not my thought."

"You see that man?" -- "Why yes; I told you; yes:
Of an idling town-sort; thin; hair brown in hue;
And as the evening light scants less and less
He looks up at a star, as many do."

"You see that man?" -- "Nay, leave me!" then I plead,
"I have fifteen miles to vamp across the lea,
And it grows dark, and I am weary-kneed:
I have said the third time; yes, that man I see!"

"Good. That man goes to Rome -- to death, despair;
And no one notes him now but you and I:
A hundred years, and the world will follow him there,
And bend with reverence where his ashes lie." 

Thomas Hardy on John Keats.

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