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An extended encounter with poetry - RTC3
Random Thoughts on Crosswords Cryptic and Concise + Recherché Times Crossword Clues Considered
An extended encounter with poetry
Here's a clue allegedly from a Times crossword sometime in the 1930s or 1940s:
"When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face, huge cloudy symbols of a high —." (Keats) (7) [ROMANCE]
(select between the square brackets for the answer, or read on)
Those who know the film Brief Encounter may recognise this as the clue that Laura's husband fires at her in her capacity as a "poetry addict", and which she answers slightly hesitantly, but nevertheless correctly, adding: "It'll be in the Oxford Book of English Verse." If only he'd been the sort of chap who said: "Gosh, what a wonderful couplet: I must look the whole poem up," things might have turned out rather differently, but then we'd have been denied a film classic. Instead, his response is: "That's right, I'm sure, because it fits in with DELIRIUM and BALUCHISTAN." (See Footnote.)

For me, one of the joys of direct quotation clues was that they reminded me of works I'd forgotten, or introduced me to ones I'd never come across before. I think I probably had come across this one - at any rate the first line sounded familiar when I looked it up - but if so I can't have read it very carefully. In case you're in the same boat as I was, here's the whole sonnet.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
   Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
I was reminded of this by my failure to remember the quote from Keats's On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer a few weeks ago (described here). Since then I've been back to that poem and a few others I used to know by heart and relearned them, if only to convince myself that I can still do it. And I'm pleased to say that I can, and that I'm still capable of learning poems I hadn't learned previously. These latter take a little longer to sink into my brain than they would have when I was young, but they do seem to get there in the end. Relearning previously learned poems is in some ways like solving a crossword: I can usually remember chunks of them quite clearly, and these can then be slotted into the the parts I have to relearn, which act like checked letters in providing fixed reference points.

I'm not sure all this makes me a poetry addict, but I have to admit that I do get a lot of pleasure out of poetry. And, as far as crossword solving is concerned, I've been fortunate in that the sort of poems I liked - and still like - corresponded pretty well with the sort of poems that Times solvers were expected to have at their fingertips in the old days. Here I probably benefitted from a rather old-fashioned upbringing - my father was born in 1899, and an aunt of my mother's, who lived with us when I was young, was born in 1863. Also the version of Dotheboys I attended - a direct grant boarding school (formerly a grammar school) at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds - no doubt contributed as well by providing an education, rooted in the classics, which covered much of the same standard Eng. Lit. that the Times setters of the 1960s and 1970s knew and loved - and used in their crosswords. Sadly, by the 1970s and 1980s, this sort of education was starting to be viewed as elitist; but although much has been gained, I can't help feeling that something has been lost as well.

My guess is that the Brief Encounter crossword was Noël Coward's own concoction, with the quotation clue intended to remind cinema-goers (or poetry-addicted cinema-goers at any rate) of an apposite poem. The crossing answers DELIRIUM and BALUCHISTAN, as representatives of the sort of thing you might find in a Times crossword, sound just too good to be true.

Current Location: Ealing
Current Mood: nostalgic nostalgic

14 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 2nd, 2014 12:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
What wonderfully apt timing Tony! I have taken it upon myself to learn 20 (or as close to this number as possible) poems this summer which I can then recite 'off by heart' as/when needed—first on the list is Ozymandias.

I've added the two by Keats mentioned in your post to the list; any further recommendations would be warmly welcomed.

Martin Hill
tony_sever From: tony_sever Date: June 2nd, 2014 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Splendid stuff, Martin. We could discuss this off-thread, but if it's OK with you I'd like to continue here in the hope that others will chip in with their recommendations.

I need to give this some serious thought, but as a starter I suggest you include a Shakespeare sonnet. I decided to learn No. 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?) since I already knew the first four lines, but there's obviously plenty of choice.

More later.

PS: Ozymandias - great choice. I must add it to my list of candidates.
oliviarhinebeck From: oliviarhinebeck Date: June 3rd, 2014 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
What an admirable summer project - I mean to emulate. My favourite Shakespeare sonnet is the Marriage of True Minds. A revered English teacher introduced me to Donne's Valediction Forbidding Mourning when I was 16. At the same age I also had to learn a French poem every week and I'm sorry to say I've forgotten the lion's share of most of them except for Ronsard's Quand Vous Serai Bien Vieille, which is interesting compared with the Yeats version. As for Yeats, there is Sailing to Byzantium.

Tony I seem to remember we were led astray by the John Masefield misspelling of "quinquereme" in one of last year's puzzles. Lovely poem.
tony_sever From: tony_sever Date: June 3rd, 2014 11:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great to hear your views, Olivia. Many thanks.

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds ...": yes indeed, an excellent alternative. And there's "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes ...", and "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought ..." and ...

I'm afraid Donne has never been one of my favourite poets - not one of my top 20 at any rate. Martin has suggested Death be not Proud, which is obviously a good choice if he's going to include him.

"Quand vous serez (sic! egg on face there, I'm afraid, Olivia ;-) bien vieille ...": yes indeed. This is one of the poems I've learned comparatively recently, so it was just a question of making sure I had it off pat. And there's Herrick's spin-off as well, which I think would be an excellent choice if Martin wants to include one of his poems.

