Oh the ethereal beauty of a pale twilight.
Boundless sky arching overhead,
Low puffs of delicate grey hanging,
Dragons’ breath held still in the air.
Higher now so sweet we see,
Cotton candy sunset threads strewn about.
Heart soars in peace and harmony,
Eye leaps out in boundless unrestraint.
Ear rests as earth expels a long held sigh.
Skin tingles, warm breezes play and sooth.
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.
Just a few year later when reading a book of poems and quotes. Mostly for the quotes I must confess. I found what would turn out to be a life long favourite poem. A poem filled with power an majesty, threat and beauty. It had a strong rhythm that carried you along but such imagery that it burned in my chest.
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?
You can see Blake echoed also the question of who made the Lamb in the Tyger. This poem though is sweet and soft and contrasts starkly against the Tyger.
Whereas Tyger stirs me, it’s strong rhythmic lines give beat to the words and power to the lines. For me this is the poem that never fails to move me. Give me the sound of the drum beat any day. Give me the sound of the Tyger.
When I was aged 9-10 Mr Crimp was my teacher at school. He was an all round cool teacher. You know the ones that motivate you to learn, keep good discipline and yet a sense of fun in the class. I miss those Fielding days.
One of the things he did was every few weeks he would add a poem to our poem book and our task was to first draw appropriate art work by the inscribed poem and second to memorise the poem.
Memorising was one task I took to easily in school. Nether indoor nor outdoor pursuits of any other kind could see me shine as well. Okay I could silent read well above my spelling level but teacher till then had mostly put this down to my pretending to be able to read at above my spelling level. Mr Crimp on the other hand quizzed me on what I had read and then was satisfied I was reading.
But, I digress.
Memorising poems was they way I could publicly be seen as successful in some regard. I was a late bloomer academically and maybe it was the confidence I gained with these poems that let me attack other learning skills at a later date.
I came across one of those poems today on twitter and it brought back the memories. I “lost” my illustrated book of poems many years ago in what I will call a sibling accident. Which sibling and how accidental the scissored pages and the destruction of those said pages were, I have no idea. But lets call it that.
Back to my original theme.
The poem I was referred to by twitter was contained in an article entitled “Why we should memorize Poetry” by Brad Leithauser, in the New Yorker. It was:
by Lord Alfred Tennyson
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
It made me want to recreate that book, at least in spirit. I remember some of the poems well even now, but some have become hidden in the background of my memory, like the eagle. Once I had the first line most of the rest of it flowed back to me, bright and pure as first I learnt it and rich with the feeling of an old friend rediscovered.So here is my reconstructed book of poems and my thanks to Mr Crimp.
The first poem in the book has never left me. You always remember your first. But who wrote it is long forgotten, remembering names has never been my strong suit. I even forgot my own once, but that is another story. If you know the author, please let me know.