Poetry group tonight. Our once a month sit round a round table with books and wine and nibbles, reading and listening, and exchanging our thoughts. Mainly sombre thoughts tonight as it turned out. The theme, chosen by Sandra, was dragons and mythical creatures. It turns out there are an awful lot of very bad poems about dragons, many of them for children.
I like Sandra a lot; she’s a good egg, but this theme had me thinking of her less than charitably. Fortunately, among the dross there are some shining wonderful gems. Celia read a stirring extract from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, the bit when the warrior is dying. It happens that Sandra studied Beowulf for A level and didn’t enjoy it one bit. We talked about how poetry was killed dead by the way we were taught it; each line gone through, dissected, the images pinned down on the page by our pencilled notes: alliteration, personification, extended simile. Shorter poems might survive as they would be read aloud, but the thunderous rolling words of Beowulf and other epics were too many, and so they were stretched, as on a mortuary slab for our scalpel pens and indifferent eyes.
I had a bit of rolling thunderous poetry myself, an extract from Paradise Lost, Book One, also studied at A level. I probably haven’t opened it for decades, but one remembered phrase sent me back to the text:
so stretcht out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chain’d on the burning Lake
Now I am glad I kept my copy, rereading it opened my eyes to why someone had thought it good thing for a bunch of seventeen-year-olds to read in the first place. It has the wow factor on every page I looked at, and there are volumes of it.