I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Just one damn cube...

Oakchurch, on the Brecon road, was once a garden centre which became hoity-toity. In the charcuterie section seven or eight small dishes of dark liquid are laid on the counter with a basket of bread cubes. Free tasting for anyone who can identify Elizabeth David. I jest but it's that kind of place.

I try Blackcurrant Balsamic Vinegar; it's scrumptious. I rush to VR who says, "If you like it, get it." But grandson Ian, solemn and accusatory as the Spanish Inquisition, reminds me it's diet day. I am agonised, I never break the rule. "Just one damn cube, it was no bigger than a poker dice," I protest. All nod like hanging judges but I’m allowed.

Joe loved poetry and thought everyone else should, especially me. This snippet may resonate. Read it before the attribution as I must, since that's how Auden and Garrett set up The Poet's Tongue, my source book previously owned by my mother.

"Call down the hawk from the air;
Let him be hooded or caged
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild."

Reasons why. Dead simple unless you're new to scullion (unskilled lad working in kitchen). Everyone's hungry and the falcon in flight is scaring away the evening meal. But where's the poetry? In the compression: the bare larder/spit not only says they're short of food but how they would cook it. Note too the elegance of "Call down...", making good use of the slightly less familiar use of the verb. Similarly "Let him be..." which may well be that equally rare bird, the subjunctive, giving a sense of formality to the procedure. Poetry needn't be airy-fairy.

W. B. Yeats (Oh, I'm so glad).


  1. I think I've always read that as "scallion" before, thinking it was some Irish spelling. Now the first stanza makes sense, and the second is quite clear as well. The third is difficult for me. I'm glad I looked up "dice" before deciding to scold you for abusing a plural form. I'm sticking with the singular die, and I'm going nowhere near "dices".

  2. Sounds like Ramadan.

    I've been fretting about this hawk business since yesterday, but I've been very good, I didn't look at who wrote it till I'd read it properly and considered it for a moment, I didn't know it, and I've still not checked the rest of the poem. It bothered me that the hawk would be scaring off the dinner, after all, how were they going to get the dinner if not with the hawk? Now though it strikes me that they need the hawk to furnish the victuals, but he's in a bate and intractable and flying wild, so he needs to be calmed down. It's a nice sort of Celtic mediaeval vignette (there you see, prejudice, why Celtic, I only see it that way because I know it's Yeats...), needs a Walter Crane illustration or something. Can I look up the rest of the poem now please?

  3. MikeM: A case of the English language sitting up and biting you back. I sympathise with you about "dices" as I would if you invoked "sheeps". But some plurals are indistnguishable from the singulars. I found "die" very hard to take in Dormont, Pittsburgh, Pa, and managed to avoid using it for the remaining five-and-a-bit years.

    Lucy: You and I are living a sweatily menacing shared life. This so-called simple verse was much harder than I expected and I went through all those contortions you outline about using the hawk to catch the food. I too was playing by the game - not reading the verses which follow. Now you've had your shower please feel free to read on.

    In fact this series has thrown up a stumbling block. I deliberately decided to employ extracts because whole poems might discourage those who - like me - are readily put off. But can extracts alone be judged intelligently? It was possible with the Lawrence but here one is frustrated by half-completed ideas.

    I will continue with extracts because the Yeats proves that you can arrive at separate conclusions that do not depend on narrative. In this case the brisk, confident style. Besides, the longer the extract, the more likely I am to end up with egg on my face. Who am I to deconstruct The Second Coming or Over Sir John's Hill, both of which also feature raptors.

  4. Yes, the third stanza does rather confound, I read the whole then around a bit about how the hawk was a kind of symbol of the soul or higher self for Yeats, which can get you a bit lost; I've read quite a lot of and about him and love him well but still find that personal mythology, Golden Dawn and Celtic Twilight, stuff quite difficult to assimilate. But even without knowing any of that, it conveys the feeling of frustration at not being able to bring one's everyday conversation to the height of one's thoughts, the impatience at suffering fools with the lurking uncomfortable suspicion that one might in fact be the fool being suffered.

