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Literary Studies: Creative Reading

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Paul Hetherington

on 29 April 2015

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Transcript of Literary Studies: Creative Reading

Literary Studies: Creative Reading
Lyric Poetry: how we read it
and some of what it says

In many parts of the world, lyric poetry is one of the oldest and most enduring forms of literature.
In ancient Greece (and elsewhere) poetry used to be performed to the accompaniment of the lyre

The Hagia Triada Mycanaean sarcophagus. 14th century BCE
(approx 3,500 years ago), depicting a seven-stringed lyre
(image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Museu_arqueologic_de_Creta43.jpg)
Although much modern lyric poetry is in so-called ‘free verse’, and not all free verse is necessarily very musical, it is still part of what is called the lyric tradition

Many lyric poems from many centuries ago still seem to speak directly to us about or own concerns
For the writers among you, the best poetry demonstrates wonderfully well many of the ways in which language may be used


Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

Chilean poet, diplomat
and politician

Winner of the 1971 Nobel
Prize for Literature

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Pablo Neruda, 'Sonnet XVII'
Images of light and display
Pablo Neruda, 'Sonnet XXXVII'
O love, sunbeam and purple premonition,
you come to me and climb your cool stairway,
the castle that time has crowned with fog,
pale walls of a closed heart.

No one else will know that only a delicacy could do it,
building its crystals as strong as a city;
that the blood poured open its sad tunnels, but its strength
never did overpower the winter. Love,

that is why your mouth, your skin, your light, your sadnesses
were all the patrimony of life, the blessed
gift of the rain, of the natural world

that holds and lifts the pregnant seeds,
the secret storm of the wine in the cellars,
the flare of the corn in the soil.

'Tonight I can write …'
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
And these the last verses that I write for her.

'Mushrooms'
Sylvia Plath, ‘Metaphors’
I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

A solution to the riddle:
pregnancy
Philip Larkin, ‘This Be The Verse’
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like the coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), ‘No More Boomerang’
No more boomerang
No more spear;
Now all civilized—
Colour bar and beer.

No more corroboree,
Gay dance and din.
Now we got movies,
And pay to go n.

No more sharing
What the hunter brings.
Now we work for money,
Then pay it back for things.

Now we track bosses
To catch a few bob.
Now we go walkabout
On bus to the job.

One time naked,
Who never knew shame;
Now we put clothes on
To hide whatsaname.

No more gunya,
Now bungalow,
Paid by hire purchase
In twenty year or so.

Lay down the stone axe,
Take up the steel,
And work like a nigger
For a white man meal.

No more firesticks
That made the whites scoff.
Now all electric,
And no better off.

Bunyip he finish,
Now got instead
White fella Bunyip,
Call him Red.

Abstract picture now—
What they coming at?
Cripes, in our caves we
Did better than that.

Black hunted wallaby,
White hunt dollar;
White fella witch-doctor
Wear dog-collar.

No more message-stick;
Lubras and lads
Got television now,
Mostly ads.

Lay down the woomera,
Lay down the waddy.
Now we got atom-bomb,
End everybody.

Remember Ezra Pound’s translation of a poem from China’s High T’ang Dynasty by Li Bai: ‘The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?


At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

Michael Ondaatje, ‘Pacific Letter’
to Stan of Depot Creek, old friend, pal o’mine
Now I remember that you rebuilt my chicken coop
north of the farmhouse along the pasture fence
with fresh pine from Verona.
In autumn you hid a secret message under floorboards
knowing we would find it in spring.
A fanciful message. Carved with care.
As you carved you imagined the laughing.
We both knew the pleasures art and making bring.

And in summer we lounged for month on month
letting slide the publishers and English Departments
who sent concerned letters that slept in the red mailbox.
Men and women came drifting in
from the sea and from the west border
and with them there was nothing at cross purpose.
They made nothing of mountain crossing
to share that fellowship.
The girls danced because
their long sleeves would not keep still
and I, drunk, went to sleep among field rocks.
We spoke our desires without regret.
Then you returned to the west of the province
and I to the south.

After separation had come to its worst
we met and travelled the Mazinaw with my sons
through all the thirty-six folds of that creature river
into the valley of bright lichen,
green rice beds, marble rock, and at night
slept under croaking pine.
The spirit so high it was all over the heavens!

