Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Neglected Poets: Siegfried Sassoon

It may seem odd to identify Siegfried Sassoon as a "neglected poet."  His poems and memoirs of the First World War have certainly not been forgotten (particularly Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and several much-anthologized poems:  "Base Details," "The General," "Attack," "'Blighters'," "The Dug-Out," "To Any Dead Officer," "Suicide in the Trenches").  Further, his personality - the "fox-hunting man" who was known as "Mad Jack" in the trenches for his bravery and recklessness; the war protester who nevertheless wished to return to the front due to his love for the men he led - still holds interest:  three substantial biographies have been written about him within the past 10 years or so.

However, I believe that Sassoon is a "neglected poet" when it comes to the poetry that he wrote after the War.  Bear in mind that he was born in 1886 and died in 1967 - just short of 81.  During most of the 49 years of his life after the War he continued to write poetry, and, although he was certainly a well-known personage, his poetry was generally viewed by critics as out-of-fashion (or, more commonly, was simply ignored).

I readily admit that I, too, viewed him simply as a "War Poet" - until I read Siegfried Sassoon: A Poet's Pilgrimage by D. Felicitas Corrigan (published in 1973).  The book combines extracts of Sassoon's writing (some of it previously unpublished) with a biographical narrative that places the pieces in context.  I discovered that there was a great deal that I had missed in Sassoon.  Here is a small part of what I found.


One winter's end I much bemused my head
In tasked attempts to drive it up to date
With what the undelighting moderns said
   Forecasting human fate.

And then, with nothing unforeseen to say
And no belief or unbelief to bring,
Came, in its old unintellectual way,
   The first real day of spring.

Sequences (1956).  This poem was originally published in 1950 in a volume titled Common Chords.

'When I'm alone' -- the words tripped off his tongue
As though to be alone were nothing strange.
'When I was young,' he said; 'when I was young . . .'

I thought of age, and loneliness, and change.
I thought how strange we grow when we're alone,
And how unlike the selves that meet, and talk,
And blow the candles out, and say good-night.
Alone . . . The word is life endured and known.
It is the stillness where our spirits walk
And all but inmost faith is overthrown.

Collected Poems (1961).  According to Sassoon, this poem was written in December of 1924.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Man Is But A Bubble": Erasmus and Dodsley

"Man is but a bubble" is one of the adages collected by Erasmus in his Adagia.  He writes:

"Man is but a bubble.  The lesson of this proverb is that there is nothing so fragile, so fleeting and so empty as the life of man.  A bubble is that round swollen empty thing which we watch in water as it grows and vanishes in a moment of time.  Thus Marcus Terentius Varro in the preface to his book on agriculture:  'Bearing in mind', he says, 'that I must make haste; for if, as they say, man is but a bubble, much more is this true of an old man.  My eightieth year reminds me to pack my baggage, before I bid farewell to life.' . . . Nor could one think of anything, in fact, which would give a better picture of the utter nothingness of this life of ours."

The Adages of Erasmus (selected by William Barker), II.iii.48 (University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 171-172.

Long before encountering the comments by Erasmus, I came across this poem by Robert Dodsley (who is perhaps best known as one of Samuel Johnson's publishers):

Man's a poor deluded bubble, 
   Wand'ring in a mist of lies,
Seeing false, or seeing double,
   Who would trust to such weak eyes?
Yet presuming on his senses, 
   On he goes most wond'rous wise:
Doubts of truth, believes pretences;
   Lost in error, lives and dies. 

Robert Dodsley, Trifles (1745), page 241.  I particularly like the line: "on he goes most wond'rous wise."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Victorian Poetry: A Confession

A confession:  I am fond of Victorian poetry.  That being said (and in order to perhaps temper your dismay, delight, or indifference), let me make clear that this fondness excludes: (1) wide swathes of Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold; (2) lengthy dramatic poems set in mythic, Arthurian, exotic, or antique lands (alas! no Proserpinas, Pomonas, or Pans!); and (3) Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll.

So, what does that leave us with?  Consider this:


Is Memory most of miseries miserable,
Or the one flower of ease in bitterest hell?

Or this:

Below the surface-stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say we feel - below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel - there flows
With noiseless current strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.

And, finally, consider this:

The Metropolitan Underground Railway

Here were a goodly place wherein to die; --
   Grown latterly to sudden change averse,
All violent contrasts fain avoid would I
   On passing from this world into a worse.

