Part of what I attempt (humbly) to do here is save these wayside poems (and the poets who wrote them) from neglect, for each of them is a potential stepping stone as we cross the stream or the moor, not quite knowing which direction we are headed.
Yes, we should by all means read Yeats and Keats and Wordsworth. And long-time (and much-appreciated!) readers of this blog are aware of my affection for, say, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas, and Philip Larkin. But I do not for a moment forget: "Listen; a clumsy knight who rode alone/Upon a stumbling jade in a great wood/Belated" or "Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake." Nor would life be the same without: "I long ago/As a child thought the tree sighed 'Do I know/Whether my motion makes the wind that moves me?'" or "Happy were he could finish forth his fate/In some unhaunted desert." The treasures are endless.
Walter Bayes, "A Mill at Braintree" (c. 1940)
The Songs I Had
The songs I had are withered
Or vanished clean,
Yet there are bright tracks
Where I have been,
And there grow flowers
For other's delight.
Think well, O singer,
Soon comes night.
Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996). "Other's" (line 6) appears as such in Gurney's manuscript. It has sometimes been emended (rightly or wrongly, I do not know) to "others'" in later printings.
Walter Bayes, "Colchester from the North Station" (c. 1940)
We live in an age in which one can obtain an academic degree in the writing of poetry. Imagine that! Card-carrying poetasters, and their poems, proliferate like bluebell meadows in Spring. Or something like that. As to what this says about the current state of poetry, I will keep my mouth shut. Besides, I am still working my way through the poems of the T'ang Dynasty and The Greek Anthology. I shall not be within hailing distance of contemporary poetry any time soon.
The Poem on the Wall
My clumsy poem on the inn-wall none cared to see;
With bird-droppings and moss's growth the letters were blotched away.
There came a guest with heart so full, that though a page to the Throne,
He did not grudge with his broidered coat to wipe off the dust, and read.
Po Chu-i (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, More Translations from the Chinese (1919).
Waley provides this note to the poem: "Yuan Chen wrote that on his way to exile he had discovered a poem inscribed by Po Chu-i on the wall of the Lo-k'ou Inn." Yuan Chen was a poet, and one of Po Chu-i's closest friends. Waley dates the poem A.D. 810.
Walter Bayes, "Middle Mill, Colchester" (c. 1940)
It's odd to hear or read the word "truth" nowadays, isn't it? Especially in the media or in public discourse. In those spheres, the word has no content whatsoever.
In this untitled poem by Ivor Gurney, "truth" retains meaning.
Soft rain beats upon my windows
But by the great gusts guessed further off
Up by the bare moor and brambly headland
Heaven and earth make war.
That savage toss of the pine boughs past music
And the roar of the elms. . . .
Here come, in the candle light, soft reminder
Of poetry's truth, while rain beats as softly here
As sleep, or shelter of farms.
Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996).
Walter Bayes, "The Abbey, Little Coggeshall" (c. 1940)