Wednesday, 20 May 2020


Christopher Middleton (1926-2015)


I have been re-reading some of Middleton's work as part of trying to study the poetry of the 1970s. The background is seeing his work over a forty-year period (maybe slightly more) and not having any intense memories of it, at the end. This is unfair because there is an exception, a reading he did in Cambridge for CCCP. Certainly the selected poems (111 Poems, 1983) is a work one should read, a major point within the poetic field. One of the possibilities, if you keep on consuming culture at a great rate, endless books, paintings, and pieces of music, is that insofar as you are getting what you want, you will become profoundly satisfied; you will be satiated; and you will stop being dynamic, as a poet, and become indifferent to the next thing that happens and the next thing you say. Everything becomes the catalogue entry for "an objet from the Middleton Collection" and nothing is a poem any more.

The most stretching works are, I think, the ones which explore a work of visual art at length. One of these is “Anasphere: le torse antique”. This was published as a pamphlet in 1978. The reference is to Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”:

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften.
(from Neue Gedichte)

(which is archaic not antique) but also to Middleton’s own torse (torse 3, 1962), where the jacket defines this as a “developable surface”. Why is the torse titled in French? Rilke saw this Apollo in the Louvre, so the label would have been in French. The root is twist and a torse is a point developing a plane which can be twisted to create new surfaces and new interiors. I couldn't find an existing meaning for anasphere, not in the OED; a firm by that name is dedicated to “analytical and atmospheric instrumentation”. I speculate that the source might be the word anamorphic, which means “a distorted projection”. These can return| an optically clear image from certain points of view. There is a famous example in a painting by Holbein, where a flattened oval shape reveals itself as a skull from a certain angle. So anasphere could mean a sphere which is subject to flattening and stretching and is subject to special optic conditions. This sounds slightly like a torse.

Profit motive melts the poles
Paris drowning, Bombay
Alexandria

–it’s slightly embarrassing to see that someone could identify global warming in a poem published in 1978. The poem is partly about love, a sexual partner, but its span of themes is so wide that it is hard to find a focal point in it. This might refer to a shifting geometry, a figure whose centre shifts as it evolves through time. (Alexandria is already underwater, that is the port area of classical times is now below the waters of the Mediterranean and was the subject of very elaborate recovery of evidence by diving.) Another passage is:


One hundred thousand horses
Toppling off the crag were chopped into food
For the hand that peeled leaves of laurel
Out of the flint core
Now in a field of old rain goofily like a fortress
A red horse was planting his hooves
– Look how it is to stand here


This is an “easy one”, an open goal, as we can instantly recognise that it is about a Palaeolithic “bone deposit”. The horses were presumably “panicked” and directed into rushing off the cliff, where their carcasses could be recovered by the hunters. ‘Like a fortress’ I have no idea why. “Old” rain – standing water? Rain is always new but then it stops being rain. I have just been reading about the tiny leaf blades, Evan Hadingham uses that phrase “laurel leaves” and his suggestion is that they were produced because they are beautiful and not to do work. They were Solutrean. “Some of the spearheads were so wafer-thin that they would undoubtedly break if pressure were applied to them, and these must surely represent items of prestige or exchange rather than practical hunting weapons[.]” A quote grabbed from the Net is “crafting laurel-leaf blades that were so thin as to be translucent.” (Hadingham, Secrets of the Ice Age, 1980) ‘Anasphere’ was published by Burning Deck in America in 1978 and in a book from Carcanet, in England, in 1980.
I can't summarise ‘Anasphere’, it feels like a serial poem – the images succeed each other and don’t form a centre. I said it was a poem about visual art, but that may be wrong, even though the title describes an optical procedure and a (damaged) Greek sculpture. A note says that themes in two sections were drawn from Arthur Waley's translations of ancient Chinese shamanic poems. This is not promising, obscure even if you happen to be heavily involved with contemporary Chinese shamanism. So, I don't really get 'Anasphere'. The use of a word that has never existed is justified by the development of feelings you have never had before – that seems fair.

The cover of 111 Poems has Guy Davenport describing the poems as like a beautiful butterfly's wing “where agility, colour and designs cooperate with an obvious purpose but in total mystery’. This is beautiful prose but leaves us in mid-air – if the poems exist in total mystery, what is happening in our heads as we read them?

At this date his poems feel like the internet itself – the sense of endless available images, flowing off in all directions, is the melody his poetry gives off. That was the feel of a great library, or a museum, when he was being formed. I am getting a feeling that his poems are like Mottram’s, that same feeling of images flashing up and of being swept along with them, recognising some and being baffled by others. Middleton created a voice on the page, the poems don’t tear apart under the pressure of contrasting sources. He was just more calm and more cunning than Mottram.

Let’s think of Middleton as aesthete. There are too many precious objects. He lacks drive – his emotional security is never threatened. Maybe the collection bestows security on him. He has extraordinary skill and adaptability. He can't get excited– the work just rolls on. The Collected contains 350 poems but is not complete – there are other books. There is no climactic work, no book stands out. Looked at closely, all these poems are perfect. But there is a channel which is switched off or unused. It may even be the process of perfection which has attenuated the poems.
La Morena’ (at p.376) was the one I liked. He read it at Cambridge in about 2006, maybe twenty years after he wrote it. It is a great poem. It is about sexual feelings, so that the poet is inside the poem. It consists of 31 couplets, all very similar to each other – the camera remains stable during the poem. No tricks. Its power is its monotony but it is the only monotonous poem he ever wrote. It may resemble 'Holy Cow', at p. 146.

The lack of enthusiasm is part of the sophistication. It puts everything behind expensive glass. He re-creates himself all the time but it doesn’t feel like he is surprised. He doesn't seem to care that he wins. Maybe the poems are too expensive for us. He owns them already. We can’t get into the poems because they are Art and too much part of some exquisite collection. It’s his collection of precious objects, not mine. I guess this is the point. It’s too much like a museum and not enough like someone talking. The infantile process of mimesis isn’t happening – the poems aren’t giving off subjective messages which would trigger a mimetic response. ‘Chanel always now’ (from a 1975 book) is dedicated to Ernst Jandl and Friederike Mayrocker, two Viennese poets married to each other for a long time. This may be a hatch, because the style of the poem is arguably a homage to Mayrocker, a run of her style of tiny flakes which when scattered in large numbers create a pointillist picture of micro-transitions. It is amazing that Middleton can take such a style, something intricate and exotic, and produce something which is finished and volatile, nostalgic and bizarre. The “hatch”, the entrance hatch, is that if this poem is founded on a response to Mayrocker, almost a dialogue, then others may be too –and he is undertaking a long-term conversation with other super-cultured people. He has that power which is either warm, and based on artistic empathy, or cold, and based in technical knowledge of language which is too detailed for most poets to take in. It would be hard to do a homage to Middleton because his poems are not recognisable. The level of repetition is spookily low – again the skill and good taste, but they can also be part of detachment. How detached can we be while being involved? Some of the poems are so good – but he keeps on shifting theme. (A note says the Chanel poem is based on a collage of bits of a Vogue article.)