    Please go on with the extracts; they do focus the mind and make me look much more closely at details I'd probably overlook reading the whole. Much more how we should read poetry, little by little, in small mouthfuls, chewing and tasting. And here, and perhaps in the last one too, the part is in some ways better than the whole. The odd little story of the kitchen staff and the fugitive hawk stands alone better perhaps than as a symbol for something else.

    Came back earlier wet-haired and dressing-gowned to read your reply, slightly unnerving. How does RR know it's my shower day?

  5. And thanks for the interpretation Lucy. I had not previously considered that the hawk WAS the scullion. Perhaps this will aid me in untangling verse 3. Between you and RR I'm at least past the point of pondering leeks and frustrated teens.

  6. Lucy...though your latest comment posted before my last on this page, I had not seen it when I posted. Your analysis and comments are very enlightening. You are right about the conveyance of feeling Yeats accomplishes...it's the rhythm confounded by the punctuation and odd lower cases in the third that throws me.

  7. I often wish Mr Yeats used his middle name more often. So distinguished.

  8. Lucy: Still wondering about extracts. They can make me feel I've behaved unfairly if a commenter raises a point that is answered in the subsequent (unpublished) part of the poem. But it is a matter of logistics; an extract is just about manageable by people passing through whereas the whole poem would demand far more (Is this good X, or not? How about chronological context? Of course this piece is a reaction against...), most of which I would be unable to supply, nor react to in others.

    Did you know all Yeats' poems are available in a free download to Kindle.

    More people ought to be familiar with my source book, The Poet's Tongue (published in the year of my birth, I see). The introduction co-written by Auden and Garrett starts off with a brilliant definition of poetry:

    the simplest (definition) is still the best: 'memorable speech': ... it must move our emotions, or excite our intellect, for only that which is moving or exciting is memorable, and the stimulus is the audible spoken word and cadence, to which in all its power of suggestion and incantation we must surrender. As we do when talking to an intimate friend.

    That last reference seems very important given what we've talked about.

    To make this point the collection starts with some oddities together with old and unexpected friends:

    A farmer's dog leapt over the stile,
    His name was little Bingo...

    All people that on earth do dwell,
    Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice...

    As I was going by Charing Cross,
    I saw a black man upon a black horse...

    Away, haul away, boys, haul away together,
    Away, hau away, boys, haul away O;...

    I wondered whether to choose extracts from some of these but decided, without the resources of the book behind me, they might be regarded as confusing.

    Finally, Auden/Garrett explain the rationale of their listing: "We have, after some thought, adopted an alphabetical, anonymous order. It seems best to us, if the idea of poetry as something dead and suitable for a tourist-ridden museum - a cultural tradition to be preserved and imitated rather than a spontaneous living product - is to be avoided... (the first approach should be) with an open mind, free from the bias of great names and literary influences."

    MikeM: Feel free to go in whatever direction you wish (ie, even as far as verse 3) since that's proof the idea of this tribute is working. However, for the sake of others who limit their comments I'll confine my responses to the part of the poem I have posted. And by all means cross-comment with Lucy; there's more authority that way.

    Blonde Two: I presume you had a crush with someone practicing this domestic trade. I always felt Yeats rather lumbered himself when it came to the name of his girl-friend - Maud Gonne.

  9. I was going to offer a witless naïve epigram and learned that
    the word naïve in reference to poetry has a different meaning when used in reference to art.
    Did I understand that right?
    So, only witless it is:
    'By these few lines I am not enlightened. More verse is awaited.'
    By the way, RR, I think we share
    a birth year.
    I love playing with you people even if it makes a fool of me.

  10. "Call down" has a magical connotation for me. The first time I heard that expression was from a granny-healer (folk medicine doctor) in the foothills of the Ozark mountains in Arkansas. She talked about one of her kin being able to call down the rain during drought times.

    To read those words in Yeats' poem reminds me of that old woman and the shivers she sent up my spine.

    Yeats painted a detailed picture with only 34 words. Wish I could do that.

