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A Performance of Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon -- Elizabeth Jennings

Guest poem sent in by Simon

The Aldrich (Poem #1018) prompts me to suggest this one (can't believe
you've only had one Elizabeth Jennings poem on Minstrels!)
(Poem #1019) A Performance of Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon
 Nature teaches us our tongue again
 And the swift sentences came pat. I came
 Into cool night rescued from rainy dawn.
 And I seethed with language - Henry at
 Harfleur and Agincourt came apt for war
 In Ireland and the Middle East. Here was
 The riddling and right tongue, the feeling words
 Solid and dutiful. Aspiring hope
 Met purpose in "advantages" and "He
 That fights with me today shall be my brother."
 Say this is patriotic, out of date.
 But you are wrong. It never is too late

 For nights of stars and feet that move to an
 Iambic measure; all who clapped were linked,
 The theatre is our treasury and too,
 Our study, school-room, house where mercy is

 Dispensed with justice. Shakespeare has the mood
 And draws the music from the dullest heart.
 This is our birthright, speeches for the dumb
 And unaccomplished. Henry has the words
 For grief and we learn how to tell of death
 With dignity. "All was as cold" she said
 "As any stone" and so, we who lacked scope
 For big or little deaths, increase, grow up
 To purposes and means to face events
 Of cruelty, stupidity. I walked
 Fast under stars. The Avon wandered on
 "Tomorrow and tomorrow". Words aren't worn
 Out in this place but can renew our tongue,
 Flesh out our feeling, make us apt for life.
-- Elizabeth Jennings
I find this poem incredibly moving and evocative. Whenever I read it I
think of trips to Stratford, the little footbridge over the Avon and the
bright lights of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It also seems to me a
fitting tribute to Elizabeth Jennings herself, who died last year.

But (as with all of Jennings's poems) it also uses language in an
incredibly precise way. The frequent alliteration drives the rhythm of
the iambic pentameter and every word is perfectly chosen - "seethes with
language"; "The riddling and right tongue, the feeling words"; and that
fantastic final line, "Flesh out our feeling, make us apt for life."

Simon

Links:

Biography of Jennings:
[broken link] http://www.rcc.ait.ac.th/staff/suman/ElizabethJennings.html

The previous Jennings poem on Minstrels: Poem #249, 'Delay'

And yesterday's Aldrich poem: Poem #1018, 'At Stratford-Upon-Avon'

27 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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