After listening to a Internet talk on art history by someone (also a poet), I think a key fact about Middleton is that he lives in the world of ideas, abidingly, but has no thesis. The talk went from dynastic Egypt to Harry Thubron, but had a constant theme. Middleton is always talking about culture, but he doesn't like a sense of risk so he doesn't want to set up an unproven but exciting hypothesis. I can see that this would draw focus away from the specifics of any artwork he talks about. But there is an anomaly here – most poets either have the wish to project their personalities, or they have a thesis to prove. Middleton has neither. Well, we shouldn't underrate serenity.

I am really sorry that I never wrote a satisfactory description of Middleton. I was unable to think clearly about him while he was alive. I didn’t feel right about his work. I was a germanist and he was so much the top germanist and the top translator. I don't think the account in my book Failure of Conservatism is very good. It gets into an essay by CM (a great essay) and avoids close comment on the poems. Let’s try one poem 

Southern Electric Teddygirl

Politer
And less dull than I, gazing,
Since ribs with mackintosh plates
(Belt on the ninth hole) must make,
For ease, one vertical
Brief tube, topped by a face
Eye-staring at a moon 
So Pomona, worn thin by fish and comics,
Hair yet
Bushes of torchlight
Bounding over hills through whose glades
Cool surf burrows
Here knees and nose going
No particular way
Back, insistent, toward
Algae, plasma in pools that Pomona inched
Her million years from, now
Leaning back, on springs,
She peers for huts flash by,
Blinks with blued condescending
Eye slides over roof seas
And yellow skies that roar,
Recrossing the ankles
Her winkle-pickers bruise, to resume
Into Orpington
Her airy trail.

This may come from the late fifties, and Teddy boys then had girlfriends. Southern Electric is probably a south-eastern railway (Brighton, Portsmouth, and London) and he sees the teddy-girl on a train. Pomona is the goddess of fruit, named after apples, and somehow the teenage girl is involved with this goddess. It is possible the train is going through orchards. Somehow the time-frame goes back a million years and the girl makes a journey of that amount of time. The girl reads comics because “public opinion” was concerned at the time that teenagers read comics and not books. This poem feels like the 1920s to me, with the arbitrary and shocking montages of disparate things, which however produce a plausible and maybe satirical surface, flowing smoothly. Middleton may be the genuine heir of the Modernism of the 1920s. It is key for his poems that they don’t just take an artefact and give a literal description of them, but usually take more than one artefact, then think about both of them together – something we can do if we are in a museum and form abiding images of the exhibits we see. If he was just describing works of art, it would be much simpler. He is never flat-footed.

He several times wrote poems or groups of poems purported to come from a persona, so WV Balloon or Saul Pinkard. This did not work well, in my view. He changed all the time as a poet but was unable to project into an invented character. He had intricate designs for the lens through which a poem sees its material, but that is distinct from creating characters.

*
The internet shows debate about two artefacts allegedly dredged up in Mobjack Bay, Virginia, off Chesapeake Bay, which are Solutrean and allegedly support a marginal theory that Palaeolithic men came to North America from France when the Atlantic was frozen. You can or could buy these flakes for $20,000.
This is the kind of entangling & fascinating junk you find if you surf the Net. Adjacent posts cast doubt on the provenance stories (of which more than one is in circulation). There is a book about the “migration from France” idea, which I saw in a bookshop but avoided buying.
The theory has been somewhat popular with people who wanted to believe that the land of the USA wasn’t originally the property of Native Americans. Andy White was posting in 2015 and is a touch sceptical about the “frozen Atlantic” stuff and indeed the whole world of woo. I believe Dennis Stanford is the archaeologist who connected North American flints with Western European ones. The book was Across Atlantic Ice and I will not be buying it anytime soon. The flints in question don't appear in the Eastern United States, which is why ones from Virginia would be worth many dollars.
Other Net sources show people not agreeing that the super-thin blades were for show only.
It has been pointed out to me, by people more learned than I, that Tiny Tim was singing about the ice-caps melting already in 1968.

Thursday, 7 May 2020


Keith Jafrate

I have been reading poems by Keith Jafrate recently and I have to concede that this is a major omission from my critical work on the period (1960-97) and that I don’t understand why I didn’t know about him. I guess my dependence on anthologies was always a weak spot, but given how abundant the oral record is in interested circles, and how many people I hang out with, you would think that the gaps would get filled in. At least for vigorous and exciting poetry, which this is.

Jafrate is an original writer. He doesn’t fit into any of the self-promoting groups (the phrase is unkind but poets do enter public consciousness as human rafts, they cling together and give each other buoyancy). I am reasonably sure that he was part of the cultural thing of the 1970s, which implies that he was born somewhere around 1950. He seems to have made a career mainly as a jazz musician. This leads to two guesses (valid at this point). First, his creativity was based on something outside poetry and not on learning/buying into the verbal projects of contemporary poets. Secondly, his poetry is led by a sense of emotional identity, a cultural style, rather than one internal to literary history. His base seems to have been Huddersfield and its region and he helped run a literature festival at Huddersfield (at some point). If I am right (bad memory), there was some kind of link with a publisher named Smith/Doorstop (in Sheffield) which also runs a magazine called The North. A note says that he comes from London but has lived in Yorkshire since 1980.

Based on a second-hand books catalogue, I have identified some books by Jafrate.

Finding Space, Published by Rivelin Press, Bradford, West Yorkshire (1982, 31 pp.); In Heaven, Published by Stride, Crewe (1984, 64 pp.); War Poems, Published by Slow Dancer Press, Nottingham (1987); Jump, Published by Nottingham, Slow Dancer Press (1988); Timeless Postcard, Published by Smith/Doorstop Books, Huddersfield (1994, 79 pp.); Letter from home (Word Hoard, 2011, 20 pp.).

The main work which converted me and impressed me is Songs for Eurydice, which came out from Stride in 2004. A note inside the book credits part of the ‘Song of Orpheus’ section (part 7 of the book) to a commission in 1994, and this may correspond to a publication listed by the British Library catalogue as The song of Orpheus, London : Slow Dancer, [1996?]. (The town should be Nottingham! This is a cataloguing error!)

The Amazon list shows two other publications, not available and with no details listed. Keep walking, by Robert Furze and Keith Jafrate | 1 Dec 2000 Currently unavailable.; Birdsong, by Keith Jafrate and David Pitt | 1 Jul 1997 Currently unavailable. As an aside, the BL catalogue omits several publications, and should not be taken as a definitive record for small press poets. No, you have to go on searching.

