Poetry Magazine | Guildford Poets Press

by Jeffery Wheatley
George Scroggie (1826-1907) was born in Aberdeenshire. He had sympathies with other 19th century radicals and published a collection of poems, The Peasant's Lyre, in Aberdeen in 1857. The work was dedicated, in his own words, 'to the sons of toil, to which class the author belongs'. He was a lay preacher in his later years and his poem retelling the story of Adam and Eve, with its description of Eve as a 'miserable law-breaking woman' is fashionably unfeminist.
Most of the poems have not stood up too well and often used dialect but one, Farewell to Tarwathie, is a striking exception. The full original text is below. It catches a time in history when the Scottish whaling ships were about to switch from sail to the more powerful steam, and could venture further north. The poem has a graphic description of Greenland's land and sea.

1 Farewell to Tarwathie
Adieu, Mormon Hill,
Land of my fathers
I bid you farewell.

2 Your hills and your valleys,
Your mountains of heath
Still dear to my heart
Is the land of my birth.

3 Adieu to my comrades
May God bless you all;
My friends and relations
I bid you farewell.

4 For a while I must leave you
And go to the sea
Heaven prosper the bonny ship
That I will go wi'

5 May He who never slumbers
From danger us keep,
While viewing his wonders
On the mighty deep.

6 Our ship she is rigged
And ready to sail,
Our crew they are anxious
To follow the whale.

7 Where the icebergs float,
And the stormy winds blow;
Where the land and the ocean
Is covered with snow.

8 The cold clime of Greenland
Is barren and bare;
No seed time nor harvest
Is ever known there.

9 The birds here sing sweetly
On mountain and dale;
But the songsters are mute
In the land of the whale.

10 There is no habitation
For man to live there
The king of that country
Is the fierce Greenland bear.

11 But when I am sailing
Upon the wide main
, Be cheerful and happy
Till I come again.

12 And you my dear mother,
O weep not for me,
But trust in His mercy
That ruleth the sea.

13 Who saves on the ocean
As well's on the land,
For we are all guarded
By His mighty hand.

14 He rides on the billows
And walks on the wave
His arm is powerful
To sink or to save.

15 And though I be absent
You need never fear;
There's no place so distant
But God will be there.

16 I will pray night and morning,
Dear parents, for you;
For the hope of returning
Takes the sting from adieu.

Greenland alone may not have been enough to sustain the poem, but it was collected as a folk song by Gavin Greig in 1908 and published in 1909. This is a modified and abbreviated version, based on verses 1-4 and 6-11 (my verse numbering). There are two striking additions, '. . . the dear girlie who has won my heart/The cold ice of Greenland, my love will not chill/ The longer my absence, the stronger love's thrill' and 'With our ship bumper full, we will homeward repair'. These probably helped its popularity and perhaps added a touch of hubris, amplified in a more recent adaptation to '. . . the longer my absence, more loving she'll feel'.
The music, which is an adaptation of a tune from the nineteenth century or earlier, is another story, touching on Bob Dylan (Farewell Angelina), Joan Baez, and others. By the mid twentieth century the Tarwathie was riding on a wave of popularity through the rising interest in folksong and in the whale conservation movement. Judy Collins recorded it with a background of whale song (Elektra K42110).
Meanwhile, family historians pursued the location of Tarwathie and the identity of the sailor. There were several Tarwathie farms near Morman Hill in Aberdeenshire and close to a dozen whalermen in the area at the time, including surnames featuring in known family trees, although none seems to have been specifically identified. Then there is the poet himself, who died in Devon, and his relatives, who have been researching him. And what did he write in the last 50 years of his life?
The hunt goes on.

by Jeffery Wheatley, reproduced from Weyfarers 114

A good list poem is like a firecracker. It crackles along its length as each line strikes a spark against the next one. A good found poem is similar. Take, for example, the last few lines from the order of precedency for English women in the 1937 edition of The Manual of Heraldry, which starts with The Queen, moves through lesser dignitaries such as the wives of members of the 4th class of the Royal Victorian order and finishes with:

Wives of the younger Sons of younger Sons of Peers.
Wives of the younger Sons of Baronets.
Wives of the younger Sons of Knights.
Wives of Esquires.
Wives of Gentlemen.