And at Depot Creek we walked
for a last time down river
to a neighbour’s southern boundary
past the tent where you composed verses
past the land where I once lived
the water about it clear in my memory as blue jade.
Then you and your wife sang back and forth
in the mosquito filled cabin under the naphtha.
The muskrat, listening at the edge,
heard our sound — guitars and lone violin
whose weavings seduced us with a sadness.

The canoe brushed over open lake
hearing the lighted homes
whose laughter eliminated the paddle
and the loon stumbled
up sudden into the air beside the boat
shocked us awake and disappeared
leaving a ripple that slid the moon away.
And before the last days in August
we scattered like stars and rain.

And I think now that this
is what we are to each other,
friends busy with their own distance
who reappear now and then alongside.
As once you could not believe
I had visited the town of your youth
where you sat in your room
perfecting Heartbreak Hotel
that new lace to ‘dwell’ — that
gentle word in the midst of angry song.

All this comes to an end.
During summer evenings
I miss your company.
Things we clung to
stay on the horizon
and we become the loon
on his journey
a lone tropical taxi
to confused depth and privacy.

At such times — no talking
no conclusion in the heart.

I buy postage
seal this

and send it a thousand miles, thinking.

David Barber, ‘Autumnal Primer’
In the oak glades high above the classrooms
an impromptu exercise in enchantment:
chanterelle, she declaimed, prince among fungi.
and there they were, hanging fire in the loam

like the spotlit coins a conjurer can pluck
from our very ears.

Repeat after me,
chanterelle
: so prized among French country folk
hunting parties comb the woods with harnessed swine.

Congeries of lumpish caps, clustered thrusts
of lucid delicacies conjugated out of rot.
Fairy rings, she explained: quorums mustered
after soakings, each crop rekindling its legend.

And on she pressed, blazing the route,
singing out upon each fresh discovery.
Chanterelle
, she called.
Chandelier
, I shouted back.
I cupped my earth-caked hands:
chanteuse
.

Who could say where incantation ended
and incandescence began? So reigned
the wantonness of nomenclature; so went
the gleaning of those neon-honey mushrooms.

Truants, repeat after me: slice the flesh crosswise
into aureoles and doubloons. Sauté briskly
and season to taste before any of you remember
to keep a civil tongue in your head.

Theodore Roethke, ‘My Papa’s Waltz’
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Judith Wright, ‘Woman to Man’
The eyeless labourer in the night,
the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
builds for its resurrection day—
silent and swift and deep from sight
foresees the unimagined light.

This is no child with a child’s face;
this has no name to name it by:
yet you and I have known it well.
This is our hunter and our chase,
the third who lay in our embrace.

This is the strength that your arm knows,
the arc of flesh that is my breast,
the precise crystals of our eyes.
This is the blood’s wild tree that grows
the intricate and folded rose.

This is the maker and the made;
this is the question and reply;
the blind head butting at the dark,
The blaze of light along the blade.
Oh hold me, for I am afraid.

Lauris Edmond, ‘Tempo’
In the first month I think
it’s a drop in a spider web’s
necklace of dew

at the second a hazel-nut; after,
a slim Black-eyed Susan demurely folded
asleep on a cloudy day

then a bush-baby silent as sap
in a jacaranda tree, but blinking
with mischief

at five months it’s an almost-caught
flounder flapping back
to the glorious water

six, it’s a song
with a chorus of basses; seven, five grapefruit
in a mesh bag that bounces on the hip
on a hot morning down at the shops

a water-melon next — green oval
of pink fresh and black seeds, ripe
waiting to be split by the knife

nine months it goes faster, it’s bicycle
pedalling for life over paddocks
of sun
no, a money box filled with silver half-crowns
a sunflower following the clock
with its wide-open grin
a storm in the mountains, spinning rocks
down to the beech trees
three hundred feet below
— old outrageous Queen Bess’s best dress
starched rough and opulent tent of a skirt
packed with ruffles and lace
no no, I’ve remembered, it’s a map
of intricate distinctions

purples for high ground burnt umber
for foothills green for the plains
and the staggering blue
of the ocean beyond
waiting and waiting and
aching
with waiting

no more alternatives! Suddenly now
you can see my small bag of eternity
pattern of power
my ace of adventure
my sweet-smelling atom
my planet, my grain of miraculous dust
my green leaf, my feather
my lily my lark
look at her, angels —
this is my daughter.

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