Ode for New Year’s Day and other Poems

I have committed myself to reading one poem a day through 2015. Here are my quick thoughts about those of the last week…

New Year’s Day (1.1.15)
Ode for New Year’s Day (text)
C S Lewis

… O, my poor Despoina, do you think he ever hears
The wail of hearts he has broken, the sound of human ill?
He cares not for our virtues, our little hopes and fears,
And how could it all go on, love, if he knew of laughter and tears?

C S Lewis is best remembered today as the writer of the Narnia books – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe et al. He was also an influential literary critic (The Allegory of Love) and Christian apologist (Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters etc). This latter fact may come as rather a surprise when I say that the he of this poem is God. I am wondering, therefore, if the Ode belongs to Lewis’ early life, before his conversion to theism in 1929 and Christianity in 1931. I shall look it up now…

… and I was right. Google Books tells me that this poem was included in Lewis’ 1918 collection Spirits in Bondage. Back then, Lewis’s heart belonged to northern mythology (Wagner) and the life of the mind. But perhaps the bitter question of this poem also betrays something of the pain of his mother’s death, which took place in 1908 when Lewis was still only a child.

2nd January 2015
A Thanksgiving to God for His House (text)
Robert Herrick

That I should render, for my part,
A thankful heart,
Which, fir’d with incense, I resign,
As wholly Thine;
But the acceptance, that must be,
My Christ, by Thee.

What I liked most about the poem is the way it bounces from line to line. Very musical. Otherwise, I have included the above lines because they provide a nice counterweight to C S Lewis’ melancholic fist waving at God.

3rd January 2015
Cat (text)
J R R Tolkien

The fat cat on the mat
may seem to dream
of nice mice that suffice
for him, or cream;
but he free,

Tolkien was born on 3rd January 1892 so I was never not going to have a poem by him on his birthday! You can be sure that if I remember any of his anniversaries later in the year, he will make a reappearance in this series then as well. The same applies to C S Lewis he and JRRT are my favourite writers. In regards Cat, like Herrick’s A Thanksgiving, it has a short line so bounces along very playfully. It may seem odd to read something by Tolkien that doesn’t mention elves or hobbits but there is a faint allusion later on to a greater world as the poet imagines the cat thinking about how his ancestors fed on men in the East. As for the poet himself – according to the Tolkien Gateway, the poem was published in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil as written by non other than Sam Gangee, Frodo Baggins’ loyal batman.

4th January 2015
Upon the Nipples of Julia’s Breast (text)
Robert Herrick

HAVE ye beheld (with much delight)
A red rose peeping through a white?

I’m not sure what answer Herrick is expecting here. As splendid as women’s nipples undoubtedly are, it would not do to go looking for them unless invited to do so by their owner or admit to having done so to anyone else. Some games should stay between couples. I hope Herrick did not get into trouble with Julia over this.

5th January 2015
How beautiful the Earth is still (text)
Emily Brontë

How beautiful the Earth is still
To thee–how full of Happiness;
How little fraught with real ill
Or shadowy phantoms of distress;

This poem challenged my preconception of Emily Brontë as being the rather sad – perhaps tortured – writer of Wuthering Heights. As can be seen above, How Beautiful starts happily and, despite the spectre of death, ends in a spirit of hope as well. Who was Emily Brontë? It seems that I need to shovel out the ash of my preconception and begin an exploration.

6th January 2015
To the Memory of My Beloved Author, Mr. William Shakespeare (text)
Ben Jonson

He was not of an age but for all time!

To the Memory is a good poem, it would be – Ben Jonson is a good poet – but it was only when I read the above line that it really came alive for me. So THAT’S where the phrase comes from! I thought to myself. It was like meeting an old friend.

7th January 2015
To Julia Marlowe (text)
Henry van Dyke

Long had I loved this “Attic shape,” the brede
Of marble maidens round this urn divine:
But when your golden voice began to read,
The empty urn was filled with Chian wine.

I’ve included a link to the text of van Dyke’s poem above although I don’t know why – the above is the whole poem. It is addressed to another Julia and I can’t tell if he is paying her a compliment or not. Would I want to be thanked for having such a nice voice I ‘filled’ an urn with wine for him? I’m not sure. I’m sure he meant well, though.

  • van Dyke lived between 1852-1933. I’m not sure when To Julia Marlowe was written so have included it as a nineteenth as well as twentieth century poem in the categories below
This entry was posted in C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien, Nineteenth Century Poetry, Seventeenth Century Poetry, Twentieth Century Poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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