  11. "Airy-fairy" I'd not seen that before until I saw it here yesterday. It landed again moments, from the bottom of page 33 in GT. I've been reading in fits and starts for a couple days, used, I suppose, to digesting your writing in portions of a couple hundred words. It's challenging reading, and so it's rewarding even in small bits, but I'm starting to stretch out and let a few phrases be unknowable. Not surprisingly, the girl parts are really good. And of course the working stiff angle appeals. It's very exciting to be reading your novel.

  12. Ellena: Because poetry is compressed it encourages us to examine words in all their existing meanings; one may skip in novels but never in poems. Also, by employing unexpected, tight contexts, poetry may create new meanings for certain words.

    Outside painting, naive may mean unsophisticated, lacking in worldly wisdom or judgment. Ill-equipped to deal with difficult people or situations. Few of us would wish to be so unprotected. And yet naive might be regarded as only one step away from innocent, a quality which, in certain circumstances (eg, a love affair) might be thought attractive. A poem might well toy with these two meanings, typically, a childlike individual bringing about disaster through simple-mindedness. Saying, in effect, that good and bad can be two faces of the same coin.

    Within painting naive is a technical designation, sometimes meaning self-taught, or a reversion to earlier "simpler" styles of art as in Africa or the Pacific. You can see the link. It is a label and like all labels it can be dangerously misinterpreted.

    May I caution you about misusing words. You don't really see yourself as witless (ie, lacking wit or understanding, foolish) do you? Well, I don't. And if I wanted proof I'd need go no further than this question you've just asked.

    The Crow: Exactly! A simple word we all know suddenly takes on extra meaning and we're transported elsewhere.

    I don't know if you've ever heard of a wide ranging 1969 BBC telly series called "Civilisation" which sought to examine what that word means to all of us. It was created and presented by Lord Clarke (I don't usually honour toffs in Tone Deaf, but I'll make an exception with him) and his summary, at the end, was remarkably pessimistic. He chose to allude to Yeats ("the only genius I've ever known") and especially to his poem The Second Coming, possibly Yeats' best-known. It was my first hair-raising encounter with lines that have become hugely familiar over the years, used in many different contexts:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    You want power? That's power.

    MikeM: I'm kinda embarrassed, especially that bit about the girl parts. I set out to write about an engineer and what his work consisted of. The 10,000-word start had lain dormant for ten years and it's perhaps not surprising that I chose a man as the central character that far back. Clare was a later development but she was the more important. Gorgon Times made me realise I wanted to write about women and that's what I've done in the three novels that followed. Let me know if there are any really impenetrable Englishisms and I'll translate.

  13. Something of a scattergun response I'm afraid, too much of an embarrassment of riches here.

    Mike's 'The hawk WAS the scullion' is a sophisticated interpretation too far for me I'm afraid, but perhaps we're talking at cross purposes. Maybe the butler did it.

    No, I really think the extracts are, part from anything else, more tempting. Another blogger I know and like very much, Alison, posts more or less weekly an entire poem not her own, and though her choices are great, I often don't feel inclined to go and read the whole, and this really does prompt much closer textual reading.

    I think Auden was a pretty good anthologist; I've got a 'Viking Portable Poets' collection of Victorian and Edwardian verse , chronological but an unusual division, and it's got things in it you just wouldn't find anywhere else, and an excellent and idiosyncratic introduction by Auden too. I must have had it for nearly 40 years, one of those books I'd never lend.

    I can't really cope with poetry on the Kindle, need to go back and forwards too much or something, and line lengths can make it awkward. Still, that's worth knowing, thanks.

    Oh yes and Lord Clarke's teeth were the ones our American friend found it difficult to look at! One or two others I know who'd like to enjoy it find him difficult to watch, but despite being unfortunately too often reminded, by family resemblance, of his son, I still like 'Civilisation' very much, though perhaps not quite as much as 'The Ascent of Man'. The twelfth century episode is my favourite.

    (The very idea of a shower day is probably incomprehensible to our American friends, unless it was the day when you had four showers instead of three.)

  14. Sorry, I realise I've said 'American friend/s' twice there, and it sounds horribly patronising.