Tag Archives: Wordsworth

My Year-End Search For Wisdom in Verse…

There’s probably a special word to describe the gap of time in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. If there isn’t, there ought to be, and perhaps I’ll get the ball rolling by calling it a “pregnant pause”.

After all, the lead up to Christmas is always absolutely frantic, and then you have exactly a week to rest, recover, put the old year to bed, while developing either a word or a list of resolutions for the new year, along with strategies and tactics for implementation and success. After all, you don’t want to start the new year off with an instant fail, do you? Especially, after 2020! No, we need to do everything in our power to get 2021 off to a good start. Indeed, we could well need a magic wand.

So, after watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy the other night, I decided I turn to the wisdom of British bard, Geoff Le Pard, who sent me his The Sincerest Form of Poetry a few months ago. In my usual well-intentioned way, I offered to write a review, and got side-tracked, and this “pregnant pause” at the end of what’s been the weirdest year I’ve ever had, seemed the perfect time to get on with the job.

I’ve lost count of how long Geoff and I have been bantering in the blogosphere. However, you can find Geoff at TanGental https://geofflepard.com/. I read and enjoyed his anthology online, and again once the hardcover version arrived in the mail. I really loved it, and it made a huge difference knowing him all this time.

However, as much as I enjoyed the poems, I was struggling to write my review. Although I’d reviewed his novels before, I found reviewing an anthology of poetry much more challenging. There were so many ideas inside, and what was I supposed to say? Why couldn’t he just write it for me, and I’d Australianize it to make it sound authentic? Of course, that’s cheating.

So, I decided to take a different approach.

Indeed, after I read The Sincerest Form of Poetry, I found myself questioning whether we still need poetry in the 21st Century. Or, has it become redundant, obsolete, and irrelevant? Indeed, has it gone the way of the chalkboard, a 35mm roll of film, the VCR, cassette tapes and by and large, the Christmas card? Taking a leaf out of Nietzsche’s book…Is poetry dead?

As a poet myself, my immediate response was: “Of course not!” The inner yearnings of the soul still matter, and are as relevant now as they’ve always been. Indeed, I’d even argue that we’ve needed poetry in 2020 more than ever, after Covid brought us to our knees.

However, even I’ve been corrupted by the forces of practicality, reason, and putting a meal on the table. As much as it’s good to ponder things, sometimes, you just need to get on with the job. Or, in the words of the Brits: “Keep calm and carry on!”

Moreover, it would also be fair to say, that there have always been people who have found poetry irrelevant, incomprehensible, alien drivel. There is also poetry that’s pretty dreadful, too, and doesn’t do us poets any favours. Not all poetry should see the light of day.

However, for me personally, when life isn’t going to plan for whatever reason, that’s when I turn to poetry for comfort, solace, connection, understanding, empathy as well as simply immersing myself in beautiful words.

So, 2020 and this dreadful covid pandemic, has been the perfect time for poetry.

Knowing Geoff, who is rather unassuming much of the time in his enchanting English way, he’d never set himself up as THE ultimate interpreter of life, the universe and everything. Indeed, he’d be rather aghast that I’m viewing his anthology through this light. However, for the first half of the anthology, Geoff repurposed poems which appeared in a collection of the greatest British poets compiled by the BBC for National Poetry Day in 1995. So, you’ve got a good chance of finding something meaningful in there somewhere.

Some of these poems and their progeny include:

Leisure – William Henry Davies Now – Dog At Leisure

How Do I Love You? – Sonnets From The Portuguese XLIII, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

This Be the Verse – Philip Larkin Now – Contradicting The Curmudgeon

Home Thoughts From Abroad – Robert Browning Now – Foreign Is Quite Ghastly.

If – Rudyard Kipling Now – If (Or When) The Truth Finally Dawns.

Christmas – John Betjeman Now – Christmas 2018

Upon Westminster Bridge – William Wordsworth Now – Dog Show.

Sonnet 130 – William Shakespeare Now – Only Skin Deep.

Sonnet 91 – William Shakespeare Now – Life Lessons (For An Englishman).

Twas the Night Before Christmas – Clement Clark Moore Now – We’re All Santas Now.

The Glory of the Garden – Rudyard Kipling.

…..

So, what wisdom have I gleaned from Geoff Le Pard’s book of verse?

Here goes…

“Come friend, reject facebook, texts and tweets

And all your social media conceits.

To win this war, you’ll need to be better,

Buy some stamps and write them a letter”.

In Christmas 2018, he asks:

“So what’s the point of Christmas time?

