Thursday, March 28, 2013


Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott -- Painted by John William Waterhouse in1888

I fell in love with poetry in my teens. But poems had to be short: Yeats’s wandering Aengus, searching for the spirit who had called his name so they could pluck the golden apples of the sun. Wordsworth’s golden daffodils dancing in the breeze . . . (I liked Victorian poets even then.)

The poems had to be short so I could copy them into my poetry notebook and draw butterflies and flowers around them. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Two Voices” inspired polite page flipping, as did “The Lotus-Eaters” and Idylls of the King. Early on I decided I didn’t like Tennyson—which has always amazed my husband: He read Morte d’Arthur in high school and still finds it wonderful. But back then, I thought Tennyson's poems were much too long.

It took a thirteen-year-old Victorian girl make me discover Tennyson—a character in the middle grade mystery series I’m writing. For some reason, she likes Alfred, LordTennyson. (Characters have a way of letting you know things like that.) I was surprised. I knew that L. M. Montgomery’s Anne in Anne of Green Gables liked Tennyson so much she and her friends acted out “The Lady of Shalott”. But my character? What was the poet's appeal for these young girls of yesteryear? I had to find out.

My husband recommended Morte d’Arthur, so I started with that. Was it only a week ago? I’m entranced: The soul-stirring lines. The sheer music in Tennyson’s poems, whether they rhyme or not. And when they do rhyme, the rhyme doesn’t feel forced. His verses flow so easily, and seem straight from the heart. And the stories they tell! I’ve been going through every poetry book on our shelves and online, finding more Tennyson, drowning in the beauty of his poetry. I’m hooked. I’m besotted!

I also have been reading biographical selections about Tennyson, and I’ll be going into his life a little in Part II. But for today, I leave you with an excerpt from Tennyson’s four-part poem, “The Lady of Shalott". (The full poem can be read at The Poetry Foundation's site HERE.)

A big thank you, too, to Jayne Ferst at A Novice Novelist for mentioning the Pre-Raphaelites art movement. The beautiful painting of The Lady of Shalott you see above was painted by John William Waterhouse in1888, a Pre-Raphaelite artist.

The excerpt, then: Enjoy! And, tell me: Has one of your characters ever made you discover a new author or artist? Who? What about a hobby or some other discovery? 

Part I
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
       To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
       The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
       Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
       The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
       Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
       Lady of Shalott."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dappled Things

Irises in Monet's Garden

Olive Trees in Bordighera
The flowering plum trees and cherry trees around town have shed their petals, scattering them on sidewalks like confetti. Now green leaves are unfurling; flowers uncurling. Spring has come to Sacramento, and with it the play of light and shadow dapples the streets. As I walk in Midtown, the lines of one of my favorite poems come to mind: “Pied Beauty”, by the Victoria poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).
Glory be to God for dappled things,
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
            Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pierced—fold, fallow, and plough;
           And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                          Praise him.*

I’ve always loved the splash of his words. And even though Hopkins suffered periods of despair during his short life, (short by today’s standards) this poem, written in 1877, overflows with a kindliness of spirit that must have always bubbled within. (You can read a deeper analysis of it HERE.)  
And I've loved the "splashes" of beauty in an Impressionist painting. Four years before Hopkins wrote this poem, across the Channel, in in the Nadar studio in Paris, a group of painters gave the first of eight exhibitions (1874-1886) that earned their independent styles the name of “Impressionism.” Impressionism emphasized the play of light and shadow. To capture it, they painted en plein air, “in the open air”. In fact, if you look at the paintings above by Monet, a towering figure in the group who inspired them all and kept them from giving up,** you can think of the technique as a dappling of light and color. A Monet painting is a pied beauty. A painting by any of the Impressionists is a dappled beauty. 
Each of them went their own way with the technique, of course, as any artist must. But all of the Impressionists left paintings dappled with color-saturated light. (You can see a complete list of the Impressionists HERE.) Whatever course their later individual styles took, each of them, like Hopkins, saw the world and left a response “whose beauty is past change.”

How about you? Do any of the impressionist painters affect you this way? If so, which one? Do you have a favorite Hopkins poem? Which one? Can you recommend another painter or poet whose work is a "pied beauty"? If so, please share.
*The Oxford Book of Short Poems, Chosen and Edited by P. J. Kavanagh and James Michie,           
Oxford University Press, 1987

**The Impressionists, Text by Pierre Courthion, Translation by John Shepley, Special Limited Edition by Rēalitēs USA Pubications, Inc., 1980