Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jaded with jonquils?

Thinking and trying to reply to the comments for the daffies, I found I had quite a lot to say...

That damned poem, Dave called it, telling how his mother recites it every spring, 'as dependable as spring itself', while Joe pleads its case 'if only we come to it as if for the first time'. Yes, it is utterly familiar, trite, one might say. And it's subject matter is light, sweet, sugary, one might say...

Are we able to look at a show of daffodils without thinking about it? Are we unable to come to daffodils themselves as if for the first time because of it? Possibly not, which was why I whimsically broke up the images of the daffodils with the fragments of the text of the poem. But how able are we to look at anything without our cultural experiences and preconceptions affecting our perception of them?

Then GrannyJ's comment about her late mother reciting it near the end of her life moved me so much, and affirmed what I was coming to think about it, which reminded me also of Gillian Clarke's famous 'Miracle on St David's Day' (the link is to a post on Ally's blog, the only place I could find a tidy copy of it...). It is not only a poem about ickle pretty flowers. It is about what Jan Struther called 'stored up beauty': the experiences one internalises that stay and come back, often unasked, to 'flash upon that inward eye'. And it for so many people the poem itself has become an element in that internal storehouse, that matrix of stuff that makes up the critical bone mass density of the spirit, that we fall back on when, for whatever reason, the new and the fresh and the original is not available or accesible to us. These thing are often those which were forced down our throats as youngsters, that we scoffed at or disregarded at the time, but are grateful for later.

GrannyJ's mother must have learned it some ninety years ago, quite possibly from someone who was alive when Wordsworth was, and that is another aspect of the matter, the continuity and connection with the past such things give us. They are something shared.

And I suppose, the perennial appeal of the poem is the perennial appeal of spring itself. You really have to be very churlish to look about you in March, and say, 'Oh no, not bloody daffodils again!'

17 comments:

zhoen said...

I had to parse out which poem you meant, find it, generally recognize it, and then sigh in exasperation at forcing children to read or memorize specific works of literature. It did not strike me as trite, but then I have not carried it in my head all my life.

Lucy said...

Mmm. Perhaps as many are put off by it as end up grateful for it...

I suppose if you have a curriculum you have some set texts. I never minded much, there were books I disliked and struggled with, as well as those I liked, we didn't do too much learning by rote. There are things I studied I disliked at the time, or found difficult, like Hopkins, but am glad I have in my head, but that tended to be at a stage where I had chosen the subject if not the texts, so the discipline was at least partially self-imposed.

I don't think too many people ever hated 'Daffodils', or found it too painful to learn, simply rather soppy and tiresome, perhaps.

Reluctant Blogger said...

I think we should always take the time to appreciate each season as it arrives. I love daffodils and they remind me of the ten years I spent in Wales and all the little girls dressing up in trad costume on St David's Day with their daffodils pinned on. In an average life we only experience each season about 75 or 80 times. That's not very many occasions really is it when you think about it.
I am not a big Wordsworth fan but each to their own.

We always have a good display of daffodils - it cheers me up and shows me that winter is once more over.

Tall Girl said...

I'm rather sad my writers' group's concensus appears to be you cannot put a daffodil in a poem AT ALL ... even in an utterly different context. Maybe I'll post the poem in question and see what y'all think...

Rosie said...

Even this hardened woman's heart is stirred just a little by the first yellow show. That's if the dog doesnt dig them all up...

Granny J said...

Thank you for the thoughtful and understanding commentary on Mom and her memory for poetry. For most of my life, I have belonged to the modern school, which scoffs at rote memorization. Then my mother hit that time of her life when her short term memory was shot, and I found that reading old standard poetry to her made a wonderful visit as she recited along with my reading. Too late we learn some of life's lessons, I fear.

Granny J said...

Oh -- and from an entirely different aspect of my life, daffodils are wonderful for my garden here in mountain Arizona. They are one of the few bulb flowers that the javelina do NOT dig up and eat.

