Lepanto 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…

8th January 2015
Lepanto (text)
G K Chesterton

(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)

(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)

(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)

(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)

(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)

(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)

(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)

(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

G K Chesterton stands not far behind C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien in my pantheon of favourite writers so I was really happy to read Lepanto, GKC’s ballad celebrating Christendom’s rescue at the hands of Don John from the Turkish invader in 1571.
Lepanto is 142 lines in length, and at various points, the narrative is split up by the parentheses you see above. I chose them for my quotation because they are such an unusual device to use. I have to admit I didn’t so much like the way they broke the poem up but when viewed separately they do a very good job of telling Don John’s story.

9th January 2015
“Why art thou silent! Is thy love a plant” (text)
William Wordsworth

Why art thou silent! Is thy love a plant
Of such weak fibre that the treacherous air
Of absence withers what was once so fair?

If I was Wordsworth’s lover, his ratty poem would only make me love him less rather than more. True, there is little dignity in being a spurned lover but that doesn’t mean one can’t hold one’s head up anyway – something that Wordsworth, or perhaps I should say, the speaker of the poem, fails to do. That aside, I did like the image of the woman’s love being (a weak) plant as it felt like a clever subversion of the more positive way in which our flora usually appears in poetry. It would be like reading about a beautiful woman’s ruby red lips only to discover that she was a vampire.

10th January 2015
Imitations of Horace (text)
Alexander Pope

Though justly Greece her eldest sons admires, 
Why should not we be wiser than our sires? 
In ev’ry public virtue we excel: 
We build, we paint, we sing, we dance as well, 
And learned Athens to our art must stoop, 
Could she behold us tumbling through a hoop.

I picked these lines because they show what a troll Pope was. If he were alive today, he would be annoying people like me (or really just me) by claiming that brutalism is a beautiful form of architecture.

(It isn’t and don’t you dare try and troll me by saying so in the comments box!)

11th January 2015
Strong Beer (text)
Robert Graves

“There’s a prize for every one
Every one, any one,
There’s a prize for every one,
Whoever he may be:
Crags for the mountaineer,
Flags for the Fusilier,
For English poets, beer!
Strong beer for me!”

I must be honest and say my favourite alcoholic drink is wine, specifically red wine; however, there’s a time and a place for everything and I will always have both for beer. As you can see from the example above, the poem contains very short lines, so it moves along very quickly – if not quite as bouncily as Herrick’s A Thanksgiving to God for His House last week.
By the way, here is the poem’s URL

https://www.poeticous.com/robert-graves/strong-beer?locale=en&q=Robert+browning

I wonder why Robert Browning’s name appears in it. Does he have a connexion to beer? I hope so. Maybe whoever posted the poem on Poeticous had sunk a few before doing so.

12th January 2015
from Twelve Songs “Stop all the clocks…” (text)
W H Auden

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This poem is so beautifully written that its beauty almost gets in the way of appreciating how sad a work it is. Then there is the fact that in terms of getting to the point it is two or even three stanzas too long; the third stanza tells us everything that we really need to know. The others just make the same point over and over again.
Having said that, I’m glad Auden didn’t write such a short work as grief is not a matter of grieving, getting over it, then moving on. Before ever we leave it behind (if indeed we do), we go through good days and bad, bad days and good, confusion, anger, guilt, distress reign. It can be a messy and jumbled up time. I feel that the repetition of Stop all the clocks rather acknowledges this.

13th January 2015
The Dying Christian to His Soul (text)
Alexander Pope

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav’n opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting?

More Popery. Yesterday’s poem looked at the subject of death from the point of view of the one left behind; today’s looks at it from the point of view of the one dying. The reason I chose to quote the above lines is because they provide a perfect counterweight to Auden’s grief struck words.

14th January 2015
Lament to Chaucer (text)
Thomas Hoccleve

… for unto Tullius
Was never man so lyk amonges us.

Also who was hier in philosophie
To Aristotle in our tonge but thou?
The steppes of Virgile in poesie

I don’t know if I have ever read any Thomas Hoccleve before. If I did, it was at university back in the 90s so reading . As you can see, I read the poem in its original form. Actually, I expect the spelling has been amended but what I mean is that the poem hasn’t been ‘translated’ into modern English. This meant that there were portions of the poem that I did not understand. I think I understood the quoted section above though, and what it seems to me that Hoccleve is saying is that Chaucer was like Cicero (Tullius), Aristotle and Virgil. If I have read the poem correctly, that is high praise, indeed! And, let’s be honest, he is even better than them. Do any of those guys have jokes about people kissing other people’s bums? I thought not.

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This entry was posted in Eighteenth Century Poetry, Mediaeval Poetry, Nineteenth Century Poetry, Twentieth Century Poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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