We have to ask ourselves

Surely it’s more than a cheesy rhyme

Sung by unpaid elves?

It’s time we took back full control

Of all to do with Xmas

We need to hold a people’s poll

And get out the vote for Brexmas.”

In Life Lessons (For An Englishman), which could well apply to rogue Australian women as well, he writes:

“Contentment’s path is clear, as was ever thus:

Always say you’re sorry and never make a fuss.”

I have gained much wisdom, support and understanding over the years through my friendship with Geoff. We used to belong to a blogshare called “One Thousand Voices for Compassion” which sprang up after the Paris bombings in January 2015, and tried to make the world a better place. We’ve also had a heart for fringe dwellers and those who don’t quite fit the norm or any approved prescription, which for better or worse, seems to include us. Through this time, my kids have almost grown up and his daughter recently got married and Geoff had the honour of walking her down the aisle. On top of this, we both have dogs, who I swear must be a tad dyslexic, and think they’re God.

However, before I head off, which indeed was my intention, I can’t help noticing these poems depict a world which is lusciously pre-covid. He’s out there walking his dog in the park without wearing a mask or being fined; and I’m not too sure how many folk are currently sharing his desire: “Oh, to be in England/rather than abroad…” Rather, I’d say now more than ever, the English wish they were in Australia or New Zealand, and especially well away from their more virulent form of the virus.

If that doesn’t entice you to at least wander over to check out Geoff’s blog and consider ordering The Sincerest Form of Poetry, I’m not sure what else I could do. I don’t think you want me to tap dance on the table. I hope you enjoy it!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I apologise that this review might be a little stilted, even garbled. It turns out this precious pregnant pause between Christmas and New Year’s Eve has been sabotaged by our teenage son who decided to clean up his room, by channelling everything into our loungeroom and tomorrow night we’re having a dinner party. OMG! It looks like Mt Vesuvius erupted and spewed her guts in an almighty blast. However, although we’re almost buried in his mess, his room is remarkably clear. Indeed, that’s the very sort of thing which inspires poetry, don’t you think?! However, somehow I’m stuck for words.

W-A Letter to William Wordsworth

Dear Mr Wordsworth,

How are you? I hope you don’t mind being beamed into the 21st Century. Knowing how much hated industrialization, you might want to go straight back. I doubt you’ll feel that things have changed for the better.

Still, the world is still so full of beauty. Such joy!

After all these years, I wanted to let you know how much I have always loved your poem: I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud.

I must confess that I’m writing this letter late at night while my husband is asleep. If he found out I was writing to you as the latest in my series of Letters to Dead Poets, he’d be chasing you with his lawn mower.

Daffodils

You see, while the rest of the known universe marvels at your endless sea of blooming daffodils, he wants to mow straight over the top of them.

“Daffodils do not belong in lawns. They should be in garden beds.”

As far as he’s concerned, planting daffodils in the lawn is akin to anarchy…even treason! Indeed, if he had his way, it’s either plant them in a garden bed or it’s: “off with their heads!”

Naturally, we don’t have ANY daffodils in our lawn and he doesn’t even need to stick up a sign: NO DAFFODILS ALLOWED or DAFFODILS PARK HERE!

Believe me, I KNOW!!

So, this Spring, I am finally going to see my fields of daffodils. We’re going to visit the village of Rydal in the Blue Mountains about 2 hours West of Sydney, which was named as a tribute to your home town. Every year, they hold Daffodils at  Rydal on the second and third weekends in September. I am finally going to have my field of Wordworth’s daffodils!

As much as I might have portrayed my husband mower-mania sounds like a scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, I’m actually surprised my husband even knows what a lawn mower is. As soon as our son was old enough to walk, it became his job. Such a pity that plastic mower couldn’t cut the grass!

Mind you, I can’t talk. I’ve never used a mower in my life and don’t plan to start mowing now either. I still remember my mother deriding our dreadful neighbour who “let his wife mow the lawn”. That’s not why I don’t mow the lawn but once you start, you can’t stop. Ignorance is best!

By the way, speaking of Monty Python, my father has always been a doppelganger for comedian John Cleese. People used to come up to us and say: “Nudge! Nudge! Wink! Wink! Say no more!” However, as far as backyard mower maniacs were concerned, my Dad passed straight under the radar. He was brewing.

Meanwhile, the neighbour across the road, a backyard Adonais, mowed the lawn in his Speedos. Considering we lived in the country at least 2 hours drive from the nearest beach, even as a 10 year old it seemed peculiar. Yet, as Skyhooks belted out:  We’re Living in the 70’s! I don’t want to shock your sensibilities entirely but in hindsight, we should be thankful he wore anything at all. That was also the 70s!