"Memory" is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), who is better known as a Pre-Raphaelite painter than as a poet.  "Below the surface-stream" is by Matthew Arnold.  (Although I said that my fondness excludes "wide swathes" of Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold - it does not exclude everything.)  "The Metropolitan Underground Railway" is by William Watson (1858-1935).  Despite a bit of slightly archaic diction in places, these poems seem to me to be, well, timeless - and not stereotypically "Victorian" as that term is commonly understood.  I was surprised when I first came across them.  They made me realize that there is more to "Victorian" England than meets the eye.

So, from time to time, I will treat you (or afflict you, as the case may be) with poems by the likes of William Allingham, Richard Watson Dixon, Edward Dowden, Coventry Patmore, William Renton, A. Mary F. Robinson, William Bell Scott, C. S. Calverley, John Leicester Warren, Arthur Hugh Clough, and Philip Bourke Marston. 

Before I go, I will cave in and permit one "Proserpina" (by Dante Gabriel Rossetti):

Friday, March 26, 2010

Edmund Blunden: 'Trench Nomenclature'

As I said in a recent post, reading Edmund Blunden's Undertones of War is heart-breaking.  But I am also always amazed at the humor that persisted under the horrific conditions:  you have to shake your head and smile sometimes.

For instance: the naming of trenches and other military locations.  Blunden mentions the following trenches: Jacob's Ladder; Kentish Caves; Half Moon Street; St. Martin's Lane; Haymarket; Piccadilly; Esperanto Terrace; Coney Street; The Great Wall of China.  In addition to the trenches, Blunden mentions Valley Cottages (a battalion headquarters); Oskar Copse and Wilde Wood (adjacent battlefield features); Ocean Villas (a play on the name of a village - Auchonvillers - near the trenches).

Blunden includes a poem entitled 'Trench Nomenclature' in the final section of  Undertones of War.  Here are the first two lines and the final two lines of the poem:

Genius named them, as I live!  What but genius could compress
In a title what man's humour said to man's supreme distress?
. . .
Ah, such names and apparitions! name on name! What's in a name?
From the fabled vase the genie in his cloud of horror came.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Escape, Part Three: C. P. Cavafy

No visit to the land of "wherever you go, there you are" would be complete without considering one of C. P. Cavafy's best-known poems:

                       The City

You said:  "I'll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I've spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally."

You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You'll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city.  Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there's no ship for you, there's no road.
Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere in the world.

C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard) (Princeton University Press, 1992).

You have to give Cavafy credit:  he doesn't mince words, does he? 

On the other hand, one could look at another of his poems - "Ithaka" - and find, if not a way of escape from "the black ruins of [your] life," at least a potential way of living that saves you from false hopes.  But I'll save "Ithaka" for another time.
                                     Cavafy's City: Alexandria

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

C. S. Lewis: "On a Vulgar Error"

I first encountered the following poem in Philip Larkin's The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse.  Larkin's selection of poems was published in 1973, and it was criticized by many as being too "old-fashioned."  Given Larkin's sense of humor, one gets the feeling that he likely set out to provoke exactly that type of response.  In any event, here is the poem - which stands on its own (but it is easy to understand why Larkin would like it):

        On a Vulgar Error

No. It's an impudent falsehood.  Men did not
Invariably think the newer way
Prosaic, mad, inelegant, or what not.

Was the first pointed arch esteemed a blot
Upon the church?  Did anybody say
How modern and how ugly?  They did not.

Plate-armour, or windows glazed, or verse fire-hot
With rhymes from France, or spices from Cathay,
Were these at first a horror?  They were not.

If, then, our present arts, laws, houses, food
All set us hankering after yesterday,
Need this be only an archaising mood?

Why, any man whose purse has been let blood
By sharpers, when he finds all drained away
Must compare how he stands with how he stood.

If a quack doctor's breezy ineptitude
Has cost me a leg, must I forget straightaway
All that I can't do now, all that I could?

So, when our guides unanimously decry
The backward glance, I think we can guess why.

