Happy New Year! I’ve quoted the lovely Neil Gaiman to start off 2014, and do please check out the full context of the quote here, as I’m sure it will get your year off to a flying start. Here’s to many more mistakes in 2014!
And now, I’d like to entirely ignore New Year. This is a blog post for my brother. His birthday is 1 January, and it’s a crap time to have a birthday. It gets entirely subsumed in Christmas and New Year, and once you’re no longer a child, everyone you know spends your birthday with a monster hangover. Rubbish.
Like Neil Gaiman, my brother is a lovely man, who despite reading very little fiction always reads my blog posts and likes them on Facebook. That’s who we’re dealing with, people. So what to write about? Well, he likes poetry and I think he has a really good feel for it, an innate understanding. So this post will look at two poems that I think he’ll appreciate. This is for you, T. Entirely for you with no thematic link to New Year at all. Happy Birthday, brother of mine.
(Image from: http://hdwallpaperspictures.com/birthday-cake/)
Firstly, The Door by Miroslav Holub (trans. from Czech by Ian Milner). You can hear Joseph Fiennes read the whole poem here. This is a hugely clever poem, disguised in simple language. The poet repeatedly urges the reader to “Go and open the door”, and speculates as to what is on the other side. The first stanza is:
Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
or a magic city.
This is a poem you can read to a child: the idea and language is so simple, they will quickly relate to the opportunity to let their imagination run riot. Yet it works on a variety of levels that adults can appreciate, and can be about the search for inspiration; the courage to take new, unexplored paths in life:
Go and open the door,
If there’s a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
go and open the door.
The images of “darkness ticking” and “hollow wind” are eerie, and add an unsettling quality to the poem. They bring a sense of form to the formless, effectively creating how the unknown can still be scary. However, this door and what lays beyond is not entirely unknown; I think one of the really clever things about this poem is that the door is a definite article: “the door”, not the indefinite “a door”. It’s a small thing, but by suggesting the door is specific one, Holub delicately reminds us that this door to new ideas and new ways of living is within reach, already identified, carried within ourselves. And if nothing else, the final lines remind us:
A lovely, humorously deprecating end to an unpretentious poem that can follow you through life.
Secondly, A Glimpse of Starlings by Brendan Kennelly. You can read the full poem here. This is an astonishing and powerful poem, full of intriguing imagery. It begins:
I expect him any minute now although
He’s dead. I know he has been talking
All night to his own dead…
It’s not clear who “he” is, or if he is really dead, or only living among the dead. Googling this poem tells you it is about the poet’s father, struggling to deal with the loss of his wife. The struggle is beautifully and tenderly evoked through a variety of images:
Sipping a cup of tea, fingering a bit of bread,
Eating a small photograph with his eyes.
The questions bang and rattle in his head
[…]Daylight is as hard to swallow as food
Love is a crumb all of him hungers for.
How gorgeous, and heartbreaking, are those lines? The frequent use of full-stops keeps the pace of the poem low-key and quiet, creating a sense of the poet’s careful approach towards the grieving man. The transfer of images between food and the environment “eating a small photograph”, daylight being “hard to swallow”, skilfully shows how the sustenance of a man’s life has disappeared, affecting everything. The hungering for a crumb of love is a beautiful way of evoking the yearning emptiness of grief that can never be sated.
The image of starlings is created in the last few lines:
…over his shoulder a glimpse of starlings
Suddenly lifted over field, road and river
Like a fist of black dust pitched in the wind.
This is an oblique image so I’ll leave it with you to find your own meaning. I find this poem extremely powerful and the images truly haunting.
To end, here is a video of the astonishing display of a murmuration of starlings:
I hope you liked them, T. Have a great day one and all!