Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Oh Grateful Colours, Bright Looks!"

The poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) is often a bit twee for me.  However, she does have her moments.  Philip Larkin, whose judgement is usually (apart from a few blind spots) unerring, has this to say about her:  "Her poems, to my mind, have two virtues:  they are completely original, and now and again they are moving.  These qualities alone set them above 95 per cent of present-day output."  Larkin also said (and herein lies a clue as to why he liked her poetry, given what we know of Larkin's temperament):  "Miss Smith's poems speak with the authority of sadness."  (Only Larkin could come up with a comment like that!)  Philip Larkin, "Frivolous and Vulnerable," in Required Writing (1983).

I recently posted Patrick Kavanagh's "The Hospital," which contains these wonderful lines:

        But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
        The common and banal her heat can know.

The poem closes: 

        For we must record love's mystery without claptrap,
        Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.

The following poem by Stevie Smith is, I think, a fine companion piece to "The Hospital."

     Oh Grateful Colours, Bright Looks!

The grass is green
The tulip is red
A ginger cat walks over
The pink almond petals on the flower bed.
Enough has been said to show
It is life we are talking about.  Oh
Grateful colours, bright looks!  Well, to go
On.  Fabricated things too -- front doors and gates,
Bricks, slates, paving stones -- are coloured
And as it has been raining and is sunny now
They shine.  Only that puddle
Which, reflecting the height of the sky
Quite gives one a feeling of vertigo, shows
No colour, is a negative.  Men!
Seize colours quick, heap them up while you can.
But perhaps it is a false tale that says
The landscape of the dead
Is colourless.

Stevie Smith, Collected Poems (1975).

                            Stanley Roy Badmin, "Ludlow, Shropshire"


Anonymous said...

I quite adore some of Smith's poetry. As a result of poems that I had to learn for my Cambridge "O" Levels (way back when), I always associate Smith with Larkin. So, I appreciate Larkin's quote. Thank you again!

Stephen Pentz said...

kinnareads: thank you very much for visiting and commenting again. Yes, Larkin's quote is nice, isn't it? As I have noted before, his judgements about poetry are usually right on the mark. He always (as one would expect of him) comes out in favor of poetry that has an honest core to it -- he has no time for affectation.