from Nineteen Thirty-Nine
Far on the mountains of pain there may yet be a place
For breath, where the insensate wind is still,
A hollow of stones where you can bow your face
And relax the quivering distended will.
There earth’s life will speak to you again,
An insect in the grasses, a meagre bird,
That in the outpost faithfully maintain
The pulse of being so slowly, weakly heard.
And they remain. But you go on, and bear
The frail life farther yet, blindly and slow,
Into the pitiless mountains and the glare
Of deathly light, ceasing to know or care
If you are still man; but the frozen rocks know,
And the white wind massing against you as you go.
– Charles Brasch
I got this one out of Essential New Zealand Poems, edited by Lauris Edmond & Bill Sewell (Random House, 2001; get it from your local independent. I find it a very good collection in terms of trying to find specific famous poems and just flicking through, although it’s not a whole book in the way a very good collection can be – its scope is too large for that and so it’s not good for reading from cover to cover.)
Ooh, it has been awhile, sorry – even while unemployed I manage to get distracted and the Wellington weather has been really so lovely lately that it seems a shame to spend a second inside blogging. Still, that’s OK, and it’s lucky I have a Tuesday gimme; and in fact one of my favourite things lately has been to sit or lie down with piles of poetry around me and pick the poem for the week. (I have some queued up already.) This week was a real labour because I was looking for a very specific feeling and I didn’t quite manage to find it.
It’s a cliche that all poetry, especially bad poetry, is about lovesickness or sadness, and poring through my books this week I did find a lot of love poetry, of course. But I didn’t find very much that was sad. There were a lot of breakup poems, yes. And there were plenty of poems about loss, of all sorts. Some of the best-known poems out there are about loss and death and grief, so many that I’d better not start naming favourites or I’d never stop. But what there wasn’t was very much about just plain sadness, the quiet ordinary human kind; and that struck me as a real shame because I think those sad moments, when there’s nothing especially wrong except a sudden giant blueness, are moments where reaching out to poetry can really help us. As are all moments of overwhelming emotion. The experience of stumbling across, in a book, the words of somebody else that express just how you feel, maybe written quite a long time ago, is a gift. And luckily for all of us a gift that is not quite rare (though not so common as not to be special).
At any rate: sad poems. I didn’t have very many! I looked at Michael Jackson’s “Seven Mysteries” (“why consciousness prevents/escape into the chestnut branches where/foliage goes soft/with God’s vermilion”) and flicked through Jenny Bornholdt’s book Summer and dwelled on Eileen Duggan and Anne French and even, for goodness’ sake, Shakespeare (“Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,/Have no delight to pass away the time,/Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,/And descant on mine own deformity”: I came very close to posting that whole speech). And then I ran across this one, which I hadn’t read before (it’s in a biggish book that I dip into and out of as I feel like it; I do read poetry cover-to-cover fairly frequently, but you couldn’t do it with this one), and I quite liked it, although it didn’t passionately move me. So I post it instead more as a challenge to the two or three of you who might be interested: what do you read when you’re feeling down?
So I can justify categorising this in Tui Tuesday: when I’m blue, I read a lot of poetry and re-read a lot of tremendous old fantasy epics. Right now I’m about half-way through The Fellowship of the Ring, which for the great part of the first half has this incredibly comforting dullness, like eating porridge with full milk and brown sugar. You really can’t beat it.
Also somebody asked me a question on Formspring! Yay! (Erm: it’s possible this is actually a formspring automated question, but that’s probably OK cos I have a relevant linkspam.)
Do you ever find yourself losing faith in electoral politics?
Well, I mean, what a silly question! Doesn’t everyone? But it’s better than a good chunk of the alternatives, especially while we retain MMP.