Thursday, January 15, 2009

One more from Gawain

One more from the putative Gawain sequence; this time, contemporaneous with the original setting of the poem, i.e. Britain in the Dark Ages.

Still not sure how the two times - medieval and modern - would or even could merge in the finished sequence, but that's not worrying me too much at the moment. The whole thing may not get written at all, so finer details like that - how far can I push this idea? will it work? what am I trying to do here? - are entirely academic at this early stage. Better just to concentrate on getting the poems out.

That's the point of a sequence, after all. To squeeze the poems out like a litter of kittens, not worry about how they'll get on together once they're older.

So here's another Gawain poem for those who may be interested (and one specially aimed at all those Hughes fans out there, she adds shamelessly).

Did the indent this time. It looked too odd without it.

Wind’s eye narrows on mud-ruts and fields

Wind’s eye narrows on mud-ruts and fields
frowsy with hoar-frost.


Air bitters deep snow-sallies
bleak over crenellations.

Arthur, hood back, brisk in white ermine,
paces the hall at Camelot.

Young man, new king.

A draught ripples the curtains.

Still his, still perfect, not yet lost to him,
she enters the hall.

                      Becomes light

a shadow aslant tables.

So love lifts out of the dull evening
a star

through the flood of the dark.


Jane Holland said...

First thought. It seems that, though there is a heraldic variant with black spots, all ermine is white. So to say 'in white ermine' is like saying 'her red blood' or 'the yellow dandelion'.


Something tighter is required here, clearly. And not 'soft', because it is, and not 'pure' because it doesn't go with the rest of the sounds.

Unblemished, perhaps? Or is that too aureate?

Jane Holland said...

Unblemished would certainly go well with crenellations on the line before. Rather too well, perhaps? A bit Tennysonian?

I don't like it when a choice isn't obvious.

Jane Holland said...

Unblemished would turn that line into pentameter though. The one I live to avoid. If you can't do it as brilliantly as Shakespeare, why bother? ;)

That's enough from me now. Over to someone else.

david lumsden said...

Can't think of 'unblemished' in Tennyson - Wordsworth has an unblemished moon and an unblemished truth. I can't think of ANY poem with the word 'crenellation' ... echoes that spring to mind

Byron ...
But they who fought are in a bloody shroud,
And those which waved are shredless dust ere now,
And the bleak battlements shall bear no future blow.

Arnold ...
In the dull October evening,
Down the leaf-strewn forest road,
To the Castle, past the drawbridge,
Came the hunters with their load.

Dryden ...
Their surcoats of white ermine fur were made;
With cloth of gold between, that cast a glittering shade.

and finally (one for Bo) ...

A cruell witch her cursed will to wreake,
Hath thus transformd, and plast in open plaines,
Where Boreas doth blow full bitter bleake,
And scorching Sunne does dry my secret vaines:
For though a tree I seeme, yet cold and heat me paines.

Bo said...

I like this, and find it stronger than the first one you posted. Part of me senses - and this is in no way a criticism - that a lot of your poems in their first few drafts at least have sentences of the structure [Subj] [verb in present tense] [[adjective + Object]] [prepositional phrase] 'Air bitters deep snow-sallies...' etc, and a fondness for using words that are syntactically ambigious. (Is 'bleak' an adjective qualifying 'air' or a sparer way of saying 'bleakly', qualifying 'bitters'?)

Nothing wrong with any of this, of course!xx

BarbaraS said...

I think it might be the word ermine that's throwing it out: it's a soft word compared to all the other 'brisk' words, compounded by the brisk rhythm...bu te ermine poins forward to the the 'him' of the fourth line after this; I don't know how you'll resolve this, or if indeed, you should, given the poem's subject.

Jane Holland said...

David, a marvellously erudite response! I was just throwing that Tennysonian thing out there, really meaning it was a bit over the top, I suppose. Aureate, as perhaps I said. Never been a fan of Tennyson.

Barbara, yes, good point. It might well be ermine that's the issue. Problem is, ermine shows up a good deal in the original, where much is made of its significance, I feel - a hunted object, fur worn as a trophy or symbol of social status, white fur linked to innocence, purity, chastity, etc. - so I clearly thought it was worth getting it into this particular poem. But perhaps it jars?

Bo, yes, it's a verbal - or syntactical - tic which I indulge in myself perhaps too often. A desire not to do things the easy or obvious way, perhaps. Neil Astley used to say that almost deliberately, provocatively counterintuitive style of forming sentences reminded him of W.S. Graham. Though I could never see it myself; I'm way more counterintuitive than Graham!

I'm not sure about bleak. It may go with air. Or perhaps crenellations. There's even a case for it being a noun, i.e. 'bleak' as a general state of bleakness, though a preceding comma would really be needed for that on the page. I don't think these things through at the time writing first - and often subsequent, actually - drafts. At that stage I'm just listening, listening, listening, and watching the look of the thing too, like a picture made up of individual letters and spaces. So if you imagine that each letter approximates a type of colour - for instance, not one definite 'scarlet' but any shade of red - I look to keep all reds in roughly the same areas, and maybe blend them with sympathetic (yellow) or strikingly antithetical colours (black). But not, for instance, orange, because the clash would be too horrid and clumsy.

Getting into some strange territory here. Better stop before I paint myself into a corner.

J ;)

Jane Holland said...

Should also say, yes, this poem is stronger than the other, contemporary one. But I don't think that necessarily means I should abandon the idea of mixing the modern with the medieval; I just haven't got it right yet, that's all.

Just been listening to a rough draft recording of that play, btw, due to be broadcast tomorrow night. The sound effects are a bit ... exuberant ... to put it mildly, but the team are all wonderfully enthusiastic, and hey, it's a learning curve, isn't it?

I can see now why some playwrights are very, very precise with their directions.