Absences

There’s a huge wind blowing outside. The sound of it in the trees is one of the reasons I love this house. Buffets are gentled as the tree sways, its branches thrash and the energy is absorbed. You hear the same dissipation of sound and force when a wave breaks on a pebbled beach.

It’s Autumn.

I found myself thinking of the last line of Larkin’s poem, Absences:

Such attics cleared of me! Such absences!

Here’s the whole poem:

Rain patters on a sea that tilts and sighs.
Fast-running floors, collapsing into hollows,
Tower suddenly, spray-haired. Contrariwise,
A wave drops like a wall: another follows,
Wilting and scrambling, tirelessly at play
Where there are no ships and no shallows.
Above the sea, the yet more shoreless day,
Riddled by wind, trails lit-up galleries:
They shift to giant ribbing, sift away.
Such attics cleared of me! Such absences!
Listen to the trees!

 

 

Absences

That passionate intensity

I said to J a couple of days ago, nodding sagely (and, probably, irritatingly):

‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity…’

It seems to me that Fintan O’Toole, in the Irish Times, is onto something here:

There are many ways to measure the state of the world and economists, ecologists and anthropologists labour mightily over them. Opening the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo last week, I suggested another one: the Yeats Test. The proposition is simple: the more quotable Yeats seems to commentators and politicians, the worse things are. As a counter-example we might try the Heaney Test: if hope and history rhyme, let the good times roll. But these days, it is the older Irish poet who prevails in political discourse – and that is not good news.
— Read on www.irishtimes.com/opinion/fintan-o-toole-yeats-test-criteria-reveal-we-are-doomed-1.3576078

That passionate intensity

Mid Term Break by Seamus Heaney

I tried to read this poem to my son (it’s one of life’s pleasures – persecuting your child by insisting he/she just sits for a minute to listens to whatever it is that has just possessed you!) but I found I could hardly finish it. The grief of the last few lines is so potent. It’s by Seamus Heaney, about the death of his little brother:

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying—
He had always taken funerals in his stride—
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four-foot box, a foot for every year.

I found it in a lovely new collection called, simply, 100 Poems. The ideas for I t began with Heaney himself – to put together a selection of poems that would lead you through his work – from early poems to the latest. As it turned out he ran out of time didn’t have the time – so his family have chosen for him, following the same plan, with a bias towards the poems that hold the greatest meaning for them (which seems to add to the potency of the poems somehow.)

Mid Term Break by Seamus Heaney

The Ideal

I came across this again today – noted down from the window of the Babushka bookshop on the Isle of White in – was it 2014?

It’s a poem by James Fenton, called The Ideal:

This is where I came from
I passed this way
This should not be shameful
Or hard to say

A self is a self
It is not a screen
A person should respect
What he has been

This is my past
Which I shall not discard
This is the ideal
This is hard

The Ideal