I started reading his work because of a poem I saw (in 2019) in an issue of Tears In the Fence. (David Caddy gave me an armful of back issues when I visited Stourpaine. So I have lots lying around, which I read constantly, and if you want recent Jafrate poetry it may be in TITF. This issue was no. 32, summer 2002.)
I have seen three of his books. Finding Space is self-possessed but not intense. It is an autobiographical moment about an English person living in New York for a year or so. This may actually be the debut, stylistically, but that may be just because I haven't found any earlier work. Timeless Postcard is much more developed, it is still autobiographical but it has that urgency and lack of inhibition, it’s not so cautious. It is organised as ten long sections about living, maybe living in a place. One part recalls life in London:

mauve, mauve orange, umber, the sky’s flat darkness over London, bleach-grey streets, houses, their minute idiosyncrasies wiped out under the tall lights, their gardens without tallness, their versions of gate, none of this observed except as a flatness to pass by like a fox, searching for the waste of these lives hidden in thousands, lives that have retreated from the empty stadium of night, where we wait outside the Baptist church which resembles a huge bungalow in liver coloured brick
(from the poem ‘Timeless Postcard’)

I think one key feature of this is how it is organised to keep the eye moving, how it doesn't want to reach flatness (a dead halt) or the equivalent of that, in a generalisation. The goal is not knowledge, as an asset, but to seize the next moment of experience, the next frame. It follows that this poetry is not interested in the educational assets of abiding knowledge, theories about culture and sociology; rather its goal is within itself and its centre is within itself. Studying sociology may reduce the pain of living in a healing or protecting way, but minimising the value of what we suffer personally; but also makes poetry impossible, because it dismisses what is atypical.
Eurydice is a long poem (135 pages) with a remarkable sweep.

here is a body without language
weaker than a bird
colder than a bell
the body pretends to wait
somebody moves it
the body dances
shivering and waiting
dead names the size of buses
pass the body travelling
from continent to continent
take a Tom Cruise
use a Madonna
smoke The Whales
Coke washes whiter

the body rolls in fire
execrating curtains
gates and climbing plants
telephones the talking clock
and curses it
the body saves cities
writhing like a fish in the dust
somebody locks it up
somebody finds its language
to sentence it

What I think has the jazz touch is its serenity – the writer is perfectly at ease and the poem generates its own time. There is no feel that we are moving towards an end, but there is never a sense of time being short. This is what a musician in unscripted music has, I guess, that the music always is in the present and cannot run out. This is the feeling of freedom, I think, it pushes you into uncertainty, perhaps risk, but also into being liberated from behavioural structures, and from authority, and verbal or psychological routines which constrain your freedom. I find this more to concentrate on than anything structural, the poem doesn't so much have a plot or an argument. Having pointed to this serenity, I have to qualify that by saying that it contains an instability, that Jafrate is deeply discontented with the society around him and its compromises of experience of organic life, and the natural reaction of the poet is dissidence and revolt. The title page kicks off with a quote from Buenaventura Durruti, not a poet but an Anarchist military leader (in Valencia) during the Spanish Civil War. What I like about work like Timeless Postcard is that the political dissent isn't based on abstraction, on books consumed in solitude, but on life being lived, and on the contrast between authentic existence and the compromised version which he sees around him. Eurydice says:



madness of numbers
madness of tongues
un stylo the children whisper
m’sieur un stylo
give me a pen
to unlock the stone
the builder imprisoned by percentages
the house on wave’s hill
your face its lamp

in this poison land
on a humpback bridge
alone with the cooling towers
sieved acres
coffee-dark and black
gulls and bulldozers
chunks of water left in pits



If political change is going to debouch into a new life, it has to start with knowledge of a life that we can actually lead (and not an abstruse book by Adorno). One problem with writers is that their political imagination tends to devise more books rather than a new life, one that you can inhabit.

I am depressed that I began studying modern British poetry seriously in 1992 and didn’t read Jafrate until 2019. There is a conversation of the committed (the converted?), and you wait for the conversation to bring you information. It is like walking out on a beach every morning and picking up driftwood. Or bits of plastic, I suppose. Jafrate's publishers have mainly been in a tight geographical space: so Huddersfield, Bradford, Sheffield, Nottingham. This suggests that face to face interaction is a key, and there is a geographical aspect to taste because waves of formation & identification attenuate as they spread. So I didn’t hear about Jafrate (even though I live in Nottingham now) because I was in a different network. I searched so many anthologies but none of them had Jafrate. Actually, he may be in Northern anthologies, from Smith/Doorstop for example, which I didn’t read. I am unused to thinking about writers I don’t know – usually going to a reading by someone is a key moment, it means I know who that person is, in some undefined way. I guess I am not strong on abstraction but am strong on empathy; I don’t get the crucial things just from the printed page. I don’t feel ready to sum Jafrate up, not now.

The poetry is mainly paratactic – it does not use syntax to make plain an argument, a set of relationships, which are nonetheless present in the fabric of the text. He does not draw conclusions at the end of poems. Emotions are also not signalled, for the most part – they are implicit. These features of technique link Jafrate to a number of poets who wrote in the 80s, and many who debuted in the 70s. It is reasonable to think that you can guess when he was born by the way he writes. I don’t want to make too much of this, because it is the affective and subjective contents of the poems which count. Actually, it is because so many people in the Seventies, or in the 15 years after 1968 (if you like), felt in a certain way about politics, alienation through work, the distribution of wealth, etc., that Jafrate does not have to explain himself formally - he participates in a collective sensibility, so in “solidarity within dissidence”. If he dissolves causality, that may be because he wants to go to a place at the edge of socially agreed coding & overlay, where there is no knowledge. Freed from finished explanations, we can start to construct new causal patterns, which would also allow us to fulfil our desires more directly – with fewer institutional hindrances and entanglements. The less the poet offers categories and judgements, the more space there is to think about how society came to be. I don't have direct confirmation that this is why Jafrate writes the way he does, but it does seem like a possibility. Again, it is easy for us to take in this kind of poetry, because other poets also shared these ideas (and shared in their development). I guess "Fox Running" might be somewhere in the prehistory of "Songs for Eurydice".

I am going to quote from the piece in Tears in the Fence 32, which may not be in any book:

how to push sun along these hills
that is trapped in tiny chambers used
to hammer levers that turn gears in
tiny repetitious detonations
of wealth
like mountains of pennies of energy
burnt to gas to
tiny grey
unseen clouds erased shadows
falling
hoards we cannot gather
cannot spend
how to unravel the meadow of work
woven into any machine
again
how to begin again
life for life
to each according
to need
from each
according to ability

a boy passes through the graveyard walking two greyhounds
the high trees fill and seethe
clashing dancers armoured with fish
the wind wants to shift everything
lift everything
(title is ‘neither created nor destroyed’, which is presumably a definition of ‘energy’)
Apologies for not reproducing offsets from the margin, which this text editor silently removes. One section of Eurydice is titled ‘Cerne Abbas’ a reference certainly to the Chalk Giant, whose image is reproduced on the cover of his 1994 book (Timeless Postcards). This giant hillside figure is the subject of a book by Jeremy Hooker, Soliloquies of a Chalk Giant. The interest is possibly that of facing a post-Christian cultural landscape and wanting it to be full rather than "empty", as Christian ideologues wished it to be. Recovering what Christians had destroyed was part of populating a new land, one full of myth rather than just sociology. We have no idea what the narratives around the Giant were, in the Iron Age, so you can invent any myth for him to go through, and no-one can fault you.










