Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"A Glimpse Of Immaculate Sand That Awaits Our Footprints"

Louis MacNeice's and Seamus Heaney's like-titled poems "The Strand" reminded me of the closing image of a lovely poem by Michael Longley, who has written many fine poems that are set along the margins of the sea.

                        Bjorn Olinder's Pictures

I have learned about dying by looking at two pictures
Bjorn Olinder needed to look at when he was dying:
A girl whose features are obscured by the fall of her hair
Planting a flower,
                                   and a seascape:  beyond the headland
A glimpse of immaculate sand that awaits our footprints.

Michael Longley, The Weather in Japan (Jonathan Cape 2000).

                                   William Baziotes, "Water Forms" (1961)

Many of Longley's seaside poems are inspired by Carrigskeewaun in County Mayo.  I suspect that the following poem may be set there.


There was light without heat between the stepping stones
And the duach, at every stride the Milky Way.
Her four or five petals hanging from an eyelash,
Venus bloomed like brookweed next to the Pleiades.

Michael Longley, Gorse Fires (1991).  In a note to his collection Snow Water (Jonathan Cape 2004) Longley writes:  "machair is Irish and Scots Gaelic for a sandy plain found behind dunes and affording some pasturage: duach, the Irish for sandbanks or dunes, means in Mayo the same as machair."

An aside:  the Japanese word for what in English is called "the Milky Way" is amanogawa.  "Ama" means "sky" or "the heavens"; "no" means "of"; "gawa" (i.e., "kawa," which often changes to "gawa" in compound words) means "river."  Thus, two possible translations might be:  "river of the sky" or "river of the heavens."  Beautiful:  a river of stars.

                                    William Baziotes, "Opalescent" (1962)

Regarding the sea, the night sky, and the Pleiades, the following untitled poem by A. E. Housman (which I have previously posted) comes to mind:

The weeping Pleiads wester,
     And the moon is under seas;
From bourn to bourn of midnight
     Far sighs the rainy breeze:

It sighs from a lost country
     To a land I have not known;
The weeping Pleiads wester,
     And I lie down alone.

A. E. Housman, Poem X, More Poems (1936).  Housman composed an alternate version of the poem, which appears in my previous post as well. Both of the poems are based, in part, on a poem by Sappho.

William Baziotes, "Sea Phantoms" (1952)


Bob said...

These fine related items brought to mind Melville's "starry archipelagoes" -- a jewel of a sentence almost tossed away in the middle of a paragraph. The dying Queequeg thinks of sailing off to the milky way:

"He called one to him in the grey morning watch, when the day was just breaking, and taking his hand, said that while in Nantucket he had chanced to see certain little canoes of dark wood, like the rich war-wood of his native isle; and upon inquiry, he had learned that all whalemen who died in Nantucket, were laid in those same dark canoes, and that the fancy of being so laid had much pleased him; for it was not unlike the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior, stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated away to the starry archipelagoes; for not only do they believe that the stars are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons, their own mild, uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the white breakers of the milky way."

Stephen Pentz said...

Bob: that is wonderful and beautiful! I'm delighted that you pointed it out. There is nothing like Melville, is there? And now you've got me wanting to dive back into Moby-Dick. (Which is long overdue.)

Thank you very much.

Bob said...

I'm glad you liked it. I don't know whether you like to listen as well as read, but I highly recommend the recorded version of Moby-Dick read by Frank Muller. Melville is a raconteur, and Muller gives it just that proper feeling.

Continuing the theme of stars, here's one more:

"Nor when expandingly lifted by your subject, can you fail to trace out great whales in the starry heavens, and boats in pursuit of them; as when long filled with thoughts of war the Eastern nations saw armies locked in battle among the clouds. Thus at the North have I chased Leviathan round and round the Pole with the revolutions of the bright points that first defined him to me. And beneath the effulgent Antarctic skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined the chase against the starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of Hydrus and the Flying Fish.

"With a frigate's anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons for spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight!"

Stephen Pentz said...

Bob: thank you once again! I love it when Melville takes off on one of his flights. You've confirmed that I need to return to Moby-Dick.

I appreciate your taking the time to share these passages.