Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1726) To a Young Poet
For the first twenty years you are still growing Bodily that is: as a poet, of course, You are not born yet. It's the next ten You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking For your brash courtship of the muse. You will take seriously those first affairs With young poems, but no attachments Formed then but come to shame you, When love has changed to a grave service Of a cold queen. From forty on You learn from the sharp cuts and jags Of poems that have come to pieces In your crude hands how to assemble With more skill the arbitrary parts Of ode or sonnet, while time fosters A new impulse to conceal your wounds From her and from a bold public, Given to pry. You are old now As years reckon, but in that slower World of the poet you are just coming To sad manhood, knowing the smile On her proud face is not for you.
I've always been an admirer of R.S. Thomas's poetry. He has a voice that is at once gentle and precise - the voice of a country vicar who understands sorrow and offers, if not hope, than at least consolation. But there is also a hardness to the voice, a tough, sinewy sort of wisdom blended with an ear both polished and exact. The result is poems that possess few things to startle us with, but impress with their very simplicity - the ring of plain truth married to fine, high speech. This poem is an excellent example. As a description of the difficult craft of poetry - its triumphs and failures, its enthusiasms and disappointments - it is perhaps unmatched. Thomas captures so perfectly the simple fact that anyone who's ever seriously tried writing poetry has experienced - that poems you thought were brilliant when you were twenty now seem foolish, almost embarassing, and that you have to write for years and years before you can turn out even one true poem, and even then it's never good enough. But Thomas also manages, through his careful phrasing ("poems that have come to pieces / in your crude hands"), to convey the intense labour it takes to write a poem, the sense of wrestling with parts of a complex machine, without blueprint or instructions, hoping that the cogs will somehow come together. And finally, Thomas expresses so well the sense of resignation that comes with knowing that you're never going to be as good a poet as you thought you could be. Keats writes somewhere "'Tis a gentle luxury to weep / That I have not the cloudy winds to keep / Fresh for the opening of the morning's eye" - it's the same note of acceptance mixed with a sense of self-irony that brings this poem to a close. A young lady who fancies herself a poet recently sent me a set of her own poems, asking me for feedback. While the poem I initially reached for in reply was another R. S. Thomas masterpiece (one I couldn't find on the web, though. Something about - I quote from sketchy memory - "thank you for sending me your poems / But they are no good / I understand why you wrote them / But why send them to me? / Why not bury them, as the cat its faeces?" Full text anyone?), this is the one I would eventually settle on. As advice to anyone seriously considering writing poetry, I can't think of anything better. Aseem