I mentioned yesterday that I’d acquired a new – secondhand – poetry book at the words and music event on Friday night. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled to find it thrust into my hands during the interval just before I was due to read, especially as the accompanying, “You might want to read this,” sounded so like a criticism – as if my upcoming performance was bound to be inadequate as I don’t read enough poetry by other people.
But it’s true that most of my poetry books remain in storage somewhere in central Spain and I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to read them again, so I decided not to take things personally and bought the book.
I wasn’t paying much attention, but realised vaguely that it was an anthology; that made it more interesting for me than a single-author collection as it’s not just a good thing to read other people’s work, it can be interesting to see how it sits in juxtaposition alongside other poems.
Nor had I noticed that it was one of those poem-a-day style books – although the title Poem for the Day should have clued me in. Perhaps more interestingly, though, it has not just a selected poem for each day, but some biographical notes and a short list for each day of noteworthy occurrences.
Today, then, I find that it’s the anniversary of Edward Lear’s birth (1812), and of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s birth (1828), too. It’s also the anniversary of John Masefield’s death.
Even if I had ever known, I had certainly forgotten that Masefield became Poet Laureate in 1930 back when it was a post for life. And I’m sure I didn’t know that he died as recently as 1967; I suspect that means that he was still alive and in-post when I first read Cargoes. I don’t really have appropriate photos, but I think the poem justifies illustrating this post with a few boats.
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
Not all the notes in Poem for the Day are of births and deaths. Apparently, on this day in 1846, Browning met Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “a hazy kind of man, at least just after dinner.” I suspect we all know a few writers who get hazier as the day goes on. Tennyson became Poet Laureate in 1850, though whether he became less hazy I don’t know.
I had been looking for a photo to use alongside Masefield’s Sea fever (“I must go down to the seas again…”), to finish this post, but the pictures I found weren’t quite right. Now we’ve brought Tennyson on board, though, I think we can go with the eminently unhazy:
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!