Wednesday, 6 May 2020


Aerophyte


Many of you will be familiar with that passage in The orchestral mountain (1943) where JF Hendry says
A bird’s wing is broken into their current.
Across cerulean heights
Staring the dark and fivefold continent
The infinite allotropy of her spirit
Eludes me still. Her voice
Wanders on the wind with no wit in it.

Speak! Speak to me, o aerophyte!


-which is moving but baffling. (The pronoun “their” may refer back to “oceans of the air” in line 1, which would have currents.) The book is a longer work (maybe 800 lines) about the death of his wife, Theodora. Theodora Ussai was a Slovenian-American and died as the result of a bombing raid on London. The detail is that she was traumatised by the raid and killed herself. "The coup d’etat and Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia took place two days before she died", according to Jim. “phyte” is an element appearing in numerous compounds meaning “plant”, so “aerophyte” means “plant that grows in the air”. The notion of the aeroplanes and the bombs being in the air, living in the air, is easy to grasp, but not Theodora as a being of the air.
This has been clarified by a photograph which Jim Keery sent me. It shows Theodora in a pilot’s outfit of the time. She was a pilot. It is a terrific photograph, the clothing needed for planes in those days (unheated and extremely cold once you got high up) has the virtue of being a perfect signal of itself: she can’t be anything else but a pilot. She looks radiant – the clothing, with the leather helmet and so on, is unfeminine but asserts intelligence, physical courage, self-reliance, mastery, in a striking way. The garb is free from ornament, but its functionality is very visible and very assertive.
You could say that she looks down on inherited female roles from the height from which an aeroplane looks down on the inherited landscape thousands of feet below it. The poem says
Nerveless , her fingers of rime
Banish the sun that shone
Bronze on the hero’s climb.

The rime may be the cold of high latitude in an unheated plane, and the ”hero” is likely to be Theodora. The figure in the photograph is heroic, no less. The climb relates to a plane ascending, but may also be an instance of the ”mountain” in the title. Indeed, it could be that the mountain is the column of air beneath a plane high in the sky, and that orchestra is the sound, of the motor, prop, and winds rushing past, which would be in a pilot’s ear. Is that true? Hendry’s verse texture is always suggestive but not dense enough to allow us to be sure. Where we stop guessing is an index of the poem – it is good up until that point.
The dust jacket tells us that “The theme of this new elegy is also death”. “Orchestral mountain” is a possibly meaningful phrase; as from a mountain we can see a great variety of sights, so in an orchestra we can hear a great variety of sounds. But it is not a strong phrase, as titles go it is not the best. It suggests the weaknesses which we actually find in the poetry. The subtitle, “a symphonic elegy”, is also high-flying but not cogent. It is symphonic in that themes keep repeating, but it is a mood that lasts for 50 pages rather than something highly organised and, indeed, composed. The poems do not fall in a particular order, they do not progress as the book moves on.
The poem keeps repeating a theme of winter.
I shall always come to find her here
forever among the debris of winter.

In this half-world, this cataract of water
Where the elements of vision are dissolved,

An ocean pours into the hold of summer
Whose hopes with ours are ripped and shelved.

(I wonder if the oceans shelving near a coast are like hopes approaching shore? The hold defines hope as a ship.) This may be the cold of great height, where Theodora spent some of her time. It may also be death, as he describes memories and says

Flowing together into the last cold sea
They loop the living and the dead like necklaces.

The sea reminds me of Marimarusa, a long poem about the polar ocean (the name means ”dead sea” in an early form of Celtic), which Hendry wrote in 1946-7 but which was not published until 1977. As orchestral does not distinguish one mountain from the others, so in general Hendry does not want epithets to focus associations, he does not want to describe objects more accurately but to open up association into a state of general suggestibility. He does not want to remove any possibility from play. Accuracy is not part of his project. Something similar applies to the forty parts of the long poem, they do not qualify each other. The photograph helps but raises a point that if his long poem contained more photographic moments it would work better. It presents a state of being emotional rather than a series of emotions linked to situations (and to other people’s states of mind).

There may be a merging between the realm of the upper air, which is extremely cold, and the Arctic ocean. I am wondering if this is related to the ice imagery in the poetry of WS Graham, Hendry’s contemporary.



Saturday, 25 April 2020


Capistrum and related



I was leafing through a Scottish Gaelic dictionary and encountered a word cabstair, “bit (for a horse)”. But, I had just encountered a Welsh word, cebystr, ‘halter’. Evidently these two are the same word. But why? To get to it quickly, the word is not English but is Latin, ‘capistrum’, and is not present in Irish Gaelic.
Latin words do exist in Scottish Gaelic (MacInnes gives a figure of 250) but these mainly come from Latin-using monks and refer to ecclesiastical concepts rather than useful items of farm equipment, such as a tether. So the favoured source for a word like capistrum is spoken Latin. This was heard in the parts of Britain which were part of the Roman Empire, and numerous practical, physical, farming-related Latin words are preserved in Welsh. Spoken Latin could give a word like “capistr" in the Romano-British language spoken both in England and in Scotland south of the Antonine Wall.
My proposal is that cabstair in Gaelic comes from an unrecorded capistrum word in the P-Celtic of south-west Scotland, within the borders of the old Empire but close to or within the early settlement of Gaelic-speakers from Ireland.



Cabstair has shed a syllable present in capistrum – syncope, as we call it. (Conversely, cebystr is actually trisyllabic, there is an unwritten vowel in the str cluster. So both cabstair and cebystr have acquired a syllable not present in the Latin source. The development of a such a vowel is called anaptyxis.) I have the impression of having read about syncope in the P-Celtic language of southern Scotland, Cumbric as it is often called, but I don’t have the reference. This would delete unstressed syllables in trisyllabic words. An example would be the river-name Kelvin. This evidently comes from Latin calamus, in the sense of stubble or thatch, a local borrowing surviving in Welsh celefyn (with a noun singular formative -yn), 'stalk, stem'. The meaning is reedy river, flowing slowly down a very gentle gradient, as you can see by visiting it. But Kelvin represents a syncope with relation to celefyn.
The relics of Cumbric show an i-affection or Ruckumlaut, which shifts a to e in the syllable preceding an i or an e. This accounts for the evolution of calamus to celefyn, which shows a double i-affection. Another example is the place-name Peebles, agreed to mean “tents” and to come from Latin papilio. It is a plural and so records not papilio but papiliones, so that the pap has become peb. This parallels the Welsh word pabell (also ‘tent’), plural pebyll. But, cabstair does not show i-affection, as we would expect before the i in capistrum. This works if we suppose that the -i- was lost before the date of the i-affection.
Since the taming of the horse in Europe goes back to the early 3rd millennium BC, it is surprising that items of horse technology needed to be borrowed, at around 400 AD, or therefore words to describe those items. I am asking for two loan steps (Latin to Cumbric and Cumbric to Gaelic). The sociology of this can only be speculative. I can comment that people were preoccupied with the horse, as people are with cars today. Simple items were subject to intense development and differentiation. There was a prestige economy around horse tack. This allowed for loan-words, within a rich vocabulary of terms for bits of equipment. It is surprising that the Gael needed to borrow any words relating to horses. The Roman Army certainly used a lot of horses.
Capistrum gives also the French word s’enchevêtrer, ‘get tangled up’, whose literal meaning is a horse getting tangled up in its own reins. So capistrum gives words meaning variously reins, tether, bit.


