Monday, September 9, 2013

Stars And Wolves

Patrick Kavanagh's "My Room," which appeared in my previous post, closes with the following stanza:

My room is a musty attic,
But its little window
Lets in the stars.

The reference to the stars reminds me of another early poem by Kavanagh. I have never quite "figured out" this poem (there are plenty of poems that fall within that category!), but I'm not troubled.  I'm happy with it as it is. Mystery is preferable to explanation.

George Price Boyce, "A Girl by a Beech Tree in a Landscape" (1857) 

          To a Child

Child, do not go
Into the dark places of soul,
For there the grey wolves whine,
The lean grey wolves.

I have been down
Among the unholy ones who tear
Beauty's white robe and clothe her
In rags of prayer.

Child, there is light somewhere
Under a star.
Sometime it will be for you
A window that looks
Inward to God.

Patrick Kavanagh, Ploughman and Other Poems (1936).

I find it interesting that Kavanagh writes "Into the dark places of soul" in line 2 rather than "Into the dark places of the soul."  Perhaps it's just me, but "the soul" seems to be more expected, especially in a poem with a religious undercurrent.  As in, for instance, "the dark night of the soul." Just a thought.

Apart from his misbegotten detours into Irish culture and politics, a consistent thread runs through Kavanagh's poetry from beginning to end: a call both to himself and to us to pay attention to the world around us, particularly those things we might think of as "the everyday" or "the commonplace."  Like the star in "To a Child," everything out there is a window inward (and/or outward).

James Clarke Hook, "Home with the Tide" (1880)

With regard to our relationship with stars (but without "lean grey wolves"), the final stanza of the following poem comes to mind.

             "I Am the One"

I am the one whom ringdoves see
          Through chinks in boughs
          When they do not rouse
          In sudden dread,
But stay on cooing, as if they said:
          'Oh; it's only he.'

I am the passer when up-eared hares,
          Stirred as they eat
          The new-sprung wheat,
          Their munch resume
As if they thought:  'He is one for whom
          Nobody cares.'

Wet-eyed mourners glance at me
          As in train they pass
          Along the grass
          To a hollowed spot,
And think:  'No matter; he quizzes not
          Our misery.'

I hear above:  'We stars must lend
          No fierce regard
          To his gaze, so hard
          Bent on us thus, --
Must scathe him not.  He is one with us
          Beginning and end.'

Thomas Hardy, Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928).

Unlike Kavanagh, Hardy was not wont to bring God into these matters. "Purblind Doomsters," yes, but not God.  (See "Hap.")  Still, one senses that there is something behind those talking stars, and that we and the stars are in this together.

James Robertson Reid, "Toil and Pleasure" (1879)

The final stanza is a sort of coda to -- or a restatement of -- an earlier conversation between Hardy and a star.  The conversation is quite reassuring, actually.

        Waiting Both

A star looks down at me,
And says:  'Here I and you
Stand, each in our degree:
What do you mean to do, --
          Mean to do?'

I say:  'For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come.' -- 'Just so,'
The star says:  'So mean I: --
          So mean I.'

Thomas Hardy, Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles (1925).

Charles Napier Hemy, "Evening Gray" (c. 1866)

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