Most women in the list are there by marriage. From the same publication, the way that two wives can be shown on a man's escutcheon is described:

If a widower, the arms of both his wives
are placed on the sinister side.
The arms of the first wife are placed
in the upper compartment of the shield,
called the chief;
the arms of the second wife in the lower,
called the base.
This practice, however, is not usual
and the husband usually impales
the arms of the second wife alone.

My title, and a few words of heraldic explanation have been omitted. Scansion is not very smooth, which is rather too common a fault these days, but if the longer lines are read with four stresses it is a bit smoother. Found poems are not written as such. But the selection of text written in one context for display in another can produce striking effects using the mechanisms of poetry. An example is the use of words which, like impale and sinister, have quite different meanings in the two contexts, meanings which interact in the mind of the reader.

A Poem by Patrick Stevens

Leptis Magna
Broken columns in the sand,
half-sunk, a broken forum
- a city, acres of it
broken amid the African sands,
did nothing for me;
dead stones from a dead world.

The loo at the Baths did it:
thirty-seater communal, constant-flush,
where sun-tanned Romans strained
to catch the gossip and the news from Rome,
with Marcus cornering on figs
and Septimus selling futures,
Caius, as usual, thumping "Home Rule for Africa",
was answered with a fart,
or was it no politics in the loo"?
- "Dirty Dec's for the best whores in town".
Later, in narrow streets,
jostled by turbaned carriers,
dodging the camels, swearing in Latin,
fingering cloth in the shops,
wheeling and dealing
conquerors of the known world
and a dusty troop of soldiers
in from the desert
with mighty thirsts,
eyes flicking the birds.
They grinned for my camera which caught
broken columns, a wandering camel
and miles of sands that buried
the restless dead of Leptis.

(World is suddener than we fancy it - Louis Macniece, Snow)
by Jeffery Wheatley, reproduced from Weyfarers 104.

In his military days, before writing Scouting for Boys, Robert Baden-Powell escaped from Matabele (now Zimbabwean) natives by running over large stones, putting only one foot on each and using a foot and eye coordination beyond local ability, which he attributed to his skill at country dancing. There are poems that work in this way, moving quickly from image to image, seeing the next before leaving the last so that they share associations common to each and sweep the thought chain along without a pause.
William Empson wrote poems that skip along the shared borders of life, science and metaphysics so that his Camping Out could begin with the practicalities:
And now she cleans her teeth into the lake:
and within a few lines find that:
Soap tension the star pattern magnifies.
and conclude that
Who moves so among stars their frame unties;
See where they blur, and die, and are outsoared.
Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity remains a classic analysis of the poetry of associations.
The late Patrick (Paddy) Stevens, a brave and distinguished soldier and a Surrey poet, used to say that words strike sparks off one another. Sparks formed by associated ideas provide the links, which may be logical, punning or based on the similarity of words. They allow swift movement from idea to idea and increase the intensity of the work. A few lines from his Declaration of Independence provide an example. Pivotal words have been emboldened by me, not by him:
So dare I fumble with your soul
and offer tentative regrets?
Am I an accident of time
that will catch you on a claw
or set the world upon a rack
and coldly take the pleasures I desire?
Other lines from the same poem show the turbulence of his vision:
What is the mystery of the singing bird?
. . .
I've spread my feathers on the football field, deployed my argument in debate:
the ragged ends of my desires
are groping for a touch,
not yet connected to the national system.
Can I devise a model to explore
the massive range of my emotions
and the tumbling pictures in my brain?
I look into your eyes to find
the ghosts of ancient warriors
who ravished on a whim.

