Monday, January 4, 2016

Playing the Mug's Game in the Bucket

"[Poetry] may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves." "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality." "As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing. "

These words above were written not by someone who hated poetry  but by one of the greatest of modern poets--T.S.  Eliot

They deserve our close attention and our respect.Mickey Coleman who visited me  recently from Ireland left behind a CD with songs that he has written and he performs.  HE HAS A   GOOD VOICE AND HE ALSO  HAS A POET'S TOUCH WITH THE LYRICS.
I have played his CD now  several times over and I  am reminded again that I come from a family of poets, singers, bards. 

My first memory of poetry besides the nursery rhymes that my mother read to me and I recited back to her is my love for the poem THE HIGHWAYMAN. She read it to me once and after that I asked for it every night. I started to memorize the melodic opening lines and I would sit with the book on our couch and recite it to the book and believed that I was reading it. I did this several times a day and was relentless in it . When my mother saw and heard she sat with me and just pointed to each word as I recited it and after many tries I suddenly got the connection and I was reading it. And I believe that I taught myself to read because I so loved the poem and wanted to read it any time that I wanted and not need to wait for someone to read it to me.
Listen to the wonderful cadences of the opening lines

The Highwayman


The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

I loved the word pictures and when I looked at a moon in a cloudy sky, I said the line from the poem.
Since I knew it by heart it became a kind of party piece—I could recite it to friends and amaze them.
Also I loved the sad romance of the lovely Bess who dies to warn her lover of the waiting Redcoats.

My second favorite romantic poem was the tale of Fair Ellen and the gallant Lochinvar. Here is the text of that pom which I also memorized and would recite often at the request of my Uncle Joe.


O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,

There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.

I suppose that the real daily source of my love of poetry and lyric was my mother's devotion to the voice of the Irish tenor, John McCormick. Every day she played a record of him singing such lyrics as those for I Hear You Calling Me and some of the melodies and words of the immortal Irish poet Tom Moore: Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms and Oft In the Stilly Night or The Last Rose of Summer. She would sing those gorgeous lyrics and the sound of her and her beloved Irish Count would fill the rooms of our Pawtucket tenement with their tender verses.

When I think of all the ways she encouraged poetry I wonder how I could not be a poet. When I was seven years old and began to go to the library by myself, I discovered and fell in love with the poetry of Lord Byron. I was so besotted with him and his male beauty that I cut his picture from the frontspiece of many volumes that I borrowed and put them on my bedroom wall.
I read and reread them and added some to my repertoire, such as:


When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.
The dew of the morning
Sank chill on my brow--
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.
They name thee before me,
A knell in mine ear;
A shudder come o'er me--
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well--
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.
In secret we met--
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?--
With silence and tears.

WITH THESE  GORGEOUS LINES  I signed onto the Mug's game.