norman maccaig

The Mountains Are Calling And I Must Go!

Today is natureall about the natural world around us, from caterpillars to columnar tree shapes, bird-bills to blizzards and snapping turtles to tornadoes; Nature’s got it all going on, it’s wondrous, it is us and it’s a recurring theme in poetry. ‘First follow nature’ Alexander Pope remarked in his Essay on Criticism; ’Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’ asks Henry Thoreau in his part-personal book Walden about simple living.
Poets and writers are akin to spies when it comes to observing Nature, and have always drawn on her beauty, landscapes and seasons, through metaphor – to better understand ourselves and our behaviour, or to convey deep metaphysical messages and stark ecological ones, or simply to celebrate life’s 3 and a half billion years of existence!
To help us, Gary Snyder gets ecological with his observations by Frazier Creek Falls,  a meditation really on the natural world, similar to the Japanese Haiku tradition, which reduces the world to a kernel of acute observation. And as I read this, I found it to be one of those poems that demand absolute stillness, in keeping with the geology and pyramidal pines of the scene he’s describing. He creates a stunning picture of what he sees from the falls and explores the idea that we are linked to everything around us, man and nature are one ‘we are it, it sings through us’ he says. We are interconnected. And if we took the time to really consider this concept, then we could reach a more ecologically sound understanding of what it means to grow and develop as a species. If we stopped trying to control nature and began instead to work with her, life would be far less complicated.  A Zen Buddhist, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, skins his own bullfrogs and spends nights reading the constellations, Gary Snyder is a poet entrenched in the nature!

Jane Hirshfield’s Zen Buddhist training taught her two things: silence and the desire to call forward a complete attention. – Inhabiting her own experience I guess. Recalling Mary Oliver’s attention to detail and Gary Snyder’s meditations, Hirshfield finds a deeper understanding of herself in her interactions with nature. Her poem, Three Foxes By the Edge Of A Field At Twilight, reflects on how much in nature is hidden from us and what in turn we keep hidden from each other. The foxes are visible until she tries to approach, then the woods suddenly take them back. She continues walking with an acquaintance from whom she holds back some of herself. Perhaps the foxes represent the thoughts she can‘t verbalise, the ones that return to the heart, revealing something to herself and to us: that in our desire to be closer to nature we come to realise that we are closer to ourselves than we know. That old Lao Tzu proverb comes to mind ‘he who knows, does not speak. He who speaks does not know.’  The poem is from her Selected Poetry volume Each Happiness Ringed By Lions.

‘Are you bowed down in heart?’ Asks James Weldon Johnson in his poem Deep In The Quiet Wood, ‘Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life? Then come away, come to the peaceful wood, here bathe your soul in silence.’ Those lines are beautiful aren’t they? And they jumped out at me, reminding me of places I often go to escape, the traffic, bustling streets and … disruptive neighbours. My favourite place to recharge, is at the grounds of Ashford Castle in the village of Cong, Co. Mayo.  It’s a wonderful amenity with tranquil woods of varieties of broad-leaf, evergreen and native trees, it’s on the shores of Lough Corrib with it’s meditative crystal clear waters and there’s a school of falconry there also so if you’re lucky enough to arrive during a hawk-walk, you’ll be captivated by these amazing creatures soaring and diving, their bells jingling through the trees. American poet Wendell Berry also espouses the view that we can find solace in nature, that the spirit of the natural world can restore the human spirit. ’When despair grows in me‘, he says ’I come into the peace of wild things’ , there is somewhere we can go to relieve the anxieties of our lives, but you know sometimes even reading this poem I find myself transported and automatically relaxed. From the 1968 collection Openings, we’ll read The Peace Of Wild Things.

There’s a lot to be gained through communing with the natural world, and I suppose we shouldn’t have to try we are a part of it, we are stardust after all. This world is the house we live in, packed full of creatures and plants and natural wonders and our over-exploitation of it is unfortunate, every habitat we destroy today results in the loss of a species tomorrow – we all know this – primates, tropical orchids, numerous species of birds and fish are all at risk. But more worryingly, because they thrive on human activity, things like cockroaches and rats are the only species unaffected! So think on China & America!  All we can do is look after our own patch, make a home for nature isn’t that the tag-line?

