Mark these rounded slopes

Poetry month… one of my all time favourite poets, whose  work I loved before i knew anything at all about him, W. H. Auden. Apparently this was written in Italy in 1948.

In Praise Of Limestone

If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places:
What could be more like Mother or a fitter background
For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges
Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting
That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but
Extensions of his power to charm? From weathered outcrop
To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to
Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,
Are ingenious but short steps that a child’s wish
To receive more attention than his brothers, whether
By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.

Maybe you will be interested in this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04k9mzl

In Praise of Limestone 2

I wrote previously about W.H.Auden’s poem, ‘In Praise of Limestone’, and I was reminded of it while walking with friends over St Thomas’s Head, just north of Weston-super-Mare. Here is Auden’s second verse:

Watch, then, the band of rivals as they climb up and down
Their steep stone gennels in twos and threes, at times
Arm in arm, but never, thank God, in step; or engaged
On the shady side of a square at midday in
Voluble discourse, knowing each other too well to think
There are any important secrets, unable
To conceive a god whose temper-tantrums are moral
And not to be pacified by a clever line
Or a good lay: for accustomed to a stone that responds,
They have never had to veil their faces in awe
Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed;
Adjusted to the local needs of valleys
Where everything can be touched or reached by walking,
Their eyes have never looked into infinite space
Through the lattice-work of a nomad’s comb; born lucky,
Their legs have never encountered the fungi
And insects of the jungle, the monstrous forms and lives
With which we have nothing, we like to hope, in common.
So, when one of them goes to the bad, the way his mind works
Remains incomprehensible: to become a pimp
Or deal in fake jewellery or ruin a fine tenor voice
For effects that bring down the house, could happen to all
But the best and the worst of us…
That is why, I suppose,
The best and worst never stayed here long but sought
Immoderate soils where the beauty was not so external,
The light less public and the meaning of life
Something more than a mad camp. `Come!’ cried the granite wastes,
`How evasive is your humour, how accidental
Your kindest kiss, how permanent is death.’ (Saints-to-be
Slipped away sighing.) `Come!’ purred the clays and gravels,
`On our plains there is room for armies to drill; rivers
Wait to be tamed and slaves to construct you a tomb
In the grand manner: soft as the earth is mankind and both
Need to be altered.’ (Intendant Caesars rose and
Left, slamming the door.) But the really reckless were fetched
By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:
`I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;
That is how I shall set you free. There is no love;
There are only the various envies, all of them sad.’

In praise of limestone

At my class last night, we were asked to think of things which are yellow and someone said ‘limestone. I’m not sure whether I would say limestone is yellow, it is the palest of yellow if it is… however it triggered a memory for me of a poem which, although I did not really understand, I was very fond of when I was at school.

‘In Praise of Limestone’, is by W.H.Auden and he wrote it in Italy in 1948. I didn’t know that when I first came across the poem when I was about seventeen, I guess I thought of the hills here which are limestone, the Mendips. The Mendips run across Somerset and fall into the sea at Uphill where I live, with a couple of hiccuping hillocks, the promontory of Brean Down and then the island of Steep Holm out in the Bristol Channel.

The limestone quarry face just beyond the boatyard in Uphill… this is how I think of limestone

However, Auden was far away from Somerset and England, he was on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples when he wrote ‘In Praise of Limestone’. Here is the first verse:

If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places:
What could be more like Mother or a fitter background
For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges
Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting
That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but
Extensions of his power to charm? From weathered outcrop
To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to
Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,
Are ingenious but short steps that a child’s wish
To receive more attention than his brothers, whether
By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.

I went back to my copy of his shorter collected poems, and in the front I found a card which had been attached to the book token I had used to buy the book. It was from my  aunty and uncle, Beryl and Ken, who sadly are no longer with us… a nice little reminder of two dear people.