Sunday, 11 March 2012
Sunday, 18 September 2011
Woods - Louis MacNieceOn woods, and the way childhood lingers in certain spaces; on wilderness and domesticated landscape; on being of two places (in MacNeice's case, Ireland and England), and of always being an outsider.
My father who found the English landscape tame
Had hardly in his life walked in a wood,
Too old when first he met one; Malory's knights,
Keats's nymphs or the Midsummer Night's Dream
Could never arras the room, where he spelled out True and Good
With their interleaving of half-truths and not-quites.
While for me from the age of ten the socketed wooden gate
Into a Dorset planting, into a dark
But gentle ambush, was an alluring eye;
Within was a kingdom free from time and sky,
Caterpillar webs on the forehead, danger under the feet,
And the mind adrift in a floating and rustling ark
Packed with birds and ghosts, two of every race,
Trills of love from the picture-book---Oh might I never land
But here, grown six foot tall, find me also a love
Also out of the picture-book; whose hand
Would be soft as the webs of the wood and on her face
The wood-pigeon's voice would shaft a chrism from above.
So in a grassy ride a rain-filled hoof-mark coined
By a finger of sun from the mint of Long Ago
Was the last of Lancelot's glitter. Make-believe dies hard;
That the rider passed here lately and is a man we know
Is still untrue, the gate to Legend remains unbarred,
The grown-up hates to divorce what the child joined.
Thus from a city when my father would frame
Escape, he thought, as I do, of bog or rock
But I have also this other, this English, choice
Into what yet is foreign; whatever its name
Each wood is the mystery and the recurring shock
Of its dark coolness is a foreign voice.
Yet in using the word tame my father was maybe right,
These woods are not the Forest; each is moored
To a village somewhere near. If not of to-day
They are not like the wilds of Mayo, they are assured
Of their place by men; reprieved from the neolithic night
By gamekeepers or by Herrick's girls at play.
And always we walk out again. The patch
Of sky at the end of the path grows and discloses
An ordered open air long ruled by dyke and fence,
With geese whose form and gait proclaim their consequence,
Pargetted outposts, windows browed with thatch,
And cow pats - and inconsequent wild roses.
And finally, of learning and growing up: 'And always we walk out again.'
In other (less literary) news, Louis MacNeice is a new addition to 'Poets I fancy' list.
Friday, 9 September 2011
Thursday, 8 September 2011
As part of Canongate's Myths series, Margaret Atwood tells the story of the Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus' wife Penelope, who remained in Ithica while her husband fought in the Trojan War and afterwards roamed the seas trying to get home, and her twelve hanged maids, whom Odysseus ordered killed on his return. (In case you want to know, the maids had slept with the suitors who tried to steal Penelope and the kingdom away in Odysseus' absence; so their crime was to be desired - or maybe even have desire themselves.)
Reading The Penelopiad, I think back to how we were taught about Penelope at school: where Odysseus and smart and quick, so was she, making and unmaking a shroud to keep the braying, greedy suitors at bay; testing the returned Odysseus to make sure it was her husband. She was her husband's equal, our teacher said, to remind us that a person does not need to prove themselves with exaggerated feats and outrageous deeds.
Other than that, it was all faithfulness, fidelity, modesty and endurance: the ideal wife, I guess.
But I realise now that we studied one text of a poem conceived in a culture of oral storytelling. We didn't look past a particular version of Homer's Odyssey, did not explore the tales and stories that have been changed with region and time. Stories shift, are cut or lenghtened depending on the teller and audience. What else was there to know about Penelope? What hadn't made the version that sits bound on my bookshelf?
Who makes myths? Is there ever a final version? And when we study them, what good does it do us to take one book and read it, like that is the whole story?
'So by the time the morning came, Odysseus and I were indeed friends, as Odysseus had promised we would be. Or let me put it another way: I myself had developed friendly feelings towards him - more than that, loving and passionate ones - and he behaved as if he reciprocated them. Which is not quite the same thing.'Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
Odysseus, still dangerous when long-dead and on paper, he stole the hearts of some of my best girl friends; the wily, clever Odysseus, tangling men and women alike in his words, tricking and cheating and thinking his way out of (and into) trouble. A hero of invention; a hero of lies.
There is a gap - a gulf- between what is said and what is felt. How can we be sure someone's words accurately represent what they feel (especially if you love a silver-tongued trickster)? The significance of faith in our lives is huge, even if we are meant to worship the rational, the empirical now.
Every day, we trust that the words of those we love are true. We hope to never discover a disjunct between language and feeling, to feel the world twist around us and finish upsidedown and off-kilter.