Monday, 13 April 2020

The Pet Canary of Pius XII

Peter Levi’s poem “Monologue spoken by the pet canary of Pius XII”, is an oblique poem I have never understood, although I must have read it around 1974, in Lucie-Smith’s anthology. Here is the poem.

Uccello cello cello
I love myself: it seems a dream sometimes
about the water spouting from tree-height,
and voices like a piece of looking-glass.
His shoulder had young pine-needles on it.
At night I used to wake when the big moonlight
swayed upward like a lighted playing-card,
and someone had uncombed the Great Hallel
with grimy fingers down the window-pane.
I am unable to read their faces
but the inscription like a neon sign
lights understanding in my thoughts and dreams.
The Spirit of God is gigantic:
white wings ripping aether bluer than air.
After I eat I plume myself bright yellow
Uccello cello cello
and hop about his borrowed finger:
the jewel in the ring without a scratch
and the white silk and the gold thread are mine.
Oh yes, I hop about and love myself.
I do not understand humanity,
their emotions terrify me.
What I like in him is his company
and the long fingers of the Holy Ghost.


(published 1966 I think). It is saying something like, “Pacelli was Hitler's sprightly pet songster”, but can't say this because Levi was a Jesuit priest and so subordinate to the Vatican at every moment. ‘Uccello’ means ‘bird’ (avicellus). This is a difficult poem but it is evidently a distancing from Catholic politics as they were from say 1918 to 1958. The line about “someone had uncombed the Great Hallel/ with grimy fingers down the window-pane” refers to Psalm 136 (and this is the Jewish term for that psalm, and it means “praise”). Psalm 136 “is a litany of thanksgiving about the beloved history and culture of the Israelites.” “It is used in the morning service on the Sabbath, festivals, and during the Passover seder.” It seems likely that Fr Levi, SJ, was pointing to the persecution of the Jews during Pacelli’s papacy, and to Pacelli’s notorious indifference to it. 136 says: and [God] redeemed us from our enemies: this is the key line and its function is to bring up what Pacelli didn’t do for the Jewish people. Much of the meaning of Levi’s poem is embodied in Psalm 136, and the poem needs to be considered as a commentary on the psalm, which we need to have in mind as we read the poem. As for the fingers, the canary later trills "and [I] hop about on his borrowed finger ... and the white silk and gold thread are mine". The papal arm (in a silk sleeve) on which the canary hops is perhaps a parody of the psalmist's "With a strong hand, and a stretched out arm".  So, I guess both references to fingers refer to the same hand - and it was Pacelli who 'uncombed the Great Hallel'. But there is a third reference, the last line describes "the long fingers of the Holy Ghost", so it may be that the Holy Ghost effaced the sacred text out of shame.
“I do not understand humanity” sounds like a self-description by Pius XII, the ultimate curial lawyer-bureaucrat. Why are the voices “like a looking-glass”? I don’t think it means ”cut-glass voices”, because mirrors are poured, not cut; but it does sound as if the voices are narcissistic, saying self-confident things about their right to rule Europe.
If you listen closely, you can just hear the “uccello” phrase as “pacello cello cello”. It looks as if the poem was written during the years of Vatican II, when it looked as if the Church were going to renounce its past as the voice of the land-owners, and when radicals from all over the world were meeting each other in Rome, eager for new ideas.
The interest of this is that after writing about David Jones and Hitler I wanted to think about left-wing Catholic poets. I am glad to have worked out the meaning, even if after a 45 year lag. For a Jesuit to attack a Pope was pretty awesome and demanded a certain lack of directness.

David Jones, enemy of democracy



The turning-point is the close reading of a phrase in Jones’ April 1939 letter about reading Mein Kampf, where he refers to “the currish, leftish,  money thing.” The full sentence is "Anyway, I back him still against all this currish, leftish, money thing, even though I'm a miserable specimen and dependent on it." The "him" is Adolf Hitler. He was saying that he didn’t like Hitler, but didn’t prefer democratic, liberal politicians to him, because after all they contradicted all his values. I read this (in the book of his letters, Dai Great-Coat, p.93) but didn’t understand it, because I couldn't see how the money interest could be interchangeable with the Left when they were political enemies. However, Kevin Nolan has recently made me aware of the real meaning of the phrase.

Kevin directs me to Jewish dogs: an image and its interpreters, by Kenneth Stow. The blurb says 'Jewish Dogs is not a study of "anti-Semitism" or "anti-Judaism." Instead, this book argues that to anchor claims of supersession, Catholics have viewed Jews as metaphoric—and sometimes not so metaphoric—dogs. The dog has for millennia been the focus of impurity, and Catholicism fosters doctrines of physical purity that go hand in hand with those of ritual purity. The purity is that of the "one loaf" spoken of by Paul in Corinthians that is, at once, the Eucharist and the collective Christian Corpus, the body of the faithful. Paul views this "loaf" as physically corruptible, and as John Chrysostom said at the close of the fourth century, the greatest threat to the loaf's purity are the Jews. They are the dogs who wish to steal the bread that belongs exclusively to the children. Eventually, Jews were said to attack the "loaf" through ritual murder and attempts to defile the Host itself; the victim of ritual murder is identified with the Host, as is common in Catholic martyrdom. Pope Pius IX still spoke of Jewish dogs barking throughout the streets of Rome in 1871. Other Catholic clergy were dismayed. This book is thus as much a study of Catholic doctrinal history as it is a study of Jews.’

Stow was professor of Jewish History at the university of Haifa. The ur-passage on dogs is Matthew, 15, 26. Chrysostom means “golden mouth”, an epithet for a great orator. (This can include the ability to persuade people of things which they know aren't true.) The specific source of the obsolete word ‘currish’ is in The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene 1:

Gratiano: O, be thou damned, inexecrable dog,
And for thy life let justice be accused!
Thou almost makest me waver in my faith
To hold opinion with Pythagoras
That souls of animals infuse themselves
Into the trunks of men. Thy currish spirit
Governed a wolf who, hanged for human slaughter,
Even from the gallows did his fell soul fleet,
And whilst thou layest in thy unhallowed dam
Infused itself in thee, for thy desires
Are wolvish, bloody, starved, and ravenous.

