TODAY I AM TACKLING A POEM USING THE ‘OTTAVA RIMA’ POETIC FORM.
Originally an Italian stanza of eight 11-syllable lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC. Sir Thomas Wyatt first introduced the form in English, and Lord Byron adapted it to a 10-syllable line for his mock-epic ‘Don Juan’. W.B.Yeatsnotably used it for his poems “Among Scool Children’and ‘Sailing to Byzantium.’
The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has just pronounced on the future of the country in times when the majority of the population find themselves in considerably strained financial circumstances . Perhaps a few thoughts occasioned by a reading which I quote from from: ‘The Funny Side – 101 Humorous Poems’ – edited with an introduction by Wendy Cope, will strike a chord with many of us . . .
It is from the American poet, Richard Willard Armour (July 15, 1906 – February 28, 1989)
That money talks
I won’t deny.
I heard it once,
It said, “Goodbye”.
Richard Armour also once wrote: . . . “Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong.“
‘Pushing Up The Daisies’ … WHB – Pen & Wash. May 2017
Where are they now Gerard and the Craig twins Doggy Dan and Luggy Cooper the Lawrences Jocky Boyes and Spuggie Hood, each with a memory attached their image for me still young never ageing?
Could be still out there my age and I’m still here, not waiting but wanting wishing hoping reliving memories replaying youth, recalling lads lasses too part of my past history of my story, liked, loved, and lusted after, feared and fretted over, not given a thought until now but they could still be here, there, somewhere, not pushing up the daisies. Not yet.
Will some of them, wherever, still be sleeping with my dreams? Others, as I, lying sleepless, thinking these same thoughts, because we do have the same history, minds similarly imprinted, memories matched attuned remembering.
Racing out in the morning breathless with anticipation rushing to share our days, to build the same dams catch the same minnows in the same jam jars leap the same becks explore the same tunnels climb the same trees rocks hills fight the same mock battles. All forging our own memories.
And Jim Jim, the joker, jumped off Highcliff Nab while I took his photo, fell all of six feet soft landed on the turf ledge. No dying fall, not kicking up the daisies.
Not then, no, he wasn’t then, he is now. Long lost professor of religions respected author from beck side cottage, but now no thanks to weed and wine buried deep in my Memory Lane. Now pushing up the daisies.
But those of us who remain short time to run just enough to practise treading the ceremonial turf from below to push up the daisies.
While now, above ground we tread warily lest their spades are not ready when our own time comes to push up the daisies.
Tu Fu ( or Du Fu), who was born in Gongyi in 712 A.D., was one of the foremost poets of the Chinese Tang dynasty. He and Li Bai, are normally thought of as the greatest of all Chinese poets. He died in Changsha, China, in 770 A.D.
I print below, two of his poems, both, as the majority of his poems, exemplify his intense relationship with nature, wildlife, and with the seasons, even amidst the turmoil of the times in which he lived.
(Both designs are my own pen and wash drawings in an attempt at capturing a Chinese style.)
A Spring View
Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure; And spring comes green again to trees and grasses Where petals have been shed like tears And lonely birds have sung their grief. … After the war-fires of three months, One message from home is worth a ton of gold. … I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin To hold the hairpins any more.
A View of Taishan
What shall I say of the Great Peak? – The ancient dukedoms are everywhere green, Inspired and stirred by the breath of creation, With the Twin Forces balancing day and night. …I bare my breast toward opening clouds, I strain my sight after birds flying home. When shall I reach the top and hold All mountains in a single glance?