And Yeats's version has long been one of my favourites. (It was one of my brother's favourites as well.) I'm afraid I've never really taken to Sailing to Byzantium, but I see that Martin has included He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, which I was going to suggest as a possibility, along with The Lake Isle of Innisfree, Down by the Salley Gardens and When You Are Old. (If Martin was up for the Ronsard and the Herrick as well this last, that would make an interesting threesome.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 3rd, 2014 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you both for your suggestions—they were greatly received and have been noted. Currently the list stands at ten (or eleven if you count The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, which I promised my mum I would learn):

Donne - Valediction Forbidding Mourning/Death Be Not Proud
Keats - On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer/When I Have Fears
Milton - How Soon Hath Time
Shakespeare - Sonnets 18 & 116
Shelley - Ozymandias
Yeats - He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven/Sailing To Byzantium

Tony, if either you or Olivia think I'm heading down the wrong path with any of my choices then please don't hesitate to say!

Martin Hill

p.s. I had trouble sending this comment so if it duplicates, I apologise.
oliviarhinebeck From: oliviarhinebeck Date: June 3rd, 2014 10:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Martin: Anything by Lear is good. Have you seen Manypeeplia Upsidedownia?
tony_sever From: tony_sever Date: June 3rd, 2014 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Or Nasticreechia krorluppia?
tony_sever From: tony_sever Date: June 3rd, 2014 11:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're very much on the right lines as far as I can see, Martin - except that I'd be inclined to choose a single representative poem from 20 different poets.

I've already replied to Olivia, mentioning the poems you've included that I particularly like (and including a couple of other possibilities for Yeats).

Here are a few more thoughts: all poems that I'm considering learning or have already learned by heart (starred poems are ones I can currently recite at the drop of a hat).

Matthew Arnold: Dover Beach
W. H. Auden: As I Walked out one Evening
Robert Browning: Home Thoughts from Abroad
Byron: "She walks in beauty like the night ..."
Thomas Hardy: The Choirmaster's Burial; To Lizbie Brown
Robert Herrick: To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
A. E. Housman: On Wenlock Edge*; "Into my heart an air that kills ..."* (both from A Shropshire Lad)
John Keats: Ode to a Grecian Urn; On Leaving Some Friends at an Early Hour*
Philip Larkin: Toads; Toads Revisited
Andrew Marvell: To His Coy Mistress
Tennyson: Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal*; Tears, Idle Tears (both from The Princess)
Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night; Fern Hill*
Edward Thomas: Adlestrop
Chidiock Tichborne: Elegy
William Wordsworth: Upon Westminster Bridge*
tony_sever From: tony_sever Date: June 3rd, 2014 11:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know if you're familiar with Tichborne's Elegy. I particularly recall Nicholas Gecks reciting it in a BBC TV series some years ago, and I've just found it here on YouTube. (This is a poem I've learned off by heart in the past, but the version I know starts "My prime of youth is but a frost of cares, ...".)
oliviarhinebeck From: oliviarhinebeck Date: June 4th, 2014 10:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh dear, my French conjugation is a bit wobbly these days Tony. Although later in the poem Ronsard says "Je serai sous la terre" so I may have been thinking of that.

I'm very sorry not to be able to continue the weekly Tony's at the moment. During the warmer months we spend half our time in upstate Rhinebeck rather than NYC and our house is in a deep glacial valley not conducive to modern communications. We did experiment with internet connection via satellite at one time but it was expensive and unreliable. So we do without and use the town library if we absolutely have to. In many ways I find I don't miss it. Are you going to be doing the Guardian puzzles?
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 4th, 2014 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tony and Olivia, thank you both for your suggestions, and for taking the time to help someone who is effectively a stranger passing comment on the internet. Ever since I stumbled upon TftT I have often thought it to be the most polite and helpful corner of the internet, and your willingness to help with this undertaking has only proved me correct.

Unfortunately I can't put a name to the quote, but someone on TftT once called the Times Crossword "a second education"—in my case it's the education I never had!

Coupled with my desire and drive to improve my crossword solving skills, it's going to make for an interesting—and pleasurable—summer.

Martin Hill
grestyman From: grestyman Date: June 12th, 2014 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)


Might I tentatively suggest Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard, Edward Thomas 's March, Christina Rossetti's Remember Me, Robert Frost's After Apple Picking and Shelley's To a Skylark. I love the list so far - and the summer commitment to learning poems is such a great idea : These fragments I have stored against my ruin! Steve
tony_sever From: tony_sever Date: June 13th, 2014 10:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Poems

Many thanks for those interesting suggestions.

Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Excellent choice.

I hadn't come across Edward Thomas's March before. Edna Longley's The Annotated Collected Poems is on my list of books to read, so perhaps I'll use one of the book tokens burning a hole in my pocket and go out and buy a copy.

Christina Rossetti's Remember Me. Yes indeed - another excellent choice (with the added benefit that it's not too long :-). As is When I Am Dead, My Dearest, another great favourite.

Robert Frost's After Apple Picking wouldn't have been my first choice. Frost was actually on my shortlist of poets to recommend to Martin: but I eventually whittled it down to 15, and he was number 16, so just missed the cut. The poem of his I was going to recommend was The Road Not Taken, with the longer Mending Wall as a possible alternative.

I might well have suggested Shelley's To A Skylark myself if Martin hadn't already had Ozymandias as the first poem on his list; either that or Ode to the West Wind, a particular favourite of mine.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 14th, 2014 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the further suggestions—I plan to go into hibernation for the summer so I can learn them all!

Rather than just memorise each poem and then move onto the next, I let each 'sit' with me, as it were, so that the depths beyond the surface are revealed. I also think that using this method each poem is more likely to 'stick'.

w/r/t Robert Frost, I've just read an article about him in Prospect (which shows that I'm a country mile behind in my reading) so have added your suggestion to my list.

For anyone interested, this week's poem was Keats' When I Have Fears.

Martin Hill
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