A late ramble

Sunday started off chilly and grey, but the morning dissolved into one of those warm blue afternoons of heart-bursting loveliness. At around 5, somewhere between the glory of day and the luxury of twilight, I went for a walk. It's a secluded place, not as well-trodden as some of Canberra's other walks, nor quite as untrodden as one would like. The path winds along beside a sheltered arc of the lake through tall autumnal trees giving way, here and there, to still pictures of water, mountains, and more distant trees.

Such a walk on such a day made me wish I had more poetry in my head. No doubt an Anne Elliot or a Fanny Price would have had no trouble summoning hundreds of apt lines, but on these occasions I always feel more like Bertie Wooster:

Something something something I
Something something something by...

I could blame my school; indeed I blame them very much for not teaching me Latin or Greek. But past a certain point, one has only oneself to blame. I could in my spare time devote myself to a program of memorisation, but on a lovely afternoon, I'd rather go for a walk. And maybe there's something meritorious in not having memorised a prescriptive catalogue, not having to sift through that database to find the best that has been thought or said, not having to think or speak at all.

Yet I find this state of sheer inarticulate being eludes me as well. Instead of nothing, my head fills with fragments and snippets of the thought and spoken, and not even the best of those. Perhaps I'll blame the internet, for outsourcing knowledge and downgrading it to information. Why should I retrieve words from my head when I can retrieve them more efficiently from my laptop? Perhaps I should take my kindle on these walks, but surely that would defeat the purpose.

Which brings me back to why I walk at all. I don't think I go looking for what the poets wrote about. It works the other way: the poets infest the landscape, in more or less known ways. Poetry nerd that I am, I seem incapable of pure experience, unmediated by verse. But then, so did the poets.

Poetry Challenge

Though I think poetry is tremendously important, I am not myself a writer of poetry. I gave that up after some adolescent attempts that, though long since destroyed, still bring a blush of shame to my cheeks. However, there are some ideas best (or only) expressed in verse, and since in this case I can’t follow Philip Larkin’s advice and write what I want to read, I thought I’d throw out a challenge to any aspiring poets who happen by this post.

I’ve been thinking a lot about boat people, oil spills, whaling, and how these issues circle and plumb our collective soul, and particularly as a country ‘girt' by sea. The word ‘seaworthy’ continues to float atop these thoughts. I feel constitutionally incapable of producing the poem they seem to demand, so I thought I’d cast them adrift and see if any passing poet hauls them aboard.

Any takers?

Enshaded in forgetfulness divine

Of course this week's Friday poem has to be Keats, and though I like his early poem “Sleep and Poetry,” I prefer this late sonnet “To Sleep.” His ode to the nightingale famously ends with a question that shades all his work: “Do I wake or sleep?” I love that twilit dream-state he evokes so beautifully, especially with unreal words like ‘embowered’ and ‘enshaded.’ (I remember with what ecstasy I first found ‘emparadised’ in Donne). I like his inversion of dark and light: light is harsh and relentless, soothed by the gentle dark. 

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the 'Amen,' ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes, -
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.