"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 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

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