Small Griefs

Older readers (if any) may remember that Robert Herrick, the cavalier clergyman and poet, made almost as many appearances in the early days of this blog as overnight sensation James Taylor.  As he (Herrick not Taylor) was, to the best of my knowledge, “outside cricket” he has rather faded from the scene recently, but I was reminded of him again when I came across a 1961 edition of “Selected Poems”, edited by John Hayward and published in the Penguin Poets series.

In particular the cover is rather lovely:

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I’d suggest it would serve well as wallpaper (literal or virtual) or – with the festive season approaching – as wrapping paper or a slightly oblique greetings card.  As for the verse inside the card, how about this (some lines from Herrick’s “To his Mistresse objecting to him neither Toying or Talking“)?

Small griefs find tongues: Full Casques are ever found
To give (if any, yet) but little sound.
Deep waters noyse-lesse are; And this we know,
That chiding streams betray small depth below.

Not festive, perhaps, but possibly timely.

Will Flowers Be In Place At The Start Of The Season?

Some Big Questions to be answered in Big Cricket when the new season starts.  Should Flower stay – or should he go?  Should KP go – or should he stay?  Should Cook … well you get the idea, and you probably have some answers.

But, noticing today that the cherry blossom is already in bloom around the bowling green

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and catching a glimpse of the scoreless but sunlit scoreboard at Fairfield Road through a gap in the hedge

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some other questions occur to me.

Will the mild Winter mean that the sycamores and silver birches at Grace Road will be in leaf (unusually) for the start of the Season?  Will the daffodils in the beds in front of the Pavilion be in bloom?  Will there be a fine sheen of pollen on the outfield at Fairfield Road?

And I find I care far more about the second set of questions than the first.

Two Poems For The Diamond Jubilee

I see that the Laureate has managed to come up with a decent poem to celebrate the Jubilee, by adopting the Ted Hughes method of writing about some natural phenomenon – in this case the River Thames – rather than the Royal Family (you can hear her read it here – http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9716000/9716076.stm )

The last time we had a Diamond Jubilee – in 1897 – the Poet Laureate was Alfred Austin.  He had been appointed because none of the better-qualified candidates wanted the job (William Morris had turned it down) and because he was sympathetic to the Government of the day (in particular, he was a close friend of Lord Salisbury).  So, a little like Andrew Motion.

He has been almost universally reviled as the worst Laureate ever, and his productions were widely mocked in his own time.  So few of his poems are in print that it is hard to judge whether this is fair, but my impression is that he was fine as long as he stuck to nature poetry (‘a simple orderly charm, as of an English country lane’ as the EB of 1911 put it) and only started to go seriously wrong when he wrote about current affairs (e.g. the Jameson raid or the Armenian massacres).

Anyway, this is an abridged version of his Jubilee poem.  I have removed a number of stanzas in the middle, mainly concerned with retrospective praise for Prince Albert.  It starts quite well.

VICTORIA 

The lark went up, the mower whet his scythe,
On golden meads kine ruminating lay,
And all the world felt young again and blithe,
Just as to-day.

The partridge shook her covey from her wings,
And limped along the grass; on leaf and lawn
Shimmered the dew, and every throat that sings
Chanted the dawn.

The doe was followed by her new-dropped fawn,
And, folding all her feathers on her breast,
The swan within the reedmace deep withdrawn
Dreamed on her nest.

In the green wheat the poppy burst aflame,
Wildrose and woodbine garlanded the glade,
And, twin with maiden Summer, forth there came
A summer Maid.

Her face was as the face of mid-June when
Blossoms the meadowsweet, the bindweed blows:
Pale as a lily first She blenched, and then
Blushed like a rose.

They placed a Crown upon her fair young brow,
They put a Sceptre in her girlish hand,
Saying, “Behold! You are Sovereign Lady now
Of this great Land!”

Silent She gazed, as one who doth not know
The meaning of a message. When She broke
The hush of awe around her, ’twas as though
Her soul that spoke.

“With this dread summons, since ’tis Heaven’s decree,
I would not palter, even if I could;
But, being a woman only, I can be
Not great, but good.