C. S. Lewis, Poems (1964), page 60.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Edmund Blunden: Undertones of War

Edmund Blunden's memoir of life in the trenches - Undertones of War - is, as one might expect, horrific and heart-breaking.  The style of Undertones is interesting: there is no invective or savage satire.  Rather, Blunden's tone is matter-of-fact, and even a bit wry.  And certainly elegiac. But the steady accumulation of exactly-rendered detail and incident is ultimately devastating.  First, a bit of background.
After attending Oxford, Blunden volunteered for the army in 1915.  He was on the front lines with the Royal Sussex Regiment by May of 1916 - at the age of nineteen.  He spent two years on the front.  His nickname in the trenches was "Rabbit."  He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

Blunden's method in Undertones is revealed in the following passage:

"Do I loiter too long among little things?  It may be so, but those whom I foresee as my readers will pardon the propensity.  Each circumstance of the British experience that is still with me has ceased for me to be big or little . . . Kenward the corporal and I saw a sentry crouching and peering one way and another like a birdboy in an October storm.  He spoke, grinned and shivered; we passed; and duly the sentry was hit by a shell.  So that in this vicinity a peculiar difficulty would exist for the artist to select the sights, faces, words, incidents, which characterized the time.  The art is rather to collect them, in their original form of incoherence."

Here are two of the "little things" that Blunden remembers:

"Darkness clammy and complete, save for the flames of shells, masked that movement, but one stunted willow tree at which the track changed direction must haunt the memories of some of us.  Trees in the battlefield are already described by Dante."

"Climbing the dirty little road over the steep bank, one immediately entered the land of despair.  Bodies, bodies and their useless gear heaped the gross waste ground; the slimy road was soon only a mud track which passed a whitish tumulus of ruin with lurking entrances, some spikes that had been pine-trees, a bricked cellar or two, and died out. . . . The shell-holes were mostly small lakes of what was no doubt merely rusty water, but had a red and foul semblance of blood.  Paths glistened weakly from tenable point to point.  Of the dead, one was conspicuous.  He was a Scottish soldier, and was kneeling, facing east, so that one could scarcely credit death in him; he was seen at some little distance from the usual tracks, and no one had much time in Thiepval just then for sight-seeing, or burying.  Death could not kneel so, I thought, and approaching I ascertained with a sudden shrivelling of spirit that Death could and did."

Undertones of War (1928), pages 157, 97-98.

Having witnessed these landscapes, it is small wonder that Blunden the poet (and he was primarily a poet throughout his life) would later write these lines in his poem "The Sunlit Vale":

I saw the sunlit vale, and the pastoral fairy-tale;
The sweet and bitter scent of the may drifted by;
And never have I seen such a bright bewildering green,
   But it looked like a lie,
   Like a kindly meant lie.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

No Escape, Part Two: Samuel Johnson

When it comes to obtaining wise, no-nonsense, eloquent, and entertaining counsel on Life and/or How to Live, I am more than willing to rely solely upon Montaigne and Samuel Johnson.  As far as the quiddities of human nature and human behavior are concerned, one can be fairly certain that the two of them have been there before we have.

Hence, we should not be astonished that Samuel Johnson has visited the "wherever you go, there you are" territory and has reached the same conclusions as Montaigne (but in his own delightful fashion, of course):
     The general remedy of those, who are uneasy without knowing the cause, is change of place; they are willing to imagine that their pain is the consequence of some local inconvenience, and endeavour to fly from it, as children from their shadows; always hoping for more satisfactory delight from every new scene, and always returning home with disappointments and complaints. 
     [Johnson then describes Abraham Cowley's plan - as expressed by Cowley in the preface to his poems - to abandon England for America in order to gain peace of mind.]  Surely no stronger instance can be given of a persuasion that content was the inhabitant of particular regions, and that a man might set sail with a fair wind, and leave behind him all his cares, incumbrances, and calamities. . . .
     [Cowley] never suspected that the cause of his unhappiness was within, that his own passions were not sufficiently regulated, and that he was harrassed by his own impatience, which could never be without something to awaken it, would accompany him over the sea, and find its way to his American elysium.  He would, upon the trial, have been soon convinced, that the fountain of content must spring up in the mind; and that he, who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing, but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, Number 6 (April 7, 1750).   
      Claude Lorrain, "Imaginary View of Delphi, with a Procession"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Escape, Part One: Montaigne

An old saw:  "Wherever you go, there you are."  (Have no fear!  I am not venturing into "pop psychology," nor am I about to offer "self-help" advice.  Montaigne will arrive in a moment.)  Put differently:  There is no escaping yourself. 
Not surprisingly, Montaigne (and, it turns out, Socrates) covered this ground long before we moderns arrived on the scene:

