Wednesday, 2 February 2011

My favourite poems

I love the way poems are published on the tube in London, giving sustenance for the soul for the hundreds of thousands of commuters on the network each day. I saw this yesterday and it particularly struck me as a particularly lovely thing:

The way the red sun surrenders 
its wholeness to the curving ocean
bit by bit. The way curving ocean 
gives birth to the birth of the stars 
in the growing darkness, 
wearing everything in its path
to a comic smoothness.

The impulse of the stones rolling
towards their own roundness.
The unexpected comets of flying fish. 
And Forest-Great-Breathing-Spirit,
rooting to the very end for the life of the planet.

Grace Nichol, From the Life of This Planet. (b. 1950)

Grace Nichols is a Guyanese poet which perhaps makes her reference to Forest-Great-Breathing-Spirit particularly poignant. Guyana is the home to prime rainforest which is under threat, just like the Amazon further South.

Although it's not a focus here, the oceans drive the winds, the winds drive soil erosion in the Sahara and that very iron-rich soil from the deserts feeds the nutrient-hungry rainforests of South America. A while back I read how climate change is threatening the currents, winds and those vital dust deposits so it's a poem that made me stop and think. 

In my very first post I talked about loving the way the sun suddenly disappears like a tuppence below the horizon which is particularly noticeable at sea. In many ways, it's a really lovely poem.

“Poems on the Underground” celebrated the 25th anniversary last week. Every season, the British Council Art Group selects six poems. This season’s selections address the value of the written word and include the well-known opening lines from John Keats’ “Endymion.” A good choice for the “gloomy days” of winter:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health,
And quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

“Lines to a Movement in Mozart’s E-flat Symphony” is a rare, hopeful poem about spring and love from the usually dour Thomas Hardy:

Show me again the time
When in the Junetide’s prime
We flew by meads and mountains northerly!–
Yea, to such freshness, fairness, fullness, fineness, freeness,
Love lures life on…
Show me again just this:
The moments of that kiss
Away from the prancing folk, by the strawberry-tree!–
Yea to such rashness, ratheness, rareness, ripeness, richness,
Love lures life on.

The Council also selected "Riddle” by Gerard Benson, a fourth-century translation of “Loving the Rituals” by Palladas, and a Seamus Heaney translation of lines written by Colmcille, a sixth-century Irish saint. Heaney and Nichols, notably, were also featured in the very first set of London Underground poems.

"Poems on the Underground" has inspired similar programmes on public transport in Dublin, Paris, New York, Vienna, Stockholm, Helsinki, Athens, Barcelona, Moscow, St Petersburg and, most recently, Shanghai and Warsaw. It's a great thing and long may it continue.

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