The Unlucky Christ – Peter Porter – Analysis

The Unlucky Christ

Wherever they put down roots
he will be there, the Master-Haunter
who is our sample and our
would-be deliverer. Argue this-
there were men before him,
as there were dreams before events,
as there is (or perhaps is not)
conservation of energy. So he
is out of time but once stopped here
in time. What I am thinking
may be blasphemy, that I
and like him, one who cannot
let go of unhappiness, who has
come closer to him through suffering
and loathes the idea. The ego now,
and must be like a ministry,
the sense of being chosen among men
to be acquainted with grief!
Why not celebrate instead
the wayside cactus which enriches
the air with a small pink flower?
Some people can take straight off
from everyday selfishness to
the mystical, but the vague shape
of the Professional Sorrower
seems to interpose when I try
such transport. The stone had to roll
and the cerements sit up
because he would have poisoned
the world. It has been almost possible
to get through this poem without writing
the word death. The smallest
of our horrors. When they saw him
again on the road, at least they knew
that the task of misery would be
explained, the evangelical duty
properly underlined. Tell them
about bad luck, he said,
how people who get close to you
want to walk out on you,
tell them they may meet one person
even more shrouded than themselves.
Jesus’s message at Pentecost
sounded as our news always does,
that there is eloquence and decency,
but as for happiness,
it is involuntary like hell.

Peter Porter (1929 -2010)

Everybody has heard of Jesus and many have had some introduction on Christian philosophy. So perhaps JC can be considered to ‘haunt’ life. Where haunt is to trouble, disturb or worry people. And indeed there were men before him without any specific knowledge on the life of JC akin to ‘dreams before events’.

PP, who was known as quite a depressive person, strongly identifies with the suffering and unhappiness in the life of JC. As if he, like JC, was chosen to be acquainted in this way –
                             ‘the sense of being chosen among men
                              to be acquainted with grief’

Grief is endemic in life – perhaps PP thinks he has had an undue share. His mother died when he was quite young and his first wife committed suicide leaving two young girls needing support. For those who know the poetry of PP unhappiness is a feature of many of his poems. PP stating that he has a stone of unhappiness caught in the lining of his pocket (see his poem What I have written I have written).

It is common to think of JC as the Professional Redeemer rather than the different perspective of being the Professional Sufferer.

But why not celebrate other aspects of life that are not linked to suffering? –
                               ‘the wayside cactus which enriches
                                the air with a small pink flower’
I think one reason is that we are often caught in a non-acceptance of death and want a life continuation. Perhaps we worry too much!

However JC did complete his ‘almighty task’ The cerements sit up being burial clothes. And his suffering was explained – did have a purpose. Life eternal. Nice that PP, a writer,
properly underlines the evangelical duty.

But PP is hung up on bad luck – and continues in that tone mentioning those that have been close in life and then they deceive. Perhaps inference can be made to his Mother’s early death or the suicide of his first wife.

The last line states his position – there is no control on happiness, happiness is involuntary and he has been fated. He has chosen to concentrate on the negativities – I think this is an unfortunate life-script.

And although JC was perhaps the most unlucky of all men there is one consolation he had support from the most powerful and we do not know how this manifested itself in his life experience on earth. I think JC did say ‘my yoke is easy’ but maybe this is quite hard for us unknowing mortals to understand.

PP a distinguished Australian poet who based his life in London and was at one time a candidate for the Professor of Poetry at Oxford. A Wikipedia link.

Sentenced to Life – Clive James – Analysis

Sentenced to Life

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
^^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^^ ^ ^
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
^^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^^
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
^ ^ ^^ ^ ^^ ^ ^ ^
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.
^ ^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^ ^ ^

But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day for knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done

Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.

My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish each a finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories perfect as plain song.

Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pail, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.

Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.

Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will, and testament –

As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left bebhind.

Clive James (1939 –

Clive James wrote this poem in 2014 at a time when his health had deteriorated to the extent where time is a very precious commodity. Walking into Cambridge was a great effort. The person he met on this walk was Germaine Greer and she describes this meeting when she selected this poem for the anthology ‘Poems That Make Grown Women Cry’. She does not specifically recall asking CJ whether he aches for his Oz homeland but she certainly remembers the meeting. Germaine Greer was a contemporary of CJ from his Cambridge University days.

