1st of April: Welcome Persephone!

DEAR March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat—
You must have walked—
How out of breath you are!…

…Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied…

Emily Dickinson 

Oh, alright, April — come in then. Goodbye, March, if you must go —  don’t forget to call on me next year! And April —  if you have to drive away all the snowdrops in this dreadful way, bring me some primroses and violets to take their place, and for heaven’s sake don’t let it snow anymore! (Quite privately, April, I really don’t know what March think’s she’s doing with all the snow and rain and hail. It’s supposed to be Easter, after all. Don’t tell her I said so, though. She’s given me such beautiful catkins for the Easter tree this year —  I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings for anything.)

Now for some more poetry:

Home Thoughts, From Abroad

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower

From Over The Land is April 

OVER the land is April,
Over my heart a rose;
Over the high, brown mountain
The sound of singing goes.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain,
Love, do you hear me sing?

Well, Persephone is definitely returning from the Underworld! Welcome her!
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New Page

This is a short post just to say that I’ve made a new page which combines my Photography page and my Poetry page. Now you can see my nature poems and photos mixed together under categories – The Sea, Mountains and Weather, Time and Eternity, Flowers, and Dawn to Dusk. Click Here to have a look.

How I Write Poetry – Step By Step

Today I have decided to go through the stages of writing a poem one by one – of course, I mean the way write a poem. I can’t speak for other people.

My poems tend to be centered on a particular object (usually a plant, actually) or view, which I can clearly see before me, either in my memory in or in real life. You might say I write from life as a artist might draw or paint from life. It’s one of these types of poems, written about a particular thing or moment, that I am going to talk about today.

I think there are, briefly, two stages to writing this kind of poem. To demonstrate how they generally unfold,  I’m going to take one I wrote recently – February Rain. 

Grey light – grey from a gray sky –

Cold as an empty hearth

Down the window crawl wet snakes

Joined by dashing drops.

Millions land in the blink of an eye – and

Have I thought for each?

Just the same as flitting fancies

Each insignificant speck

Joins five more, and grows into a

Drop. Through the pane

Febuary’s first pale crocuses lie flattened.

To write this poem, I first spent something like ten minutes carefully examining the rain on the window – how it fell, how it looked before it fell, how it progressed down the windowpane. This  is the first step in writing poetry (I think) – namely, observation. The second step is then to put observations into words. I believe poetry ought to be used like photography – when you read it, you ought to see the same image as the poet saw writing it. I had noticed the cold, grey light in the room – how was I to capture the look of it? After thinking a few moments, I came up with this – ‘Cold as an empty hearth‘. To me, this captured the lonely, unfamiliar yet familiar aspect of a rainy February day. The next thing I wanted to capture was the look of the drops crawling down the window. I thought hard about what they reminded me of (always a good way of coming up with similes) and I decided it was snakes – ‘Down the window crawl wet snakes’. Now I had got this far into the poem:

‘Grey light – grey from a gray sky –

Cold as an empty hearth

Down the window crawl wet snakes

Joined by dashing drops.

 

These two steps (observation, and putting observation into words which will clearly present the image before a reader) make up the first stage of my poem. After this usually follows a simile or metaphor that relates the object of the poem to some other, deeper idea – often something contained inside the mind. If the first stage of the poem described a tree in autumn, then the second might describe the transience of life or love. Or if it began with a description of  Spring, then it might finish with some musing on childhood and innocence.

Just the same as flitting fancies’ is the key line of this second stage in February Rain. But before we can have the key line, we have to introduce the idea with some lead-up lines: ‘Millions land in the blink of an eye – and/Have I thought for each?’ This introduces us to the idea of ‘thought’, leading up to the following – ‘Just the same as flitting fancies.’ The poem then goes on to show the similarities between raindrops and flitting fancies – basically proving the argument introduced in the earlier lines.

In Shakespeare’s sonnet 18, the second stage is about the eternalness of poetry. The lead-up lines are:

“Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines, 

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometimes declines

By change, or Nature’s changing course, untrimmed;”

 

And the key-line (or rather lines), are:

But they eternal summer shall not fade …

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’t.’

 

So, in the end, we have two stages making up up February Rain; observation and putting observation into words

‘Grey light – grey from a gray sky –

Cold as an empty hearth

Down the window crawl wet snakes

Joined by dashing drops.

Then the second stage, consisting of some connected idea, unfolding first in a lead-up line or lines, secondly in the key-line. Altogether:

“Millions land in the blink of an eye – and

Have I thought for each?

Just the same as flitting fancies

Each insignificant speck

Joins five more, and grows into a

Drop.’

Finally, I return to observation with:

‘Through the pane

Febuary’s first pale crocuses lie flattened.’ 

