I have imagined a correspondence between Paula Meehan, a former Ireland’s Professor of Poetry and W H Auden, Professor of Poetry at Oxford concerning sonnets written by each of them. Then I created my own two sonnets, one in each of their style.
It is an unusually long Blog this time so I encourage you to persevere.
As usual, comments and sharing are welcome.
A remembrance of my grandfather, Wattie,
who taught me to
read and write
Heading towards the Natural History Museum
across the snowy paths of Merrion Square
the city hushed, the park deserted, in a da ydream
I look up: a heaving net of branches, leaf-bare
the pearly sky. There, like a trireme
on an opalescent ocean, or some creature of the upper air
come down to nest, a cargo with a forest meme,
only begotten of gall, of pulp, of page, of leaflight, of feather.
What snagged that
book in the high reaches of the oak?
A child let out of school, casting heavenward the dreary yoke?
An eco installation from an artist of the avant-garde?
Or the books own deep need to be with kindred –
a rootling cradled
again in grandfather’s arms,
freed of her history, her spells, her runes, her fading charms?
Your sonnet Dublin: A remembrance of my grandfather, Wattie, who taught me to read and write has just reached me. I have read it several times with great interest. I also showed it to Chris, Chester
and Stephen. We had a very exercised discussion about it. When I was growing up books were my escape and were to be extracted from the mainly non literary, technical library of my father and mother, a doctor and, rare for those days, a female graduate. I poured
over books of engineering, medicine and theology.
Your poem shows a marked contrast to my early reading. I could no more explain reading and writing in anything other than a hard objective end purpose of doing and learning. It was cold
and arid and devoid of people or emotions, something I didn’t come to until well into my teens. In fact as a young man, a pornographic story excited me far more that any physical contact with other people. The others, to my gratification expressed similar
experiences, except perhaps Chester. But then he is European so what do you expect.
It pleased me greatly that you have remained faithful to the English sonnet form, more or less – one or two extra syllables. I abhor the practice
that your generation of poets have of making up their own corruption of form. I enclose one of my own sonnets, written whimsically years ago, for your perusal. I would value your 21st Century appraisal albeit somewhat too late for me to avail of
Yours intrigued as always,
A shilling life will give you all the facts
How father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day:
Of how he fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me
With all his honours on, he sighed
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or pottered round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but
W. H. Auden
Thanks a million for the letter and comments on my poem.
I’m delighted and excited that you showed it to the lads. I have this shiver and tremour going through me at the idea that the austere British greats of the 20s and 30s are reading the meanderings of a Dublin working class woman. What a giggle.
I read your sonnet Who’s Who very carefully and showed it to Tony and Michael my two great writing friends. Michael reckons you to be the greatest of that lot over there, by the way, and he has a very canny ear for poetic rhythm.
His first language is what you lot would have called Erse in your blind arrogant ignorance, not personally directed, but you know what I mean, so he has a very musical ear.
Now here’s where I have to diverge with you about the piece.
We all here agree that it sounds and feels like a tiny leak of the intensely personal Wystan, in a profoundly nostalgic and, dare I say it, spiritual craving mode. It’s a wistful desire to return to the womb of the family library away from public gaze
and comment. There is nothing cold, impersonal or objective about it. We loved it and, of course, in strict English sonnet form – what else would you expect.
By the way was God what you finally expected?
A remembrance of my Nana who taught me how to cook
(After Paula Meehan)
There is delight to be alone
To choose what might a gourmet like to cook
beuf bourguignon, salade nicoise, to hook the
Discerned palette with high class wine
To bring along the flavour, baste the tongue
With top drawer tastes exciting
ary nerves to a point ecstatically spent
a sensation high to which the body clung
At once an echo back to early years
When he was tasked to win his first scout badge
He begged his Nan for help to cook.
Of laughter she set him on the task
And out of all the mess and strife, a pie
Of apple, edible, no cause to die.
A Nobody’s Dream
Consider a young boy of little note
No life outside the home of humble seam
So he would never share his secret dream
though masters were unmoved by
what he wrote
He would never let it slip even by chance
The yearning ache, that went against the trend
Deep longing for his great big friend
Who passed him out without a backward glance
Who’s ego compensated for his
So large in fact his frame could not contain
So big that his ambition caused him strife
And when he found his niche in public life
He drove himself right to the top
Until tribunals cut him down and made him stop
Interesting idea. I like your poems much better!
25.11 | 22:15
Grief is experience through the mundane. Simple but powerful. The accompanying image really compliments the poem.
07.11 | 11:14
A great observation! Social media can be a scary place... I also need to reduce my time there
06.11 | 16:24
A great one, Peter, in the context you describe. I don't read social media myself, I doubt my equilibrium could stand it. 'The balance of his mind disturbed' yes, I think it would be.
06.11 | 15:59
Yes, gossip is a weapon of mass destruction.
In my business as well as personal life I have zero tolerance.