I've been digging out my poetry books this week. I used to read it in the bath, but now I take a shower!
No one reads poetry anymore, too busy reading tweets
Is this true? What a terrible bargain we've made in the 21C. Can't we tweet poetry? Or is tweeting
the new poetry?
I am neither poet nor philosopher, but when a poem really resonates, I stop breathing.
A finger on my pulse stays time and the lines take residence, stirring only when there is a crack
in the right moment.
Do you have days with a white mark?
I first read The Day with a White Mark by C S Lewis, when I was in my thirties. The years gone by have amplified the pleasure, for now when I awake to a day with a white mark, I greet it like an old friend.
Do you know what Lewis means? Days when you are whirled in a preposterous happiness? Days when you could kiss the very scullery taps!
They arrive unbidden and, as Lewis says, arrive even on days when in the dark ahead only the
breakers are white.
Reading the poem will make you smile, and maybe, like me, ever after you’ll have an elf in the blood or the bird in the brain.
The Day with the White Mark
All day I have been tossed and whirled in a preposterous happiness:
Was it an elf in the blood? or a bird in the brain? or even part
Of the cloudily crested, fifty-league-long, loud uplifted wave
Of a journeying angel's transit roaring over and through my heart?
My garden's spoiled, my holidays are cancelled, the omens harden;
The plann'd and unplann'd miseries deepen; the knots draw tight.
Reason kept telling me all day my mood was out of season.
It was, too. In the dark ahead the breakers are only white.
Yet I--I could have kissed the very scullery taps. The colour of
My day was like a peacock's chest. In at each sense there stole
Ripplings and dewy sprinkles of delight that with them drew
Fine threads of memory through the vibrant thickness of the soul.
As though there were transparent earths and luminous trees should grow there,
And shining roots worked visibly far down below one's feet,
So everything, the tick of the clock, the cock crowing in the yard
Probing my soil, woke diverse buried hearts of mine to beat,
Recalling either adolescent heights and the inaccessible
Longings and ice-sharp joys that shook my body and turned me pale,
Or humbler pleasures, chuckling as it were in the ear, mumbling
Of glee, as kindly animals talk in a children's tale.
Who knows if ever it will come again, now the day closes?
No-one can give me, or take away, that key. All depends
On the elf, the bird, or the angel. I doubt if the angel himself
Is free to choose when sudden heaven in man begins or ends.
~C.S. Lewis, Poems, Edited by Walter Hooper, (1964)
More recently I discovered Jan Zwicky
The second piece is a fragment of a poem that I came across only a couple of years ago. It’s very different, but again time paused and I read it without a breath.
Only in fairy tales,
or given freakish luck, does the wind
rise suddenly and set you down where everything
is safe and loved and in its place. The mind
does not expect it. But the heart,
the heart -
the heart keeps looking for itself.
It knows and does not know
where it belongs.
~Jan Zwicky, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, (1996)
I'm writing memoir
It's like squeezing a whole harvest of citrus, sweet and sour, into a liqueur glass. So I find the economy of
Jan Zwicky’s lines exquisite.
In that first reading I was pitched headlong into the Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham illustrations of my enchanted childhood days before I was swept up with the Wizard of Oz, which is a short synopsis of my life. I know I am not unique!
I felt tears prick when I read the words, the heart keeps looking for itself. It knows and does not know where it belongs. And then I read again and felt found, not lost, as if suddenly I understood what I had known all along.
Jan Zwicky is a Canadian philosopher, poet and musician and she originally published these lines in 1996 in a book called Songs for Relinquishing the Earth that she hand-made for each customer. At first each book was individually sewn for its reader between plain covers, harnessing an extra dimension of intimacy between the reader and creator. Although the book is now published by Brick Books and available on Amazon, that idea of a gift from the hand of the author remains in my head and connects us all.