Where, to me, is the loss
Of the scenes they saw -- of the sounds they heard;
A butterfly flits across,
Or a bird;
The moss is growing on the wall,
I heard the leaf of the poppy fall.
Mary Coleridge, in Theresa Whistler (editor), The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge (Rupert Hart-Davis 1954).
Stanley Spencer, "Bluebells, Cornflowers and Rhododendrons" (1945)
When it comes to poetry, one thing leads to another. Thus, after I read "No Newspapers," I realized that I had not visited this poem in quite some time:
A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices
Which, bawled by boys from mile to mile,
Spreads its curious opinion
To a million merciful and sneering men,
While families cuddle the joys of the fireside
When spurred by tale of dire lone agony.
A newspaper is a court
Where every one is kindly and unfairly tried
By a squalor of honest men.
A newspaper is a market
Where wisdom sells its freedom
And melons are crowned by the crowd.
A newspaper is a game
Where his error scores the player victory
While another's skill wins death.
A newspaper is a symbol;
It is feckless life's chronicle,
A collection of loud tales
Concentrating eternal stupidities,
That in remote ages lived unhaltered,
Roaming through a fenceless world.
Stephen Crane, War Is Kind (1899). The poem is untitled.
Newspapers still survive (barely). But in their place (how fortunate for us!) we have any number of electronic purveyors of "news." Of course, other than the technology of distribution, absolutely nothing has changed, has it? "A court/Where every one is kindly and unfairly tried/By a squalor of honest men." Exactly. "A market/ Where wisdom sells its freedom/And melons are crowned by the crowd." Perfect. ("Melons are crowned by the crowd" is wonderful.) "A collection of loud tales/Concentrating eternal stupidities." Ah, yes.
Stephen Crane bucked me up: I have abandoned The News of the World altogether. I am quite certain that something is going on out there, but I have no reason to inquire.
Stanley Spencer, "The Ferry Hotel Lawn, Cookham" (1936)
But it turned out that I was not finished with Mary Coleridge yet. I was preoccupied with newspapers and their ilk when I came to the poem. But what stayed with me was the final line: "I heard the leaf of the poppy fall."
Where would we be without poetic serendipity? A week or so later, I happened upon this:
The poppy flowers;
Etsujin (1656-1739) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 318.
Imagine those two poems existing independently of each other, going about their beautiful business in their own perfect way. And then, by sheer accident, they come together. Their coming together does not change the World. Events of this sort shall never appear in the daily news. Which is perfectly fine.
Stanley Spencer, "Peonies" (1939)
Finally, this week, the poppies of Coleridge and Etsujin led to this:
The sound of the petals
Sifting down together.
Chora (1729-1780) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 361.
Chora does not specify what sort of petals are falling: he simply uses the phrase hana no oto. Hana means "flower" or "blossom"; oto means "sound"; no means "of." Hence: "sound of flower" or "sound of blossom." But the haiku is a Spring haiku, and thus cherry or plum petals are implied.
Do falling petals make a sound? Perhaps so. I know that falling snow can whisper. I have heard it.
Does Chora's poem bring this excursion to an end? Of course not. This is how poetry works.
Stanley Spencer, "Scarecrow, Cookham" (1934)