It’s always stimulating to uncover similarities in different pieces of art– as long as you can feel that something more than plagiarism is involved! One of my first ever experiences came, as mentioned in an early Leaf Collecting post, when I saw the paintings of Andrew Wyeth and realised he dealt with similar people and places as did two other artists from different periods, the poet Robert Frost and the songwriter David Ackles.
When I heard Katrina Porteous reading part of her poem “Dunstanburgh” on BBC Radio 4 recently, I immediately remembered D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Bat”.
Porteous describes larks and swallows flying in the midsummer twilight in the north-east of England. The mood is eerie and almost supernatural as the viewer watches the “messengers from another shore” which act like “needles, blue-black arrows, ravelling breath-taking streamers of flight”.
Lindisfarne Castle, just along the Northumberland coast from Dunstanburgh Castle, which features in Katrina Porteous’ poem.
Lawrence’s narrator is in southern Europe, sitting on a terrace in Florence about 100 years ago, but he also has an acute sense of the gently shifting period between night and day and of birds creating a new landscape. “The world is taken by surprise” as he watches the swallows “with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together”.
The “tired flower of Florence” on the “obscure Arno” , as D.H. Lawrence describes it in “Bat”.
While the narrator in Lawrence’s poem moves from an admiration of swallows to a revulsion towards bats, Porteous’ poem retains a tone of pleasure and wonder. Her birds are the “minstrels” which, evoking “gold, firelight, dancing”, help to bring the medieval ruins of Dunstanburgh castle temporarily back to midsummer life.
Happy New 2016!
Two striking poems on the theme of the New Year, by two famous writers but of very different tones.
Alfred Tennyson’s “Ring Out Wild Bells” (I wonder if it was knowingly copied by George Harrison for his Christmas song “Ding Dong”?) calls for better behaviour, both public and private, during the next year. He envisages an end to “the feud of rich and poor”, “ancient forms of party strife”, “false pride in place and blood” and “civic slander”. At first it seems unusually political, until the last lines show that Tennyson believes such good conduct would merely be following the true Christian message of Christmas – “ring in the Christ that is to be”.
While, in Tennyson, it is the sound of bells which will signal this new movement to banish “coldness” and “darkness” and make social behaviour “nobler…sweeter…purer”, D.H.Lawrence’s “New Year’s Eve” focuses on the sight of light, fire, which dispels “great black night”.
Lawrence’s poem, like Tennyson’s, is an exhortation to change behaviour, but more private and personal, to share in love and physical pleasure. “There are only two things now”- the outside night and the inside fire – and “we (are) the two ripe pips” between those elemental forces, so “take off your things…”
In 2016, should our resolution be collective or personal, deal with spiritual or physical needs, be a long-term plan or immediate action? Whose recommendations are more pertinent?