Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Confiteor Keatso omnipotenti

Having devised something I regard as clever (My Right Hand) as basis for a non-sonnet poem and irritated it isn’t going satisfactorily I look for an opportunity to be destructive. And here it is. The Guardian is doing booklets on the Romantic Poets, the first on Keats. Let’s look for defects.

Straight off we have the Chapman’s Homer sonnet, world famed. Why don’t I like: “Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.”? Because I feel fealty is a word only poets use. Was it commoner then? I suspect not.

Grumblingly I give him demesne in “Homer ruled as his demesne;” because the fourth meaning in the dictionary is: region or realm. Even so the early definitions to do with land surrounding a manor and landed property have stronger associations which, I feel, may have been even stronger in Keats’ time.

Then there’s Chapman speaking out “loud and bold”. Is there a sufficient distinction between these two adjectives or was he filling out the line? Perish the thought.

“When a new planet swims into his ken;” When did ken become a literary no-no? Before or after Keats?

It’s sad to find stout Cortez staring out “with eagle eyes”. Keats can’t be blamed for creating a phrase which later became a cliché but, come to think of it, was it all that perceptive anyway? What’s next?

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Hah! I set out to break a butterfly on the wheel and the butterfly has hit back. Tell you what: I’ll put My Right Hand away for a while and do an iron-clad, rigidly metred sonnet on A Little Learning.

Novel progress 23/1/10. Ch. 12: 3127 words. Chs. 1 - 11: 48,792 words. Comments: A Damascene moment. But should Hatch be re-christened Patch?


Plutarch said...

Instead of defending the sonnet, which despite its defects, I have always liked, I have to reinforce your criticism. Have you ever looked into Chapman's Homer? You would, I am sure find more gristle there to chew up and spit out, than in the poor man's sonnet. It is quite well known, by the way, that it wasn't Cortez that Keats was thinking of, but Balboa. it was the latter that climbed a peak in Darien from where he became the first European to set eyes on the Pacific. Balboa might possibly have been stout, but he also suffered from too many syllables.

Barrett Bonden said...

A hurried addendum because I fear I have not made myself clear. I felt the last two lines were real poetry and redeemed everything I had been critical of. A solemn thought: had I been Keats (whom I rather admire as a poet whatever I've said) I'd have been dead three times over.

Julia said...

It is the best bit of the poem, though I have to admit that rather than Balboa or Cortez (or even Keats), I think of Arthur Ransome when I read it.

Avus said...

Was never a Keats fan. You have not increased my enthusiasm.

Plutarch said...

Stout Susan or Roger or Titty?

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: I think I've mentioned this before but S&A was the first book I experienced - read to me by my mother before I could read myself. Which lead to some confusions, notably about various nautical terms (not my mother's strong point) and especially the cryptic telegram sent by Roger's father in response to the query about whether Roger was old enough to join the others on the boat ("If duffers don't drown... etc"). But what surprises me is that this quintessential book about middle-class England should appeal to an American (And that's excluding the embarrassment associated with the abbreviated name of the third member of the crew). Didn't it all seem a bit prim especially when compared with Huckleberry Finn?

Avus: The Guardian's series of booklets continues today in The Observer with Byron getting the nod. Having delivered the newspaper to Mrs BB I asked: "Is it all the Romantic Poets you dislike?" She replied, "More or less. Perhaps it's because I associate them with British music." So, two rather large holes in her otherwise impenetrable cultural carapace.

Plutarch: The drawings that accompanied the Ransome text showed an impeccable collection of siblings, the obvious product of cold baths and porridge (with salt) for breakfast. I used to worry about John. He wasn't in any sense a child; just a miniaturised adult.

Julia said...

Titty definitely named the hill. She was the romantic with a flair for poetry.

BB, Arthur Ransome writes about boats, kid adventuring, and nature preservation. What more could you want? We loved the way the kids were so free in their stories and just wished there were fewer mosquitos on our own islands where we set up camp and tried to get along as well as they did ;-). I admit, when I read these to Caroline now I heavily annotate the sailing bits, but otherwise they still work.

Do you like Huckleberry Finn? He was a bit far from my ken and I tried him and left the book half finished until college. Scout and To Kill a Mockingbird were more my style.

The Crow said...

I look for the novel progression notes at the end of your posts. I just realized what teasers they are, leaving me eager for the next installment - much like the Saturday morning movie matinees that ran the trailers for the next Saturday's episode.

So, what's next, Red Ryder?

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed them myself and went on reading them until just short of the time I took up "The Naked and the Dead". And the contents include all the things you list. What I would have imagined untranslatable was the seriousness of John and Susan, leavened (as you say) by the literary fancies of Titty and the youthfulness of Roger. John was clearly going to grow up into a senior civil servant and Susan into the world's most perfect mother. There was a period in the US, perhaps it still exists, when the UK tended to be written off in the media as predominantly homosexual, namby pamby and continuously hypocritical. The honourability of S&A's main characters, their assumption of adult responsibility and their somewhat stiff articulacy (by American standards) would have put off many Americans. But possibly these broad-brush impressions are coloured by gender; I would be expecting these reactions more from American boys than girls. Anyway, I'm pleased it is yet something else we share and, given that I spend more time re-reading these days than reading original stuff, perhsps I must ask my youngest brother (a huge Ransome fan who went on to own yachts) whether he can lend me "Great Northern?"

You're probably right about Huck. It is an altogether darker book somewhat pushed to one corner by my memories of Tom Sawyer.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: When I started thinking about my novel, more than 12 years ago, I had two ideas. One that the central character would be an engineer and the other that he would arrive at a point where his environment would be transformed but where his training, instincts, intelligence and usefulness to society would remain. That point, which I have worried about for months on the grounds of its possible sensationalism, has been reached. For better or for worse it must happen and it is fun finally writing about it. Whether it makes sense or is acceptable to the reader I have no idea. The one big change is that there are now two central - and equal - characters and thus I have yet another strictly provisional title: "Two CVs". Nobody, however, is going to get strapped to the railway line.

The Crow said...

That was the Perils of Pauline series, BB, where the women were strapped to the rails.

At least, I don't remember Red Ryder being tied down.

No matter. What's important is that you will someday (soon, I'm hoping) have something we may read. Continued success, friend!

Sir Hugh said...

Nobody has mentioned Nancy! She was the tomboy and I always fancied her.

Barrett Bonden said...

Sir Hugh: Nancy was an Amazon. The middle-class debate has tended to concentrate on Swallows.

Julia said...

Without Nancy the books would not have been - she was definitely the leaven for most of the series until the youngsters caught up.

Hattie said...

I like that "wild surmise," I have got to say. You see a lot of that around here. Especially among the wild animals, who surmise that you want to kill them and eat them.

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: It was rather more difficult to pin down the Blackett's (that was their name wasn't it?) exact class. But the difference between the rather wild Nancy/Peggy and the comparatively more staid Swallows was what made S&A.

Hattie: Not confined to animals in the inner cities.