Friday, December 02, 2005

Music, Poetry, and Party Pieces

Inspired by Philip Buttall's ubiquitous "Lone Ar-ranger," I thought I would, with your indulgence, revive an old piece of mine that I once used in the poetry-reading circuit (over ten years ago). It was meant to illustrate a problem similar to that I have when trying to compose music, in that I can often only recall bits of others' work, and have no imagination for things of my own. It may be that others have this problem as often as I do. (With Christmas fast approaching you might want to use the following as a party-piece to see how many poems/poets one can identify.)

WRITER’S BLOCK

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
Cause they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
And I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade, but
Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land—
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
Of course the Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat, and
The sea is calm tonight.
But by the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink, but
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree, and
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
Where yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
This is the forest primeval.
Now, whose woods these are I think I know.
But then I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.
So, gather ye rosebuds while ye may, but
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row.
There he saw King Jesus. They were face to face,
And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Yes, the blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven,
But jest ‘fore Christmas I’m as good as I kin be.
In fact, ‘twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse,
Nor some rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.
Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Little Lamb, who made thee?
His name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on his works, ye Mighty, and despair!
For in Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree.
There, come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove—
Let me count the ways.
One: My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.
Two: She walks in Beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And three: she was a phantom of delight.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
I raged, raged against the dying of the light, but
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.
So, blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
Unlike Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Who grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
But tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
They also serve who only stand and wait.
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done.
So, shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag—
For the gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat, and
The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and stanch he stands, like a
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
Piping down the valleys wild.
But, quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me,
Nor let it be brillig, with the slithey toves
That gyre and gimble in the wabe.
Please—Terence—this is stupid stuff.

[December 5, 1993]

5 comments:

MaLj said...

The only English poetry I can remember to have read in school was something about eternity and a grain of sand. And quite a lot of verses from Shakespeare's plays (mostly from Romeo & Juliet).

Now I own some collections of untranslated poems, and I also read texts on the net, so even if there were few lines in your collage that I could identify with both title and author, I recognized many as "things I have read/heard before".

Interesting!

Surly Terrier said...

"Things I have read/heard before" seems to be the reaction of most hearers, which is, of course, the point of the collage in the first place—putting together all the shards of poetry with which one's mind is full when one is trying very hard to think of something new. It's a common problem. I do, however, have some original poems pertaining to music that were written years ago. If you'd like to see them I can certainly dig them up.

MaLj said...

You can maybe post one old poem every Thursday? And publish a new one once a month?

tim ellis said...

It was a wonderful trip through poetical works forced on one at school and some which have lingered as favourites. Apart from some doggerel, I, alas, cannot compete.

Andrew Lowe-Watson said...

Good fun!

I wrote a lot of poems in my esrly twenties. I am pretty sure they would be deeply embarrasing to me now. I 'll have a look in that bottom draw.