“Ah,no, the years, the years”

“During Wind and Rain”:
A poem by Thomas hardy

They sing their dearest songs—
He, she, all of them—yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss—
Elders and juniors—aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years,
See, the white storm-birds wing across.

They are blithely breakfasting all—
Men and maidens—yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.
They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them—aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

In the first stanza the poet is probably referring to a cozy house party, with the candles mooning each face. It is a party where they sing their dearest songs,he,she,all of them-yea.

Love the universalization -he she, all of them ,yea. From the particular to the general as the candles are mooning each face. Yea is emphatic to include all.

The soft candles are mooning each face. Mooning is temporary shining of the faces like a moon’s light when the moon is running in the sky on the relative motion of the clouds.

Ah, no; the years O!

The first five lines present a tableau of domestic bliss, where everything is as if it lasts for ever. A full five lines later, the bliss disappears to a Ah No. Imagine the pessimist pouting his full round lips to remind you of the years .

Ah no, the years O

It is perfect end-note to all the songs sung earlier. The years. All that passage, present and future. He, she , all of them-yea. The candles have mooned already . Now is a reminder that all this is transient. The years are a passage of time. The years like autumn leaves are a reminder of your transience.

How the sick leaves reel down in throngs ! The years fall like sick leaves reeling down in throngs- he , she and all of them, yea. The leaves fall in droves, yellow and sick. There is wind and likely rain in the coming stanzas.

In the second stanza, “they” are the elders and juniors. In the first one, it was “he, she, all of them, yea” . The elders and the juniors are all steeped in years, elders more, juniors less.

They are all deeply involved with clearing the creeping moss,making the pathways neat, the garden gay and building a shady seat. . This is despite the “Ah ,no ,the years O” of the first stanza end .Notice the moss creeping like years. Notice the people are no longer “he,she and all of them” but elders and juniors caught up in different stages of passage of time.

“Ah no, the years, the years” is a reiteration,a progression in time from “ah,no; the years O!”

See the white storm birds wing across.White storm birds are harbingers of storm. Soon there will be wind and rain. In the first stanza the leaves were falling in throngs. In the second one storm clouds are gathering.

In the third stanza the poet almost points at the folly of “men and maidens” who are blithely breakfasting under the summer tree, oblivious of the storm. It is all so beautiful and such perfect happiness under the summer tree with a glimpse of the sea beyond and the pet fowl prancing near the knee.

But “ah ,no,the years O” is a gentle reminder of the years. Look at the rotten rose ript from the wall. Look at the “men and maidens” oblivious of beauty’s decay all around them.

Watch the progression in time from “he,she and all of them” to “elders and juniors” to “men and maidens”. Men is a generic term for all mankind. Maidens are specific to young girls.

In the fifth stanza , we come back to “he,she and all of them”, not in the domestic bliss of a garden party but changing to a new high house, with all the household furniture ,carpets and chairs lying on the lawn all day. Brightest things are theirs in the new high house, the heaven where they will start to live.

But ah no, the years , the years.

May be the new house is the high house where he , she and all of them will start to live leaving their material possessions all lying in the lawn awaiting auction.

Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs”

Just imagine the graves in stone, with names of the occupants carved on them. Just below them are rain drops falling to plough a muddy earth, spattering bits of mud on the engraved names.

“To Any Reader “-BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

I love the poem for the child-like simplicity of its presentation. The poem has two crisp images that merge into each other and run through to the end. The poem is addressed to reader,not to a reader but to any reader.The book is the the first image. Whatever the book has to convey has significance to any reader i.e. universal significance. The book opens up windows to a garden where a child is playing around the trees under a mother’s watchful eye from the house. The garden is the second image . It stands for the happier times when the child was playing blissfully round the trees while the mother from within the house is checking up on it from time to time. The mother could knock at the window and call the child to hear her. You the reader can now see through the book’s windows the child still playing round the trees. But alas you cannot knock to be heard. Because the child no longer exists in the form occuring in the earlier pages of the book. He has since grown and gone , leaving his airy form behind in the garden. The words of the book are mere air . The windows it presents are holes in a memory and the child figment of an early form that cannot now hear your knock.No amount of your calling lures him out of the book , where he plays an airy thing of your memory.

The child is playing in the garden in another space . The reader,as from a different space ,experiences it , now through the book’s window. Unlike mom who could by her knock on the window, make the child hear,the reader cannot catch his attention. Nor can he be lured out of the book. The book is the bridge that links two spaces in time i.e . the child’s and the reader’s. The child continues to play in the garden but is out of reach for the reader. He is a mere thought, an idea in the sequence of a chronicle. He will linger for ever as an airy being straight out of the book, through the reader’s own transience.

Anyreader, you may see the child(your own former self) through the book’s windows .Only you cannot knock the window now to call the child , who is too far far away to hear your call.

I see interesting use of visual imagery. Look at the way mom’s physical seeing is juxtaposed with the reader’s imaginary view through the windows of the book :

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.