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Meanwhile, my husband was growing up in rural Tasmania, which you’d probably know better as “Van Dieman’s Land”. Fortunately, transportation ended so instead of being a convict retreat, tourists now pay to visit the “Apple Isle” instead.

geoff-6 and terry-22 feb 73.jpg

Geoff grew up on a ten acre farm on the outskirts of Scottsdale in North-eastern Tasmania where they supplemented the family income milking cows and selling milk. Being a lot younger than his siblings, Geoff missed out on the joys of milking, but NOT on the pleasure of mowing.

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Inspired by your poem, my mother-in-law had planted daffodils bulbs throughout the lawn, which inevitably sprouted and flowered each Spring, along with the familiar rant: “Geoffrey! Don’t mow over the daffodils!!”

My husband still can’t love daffodils. Through her great love, she ultimately destroyed his.

Farmer Newton

Our son in Tasmania in 2005, Aged 18 months.

While, my husband was going into battle with his mother and hiding all those poor decapitated “daffs”, I was misty-eyed learning your poem at school. I was a pimply-faced teenager thinking about meeting up with boys at the station after school and what was going to happen on the weekend, while still regurgitating the happenings of the previous weekend. Yet, I read in awe.  In a sense your daffodils were only flowers, and yet they weren’t. You magically brought them to life as their heads bobbed up and down in the sun, chatting about their own weekends, no doubt!

However, I not only loved your fields of daffodils, I also wandered lonely as a cloud…not all the time but often enough.

Strangely as much as it’s a thrill to be young, it can also be a difficult and perplexing time where we’re struggling to find our own feet. Indeed, going through huge growth spurts and hormone infusions, we’re probably more likely to fall over both feet, landing in a screaming heap. That is, rather than stepping straight onto our own Yellow Brick Road…an expressway straight to Happiness and the perfect life. (Of course, as teenagers we didn’t know all that was a myth…the Australian or American Dream. Instead, we assumed it was our birthright and complained when the dream went sour.)

dog in the storm

Alone in the Storm- Rowena Newton.

Mr Wordsworth, thank you for translating those dark, nebulous feelings into such a stark, graphic image which we lost sheep can immediately understand, grasp and adopt as our own. Moreover, knowing that you had also “wandered lonely as a cloud”, we knew we weren’t alone. In hindsight,  this is possibly the very first step to feeling better. We’re not such a victim anymore. After all, we’re no longer “the only one”.

Naturally, like so many other young people, I also found myself wandering as lonely as a cloud…misunderstood, under-appreciated and ALONE. You gave this inner loneliness a voice. You knew that weird sense of loneliness and difference, which you can experience even in the midst of a crowd. That sense of beating to a different drum, even when you’re in your group or hanging out with your mates. You knew what it was like to be that lone cloud drifting over that expanse of daffodils, knowing a different voice is calling you. Naturally, it helps us knowing that you found your way, becoming Poet Laureate. We just need to persevere. Keep walking.  Never give up!

That said, it isn’t easy when the tears start falling, especially in a field of glorious daffodils when everybody else is smiling.

That might not have been what you meant by your poem. Maybe, it was. However, ultimately the writer lets go and hands it over to the reader. Not a blank canvas but a printed page with those lines in between to allow our  own interpretation.

wordsworth daffodils text

Ideas can be like stepping stones. You keep bouncing from thought to thought to thought and can ultimately end up at a very different place to where you started out. That’s not to say that your interpretation is wrong. That’s simply what happens when you let your mind off its leash. Let it wander free range without restraints. After all, we were never meant to have “Battery Brains” and were designed to be free range!

Thankfully, I no longer wander lonely as a cloud. While for some people, your school days can be the best time in your life, for so many of us, leaving school is the beginning. We discover that we’re not alone and find the world is filled with kindred spirits. That you don’t have to go with the flow. Indeed, you can even swim against the flow and belong to an alternative school of thought and no one’s going to shout out: “Off with your head!”. Unfortunately, so many people never know that freedom, even when it’s waiting right on their very own doorstep, while others heroically die in the fight.

Don River Trains R&J4

Anyway, I’d better keep moving. I know you’re not big on trains and industrialisation but it’s getting me from A-Z and my journey’s about to come to an end.

Don River Trains J3

You could say that train left a long time ago but I had to put it in.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to meet you.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

W-Wordsworth: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

 William  Wordsworth