Jones’ letter, it turns out, was connected to the work he was doing on an essay about Hitler for The Tablet. This was completed in May 1939 but never published; it “was considered too long for publication in the newspaper” and wasn’t re-located (on friends’ advice) because it was too pro-Hitler. (The Tablet was the main magazine for intellectual Catholics in England.) Jones scholars have turned it up, in his papers in an American archive (Boston College), and it is now in print. So the “currish” is used just after Jones had been reading Mein Kampf, and comes from an anti-Semitic tirade in an anti-Semitic play. The only possible context for saying “leftish money thing” is an anti-Semitic dogma that the Jews were in charge both of international capitalism and international Bolshevism, and both were the product of resentment of “Christian culture”. The idea is a stupid contradiction in terms everywhere except in this context of fear of “subversive Jewish intelligence”. The parts reinforce each other, the writer is explaining his (partial) sympathy for Hitler because of Hitler’s opposition to “the leftish, currish, money power” and we know very well that what Hitler was opposed to was “Jewish intelligence” as personified in big financiers and the Marxist parties of Russia and Germany. Is there any ambiguity left?
Dawson’s book (which I wrote about in an earlier blog, in November 2018) is a significant parallel to Jones’ unpublished essay, and both are accepting of Hitler and related figures because they start out from a complete distaste for liberalism and parliamentary democracy. (This is the analysis of Tom Villis, I have seen one essay of his but not his books on literary Fascism in England and Wales.) So they both regard Hitler’s regime as bad government, but are not passionately against it, because they regard democracy in Western (and central) Europe as bad government too.

I will quote Villis: “As Elizabeth Ward has pointed out, Wales thus provided the same function for Jones as France did for Belloc and ‘Merrie England’ for Chesterton, and even as ‘European culture’ did for Dawson and some of his disciples. This kind of transcendental nationalism can have reactionary implications. For Ward this ‘myth making’ – along with Jones’s connections with Order and Colosseum – mean that his poetry and art can be seen as part of the same ‘rejection of contemporary Western democracy’ which characterised other right-wing Catholic figures and, by implication, European fascism. [...] Jones’s views were not merely idiosyncratic but part of a wider revolt against liberal democracy reflected both in his Catholic contemporaries and wider European culture. Nevertheless, Ward’s characterisation of Jones has produced over the years the familiar over-anxious defence of his reputation from Catholic scholars.”
Up until 1945, there were quite a few European households, including educated ones, where "democracy" was a dirty word, free of underlying approval. This certainly includes some writers, including British poets. The 'war aims' campaign of the Allies sanctioned the word 'democratic' and made it unambiguously positive. Most of Europe had given up democracy before 1939, when Hitler began knocking over the various governments. Countries which had been set up as democracies in 1919 had given it up by 1939. This is the European context in which we can site pro-European writers like Jones and Saunders Lewis.
To reminisce, I did spend time in a university library trying to find sources on Jones’ ideas about politics, which is when I read Dawson, but I came up empty. Villis has got an awful lot further and this whole question probably needs to be re-thought based on his research. He mentions two inter-war Catholic magazines directly linked to the discussion circle which Jones was a member of, and which are likely to have brought up the questions which Jones was trying to answer in The Anathémata and elsewhere. As Villis has read these, we need to consult his work for a deeper understanding of Jones.
Jones was outside the “left-liberal bubble” which British poetry has been comfortably thriving inside since the 1920s. The story makes one even more inclined to sympathise with the literary consensus, and to feel defended by its values! How unattractive, to venture outside that consensus and find people steeping themselves in anti-Semitism and imperialism!

I feel that my body of work is weak on Catholic thought. Certainly I don’t want to write up inherited clichés about all Catholics being on the Right. So many modern British poets have been Catholic that this area needs close attention. I just don’t have that Catholic background. I have a close reading relationship with Heinrich Böll, a Left Catholic intellectual whose resistance to Hitler was integral to his Catholicism. I have great admiration for Böll. But his essay on the Catholic church in politics is devastating, it’s not so far from what the secular Left might say. I would also like to cite Peter Levi’s poem “Monologue spoken by the pet canary of Pius XII” (published 1966 I think), see next post. I would be glad to read a book about left-wing Catholics, like Levi. My scraps of knowledge suggest that Catholicism is incompatible with capitalism and extreme wealth, Catholic poets are surely in line with that.

Discussion of Pius XII (Pacelli) seems to omit his background as Nuncio to Bavaria just after the First World War, where he was close with German Catholic leaders, helped organise the suppression of the Soviet Republic in Munich in 1919, and approved of Hitler (whom he knew) as a figure in a concerted resistance to anti-Catholic elements of the Marxist Left. (He became nuncio to the Berlin government in 1920, when Bavaria was no longer technically a kingdom and a State.) To quote John Cornwell’s revelatory article in Vanity Fair in 1999, >>The German authorities in Rome, both diplomats and military commanders, fearing a backlash of the Italian populace, hoped that an immediate and vigorous papal denunciation might stop the SS in their tracks and prevent further arrests. Pacelli refused. In the end, the German diplomats drafted a letter of protest on the Pope’s behalf and prevailed on a resident German bishop to sign it for Berlin’s benefit. Meanwhile, the deportation of the imprisoned Jews went ahead on October 18. <<
As Cornwell says, John XXIII was a completely different kind of person.


I apologise for writing about this in haste, the day after I received Kevin’s emails, but I didn’t want to delay.