Mother sees :: you may see, if you look
playing round the garden trees :: Another child far far away
As from the house :: In another garden

Also , look at the interesting way in which space is dealt with by use of the visual imagery:

Mother’s seeing is from the physical window and its knocking can call the child to hear
Reader’s seeing is through the windows of the book he cannot knock and call to hear

Mother’s space is a window overlooking the garden
Reader’s space is through the book’s windows to a far far away child, who is a mere idea.

“Far , far away” extends space indefinitely as the reader looks back at his own childhood . The child is grown and gone away from the garden , now an adult peering through the windows of the book.

“Requiem ” by R.L.Stevenson


Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie,
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

What a beautiful death poem , by a tuberculular poet embracing death with a will. Will is the testament that expresses the dying man’s wish which is that the following verse be engraved as his epitaph:

Here he lies where he longed to be
Home is the sailor, home from sea
and the hunter home from the hill

Listen to the music of the lines:

The recurrence of d’s haunt you like death in the first stanza, sounding its inevitability :

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
GlaD DiD I live and glaDly Die
and I laiD me Down with a will

“Under the wide and starry sky” is how the occupant of a narrow grave may view the vast expanse of the sky -at once wide(not infinite) and starry.

Dig the grave and let me lie

Grave is the resting place, also a serious thing. Grave is the noun here, while grave in the next stanza is a verb equivalent to engrave, meaning engraving the letters of the verse on the grave stone. Dig the grave here has almost the modern meaning of “dig” meaning what one likes, loves or enjoys ( as in I dig this song). Especially after the poet says “gladly die” and wants to lie where he always wanted to be.

“Here he lies where he longed to be”

Connect it to the next lines where the sailor is home from sea and the hunter from the hill. where he wants to **be**? In the sea and in the hills one could **be** but in the grave?But then it is only “be” that goes musical with “me”. All one’s achievements in life , either on the sea or in the mountains go to nought and finally one has to return to this home after all.

Glad did I live and gladly die

The poet lived a glad life and has no complaints. Does it mean that he had indeed a glad life? of course not.He is just glad that he lived(glad,did I live).Or may be he lived indeed a glad life and now he is dying and he will lie gladly in his new home under the wide and starry sky.

Be

Interesting usage at different places in the poem. Be means to live, to exist, the opposite of death which is nonexistence. Can one long to be in grave ?

This be the verse you grave for me : Here “be” suggests an irrovacable option, a testament that has to be implemented.

the hunter home from the hill
the sailor home from sea

The alliterations with “h” and “s” are beautiful. Note the hunter is home from the hill but the sailor is home from sea.The hunter goes to a hill (not for a prolonged stay there) but the sailor comes back home after long absences.

“Warning”-A poem by Jenny Joseph


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

I love this poem not for the beauty of its imagery or the music of its singsong lines, that have a strange lyrical beauty. The young woman imagines herself in a situation she will find herself in decades later.In imagining herself as an old woman she gives herself all the attributes one associates with an old woman,in common perception. But not out of self-pity but from a sheer sense of release, freedom from what a young person is supposed to be.

Conformance to a social type is tyranny of the hive mind .A young person experiences its oppressiveness throughout the younger years and it is only the old age that gives them freedom to express and be their own selves the way they want to,not like how the peers look and behave.

1) When you are old you do not need to wear clothes that make a statement.Nor do you have to wear outlandish clothes because everybody else wears them and together you all make a statement.

2)When you are old you need not have to carry the stigma of not paying rent ,of wearing shabby clothes,of setting examples to children etc. You do not even invite friends to dinner and read the papers.

3) The biggest adavantage is that you can squat on the footpath if you are tired, go out in slippers in rain, spit anywhere to to your heart’s content.

4) You can buy brandy and eat sausages , exhausting your meager pension, and with the least worry about getting fat.

The old woman has little stake in life and it does not really matter to her what everybody thinks of her.But remember this is how the young person imagines what an old woman’s life would be like. Is it correct to think that an old person feels she has no further stake in life? That it does not really matter how she behaves and whether she is a subject of ridicule?

But that is not what the poet seems to say but rather that you feel stifled to be a young person with all those stereotyping that goes with it. A young person who thinks she has a greater stake in life is forced to conform to the stereotype, the shackles of which leave nothing for individual improvisation. You have to be either a conformist with all its boring traits or are a rebel with equally mind-numbing protocols.

All this is preparation to old age, that is a long way off. Does old age come so suddenly and one starts wearing purple? Surely , for the sake of other people, one has to practise a little at being old right now so that they will not be shocked to see her suddenly in purple clothes.She has the tongue in her cheek.Dont they start wearing purple too?

“On His Blindness”- By John Milton

From http://www.lib.utexas.edu, in the public ...

From http://www.lib.utexas.edu, in the public domain ja:画像:John Milton.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide,

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.

