Thursday 13 June 2013

Two poems about the same thing

Here are two poems about timepieces which are also (of course) about mutability. The first is I assume about a pocket-watch (wrist watches did not become popular until the 1920s) and it's slightly surprising, given the author's usual subject matter. The style is immediately recognisable though - it's by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

To His Watch

Mortal my mate, bearing my rock-a-heart
Warm beat with cold beat company, shall I
Earlier or you fail at our force, and lie
The ruins of, rifled, once a world of art?
The telling time our task is; time’s some part,
Not all, but we were framed to fail and die—
One spell and well that one. There, ah thereby
Is comfort’s carol of all or woe’s worst smart.

Field-flown, the departed day no morning brings
Saying ‘This was yours’ with her, but new one, worse,
And then that last and shortest…

(The poem doesn't end - it just stops, reminding me of a gloomy inscription, reportedly devised by Lewis Carroll, to be engraved on the base of a sundial: Vulnerant omnes; ultima necat - each one wounds, the last one kills.

The second poem is by W. S. Graham, who was a close friend of the painter Roger Hilton who lived in a cottage in the Cornish village of Botallack. When Hilton died in 1975 Graham inherited his wristwatch, and this prompted one of his best poems.

Hilton in Bed, Botallack, Photograph by Jorge Lewinski (1974)
© The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth

Lines on Roger Hilton's watch

Which I was given because
I loved him and we had
Terrible times together.

O tarnished ticking time

Piece with your bent hand,
You must be used to being
Looked at suddenly
In the middle of the night
When he switched the light on
Beside his bed. I hope
You told him the best time
When he lifted you up
To meet the Hilton gaze.

I lift you up from the mantle

Piece here in my house
Wearing your verdigris.
At least I kept you wound
And put my ear to you
To hear Botallack tick.

You realize your master

Has relinquished you
And gone to lie under
The ground at St Just.

Tell me the time. The time

Is Botallack o'clock.
This is the dead of night.

He switches the light on

To find a cigarette
And pours himself a Teachers.
He picks me up and holds me
Near his lonely face
To see my hands. He thinks
He is not being watched.

The images of his dream

Are still about his face
As he spits and tries not
To remember where he was.

I am only a watch

And pray time hastes away.
I think I am running down.

Watch, it is time I wound

You up again. I am
Very much not your dear
Last master but we had
Terrible times together.

© W. S. Graham Collected Poems published by Faber and Faber

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