Monday, 19 January 2015

Off by heart - the payoff

I mentioned in my last off-by-heart update (Off by heart - halfway there) that Jim Harrison's poem Bridge presented quite a challenge to learn. My trouble with it was the lack of any rhyme or rhythm that I could discern - maybe it's not a poem at all but poetic prose? Anyway I did manage to get it in to my head, eventually, and I'm pleased about that because I really do like some of the lines:
I like it out here high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred foot depth of the green troughs.
I discovered it a few years ago in an episode of the Writer's Almanac on NPR - that program is one of my secret pleasures when stuck in traffic on the way to work.

With that committed to memory I had two poems of my original six still to learn, and they were a real pleasure as I had saved two favourites for the end. Ever since I first became fluent in Swedish more than 20 years ago I've wanted to learn some Swedish poetry; it has always seemed to me a very poetic language not just in how it sounds but in how it feels in my mouth when I speak it: rich, resonant, a bit complicated and occasionally tongue-twisting. It was Seamus Heaney who led me to the poet, Tomas Tranströmer, in the tribute he made in this video:

I settled on Tranströmer's poem Romanska bågar, not least because there is a recording of the poet himself reciting it on YouTube, so I had something to aim at. Learning it was not too difficult, and my Swedish daughter Emily corrected my worst mispronunciations (the last syllable of "människa" gave some troubles as did "solsjudande" where I had my usual difficulty with the "u" sound. I have struggles with "u" in both French and in Swedish - that flat Dublin accent will out).

So with that poem off by heart I finished off the sextet with the poem I heard Clive James recite and which inspired me: The Sunlight on the Garden by Louis MacNeice.  The internal rhymes in this poem ring out as I speak it:
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
That's doom-laden and fantastic!

Thanks to Clive James for many years of inspiration and, happily, it seems his health has stabilised a bit. He gave another interview just before Christmas and he was as interesting as ever.

And I've a new list of poems learn. This is so enjoyable, I should have started years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment