Saturday, April 24, 2010

Neglected Poets: C. H. Sisson

Even though he worked in government until the age of 58, C. H. Sisson (1914-2003) wrote a prodigious amount of poetry (both his own and translations) and prose.  He certainly was not unknown or unrecognized during his lifetime, but I believe that his work does not receive the attention it deserves.

          Good-day, Citizen

My life is given over to follies
More than I can exaggerate:
If I told you half you would imagine
That I am a very respectable person.

First, there is the folly of earning money
In order to have what is called independence:
You can admire that quality if you will,
I know what it is and do not admire it.

Secondly, there is the folly of spending it wisely,
So much for insurance, so much for the house,
Suitable provision for the children's education
Which for the most part they would rather not have.

Thirdly there would be, if that were not in fact all,
The supervening graces of domestic virtue
Everything paid up, honest as the day
But I am nearest to my own language in sleep.

A wonderful poem, and perhaps something of a surprise coming from a man who was described in the Daily Telegraph's obituary as "a doughty defender of traditional Anglicanism," whose "unfashionable high Tory views and . . . deeply-felt patriotism meant that he never found favour with the Left-liberal establishment, whose follies were a frequent theme of both his poetry and prose writings."  (A man after my own heart!)  Another fine poem in the same vein is "Money."

However, I do not wish to misrepresent Sisson's breadth and depth by citing these two somewhat acerbic poems (not that Sisson ever failed to call things as he saw them) -- they just happen to be long-time favorites of mine.  I could easily have begun with poems that have as their subjects the natural world, the classical world, theology, philosophy, or history.  (Throughout, he has a wicked sense of humor.)   There are more than 300 poems in his Collected Poems (published by Carcanet in 1998), so where does one begin?


Exactly: where the winter was
The spring has come:  I see her now
In the fields, and as she goes
The flowers spring, nobody knows how.
       The Mind of Man

The mind of man is nothing but
A repertoire of what is not,
Never was, and can never be:
So, at least, it is with me.

           The Media

The world is fabricated by
A gang of entertainers who
Have replaced God Almighty.

The universe, made in six days,
Is re-made every day by those
Who hear all that the newsman says,
For whom fact is replaced by gloze.

The air is full of noise,
The screen of caper:
Reality enjoys
No inch of paper.

The most expensive lies
Flourish in every home:
Great gulps of froth and foam
Win the first prize.

Go to the quiet wood
To hear the beating heart:
Leaf fall and breaking bud
Will play their part.

And so the truth is out
Which only quiet tells,
And as it does, its voice
Sounds like a peal of bells.


Nige said...

Yes, some lovely stuff there... Sissons was a civil servant (as we call it in the UK) - but wrote this Epitaph:
Here lies a civil servant.
He was civil to everyone
And servant to the Devil.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you very much for the comment, Nige, and for "Epitaph." It is a good example of Sisson's humor -- which was often directed at himself.

BurrettBlog said...

I have to say, I am bemused! You can of course call that poetry, but is it is crap poetry! It is absolute drivel, and whatever he was, and I'm sure he was a very nice person and a good Anglican, he was NOT a poet, by any stretcfh of the imagination. Look again at just the first verse, it is pure puerility! And it gets worse in the next three.

BurrettBlog said...

I've just been reading more of Sisson's work, and my conclusion is that he was a man of thought, and had some very relevant insights, which he then wrote doen in lines. Poetry, it's not! It's merely prose, in lines!

Stephen Pentz said...

BurrettBlog: Thank you for visiting and for commenting.