Dear friends and readers,
Let’s begin with a beautiful reading aloud of a poem once one of my favorites (I’d read it again and again): Anne Finch’s The Tree:
The picture is by Joseph Farrington (1747-1821), The Oak Tree, the musical group, Epping Forest, and here’s the text for you to read along as you listen:
Fair tree! for thy delightful shade
‘Tis just that some return be made;
Sure some return is due from me
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds dost shelter give,
Thou music dost from them receive;
If travellers beneath thee stay
Till storms have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee they spend
And thy protecting pow’r commend.
The shepherd here, from scorching freed,
Tunes to thy dancing leaves his reed;
Whilst his lov’d nymph, in thanks, bestows
Her flow’ry chaplets on thy boughs.
Shall I then only silent be,
And no return be made by me?
No; let this wish upon thee wait,
And still to flourish be thy fate.
To future ages may’st thou stand
Untouch’d by the rash workman’s hand,
Till that large stock of sap is spent,
Which gives thy summer’s ornament;
Till the fierce winds, that vainly strive
To shock thy greatness whilst alive,
Shall on thy lifeless hour attend,
Prevent the axe, and grace thy end;
Their scatter’d strength together call
And to the clouds proclaim thy fall;
Who then their ev’ning dews may spare
When thou no longer art their care,
But shalt, like ancient heroes, burn,
And some bright hearth be made thy urn.
Good news. My proposal for a panel for the next fall conference (November 2013) in Philadelphia has been accepted. It’s one I enjoyed doing which will take me back to the poetry I used to read a great deal, still love, the poetry of retirement, especially those written in the meditative style. I spent hours yesterday rereading poetry by Anne Finch and a paper I wrote about her and Mary Wortley Montagu as sister poets.
Here’s the description of the conference’s theme: “Retirement, Reappraisal, and Renewal in the Eighteenth Century”, from which I cull:
Retirement … had then and continues now to have resonances in [disparate] fields [and] almost invariably leads to many open-ended questions. Retirement from what or to what, or more simply, what next? Is retirement even possible? Is retirement an end in itself, a momentary pause, a strategic withdrawal, an evasion, or a new beginning? Is retirement a necessary fiction, and if so, necessary for whom? Is retirement enough to hope for, or is there something more to be wished?
Here’s what I came up with:
CFP: The Retirement Poem
It’s telling that one of the most frequently-written kinds of poems in the century and one half where the social role of the poet was seen as central to the writer’s ethical function is the retirement poem. Its aesthetic conventions vary as it mixes with Horatian imitations, Georgics, and pastoral, and friendship and nature poetry, or the act of retirement (or contemplating it) turns into groundwork for political statements (from exile), and court satire. It may arise from life experiences like depression, the death of someone, or destruction of a way of life that meant a lot to the poet and now seems irretrievable, or reactive defiance when ambition, a path to advancement has been thwarted, blocked. Paula Backscheider finds the poet’s gender leads to characteristic fault-lines in retirement poetry. The male poem explores a political terrain; they may be country house estate poems which while ostensibly exemplifying a useful virtuous life carve out space which projects power, what one should do with wealth. Female poems show the poet re-creating herself in a counter-universe, where the poet has time and follows “reason” (individual judgment), learning, memory; these poems are often visionary. There are many other fault-lines, genre is one, purpose another: the poet seeks to renounce or denounce social authorities, is reappraising a life, seeking renewal, or health. To try to promote a coherent discussion I call for papers which seek fault-lines in retirement poetry, shaping elements either in the poem, its context or era (including who is the poet), genre, themes, imagery, which seem to lead the poet into taking his or her text(s) in a specific direction.
The organizers liked it very much.
What I’d like to do is also write an deliver a poetry on Anne Finch, return to her poetry and write about how she used the poetry of retirement to work out a modus vivendi for herself that she could live with: she had to give up ambition when she saw its price and milieu to find peace. Often people speak of her poetry as coming in two types: the satirical, fables, pindarics, which analyze her depressions and argue for the perspective she took on life as ethical; then there is the romantic and visionary, the half-mad and allegorical-poetic in retreat. I will show these are really one body of poetry, just different genres, which forms are made too much of, some of which (Wordsworth was right) got in her way, prevented her from expressing herself from a deep level which finds its own form. And will go against the fashion for preferring her more analytical and feminist complaints, and return to an earlier view, suggesting her finest poetry remains the romantic lyrics, the landscapes (inward and outer), picturesque and wild. The Tree is a good example of what I mean. Many of her poems are not well-known, not in the one supposed standard edition of her poetry, which leaves out a lot of them. So here’s another, dwelling on Eastwell Park, as her Arcadia, the abode of poetry. Invocation to the Southern Winds.
And I’ll be biographical, which I think one central way to read literature. It gets us to the core. As when I finally wrote frankly about rape in Clarissa, why the book was and is so important (to me too), so writing about this center of Anne Finch (much of which I do have scattered on the Net) will be deeply satisfying. Pure happenstance the society’s topic of retirement coincides with the year I’ve retired from teaching for money (though not reading, writing, studying, going to conferences or anything else).