addendum. 
Villis mentions Charles Petrie as one of the participants in the discussion circle, led by Tom Burns, which Jones was part of in the Thirties and late Twenties. He was a historian, and by coincidence, I have read one of his books. It came out in the fifties and is titled The Jacobite Movement. (I read the 1958 edition but there were earlier ones.) I really admired it. I suppose he knew about the material because he had a sympathy for it (and was anti-Hanoverian at some level of his being), but it is unbiased history and doesn’t wander up any blind alleys. In fact, I was impressed by his ability to interpret Jacobite political styles in terms of Catholic devotion. For example, James II’s conduct while in exile was not the product of bigotry and stupidity, or not only of those, but was a performance, for the benefit of the observers whom he knew to be following every hour of his life, of contrition and acceptance of God’s tribulations, evoking a legend of the martyr-king with which his Catholic supporters would have been familiar. He accepted that his life as king was one of uninterrupted ritual, and that he was always re-enacting the life of some king or other. His occupying himself with religious activity was firstly suited to someone who has lost their material wealth, almost a form of realism, and secondly a sign that he had bowed to God’s judgement, although not also to the judgement of the House of Commons and the Protestant interest in Britain. James was imitating the life of Edward the Confessor. Petrie’s account of how this celebrity on-show behaviour, where everything is conspicuous, was a way of influencing Catholic public opinion (in the French Court and the Vatican, as well as as in susceptible parts of the British Isles) is profound. James could reach public opinion, in realms which had a high illiteracy rate and which were untouched by newspapers and modern news sources, by producing events which would fit into simple stories, and stories which people were already familiar with. His publicity followed the rules of folklore. The parties lined up behind the Hanoverian and Stuart interests were just not mirror images of each other. There is more modern work, by Murray Pittock and others, which one is inevitably going to read, but Petrie’s book has not been replaced. The political history of British Catholics, which is so important for Jones, goes back to the Jacobites (if not to the sixteenth century, indeed), and has abidingly been the story of the dynasty out of power and of a cultural vocabulary which differs from the *dominant one, either Protestant or secular.
(*Without collapsing into pedantry, it is quite likely that Jacobite sympathies were dominant in Ireland, Wales, and much of Scotland, at least during the 18th century. They were popular even if excluded from normal political activity and from the world of print.)
The opposition between the Stuart dynasty, first in power and then out of power, and the Westminster Parliament, is the background to Jones’ indifference to electoral politics and rejection of all politicians. It is part of the hereditary attitudes of British Catholics, which would have been available in whatever sources Jones assimilated, as a convert. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2020


Reconciliation? three –fights for the flag, Kipling

note. This is part of a series which sets out from the analysis of UKIP voters, by Matthew Goodwin and others, that said they were a marginalised group, left behind by globalisation and de-industrialisation, who had resentments against their ‘representatives’ in politics and media which were partially justified. Goodwin said that mainstream politics had to address their complaints. These notes ask how the ‘elite’ which decides poetic taste is itself legitimated. Further, whether the left-liberal tenor of poetry itself tends to exclude people whose attitudes or anxieties are more power-oriented. This time we go back and re-read a book by Kipling which straightforwardly presents poetry about imperialism, and in favour of more imperialism. The reaction against this in the 1920s was a “founding moment” for the poetry world, a turn which it has never gone back on. Evidently everyone who is now inside the poetry world partakes of that rejection. But the past ten years have seen a weakening of the consensus positions in politics, so the cultural consensus may also be under threat.

I have been reading The Five Nations. This is really powerful stuff.  This poetry reminds me of Cecil B. de Mille’s silent films when you have a full orchestra blowing them along – it has that dreadful momentum even if you aren't going where it wants you to. It was published as a book in 1903 but the poems were in periodicals from 1897 on. You have to connect it with what was in the newspapers every day during that time – comments I have seen on the Net say it is “misunderstood”, but that is not really possible unless you don’t know what was in the papers at the time. This was mainly the failure of British arms in the Boer war and the expansion of the German Navy (and trained conscript army) undermining Britain’s ‘strategic position’. The poetry is so strong that it dragged English poetry behind it for 30 years. It is typical when you see poetry of this period that does not work that it is an attempt to relieve Kipling’s model. I have also been reading a volume of Alfred Noyes (vol.1 of the 1926 Collected), which I got from the second hand bookshop before it closed, as a comparison – Noyes’ poetry is also often about the Navy, and past naval victories, but isn’t very good.

As for the reading public, you can see that there might be a sector which wants Kipling-style rhythms and patriotism, but has no time for literary poetry. But obviously no-one can write this kind of poetry now. This isn’t so strange – Kipling was a one-off.

It’s different reading Noyes- he had a full-time job at the Admiralty writing propaganda, but he wasn’t really with militarist poetry. It’s all Kipling, really – him and the whole apparatus of imperialist patriotic tub-thumping. It’s delusional but it’s tied to something real. The empire was fragile, the forces inside it were too strong not to rip it apart over the course of several decades, but it was real in 1897. Why just him? I guess the mass of English poets were still bound to Romanticism, they were too fascinated by the sublime to want to include the reality of machines, money, and military violence. As a result they didn’t get hypnotised by those things. My feeling is that when Kipling writes, poems about the Royal Artillery in South Africa, all the details were right. And it’s full of details. But it’s also about blowing people’s bodies apart with HE shells. You can’t imagine Tennyson harnessing himself to that. His Morte d’Arthur warriors don’t have many reality-like qualities. Tennyson died in 1892, just after Kipling had started his rather sordid military poems (Barrack-Room Ballads, 1888). It’s still the sublime, the ideal which covers poetry in mist. Kipling took metre back to oral recitation and got rid of the sublime – modern reforms, but a kind of modernity which said yes to colonial wars and an arms race.

Noyes writes, “As on their ancient decks they proudly stood/ decks washed of old with England’s proudest blood". This is ridiculous (and the rhyme is fishy). Kipling is not ridiculous. Noyes gives the impression of knowing that he could be a best-seller by writing about warships, but not being really sincere about it. He was giving pacifist lectures shortly before the Great War – so far as he was emotionally involved, he wasn’t the bloodthirsty kind of patriot. Kipling is not ridiculous. He is critical of the imperial project but when you look at it he is saying you need to spend more money on cannon and warships. This is so much like Farage – the message that you aren’t looking after your own interests, cunning foreigners are running rings round you, you trust your enemies. It’s still the same tune. So I guess you could write Brexit poetry, and I could even list the themes it would foreground. It’s also the same tune as Hitler- you are the greatest people in the world but you need to pursue self-interest 25 hours a day, you are so naive and trusting.

Kipling incorporates the working class into his poems. He shed all those mediaeval knights, who were land-owners almost by definition. But, this welcoming-in is co-axial with a new kind of war which needs mass levies as opposed to a small professional army, and which would therefore need the working class to step up as participants in the shared endeavour, for it to work. Kipling’s populism is double-edged. My reading of this democratic imperialism is that it involves a minority who know what the plot is and a majority who are doing the fighting or the factory work and only hear the intoxicating foreground music. The acute aspect of this is that you can accuse the ones who see through it of lack of patriotism. Oh, you say no to our big music.

The corrupt part of all this is how hard it is to bring the non-white races of the Empire on stage when Kipling pushes them off it so effectively. I can analyse his relationship with his audience but there is nothing to say about the people whose land is the main object of all this imperialist endeavour. Germany is expansionist and wants to take colonies away from “satiated” and “ageing” empires, this fills the foreground and the question of why the natives of those colonies were being prevented from governing themselves vanishes behind the action.

I will quote again the passage that Norman Jope highlighted from the “Plymouth Laureate” –

Now comes the hour. Where comes the man
to free the blade its sheath;
and raise again quick ‘Albion’,
lay bare its razor teeth?
To set Britannia’s heart arace,
and gorge those veins with flame;
cleave free her ill forged foreign chains,
this sceptred isle reclaim.
(‘Albion’)

Britannia sounds like a bulldog on a chain. The poem (by the ‘Laureate’ of Plymouth) is completely a Kipling knock-off, as I recognise now after reading “The Five Nations”. And it’s basically an attack on Brussels.