 

 

A nice sonnet in the Petrarchan  abba, abba,cde,cde form.  The Biblical allusions add significantly to the content.
Interesting images/usages :

 

Light is spent

(spent :a blind man using inner light in place of external light that falls on things making them visible)

in this dark world and wide
(note dark world ,a blind man’s world whose bigness is only to be imagined)

talent

( a form of money in use in Biblical times in Rome: here it also means a poet’s talent for creating beauty in the service of God)

Which is death to hide

The poet is prevented by his blindness from serving God in a more active manner but the poetic talent cannot be hidden but put to use in His service

My true account 

He should give a proper account of himself when the Lord returns. The allusion is to the parable of the three servants who were given five, two and one talents respectively by their master with instructions to multiply them and give accounts of themselves on his return .In the parable the first servant invests the five talents given to him at usurious rates of interest and doubles them. Likewise the second servant too doubles his two talents .The third servant has buried the single talent for safe keeping and is pulled up and cast into the void by the master unhappy with his poor performance.

Does God exact day-labor ,light denied?

I love the precision of the words. Blindness is God given and is it fair on His part to expect him to serve Him like the others who are not similarly handicapped? Day labor is beautiful usage. Here Day signifies not labor done in the day but that done in the inner darkness of a blind poet.

Fondly:

Fondly implies foolishness born of love.

To prevent that murmur

To prevent has a Biblical connotation of prevenience a divine power that anticipates and blocks rejection of God. Murmur is the silent protest by the inner grace

...who best His mild yoke,they serve him best

Blindness is the mild yoke imposed upon the poet and he is expected to bear it with patience and thereby he truly serves God .

 

The last four lines are classical in their precision,saying so much in such shortness of breath

“His state Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

God is the Lord and master and at his bidding thousands speed and post over land and ocean without rest and he does not need man’s work or his gifts. The so called gift of poetry given to him need not be used by God as He has thousands of angels to do His bidding over land and sea. The puny gifts that man possesses are nothing compared to what God’s servants have.

“They also serve who only stand and wait”

Beautiful last lines , quoted in so many contexts and non-contexts. First of all ,they also serve who stand. That is unlike those who ,at his bidding speed and post over land and sea without rest. Standing too is an act of obeisance.

“Wait” is here in the sense of waiting upon God, like the waiter who waits upon a client at a restaurant table. Wait is taking His orders, while standing .
.

 

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That the night come By W.B.Yeats

 

 

She lived in storm and strife,
Her soul had such desire
For what proud death may bring
That it could not endure
The common good of life,
But lived as ’twere a king
That packed his marriage day
With banneret and pennon,
Trumpet and kettledrum,
And the outrageous cannon,
To bundle time away
That the night come.

An inevitable comparison of the poem is with the so called metaphysical poetry of John Donne and his school where the treatment of a metaphor is almost similar. The similes there compare a concrete thing with an abstract one or an abstract one with another abstract one..

Here an abstract idea of a soul with a desire for what death may bring is compared to another abstract idea of a king who packed his marriage day with a lot of pomp and sound.She lived in storm and strife and her soul is filled with a desire for what proud death may bring with the result she could not endure the common good of life. Just like the king who filled his marriage day with a lot of sound and fury ,signifying nothing. That included the outrageous cannon.

Why does she do this,neglecting the common good of life? Just to bundle time away/ that the night come.

Interesting words/usages are “proud death”(remember ,death be not proud!), “storm and strife” (storm is external,strife internal), “endure” (surprising usage, not in the sense of put up with but to go through (dure) the experience without its affecting us),“the common good of life” (one does not endure the common good of life but here one merely goes through it-the common good is what others perceive as good),”packed” (the king filled his marriage day with a lot of sound and fury), “the outrageous cannon” (outrageous because the marriage day is celebrated as if it was the marriage ceremony celebrated with music and fireworks-imagine an old king doing this),“bundle time away “ (an exquisite image within the image-In death one gathers up time in a bundle and puts it away preparing for the night’s coming)

“Madam Life’s a Piece in Bloom”- by William Ernest Henley

Madam Life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.

You shall see her as a friend,
You shall bilk him once or twice;
But he’ll trap you in the end,
And he’ll stick you for her price.

With his kneebones at your chest,
And his knuckles in your throat,
You would reason — plead — protest!
Clutching at her petticoat;

But she’s heard it all before,
Well she knows you’ve had your fun,
Gingerly she gains the door,
And your little job is done.

For its inclusion in the Oxford Book of Death you need not go far to look for reasons because the imagery for Life and Death used by Henley is simply brilliant.

“She is the tenant of the room
He is the ruffian on the stair”

She is soft and good-natured and peace loving. She is a flower in bloom. He is a ruffian ,who has not yet gained entry into the apartment .He is still waiting on the stair for the door to be opened by Madam Life.

He is a ruffian given to violence, Once he gains entry he will be at your throat, with his knuckles and his knee-bones hard on your chest, squeezing the life out of you.

The violence associated with death is evoked by a visual scene created of a ruffian with murderous intent-his knee-bones on your chest and his knuckles at your throat,squeezing the life out of you.You are pitifully pleading with him for your life, desperately clutching at Madam Life’s petticoat.

I have yet to see such a graphic description of death.

“And your little job is done” -A chilling last line,isn’t it?