Ballad of the Long Legged Bait – Dylan Thomas

Well this was somewhat epic. I only ever do these recordings in a single take, with no editing. This may explain some of their faults. This has long been one of my favourite poems, but reciting it in one single take was akin to a freeclimb on a particularly difficult pitch. This piece is just so magisterial. In it Thomas pushes words to the very edge of meaning. You can hear it 1000 times and hear something new each time. It is truly musical. It sounds like nothing and like gibberish and yet at every moment it is absolutely true. Only the greatest art can achieve this. Only Beethoven and Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky… only Dylan Thomas. In any case, as a Mariner, who is currently cut off from the Sea, it spoke to me… it spoke to me.

The Castle – Edwin Muir

I have loved Muir since childhood. Perhaps this poem was inspired in part by him experiencing the catastrophe of the loss of his childhood farm in Orkney at the age of 14, and thus, his idyll. Doubtless lucre was involved. This poem comes to my mind whenever great catastrophe strikes blindly at us as a society, as it did in 2008, and even more now. It may seem that lucre is not a foundational part of this crisis, however I believe that it was, in a way, and that betrayal was indeed at the heart of the story. Also, a great many will experience some form of the loss he did at that time, and for much the same reasons. In any case the sense of invincibility and ease shattered by a sudden, unexpected frailty, is of key relevance and resonance at this time.

The Phantom Horsewoman – Thomas Hardy

Continuing the theme of distance, wistfulness, memory, loss and regret, and connection across both distance and time, here is a lifelong favourite of mine. Thomas Hardy is surprisingly little known as a poet, though in my opinion is one of the truly great poems of the English Language. Almost all his poetry was written after the end of his long fiction career, and is dominated by themes of remembrance, haunting, regret, and times long past. Each and every one of the nearly one thousand poems he wrote in this later part of life is both a new form unique to itself, and internally and formally consistent to the point of perfection. A true genius.

The Way Through The Woods – Rudyard Kipling

This has long been a favourite of, well, nearly everyone who loves poetry. It is certainly one of my lifelong favourites. There is something about the theme of humanity becoming lost again in nature, being overwhelmed, becoming a nostalgic shadow, that speaks to me in these particular times.

If you were coming in the fall – Emily Dickinson

This gem by the astoundingly prolific – yet completely unknown in her lifetime – Emily Dickinson seems like an exceptionally appropriate poem for this time of enforced distance from our loved ones, friends, and family.

The Horses – Edwin Muir

This is a beautiful piece which spoke to me and millions of others who lived through the continual feeling of doom that pervaded the period of the Cold War, and its continuous threat of Global Thermonuclear War. This present crisis, unnprecedented in the modern world, has brought to mind again Muir’s words of the forgotten connection to our fundamental nature.

Ertola

This is a poem written on New Year’s Eve 2019 by myself. I haven’t written a poem for more than 20 years but today in the garden, clearing away the dead matter of the past year with my hands and mind, I thought about the grave of Ertola, and decided I would write this before the bells. Forgive the roughness, but it is written in a short period and recorded in a single take while the fireworks were setting off in my home town. The original inscription on this otherwise anonymous tomb, from Roman Britain, reads: : “To the spirits of the departed: Sudrenus made this for Ertola, properly named Vellibia. who lived most happily¬†4 years and 60 days.

The Long Trail

Since childhood, but now as a professional mariner, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Long Trail” is a poem which, every Autumn, resonates strongly in my heart. His description of the yearning for human migration stretch back through the centuries to his time, and indeed through the millennia to the times of our forebears the hunter gatherers. We all feel it. His descriptions of the actual experiences doing it by sea are as authentic and first hand as they are evocative.

Dover Beach

I have been despairing of late of the political and social polarisation of our world. It reminds me of the 1930s. It reminds me of Matthew Arnold’s timeless poem, Dover Beach. Unfortunately my microphone was malfunctioning slightly on this recording, so it was recorded too low. I will let it stand, for now. But headphones will be required to listen.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion – Dylan Thomas

I recorded this with only a laptop microphone, so my apologies for sound quality. It is a poem which is among the first I remember my father reading to me, though I was very young at the time, clearly it spoke to me anyhow. Curious thinking about that now. He has now been dead for a decade and a half, and tomorrow would have been his 79th birthday. Happy Birthday, my Father.