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.

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

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

Mending Wall – Robert Frost – Analysis

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Robert Frost
 
This poem looks like a response to something that happened to RF when farming his land.

You could say this poem is all about challenging entrenched thought in order to explore possible change, in this case a farmer honours his father’s saying without employing his own mind to the situation. An ‘old stone savage armed’ and moving in ‘darkness’ gives strong negative emphasis to this way of non-thinking.

On the other hand in defence of the attitude taken the farmer could have given plenty of thought into his father’s saying and made similar choice after much consideration. After all it is nice to have your own defined space and control. And there may be good reasons unknown to RF that he does not want to talk about – future use of land, RF having an annoying dog that wanders …

However, the farmer does not want discussion – his mind is made up so even if he has his own well thought-through reasoning he is not willing to share this with RF. Perhaps all that RF is trying to do is to look for better communication with a neighbour who he finds difficulty to relate to –

And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.

… so perhaps all RF might be doing is trying to bridge that gap, at the same time doing a bit of stirring.

An interesting aspect from this poem is the proposition that nature is against walls – typified by the opening line – ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. So perhaps the world is naturally working towards becoming more and more ‘wall free’.

Of course there are ‘good walls’ and ‘bad walls’ depending on which side of the fence you are standing and fear always makes bad mortar. It is nice to see that some of the ‘bad walls’ eventually fall for the benefit of a more inclusive world (The Berlin Wall, Apartheid in South Africa, the ‘White Australia Policy’ … and when will the North Korean barrier crumble).

But how much do we live by sayings, how much do they influence our lives, how much do the words of others hold catch to our free thinking?

And how much do we challenge those around us to explore better communication (without saying Elves)? It is only through open communication that we can attempt to explore a better world for all and to start to break down barriers – beginning with our neighbours. Perhaps time to invite one in for a cup of tea!

Footnote …

Apparently ‘Mending Wall’ is indeed autobiographical: a French-Canadian named Napoleon Guay had been Frost’s neighbor in New Hampshire, and the two had often walked along their property line and repaired the wall that separated their land. Ironically, the most famous line of the poem (“Good fences make good neighbors”) was not invented by Frost himself, but was rather a phrase that Guay frequently declared to Frost during their walks. This particular adage was a popular colonial proverb in the middle of the 17th century, but variations of it also appeared in Norway (“There must be a fence between good neighbors”), Germany (“Between neighbor’s gardens a fence is good”), Japan (“Build a fence even between intimate friends”), and even India (“Love your neighbor, but do not throw down the dividing wall”).

Above italics taken from this Website … http://www.gradesaver.com/the-poetry-of-robert-frost/study-guide/summary-mending-wall-1914

When I was one and twenty – A. E. Housman

When I was one-and-twenty

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
`Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
`The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

A. E. Housman (1859 – 1936)

Here is another love poem in similar vein to my previous Coleridge Post made up of two eight line stanzas with rhyming scheme abcbcaaa / abcbadad and an easy flowing rhythm.

The advice from a wise man goes unheeded and youth must fall in love – falling is unavoidable … part of life … hopefully there is a getting up again without too many scars and the endless rue will eventually fade away. But ‘tis better to have loved’ than never loved at all’ which reminds me of a Tennyson poem.

The personal life for A. E. Housman, who had a dedicated and unrequited same sex love, was used to good effect in another poem. This time in a delightful poem by Wendy Cope who plays on this fact in relation to her, hopefully fictitious, choices of partners –

Another Unfortunate Choice

I think I am in love with A E Housman.
Which puts me in a worse than usual fix.
No woman ever stood a chance with Houseman
And he’s been dead since 1936.

Wendy Cope (1945 –

‘worse than usual fix’ – implying that previous choices for a partner have led to a degree of disappointment for one reason or another.

A link to A. E. Housman on Wikipedia