While reading, I kept hearing lines from Johnny Cash’s recital of “Oh bury me not (on the lone prairie)”. They just popped into my head. I guess this was a recitation piece from roughly the date of ‘Five Nations’, and that there was a whole genre of stage recitations which Kipling fitted into – he went to music halls and wrote poems which sounded like music-hall stage poems. Before radio, people made their own entertainment, and a wide range of people could memorise these pieces and deliver them at amateur concerts. Kipling’s poems are always dramatic monologues, they lend themselves to colourful delivery, and the rhythm makes them easy to memorise. There is a recognisable affinity between Kipling and country and western songs. I think this rhetorical populism has a much wider presence than Kipling, but it does not normally surface in literary anthologies. Tennyson wrote those terrific dialect poems which anticipate Kipling – a lot of Tennyson editions don’t print them. It is hard to get a complete Tennyson.
The historian of music-hall, Peter Bailey, describes it as Kipling’s ‘perfect bully-pulpit’, because ‘its ritual antiphony of posture and response inherited from melodrama with its hagio-demonology of heroes and villains', encouraged tribal patriotism, ‘a sort of incantatory collective self-admiration among audiences flushed with enthusiasm for themselves’.”
(from the Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, on-line; Peter Howarth is probably quoting Bailey from Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City.)
This could also be a reason why that sort of poetry doesn’t exist any more – it was linked to a genre of verse recitals which itself does not exist. TV closed down the music halls, during the 1950s. Radios and the gramophone displaced the amateur performance tradition. So, why doesn’t his poetry sound like the cultured poetry which existed before 1888? His metrics are new– free from Latin influence. This is a possible form of nativism, tainted almost at source by its link with the wish to dominate people from other nationalities. The gap between the cultivated and the popular ear connects to learning Latin through the medium of poetry as the main content of schools’ offering. The story of the 20th C is the story of the vacuum after the disappearance of Latin influence. The change (pointed to by the historian RCK Ensor) is due to the rise of intelligent people who had a secondary education which did not include Latin – a new class, almost. Their victory was due to a change of opinion affecting everyone, not literally to overrunning and wiping out their peers from grammar schools and public schools. Because Kipling was writing about working-class characters, it was convincing if he used a non-Latin, uncultivated metric to record their monologues. The old metrics collapsed – this is the shattering of the upper stratum. Does this sound like the message of UKIP about metropolitan elites? The literary audience hears sounds which other people don’t. That’s the point which makes their legitimacy vulnerable. Another literary system could vanish like the Latin-based ones. The question about natural English rhythms is an interesting one. There are so many answers – Kipling might be one. Many of the lines in ‘Five Nations’ are in two parts –like this:

Swift to my use in my trenches, where my well-planned ground-works grew,
I tumbled his quoins and his ashlars, and cut and reset them anew.
Lime is milled of the marbles; burned it, slacked it, and spread;
Taking and leaving at pleasure the gifts of the humble dead.
(‘The Palace’)

This AB structure is based on Biblical verses, what Louth described as parallelismus membrorum. But, if you read the Bible, you can hear that the sound of the parallelism is all over Kipling. So – it is not native English, or not all over. He was deeply influenced by the patterns of Hebrew poetry. (Which possibly come from Egyptian – but that’s a tangle of tempting issues.) It’s from the Authorised Version and it’s not free of foreign influences at all. There was a nativist metric during the first 30 years of the 20th C – with Masefield and Kipling, notably. This was in parallel with the rise of free verse, which was part of the same movement of liberation. It was an exploratory period. Meanwhile – Noyes actually writes some poems in hexameters. Kipling’s nativist sense of rhythm matches queasily well with his populist-nativist politics.

Did he give up writing poetry?The Years Between, in 1919,, was the last one – so his spring stopped flowing. It seems to have stopped during the War. No repentance but a dreadful silence. Unbelievable that the torrent of energy in 'Five Nations’ would just stop. But writing in favour of an arms race and mass conscription was going to lose its verve when you had a tangible arms race in being and an army of dead conscripts.The affair of poetry with imperial politics was really an affair with the Devil. The breakdown of that affair was utterly inevitable and even the poets most involved gave up on it, during the 1920s. Nobody could pick it up in the 1930s because it wasn’t there any more. It wasn’t silenced from outside – Kipling and Newbolt just lost their wish to write in that way. Unlike any other visionary poets, their fantasy became reality – and it struck them dumb.

Charles Jencks’ essay on Prince Charles as architectural critic has several sarky remarks about architects telling the wider public what they ought to like. This also applies to the patriotic poets – they are telling people they want to go out and die for the Empire. So there is a level of distrust of the “cultured class” based on its record of complying with what the government wants and getting a free ride off campaigns launched by the right-wing press. OK, but note that this is part of the UKIP message and a doctrine supporting right-wing populism. It follows from this history of complicity that the “left liberal bubble” have been right to take Kipling, Noyes, Newbolt and Watson off the menu. (It’s a simplification to connect imperialism with “the government”, actually it’s more accurate to point to commercial and business interests seizing assets, and white settlers seizing land, and a pressure from these two groups which the government too frequently gave way to. Imperialism was the early stage of globalisation, and in its ‘production model’ of 1850 to 1940 already had the media and business as powerful and irresponsible agents which governments tried to satisfy.)
Noyes’ poem ‘Forty Singing Seamen’ starts from a passage in the 14th C fake "travellers’ tales” collection by Bernard de Mandeville and constructs a sort of dream-poem about drunken seamen in a wonderland somewhere in the realm of Prester John, so Ethiopia (a Christian land beyond the Moslem lands). It uses Mandeville as a sort of “naive art”, and uses a verse form which alludes to sea shanties and ballads, in fact several lines of folk-song. Although it doesn't show colonising activity, it has a sort of patriotic sludge underlying it – we are supposed to identify with the sailors because they “fight for the flag” on other occasions. This is a truly phoney poem, the language is inconsistent and unconvincing. I mention it because that deployment of naive imagery and of folk song is often seen as a sign of authenticity, but is equally compatible with the manipulation of opinion– a function necessary when the electorate includes everyone. I haven’t read Noyes “Drake – an English epic” (1908), but the catalogue entry tells me it is 497 pages long.

As for legitimation, the bottom line is that people who read modern poetry also own it and can legislate for taste around it. It is direct democracy, if you take part in the game you can have a say in what the rules are. The idea that people who don’t read modern poetry can decide what is good or bad about it is inherently stupid.

I think that octosyllabics are a natural rhythm for English poetry – Masefield was good at these. My reading of early north-west European cultures is that they had a whole variety of metres. These carried out various functions, or were just separate for no special reason. They just rolled that way. This suggests to me that a natural English rhythm would come in numerous varieties. Defining what is unnatural is also debatable. You could say that all art is unnatural –and you could say that any linguistic behaviour is natural.