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Everything Changes -- Cicely Herbert

(Poem #938) Everything Changes
        after Brecht, 'Alles wandelt sich'

 Everything changes. We plant
 trees for those born later
 but what's happened has happened,
 and poisons poured into the seas
 cannot be drained out again.

 What's happened has happened
 poisons poured into the seas
 cannot be drained out again, but
 everything changes. We plant
 trees for those born later.
-- Cicely Herbert
 A gem of a poem, clever without being pretentious, sincere without being
sentimental, and quietly optimistic without being irritatingly warm and
fuzzy. It's that last point which matters most to me, I suppose: heaven
knows the world could do with a bit more optimism, yet there are times when
I have nothing but impatience for the way people cheapen even this simple
emotion. Optimism is not the mindless repetition of twee platitudes. It is
not the blind rejection of the perversity of the world, or the unthinking
refusal to accept that "the best laid plans o' mice an' men / gang aft
a-gley". It is not a creation of that most insidious of beasts, political
correctness. No, it's something much deeper - it's a taking up of the
challenge of life, the joy and the terror, the laughter and the tears. It's
a way of accepting the world, and coming to face with it on equal terms.
It's a philosophy of life, and let's be thankful that we have poets like Ms
Herbert to remind us of this fact.


[Sort of Biography and Stuff]

 Of Cicely Herbert I know nothing, except the fact that she was one of the
three people behind 'Poems on the Underground'. Here are her own words on
the subject:

 "When we began to scatter poems about in public, we had so idea how people
would respond; it was all a bit reminiscent of the lovesick youth in the
Forest of Arden, hanging "odes upon hawthorns and elegies on brambles". Not
that the London Underground is anything like the Forest of Arden; on the
contrary, it is the ultimate expression of the modern urban working world.
But poetry thrives on paradox, and the poems seemed to take on new and
surprising life when they were removed from books and set amongst the
adverts. Commuters enjoyed the idea of reading Keats' "Much have I travell'd
in the realms of gold" on a crowded Central Line train, or trying to
memorise a sonnet between Leicester Square and Hammersmith. Just as we had
hoped, the poems provided relief, caused smiles, offered refreshment to the
soul -- and all in a place where one would least expect to find anything
remotely poetic."

 -- Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik, Cicely Herbert
 -- Introduction to "Poems on the Underground (print anthology)"

 The back cover of the book has this potted biography:

 "Cicely Herbert is a writer, a member of the Barrow Poets, and an adult
education teacher. She has written several performance pieces with music by
Jim Parker. These include, for BBC TW, "Petticoat Lane", and two concert
pieces commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, "Scenes from Victorian London" and
"La Comedie Humaine". Her poetry includes "In Hospital", 1992."

 -- "Poems on the Underground (print anthology)"

[Minstrels Links]

Yes, poetry can be wonderfully uplifting. Read the following:
Poem #177, Where The Mind is Without Fear  -- Rabindranath Tagore
Poem #218, Psalm 23  -- David
Poem #337, Jimmy Giuffre Plays 'The Easy Way'  -- Adrian Mitchell
Poem #392, Good  -- R. S. Thomas
Poem #874, Sometimes -- Sheenagh Pugh
Poem #103, Jenny Kissed Me  -- James Leigh Hunt
Poem #14, Prologue  -- Dylan Thomas

Incidentally, the Burns quote I used above is from
Poem #776, To A Mouse -- Robert Burns

32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Martin DeMello said...

> A gem of a poem, clever without being pretentious, sincere without being
> sentimental, and quietly optimistic without being irritatingly warm and
> fuzzy. It's that last point which matters most to me, I suppose: heaven

"Clever" is an understatement - the poem's construction, and the manner in
which Herbert turns what could have been a mere pretty curiosity[1] into a
powerful, haunting poem, are nothing short of brilliant.

[1] the pitfall here being not pretension but a playful concentration on the
entertainingly clever possibilities inherent in the form, of the sort that
has produced lots of wonderful verse, but little real 'poetry'


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