Monday, 1 October 2007

My literary leanings.

Something I found while I was drifting through the books on a coffee table. In the form I found it in, it was presented just as a paragraph, which gave it an air of simplicity and unpretentiousness which made it nicer I think. No idea what the original format was, and, right now, don't think I want to research it. It's interesting to think that this was written inter-war, though inter-war in America which is a bit different to Europe I guess. Anyway. I've been wanting someone to tell me what to do for a while, and since I ditched religion for anything other than the music and a chance to spar with people, art will have to do. Divide it from philosophy at your peril.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrman (1927)

The dude does appear to be a one poem wonder, though. It's not really poetry, anyway. There isn't much in the way of artifice of language in there - the thoughts are good though.

It also occurred to me today, completely unrelated to the above, that I don't think I ever told anyone why this blog and indeed the old blog have the titles they do. One person (that I can think of) will know as soon as I say and may well know anyway, and some of the others may do, too. Who knows. Depends how much twentieth century poetry you've all read. Anyway. This is why:

The Thought-Fox

I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Ted Hughes (1957)

Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters was one of my earliest collections of poetry, and I adored it absolutely. I think my copy's in Cornwall. When I named my blog, I just remember liking the idea of a page becoming written without the volition of the author, and a blog is a bit like that. A place to dump thoughts and words and pictures which come without conscious composing and which result in entries where when you read back you find you've written something different from what you intended but which is nonetheless more accurate. I also like the threatening, almost violent undertones of the poem - there's a feeling that the thing which controls that writing is sinister, uncivilised, beastly. Hughes had a thing about the underlying nature of man, reaching out to the primal instinct that we share with beasts, and that's visible here, I think. It's not a nice idea, really, but it sums up the way I often feel about my life - that it's beyond the control of conscious will.

I'll have to get my dad to bring that and my Sylvia Plath books up with him when he next comes up with any space to carry such things. I still know chunks of the Ariel poems by heart after a friend introduced them to me when I was 17. They date from my Sarah Kane phase, but have slightly (slightly!) less of the teenage angst about them. Not that I count Kane as less than art myself, but people perceive her that way. (Incidentally, the quotation in my profile is from Kane's play 4.48 Psychosis.) Plath never wanted to write poetry, but did in a sort of manic, unwilling way, which fits so well with the emotions of the Hughes poem I've posted here. Well. I think. Anyway. I could go on forever with poems than mean things to me, but it's really not very interesting to read, so I shall leave you with those two to think about.


  1. Poetry's often something I find really hard to talk about in any kind of analytical way - either it says something to me or it doesn't, though sometimes I've grown to love poems through studying them but I very rarely see everything in them first time. Maybe like visual arts in a way, except I don't take the trouble to get to know them ;)
    Desiderata I've often seen on the back of elderly relatives' toilet doors ;) It's one of those 'inspirational' poems that's sold in catalogues on tea-towels and things.

  2. Heh - yeah I can imagine it is. From a poetry point of view I don't think it's that stunning, but I did quite appreciate the sentiments just then. And I've always preferred poetry to prose - I was lucky enough to have one of the best versification people in the department as my DoS, which meant I got a lot out of it. I was generally useless with novels though - simply too much there for me!