Also on today’s show, I read Lingering Happiness by Mary Oliver, Putting In The Seed by Robert Frost and Summer Farm by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig.  Music from Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm, Message To Bears, Yaruma and much more!

Saudade: The Love That Remains

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.
― George Eliot

Recently a friend and I were discussing this idea of human longing and nostalgia. Missing SAUDADEsomeone or something that we once loved and that is no longer in our lives. It’s a concept which heavily informs his work as an artist and which has inspired some of the most powerful love poetry & music ever written. It can be condensed into one beautiful Portuguese word Saudade (pronounced Saudadji in Brazilian). It’s a feeling of incompleteness and melancholy characteristic of the Portuguese and Brazilian temperament. And today we’re going to look at a general overview of the topic and some poetry and music I feel best illustrate it.

So basically, Saudade is a longing. For love, for acceptance for a connection of some kind. We all have this desire for presence, missing something which is gone and wanting it back, especially love, losing love gives rise to enormous longing and suffering. I’m sure you’ve experienced that feeling that gnawing at the heart, the pain of remembering. Actually in Portuguese culture Saudade often carries the knowledge that the what is lost might never return – it’s much darker and melodramatic than the upbeat Saudade of Brazil which through hundreds of years of assimilation of cultures has become a much more amorphous term in that you can have Saudade for people, things, food, even for places you’ve never been. Saudade is the crossroads if you like, between loss and desire, something’s gone you want it returned. The great Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo describes it as ’a pleasure you suffer and an ailment you enjoy’. For me it’s the heartbreaking language of the soul, I suppose the best way is to describe saudade as the hearts desire and I can hear in these lines from Russian poet Anna Akhmatova:

‘This remorseless black separation’

I bear equally with you.

Why cry? Rather, give me your hand,

Promise to visit me in dream.
You and I – are like two mountains.

You and I – not meeting in this world.

If only sometimes, at midnight,

You’d send me a greeting through the stars.

 

 

 

Love is a huge matter when talking about Saudade. It’s what most poets and musicians write about and are inspired by. In terms of lost love you are missing part of yourself that you can no longer access. Even though reminiscing and vain hope are incredibly painful, you don’t want to let go of the heartache because you let go of the person, so you carry it with you. And this is the interesting point about Saudade, it is a missing and an absence but because you carry it with you it is also a presence.  On love, firstly I went for this one by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda for it’s tender pleading ‘don’t go far off, don’t leave me’ It’s one of his 100 love sonnets dedicated to his beloved wife Matilde Urrutia. Neruda is well aware of what the sorrow of separation is like, he does not want to risk the agony of it and cannot bear even the thought of it. In Sonnet 45 he writes:

Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because –
Because – I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
And I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
When the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
Then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
The smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
Into me, choking my lost heart.
Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
May your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

Because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander maziliy over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

 

 

Secondly, from her collection Radio Crackling, Radio Gone, American poet Lisa Olstein writes a sad poem of longing and disappointment. Dear One Absent This Long While stirs up those old feelings again of loss, rejection, sadness that something is unfinished or imperfect without ones other half. I know myself, losing love, it’s the bitter-sweetness of the longing that somehow lulls you back to it.  Hear the yearning in the words ‘I expect you’ as she goes on to search for little happiness’s while coping with the reality that her lover might never come back. She says:

It has been so wet stones glaze in moss;
everything blooms coldly.

I expect you. I thought one night it was you
at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs,

you in a shiver of light, but each time
leaves in wind revealed themselves,

the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak.
We expect you, cat and I, bluebirds and I, the stove.

In May we dreamed of wreaths burning on bonfires
over which young men and women leapt.
June efforts quietly.
I’ve planted vegetables along each garden wall

so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.

I have new gloves and a new hoe.
I practice eulogies. He was a hawk

with white feathered legs. She had the quiet ribs
of a salamander crossing the old pony post road.

Yours is the name the leaves chatter
at the edge of the un-rabbited woods.

 

Poets Norman MacCaig WS Merwin, Sheenagh Pugh & Kahlil Gibran also feature today along with music from Estrella Morente, Gilberto Gil, Dulce Pontes and Nick Cave.