Some of you may be familiar with this poem already, as it’s gone viral since being tacked to a bar wall in London, where it was photographed and posted to Twitter. The poem has a gloomy message read in the conventional way, but if you read it bottom to top then things improve; it’s all a question of attitude.
I hadn’t seen it before, but it appeared in my Quora feed one morning, and I thought that its message was applicable to the loneliness of the long-distance writer:
Today was the absolute worst day ever And don’t try to convince me that There’s something good in every day Because, when you take a closer look, This world is a pretty evil place. Even if Some goodness does shine through once in a while Satisfaction and happiness don’t last. And it’s not true that It’s all in the mind and heart Because True happiness can be attained Only if one’s surroundings are good It’s not true that good exists I’m sure you can agree that The reality Creates My attitude It’s all beyond my control And you’ll never in a million years hear me say Today was a very good day
I’ve mentioned Charles Bukowski before, and here’s Tom Waits reading one of his most inspirational poems.
Called ‘The Laughing Heart’, it should be the mantra for any writer:
your life is your life don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. be on the watch. there are ways out. there is a light somewhere. it may not be much light but it beats the darkness. be on the watch. the gods will offer you chances. know them. take them. you can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes. and the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be. your life is your life. know it while you have it. you are marvelous the gods wait to delight in you.
Seamus Heaney was a much-loved poet, and rightly so – he was a real sweetheart and so skilled. His death in 2013 was one of those which made me go “oh no” when I heard of it. His text message to his wife, shortly before he died is moving. His son Michael revealed at the funeral mass that his father texted his final words, “Noli timere” (Latin: “Do not be afraid”), to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died.
I always think of his poem ‘Rite of Spring’ at this time of year, when the temperature dips below freezing in Cornwall. Having lived on a remote sheep farm on a high part of Bodmin Moor, I know what it’s like to be at the mercy of the weather. My water supply pipe once froze for several days, so this poem resonates with me, and its suggestive sensuality seems to be saying more than just a struggle to restore the pump to working order:
Rite of Spring
So winter closed its fist
And got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump
In its throat, ice founding itself
Upon iron. The handle
Paralysed at an angle.
Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
Round stem and snout, then a light
That sent the pump up in a flame
It cooled, we lifted her latch,
Her entrance was wet, and she came.
He wrote evocatively about ageing and continuity, including this poem ‘Digging’ from his first published collection of work ‘Death of a Naturalist’:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By god, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it. He fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The colds smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
Heaney’s powers of observation were acute, as shown in this two-line verse which perfectly captures a moment in time :
The riverbed, dried-up,hall-full of leaves.
Us, listening to a river in the trees.