Sunday, 22 July 2012

Some Fine Links on Poetry

The web site Textetc (pronounced "text, etc.," one assumes) is a huge resource on poetry. Its sections are traditional, modernist, criticism, theory, workshop, exhibits, resources. Of these, I have spent the most time in the Workshop. Some of its articles are detailed looks at how poems achieve their effects. Others are detailed discussions of foreign language poems that enabled me to launch into translations of them.

Just today I came across a site called Poemshape run by a gentleman who identifies himself as "a New England poet." It has thoughtful and very well researched postings on poetic devices, individual poets, favorite poems, and his own work as well. I discovered it through his posts about John Donne.

Also today I looked up the author of a song that I grew up hearing: "The 51st (Highland) Division's Farewell to Sicily," Hamish Henderson. What an interesting man he turned out to be. Like some truly impressive people here in North America, such as Paul Robeson (singer, Shakespearean stage actor, movie star, lawyer, football player, Civil Rights worker) and Pete Seeger (folk singer, writer of hit songs, blacklisted by McCarthy for refusing to testify, winner of the National Medal of Arts, and performer at Barack Obama's Inauguration), he never repudiated the ideals that led him, at one point in his life, to communism.

One appreciation of his life brings out its apparent contradictions. For example, he was a multilingual expert on German and Italian cultures, married to a German, but volunteered for World War II and fought against Germans and Italians in North Africa. Despite his love of other cultures, he was also a strongly nationalistic Scot. He is well known for his folk songs, but was also a modern poet. His work Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica is sometimes compared in quality to Wilfred Owen's war poetry. Another of his obituaries quotes from the beginning of the Elegies:
Let my words knit what now we lack
The demon and the heritage
And fancy strapped to logic's rock.
A chastened wantonness, a bit
That sets on song a discipline,
A sensuous austerity. 
Compare that to the song that started me reading about him. First, here's how I learned it, sung by a group of Irishmen named the Clancy Brothers.

Second, with the full force of Scots vocabulary and accent.

The last ingredient in today's pottage is a fine sonnet by Robert Frost that I hadn't read before.

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.
Robert Frost


  1. Hello, Gareth. Interesting and entertaining post.

    I'm commenting mostly because I grew up listening to the very LP you have posted here. I'd forgotten that the Clancy Brothers were once a part of my life, and this has brought back fond remembrances.

  2. I have some precious early memories of parties of expatriots, mostly Scots except for my English father and Welsh mother, gathering in someone's home to sing. I have always thought that was the finest thing to do. Folk music was very much the thing in those days, so some would call these get-togethers "hootenanies." I guess ceilings would suit, too. In the Yukon, a friend of the family would bring out his banjo and the songs would start. There was the Ballad of Springhill ("in the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia"), The Frozen Logger, Acres of Clams, Cock Robin, Bob Dylan and many more. We listened to Ian and Sylvia, Joan Baez, Clancy Brothers, Dubliners, and more. Later, Dad and I discovered Steeleye Span and the Watersons. I have fairly wide tastes in music, but folk is the deepest layer


    1. I meant got autocorrected to "ceiling." sorry.

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