When I was 6 or 7, my Dad returned from a trip to Germany bringing me the most wondrous packet of felt pens I’d ever seen. They were double-ended, with a fat end for colouring large areas and a pointy end for detail. Forget previously-desirable Platignum and Pentel: in early-70s Aberdeen, this was serious Blue Petering kit. This was love.
Soon after, I announced that I wanted to be an opera singer when I grew up. Opera singers came from Germany (of course), so this would be the way (more…)
In her introduction, Duffy reveals the intention behind this collection: ‘we hope that these poems… will hold your hand’. The image, taken from one of the poems included in the book, is simple, clear, effective: it’s about comfort and companionship, recognition and acknowledgement. And I’d say the book does what Duffy puts on the tin.
There’s a mixture of poems you’re likely to have encountered already and poems which are probably new; similarly, there are a lot of familiar voices—Tennyson, Rosetti, Thomas, St. Vincent Millay, Thomas, and Duffy herself—as well as new ones, and anonymous/traditional texts too. Some are suitable for reading at a funeral or memorial; some feel more intimate. I particularly like the fact that such a range of moods is represented in this volume: shocked, angry, bewildered, wry, consoled, consoling, defiant, felled by loss… even in such a small book, something to find you in most moods.
And if you’re new to the poetry of loss, this would be a great place to start.
You can read this poem here.
Like Betjeman’s ‘In a Bath Teashop’ (which you can also read here), MacNeice’s ‘Meeting point’ captures an experience both ordinary (in the sense of common) and extra-ordinary: the exalted, exalting human experience of being “in love”. Though very different in tone, these poems both emphasise the time-out-of-time quality of the state of “in love-ness”. It is a privileged state in so many ways, of which ‘Meeting point’ reminds us; but, in the repeated refrain ‘time was away and somewhere else’, MacNeice emphasises how being in love frees us —for however long or short a time—from the usual human condition of being, and knowing ourselves to be, unavoidably subject to time. Indeed, by the end of the poem, the repeated refrain ‘time was away and somewhere else’ has become ‘time was away and she was here’. This underlines how the presence of the beloved obliterates and as it were replaces time.
I love so much about this poem. Aside from the refrain, however, what stays with me always is the line ‘God or whatever means the Good’. Particularly in a time when religion seems to be so divisive (though perhaps ’twas ever thus), this is, for me anyway, such a simple, beautiful and therefore useful way to refer to something/someone. It acknowledges the existence of different concepts and understandings—’whatever means the Good’—at the same time as it invites us to see what is common to them all.
And that penultimate stanza is so neatly circular. The word-for-word repetition in the first and fifth lines, and the way the stanza’s argument seamlessly moves us from statement to restatement, seems somehow to enact the process of “proving” something, which the stanza describes. ‘[T]he body’s peace’ manifests ‘what the heart has understood’, which itself verifies ‘God or whatever means the Good’; which whole process is a cause for praise to ‘God or whatever means the Good’. The process works forwards, backwards and probably sideways for all I can tell. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Do have a look at the Betjeman, too. Some of the diction feels of its time, and may grate on 21st century sensibilities; but this poem, too, exalts the state of exaltation in a way which those of us lucky (?) enough to fall in love cannot but recognise.
So, this has to be one of the weirdest things I’ve seen this Christmas. “The true spirit of Christmas: Turkey panini and chips”. I mean, what? Who wrote that, and why? And why are they still working in advertising??
There’s something about how adrift things have got, here (unless of course this is so achingly post- post- modern and ironic that it should come with paracetamol) which inclines me either to laugh, or weep. I’ve decided to laugh, and (more…)
You can read this poem, and hear the poet reading it, here.
The simplicity and beauty of this poem silence me. It captures an experience of ecstasy, release and hope—an access into eternity—which all who have shared it will recognise. ‘Delight… beauty… tears… horror… song’… In his autobiography CS Lewis defines joy as ‘an unsatisfied desire which is in itself more desirable than any satisfaction’. This quietly, profoundly moving poem makes me think of that.