Ambition, avarice, irresolution, fear, and lust do not leave us when we change our country.  "Behind the horseman sits black care."  [Horace]  They often follow us even into the cloisters and the schools of philosophy.  Neither deserts, nor rocky caves, nor hair shirts, nor fastings will free us of them. . . . Someone said to Socrates that a certain man had grown no better by his travels.  " I should think not," he said; "he took himself along with him."  
     Why should we move to find
     Countries and climates of another kind?
     What exile leaves himself behind?  [Horace] 
If a man does not first unburden his soul of the load that weighs upon it, movement will cause it to be crushed still more, as in a ship the cargo is less cumbersome when it is settled.  You do a sick man more harm than good by moving him.  You imbed the malady by disturbing it, as stakes penetrate deeper and grow firmer when you budge them and shake them.

Michel de Montaigne, "Of Solitude," from Essays (translated by Donald Frame).

On the rafters of his library, Montaigne engraved quotes of which he wished to be reminded.
The rafter below contains part of a quote from Terence: "homo sum humani a me nihil alienum puto."  Alas, I have no Latin, but here is one way of translating the line: "I am human; so nothing human is strange to me."

Friday, March 19, 2010


I am fond of the word "repose."  I trace this fondness back to the following poem by R. S. Thomas:


It was a time when wise men
Were not silent, but stifled
By vast noise.  They took refuge
In books that were not read.

Two counsellors had the ear
Of the public.  One cried 'Buy'
Day and night, and the other,
More plausibly, 'Sell your repose.'

R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems: 1945-1990 (1993).

"Sell your repose" has been rattling around inside me for years (together with the entire poem - it is one of those poems you automatically have by heart the second or third time that you read it.)

Then, recently, I read this poem by James Reeves (one of my "neglected poets"):


Repose is in simplicities.
Perhaps the mind has leaves like trees,
Luxuriant in the sensual sun
And tossed by wind's intricacies,
And finds repose is more than grief
When failing light and falling leaf
Denote that winter has begun.

James Reeves, Collected Poems (1974).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "repose" as "the state of being quietly inactive or relaxed, or of being free from care, anxiety, or other disturbances; ease, serenity."  (Sense 2.a.)  But perhaps I prefer Sense 2.b, which the OED designates as "obsolete":  "peace of mind."   

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Neglected Poets: Andrew Young

Many of my favorite poems have been written by poets who I consider to be "neglected."  There are various reasons for this neglect.  Perhaps it has to do with literary "reputations" and (Heaven forbid) literary "criticism."  (I am not an unremitting foe of literary criticism, but its role has been a trifle (!) inflated in recent times.)  Whatever the reason for the neglect, it saddens me that wonderful poets and poems do not receive the attention they deserve.  One of my goals is to share these poets and poems with you.

Andrew Young (1885-1971), who was born in Scotland, was first a Presbyterian minister and, later, an Anglican vicar.  He wrote poetry throughout his long life.

          A Dead Mole

Strong-shouldered mole,
That so much lived below the ground,
Dug, fought and loved, hunted and fed,
For you to raise a mound
Was as for us to make a hole;
What wonder now that being dead
Your body lies here stout and square
Buried within the blue vault of the air?

If you wish to read more of Andrew Young's poetry, try to find a copy of his 1960 Collected Poems: it is illustrated with wood-engravings by Joan Hassall.  The engraving below is by Hassall: 

A Humble Thank You

I have been in transit the past day or so, so I only just noticed the extremely kind remarks about this blog posted by Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence (which were in turn prompted by the extremely kind remarks about the blog made to him by Michael Gilleland of Laudator Temporis Acti).   I offer my humble (and inadequate) thanks to both of these gentlemen.

I addition to my thanks, I can only give credit where credit is due:  I would not have embarked upon this blog if it were not for Patrick and Mike.  I belatedly discovered their blogs last year, and both of them were a revelation to me:  "Wow, there are people out there who have read - and love - some of the same things that I do!"  And, after the first shock of delight at shared enthusiasms, there was the even greater delight of being introduced to new ideas, new writers, and new works in an intelligent, erudite, and passionate fashion by two generous gentleman who wish to share their loves with the rest of us.

Mike and Patrick inspire me because they embody the best of what this Internet world can offer us: the ability to fashion a community (oops: the word "community" makes me a bit queasy, but I'll let it stand this time) of people who appreciate - and who hope to preserve and share - the best that our civilized world has to offer.  (O.K., I will get off my high horse now.) 

