Thursday, March 28, 2013

Four-Line Poems, Part Six: "Of Humblest Friends, Bright Creature! Scorn Not One"

I would not describe William Wordsworth as a succinct poet.  He usually needs space to make his point.  However, there are exceptions.  For instance, there are the eight beautiful lines of "A slumber did my spirit seal."  And there is the following four-line poem, which came to mind in connection with my recent posts about the loveliness of familiar things.

                         To a Child
               Written in Her Album

Small service is true service while it lasts:
Of humblest Friends, bright Creature! scorn not one:
The Daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
Protects the lingering dew-drop from the Sun.

William Wordsworth, Poems (1845).

In commenting on the poem, Wordsworth stated:  "This quatrain was extempore on observing this image, as I had often done, on the lawn of Rydal Mount."

Stanley Spencer, "Lilac and Clematis at Englefield" (1954)

Wordsworth's poem is instructive:  we all ought to be on the look-out for dew-drops in the shadows of daisies.  Ivor Gurney offers similar advice.

                         The Escape

I believe in the increasing of life whatever
Leads to the seeing of small trifles . . . . .
Real, beautiful, is good, and an act never
Is worthier than in freeing spirit that stifles
Under ingratitude's weight; nor is anything done
Wiselier than the moving or breaking to sight
Of a thing hidden under by custom; revealed
Fulfilled, used, (sound-fashioned) any way out to delight.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
Trefoil . . . . hedge sparrow . . . the stars on the edge of night.

Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996). The ellipses in lines 2 and 9, and between lines 8 and 9, are in the original.

It is difficult to be as attentive to the world around us as William Wordsworth and Ivor Gurney were.  But Gurney is right:  we must be careful not to find ourselves "under ingratitude's weight," lest we miss a great deal. Trefoil.  Hedge sparrow.  The stars on the edge of night.

Stanley Spencer, "Landscape, Cookham Dean" (c. 1939)


John Ashton said...

Thank you , Mr Pentz. I had hoped after your mention of it that you would post Ivor Gurney's The Escape.It's one of my favourites too. I love the whole poem but especially; " nor is anything done
Wiselier than the moving or breaking to sight
Of a thing hidden under by custom".
So much can remain hidden to us because it seems so common and everyday that we fail to notice. Just this morning, the ever changing song of starlings on the rooftop across the street from my home; the sun shining after days of heavy cloud and frost, bright on the rooftiles...

Your prompting has also encouraged me to return to Wordsworth whom I have to confess I've not read for some time. I am quite familiar with many of the shorter pieces but I feel I should give a little more time and patience to some of his longer poems.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: I believe that it may have been the first poem of Gurney's that I encountered. I remember being bowled over by it, even though I was somewhat bewildered by it. By now I have pretty much gotten used to Gurney's peculiarities, although I am still left scratching my head at times. I agree that the lines you cite are right on the mark: there is a great deal "hidden under by custom," if we aren't attentive.

Your comments on Wordsworth are well taken: I admit that I also have difficulty wading into his longer poems. And I, like you, have been telling myself that they deserve more time and patience on my part.

I always appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for visiting again, and for your thoughts.