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 . . .
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? . . .
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. . . .
Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises. . . .
. . .
Now launch the small ship . . .
launch out, the fragile soul
in the fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith . . .
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.
. . .
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.
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).
SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
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