“I cannot don the breastplate and the helm,
To my weak waist the sword I cannot gird,
Nor in the discords that distract a Realm
Be seen or heard.

“But in my People’s wisdom will I share,
And in their valour play a helpful part,
Lending them still, in all they do or dare,
My woman’s heart.

Thus with grave utterance and majestic mien
She with her eighteen summers filled the Throne
Where Alfred sate: a girl, withal a Queen,
Aloft, alone!

.

[Many stanzas removed here]

.

Then to the winds yet wider was unfurled
The Flag that tyrants never could enslave,
Till its strong wisdom governed half the world,
And all the wave!

And, panoplied alike for War or Peace,
Victoria’s England furroweth still the foam
To harvest Empire, wiser than was Greece,
Wider than Rome!

Therefore with glowing hearts and proud glad tears,
The children of her Island Realm to-day
Recall her sixty venerable years
Of virtuous sway.

Now too from where Saint-Lawrence winds, adown
‘Twixt forests felled and plains that feel the plough,
And Ganges jewels the Imperial Crown
That girds her brow;

From Afric’s Cape, where loyal watchdogs bark,
And Britain’s Sceptre ne’er shall be withdrawn,
And that young Continent that greets the dark
When we the dawn;

From steel-capped promontories stern and strong,
And lone isles mounting guard upon the main,
Hither her subjects wend to hail her long
Resplendent Reign.

And ever when mid-June’s musk-roses blow,
Our Race will celebrate Victoria’s name,
And even England’s greatness gain a glow
From Her pure fame.

 

Perhaps a slight hint of Alan Titmarsh here. 

 But not everyone was quite as confident that “Britain’s Sceptre ne’er shall be withdrawn”.  Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee did inspire one far superior poem – Kipling’s minatory Recessional, which, curiously, I don’t think I’ve heard quoted once during the current celebrations. The ‘lesser breeds without the law’, incidentally, are the Germans.

 

 RECESSIONAL

God of our fathers, known of old,   
   Lord of our far-flung battle-line,   
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
 
The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The Captains and the Kings depart:   
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
 
Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:   
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!   
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
 
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose   
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,   
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
   Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
 
For heathen heart that puts her trust   
   In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,   
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
 
 
(The photographs that I’ve used to illustrate this piece depict one living thing that I believe has lived through two Diamond Jubilees – my Great-Grandmother’s aspidistra, in its original pot.  Extraordinary plants, aspidistras.  The dogs and flags belong to two of my nieces.)
 

Immersion Edition : Leicestershire v Essex

Leicestershire v Essex ‘Eagles’, CB40, Grace Road, Monday 8th May

Abandoned without a ball being bowled

On Monday, a good-humoured crowd were in Bank Holiday mood (and we all know what that’s like!) for the Foxes’ second game in this year’s CB40 competition.  Many of them had travelled far from the gaudy connurbations and spooky mudflats of Essex, in search of a good afternoon’s entertainment.  Unfortunately, they were to be frustrated, as the match was abandoned without a ball being bowled shortly after 3.30, at which point the crowd dispersed good-humouredly and returned to their gaudy etc., looking forward keenly to another week at work.

But let us look for silver linings in the clouds, and take the opportunity to share some action shots of the star of the season so far, the man who has spent more time on the pitch even than Nick Compton – the man who drives the Blotter.

If you’ve never watched one of these in action before, it really is a most absorbing way to spend the afternoon.  A sort of giant J-cloth on wheels, the Blotter trundles round and round the outfield, its exertions only the more impressive for their sheer futility.  As soon as it has soaked up all the surface water and the driver has reason to think that an hour of sun will dry the pitch enough to allow play to begin, it starts raining again!  But do they give up?  Do they ‘eckers like.

 

But what happens to all the water that’s been blotted?  Well, as we see from this photograph, it is sort of – I’m afraid there’s no other word for it – urinated in the direction of the front row of benches to the right of the pavilion.  If any of the Members still happened to be sleeping off their lunch on one of these seats, they’d be in for a rude awakening.

