I hear poetry whispering through my mind. Thanks to my standard 4 teacher Mr Crimp. Sometimes those whispers are called up as they echo an event or emotion in my life. Sometimes they appear from nowhere just adding beauty to a day. Sometimes it crashes in deeply moving me.
I do not like all poetry, much of it never whispers to me at all. But the ones that whisper, call and seduce me I love well.
Mr Crimp was my teacher in my last year of Primary School, I would have been 9 at the start of the year and 10 at the end. He remains, for many reasons, my favourite teacher of all time. He will be dead now I guess, he was close to retirement when he taught me and that was 40 years ago. Making him near 100 if he lives still. Yet he lives still.
He asked us to memorise poems and you got some kind of reward for doing so. I can’t remember the reward, for me I remember the feeling of satisfaction at often being among the fastest to do so. That was the real reward for me. It was one of the first memories I have of competence. Of standing up in class surrounded by people wondering why I thought I’d learnt it already. Waiting to hear my voice fail as I reached the limits of my memory. Not that they were doing so maliciously, just it was the expectation based on performances of other tasks. That kind of mute sympathy you hold out for someone whose side you are on but whom you fear will fail. You feel for them and expend sympathy before they even fail.
That first poem lead me to a lifetime of enjoyment. How sad to have missed the feeling of majesty my favourite poem brings me. But more of that latter. The first poem was short and cute (The Poplar Tree) like it was made specifically for a first poem to learn. Mr Crimp had a folder of poems he had collected over the years.
The poems grew longer and more complex and we had lessons to understand the background of a poem before we were presented it.
One day my Mum shared her favourite poem. I am sure she shared it before. For the first time, though., it resonated with me. Like I had learned how to hear the cadence and rhythm inherent in the verse.
Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.
In Xanadu did Kubla KhanA stately pleasure-dome decree:Where Alph, the sacred river, ranThrough caverns measureless to manDown to a sunless sea. …
Many years latter I discovered the poem was talking on the surface about an animal that turned out to be my Chinese year sign. The tiger. Although it spelling in the poem hints that it might not be deep down talking about a tiger. This association though did add a little something to my appreciation of the poem.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Can you hear the rhythm of this piece. For me it is like a jungle drum hitting each time the word Tyger is spoken. Try it out loud sometime. maybe it is more meant to echo the tread of a tigers feet. But for me these are silent. I tiger could pass you by an arm-breadth away if you were in it’s jungle. It’s striped coat mimicking shadows of trunks and branches- Its large feet spreading out to take it’s weight soundlessly are padded for extra stealth. So the beat of this poem is for me of drums, slow and deep.
Maybe it is meant to mimic the strong powerful beat of a tigers heart. I can see that.
Always though this poem stirs me deep inside, with a heart swelling power. I tried to read the poem oft quoted as it’s older sibling, having been written first. The Lamb. The lamb is in fact directly written into the poem “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”. It is harder to get into for me. What do you think?
Little Lamb who made theeDost thou know who made theeGave thee life & bid thee feed.By the stream & o’er the mead;Gave thee clothing of delight,Softest clothing wooly bright;Gave thee such a tender voice,Making all the vales rejoice!Little Lamb who made theeDost thou know who made theeLittle Lamb I’ll tell thee,Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!He is called by thy name,For he calls himself a Lamb:He is meek & he is mild,He became a little child:I a child & thou a lamb,We are called by his name.Little Lamb God bless thee.Little Lamb God bless thee.