Sunday, October 04, 2009

exercise, conversation, warm

Posted by PicasaEarly morning 2.
Conversation is alive, judging by the way groups of young people sit round in circles on the grass in the Grove. They may be smoking or drinking but they are also talking to one another, and that's the thing!
A recent anthology of poetry edited by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, called Out of Fashion is giving me great pleasure. Duffy has invited 50 contemporary poets to choose a poem from another time, which significantly concerns itself with dress or fashion. In her introduction Duffy says: " a poem if you like is the attire of feeling: the literary form where words seem tailor-made for memory or desire." I like that. And I like the broad range of poems which have been chosen, some of which were quite new to me. One anonymous poem from 8 th century Japan is Poem by a Frontier Guard:
"While the leaves of the bamboo rustle
On a cold and frosty night,
The seven layers of clobber I wear
Are not so warm, not so warm
As the body of wife."
The intensity of feeling comes fresh and raw from half round the world and through more than a millennium. Its palpable humanity resonates with the anonymous English poem written by another soldier eight centuries later, which express the same longing, but makes no mention of clothes:
"Western wind, when will thou blow
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!


Lucy said...

Before I scrolled down and saw it there, I thought 'That reminds me of the 'Westron Wynde' poem.

Unknown said...

According to the Oxford Dictionaary of Quotations this was published in 1789. I had always thought it came from the 14th Century. There are some spellings such as the one you use (where does that version come from?, which suggest something earlier. What do you think?

Lucy said...

I'm on it! However, I know for certain that Taverner, (the original, 1490-1545, not the modern one, who claims to be descended from him), used the tuen of it as part of a 'Western Wind' mass, creating a vogue for these. (It's on a Tallis Scholars CD I've got!) It was a folk song by then.

The Oxford Book of English Verse puts it between Cornish and Dunbar, so early 16th century, and says it's on a British Museum manuscript. That's what I can find out from the concrete resources I have to hand, doubtless more can be found out with a Google search, which takes some of the fun out of it and make one look less clever! Am I remembering right, does it feature as a motif in 'A Farewell to Arms'? Is that partly why one thinks of it as a soldier's poem? It wouldn't have to be necessarily...