This is a Good Poem June 1st


It’s summer, let’s read Stevie Smith.  This is my favorite poem about swimming.  Except it’s not about swimming.  

That’s Smith’s drawing there that’s almost always published with the poem.  There’s a good short essay on her in the New Yorker, that tells you, among other things, that the publisher she worked for gave her early retirement with a  full pension when she tried to kill him with scissors and then attempted suicide in the office.  She’d spent thirty-three years in a publishing office, so it was understandable.  

My second favorite poem of Smith’s is “Thoughts about the Person from Porlock.”  The Person from Porlock is the guy who knocked on Coleridge’s door while he was writing “Kubla Khan.”  Coleridge, instead of ignoring it, answered, and when he got back to the poem, couldn’t remember how he was going to end it so it remains unfinished to this day.  I have always been suspicious of this; when I’m in a white heat of writing, you could break down my door with a two-by-four and I’d keep going.  I think Coleridge was stuck.  Every time I get stuck, I think about this verse and long for a person from Porlock:

I long for the Person from Porlock
To bring my thoughts to an end,
I am becoming impatient to see him
I think of him as a friend,
 
But the longer poem is about more than writing, in fact, like the swimming poem, it isn’t about writing at all.  

Thoughts about the Person from Porlock

Coleridge received the Person from Porlock   
And ever after called him a curse,
Then why did he hurry to let him in?   
He could have hid in the house.
 
It was not right of Coleridge in fact it was wrong   
(But often we all do wrong)
As the truth is I think he was already stuck   
With Kubla Khan.
 
He was weeping and wailing: I am finished, finished,   
I shall never write another word of it,
When along comes the Person from Porlock
And takes the blame for it.
 
It was not right, it was wrong,   
But often we all do wrong.
 
*
 
May we inquire the name of the Person from Porlock?   
Why, Porson, didn’t you know?
He lived at the bottom of Porlock Hill
So had a long way to go,
 
He wasn’t much in the social sense
Though his grandmother was a Warlock,   
One of the Rutlandshire ones I fancy   
And nothing to do with Porlock,
 
And he lived at the bottom of the hill as I said   
And had a cat named Flo,   
And had a cat named Flo.

 
I long for the Person from Porlock
To bring my thoughts to an end,
I am becoming impatient to see him
I think of him as a friend,
 
Often I look out of the window
Often I run to the gate
I think, He will come this evening,
I think it is rather late.
 
I am hungry to be interrupted
For ever and ever amen
O Person from Porlock come quickly
And bring my thoughts to an end.
 
*
 
I felicitate the people who have a Person from Porlock   
To break up everything and throw it away
Because then there will be nothing to keep them   
And they need not stay.
 
*
 
Why do they grumble so much?
He comes like a benison
They should be glad he has not forgotten them
They might have had to go on.
 
*
 
These thoughts are depressing I know. They are depressing,   
I wish I was more cheerful, it is more pleasant,
Also it is a duty, we should smile as well as submitting   
To the purpose of One Above who is experimenting
With various mixtures of human character which goes best,   
All is interesting for him it is exciting, but not for us.   
There I go again. Smile, smile, and get some work to do
Then you will be practically unconscious without positively having to go.
 
 

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10 thoughts on “This is a Good Poem June 1st

  1. I got reminded of this one from my Kto3 years, recently. So here, for your enjoyment.

    The Dustman

    by Clive Sansom

    Every Thursday morning
    Before we’re quite awake,
    Without the slightest warning
    The house begins to shake
    With a Biff! Bang!
    Biff! Bang! Biff!
    It’s the Dustman, who begins
    (B ANG ! Crash !)
    To empty all the bins
    Of their rubbish and their ash
    With a Biff! Bang!
    Biff! Bang! Bash!

    6+
  2. Probably the most heartbreaking poem I know:

    Twould ring the bells of Heaven
    The wildest peal for years,
    If Parson lost his senses
    And people came to theirs,
    And he and they together
    Knelt down with angry prayers
    For tamed and shabby tigers
    And dancing dogs and bears,
    And wretched, blind, pit ponies,
    And little hunted hares.

    Ralph Hodgson “The Bells of Heaven” 1917

    5+
  3. I’ve always loved the “Not Waving, but Drowning” poem. A poet I love, that doesn’t get enough love is Wendy Cope. She’s a living British poet, who reminds me a little of Dorothy Parker, but maybe a bit more hopeful (sometimes). There’s lots of good ones,b but the one that gets stuck in my head the most starts out – (excuse the language)

    “Bloody men are like bloody buses —
    You wait for about a year
    And as soon as one approaches your stop
    Two or three others appear.”

    It goes on 😉

    3+
  4. I wish I enjoyed reading poetry more. It is a bit like Shakespeare, you need someone who can get the cadence right. Who can hit the right inflections to bring out the beauty, pathos, drama or humour. Think of Four Wedding and a Funeral when Matthew recites W.H. Auden’s ‘Stop all the clocks’.

    I read poetry and it all settles into a rhythm of dumpy dumpty dumpty dum.

    This poem is an exception.

    The Footsteps by Paul Valery
    Translated by C. Day Lewis

    Born of my voiceless time, your steps
    Slowly, ecstatically advance:
    Toward my expectation’s bed
    They move in a hushed, ice-clear trance.

    Pure being, shadow-shape divine,
    Your step deliberate, how sweet!
    God! every gift I have imagined
    Comes to me on those naked feet.

    If so it be your offered mouth
    Is shaped already to appease
    That which occupied my thought
    With the live substance of a kiss,

    Oh hasten not this loving act,
    Rapture where self and not-self meet :
    My life has been awaiting you,
    Your footfall was my own heart’s beat.

    1+
    1. Oh, that’s lovely.

      That Auden poem was one of my favorites even before John Hannah did that devastating reading. My favorite Auden is still “As I Walked Out One Evening, just for the beautiful sound and the layers of meaning, especially this part:

      The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
      The desert sighs in the bed,
      And the crack in the tea-cup opens
      A lane to the land of the dead.

      1+
  5. Some Pam Ayres –

    I am a drystone waller,
    All day I drystone wall,
    Of all appalling callings,
    Drystone walling’s worst of all.

    ___________________

    I am a bunny rabbit,
    Sitting in me hutch.
    I like to sit down this end.
    I don’t care for that end, much.

    I hope tomorrow’s Thursday,
    ‘Cause with a little luck,
    As far as I remember,
    That’s the day they pass the buck!

    ___________________

    And of course, Thoughts of a Late Night Knitter

    1+

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