We all do it We pass on pain From one generation To the next It is essential to our rite of passage backwards to our parents and forward to our offspring
Leaving Larkin alone Although I can see Where he’s coming from My mam and dad Still Loom large in my life Even so long After leaving it
They must have been lonely Lovers of their son Country child Only child Lonely child Left so soon Longing for London’s Lively life And a renewal Of lost love
With some bitterness No bile No bombast I recognise my Ambitions And accept They damaged Not destroyed Their devotion
Through it all Dedication to me And to mine Remained How could I Have acted differently They set me up for this Their ambitions for me Self-harming Through being Selfless Succeeding To their own detriment
Now I find myself Bemoaning With an intensity Which hurts More every day My callous Refutation of their need For my love
If only I’d not been The only one The only child If I’d not deserted That early home With seeming Eagerness That cradle of my mind Those roots of my soul Now so full of meaning So pertinent To the man I have become
But when the conflict Presented itself to me I was by then Committed Other responsibilities Crowded in And parents As happens to them Take the rear seat
And yet I know I had to go To avoid That tethering by love Which smothers More dutiful sons It avoided My hopes Being stifled Petrified And pressed into The backwaters Of a life
Perhaps it must be so For don’t we all do it
Think of those others Leaving behind their roots For pastures new Able to look only onwards Whilst leaving The hurt Of separation From those who loved them But would do nothing But encourage their ambitions
Bennett Showed how to escape Walter and Lilian Whilst continuing To cull their histories
Hughes With his animal instincts Needing to roam free Left William and Edith For an itinerant life
Hockney Soon found California More suitable To his calling Leaving Kenneth and Laura To theirs
I claim None of their skills Their powers To change the world But my history Reflects theirs Grammarians Tykes of a sort And of an age Seeking Advancement Searching for soul For life In pastures new Neglectful of commitment To our own past Conscious only Of our independent futures
It was ever thus All took Larkin At his word Got out – As early as they could And How odd That two of them Even followed Larkin’s advice Eschewing Parenthood The essence of Larkin’s dismissal Of his own birthright His reckoning With Sidney and Eva For giving him birth
But Leaving Larkin alone Again Our legacies may prove Our sense in cutting The ties that bind Perhaps the world is Consequently A better place.
Our parents May not think the same But what are parents Other than The future’s hope
LEIGH HUNT (1784–1859) was an essayist, journalist and poet of the Romantic Period in English Literature. Not perhaps one of the leading Romanticists, but he, nevertheless, did much to bring their poetry to prominence in the early 19th century, particularly through his friendships with Shelley, Keats and Byron, and by means of his editorship of the influential literary magazine, The ‘Examiner.’
A short poem of his, which I’ve long enjoyed for its sweetness and simplicity, is Leigh Hunt’s verse, originally entitled ‘Rondeau’, but more generally known as ‘Jenny kiss’d Me’.
This charming poem is said to have been inspired by a meeting, following an illness, with the wife of his friend, the eminent historian Thomas Carlyle.
Suicide on a whim is not unheard of but few such perpetrators live to tell the tale
one such rescued from his indecision by the Gardai lived through his trauma sweet Liffey run softly while I tell the story
distraught by his gambling debts and the drinking his only way to a conclusion seemed to him to be voluntary self-inflicted euthanasia yes he thought that he wanted to die half-determined part irresolute
in a single moment of wavering he had jumped just fell perhaps but the fear and the cold water soon hit him hit harder than the twenty foot drop
an instinctive cry escaped him you could call it a change of mind his cry for help was a second thought an unintended consequence of his half-hearted conviction
and now he was held grasped in a rescue bid
but did he wish to be salvaged to be pleaded with would that bring him the closure he craved attention unwanted
but secured attention secured but unwanted
and still he could not let go the ladder his passport to life a life he did not desire could he bear to go there yet again to continue victim to more pain to yet more anguish
but temporary chagrin is no killer his cri de coeur answered his indecision thwarted
is it heads or tails is it stay or go is life’s hurt greater than death’s pain is future shame worse than eternity’s opprobrium
we will never know the prognosis I suspect he is still amongst us ever indecisive a suitor for attention defaulting on his debts not stopping at three pints one of life’s protean chancers
Kirk, Ulf, Dag, Garth and young Sven, Five fierce and intrepid Norse men, All were keen for a spot of adventure, And some philand’ring as well now and then.
These five Vikings set off from their fiord, Their longboat just bristling with gear; Spangenhelm, chain mail and hatchets, They thought they had nothing to fear.
But the North Sea didn’t prove easy, They rowed until practically dead, Till at last they spotted the Orkneys Then got ready some Scots’ blood to shed.
They’d set out equipped to do battle, To plunder, to pillage, despoil, But they could not decide where to settle, Where best to create more turmoil.
So they carried on rowing southwards And kept their eyes skinned for a village; For any old Saxon encampment With people and pastures to pillage.
Before long they came to an island That was covered in seaweed and priests; They decided to stop and replenish, While the priests signalled, clear off you beasts.
At first they weren’t kind to the natives; They took all their women and corn, But they could not abide all the chanting And treated the abbot with scorn.
