Poems from my juvenile years
4th October 2019
One thing stands out for much of what I wrote, as a teenager. Brevity. I frequently had poetic moments. They resulted in brief pieces. Once the moment of feeling had been captured, there was no need to embellish, develop or extend. A few words spoke more than many. Take this piece from 1965, for example:
Night clothes the world in dreams.
The moon’s a quiet friend
with blissful silver beams.
O peace. Why must though end?
Farewell thou happy moon.
The waiting time is done.
All joyful hope is lost
with the tears of the sun.
It begs more questions than it answers. What caused the sadness expressed by the narrative? Why did the narrator lose hope? What made his peace come to an end? What was he waiting for? We will lever know. The child that wrote this poem has gone. We can never ask him what he meant by it. It does, however, evoke feelings. It conjures up emotions about the night, the moon and that special time of dreams and darkness. It is almost as though the poet is saying that nothing else matters. That piece was a moment in my fifteenth summer.
As I continue to edit and transcribe my early poetry (in honour of the UK’s National Poetry Day, 2019) I am struck by the impact of my teenage outpourings. It is more than just nostalgia for a time of life that is long passed. What strikes me is that any of this should have happened at all. It was all so very unlikely. It was a reality you could not have made up.
Several pieces in my early years were inspired by pictures I saw in books. Here is one from 1965 that was written after seeing a statue of a Roman goddess.
Aphrodite for her bath did pose
and, with her slipper, threatened amorous Pan.
All naked for her toilet did she stand,
a female threatened by a semi-man.
Between them, Eros fluttered for a time,
while Aphrodite’s slipper hovered high.
Young Eros tired and to the sky did climb,
down came the slipper fast upon Pan’s thigh.
Thus, in the sting of tiredness, love must die.
In a later revision, the last line used the word ‘chasteness’ instead of ‘tiredness. The piece uses the style of classical metaphor which I had been reading about and decided to use.
Here is the picture on which that poem was based:
Another statue that I found particularly moving was that of the young Roman soldier killing himself and wife before being captured by an invading army.
Although I never wrote a poem about it, at the time, I made a sketch from the photograph which I kept for many years. Another photograph of a statue from ancient mythology was that of Artemis, the mother of Aphrodite.
Here is the poem I wrote after seeing that picture:
Artemis gazes from above
with hornéd creatures by her head.
She fills the world with stormy love
and constellations of red dread,
lie throbbing on her many breasts
above the aching chasm’s floor
that once contained her great incests –
rise now with human gore.
It is one of my poems reflecting mythology at a time when I was an avid reader of ancient myths and legends.
I said, earlier, that many of my poems were brief. I also wrote longer, narrative poems. One of these lengthier pieces was The End, composed in 1966. It was written not long after I had left secondary school and started work. It was unrhymed and written in blank verse. Unlike much of my early output, this piece was typewritten. I was able to save enough money from my meagre wages to purchase a small, portable typewriter. It was one of the few pieces that I sent out, in manuscript format, hoping to find a publisher. Nothing ever came of that. The poem is not an easy read. The narrator summons up a feeling of gloom and doom, impending death, becoming and change. We are never told exactly what this is. It was like the disaster did not really matter. It was only the emotions of ending that mattered. The narrator is just about to leave, or cease when a ‘throng of people’ marches into his view. This great crowd of people swarms up the side of a mountain, ‘pressed on by an invisible force.’ Not a real mountain but a metaphorical one. A metaphor depicting the whole of humanity moving towards an end. The whole story is abstract. It explores change, becoming, movement and doom but never clearly makes any of this concrete. In a sense, it was one of my mystical poems. It is not surprising that none of the publishers, to whom I sent it, was interested in it. Fashionable it certainly was not. It does not matter that the story is vague, imprecise, unshaped, lacking in reality. The piece is about the feelings evoked by change, progression, movement, evolution. The whole thing ran to nine sides of A4 paper.
Late in 1966, all was to change. Picture this teenage boy in a working-class city, his head in books about Western philosophy and Eastern mysticism. Writing poetry and learned essays while his mates were out playing soccer. A recluse with a pen in one hand and a book in the other. That was my life in the earlier part of the sixties. And then… it all changed. I entered the era of the mods and rockers.
To be continued.