I sit in my cottage garden in the sun, for an hour, reading poems. I am looking for poems on the theme of ‘journeys’ to share with the poetry group that meets in our local library next week. Some people write poems on the theme, or find them from within their previous works. I don’t write poetry, but I am enjoying browsing through my shelves, and look forward to reading it aloud. It’s a special pleasure.
The sun is mild, occasionally obscured by clouds. No mechanical, man-made sounds reach me, just the droning of the bees in the hedge behind me, the arguments of the rooks who live in the trees by the old people’s home, and the clicking of plastic guttering in the sun.
I work through my pile, getting distracted by the pleasure of the task and by poems not about journeys.
I try the anthology called Staying Alive, which has a whole section on journeys and the road, and I note Adrienne Rich’s poem. This is the first line
A wild patience has brought me this far
I had remembered it as a wild impatience, which was more appealing to my ambitions and character when I first encountered the poem in the ‘70s. The rhythm is better in my version I think. But I must slow down and read the poem more closely. A wild patience? The lines of the childhood chant come into my head, which associates patience with good girls in an adult view.
Patience is a virtue
Virtue is a grace.
Grace is a little girl
Who didn’t wash her face.
That puts patience in her place for me. How can patience be wild? The juxtaposition of these words begins to create ripples in my head.
I move on to Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods, and recall walking in Robert Frost’s woods a few years ago on a visit to Amherst (when I also visited Emily Dickinson’s house). It was May, so there was no snow and no ponies. I read this poem to a group of travellers on Stewart Island, on Christmas Day a couple of years later – also no ponies and no snow but miles from home. Stewart Island is about as far south as normal people can travel without being in Antarctica.
Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.
Then I loose myself in an anthology of poems by women in the 1930s. I marvel again at the steadfastness, endurance and perceptions of that generation of women who flourished between the wars. I find a poem by Winifred Holtby called Trains in France, the sounds of trains haunting the night, reminding her of wartime trains transporting people to and from the Front.
I move on to Billy Collins who can always be relied upon to write quirky, witty and intelligent poems about everyday things. I find two that I might read to the poetry group: Passengers and Walking across the Atlantic. I always enjoy the last three lines of Walking across the Atlantic.
Drowsiness begins to infect me and I imagine lying on the lounger on the lawn all afternoon, reading, as the bees drone, the rooks caw and all seems well with this corner of England.
In my head, words are singing, like poetry when it is read aloud. In my head my own words become poetic, lyrical and full of intelligent observations. My mood is violently broken by a call on my mobile phone about PPI.
These are the poems I finally chose:
- Walking across the Atlantic and Passengers by Billy Collins.
- Trains in France by Winifred Holtby.
- But I might add Honeymoon Flight by Seamus Heaney for the imagery of sewing that he uses to write about marriage.
- And Craig Raine’s A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, which presents the world and its people from a fresh, Martian, perspective.
Have you any suggestions of poems connected with journeys?
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