Thursday, March 14, 2013

"When March Blows"

Ivor Gurney was extremely sensitive to changes in the world around him, be it the weather or the seasons.  Of course, one could argue that any "nature poet" (e.g., Edward Thomas, Andrew Young, John Clare, William Wordsworth) necessarily possesses such a sensitivity.  But in Gurney this sensitivity was particularly acute.

As I have noted before, I am reluctant to attribute Gurney's qualities as a poet to his sometimes precarious mental condition.  It would be unfair to him to suggest that his sensitivity was a product of that condition.  At the risk of sounding romantic, I think that Gurney can be likened to Vincent van Gogh:  the sensuous presence of the world -- everything in it -- was so deeply felt by both of them that they were constantly at risk of being overwhelmed (both physically and mentally).  It would be a disservice to them to describe their sensitivity as a pathology.  Perhaps we are the ones who need to catch up with them.

Enslin Du Plessis, "Cotswold Landscape" (1942)

                        When March Blows

When March blows, and Monday's linen is shown
On the goose berry bushes, and the worried washer alone
Fights at the soaked stuff, meres and the rutted pools
Mirror the wool-pack clouds, and shine clearer than jewels

And the children throw stones in them, spoil mirrors and clouds
The worry of washing over; the worry of foods,
Brings tea-time; March quietens as the trouble dies.
The washing is brought in under wind-swept clear skies.

Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996).

John Singer Sargent, "La Biancheria" (1910)

The subject of the washing drying in the wind brings to mind a lovely poem by Andrew Young.  The poem has appeared here before, but it is worth revisiting.

           The Shepherd's Hut

The smear of blue peat smoke
That staggered on the wind and broke,
The only sign of life,
Where was the shepherd's wife,
Who left those flapping clothes to dry,
Taking no thought for her family?
For, as they bellied out
And limbs took shape and waved about,
I thought, She little knows
That ghosts are trying on her children's clothes.

Andrew Young, Collected Poems (Rupert Hart-Davis 1960).

James McIntosh Patrick, "A City Garden" (1940)


Anonymous said...

The image of freshly-washed clothes hanging on bushes or, more often when I was a boy, on a clothesline in the backyard (coming home from school I could see sheets and shirts and pants waving to me from a distance, a greeting that to this day I associate with the comfort of home) always conjures Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World":

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded
Hangs for a moment bodiless and
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with

Some are in bed-sheets, some are
in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there
they are.
Now they are rising together in calm
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they
With the deep joy of their impersonal

Now they are flying in place,
The terrible speed of their
omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now
of a sudden
They swoon down in so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every
blessed day,
And cries,
"Oh, let there be nothing on
earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising
And clear dances done in the sight of

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks
and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns
and rises,

"Bring them down from their ruddy
Let there be clean linen for the backs
of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much for the poem by Wilbur, which I hadn't seen before: it is lovely, and I appreciate your sharing it.

And thank you as well for sharing your childhood memories of clotheslines in the backyard: I share similar memories, and you have brought them back to me. Perhaps clothes-dryers have taken something away. Although I'm sure my mother and grandmothers would think differently!

Thanks again.