Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Sun: A Brief Addendum

It's funny how these things work.  My most recent post, on Monday, was a paean of sorts to the sun.  On the following day, for no apparent reason, I felt the urge to return to the poetry of James Elroy Flecker, a few of whose poems have appeared here in the past.  (For instance, here, here, and here.) After visiting a couple of favorites, I discovered this, which was new to me:

               A Western Voyage

My friend the Sun -- like all my friends
     Inconstant, lovely, far away --
Is out, and bright, and condescends
     To glory in our holiday.

A furious march with him I'll go
     And race him in the Western train,
And wake the hills I used to know
     And swim the Devon sea again.

I have done foolishly to tread
     The footway of the false moonbeams,
To light my lamp and call the dead
     And read their long black printed dreams.

I have done foolishly to dwell
     With Fear upon her desert isle,
To take my shadowgraph to Hell,
     And then to hope the shades would smile.

And since the light must fail me soon
     (But faster, faster, Western train!)
Proud meadows of the afternoon,
     I have remembered you again.

And I'll go seek through moor and dale
     A flower that wastrel winds caress;
The bud is red and the leaves pale,
     The name of it Forgetfulness.

Then like the old and happy hills
     With frozen veins and fires outrun,
I'll wait the day when darkness kills
     My brother and good friend, the Sun.

James Elroy Flecker, in John Squire (editor), The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker (Secker and Warburg 1946).

The poem was first published in 1910 in Flecker's Thirty-Six Poems.  In August of that year, he had become ill, and he soon learned that he had contracted tuberculosis.  In September he was admitted to a sanatorium in the Cotswolds.  He died on January 3, 1915, at the age of 30.  In view of these circumstances, the poem perhaps takes on a different aspect, particularly the final stanza and this line:  "And since the light must fail me soon."

Stanley Roy Badmin (1906-1989), "Bolton Abbey, Wharfedale"

But serendipity was not finished with me yet.  The past month I have been reading poems in The Greek Anthology and in other collections of Greek lyric poetry.  Last night, I came upon this:

I love delicate ease and softness;
     Born desire is mine
To behold things fair and lovely
     And the bright sun-shine.

Sappho (translated by Walter Headlam), in Walter Headlam, A Book of Greek Verse (Cambridge 1907).

Yes, "there's nothing like the sun till we are dead."

James McIntosh Patrick, "A City Garden" (1940)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Sun

Dear readers, you have heard me say this before (and you will no doubt hear me say it in the future):  Life is far simpler than we make it out to be.  It is nothing more (and nothing less) than an all-too-brief gambol in the sun. Edward Thomas is exactly right:

No day of any month but I have said --
Or, if I could live long enough, should say --
"There's nothing like the sun that shines today."
There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.

These lines bring to an end a twenty-line poem, and, as is so often the case with Thomas, his conclusion contains a qualification:  "Or, if I could live long enough, should say . . ."  ("The poetry of almost infinitely-qualified states of mind," as Philip Larkin so perfectly puts it.  The influence of Robert Frost's equivocal, self-reversing poetic conclusions on Thomas cannot be discounted either.  Or did Thomas influence Frost?  Kindred spirits, in any case.)  The qualification is wholly understandable:  Thomas wrote the poem in November of 1915 at Hare Hall Camp, Essex, where he was serving as a map-reading instructor.  Still, the overall tone is one of joy and celebration, as it should be when one speaks of the sun.

          De Sole
      after Ficino

If once a year
the house of the dead
stood open
and those dwelling
under its roof
were shown the world's
great wonders, all
would marvel beyond every other thing at
the sun

Charles Tomlinson, The Shaft (Oxford University Press 1978).

I presume that the poem is Tomlinson's version of a prose passage from Liber de Sole ("The Book of the Sun") (1493) by Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499).

William David Birch (1895-1968)
"Morning in June, the Vale of Dedham, Essex"

"The colossal sun,/Surrounded by its choral rings":  it is not a thing to be stared at.  Instead, we come to know our star through its revelations, emanations, and creations.  I am not speaking of scientific knowledge.

One recent warm afternoon, an afternoon on which, as we are wont to say, "there was not a cloud in the sky," I heard bird conversations coming from high overhead as I walked beside a large meadow.  There were no trees nearby.  The chirping and chattering and twittering came from out of the empty air of the blue-interwoven-with-gold sky.  But, of course, the air was not empty.  The swallows were going about their afternoon feeding, curving and sweeping and diving just above the dry grass and the pink-purple sweet peas of the meadow, then disappearing into the overarching brightness.

                       Solar Creation

The sun, of whose terrain we creatures are,
Is the director of all human love,
Unit of time, and circle round the earth

And we are the commotion born of love
And slanted rays of that illustrious star
Peregrine of the crowded fields of birth,

The crowded lanes, the market and the tower
Like sight in pictures, real at remove,
Such is our motion on dimensional earth.

Down by the river, where the ragged are,
Continuous the cries and noise of birth,
While to the muddy edge dark fishes move

And over all, like death, or sloping hill,
Is nature, which is larger and more still.

Charles Madge, The Disappearing Castle (Faber and Faber 1937).

Bertram Priestman, "The Sun-Veiled Hills of Wharfedale" (1917)

The manner in which unsolicited and unwanted human-created images insinuate themselves into our mind, heart, and soul can be alarming.  At this point in my short remaining time above ground, I have decided that poems, paintings, and other works of art are welcome, subject to my arbitrary standards of admission (Beauty and Truth), which are applied in an unsystematic and idiosyncratic fashion.  On the other hand, images and messages from the political, entertainment, and media worlds are not welcome, and are avoided as much as possible.  "News" is forbidden.

But, of course, it is the real World that matters, not merely images of that World, however beautiful and true they may be.  What I have in mind, for instance, is the large, blooming lavender bush that I recently passed while walking through the neighborhood on a hot, sunny afternoon.  The bush was covered with dozens of bumblebees, hovering at the constellated flowers, abuzz.  "Makings of the sun."  The beginning and the end.

               Solar

Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding.
Heat is the echo of your
Gold.

Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.

Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber and Faber 1974).

Stanley Roy Badmin (1906-1989), "Stormy Evening, Glencoe"