Still Trying to Explain Myself

which if you go by the Latin origin, means “to lay myself out flat”. So that’s why it’s difficult.

 

By the way, when I re-posted the last batch of poems, they somehow lost the gaps between the verses and also a distinctive layout for one poem (“Wolf”). I’ve now restored these features. For “Wolf” especially, it makes the poem a lot easier to read and understand. If the same problem occurs here (it looks OK from what I can see) I’ll correct it as soon as I can.

 

Some more old posts with more comments here:

 

THE BLUE-BLACK SLOES

 

The queen has made a laurel wreath

For the new champion to wear

So he will not grow old and weak

 

The whisper of the brittle leaves

Is of a people falling down

And of a king that cannot breathe

 

The blue-black sloes have gathered round,

The blackberry and scarlet hip

They twine about the king’s own crown

 

Inside the castle nothing moves

The guests are frozen to the walls

And spears of ice hang from the roof

 

The withered wreath has taken root

And pressing through the embroidered cloth

Will resurrect the warmth and doubt.

 

A bit of variety in scansion can be effective: I personally really like that line “For the new champion to wear”.

 

The poem is about the seasons, made myth. The champion is I think a reference to the annual magic king in “The Golden Bough”, someone who is fresh, strong and young in spring but old by autumn. The second and third verses take us to autumn (sloe, blackberry and hip are autumn berries in England, though blackberries may ripen in late summer and sloes and hips can be seen still in midwinter). The autumn is colourful but ominous. The fourth verse represents the height of winter, with life frozen, and the fifth shows life beginning to stir again. Obviously this sequence can be applied to many other things than the actual seasons.

 

EXPLORERS

 

“That this is my North-West discoverie:

Per fretum febrae, by these straights to die”

 

“Oh, my America, my new found land”

 

–          John Donne

I

Intricate fantastical

Palace is built

From fragile weave

Of dreamt formulae

On the mathematician’s

Flowerdecked grave

 

With a walk like the waft

Of a branch in the breeze

Comes a woman whose eyes

Are pools in a cave

That a diver might brave

With no light to return

 

In the day to farm and fashion

In the dark to watch and wonder

At the dawn to remember

 

Where the sea and the sky blur together

There are havens and reefs for the sailor

 

What land lies over

Those silent hills?

Wastelands where black bats gibber

Or cradling a silent river,

Valleys of song?

 

Officials make inventory

Of all the goods the travellers pack

And plans for drought or for attack

Are hammered out while song and story

Buy off the devils along the track

 

Trapped in the hills and hunted down

By hidden bog and avalanche

By haunting wind and wolf, survivors

Stumble beside a clattering stream

Down to the valley of their dream

 

Where cupping hands bring out bright gold

Trees offer fruit of no known tang

And vivid song as no bird sang

Wakens the travellers from the cold

 

They name the valley, import the skills

To mine the gold and lay the roads

Till someone heads for other hills.

 

When no dark ridge is left, the wise

Explore the forests of the mind

And stare in one another’s eyes

 

Now out of mist on broken lands

What new and treacherous hills will rise?

 

This is about exploration, both actual discovery of new lands and other kinds of risk-taking and discovery. It’s largely from the explorers’ point of view, but noting how their discovery leads to big (often negativ) changes in the environment.

 

When John Donne wrote, exploration was at the front of many European minds and he uses this figuratively.  The first quote was comparing death to a voyage of discovery, complete with a pun on “straights” (hard circumstances, or a narrow sea-passage). The second might seem to be about North-east Canada, but in the poem he’s addressing his mistress undressing!

 

I struggle to explain the first two verses, though I find the first has a weird power for me. I suppose it’s referring to the risk and excitement of scientific discovery and to a meeting of art and science, while the second is about risky romantic love. Both could be pictures of exploration. The third verse refers to the productiveness of consciousness/day and the creativity of unconsciousness/night: we create if we can link the two (remember the night in the day). I have doubts about the fourth verse and might cut it. Thoughts?

 

The rest of the poem describes a group of explorers surviving various dangers to find the new land. They wonder at so many new and beautiful things. But the excitement does not last and as the land is “opened up” some move on. When there are no new lands to explore, we explore ourselves. The lands we’ve discovered are “broken” and the prospect of new challenges is exciting, but the far hills are “treacherous” – offering danger to us, or doom to themselves?

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