Reminiscences of a Dancing Man

Thomas Hardy was, in my opinion, a greater poet than he was a novelist,

Here he writes, as most often he does, as an older man looking back on his former days, and not only reminiscing about them in themselves, but rather seeing right through them again, as if they themselves were the ghosts, as they are now to him, to the days of those who danced before he and the ladies of his youth, and before those antecedents again, like a hall of mirrors until the picture becomes eternal.

Ithaka

This is in many ways the definitive poem of voyaging to or rather towards an island. It is a simple, and indeed stylistically simple poem, and yet it achieves what a poem must ultimately aim towards: a message delivered with power and meaning far exceeding its paucity of words. This is unequivocally one of the great poems of history. So saith a sailor also.

The Seafarer

This is one of the earliest poems to have been written in what can reasonably described as “English”. What is here translated is so by Michael Alexander. But what remains is a voice from the most remote possible wastes of solitude that may be capable to the human mind. The background noise is a wood fire. Was it on an unexpected shoreline?

The Roman Centurion’s Song – Rudyard Kipling

So after more than 40 years in Canada, the last member of my immediate family living here, my mother. has decided that while her heart remains in this country of her choice, far more important to her in many ways than that of her birth, she will be leaving to rejoin her children and grandchildren, in Europe. I have a complex heritage, but arrived in Canada 43 years ago, but also have deep heritage in Northern England, and my divorced parents divided my time between these continents, during my childhood. I have always strongly identified with the borders of the North of England and Southern Scotland, but also with the feelings of one for whom such a passion in a sense, as the Eastern Canadians would have it, “comes from afar”. Here is a recording of one of my father’s, and my own, favourite poems, of displacement and immigration, of the true power of a sense of belonging to a place in which one may not necessarily have been born, by a poet often accounted by the ignorant to be a racist or bigot. It was recorded at my mother’s place in Eastern Canada, as we have been clearing out her house, in preparation for who knows what… and… was intruded upon by a very particular animal, or several of them. I feel that the sound is wholly appropriate in terms of an echo of the wildness and the kinds of animal sounds which would have been part of the daily life of a Roman NCO of the 3rd or early 4th century, as is the intended voice of this poem. The sentiments herein in some way echo my own.

The Cremation of Sam McGee – Robert Service

This is a poem I learned as a child growing up in Canada. It is by one of Canada’s great poets, often unfairly characterised as being mostly for children. In fact Service’s poetry had great depth and character, and spoke with an authentic voice of long and hard experience of the Canadian wilderness as well as in many aspects of life in both Europe and North America. His poems are often witty and sometimes lighthearted, but always with an edge of iron at their heart, and in this case one hollow eyed and leaning on a bar, grizzled and old, and telling an unbelievable tale to another such… but yet with a dark centre of pure truth, of the loneliness and madness that a person can endure in extremis. I am currently in Canada, helping pack my mother’s belongings at her lakeside house surrounded by big Canadian trees, after 43 years living in various parts of this great land. It is a hard task, and brings back many memories… and this is one.

War Song of the Saracens – JE Flecker

Here another of my old favourites. Also recorded this morning. Such an interesting poem for the modern age… this is basically a song about the fury and the military skill of the muslims in the Middle Ages. It is sympathetic or at least in some wise celebrates the potency of this force and the conviction which underpinned it. However Flecker himself was a Jew. He was a Sephardic Jew whose name was anglicised from Fleischer, as a result of the fact not only that his recent forebears had adopted the Christian religion, but also to avoid the rampant anti Semitic (meaning not just Jews but all Semitic peoples) feeling of Britain in that period. The poem predates the modern problems between the “Saracens” and the jews. In any case, it is an excellent and stirring poem simply about the warrior spirit. I hope the listeners will take it in exactly that manner.

Don Juan Declaims – James Elroy Flecker.

I was angry this morning. This is one of the recordings that I made this morning. It does not relate to the subject or the nature of my anger whatsoever, but perhaps the spring that is in the step of this, one of my personal old favourites, derives in part from that fact.

 

 

Serenade – Any man to any woman – Edith Sitwell

Here Sitwell presents us with a multilayered enigma. It is a dark and passionate love poem; intense, despairing, hopeful, hopeless and impossible. The title suggests it is a “serenade, any man to any woman” and yet what we have is at once a complete enigma, and at the same time an absolutely archetypal image of the violence and folly of human love, in all its forms. On its face, the voice is a love poem not from “any man to any woman” but from someone, any human, to an unfeeling, very male symbolic, cannon. It is a strangely lustful, amoral, unheeding of misery or of impossibility, wildly violent and passionate love song to the harbinger of destruction and the indiscriminate smasher of human lives. It could be seen as hugely homoerotic, or else heterosexual from a woman’s rather than a man’s point of view. Given Sitwell’s own highly ambiguous sexuality and long time sexual passion for a gay man I believe the confusion is both entirely deliberate, and extraordinarily modern in the sense of contemporary and in line with the current storm of similar social issues. But it is far more than a playfully ambiguous attack upon gender norms. Rather it strikes to the common heart of human sexual love itself, and in so doing points to its ultimately violent nature. It strongly underlines the idea that Sitwell seems to be promoting of the ultimate combined absurdity, impossibility, and at the same time deadly seriousness of human sexual passion, of human desire, making a wholly self-conscious connection between human ¬†sexual love, desire, and lust, and the human tendency towards self destruction and desire for chaos, blood, and war. A thoroughly engaging, striking, and multilayered poem which has held my attention and fascination since I first heard it many years ago.

Green Flows The River Of Lethe-O – Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell was, in my opinion, one of the 20th Century’s great poets. That she is not better remembered or better thought of remains to some extent a mystery to me. Upon reflection I would say it was a product of her unrepentant high mindedness and, despite her poetic originality, for her refusal to surrender to the fashionable trends of her day, be they literary or otherwise. She was lampooned and pilloried for her self-consciously aristocratic eccentricity and her adherence to her own quite unique vision of high art. It is a great pity that these historical facts have continued to isolate her and prevent her superb and visionary poetry from gaining a wider audience in modern times. It is, I find, truly unique, majestic, and brilliant. Here the first of several I shall post in the next little while.