Looking at the title ‘Sentenced to Life’ … well that is one way of looking at life for we are forced into life … but to what extent it is a ‘sentence’ is another matter. Of course it is very much a play on words for one who has made much of life through writing and words … whether or not CJ has been happy with his ‘sentencing’ is another matter. But according to his website writing was very important for completion of the translation of Dante’s Inferno kept him alive. In a BBC interview broadcast on 31 March 2015, James described himself as ‘near to death but thankful for life’. However, in October 2015 he admitted to feeling ‘embarrassment’ at still being alive thanks to experimental drug treatment.

It is a very will crafted poem with flowing pentameter rhythm and a rhyming scheme ‘ababb’. CJ is very appreciative of ‘poetic skill’ and I recommend reading his ‘2006 -2014 Poetry Notebook’ for an excellent discussion on poetry.

Looking at the poem –
S1 – his health situation is explained … ice-bound equating to frozen (a death position) …
he feels sorry for himself … a challenge to walk into town  … (from the GG commentary on this poem he was walking into Cambridge for breakfast)
S2,S3 – he doesn’t mind death because his race has been run … but his sin, his guilt is being faithless … note – he was thrown out of the family home by his wife after he admitted on a TV show that he had been having a relationship with another woman for eight years – being true to everyone (is this possible) – but he has to come to terms with his failing health and lack of mobility … this gives a new emphasis on life … a lesson to be learnt
S4, S5 – so now he has an appreciation for all the little things he never noticed … he has time to count the bees … he sees things in detail as he watches from his room
S6 – the recall of his birth homeland sunset is not affected by his health problem, his mind can still be trusted … in glowing colours, sharp relief
S7 – so in answer to the question of whether he had an ‘ache for his homeland’ … he gives a clear description of the Pacific sunset from memory – this is sufficient perhaps … ‘heaven sent’ … he is thankful for the power of his mind
S8 – in this way his homeland is forever meaningful … will always be with him … despite the overcast environment – sky and health … his mind basks giving sunshine to the few remaining days

To what extent do expats ache for their homeland origins – to what extent can memory compensate for any ache?

Clive James (1939 – ) is an Australian author, critic, broadcaster, poet, translator and memoirist, best known for his autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs, for his chat shows and documentaries on British television and for his prolific journalism. He has lived and worked in England since 1962.

A link to Clive James on Wikipedia

It is nice to look back and cherish key memories … those that still give comfort as we age … perhaps this is a natural process as we look back on life. Sharing such a moment from my life, reflecting back on my days in England before I came to Australia …

Stopping One Day

I remember one day in June.
The height of summer and the sun
still rising on one of those days
that calls all nature into song.

Biking the back lanes of the Hampshire countryside.
Stopping on a bridge over a stream
the clear sparkling chatter below, while beyond
the fields praising their contentment.

Extra-terrestrial Report – Michael Thwaites

Extra-terrestrial Report

Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
(female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter
enquiring whom she most desired to meet.
Mother Mary? Positively no problem;
Let me conduct you. Presently, bathed in bliss,
they sat together, in light and joy and fun.
The Saint was charmed. Mother, how can it be –
you so divine, yet still so down-to-earth?
I don’t forget; and here I have my Son –
As a sword pierced my soul, he from the Cross
gave me in tender care to his dear friend,
my Son, my Son.
Yet there, as you have read,
he learned obedience by the things he suffered:
So did we all…
The Saint took courage, asked,
diffidently bold, Those pictures we so loved –
the Babe and you adoring: did we catch
ever a trace of not-quite-perfect joy?
Mother Mary twinkled – I was young:
I’d really wanted a girl.

Michael Thwaites

A novel theme for a poem and of course there are many departed souls where it would be entertaining to have a make-belief conversation – to really find out from the horse’s mouth so to speak the truth of the matter on a personal level. It is very appropriate that the conversation is female to female.

The thing is we are often conditioned to look at people in certain ways. This poem is made by the interesting twist of looking at the traditional mother-child Christ image in a more down to earth light. And let’s face it Mary was an earthly mother and I’m sure she had a few difficult times in the mothering of Jesus! But was he perfect in his response to his childhood mothering?

