September 21, 2012

I will take you walking with me to a place you have not seen...

Canals are fascinating things. Scary, strange, mysteriously beautiful. Flecker gets it. Oxford Canal, by James Elroy Flecker (1884 – 1915)


When you have wearied of the valiant spires of this County Town,
Of its wide white streets and glistening museums, and black monastic walls,
Of its red motors and lumbering trains, and self-sufficient people,
I will take you walking with me to a place you have not seen —
Half town and half country—the land of the Canal.

It is dearer to me than the antique town: I love it more than the rounded hills:
Straightest, sublimest of rivers is the long Canal.
I have observed great storms and trembled: I have wept for fear of the dark.
But nothing makes me so afraid as the clear water of this idle canal on a summer's noon.
Do you see the great telegraph poles down in the water, how every wire is distinct?
If a body fell into the canal it would rest entangled in those wires for ever, between earth and air.
For the water is as deep as the stars are high.

One day I was thinking how if a man fell from that lofty pole
He would rush through the water toward me till his image was scattered by his splash,
When suddenly a train rushed by: the brazen dome of the engine flashed:
the long white carriages roared;
The sun veiled himself for a moment, and the signals loomed in fog;
A savage woman screamed at me from a barge: little children began to cry;
The untidy landscape rose to life: a sawmill started;
A cart rattled down to the wharf, and workmen clanged over the iron footbridge;
A beautiful old man nodded from the first story window of a square red house,
And a pretty girl came out to hang up clothes in a small delightful garden.

O strange motion in the suburb of a county town: slow regular movement of the dance of death!
Men and not phantoms are these that move in light.
Forgotten they live, and forgotten die.

James Elroy Flecker, poet, 1884--1915

(If you are among the happy few, I have other things by Flecker in my Poems category)

Posted by John Weidner at September 21, 2012 7:24 PM

I'm not sure I like this, and I'm not certain of its faults. Too many adjectives for free verse?

Posted by: Terry at September 21, 2012 11:56 PM

It's fairly incoherent.

He goes from "One day I was thinking" to "When suddenly a train rushed by." But he has not actually ever placed us at the canal--he's just been thinking about it. We have to guess that we are now at the canal and that's where the train etc are.

And he turns it all into the "dance of death," but never really makes the transition, or lets us feel why.

On the plus side, I've spent a lifetime thinking that canals are spooky and profound, and this is the first time I've found a fellow-spirit...

Posted by: John Weidner at September 22, 2012 8:10 PM
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