Monday, 24 December 2012

Bowles 2

Cracking on, a tad belatedly, with more of this. The second poem from Sonnets, Written Chiefly in Picturesque Spots, During a Tour (1784):

Languid, and sad, and slow from day to day,
I journey on, yet pensive turn to view
(Where the rich landscape gleams with softer hue)
The streams, and vales, and hills, that steal away.
So fares it with the children of the earth;
For when life's goodly prospect opens round,
Their spirits beat to tread that fairy ground,
Where every vale sounds to the pipe of mirth.
But them, vain hope, and easy youth beguiles,
And soon a longing look, like me, they cast
Back o'er the pleasing prospect of the past:
Yet fancy points where still far onward smiles.
Some sunny spot, and her fair colouring blends,
Till cheerless on their path the night descends.
Bowles is, amongst other things, playing games with monosyllables, by way of stepping through a mournful, slow theme. The first line is 80% monosyllabic; the second 60%; the third 100%; the pattern looks as though it will repeat (line 6: 80%; line 5760%) but then it doesn't. 'Spirits' is disyllabic I suppose; although its quantity is strange -- a classical long syllable that reads more like a single stress than a trochee. The 100% monosyllable line is postponed to line 8 -- as if the poem is already slowing, lengthening, drawing out its form. Then it's
Line 9 80%
Line 10 80%
Line 11 60%
Line 12 60%
Line 13 55%
Line 14 60%
OK, so it's a disproportionately monosyllabic poem: let me not flog the point to death. I think what I'm suggesting is that there is something of a pulse, or ebb-flow, to the way the poem handles its monosylls. Languid and sad and slow.  Otherwise, the blot in the sonnet to my ear is 'pipe of mirth', which strikes an artificial, conventionalised note (playing a recorder outside, no matter how perkily, no longer correlates to 'mirth' in the sense the poem needs it to; and I'm not convinced it did the 1780s either).  I mind less the deliberate blurring of topographies, physical and temporal, the 'walk through the countryside' that is also somehow 'the walk through life.'  I assume the idea is: we are walking eastward, whilst the sun sets behind us. The land behind us, bathed in roseate light, is our youth.  There are peaks ahead where the sun still illuminates the grass. But we all know where we are going.  Don't we.

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