And perhaps Mary really did want a girl. And did Jesus really understand what it was like to be female? Perhaps JC the one male that truly understood the female! And what if a girl-Christ had happened – now that would be an interesting concept to explore!

Michael Thwaites (30 May 1915 – 1 November 2005) was an Australian academic, poet, and intelligence officer.

Michael Thwaites on Wikipedia

Words and Philosophy of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf (1) … discussing Dalloway and the nature of VW’s writing …

Mrs Dalloway (MD) … To The LighthouseThe Waves … her mature novels …

… all about sensitive people living from one privileged moment to the next, passing through intervening periods of depression and doubt

Mrs Dalloway (MD) … from metonymy to metaphor … a multi-layered metaphoric stream of consciousness with a certain poetic lyrical flow … a new approach in writing by VW

And then thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach. What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seen to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning, like the flap of the wave, the kiss of the wave … (page 3 MD)

Lark and plunge … Life and death … to build up or to close in … these are the two contending forces in MD … Clarissa is touched by both as she moves through her activities in arranging a party on a glorious June day … her parallel opposite is Septimus Smith who disturbs her joie de vie.

Individuality and universality in irreconcilable opposition … each person seeks to be connected to the whole from which that person is alienated by individual existence

… different people in different places at the same time … layered together in an underlying communion … reflected in the individual’s actions in ways unknown … exploring the extent and influence of such impressions made on the individual consciousness …

did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her (page 9 MD)

somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, of the trees at home, … part of the people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best (pages 9-10 MD)

nothing exists outside us except a state of mind (page 62 MD)

the narrator is a consciousness born by the consciousness created from the characters in the novel … yet somehow apart … seeing all, knowing all perspectives … in the present as the present unfolds … including the present of the past remembered by the characters … the virtual present of the readers’ experience

unity, reconciliation, communion well up spontaneously from within the characterisation

the narrator is unknown but sensed by the characters … does the narrator have life outside the life of the characters and if this is the case then what is the nature of such individuality? … the vital questions.

VW’s great discovery (2) … ‘tunnelling process’ … to dig our beautiful caves behind her characters … humanity, humour, depth … the caves connect

VW philosophy … miraculous joy of the moment rises out of the commonplace, not from some transcendental source …

How moments like these are buds on the tree of life (MD page 31)

Foolishly, she had set them opposite each other. That could be remedied tomorrow. If it were fine, they should go for a picnic. Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed right. Just now (but this can not last, she thought, dissociating herself from the moment while they were all talking about boots) just now she had reached security; she hovered like a hawk suspended; like a flag floating in an element of joy which filled every nerve of her body fully and sweetly, not noisily, solemnly rather, for it arose, she thought, looking at them all eating there, from husband and children and friends; all of this rising in this profound stillness (she was helping William Bankes to one very small piece more and peered into the depths of the earthenware pot) seemed now for no special reason to stay there like smoke, like a fume rising upwards, holding them safe together. Nothing need be said, nothing could be said. There it was all around them. It partook, she felt, carefully helping Mr Bankes to an especially tender piece, of eternity; as she had already felt about something different once before that afternoon; there is a coherence in things, a stability; something she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that remains forever after. This would remain.

(To The Lighthouse … pages 113-114)

References …

Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse … contemporary critical essays … Edited by Su Read. (New Casebooks – Macmillan)

Footnotes …

1 … Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941

Father Sir Leslie Stephen …educated by her father’s magnificent library … member of ‘The Bloomsbury Group’ … lived in the cultured world of the London intelligensia… bisexual … relationship with poet Vita Sackville-West … worked with husband Leonard to found the Hogarth Press … depressive – suicided

2 … Leonard Woolf – A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolfe London 1953 pp 59-60

Virginia Woolf Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Woolf

Easter Sunday – 2017 – Edmund Spenser

Amoretti LXVIII:

Most Glorious Lord of Life
Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin:
And having harrow’d hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean wash’d from sin,
May live for ever in felicity.

And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again:
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

Edmund Spenser

Looking at the first eight lines of this traditional religious sonnet …

Easter Sunday is a special day … it is the completion of the work of JC … to give eternal life in the merger of broken humanity with divinity … with the emphasis on all humanity … and the possibility of living forever in felicity (happiness) – something that I have always regarded as a somewhat wishful thought … a very joyous day for celebration especially for those that believe in the resurrection and have a Christian faith.