I hope that demonstrates what I mean by poems having ‘two stages’. Its a bit like the turn in a sonnet or a Horatian Ode – only less defined. I don’t know if other poets construct the two stages out of the same steps as I do. Probably they do it much more neatly than I did in February Rain. But often the stages themselves are there all the same.

I’m not saying they’re in all poems – or even nearly all poems – though I think almost all descriptive poems include the first stage of observation and putting into words. Some don’t  include the second stage of bringing in a separate but linked idea – or, rather, it is more subtle and mingled into the first stage, for all poems ought to have some kind of deeper meaning in them somewhere. A few clever forms, like the Villanelle, afford a structured form that lets you weave in the deeper meaning in refrains – like I did in The Sea. (Read it and other poems in Some Recent Poems). I used the refrains ‘Changing as the seconds fly/Steady as the years go by’  to express the idea of eternity made up of smaller moments, interspersing the idea with descriptions of the sea.

This is really a neater way of doing it than having two separated stages. Whatever a poem is like, it’s always a good idea to think about how it is constructed – both in the more practical terms of metre, and in other ways, too.

Once you find a way of writing poems that works, you can get stuck in your ways – does anyone have any suggestions of another way of setting about it? How do you do it?

On Writing Poetry

Catching Moments

Lean out the the window. Put your head and shoulders out. Smell the air – as deep as you can – try to get the smell into your soul. Now close your eyes, and think of what that smell reminds you of. Dwell on every memory, happy or sad, trivial or important. It might make you sad – but it is worth it, if you want to enjoy life to the full.

Everyone finds it sad to remember. Why? Because those times are past – and we cannot bring them back. Every sunshiny second of our lives is overhung by a shadow – we know that we cannot keep that second forever – even for an hour, even for a minute. It is gone now.

I believe poetry is about capturing those moments that go by so fast – and keeping them on paper. As Shakespeare said:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor loose possession of that fair thou ow’st

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade

While in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.

So long as men can breathe and eyes can see

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

You can perhaps capture a fraction of the moment in a photo, because the photo will remind you of the real time as it lives in your memory. But you can use poetry to give the moment a life of its own, a life that does not lean on your memory for support. To some extent you can use prose to do this, and painting too – but the perfect form is poetry. Poetry is a net for catching moments, carefully woven through history with threads of metre, rhyme and form.

I hate the notion that form somehow confines the mind and stops the poet from expressing their true and individual feelings. Quite the opposite – just as you cannot catch a butterfly in your bare hands, you cannot catch ideas without some sort of a net – if possible, a carefully designed net. I daresay that you could design a form for yourself, but it would be a long and laborious process, like weaving a butterfly net by hand. And why start from scratch, when poets from Ancient Greek times to today have been doing the work for you?

I believe it is not being cliched to use old forms. Because each captured moment is individual and different, your poems will be individual and different. Form only helps to bring out that individuality.

I an not yet well enough informed in the different modes of writing poetry myself to say any more here – so I will break off.

Only remember, form and metre – and poetry in general – are necessary tools in the larger and difficult process of catching moments.

December Night

‘…shadowed silvery moon…’

A long, narrow strip of pale yellow is left along the horizon where the sun has gone down behind the distant black mesh trees, but the garden is in darkness. The black evergreens toss restlessly fro and fro in the cold breeze, and the bare branches of the other trees look delicate and vulnerably silhouetted. Behind the trees, but visible at some angles, is a half-moon, with the thin grey clouds rushing coolly over it like liquid, as though it were a shiny pebble under a stream. At one moment, it is shining gently, with the dark cloud shapes hurrying over – at another, it is quite gone and extinguished behind the greyness, as if it had never been there at all – and then it begins to show again, a faint traced shape in the clouds – and they pass over, and it shines serenely, illuminating the sky around in soft whiteness – and then once more the dark shadows begin to flurry over it like waves.

The timeless, boundless branches of the huge beech are like dark trickling veins, behind and around the dark soft shape of the trunk.

The shadows stand still in strange shapes on the lawn, and everything seems to listen to the wind at it makes gentle noises in the tossing branches. Half-afraid of the shapes, she tiptoes down the garden path. The moon draws out of sight for a while behind the blackness of the trees – but as she reaches the lawn, she looks up again. And it shows itself, lonely in the sky, more glorious because isolated by a vastness of grey drifting cloud, wide and swallowing.

In the soft darkness the shape of the beech’s trunk seems huge – far larger than it seems in the daytime – a wide greatness of rising bark. And looking up, she is almost dizzied by the upward spiral of trunk and branches, starting in a faint dimness, but darkly silhouetted as they rise above the paler sky. The well-known turn of every branch is something unfamiliar, something great, something strange, something very old. The moon hangs trembling behind the rushing cloud, and the closer drooping twigs, every little detail of them outlined in black against her gentle white light.