Of course, human beings are not the only elements in the fragile eco-system of Grace Road, and we must admit that the prevailing weather can only prove beneficial for our colleagues in the floral kingdom.

By the time First Class Cricket resumes in July, we should have a lovely bed of roses alongside the Milligan Road, and I look forward to reporting on them.

One Million Fairly Similar Words For Snow

Experts are claiming that this weekend’s snow event is already the best-documented since records began, with almost half a million tweets, fifty thousand blog posts and over a million photographs already available on the internet, not to mention innumerable Facebook updates.

A future historian of everyday life, writing from the year 2112, will have this to say –

“It’s quite hopeless, from my point of view.  As with every aspect of everyday life since the invention of social media, there is simply too much evidence and I don’t know where to start.  In future I’m going back to the seventeenth century, where every scrap of evidence is invaluable.”

And here’s my contribution to the white noise and light … this lunar, deep-sea object is a poppy in the backyard, Saturday night –    

              

(Stop it! You’re making it worse! – A Future Historian)

“Something To Wear Against The Heart”

November’s poem is brought to you by R.S. Thomas, the austere Welsh priest.

 

A Day in Autumn

 

It will not always be like this,

The air windless, a few last

Leaves adding their decoration

To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs

Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening

 

In the lawn’s mirror.  Having looked up 

From the day’s chores, pause a minute.

Let the mind take its photograph

Of the bright scene, something to wear

Against the heart in the long cold.

 

In case your mind has failed to take its photograph of the bright scene, here are a few I took last Sunday along the Brampton Valley Way.  Looks a little like a catalogue for the William Morris Wallpaper Company. 

Picnic, July 1917 : Rose Macaulay

I haven’t yet been able to find a permanent replacement for Helen Hunt Jackson as a purveyor of monthly poems, but here is a guest poem for July from Rose Macaulay.  
 
Macaulay was a prolific literary journalist and the author of numerous novels (none of which I’ve read, I’m afraid).  Before the First War, she was a friend of Rupert Brooke’s (he was a pupil of her father’s).  During the war she worked for the British Propaganda Department : after it she was a sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union.  During the Second War, her flat, with all her possessions and her library in it, was destroyed in the Blitz.
 
Virginia Woolf described her – vividly, but unkindly – as:
 
“Too chattery chittery at first go off; lean as a rake, wispy; & frittered. Some flimsy smartness & taint of the flimsy glittery literary about her: but this was partly nerves, I think; & she felt us alien & observant doubtless.”
 
(Which, doubtless, they were.)
 
I suppose the events described here would have been a year after the Battle of Somme.
 
 
Picnic, July 1917 
 
 We lay and ate the sweet hurt-berries
In the bracken of Hurt Wood.
Like a quire of singers singing low
The dark pines stood.
 
Behind us climbed the Surrey Hills,
Wild, wild in greenery;
At our feet the downs of Sussex broke
To an unseen sea.

And life was bound in a still ring,
Drowsy, and quiet and sweet….
When heavily up the south-east wind
The great guns beat.

We did not wince, we did not weep,
We did not curse or pray;
We drowsily heard, and someone said,
‘They sound clear today’.

We did not shake with pity and pain,
Or sicken and blanch white.
We said, ’If the wind’s from over there
There’ll be rain tonight’.

Once pity we knew, and rage we knew,
And pain we knew, too well,
As we stared and peered dizzily
Through the gates of hell.

But now hell’s gates are an old tale;
Remote the anguish seems;
The guns are muffled and far away.
Dreams within dreams.

And far and far are Flanders mud,
And the pain of Picardy;
And the blood that runs there runs beyond
The wide waste sea.

We are shut about by guarding walls;
(We have built them lest we run
Mad from dreaming of naked fear
And of black things done).

We are ringed all round by guarding walls,
So high, they shut the view.
Not all the guns that shatter the world
Can quite break through.

Oh guns of France, oh guns of France,
Be still, you crash in vain….
Heavily up the south wind throb
Dull dreams of pain…..

