All Day It Has Rained
All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found
No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy ropes ravel out and snap.
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to move the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home;
And we talked of the girls, and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees;
– Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.
And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard’s merry play,
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o’ Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty, till a bullet stopped his song.
I think that Alun Lewis, who died in Burma in 1944 aged only 28, was along with Keith Douglas the best of the British Second World War poets. This poem of his reminds us that the cost of war lies not only in death and destruction but in sundered lives and wasted time, yet the blank tense boredom of this particular wasted day seems at least partially redeemed by the poet’s beautiful interweaving of mood and weather.
From ‘A Summer Night’
Out on the lawn I lie in bed
Vega conspicuous overhead
In the windless nights of June,
As congregated leaves complete
Their day’s activity; my feet
Point to the rising moon.
Lucky, this point in time and space
Is chosen as my working-place,
Where the sexy airs of summer,
The bathing hours and the bare arms,
The leisured drives through a land of farms
Are good to the newcomer.
Equal with colleagues in a ring
I sit on each calm evening
Enchanted as the flowers
The opening light draws out of hiding
With all its gradual dove-like pleading,
Its logic and its powers:
That later we, though parted then,
May still recall these evenings when
Fear gave his watch no look;
The lion griefs loped from the shade
And on our knees their muzzles laid,
And Death put down his book.
Now north and south and east and west
Those I love lie down to rest;
The moon looks on them all,
The healers and the brilliant talkers,
The eccentrics and the silent walkers
The dumpy and the tall.
These are the opening stanzas of a longer poem, chronicling what Auden described as a vision of agape, pure devotional love. I think the poem then falls off somewhat: I feel that Auden can sometimes gets a bit wordy. But then those lion griefs come loping from the shade, and I bow to a master…
Spring and Fall
To a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
One of my favourite Hopkins poems: stamped with his usual superb originality but tender and straightforward and without that sense one sometimes has with him that his brilliant gifts of observation and expression are being enlisted a little too forcibly in the service of a piety.
So we have lost Seamus Heaney, and that’s a loss indeed. He was very good at Being A Poet, but more to the point, and the two don’t always go together, he was also very good at being a poet. It’s hard to pick out a single poem to represent him from so accomplished an oeuvre, but I have always felt that this one shows his Dantesque intensity of vision coupled with an empathy not always so characteristic of the great Italian.
Fishermen at Ballyshannon
Netted an infant last night
Along with the salmon.
An illegitimate spawning,
A small one thrown back
To the waters. But I’m sure
As she stood in the shallows
Ducking him tenderly
Till the frozen knobs of her wrists
Were dead as the gravel,
He was a minnow with hooks
Tearing her open.
She waded in under
The sign of her cross.
He was hauled in with the fish.
Now limbo will be
A cold glitter of souls
Through some far briny zone.
Even Christ’s palms, unhealed,
Smart and cannot fish there.