Well, I can tick off 1928 on A Century of Books, because on Saturday I read Time Importuned by Sylvia Townsend Warner. This volume of poetry was published two years after Lolly Willowes, an excellent novel about which I’ll soon be writing a chapter of my thesis – but which I only wrote about very briefly on SiaB. I intended to write another post last year, when I reread it. I worry that, if I tried, I would end up writing ten thousand words… well, perhaps I’ll give it a go one day, since the review I wrote doesn’t do it justice.
Anyway, I read Time Importuned hoping that there would be something useful to include in that chapter (which, incidentally, there was) but I can’t say I’ve converted to a poetry lover. This isn’t going to be a proper review, because I don’t really know how to write blog posts about poetry. I can analyse them in a doing-an-English-degree sort of way, and I used to quite enjoy doing that, but blogs are chiefly about reading for pleasure. The activities of the student are not those of the ardent reader – I enjoy both aspects, but they are distinct in my head. You don’t want to know what I think of Warner’s use of syntax. You might want to know whether or not I enjoyed reading Time Importuned – and the truth is, I don’t know.
Some poetry I hate. If it doesn’t make sense to me on three readings, I’m not interested. If the poet name-drops all manner of classical mythology, I raise my eyebrows; if they name-drop 21st century technology, I raise them still more (these were both frequent crimes in the Magdalen poetry society I occasionally visited.)
Some poetry I enjoy. But mostly comic verse, or things which are probably considered doggerel by those in the know (does Longfellow fall into this category? Does Walter de la Mare?)
Oddly enough, I enjoy writing poetry – but I’m under no illusion that it’s very good, and I do it entirely for my own amusement or catharsis, as case may be. Since I rarely read poetry, I feel wholly unqualified to write it, and a little ashamed that I have the audacity to put pen to paper…
Something like Time Importuned… I just don’t know. The topics covered tend towards hopeless love and countryside matters, often combined, and with an atmosphere almost as though they are old wives’ tales, passed down in small villages for many years. Which was nice, but I did end up reading the poems mostly as though they were paragraphs of prose laid out in an unorthodox manner. Perhaps that is a valid way of reading poetry… but perhaps it also misses a lot? I don’t know how else to benefit from verse. I deliberately slow myself down, by mouthing the words (I’m quite a fast reader of prose, in a manner which loses poems completely) but I still can’t imagine reading a volume of poetry for pleasure. It’s not that I need prose, because often I read plays for pleasure – and that’s more or less as unusual a trait as poetry-adoration, so I’m led to understand.
Well, I’m going to type out a couple of the poems which I did quite enjoy, although I am far from the ideal reader for them. Poetry washes by me, enchanting others who dip in their toes, and merely splashing me slightly. So, before I get to some excerpts, I have a question… which poet/poetry would you recommend to the prose lover? How would you go about converting me to the possibilities of poetry?
Over to Warner…
The Tree Unleaved
Day after day melts by, so hushed is the season,
So crystal the mornings are, the evenings so wrapped in haze,
That we do not notice the passage of the days ;
But coming in at the gate to-night I looked up for some reason,
And saw overhead Time’s theft ;
For behold, not a leaf was left on the tree near by.
So it may chance, the passage of days abetting
My heedless assumption of life, my hands so careless to hold,
That glancing round I shall find myself grown old,
Forgotten my hopes and schemes, my friends forgotten and forgetting ;
But all I can think of now
Is the pattern of leafless boughs on the windless sky.
Walking and Singing at Night
Darkened the hedge, and dimmed the wold,
We sang then as we trudged along.
The heart grown hot, the heart grown cold,
Are simple things in a song.
The lover comes, the lover goes,
On the same drooping interval,
Easy as from the ripened rose
The loosened petals fall.
Between one stanza and the next
A heart’s unprospered hopes are sighed
To death as lovely and unvexed
As ’twere a swan that died.
Alas, my dear, Farewell’s a word
Pleasant to sing but ill to say,
And Hope a vermin that dies hard ;
As you will find, one day.