And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night
Mathew Arnold, ‘Dover Beach’
Poets don’t get a good rap.
The idea of going to a poetry reading is perhaps the least favourite entertainment option available to modern humans. But ask anyone about his or her favourite singer-songwriter and they’ll likely quote you a favourite line or verse.
Make no mistake lyrics are poetry – well, good lyrics anyway.
And if my recent revelations regarding the plagiarism of songwriters are anything to go by, most songs you admire have probably been ripped off in some way from the poetry of one of the greats.
So it is now my sincere contention that every good songwriter should read poetry all the time.
Now, I haven’t been reading much of it lately, so I recently picked up the Norton Anthology of English Literature, a tome I read with regularity in my late teens and early twenties.
I always considered Mathew Arnold to be a clever chap, so wasn’t surprised to find that on reading his stuff all manner of quality images were dancing about my head.
But John Keats was a teenage favourite, so I re-read ‘The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream’. It’s pretty grandiose, which, if you’re anything like me, isn’t a bad thing, and the imagery is spectacular.
Check out the opening two stanzas. They’re killer:
Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
A paradise for a sect; the savage too
From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep
Guesses at Heaven; pity these have not
Trac’d upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
The shadows of melodious utterance.
But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die;
For Poesy alone can tell her dreams,
With the fine spell of words alone can save
Imagination from the sable charm
And dumb enchantment. Who alive can say,
‘Thou art no Poet may’st not tell thy dreams?’
Since every man whose soul is not a clod
Hath visions, and would speak, if he had loved
And been well nurtured in his mother tongue.
Whether the dream now purpos’d to rehearse
Be poet’s or fanatic’s will be known
When this warm scribe my hand is in the grave.
Methought I stood where trees of every clime,
Palm, myrtle, oak, and sycamore, and beech,
With plantain, and spice blossoms, made a screen;
In neighbourhood of fountains, by the noise
Soft showering in my ears, and, by the touch
Of scent, not far from roses. Turning round
I saw an arbour with a drooping roof
Of trellis vines, and bells, and larger blooms,
Like floral censers swinging light in air;
Before its wreathed doorway, on a mound
Of moss, was spread a feast of summer fruits,
Which, nearer seen, seem’d refuse of a meal
By angel tasted or our Mother Eve;
For empty shells were scattered on the grass,
And grape stalks but half bare, and remnants more,
Sweet smelling, whose pure kinds I could not know.
Still was more plenty than the fabled horn
Thrice emptied could pour forth, at banqueting
For Proserpine return’d to her own fields,
Where the white heifers low. And appetite
More yearning than on earth I ever felt
Growing within, I ate deliciously;
And, after not long, thirsted, for thereby
Stood a cool vessel of transparent juice
Sipp’d by the wander’d bee, the which I took,
And, pledging all the mortals of the world,
And all the dead whose names are in our lips,
Drank. That full draught is parent of my theme.
No Asian poppy nor elixir fine
Of the soon fading jealous Caliphat,
No poison gender’d in close monkish cell
To thin the scarlet conclave of old men,
Could so have rapt unwilling life away.
Among the fragrant husks and berries crush’d,
Upon the grass I struggled hard against
The domineering potion; but in vain:
The cloudy swoon came on, and down I sunk
Like a Silenus on an antique vase.
How long I slumber’d ’tis a chance to guess.
When sense of life return’d, I started up
As if with wings; but the fair trees were gone,
The mossy mound and arbour were no more:
I look’d around upon the carved sides
Of an old sanctuary with roof august,
Builded so high, it seem’d that filmed clouds
Might spread beneath, as o’er the stars of heaven;
So old the place was, I remember’d none
The like upon the earth: what I had seen
Of grey cathedrals, buttress’d walls, rent towers,
The superannuations of sunk realms,
Or Nature’s rocks toil’d hard in waves and winds,
Seem’d but the faulture of decrepit things
To that eternal domed monument.
Upon the marble at my feet there lay
Store of strange vessels and large draperies,
Which needs had been of dyed asbestos wove,
Or in that place the moth could not corrupt,
So white the linen, so, in some, distinct
Ran imageries from a sombre loom.
All in a mingled heap confus’d there lay
Robes, golden tongs, censer and chafing dish,
Girdles, and chains, and holy jewelries.
And it gets better. Read the whole poem here.
If you enjoyed this post, it would be great if you could ‘like’ it and my facebook page in the sidebar, and better still if you could take the time to listen to my song ‘Full Moon Rising’ (also in the sidebar). If you like it, sign up to my mailing list for 4 free songs and updates on my gigs and activities.