Monday, April 07, 2008

Atsuro Riley on George Meredith

Today's poetry pick and commentary from Poetry Daily.

Atsuro Riley's Poetry Month Pick, April 7, 2008

"The Lark Ascending"
George Meredith (1828-1909)

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolved and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changeingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o' the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her music's mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air
With fountain ardour, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discerned
An ecstasy to music turned,
Impelled by what his happy bill
Disperses; drinking, showering still,
Unthinking save that he may give
His voice the outlet, there to live
Renewed in endless notes of glee,
So thirsty of his voice is he,
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow,
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filtered crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright
By simple singing of delight,
Shrill, irreflective, unrestrained,
Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustained
Without a break, without a fall,
Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,
Perennial, quavering up the chord
Like myriad dews of sunny sward
That trembling into fulness shine,
And sparkle dropping argentine;
Such wooing as the ear receives
From zephyr caught in choric leaves
Of aspens when their chattering net
Is flushed to white with shivers wet;
And such the water-spirit's chime
On mountain heights in morning's prime,
Too freshly sweet to seem excess,
Too animate to need a stress;
But wider over many heads
The starry voice ascending spreads,
Awakening, as it waxes thin,
The best in us to him akin;
And every face to watch him raised,
Puts on the light of children praised,
So rich our human pleasure ripes
When sweetness on sincereness pipes,
Though nought be promised from the seas,
But only a soft-ruffling breeze
Sweep glittering on a still content,
Serenity in ravishment.
For singing till his heaven fills,
'Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine,
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labour in the town;
He sings the sap, the quickened veins;
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,
And you shall hear the herb and tree,
The better heart of men shall see,
Shall feel celestially, as long
As you crave nothing save the song.

Was never voice of ours could say
Our inmost in the sweetest way,
Like yonder voice aloft, and link
All hearers in the song they drink.
Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
Our passion is too full in flood,
We want the key of his wild note
Of truthful in a tuneful throat,
The song seraphically free
Of taint of personality,
So pure that it salutes the suns,
The voice of one for millions,
In whom the millions rejoice
For giving their one spirit voice.
Yet men have we, whom we revere,
Now names, and men still housing here,
Whose lives, by many a battle-dint
Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,
Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet
For song our highest heaven to greet:
Whom heavenly singing gives us new,
Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,
From firmest base to farthest leap,
Because their love of Earth is deep,
And they are warriors in accord
With life to serve, and, pass reward,
So touching purest and so heard
In the brain's reflex of yon bird:
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

* * *

Atsuro Riley Comments:

SUCH WOOING AS THE EAR RECEIVES
“The Lark Ascending” takes me back to my root-time just before the beginning of reading, when word-lust was still mainly sound-lust, when the fountain ardour, fountain play of language was yet oral, aural, neural. Schoolteachers and librarians, I’d found, knew English (the real one, not the holey patchwork we spoke at home), and could be coaxed to say poems out, over and over. (They called them poyms in that place and time, they recited them by heart.) Their remembered poems were rhyming poems, naturally enough. They seemed all of them to feature birds.

ALL INTERVOLVED AND SPREADING WIDE
Birdsong as water —pureness filtered crystal-clear— is certainly conventional enough; it surely does dimple‐ripple‐eddy its way right on through this poem. But the fainter, more delicate refreshment to be found here is in the intervolved webwork the lark makes: his ensphering of all beings in chain, mesh, net, chord, cloth, wreath, ring. Like the earth-encompassing net of compassion stitched and lifted by all the nations of birds in Walcott’s “The Season of Phantasmal Peace.” Like the new-skein├Ęd score Hopkins heard (or saw) himself in lark-song; the magic cuckoocall of his “May Magnificat” which caps, clears, and clinches all.

All, all, all, all. Listen as Meredith’s lark links all hearers in the song they drink, in two of my favorite passages. Kine, by the way, are cows:

Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home

The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine,
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labour in the town;
He sings the sap, the quickened veins;
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,
And you shall hear the herb and tree

SPARKLE DROPPING ARGENTINE
One last irresistible correspondence. Meredith's odd (and thrilling) figure for lark-notes —sparkle dropping argentineputs me immediately in mind of Emily Dickinson’s no. 861, written (or exacted) around the same time in America:

Split the Lark -and you’ll find the Music-
Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled-
Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
Saved for your Ear when Lutes be old.

—In which those silver drops we live to hear are seen.

* * *

About Atsuro Riley:
Atsuro Riley was brought up in the South Carolina lowcountry and lives near San Francisco. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Threepenny Review, the Pushcart Prize annual, and The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets.


Post a Comment