Knowing she would soon be away, she took another glance at the great and grotesquely twisting trunk, and let her fears loose, speeding up the garden path as fast as she could go with every seed-head stirring in the motion.

And reached the house-door, from which the warm light flowed out onto the shining cobbles, that moon and those twigs forever imprinted in her memory.

(I have started a shop on easy; Ourtangledgarden, please check it out.)

Preserving Leaves

Preserving Leaves was my first post ever on this blog!
Now the season is right for preserving leaves, I thought I’d re-blog it to fill up a terrible gap in my posting which I’m aware I’ve created with my negligence. I have a post almost finished, though, and I will try to put it up soon.

Copper Beech Blog

Many times in Autumn I have strolled out along the wet grass and found blown into the hedge a single perfect leaf, in which a sensational mixture of beautiful reds, golds, and browns, flow into each other. It makes you sad to think that in few days, that gorgeous leaf may be tattered, sodden and ragged, rotting away into the mud. But there is a way of saving such perfect specimens of autumn leaves from this melancholy fate.

Leaf preserving is great fun; you can gather the beautiful red and gold leaves while the sun shines and the garden is radiant with gold, and then when one of those cold and windy autumn days was playing outside is out of question comes along, you can do the preserving part.

We tried two ways of preserving leaves but the only really successful one involved glycerine, which is thick liquid that comes…

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Magic Times Page/My Birthday Morning

I just wanted to say that I added a new part of writing to my ‘magic times I will never forget’ page – which I just recently added to the blog. If none of you have noticed it there, I would love it if you would have a look – though most of it is taken from other posts so you may have read what is in it already. I have copied in the new writing I added – about my birthday morning last year – or the year before that? – below.

Path Through The Snowy Trees

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She turned the door handle slowly – glancing with eyes full of exited expectation at the smiling face of her mother, who stood beside her – and peeked in with a beating heart. She could see nothing from where she then stood – she tiptoed in, shuddering with excitement, seeming almost afraid of the happiness she was sure was coming. She then glanced toward the corner – her hands, clenched into fists, flew to her face – a motion that seemed to suggest the attempted containment of unbearable excitement – and she gasped joyously.

Smoothed onto the wall were static sheets depicting a snowy path, edged with the black trunks of trees, fading into the distance. She felt as she looked at it that she was really there, walking down that forest path. But placed in from of it was the wonder – a small, elegant little table she had seen often about the house – but it was loaded with a high pile of prettily wrapped presents, and draped with different sorts of strings of fairy lights, some decorated with dragonflies, others with roses and others with leaf skeletons. And as well as the lights, strings of fresh greenery trailed over the presents. Both lights and leaves were hanging down from another string of lights, fastened in some way from above – and the whole pile glowed in the dim room as her heart glowed with grateful joy. All together it formed a magical, otherworldly spectacle – and she felt as if, in the middle of that cold snow wood, she had suddenly stumbled upon it.

 

 

 

Quote of the Day – Day 2

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From Maud, by Alfred Tennyson, one of my favourite poets. There are other bits of that poem just lovely too, especially one part mentioning ‘a daffodil sky’.

This would have been much better if I had figured out how to put a misty square in the middle to make the words show up – but I don’t know how to do that yet. In case it is not legible, I have included the quote again below.

“From the meadow your walks have left so sweet,

That whenever a March wind sighs,

He sets the jewelled print of your feet,

In violets blue as your eyes,

To the woody hollows in which we meet,

And the valleys of Paradise.”

 

Aria

Emma

Cinderzena

Quote of the day – day 1

I was tagged by Janie of Daily Delights for this – I don’t really know fully what this tagging thing is, but apparently the rules for this one are that I have to post a quote a day for three days, and each time choose three people to do this after me (nominating).

Here is my first quote

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I am quite proud of the way I designed it. It is from Tess of the d’Urbervilles – a great book but very sad. Read my essay on it Here. I had a vague idea when I designed it that the picture was supposed to be the Vale of Blackmoore, (which she is looking at when the quote comes in) or somewhere else around their – but it probably looks nothing like Hardy country. (It is actually taken from the moor around Lud’s Church – a post about which I am at present working on.) Also I was sort of thinking she might be looking at it through tears – hence the blurriness – but mostly it is all just random.

Oops – I spelled ‘beauty’ wrong.

Here’s another – the typo is corrected – also I made a few other alterations and left out the rounded corners. Which one do you like better?

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Oh, and I nominate

Misty

Clara

Simi