The second component of the sonnet … the last six lines, mentions the one key element in the life of JC … the one key element being the love for all humanity … inclusive of all peoples …
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy’.
and when the life of JC is measured in all its enormity an ask for us to entertain others in likewise fashion …
With love may one another entertain

at Easter a call
to love as we are loved
but how to respond

… would that all peoples of the world work in love to a common end.

Forgetfulness: Billy Collins

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins

I did have some very meaningful comments on this poem … I think I know where I put them … you will just have to wait … that slow realisation so beautifully articulated above as I search the mind … I think I know where they are, no not there Ok … maybe after breakfast …

Westminster Bridge and Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was born in Cockermouth in the Lake District in England, an area known for its exceptional beauty and Wordsworth will always be remembered for his association with the countryside but he also had a great appreciation of the city as in his well-known sonnet …

Composed upon Westminster Bridge
September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty;
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth

Words can colour objects in different lights. It is up to the mind to be so influenced.

There was a shadow on the bridge last week. Here is some sunlight to bring back the majesty of Westminster Bridge and precinct to full glory. Feast your mind on the beauty of these words.

A link to more detail on this poem 

A Small Story – Peter Everwine – Analysis

A Small Story

When Mrs. McCausland comes to mind
she slips through a small gap in oblivion
and walks down her front steps, in her hand
a small red velvet pillow she tucks
under the head of Old Jim Schreiber,
who is lying dead-drunk against the curb
of busy Market Street. Then she turns,
labors up the steps and is gone . . .
A small story. Or rather, the memory
of a story I heard as a boy. The witnesses
are not to be found, the steps lead nowhere,
the pillow has collapsed into a thread of dust . .
.
Do the dead come back only to remind us
they, too, were once among the living,
and that the story we make of our lives
is a mystery of luminous, but uncertain moments,
a shuffle of images we carry toward sleep—
Mrs. McCausland with her velvet pillow,
Old Jim at peace—a story, like a small
clearing in the woods at night, seen
from the windows of a passing train.

Peter Everwine

This is a poem all to do with memory and age. Reflecting on an incident when a child and perhaps reflecting on something that has been recalled many times throughout a lifetime. The two characters that stand out are Mrs McCausland and Jim Schrieber. And the interaction of the red velvet pillow which makes the first stanza standout. Who would put a red velvet pillow under the head of a drunk in a busy street? What does it symbolise and what does it say about Mrs McClausland?

We do not know Mrs McClausland’s first name perhaps indicating she is a person of note. But I should imagine everybody knows Old Jim Schreiber especially if he goes around in a drunken stupor sleeping in the town gutter. Apart from being an expensive pillow it is red. I would like to think that Mrs McClausland is giving attention to the town-folk about Jim, giving value to his life and at the same time perhaps suggesting that something should be done to help him.

But getting back to memory, the child is not a witness to the event. He only remembers it from a story told by others probably family. The fact that it has been talked about to make a story indicates that it is a somewhat unusual event. The child is probably well aware of the two characters. No other characters come to mind ‘the witnesses are not to be found’ and the ‘steps lead nowhere’ for it is only a small insignificant story and gone to dust. But the memory is still there. Perhaps written from the perspective of an aged person turning to dust himself in the near future?

The first stanza is an event, the second a contemplation from that event to promote the reader to thought. Well of course the dead do come back to life when they live in the mind of the living. The living re-image the dead in their own unique personal way. And such memories do have on-going influence on the living. In my recent Post we see exactly that in the repeat of the father’s words ‘good fences make good neighbours’ in the Robert Frost poem ‘Mending Wall’. And family words of those we’ve known are apt to walk the mind quite frequently. My mother always used to end our conversations with two words and when I hear these two words in whatever context my mother is there too.

The story we make of our lives is a small story and no more than a collection of fleeting images from ‘the windows of a passing train’. ‘A shuffle of images we carry toward sleep’.But perhaps our lives will seed some memory in those that have known us and hopefully in a positive bright light when seen from that train window!

God Bless

A link to the poet Peter Everwine