Sunday 15 September 2013

Sunday 15th September - Real Poetry

I follow a number of blogs on various topics (using I used to use Google Reader to manage the blogs, but it has been discontinued which is a real shame)

One of the blogs is which is about books.

Yesterday's post caught my attention:

about how "real poetry" should "get you where you live".

Anyway, the result of reading her post was that I downloaded "To Love and Be Wise" to my Kindle (I like a bit of Josephine Tey, and I discovered that I hadn't read this one) in order to follow up the comments on poety. (Oho - what a temptation a Kindle is! "One click" and the book is ready, waiting to be read...)

I enjoyed the book - I love the dated, period feel of this genre and period, and the snobbery and the class-consciousness - and I enjoyed the little conversation about poetry, and the poem itself:

Chief Inspector Grant, a sophisticated, educated man money and style and a palate for fine things (the palate gets mentioned more than is acceptable to my mind; that's what I mean by snobbery) quotes part of a poem about floods, and adds, 'Sadly old-fashioned. It sounds like poetry. A fatal defect, I understand.'

Here's the poem with the "fatal defect":
"Where once did wake and move
The slight and ardent grass,
Swift beauty come to pass
Has drowned the blades that strove.

O Final Beauty, found
In many a drowned place,
We love not less the face
For lesser beauties drowned."

Inspector Rodgers, a countryman, thinks about this, and offers another poem, adding

'.......It wasn't poetry, properly speaking, I mean it didn't rhyme, but it got me where I lived. It said:

"My lot is cast in inland places,
Far from sounding beach
And crying gull,
And I
Who knew the sea's voice from my babyhood
Must listen to a river purling
Through green fields,
And small birds gossiping
Among the leaves."

'Now you see, I was bred by the sea, over at Mere Harbour, and I've never got used to being away from it. You feel hedged in, suffocated. But I never found the words for it till I read that. I know exactly how that bloke felt. "Small birds gossiping!" '

View Across the River Arun Flood Plain, Sussex
Another view of the Arun
© Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I assume Josephine Tey wrote both poems. She's right - the first poem "sounds" like poetry but isn't. Presumably she constructed it as an example of something that tries too hard and is all clunking rhyme and clockwork rhythm. And the two "drowned"s. No, seriously, not. "Overworked", as Paul Hollywood would say in "The Great British Bakeoff".

The second poem is much more effective. It completely explains the difference between the sound of the water, and the sound of the birds, by river and by sea.

And yes, I did read the whole book all in one go. I had a cyclophosphamide dose on Friday, and it leaves me all feak and weeble for a day or so afterwards, and reading is really all I am fit for until I get over it. It was the last of the six doses; more lung function tests (huffing and puffing into a complicated looking machine which whirrs and clicks and produces brightly-coloured graphs on a computer screen) to follow at the end of October to see if the immune-suppressant drugs have been doing me any good.


  1. The first poem - the one about Swift Beauty - was written by Hugh P.F. McIntosh and is called 'A Soldier Looks at Beauty'. There is some suggestion that Hugh McIntosh, who served in WW1 and later died in Inverness of TB at the early age of 33 was Josephine Tey's lost love. The other poem about Inland Places was probably written by Tey herself.

    I do hope that you are now feeling much better.

    1. Oh, thank you for the comment! It's this sort of thing that brings back memories. I think I was a bit harsh about Hugh McIntosh. Blame it on the cyclophosphamide? Yes, it did the trick and I've been stable since then. (Auto immune disease, systemic sclerosis, bur reasonably mild, all things considered)

    2. Yes. She actually liked that poem; Grant was being facetious.[And in the last stanza, there is an accent grave on the first instance of drowned, so it would be pronounced drown-edd.]
      Still, cyclophosphamide. Glad that's over with for you. Given that I am commenting seven years later, I hope that it is still over with for you, and that you are doing well.

    3. Astonishingly, here I am 7 years later! Although being on immunosuppressants and having lung fibrosis means that I, and therefore my husband, are STILL living a relatively cautious life.
      On the plus side, I took early retirement apart from a few piano pupils who have lessons via zoom, so have hours and hours for reading.