Saturday, August 4, 2012

"On Sometime Summer's Unreturning Track"

I'd like to stay with the theme of "evening" a moment longer in order to consider a poem by Christina Rossetti.  Rossetti is often thought of as a melancholy poet.  Indeed, longing, loss, and resignation do make fairly frequent appearances in her poems.

Yet -- and this may be a sign of some sort of pathology on my part -- reading her poetry never fails to cheer me up.  The same thing happens when I read Philip Larkin, another poet who has a reputation (deserved or not) for glumness.  (Larkin, by the way, was a great admirer of Rossetti's poetry.)

Something that John Bayley wrote is perhaps pertinent: "happiness is not common in good poetry, nor of much value to it."  John Bayley, "Spruce" (review of A. E. Housman: Collected Poems and Selected Prose), London Review of Books (June 2, 1988). 

Here is Rossetti's and Larkin's secret:  their poetry is lovely.  I realize that "lovely" is not exactly a rigorous critical assessment, but it is the best that I can do.

                                                John William Inchbold
                                          "A Study, in March" (c. 1855)

             From Sunset to Star Rise

Go from me, summer friends, and tarry not:
     I am no summer friend, but wintry cold,
     A silly sheep benighted from the fold,
A sluggard with a thorn-choked garden plot.
Take counsel, sever from my lot your lot,
     Dwell in your pleasant places, hoard your gold;
     Lest you with me should shiver on the wold,
Athirst and hungering on a barren spot.
For I have hedged me with a thorny hedge,
     I live alone, I look to die alone:
Yet sometimes when a wind sighs through the sedge
     Ghosts of my buried years and friends come back,
My heart goes sighing after swallows flown
     On sometime summer's unreturning track.

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1875).

So, where lies the beauty that dispels the gloom?  I'd say exactly here:  "On sometime summer's unreturning track."

                   John William Inchbold, "Anstey's Cove, Devon" (1854)

8 comments:

William A. Sigler said...

A witty post, and I love the quote from Bayley, but not as much as I love this masterful poem. I am quite envious of the ease at which pure music is put in the service of a multi-valent message that speaks to not only the poet's poignant life, but to the quest of any seeker, and to the universal lot of all people.

For some reason it reminds me of various lyrics by Bowie, Plant, etc., and gives some insight into why the British led such an incredible flowering of popular music: they lived and breathed verse such as this, the standards of expression were very high, as high one might offer as those of the anonymous Delta bluesmen who built a world with much less context.

I really enjoy the quality of the poems you share. It's one of the better things on the web.

Bovey Belle said...

I should recognize that part of Goblin Market as my daughters studied this at school. However, I do recognize Inchbold's beautiful painting as it is one of my favourites - he has so accurately captured that March light which tells you spring really HAS arrived. Magical. Off to find my daughters' copy of Rossetti now.

George said...

It recalls Trumbull Stickney's "Mnemosyne", though that might just mean I haven't thought enough about it.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: thank you very much for your kind words about the blog -- I greatly appreciate them.

I'm glad you like the poem. Bowie and Plant inspired by the likes of Rossetti, eh? I'd like to think so!

Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: thank you for visiting again. Yes, the light in Inchbold's painting is fine, isn't it? It perfectly captures the clear, slanted light of a (non-rainy) spring day.

As always, thanks for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: thank you very much for stopping by again. I appreciate the reference to Stickney's poem -- although I have read some of his poetry, I hadn't come across "Mnemosyne." I looked it up on the Web, and it is very good. I agree: it does go very well with Rossetti's poem. Thank you.

Merisi Vienna said...

I just wanted you to know that I always enjoy your poems and your thoughts, even though I do not often have something worthy of a comment.

Thank you for sharing your treasures,
Merisi

Stephen Pentz said...

Merisi: thank you very much for your kind words. I always appreciate your visits -- whether you comment or not! Thanks again.