In closing, I once again offer my humble thanks to Mr. Kurp and Mr. Gilleland.  I also offer my thanks (and my welcome) to those of you who are kind enough to visit me now and then.    

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Czeslaw Milosz: "Learning"

To believe you are magnificent.  And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent.  Enough labor for one human life.

This is one of the pieces (in its entirety) from Road-side Dog (1998) by Czeslaw Milosz.  When I come upon something as full of wisdom as this, I think:  "I wish that I had read this 20 (or 30 or 40) years ago."  But, there is always the necessary follow-up question:  would reading it then have changed anything?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Leopardi: Life As A Voyage (But Not A Pleasant One)

A preliminary point:  one person's "pessimism" is another person's "realism."  (Or, put differently:  one person's "pessimism" is another person's "truth.")  With that, I will dispense with the scare quotes around  pessimism.  On to Leopardi. 

When it comes to pessimism (or, realism and truth, if you will), you cannot beat Leopardi. Compared to him, Arthur Schopenhauer (often thought of as the king of pessimism) is a rank amateur.  (It comes as no surprise that Schopenhauer greatly admired Leopardi.)  

We have all heard the old saw that "life is a journey, not a destination."  Well, here is what Leopardi has to say about that journey:

"What is life?  The voyage of a crippled, sick man who, with a very heavy burden on his back, walks over steep mountains and extremely harsh, fatiguing, difficult places through snow, ice, rain, wind, under the burning sun, without rest day and night for many days in order to reach a precipice or ditch into which he must inevitably fall."

(Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone, entry written in Bologna on January 17, 1826.) 

                                               Leopardi's Death Mask

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Like Morley's Ducks, Born Without A Notion"

The fact that I browse through the yellowed pages of Notes and Queries no doubt means that I have too much time on my hands.  (Yes, the pages are indeed yellow in the copies that are available in the Internet Archive.)  But the prospect of delightful discoveries around any corner is addictive (at least for me).

For instance:

" 'Like Morley's ducks, born without a notion.'  This was also a Nottinghamshire saying, but a very common one - spoken of someone on the occasion of his committing a stupid action.  A public-house at Sneinton, near Nottingham, had been kept by generations of Morleys, and one of them, in answer to a complaint of their straying into a  neighbour's garden, said his ducks were 'born without a notion.'"

(Notes and Queries, Fifth Series, Volume X, Number 236, July 6, 1878, contributed by "Ellcee.") 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Disappearance Of "For Ever": A Lament

There was a time (say, prior to the middle of the 19th century) when the word that we now write as "forever" was written "for ever."  Ah, how I long for those days!

Why? Perhaps it is because of my innate conservatism, my resistance to change.  Perhaps I am merely being eccentric.  But, please note that my objection to "forever" is not based upon etymology, lexicography, or proper or improper English usage.  No, my objection to "forever" is based solely upon aesthetics: I find "for ever" to be much more beautiful, elegant, and pleasing than "forever."  Call me a reactionary, but if "for ever" was acceptable to Samuel Johnson, it certainly ought to be acceptable to us.

I recently discovered that I am not the only one who has pondered the merits of "for ever" versus "forever."  (We are never as unique as we think we are.)  I came upon a poem by Charles Stuart Calverley (1831-1884), who was well-known in Victorian England for his humorous verse.  Here is the poem:


Forever; 'tis a single word!
   Our rude forefathers deemed it two:
Can you imagine so absurd
   A view!

Forever!  What abysms of woe
   The word reveals, what frenzy, what
Despair!  For ever (printed so)
   Did not.

It looks, ah me! how trite and tame!
   It fails to sadden or appal
Or solace - it is not the same
   At all.

O thou to whom it first occurred
   To solder the disjoined, and dower
Thy native language with a word
   Of power:

We bless thee!  Whether far or near
   Thy dwelling, whether dark or fair
Thy kingly brow, is neither here
   Nor there.

But in men's hearts shall be thy throne,
   While the great pulse of England beats.
Thou coiner of a word unknown
   To Keats!

And nevermore must printer do
   As men did long ago; but run
"For" into "ever," bidding two
   Be one.

Forever!  passion-fraught, it throws
   O'er the dim page a gloom, a glamour:
It's sweet, it's strange; and I suppose
   It's grammar.

