Rabbie and Will and others and me

A Ragged Odyssey

Unbound from classrooms since
My fourteenth hormonic year,
(Hormonic as opposed to harmonic),
And then my first half century
Focussed on the unpoetic now,
Finally I’m here with Dee
In this dark place in Picardy,
Where once the roses bloomed,
In a rather morbid souvenir shop.
And here we look in silence
Through sickly memorabilia
At all the glorious stupidity:
The wasteland war that we call Great
The war to end, but did not end
Such pantheons of heartfelt hate.

It’s here I buy a little book
Its title: Violets from Oversea
That speaks of how from chaos
Flowered once so much great poesy
In wounded fields where poppies blew;
It’s writer does not use the word hero,
In respect to and of those khaki poets -
Like Owen, Sassoon, Ledwidge,
Sorley, Leighton, McRae and Co,
And all the rest who lie below:
Of them it speaks without hypocracy -
And starts me on this ragged odyssey.

Over the tumult of the years ahead
I make my journey down a track
That ever leads me, in time, back,
Here pausing for long moments
With such as Joyce, so very hard,
So easy, soldier Kipling, Rudyard
Then find and read the works
Of those two midnight walkers,
That pair of wild Socratic talkers,
S T Coleridge and his friend
The ascetic mister Wordsworth,
Latterday Lakeland postmaster,
And after, I skirmish all around
That other wondrous set: Keats,
Dreaming misty mellow fruitfulness,
And Shelley, wanly loitering -
Oh yes, and I must not forget
Byron, that bad yet mighty baronet.

Backwards still I go in time
Find Robert Burns’ lilt and rhyme
And learn, and understand of how
A man’s a man for a’ that and a’ that
Five hundred and fifty nine times,
(The total number of his works)
And here I come to know how verse
To mean some real thing of worth
Must make you want to sing the songs
of life, the life of mother earth -
Must catch her heartbeat rhythm
in barest, simplest, truest words
Just as the Scottish farmer poet’s
Poems do - for everyone, and more
For now, for those ahead, for all before

And through the centuries I go, if slow
through Swift and Alexander Pope
And Dryden, and old Milton,
blinded by his metronomically
Agonistic anti-Paradise,
To find my parson friend John Donne,
(A love-struck island to himself),
And all along this distant road
The whiff of something fine, some
Thing of strength and meaning thus
Becoming ever, ever obvious;
As incense moves the hardest hearts
When pendulemic swinging starts.

Breathless from the chase by now,
I circle the one I call the other bard,
Mysterious Mister Shakespeare,
But warily, and for a long while
Keeping from him a nervous distance
Unsure about this special Everest
Or perhaps in truth of my ability
To climb it or to find the light
In words, like those of Burns,
Sometimes unknown but always right.

So I march backwards further still
Lost now and with longer stride,
To fall, entranced, on Tamburlaine
From reckless, feckless Marlow
Come live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove, he writes
And Spencer's lovely Faerie Queen -
A love-struck poet’s waking dream,

And that’s as far as I can go
Because my path has now become
A river of sweet scented mists
That coil and deeply, darkly flow,
That swells and heaves itself in rhymes
From far away, from distant times

But they are all, those poets, still alive
For me as in the woodland shade
I lie and read and come to understand
How two great brothers of the pen
Two centuries apart are still the heart
For me for every consolation;
Men born of soil, of toil and tribulation
Each with not too special education
But each with such appreciation
Of this, our world, not just of nation;
These two who knew enough
To move me, it seems without effort,
To recognise my hopes and fears,
To make me smile, touch me with tears.

For Burns and Shakespeare life
Was not of ease but constant strife,
So high these bardic poets flew,
So near the sun whilst in our view,
And then again, of what is pain,
But counterpoint to all life’s gain?
I think of how the wildest flowers
In brightest glory, beauty blaze
Where ordure thickest underlays

And what of my little book of poets,
Youths should not have known so much,
Writing ‘midst the muddy gore of war?
Well, rust away as may the swords
I shall recall those poets’ words
And yes, we shall remember them
Despite what human bedlam yields,
Long after time has healed our
Many, sadly wounded fields.

Bryan Islip
22 June 2009

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