"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Falling Fruit, The Certain Spring

"PRODUCTIVITY" by Addison Jordan
[click ICEE, scroll down to page 7 for calendar contest winners,
click winning entries link for a look at the 2012 calendar,
click illustration above to enlarge text for reading]


"Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion."
~ D. H. Lawrence ~

My last post, "Daffodils of Autumn" featured two seasonal songs by Adrian Henri, both dedicated to his predecessor A. E. Houseman (click or scroll down). Yet another of Henri's autumnal poems is dedicated to modernist poet and novelist D. H. Lawrence. Henri offers an "Epilogue" to Lawrence's long poem "The Ship of Death," a ten - part extended analogy, in which Lawrence writes bleakly of death as a choppy voyage into the unknown, rounded out with the faint promise of rebirth:

Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.

The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.

And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one's own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.

Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.

The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.

And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can't you smell it?

And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
that blows upon it through the orifices.

III . . .

from IV
O let us talk of quiet that we know,
that we can know, the deep and lovely quiet
of a strong heart at peace!

How can we this, our own quietus, make? . . .

from V
Build then the ship of death, for you must take
the longest journey, to oblivion.

And die the death, the long and painful death
that lies between the old self and the new.

Already our bodies are fallen, bruised, badly bruised,
already our souls are oozing through the exit
of the cruel bruise. . . .

from VI
Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises. . . .

from VII
. . .
Now launch the small ship . . .
launch out, the fragile soul
in the fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith . . .

from VIII
And everything is gone, the body is gone
completely under, gone, entirely gone. . . .

. . .
Ah wait, wait, for there's the dawn,
the cruel dawn of coming back to life
out of oblivion.

Wait, wait, the little ship
drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
of a flood-dawn.

Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.

A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.

from X
. . .
And the little ship wings home . . .
and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
filling the heart with peace. . . .

Oh build your ship of death, oh build it!
for you will need it.
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.

excerpts from "The Ship of Death"
by D. H. Lawrence

click here to read the entire poem
and here for further analysis of the poem

Henri responds to Lawrence's poem by personifying and embracing the Dark. He dispels the fear of a long dark late autumn night with an open invitation of hospitality and in-gathering:

(for D. H. L.)

and leaves swirl at the roadside
splatter on windscreens
summer hopes gone
fears for the dark
the long night ahead
light ebbing to the slow horizon

The falling fruit,
The long journey,"

Prepare for the dark
O bring it home with you
tuck it into bed
welcome him into your hearth
into your heart
the familiar stranger at the evening fireside

Wind howls in the trees
and toads curl into beds of leaves
night moves into day
moths into velvet
hedges brown with dying willow-herb

Open your door to the dark
the evening snow drift in unheeded
light dies from the sky
gather the stranger close on the pillow

seeds lie buried
safe under hedgerows
gather him to you
O gather him to you

Take the dark stranger
Cold under blankets
Gather O Gather
Alone in the darkness

Adrian Henri ~

For Lawrence there is the flush of rose, the cycle beginning again. For Henri there are the seeds, buried safely under the hedgerows. And in this next poem, there is the certain spring:

The Burning of the Leaves
Now is the time for the burning of the leaves.
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke
Wandering slowly into a weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.

The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust;
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! The reddest rose is a ghost;
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.

Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before:
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there;
Let them go to the fire, with never a look behind.
The world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.

They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
from squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.

~Laurence Binyon

The way Binyon places his trust in the certainty of spring is always linked in my mind with what Elizabeth Jennings says about the seasons: "We want the certain, solid thing" (you can read her poem "Song at the Beginning of Autumn" on my daily post from last September: Childhood Autumn).

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Monday, November 14, 2011

Daffodils of Autumn

~ Adrian Henri ~


Detail of Daffodil Tiffany Lamp

Tonight at noon . . .
The first daffodils of autumn will appear
When the leaves fall upwards to the trees

~ Adrian Henri ~

Liverpool poet Adrian Henri (1932 - 2000), master of literary allusion and intertextuality, has written a couple of poems in response to earlier selections from A Shropshire Lad by modern British poet A. E. Houseman (1859 - 1936). The rhythmic accessibility of Houseman's poetry has inspired many a poetic comedian; but Henri, although he surely loved a joke, did not choose parody this time. In these poems, his touch is subtle and his sadness matches that of Houseman.

In poem XXXI, "On Wenlock Edge," Houseman takes in the forest, the huge hill, the windy gale, the River Severn, imagining the scene as it would have been centuries ago when it was the site of an ancient Roman city:

On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

~A. E. Houseman

Adrian Henri feels Houseman's pain. That "old wind in the old anger," those selfsame "thoughts that hurt" the long ago Roman soldier -- and the more recently departed Houseman -- are now experienced by the contemporary wandering narrator:

A Song for A. E. Houseman
I walk the lanes of Wenlock
And dream about the night
Where every leaf is shrivelled
And every berry bright

In Wenlock Town the drink goes down
The laughter flows like wine
In Wenlock Town the leaves are brown
And you're no longer mine

Day turns to night in Wenlock
Laughter to early tears
Down by the hill I follow still
The path we walked this year

Come let it snow on Wenlock
Fall down and cover me
Happy I was in Wenlock
Happy no more I'll be.

Footpath on the SW end of the Wrekin
"Climbing the Wrekin. . . a steep pull up through the trees,
then at the top of the forest, the views open up . . .
to Wenlock Edge . . . and the Severn Valley."


Henri has also written a companion piece to go along with Houseman's tribute to the cherry in full bloom, "Loveliest of trees," one of the best known poems from the Shropshire Lad cycle:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

More realistically, Houseman observes in poem XXIX, ’Tis spring; come out to ramble," that the spring bulbs have a short season, barely a month: "there's the Lenten lily / That has not long to stay" and the short - lived daffodil "That dies on Easter day."

Whenever I read Henri's response to Houseman's woodland ramblings, I'm never quite sure which month or season has the prior claim. "April" is clearly featured in the title, but "cold November" and "chill October" play the trump card. Henri can't help projecting. He begins the vernal season with an inescapable sense of doom, already anticipating the decay of autumn. He counters every joyful image of springtime with the gloom to come -- and now it's here.

Thinking ahead to the inevitable passing of days and years, Houseman is determined to relish the cherry blossoms even more. He knows his days are numbered, but what's a poet to do? Hope for a long life and absorb as much loveliness as possible. Henri responds in kind, but with a heavier heart, imploring his beloved to convince him that all is not lost. To assure him that the daffodils will not be gone by Easter day but will, in fact, last out the year:

A Song in April
(another song for A.E. H.)

The buds of April bursting
Into the flowers of May
Await a cold November
Forgotten in the clay

The lambs of April playing
Are due to die in June
The loves of April laughing
Will come to tears too soon

The loves of April blossom
And last a summer long
Come close, for chill October
Will come to end the song

Come close, my love, and tell me
April will never end
That daffodil like gorse-bush
Will last to the year's end

That lambs will dance for ever
And lovers never part;
Come close upon the pillow
And still my restless heart.

~Adrian Henri

To accompany the daffodil imagery of
Liverpool poet Adrian Henri,
these beautifully drawn daffodils
are from the Botany collection at the
World Museum, Liverpool.
To send as e-cards, click

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, November 28, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

See also my previous Adrian Henri posts:Brush With Greatness

Holy Connection and Coincidence Batman!

Which Season: Summer or Fall?

Tonight at Noon, Equinox, Harvest Moon

Wartime Soldier, Wartime Child

Happy Batday