But in time they took to the island, Found some fair Saxons to wed; Even started attending the chapel, Word of their atonement soon spread.
When I think of my Norsemen forefathers
Now I don’t see foreign insurgents; I think of them solely as tourists, Who created a bit of disturbance.
I am indebted to the artist, Eileen Phelps, for permission to use a photograph of her embroidery, first exhibited at the Barn Arts Centre, Surrey, in 2013.
Because Eileen’s embroidery on which I based these verses is clearly light-hearted, jocular and whimsical, I have followed that approach with my verses. I apologise to the historians of the period of British history for seemingly making light of the violence and deprivation which the Viking raids wreaked on coastal communities in the North of Britain.
The Vikings first invaded Britain in AD 793 and last invaded in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England after the Battle of Hastings.
The first place the Vikings raided in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small holy island located off the north-east coast of England. Some of the monks were drowned in the sea, others killed or taken away as slaves along with many treasures of the church.
Following many years of incursions by the Vikings, eventually, King Alfred of Wessex was able to confront the Viking ‘Great Army’ at Edington, in 878, when his victory enabled him to establish terms for peace, though this did not put a complete stop to Viking activity which continued on and off for several more generations. Alfred had to concede the northern and eastern counties to the Vikings, where their disbanded armies settled, created new settlements and merged with the local populations. Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Leicester became important Viking
towns within The Danelaw (or ‘Scandinavian England’), while York became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York, which extended more or less over what we now call Yorkshire.
These areas were gradually reconquered and brought back under English control by Alfred’s successors, but not before the Scandinavian influence had been locally imprinted to an extent which is still detectable today in place names as well as the DNA of many of its inhabitants.
Late autumn evening treading wet leaves on the broad embankment beside the dark river; starry sky and the pavement spotted with lights dark pools between those balustrade sentries the eighty year old yablochkov candles (the country’s very first electric street lights) still throwing the trees’ shadows across the road to Victoria’s gardens.
Perhaps memory twists my tale; mike, dave, wally, ray, with me five of us, fresh lads freshers too up from the far country to study to see the big city to re-start a life men now together soliciting knowledge tempting experience.
Interned for a Chelsea month, then the anticipated incursion, our first excursion into the great city set for new challenges no plan just exploration; for the moment nothing cerebral just life in the moment awaiting a happening neophytic greenhorns.
Walking where Victoria walked, or did she ever really enjoy her gardens by the river? thrilling evening walking that promenade, drinking the sights eating the sounds devouring the smells and tastes soaking up the river and the beer, Victoria’s Embankment Gardens.
We didn’t know it then nor did any of us suspect it was to be ray’s swan song sweet Thames run softly and be his swan song.
Turned up Villiers Street, Kipling’s and Evelyn’s street, tumbled into The Trafalgar, seedy then, well, rare student prices, waitress in black and white I remember the white cap with lace and black band the tiny white apron on black dress alluringly short wiping her hands by rubbing them seductively on her aproned thighs, “what can I get you lads?” … ribaldry … ray “what time do you finish?” … her answer no more than a half-smile;
After the spam fritters and the glorious knickerbockers and more small pink hands attentive hands rubbed clean on lacy white apron, ray’s eyes never taken off them then drinks nothing heavy.
Ray fell must have done from a great height smitten I would say to his adam’s apple core, eyes only for a pretty face and those lacy edges.
Conversation ricocheted across the tables voices spurted out their verbiage as those yablochkov candles expended their light, more raucous than uncouth.
Then the attempt to close to dispense with customers we head for the street ray stays in his seat “’bye chaps, I’ll see you.”
… But he never did.
Nor we him. Ever again.
The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th Century civil engineering which reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London. It follows the North Bank of the river from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.
The Victoria Embankment Gardens , built also in the latter part of the 19th Century, separate the embankment and the road running alongside from the buildings on the south side of Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Strand.
Villiers Street is a short connecting thoroughfare, now mainly pedestrianised, running from the Thames Embankment and Charing Cross underground Station uphill to the Strand, Charing Cross Mainline Railway Station and Trafalgar Square. It contains many restaurants and eating establishments. The Trafalgar Cafe, however, can no longer be found there.
Poem by WHB and re-published in memory of Dave and Mike – now passed on to where all memories are filed and all mysteries are resolved.