Be still, be still, south wind, lest your
Blowing should bring the rain……
We’ll lie very quiet on Hurt Hill,
And sleep once again.

Oh we’ll lie quite still, not listen nor look,
While the earth’s bounds reel and shake,
Lest, battered too long, our walls and we
Should break…….should break……….

 

(Making my way to Desborough’s cricket ground last week to watch Leicestershire’s Second XI play Northamptonshire’s, I came across this field of poppies.  A very typical thing in Northamptonshire in late Summer, but, perhaps, a little early in the year?)       

Rosy Showers Shed : Helen Hunt Jackson on May

Helen Hunt Jackson’s thoughts on the month of May (one of her best, I think).  “Sacred month unto the old” refers to Ovid’s belief that May was sacred to the “maiores” – the elders – rather than the usual suggestion of Maia (a fertility goddess).

May

O month when they who love must love and wed!
Were one to go to worlds where May is naught,
And seek to tell the memories he had brought
From earth of thee, what were most fitly said?
I know not if the rosy showers shed
From apple-boughs, or if the soft green wrought
In fields, or if the robin’s call be fraught
The most with thy delight. Perhaps they read
Thee best who in the ancient time did say
Thou wert the sacred month unto the old:
No blossom blooms upon thy brightest day
So subtly sweet as memories which unfold
In aged hearts which in thy sunshine lie,
To sun themselves once more before they die.

 

Plenty of “rosy showers” and “soft green” on show at our local cricket grounds over the weekend.  This the entrance to Fairfield Road on Saturday

 

and Little Bowden Rec yesterday evening –

 

Did my “aged heart” a power of good, I don’t mind telling you.

The Violets Raise Their Heads Without Affright : March, by Helen Hunt Jackson

Time for Helen Hunt Jackson’s monthly forecast – she continues her classical theme from February.  As you will see, she mentions that, in March, “the violets raise their heads without affright”, and here are what I believe are violet crocuses doing something similar around the edges of the Little Bowden Rec..

 

 

 March

Month which the warring ancients strangely styled
The month of war,–as if in their fierce ways
Were any month of peace!–in thy rough days
I find no war in Nature, though the wild
Winds clash and clang, and broken boughs are piled
At feet of writhing trees. The violets raise
Their heads without affright, without amaze,
And sleep through all the din, as sleeps a child.
And he who watches well may well discern
Sweet expectation in each living thing.
Like pregnant mother the sweet earth doth yearn;
In secret joy makes ready for the spring;
And hidden, sacred, in her breast doth bear
Annunciation lilies for the year.

 

Mars, God of War, also, of course, shares his name with the popular brand of confectionary that enables us to Work, Rest and Play.  Here is Mars (on the right of the picture), as depicted by Sandro Botticelli in a painting on show in the National Gallery in London.  He appears to be having a Rest, though whether he has previously been Working or Playing we do not know.  My guess would be Playing.

 

 

The Treacherous Month : November, by Helen Hunt Jackson

A week into November, and I realise we haven’t yet heard from Helen Hunt Jackson.  No, she’s not on strike.  An extreme example of the Pathetic Fallacy in action, this one, and, I feel, one of her stronger efforts.

 

 November

This is the treacherous month when autumn days
With summer’s voice come bearing summer’s gifts.
Beguiled, the pale down-trodden aster* lifts
Her head and blooms again. The soft, warm haze
Makes moist once more the sere and dusty ways,
And, creeping through where dead leaves lie in drifts,
The violet returns. Snow noiseless sifts
Ere night, an icy shroud, which morning’s rays
Will idly shine upon and slowly melt,
Too late to bid the violet live again.
The treachery, at last, too late, is plain;
Bare are the places where the sweet flowers dwelt.
What joy sufficient hath November felt?
What profit from the violet’s day of pain?

 

I was about to say that there were no signs of Spring flowers yet in my garden, but then a closer look revealed the tips of the first daffodils (trust me – that is what they are).

First daffodils of Spring 2011

 

*Roughly what we would call Michaelmas Daisies, I think.