Saying “The Fly” by William Blake

The Fly

This week here I am saying the poem “The Fly” by William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827).

William Blake

Blake is a fascinating poet, with his mystical aspect and of course his beautiful drawings that accompanied his poems. Or is it his beautiful poems that accompanied his drawings?

Of course, with the type of work I do I adore Blake: his writing, his drawing. Also these are very simple and direct forms. If you have never seen Blake’s drawings please try and do so as soon as possible. With his wife, they printed the images and coloured in the prints with watercolours. I see Blake’s books like fanzines.

Seen as a madman during his life, he has become more and more popular over time until he is now one of the best known and loved British poets.

Time and the poet

It is almost as if he stepped outside of time through his visions and hopes. Blake is bigger than time; he is timeless. He stated that he had visions from an early age, once seeing a flock of angels in a tree.

In this poem there is no vison, simply a realisation of the fleeting aspect of life, in its many forms.

There are many versions of this poem set to music but the beautiful simplicity of the lyric gives it something very playful, without needing any music to enhance it.

The message

For me this poem shows us that we never know when “a thoughtless hand” will brush us away. We have to enjoy our life as it is, no matter how fleeting that might be.

So, your projects, your hopes, your worries: all of these can disappear so quickly.

You can think about this at the start of the week on the way to wherever you are going…

William_Blake_The_Fly

The Fly

Little fly,
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

From Songs of Experience. First published in 1794. This poem is in the public domain.

By William Blake

Saying Muse by Jo Shapcott

This week, here is a poem called Muse by Jo Shapcott. Muse can mean more than one thing…

I enjoyed learning this poem with the lines running into each other and the sound of it. And especially the “punchline” at the end of the piece.

The music of this poem, the images are very specific and clear.

The muse, who is it in this poem? That is the question. The poem uses very specific images. It wants to break out of the typical muse relationship. The poem that follows the title is very different to the traditional idea of the Muse.

Poetry and Football

I tried recording this in the park, sitting on a bench, while my children were playing football. It was a beautiful day today. It was great to watch them kick the ball about. I tried to record the poem, sitting on the park bench, I just imagined it (as I often do with poetry) as if someone was just talking to you.

However, it was impossible. I was sitting too near a goal. I was also asked to be a ref, and an admiring public. I had brought books thinking I might be able to read some of them. Then we had to leave. I regret not having recorded it in the park. The sun through the leaves, the shouts of the children playing. So beautiful to hear all this life.

We finally got home late and with lots of things to do (one child had conveniently forgotten lots of homework so he could play more in the sun) I finally recorded the poem. I imagined of course how you might say this to someone. So I lay myself down. Plus I was “dog” tired…

Poems and Everyday Life

This is something that I like in this poem: it is down to earth. You have a feeling of clear eyed reality, with an eye for the specific detail. There is no Muse here. What is the Muse for a woman? A man as a Muse? Difficult.

The more I learn poems and say them the more I imagine how strange it is to say them. To ask someone for their attention. To hope that they can get the same reward from them. To discover the poem in real time.

I listened to  an interview with Jo Shapcott where she mentions Elizabeth Bishop leaving her unfinished poems stuck to the wall for ten years. Poems take time to write, to be born. They take time to learn and as you learn them they pass into you. I imagine not as much time to learn as they take to write. And they take time to understand as well. Imagine taking ten years to understand a poem. It is a short time actually.

I would say this poem on the metro, walking in the streets, in lifts, in stairwells. It is a little like the drawings I do on the metro. Sometimes I would look up and see all the people on their smartphones. I am sitting there with a scrap of paper. Sometimes I put the poems I am learning onto smartphones. That way I do not feel left out.

Poems working

The poem works its way into you. Any poem that you’re learning. Then it is there.

Muse

When I kiss you in all the folding places
of your body, you make that noise like a dog
dreaming, dreaming of the long run he makes
in answer to some jolt to his hormones,
running across landfills, running, running
by tips and shorelines from the scent of too much,
but still going with head up and snout
in the air because he loves it all
and has to get away. I have to kiss deeper
and more slowly – your neck, your inner arm,
the neat creases of your toes, the shadow
behind your knee, the white angles of your groin –
until you fall quiet because only then
can I get the damned words to come into my mouth.

Jo Shapcott

 

Saying Digging by Seamus Heaney

Saying Digging by Seamus Heaney…

This is a poem that I started learning at the end of August. I have been trying to learn a poem a week. It is now mid September.

I don’t really know why but this poem turned out to be so difficult to learn. It is a little longer than the other ones I have learnt so far but I think there is something about the message in the poem. Something about it that I can hear but not really feel.

The poem is one of Heaney’s earlier poems and he is looking at his father and his grandfather and how they were brilliant at digging. The rhymes are beautiful and subtle and it just sounds so natural. It is a beautiful poem. Maybe the core message did not vibrate with me.

Why so difficult?

Some of the reasons that made it so difficult to learn this poem was that there was a lot of stuff going on: it was the end of the holidays and then it was back to school for my young family. I tried a couple of times to record it but nearly everytime I tried to record it I got something wrong. Either when I was saying it or else something happened during the recording.

I have seen great advantages from learning poetry though. I have seen it  in re-learning some of my music and lyrics for the groups I play with.

Why learn?

There was a concert with Onze Onze and it was so easy to relearn all the lyrics after the holidays. In an earlier post I wondered about the utility of learning these poems so I suppose I am getting an answer already.

I can also feel it in my writing. I have continued drawing as well and there are things changing with that too. I will announce the news in relation to drawings on a separate post.

Last night, I was at the birthday party of a friend and he co-celebrated his birthday with his father. We improvised some music with some musician friends. I improvised some lyrics.

What can we say about time passing? About those who have come before? How can we live up to the ones who were before us?

Heaney answers you have to use the tools that you have.

Hope you enjoy this poem and see you soon…

Digging by Seamus Heaney.

Between my finger and my thumb   

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound   

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   

My father, digging. I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   

Bends low, comes up twenty years away   

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   

Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.   

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.
Seamus Heaney, “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney.