Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I could tell you all about my journey and where I am now and what I am doing and what it is like to wake up in a house where the very first sound you hear is a baby singing (she turns out to have an excellent voice and perfect phrasing), but I am going to speak of poetry instead.
Because why not? Sometimes poetry must be spoken of.
On the miracle that is the worth-the-cost-of-the-licence-fee-alone iPlayer, the BBC has quietly put out another of those extraordinary programmes that gets no fanfare or publicity but is so brilliant that it almost hurts when you listen to it. There are certain things in life that are so good they make me cross. This was one of them.
It was not fancy or swanky or post-modern or too clever for its shirt. There were no bells and whistles; no special effects; all the money that could be spared almost certainly was. It was a couple of men speaking, one man reading, and two extraordinary poets. Out of those plain ingredients, fifteen short minutes of magical radio emerged: a brief, profound mediation on Auden, with specific reference to Yeats.
The first astonishing thing I learnt is that apparently Auden is 'unfashionable'. I remember hearing this about Eliot, a few years ago. I did not really understand the concept of poets being unfashionable. I thought you were either a genius of the English language or you were not. It seemed to be so self-evident that The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of the towering achievements of the 20th century that I could not comprehend anyone having an actual argument about it. As so often, it turns out I was wrong. Poets come in and out of fashion, and dear old WH is out.
This makes me cross and sad. Lay your sleeping head my love is one of the few poems I know by heart. (Others being: tread softly for you tread on my dreams; one man loved the pilgrim soul in you; and certain sections of the highwayman came riding, riding, riding, up to the old inn door.) I once recited it in a murky club north of Westbourne Grove which stayed open until three in the morning in the days when everything closed at midnight. The man who asked said, when I inquired what he did, 'I'm a drug dealer.' I'm not a judgemental type, so when he asked me for the Auden, I spoke it aloud.
Later I said to the friend who introduced us: 'he was very erudite for a drug dealer'.
'Rug dealer,' said my friend. 'Rug dealer. He sells Persian carpets.'
Anyway, that is not the point. The point is that I love and revere Auden, even if he did run away a bit during the war, and I love and revere Yeats even more, even if he did think he heard ghostly voices, and so the two of them together on the radiophonic device was almost more than I could bear. The poem being discussed was this one, which I think is so damn beautiful and true that I don't have enough adjectives for it:
In Memory of WB Yeats:
He disappeared in the dead of winter: The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted, And snow disfigured the public statues; The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day. What instruments we have agree The day of his death was a dark cold day. Far from his illness The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests, The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays; By mourning tongues The death of the poet was kept from his poems. But for him it was his last afternoon as himself, An afternoon of nurses and rumours; The provinces of his body revolted, The squares of his mind were empty, Silence invaded the suburbs, The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers. Now he is scattered among a hundred cities And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections, To find his happiness in another kind of wood And be punished under a foreign code of conscience. The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living. But in the importance and noise of to-morrow When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse, And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed, And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom, A few thousand will think of this day As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual. What instruments we have agree The day of his death was a dark cold day.
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all: The parish of rich women, physical decay, Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry. Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still, For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its making where executives Would never want to tamper, flows on south From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, A way of happening, a mouth. III
Earth, receive an honoured guest: William Yeats is laid to rest. Let the Irish vessel lie Emptied of its poetry. In the nightmare of the dark All the dogs of Europe bark, And the living nations wait, Each sequestered in its hate; Intellectual disgrace Stares from every human face, And the seas of pity lie Locked and frozen in each eye. Follow, poet, follow right To the bottom of the night, With your unconstraining voice Still persuade us to rejoice; With the farming of a verse Make a vineyard of the curse, Sing of human unsuccess In a rapture of distress; In the deserts of the heart Let the healing fountain start, In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise.
I pause for a moment in homage to my two favourite lines: mad Ireland hurt you into poetry, and Sing of human unsucess. Although the bit about what instruments we have and the brokers of the Bourse roaring like beasts are fairly spectacular.
The thing of it is, not only did the programme give all this beauty and interest, it got the one man who can actually read poetry to read it. I've banged on about this before, and I imagine some of you are frowning, mildly perplexed. It's only poetry, how hard can it be to read? The answer is: so hard that I cannot count the ways. I've heard poets kill their own poems, swallowing the words and drifting into inconsequential monotone. I've heard actors, who are perhaps the worst and most surprising offenders, smash up a work of brilliance with pausing and breath and odd line readings and theatricality and just too much acting. There is the sententious voice and the sonorous voice and the LOOK LOOK I'M READING POETRY voice.
I should be kind, really, on account of the great degree of difficulty. I tried to do some of Prufrock once, into the webcam, to see if I had any talent for it, and I hashed it all to hell. I cannot tell you how dire I was. Luckily though, and people should hang out more flags, there is one actor who does it so beautifully and effortlessly that in my opinion he should be made to read all the poetry and not allowed to do anything else. (I admit I have made this point before, and I expect I shall make it again.) This is the glorious Samuel West, and luckily the BBC sensibly sent for him and he read that great poem with such cleverness and restraint that I wanted to send flowers. Perhaps one day I shall.
If you want to hear the loveliness, it is here. Sadly I only discovered it last night, and the mean old Beeb takes it off at 3pm today, so rush rush rush now while stocks last. It is fifteen minutes you will not regret.
I have not yet taken any pictures of the south, so here are some old Scottish ones in the meantime.
The colours I left behind:
Views to south and west:
Final burst of colour:
PS Apologies for slightly dotty formatting half way through. Some mysterious glitch occurred and I can't make any of it rational.