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 “Definition of Your Attraction”

Short poem

Here I am saying a poem “Definition of Your Attraction” by János Pilinszky, (1921 – 1981) translated from the Hungarian.

I picked this poem because it is short. I have been very busy recently (you’ll read more about that on the website very soon) and I have not found time to learn a poem at all this week.

Short and simple?

Even though it is a short poem, when you know a little about Pilinszky’s life you appreciate this poem differently.

 

“Definition of Your Attraction”

On a fully broken-in animal’s back

a fully broken-in animal rides.

by János Pilinszky

Translated from the Hungarian by Peter Jay.

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