The Song of Hiawatha

This set of verse stories by Longfellow has an undeservedly bad reputation for being naff. There are some painful passages of tortured verse, but also some wonderful, descriptive, uplifting verses. The Song of Hiawatha is a good read, the tales are based on indian legend and while they are romanticised pastoral of Indian life, written by a westerner, they also introduce the culture and fable in an easy to access way. I still have in my mind whenever I read them of the *fabulous* Incantations (Mike Oldfield) with Maddy Prior: see 6 min,8 secs onwards in this video for a taster:

From the brow of Hiawatha
Gone was every trace of sorrow,
As the fog from off the water,
As the mist from off the meadow.
With a smile of joy and triumph,
With a look of exultation,
As of one who in a vision
Sees what is to be, but is not,
Stood and waited Hiawatha.
Toward the sun his hands were lifted,
Both the palms spread out against it,
And between the parted fingers
Fell the sunshine on his features,
Flecked with light his naked shoulders,
As it falls and flecks an oak-tree
Through the rifted leaves and branches.
O’er the water floating, flying,
Something in the hazy distance,
Something in the mists of morning,
Loomed and lifted from the water,
Now seemed floating, now seemed flying,
Coming nearer, nearer, nearer.

“The Song of Hiawatha” (Henry W. Longfellow)

Under Milk Wood

Michael and I went to see Under Milk Wood at the ADC Theatre last night, produced by Bawds.umw_webposter1.jpg

This is one of my favourite plays and Bawds did a good job of the production. They brought a good level of action onto stage, and dramatised the dialogue well. The lead cast were great: Mrs Pugh—Rosemary Eason, Waldo—Guy Holmes, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard—Meg Dixon, Mrs Beynon—Christine Easterfield, Nogood boyo—Tim Gifford and Polly Garter—Lindsey McAuley. It was also good to see a colleague, Fran Bourgoyne, on stage as Gossamer Beynon, with one if the more poetic lines: “Call me Delores, like they do in the stories” (with a Welsh accent). The stage production was notably bawdier in production since the famous 1950’s radio play—no surprise really, times have changed.

From the ADC Web Site:

‘Come closer now …’

Join us for a spring day in Llareggub. Dylan Thomas’s much-loved play invites us into the village where the shop sells everything—custard, buckets, henna, rat-traps—where Mr Waldo sleeps in his little pink-eyed cottage with a milk stout and a slice of cold bread pudding under his pillow, and where a cast of colourful but instantly recognisable characters is waiting to meet us—Captain Cat, lovely Polly Garter, Organ Morgan, the formidable Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, Mrs Dai Bread Two, lolling gaudy at the doorway…

The Sunday Times called Under Milk Wood ‘beautiful, bawdy, affectionate, reckless and deeply original’. The Reverend Eli Jenkins calls it ‘a greenleaved sermon on the innocence of men’. It is, by turns, funny, touching, fanciful and true.

Sinbad Sailors—Tim Gifford Mrs Pugh—Rosemary Eason Polly Garter—Lindsey McAuley

Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, from Burns to Buchan

Really enjoyed this collection of Scottish Fairy Tales, that David gave me for my Christmas. Each story on its own is good, but the combined collection made a bigger impact. We’ve lost so much of our oral tradition—I knew almost none of these stories as they were told (although the basis for many was familiar from better known Grimm or Anderson tales). The biographies at the back of the book were just as interesting: two of the authors had owned Skye and Canna, and one was a shepherd, another a gypsy. The last, Betsy Whyte (1919–1988) was a traveller around Perthshire where I grew up, and wrote two biographies of her childhood, which will make good christmas presents for my mum and dad.

I almost passed over a lovely poem by Violet Jacob because the dialect was pretty strong, but it was one of the highlights of the book. (Rowan Trees were planted by the front door of houses to ward off evil).

The Rowan, Violet Jacob

When the days were still as deith
And you couldna see the kye
Though ye’d maybe hear their breith
I’ the mist oot-by;
When I mind the lang grey een
O’ the warlock by the hill
And sit fleggit like a wean
Gin a whaup cried shrill;
Tho’ the hert wad dee in me
At the fitstep on the floor,
There was aye a rowan tree
Wi its airm across the door.

But that is far, far past
And a’things just the same,
There’s a whisper up the blast
O’ a dreid I durna name;
And the shilpit sun is thin,
Like an auld man deein’ slow
And a shade comes creeping’ in
When the fire is fa’in low;
Then I feel thae lang een set
Like a doom upon ma heid,
For the warlock’s livin yet—
But the rowan’s deid!

Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales from Burns to Buchan (Penguin Classics) (Paperback) by Gordon Jarvie (Author)

Byron: Life and Legend

It’s taken me about five months, but I’ve finally reached the end of Fiona MacCarthy’s excellent biography of Byron. There were some times when I thought I couldn’t read on, but always came back to his fascinating character and story. I was reading this in preparation for reading Don Juan, but I may have a go at Childe Harold instead. But first, I need a byron-break, there are stacks of books piled up over the last five months that I want to read next.

“Byron: Life and Legend” (Fiona MacCarthy)

The strength of poetry

Another great book by James Fenton. This collects together some of his Oxford lectures, where he discusses a range of issues, based around a collection of interesting poets. I’m finding it pretty hard to summarise the book. The clarity of writing is excellent, the discussions complex and engaging, but awfully difficult to do justice to in summary form.

The book inspired me to read more of Elizabeth Bishop, which is great. I also really enjoyed the chapter about Auden on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, as these sonnets are fascinating and beautiful. Drawing attention to the influence of Blake in Auden’s work was insightful, and the other inspiration for Auden was Henry James (more new reading for me here). The chapter on Wilfred Owen’s Juvenalia really brought the poet to life. I think this is a book I’ll need to reread in a few months!

“The Strength of Poetry: The Oxford Lectures on Poetry, 1994-1999” (James Fenton)

The Making of a Poem

This is an anthology of poetic forms. It appeals to the analytical side of me to understand the structure, forms and rules of poems. The book ha sections on verse forms (villanelle, sestina, pantoum, sonnet, ballad, blank verse, heroic couplet and the stanza) meter and shape forms (ode, elegy and and pastoral). The book has a US focus and charts the development of each form from inception to contemporary usage).

In the section on The Villanelle, there is an example discussed by Elizabeth Bishop that I liked: called One Art

An example of The Sonnet that I liked too is from Edna St. Vincent Millay, What lips my lips have kissed, and where and why

“The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms” (Eavan Boland, Mark Strand)

Safe in their Alabaster Chambers

Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –
Untouched by Morning –
And untouched by Noon –
Lie the meek members of the Resurrection –
Rafter of Satin – and Roof of Stone!

Grand go the Years – in the Crescent – above them –
Worlds scoop their Arcs –
And Firmaments – row –
Diadems – drop – and Doges – surrender –
Soundless as dots – on a Disc of Snow –

Emily Dickinson, 1861

Some analysis at this web site