October 18, 2005

A is for Anon

I'm taking up the challenge Sienamystic and Swooop have flung, to do a poetry alphabet to match the wonderful series Sienamystic is doing on Art History. Mine will not be as erudite as hers, mostly because I don't know as much about poetry as she does about paintings. (If you want that sort of information, though, go read Swooop's recent entries on William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, and the Victorians.)

Mine will be more personal; I'm going to focus on poets I like or that mean something to me, whether or not they're important or even great. Some are great, and if others verge on doggerel, it's doggerel that matters to me. Most of them won't be all that obscure because I probably wouldn't know them if they were, but on the other hand I won't write about Shakespeare because anything I can say can be said better by a thousand others. I reserve the right to skip letters, because life's too short to worry about poets beginning with 'X'. I did a quick Google search to make sure I hadn't missed anyone I'd regret, but I do have three or four letters lacking names. I also reserve the right to talk about two or even three poets beginning with a single letter, if I can't decide between them or if they somehow go together well.

This is stuff I like, that's what it is, and I want to share it. I'll be cross-posting to my LJ and my main site. I'm not sure everyone gets the idea that poetry can be fun or meaningful, not just something you're stuck studying, though I think most people probably do. It was fun putting together the alphabet, and I expect it will be fun doing the writing. And I think there's plenty of room for more than one alphabet of this sort, so if you want to try one sharing poems you love, go right ahead.

And with that said, I'll start where most poetry books seem to:
whA.gif is for Anon.

SUMER is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
And springth the wude nu—
Sing cuccu! 5

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu;
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu, well singes thu, cuccu: 10
Ne swike thu naver nu;
Sing cuccu, nu, sing cuccu,
Sing cuccu, sing cuccu, nu!

A lot of chronologically arranged poetry books, like the Norton Anthology of English Poetry and the Oxford Book of ENglish Verse, seem to start here. It's a lyric meant to be sung, and it's a paean to summer. Since it's from 1250 or so, the English needs some translation:

Summer is coming in, loudly sing cuckoo.
Seed grows and meadow blows, the world springs anew.

The ewe bleats after the lamb, the cow after her calf, too.
The bullock starts, the buck farts, merry sings cuckoo.

Cuckoo, cuckoo, well singest thou, cuckoo,
No ceasing you ever knew.
Sing, cuckoo, now, sing, cuckoo
Sing, cuckoo, now, sing, cuckoo

This is a series of images of summer, and if you consider how mild English summers are, compared to a damp, cold winter in a thatched hut, it's clear there is reason to be glad. There was a belief that cuckoos didn't give their calls until well into summer; compare the American Cuckoo song: "She never hollers cuckoo / Til the fourth day of July." On the other hand, thaose growing seeds and blowing meadows sound to me more like spring. The Gaels divided the year into winter half (Samhain to Beltaine) and summer half (Beltaine to Samhain), so this may be a survival of that worldview. I don't know the tune, but I have a feeling there were many, as tends to happen in the folk tradition, and that they were catchy, for this to have survived that long.

Another of my favorites by Anon. is a nearly opposite mood, expressing longing instead of pleasure and plenty, and it's so universal that no further explanation is really required. I've quoted this one myself, omitting the prayer to Christ and the need for a change in the wind, but knowing that the love and the lure of home and bed have not changed. I didn't need to look this one up.

Oh westron wind, when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christe, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.

Posted by dichroic at October 18, 2005 05:52 PM
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