Forever!  'Tis a single word!
   And yet our fathers deemed it two:
Nor am I confident they erred;
   Are you? 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Encounter With William Cowper

While idly browsing through Notes and Queries (the back issues of which - going back to its inception in 1849 - may be found in the Internet Archive), I came upon a wonderful account (written in 1853) of a young boy's unknowing encounter with William Cowper. The encounter occurred in 1799, when the writer of the account was 10 years old. Cowper was troubled with debilitating "melancholy" throughout his life. By 1799, he was in a state of deep despondency. He died the next year at the age of 68.

Here is the account:

"In the midsummer holidays of 1799, being on a visit to an old and opulent family of the name of Deverell, in Dereham, Norfolk, I was taken to the house of an ancient lady (a member of the aforesaid family), to pay my respects to her, and to drink tea. Two visitors were particularly expected. They soon arrived. The first, if I remember rightly (for my whole attention was singularly riveted to the second), was a pleasant-looking, lively young man, very talkative and entertaining; his companion was above the middle height, broadly made, but not stout, and advanced in years. His countenance had a peculiar charm that I could not resist. It alternately exhibited a deep sadness, a thoughtful repose, a fearful and an intellectual fire, that surprised and held me captive. His manner was embarrassed and reserved. He spoke but little. Yet once he was roused to animation; then his voice was full and clear. I have a faint recollection that I saw his face lighted up with a momentary smile. His hostess kindly welcomed him as "Mr. Cooper." After tea, we walked for a while in the garden. I kept close to his side, and once he addressed me as "My little master." I returned to school; but that variable, expressive, and interesting countenance I did not forget."

(George Daniel (1789-1864), in Notes and Queries, First Series, Volume VII, January 29, 1853. The italics appear in the original.)

Years later, when looking in a bookstore window in London, Mr. Daniel saw a volume of poems displayed which had a frontispiece portrait: the portrait was of "Mr. Cooper," the man he had met when he was 10 years old. "It was something, said Washington Irving, to have seen even the dust of Shakespeare. It is something, too, to have beheld the face and to have heard the voice of Cowper." (Ibid.)

As to Cowper's likely state of mind of mind in 1799, this is from a letter that he wrote to Lady Hesketh (one of his closest friends) on August 26, 1792: "As to that gloominess of mind, which I have had these twenty years, it cleaves to me even here; and could I be translated to Paradise, unless I left my body behind me, would cleave to me even there also. It is my companion for life, and nothing will ever divorce us." Six years later, he writes to her: "My state of mind is a medium through which the beauties of Paradise itself could not be communicated with any effect but a painful one."

And there is this, the final stanza of "The Castaway":

No voice divine the storm allay'd,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
We perish'd, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.

"The Castaway" was based upon a true incident: during the course of George Anson's voyage around the world from 1740 to 1744, a seaman fell overboard during a storm, and the ships could not turn about to rescue him. He disappeared from sight, still afloat. "The Castaway" was Cowper's last poem. It was written on March 20, 1799 - a little more than a year prior to his death on April 25, 1800, and a few months before the young boy met him.

Two Paintings

I begin also with thanks to Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853), whose painting appears above. The painting is titled (according to one source, at least) A View through Three of the Northwestern Arches of the Third Story of the Colosseum. Eckersberg painted it in 1815 or 1816.

And I thank John Nash as well for Canal Bridge, Sydney Gardens, Bath (circa 1927).

Do the paintings somehow relate to the phrase "First Known When Lost?" Not with any intention on my part. Things are pretty simple-minded around here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

To Edward Thomas

I begin this blog by expressing my appreciation to Edward Thomas for his poem "First Known When Lost." His name will come up quite often here, so I will not attempt to delve into my admiration for him and his work at this time.

But perhaps this will give you some idea of how people who knew him felt about him:

To E. T.: 1917

You sleep too well - too far away,
For sorrowing word to soothe or wound;
Your very quiet seems to say
How longed-for a peace you have found.

Else, had not death so lured you on,
You would have grieved - 'twixt joy and fear -
To know how my small loving son
Had wept for you, my dear.

This poem is by Walter de la Mare. It first appeared in de la Mare's Motley and Other Poems in 1918. The poem speaks for itself. I will only note that the grief expressed in the poem is combined with a sensitive (and affectionate) perception of Thomas's character.