Isabelle said...

I wonder what a javelina is.

Round here, the councils have in recent years planted up lots of grass verges beside country roads with daffodils and I think they look fantastic. But I read a newspaper article last year saying that the writer was fed up seeing great swathes of bright yellow everywhere. It takes all sorts.

I'm for memorising, definitely. Like music you really learn, poetry you really learn enriches your life for ever.

meggie said...

I don't mind the poem, & I positively love the flowers. To me they are miracles of nature, & I never cease to feel enriched by their wonderful prescence.

Mike said...

I do love all the changing seasons, but spring is without a doubt my favorite. It also seems to be a favorite of poets everywhere.

Lucy said...

Thanks for interesting responses.
In fact nobody gets anything positive out of anything forced on them painfully; so speaking of things 'forced down our throats' is perhaps not appropriate. Good teachers don't force but motivate, and that's what stays with you. Much of my stores of poetry is actually stuff that my mum learned by heart, largely voluntarily, I think, when she was young, and used to recite to us. Sometimes we groaned but liked it really, certainly I admired her memory for it.

But I do think kids actually have a propensity to memorise and rather enjoy doing so, at least when it's something they're interested in, poetry, drama, the periodic table, bones of the human body, whatever. Also, it's worth challenging them with something a bit difficult sometimes (which harks back to the thread on Bronowsky earlier), and accept they might struggle or not get it all, but enough will stick to be worthwhile.

RB - yes, they remind me of living in Wales too. And spring does have this urgency that makes us feel we won't ever get enough of it. Wordsworth is not an all time favourite for me; he could write like an angel but also produced some real turkeys. Daffs is perhaps somewhere in between...

TG - that is indeed saddening. Do post the poem in question.

Rosie - oh you hardened woman you! Who needs javelinas when you've got Porridge...

GJ - thank you for the inspiration. I find it hard to think of daffodils in Arizona, but I'm glad they thrive there!

Isabelle - now if you read GJ's blog regularly, you would know of the starring role played by javelinas! They are these feisty little wild pigs which dig up everybody's gardens, they have someting of a local mascot status, exhibitions are organised around the theme of them. It's amazing what you learn blogging isn't it?
Your newspaper writer was a real bah humbug!

Meggie - they are indeed, instant sunshine!

Mike - the sap is rising...

Rob Hopcott said...

To me daffodils, bluebells, snowdrops and primroses are special because I have seen them so often in the wild, nestling in some of my favorite places in the high hedgerows of the UK West Country.

I know there are startlingly beautiful hybrid flowers but somehow the context makes the flower that bit more special.

Dave King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave King said...

Hi,
I'm not quite sure what went wrong, but to the best of my knowledge I have already left this comment - or one like it - but cannot now find it. It was merely to wonder why it is that no one saw sunflowers the way they do now until they caught a little of van Gogh's vision, and maybe we do not feel able to paint sunflowers now - How do you follow that? - but the feelings are all positive. Why should they be negative in the case of the bluebells? I did finish by saying, heck, I may try to write a poem on bluebells - but that's a statement of intent, not a promise!
If this is a duplicate, junk it! Super blog, by the way.

stitchwort said...

Wordsworth's daffodil poem is probably one of the few that many people recall - along with Keats' "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", which is the one that really irritates me.

marlyat2 said...

Several years back I made an anthology of poems for children to memorize--they picked what they liked and did a performance later on. My daughter still remembers her Kathleeen Raine poem, and the passage from "A Midsummer's Night's Dream." I wish I knew more by heart. Surprising to me how very often some drift into my head: "Margaret, are your grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving" or "From you have I been absent in the spring."

Teaching poems to death instead of learning to know their ways by memorizing them has been a poor exchange in schools.

Dave King said...

Correction!
In my comment above, for bluebells please read daffodils. On one level this was a result of multi-tasking, on a completely different level, a senior moment! Apologies.