RECITING POETRY

My enjoyment of reading poetry aloud began a long time ago:

I was in Grade 2 when the small primary school I attended at Sheba Gold Mine, in the then Eastern Transvaal, hosted a concert. As was the custom, this took place on the small stage of the mine recreational hall. Apart from the weekly film show, opportunities for entertainment were so rare that most people in that mining community attended, even if they didn’t have children in the school. The details of the concert elude me for my concentration was solely focused on my contribution to the evening’s entertainment: I had been directed to recite a poem. All the poems we had learned at school were in Afrikaans; mine had to be in English.

I clearly recall paging through my mother’s embossed leather-bound volume entitled An Anthology of Modern Verse containing a collection of poems selected by A. Methuen and published in 1933. I imagine it had been among her set works at Rhodes University in Grahamstown – where decades later I was to graduate with a B.Ed. I still have that anthology and holding it in my hand even now I can tell why I was attracted to it. The blue leather is embossed in red and gold and it has a thin silk ribbon to mark one’s place. The pages are fairly thick with a slightly ribbed texture – very sensuous – and the print is bold and clear. Everything about it was as aesthetically pleasing to me then as it is now.

The poem I settled on was Silver by Walter de la Mare:

Slowly, silently, now the moon

Walks the night in her silver shoon;

This way, and that, she peers, and sees

Silver fruit upon silver trees;

One by one the casements catch

Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;

Couched in his kennel, like a log,

With paws of silver sleeps the dog;

From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep

Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;

A harvest mouse goes scampering by,

With silver claws and a silver eye;

And moveless fish in the water gleam,

By silver reeds in a silver stream.

This poem ‘spoke’ to me: I understood how the moon walked about wearing silver shoes for I had always marvelled at the way a full moon would light up the world at night; I could thus ‘see’ the Silver fruit upon silver trees. The other images are so well described that I could easily identify with them. I read that poem over and over as my ever patient mother advised me how to read it with meaning instead of a lilting line-by-line delivery. “Imagine you are telling the story of the moon,” she encouraged me, “and that you want people to get a clear picture of what you are describing.”

Such wise words. Who wouldn’t be nervous as a child reciting a poem in front of an adult audience for the first time? I doubtless wore a ribbon in my hair and know that I would have worn black school shoes with short white socks. Other details have vanished other than the memory of standing alone on that stage. I took a deep breath and, with a sense of importance, announced the title of my poem in a disappointingly squeaky voice. This was my moment to shine!

“Slowly, silently, now the moon / Walks the night in her silver shoon” I began with a confidence I didn’t feel. Memory took over, as did my natural inclination to ‘talk’ with my hands. I became aware of the silence of the audience and the unaccustomed boldness of my six-year-old voice. I curtseyed at the applause and walked off the stage filled with the power of words. I can still recite that poem over sixty years later.

I have blogged about this poem before – it clearly made an impression on me for I came to love poetry with a passion and once I became a teacher of English was always determined that the boys and girls under my tutelage would experience the power of poetry just as I had that evening so long ago.

 

THE COLOUR PURPLE

This not about the novel of the same name by Alice Walker … just in case you thought it might be.

Purple tends to be a colour that people either take to or dislike intensely. I am reminded of this whenever a discussion turns to beetroot – that is a vegetable that people seem to love or hate. I have reacted negatively to purple furnishings and clothes before and yet there are numerous purple flowers I enjoy. One of them is bougainvillea:

These flowers come in a variety of shades and, as purple is a gradation of blue and red, the hues labelled ‘purple’ vary enormously. Anyhow, this colour bougainvillea – or perhaps a little darker and more vibrant, was the first to greet one when turning into the driveway of our farmhouse in the De Kaap Valley in the then Eastern Transvaal – now Mpumalanga. I still associate the purple varieties of bougainvillea with my mother standing outside her kitchen ready to greet us with open arms when we had travelled from afar to visit her for a while.

Of course lavender is a favourite plant in many gardens. It being fairly hardy, I am able to grow several different varieties here in spite of the vagaries of the weather. The plants are attractive in their own right and the flowers are a boon for bees – pretty to me, yet nothing like the splashes of colour that come from some commercially grown lavenders such as this one bundled up for sale!

Purple dye used to be expensive – I read that the first dyes came from shellfish – and so the colour has long been associated with wealth and royalty. The apparent rarity of it in nature has lent purple the qualities of luxury, power, and ambition along with grandeur, peace, devotion and even magic. Purple has held a supernatural aura for centuries. And yet, we seem to be blessed with a wide variety of purple flowers in this country. I recently featured the beautiful hues of purple in the blossoms of the puzzle bush/deurmekaarbos. We also have vygies and jacarandas.

The sea lavender blossoms are welcome and last for ages.

I also think of the wild impatiens, the butterfly bush, salvias, plectranthus, African violets and a number of others I have yet to identify – such as these lovely flowers blooming in the Karoo.

Purple is an eye-catching colour that combines the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red. This was brought home to me when I came across this back copy of what used to be a favourite magazine while I was in a ‘sorting’ mood:

How sad it is that this, along with several other magazine titles, is no longer published!

Of course I cannot leave without reminding you of this delightful poem:

Warning – Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
 
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
 
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

THE SNAIL

THE SNAIL – William Cowper (1731-1800)

To grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall,
The snail sticks close, nor fears to fall,
As if he grew there, house and all
                                                Together.

Within that house secure he hides,
When danger imminent betides
Of storm, or other harm besides
                                                Of weather.

Give but his horns the slightest touch,
His self-collecting power is such,
He shrinks into his house, with much
                                                Displeasure.

Where’er he dwells, he dwells alone,
Except himself has chattels none,
Well satisfied to be his own
                                                Whole treasure.

Thus, hermit-like, his life he leads,
Nor partner of his banquet needs,
And if he meets one, only feeds
                                                The faster.

Who seeks him must be worse than blind,
(He and his house are so combin’d)
If, finding it, he fails to find
                                                Its master.

This poem came to mind after seeing so many snails moving about the garden and in the streets after our recent rain – a change from coming across empty shells!

DANDELION IN PROGRESS

I came across this lovely poem about a dandelion this morning and think it is worth sharing:
With puff of breath
entwined with a wish
my energetic breath aims out.

Out toward dandelion.
And like sacred flying fairies
the little seeds take flight.

Ready to plant firmly
in break of day.

Thank you dandelion
for roaring with airs whisper
to move in grace
to go into Mothers soil
and bring a dream to sprout.

StarBG © 2017

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), familiar to many the world over, are hardy perennial that grow in most areas in South Africa. That they continue to survive in our long drought is proof of their hardiness! I like their bright yellow flowers that pop up all over the place when nothing else dares to bloom. Although I have not tried them, freshly picked leaves contain important vitamins and minerals.

PATTERNS: CIRCLES

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone … W.H. Auden

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered …Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death … Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Then as if a mirage at sea a village of ramshackle homes
Single story on a sandbank all with gardens of the strangest design
A flea farm, gooseberry bushes and butterflies in net cages … Michael Wolf

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants … Emily Dickinson