Saturday, November 24, 2012

"November Eves"

I am writing this in the cold clime in which I was born, visiting relatives for Thanksgiving.  Yesterday, the temperature dropped about 25 degrees in the space of 12 hours or so.  Borne on an icy wind, snow arrived in the evening.

This morning, a childhood of winters came rushing back.  "The snows of yesteryear" and all that.  Not in minute detail, but in the form of emotion. The sort of emotion that sank down into your bones decades ago, without your knowing it.  Now, here it is again, all of it.

                      John Piper, "The Tithe Barn, Great Coxwell" (c. 1940)

                November Eves

November Evenings!  Damp and still
They used to cloak Leckhampton hill,
And lie down close on the grey plain,
And dim the dripping window-pane,
And send queer winds like Harlequins
That seized our elms for violins
And struck a note so sharp and low
Even a child could feel the woe.

Now fire chased shadow round the room;
Tables and chairs grew vast in gloom:
We crept about like mice, while Nurse
Sat mending, solemn as a hearse,
And even our unlearned eyes
Half closed with choking memories.

Is it the mist or the dead leaves,
Or the dead men -- November eves?

James Elroy Flecker, The Old Ships (1917).

                    John Piper, "The River Approach, Fawley Court" (1940)

The fairy tale feeling of Flecker's poem is reminiscent of a poem by Louis MacNeice.

                             The Riddle

'What is it that goes round and round the house'
The riddle began.  A wolf, we thought, or a ghost?
Our cold backs turned to the chink in the kitchen shutter,
The range made our small scared faces warm as toast.

But now the cook is dead and the cooking, no doubt, electric,
No room for draught or dream, for child or mouse,
Though we, in another place, still put ourselves the question:
What is it that goes round and round the house?

Louis MacNeice, Solstices (1961).

                                                      John Piper
      "Tombstones, Holy Trinity Churchyard, Hinton-in-the-Hedges (1940)

6 comments:

Bovey Belle said...

Thank you for introducing me to two more new-to-me poets. I love the glimpse into past lives . . .

"Now fire chased shadow round the room" - how eloquent.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: I'm pleased that you like the poems and the poets. I agree: that is a lovely line by Flecker.

As ever, thank you for stopping by.

acornmoon said...

"The sort of emotion that sank down into your bones decades ago, without your knowing it" I love that!

Stephen Pentz said...

acornmoon: thank you for visiting again, and for your thought. Sometimes emotions feel that way (not all of the time), I think.

Chris Matarazzo said...

Wow -- why do I love the rhyme of "harlequins" and "violins" so much? I hate the overuse of this word, but, it strikes me as exquisite in the truest sense.

Stephen Pentz said...

Chris: I think that you are exactly right, and I agree that "exquisite" is perfectly apt.

Flecker's poems can at times be a bit archaic in vocabulary and diction, and there was a time when the appearance of "Harlequins" would have made the "modernist" (I hate that word) in me go on alert. When "violins" appeared, I would definitely have been on alert. However, I have long ago (I hope) weaned myself of "modernism." I now have no problem whatsoever finding "Harlequins" and "violins" exquisite!

I appreciate your stopping by again. It's always good to hear from you.