Sunday, August 10, 2014

To My Best Friend - Francis Ledwidge

I love the wet-lipped wind that stirs the hedge
      And kisses the bent flowers the drooped for rain,
That stirs the poppy on the sun-burned ledge
     And like a swan dies singing, without pain.
The golden bees go buzzing down to stain
      The lillies' frills, and the blue harebell rings,
And the sweet blackbird in the rainbow sings.

Deep in the meadows I would sing a song,
      The shallow brook my tuning-fork, the birds My masters; and the boughs they hop along
      Shall mark my time: but there shall be no words
For lurking Echo's mock; an angel herds
     Words that I may not know, within, for you,
Words for the faithful meet, the good and true.

While Francis Ledwidge was a poet, and fought in World War 1, it's not quite right to classify him as a war poet.  Most of his poetry dealt with peace, and after the Easter 1916 uprising, with mourning the dead.  This poem, taken from his first volume of poetry, is largely concerned with natural imagery, and a message to his best friend.  It touches slightly upon the mystical experience of poetic inspiration, and presents an image of a poet (carefully cultivated, no doubt) very in tune (pun inteded) with nature.

The first stanza describes the poet's love for the wind.  The entire stanza is filled with easy yet precise descriptions, that seem so natural you wonder why you never thought of them before.  The "wet-lipped" wind, "bent flowers that drooped for rain," these feel immeditaely familiar even if we've never considered these things in that language before.  That's a true gift of description, and the scene is so lovely that it's hard not to take a short mental flight there while reading.

In the second stanza, the poet moves on to his singing, which is harmonious with nature.  Indeed, he says the shallow brook is his tuning fork, and the birds his masters.  Essentially, all he has learned of song (and by extension, poetry) is informed by these experiences in his native wilderness.  There are no words here for Echo to repeat ("mock").  Instead, when writing (or singing) to his best friend, "an angel herds words that I may not know, within, for you."  These are words for the "faithful meet, the good and true."  The message is that there is a harmony in nature only accesible to the pure, to the good.  It's an uncomplicated worldview, one in which natural beauty and purity of spirit go hand in hand.  This is a very attractive world, and at a time of suchn great turmoil as 1914, when it was published, it comes as no surprise that it was a resounding success.

I find that this poem still reads nicely today.  Its clear and precise imagery of a peaceful scene in nature fills our minds with all the pleasantness of our imagined ideal summer.  I'm sure we all have a place like this in our mind's eye which we can visit, a secret language of nature that only our best friend can understand.

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