Monday, May 24, 2010

The Power of a Poem 2

The beauty and truth of poem lie in its very distillation of human experience.  I often marvel at how this or that maker of poems managed to create such a wonderful vehicle of words which sound so many meanings simultaneously.  Words are the very stuff of communication.  A good poem jumps out at us and leaps from the page.  A good poem can cheer us.  Again, a good poem may depress us.  Yet again, a good poem can make us run the whole gamut of emotions.  I cannot leave this blog tonight without sharing a wonderful gem of a poem with my readers.  I discovered this little gem in a wonderful treasure chest of poems called The Rattle Bag edited by our very own Nobel Laureate for Literature, Séamus Heaney.  The poem is called Elegy though, I believe it had no title as it was included in a letter to the poet's wife on the eve before the poet was executed for treason in Elizabethan times.

This poem was crafted at white heat by its author sometime before his execution, and hence it contains much depth of emotion, and yet a very balanced sobriety of language.  The author's name is truly wonderful and poetic in itself, and is none other than Chidiock Tichborne who was a staunch Catholic as was his father and all his family.  They were conspirators to murder the Protestant Queen Elizabeth 1 who was Head of the Church of England founded by her father Henry VIII. On September 19, 1586, the night before he was executed, Chidiock wrote to his wife Agnes. The letter enclosed three stanzas beginning: "My prime of youth is but a frost of cares."  This elegy is so restrained yet so eloquent, so lacking in self-pity, so objective, so spontaneous, and so skillfully made that it must be ranked among the little masterpieces of all literature, never mind that of England. The solemn but far from depressing music of the lines is emphasized by the repetition of the rhymed refrain, as though the poet were anticipating the slow tolling of the bell announcing his death.  The music of this poem caught my ear, choked my heart and brought a tear to my eye when I first read it.  Like all brilliant poems I read it aloud when I first stumbled on this wonderful gem from the treasure trove of English literature.  Here it is for you.  Savour every word.  Read it aloud and let its music move your heart!
Tichborne's Elegy

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

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