Back to form, of course, means more medievalism and more melancholy. It’s been a phenomenally busy week, and not just because I’ve been describing in nauseating detail how to do my job. The next pictorial guide will, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear, describe the walk from Orcombe Point to The Grove, comprising some two and a half miles of beach. Today, however, we have naming of verse.

First is another of Rupert Brooke’s earlier poems, this time from 1904. Yet more wistful melancholia, I’m afraid, but it seems terribly difficult to track down good comic verse at the moment.

The Path of Dreams

Go, heart, and pluck beside the Path of Dreams,
Where moans the wind along the shadowy streams,
Sad garlands wreathed of the red mournful roses,
And lilies o’ moon beams.

Strange blossoms faint upon that odorous air,
Vision, and wistful Memory; and there
Love twofold with the purple bloom of Triumph
And the wan leaf of Despair.

Go heart; go quickly; pluck and weave thereof
Dim garlands, scattering pallid dew above,
And far across the sighing tides of darkness
Lay them beside my love.

Next, more riddling from the Exeter Book. This one has an Old Testament theme, but that’s all the clues you’ll get from me.

Wer sæt æt wine mid his wifum twam
ond his twegen suno ond his twa dohtor,
swase gesweostor, ond hyra suno twegen,
freolico frumbearn; fæder wæs þær inne
þara æþelinga æghwæðres mid,
eam ond nefa. Ealra wæron fife
eorla ond idesa insittendra.

A man sat at wine with his two wives
and his two sons, and his two daughters,
beloved sisters, and their two sons,
noble firstborn; the father was there within
Of those princes both, with
an uncle and a nephew. In all there were five
Lords and ladies sitting within.

I don’t think I’ve yet put up anything in Middle English, which is quite an oversight, given the sheer variety of works from that period. I’ll rectify the omission with a little piece that I found in Kenneth Sisam’s A Middle English Reader. This was written down at a time when the old runic letter thorn (þ) was being supplanted by ‘th’, so instances of both can be seen in this piece. A bit of vocab for you: seuenist is an old spelling of sennight, which is a week. The old word ‘fortnight’ has remained in use, but sennight has gone the way of all flesh, probably because it’s easier to say or write ‘week’. Dryng just means ‘drink’, chelde is ‘cold’ and a primerole is a primrose. Other than that, welle carries the old sense ‘good’ and the rest you should be able to work out for yourselves. It’s a simple little poem, but it has a definite charm to it.

The Maid of the Moor

(Bodleian MS Rawlinson D.913)

Maiden in the mor lay,
In the mor lay,
Seuenyst fulle, seuenist fulle,
Maiden in the mor lay,
In the mor lay,
Seuenistes fulle ant a day.

Welle was hire mete;
Wat was hire mete?
Þe primerole ant the, –
Þe primerole ant the, –
Welle was hire mete;
Wat was hire mete? –
The primerole ant the violet.

Welle was hire dryng;
Wat was hire dryng?
Þe chelde water of þe welle-spring.

Welle was hire bour;
Wat was hire bour?
Þe red rose an te lilie flour.

I’ll move on from poems in difficult language to a poem that’s a bit more challenging. Sylvia Plath is famed for cryptic expression, and this is actually one of her more explicit poems.

Crossing the Water

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.

Next I’ve chosen a poem by a favourite of mine – Wilfred Owen. I don’t think I’ve seen this one outside the collection edited by Edmund Blunden.

The Unreturning

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled;
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men’s sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

Finally (and this is an edit, so apologies if Facebook jumped the gun a bit), a Thomas Hardy poem that takes a wry look at a distinctly Victorian issue. This is by way of a little joke for a friend of mine, but I’m sure we can all appreciate it.

The Ruined Maid

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?”–
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

–“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”–
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

–“At home in the barton you said ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’
And ‘thik oon,’ and ‘theäs oon,’ and ‘t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!”–
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

–“Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!”–
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

–“You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!”–
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

“–I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!”–
“My dear–a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

That’s your lot for this week. I hope I’ve managed to get a bit more variety in this time, and if it’s gone from dark to dark via abstruse that’s just the way I roll on a Monday. I hope you enjoyed them anyway: I certainly did.

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