Quickness of movement is not the same as obscurity. Nor does clear mean prosey. Poems in which the links are personal, rather than intuitive, may be inaccessible to the reader. The cloud of associations may do their work subconsciously, so that they cause the hairs on the back of your neck to rise before you understand why. The effect can be heightened if the poem has a good plot, for example one in which an idea introduced casually at the beginning suddenly returns at the end, given a new and deeper meaning by what has passed between.
Louis MacNiece's fine poem, Snow, moves in only twelve lines from the sight of a bowl of roses against a window with snow beyond it through the unexpected nature of everyday things to an almost mystical conclusion that
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses
The conclusion itself is rich in associations, recalling the 17th century metaphysical poet George Herbert's hymn/poem The Elixir:
A man that looks on glass
On it may stay his eye
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass
And then the Heaven espy
Herbert was connected with a religious community at Little Gidding (the title and subject of Eliot's fourth Quartet, a poem in which snow and roses are key images). And early on in Eliot's poem we have:
. . . Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer
. . .
Which of itself provides a little surprise, because Eliot suggests springtime whereas much of MacNiece's imagery seem to imply winter, and it recalls the MacNiece line that:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

The Australian poet Les Murray shows the same facility with associations in many of his poems. There is a series of disconcerting prospects in The Engineer Formerly Known as Strangelove, where he describes the process:
The Cold War is a Dämmerung long since of dead Götter
But I am still in cutting edge high tech.
In a think-tank up to my neck
I rotate, projecting scenarios.

Let it not be thought that I am suggesting that all good poems are built in this way, not least because I have made no mention of other virtues. There are poems written from the heart which reach the reader through their simplicity, directness, good diction and absence of false sentiment but which make little or no use of associative devices. Approaches to form vary greatly but good poems have common features. Somewhere in his writings Robert Graves likened a finished poem to a round tower, from which no stone can be added and none taken away. This is a good test.

William Empson, 1955. Collected Poems, Chatto and Windus.
William Empson, 1961. Seven Types of Ambiguity, Peregrine Books.
T. S. Eliot, 1959. Four Quartets, Faber and Faber. George Herbert, 1889 edition of poems with Walton's Life, Walter Scott, London.
Louis MacNiece, 1949. Collected Poems 1925-1948, Faber and Faber. Les Murray, 2002. Poems the Size of Photographs, Carcanet.
Patrick Stevens, 1976. Declaration of Independence, Guildford Poets Press.

by Jeffery Wheatley, reproduced from Weyfarers 108.

The first half of the 19th century was a turbulent period in British social history.A few poets reflected it and sometimes their work is enduring, for example Shelley:I met Murder on the way.He had a mask like Castlereagh . . . (The Masque of Anarchy). Free Trade was a great economic issue. The Corn Lawskept bread prices too high for the poor.Tennyson was a freetrader and this is reflected in several of his poems. Our National Anthem dates from 1745, during the Jacobite Rising . Ebenezer Elliott was born in Rotherham in 1781. He hated school and was sent to work in a foundry by his father.He later became a powerful campaigner against social injustice and the Corn Laws.He was helped in his poetry by his father’s library and by Southey. Towards the end of his life he was asked to write an anthem for the people.He produced this:


When wilt thou save the people?

Oh, God of mercy! when?

Not kings and lords, but nations!

Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Flowers of thy heart, oh, God, are they!

Let them not pass, like weeds, away!

Their heritage a sunless day!

God ! save the people!

Shall crime bring crime for ever,

Strength aiding still the strong?

Is it thy will, oh, Father,

That man shall toil for wrong?

No! say thy mountains; No! thy skies

Man’s clouded sun shall brightly rise,

And songs be heard, instead of sighs.

God, save the people!

When wilt thou save the people?

Oh, God of Mercy! when?

The people, Lord, the people !

Not thrones and crowns, but men!

God! save the people! thine they are,

Thy children, as thy angels fair:

Save them from bondage, and despair !

God, save the people !

Elliott died in 1849. The power of his piece was soon noticed in non-conformist circles and it found its way into some of the hymn books, where it remained (with a couple of edits) until at least the 1950s. Not kings and lords, but nations became The people, Lord, the people! Bondage became vice and oppression.The hymn was a not infrequent choice in a Dorking church in the 1960s, another period of social change and unrest, when the popularity of the monarchy was in decline.

flying swans, a symbol of people travelling