Week 161: Louis MacNeice, by Geoffrey Grigson

I think this is a fine elegy for a poet I much admire; the only problem I have with it is that I cannot figure out the significance of the word ‘sorrel’ in the second line. I looked up both sorrel and the quite different plant wood-sorrel in Grigson’s magisterial ‘Englishman’s Flora’, hoping for a clue, but that didn’t help; I knew sorrel can also mean a reddish-brown hue or a horse of that colour, but that doesn’t seem to fit either, and looking up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary added a now obsolete meaning ‘a buck in its third year’, which also got me no further. It really nags at me when I don’t understand something in a poem that I otherwise find perfectly lucid, a bit like having a last unfinished clue in a crossword, so any explanation will be most gratefully received!

Louis MacNeice
(September 2, 1963)

I turned on the transistor
By luck, for your sorrel,
Your Vol de Nuit,
It was Haydn.

Black and diffident man
Of the bog and stoa
Whose rush of love
Was rejected,

Whose wolfhound
Bent round my table,
Who are no longer around
In your Chinese

Garden of poems.
Where one is of water,
On which tea-yellow
Leaves of another

Are falling, always
Are falling, this one
Is a stone by itself,
On which you inscribe

With invisible legible letters
That unrest of the soul
Which you found
So wryly appalling.

You have gone: will
No longer arrange
In sunlight with wit
Your aloneness.

But, classical quizzical
One, whose scent is
Sharp in the centre,
Your garden is open.

Geoffrey Grigson

Week 133: Dead Poets: Recalling Them In November, by Geoffrey Grigson

Dead Poets: Recalling Them In November

Friends, my friends of so much
Time gone, of languages
Brighter than mackerel,
It is beyond bearing that you are dead.

No, I bear it most days too easily.
But there are moments when a drop falls
And sends tremors over my bason, at 8 a.m.
When light comes up behind

Our hill and reveals flaws in the
Window-glass shaped like comets or
Skulls: to think of you warm, of you gone
Is a cold air all round me then.

So many. And in so many ways
Of course myself I mourn, my
Own ash thrown on to that
Frosty grey lawn.

Geoffrey Grigson

Week 26: The Dying of a Long Lost Lover, by Geoffrey Grigson

The Dying of a Long Lost Lover

Your mother slept with me – I daresay you regard that
As peculiar, I daresay she is old (and so am I,
But I’m less your affair). Think. She was young.
Imagine her. I see still her long fingers round her belt.

Which is her myth, her past, or her reality?
Young, did not foretell this old I do not know.
I know she is the hand which stroked both me and you:
various the occasions, and the kinds, of love she felt.

You touch that vehicle of extinct heat. But love
that she loved, and was the call of love. With some
distaste you soon may close her eyes: love
that I see her young long fingers at her belt.

Geoffrey Grigson

Geoffrey Grigson as poet and critic was distinguished by a tart independence of mind; this poem, perhaps my favourite among his work, shows that he also had a capacity for tenderness.