Last night, after rehearsals, it was far too hot to go home – and, the rehearsals having gone passably well, we weren’t in the mood to disperse yet anyway. So we sat, more or less in the dark, in the garden of our makeshift rehearsal room. We sat in a circle, and began to tell each other the combination of Sonnets 55 and 81 that ends the play.
We all said it in turn, the game being to do it as differently as we could from the person before us. Again and again we said it… Continue reading
And then there are the hendecasyllables.
I have this friend who got her degree and now works in another town and, while there, got herself embroiled with the local Palio. Now, you see, in Italy a palio is a kind of historical-themed competition among the neighbourhoods of a town. They have jousts, archery contests, horse races, flag-throwing, period dancing and so on, usually in beautiful costumes. Old Italian towns being what they are, the rivalry can be quite fierce… Continue reading
Kipling wrote a good deal of poems in which the narrating “I” or “we” belongs to inanimate objects. Ships, places, pieces of equipment, mechanical parts… They come to life to describe the joys and strains of their “jobs”, history as seen through their “eyes”.
Whenever I read one of these poems, I can’t help thinking of those Japanese legends where an object takes on some sort of life by long association with and use by human beings… A concept I’ve always found highly poetic.
I wonder if Kipling knew of this legends… Continue reading
I love Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great – and by that I mean the first of the two parts. It may be rougher around the edges than his later work, but it’s breathlessly fiery. With his blank iambic pentameter, with the historical subject-matter, and his unpunished bloodthirsty hero, the boy was breaking ground in many ways – and knew it well. Continue reading
The Finest Story in the World has to be one of my favourite Kipling stories. It certainly was one of the first I read, many years ago, in a more than decent Italian translation, back when I still believed Kipling was just the man of the Jungle Books and Kim. Let us say that this particular short story, taken from Many Inventions, was a relevant step towards discovery. Continue reading
I love The Recall, a little poem taken from Action and Reactions – one of many collections of short stories and poetry.
It is a small, dream-like thing of home-coming – even when you don’t know you are coming home – and the power of place, something that, according to Peter Ackroyd, is deeply rooted in English imagination. Continue reading
Did you know that Emily Dickinson liked to write poems on envelopes? Not just on the back of the odd stray envelope – as one might do occasionally, when an idea strikes and no notebook is at hand. No: Emily did it in a curious and deliberate way, on torn or cut pieces of envelopes…
These paper pieces survive among her manuscripts, and are usually called “scraps”. Well, scholar Christine Burgin, who studied them in depth, gave them a new name, taken from one of Emily’s poems. She calls them the Gorgeous Nothings – in the Dickinson sense of the words: Nothing as a renovating force…
Here you can read a lovely article by Jen Bervin for Poetry Foundation, and see a few images of these very meaningful scraps. Fascinating stuff.
It arrives at the right moment – whether it is when you need it, or in a way that just won’t be forgotten. If I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted tempted to think that poetry, as reading material, works under its own brand of (higly theatrical) serendipity.
Louis MacNeice happened to me one rainy evening, a few years ago, in the form of The Sunlight on the Garden – that was written in 1938, when war was looming, and all was about to change forever:
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
Oh, the sheer feel of autumn coming, of loss, of irretrievability… I cannot read this poem without feeling the chill of that hardening sunlight.
Later I discovered that MacNeice had also been a playwright, translator and radio-drama author, and I went on to read more of his work. And yet, to me he will always be the poet of sunlight hardening on the brink of darkness, who happened to me on that one rainy night, a few years ago.
- In Time For Us to Catch It (breac.nd.edu)