Let’s talk poetry

Come this September I’ll have travelled sixty times around the sun, seemingly endlessly looping around the star as it in turn circumnavigates the galaxy which is itself wheeling through space on its own course. It’s enough to make you giddy.

It is true though that the older you get the more you do realise that there is just so much more that you don’t know, so much that you weren’t aware of and by implication, so many things that you’re just never going to know of or get to grips with; but enough metaphysical whatnotery.

Just recently, bouncing around on the interweb, as you do, I came across a fragment of something written by Rudyard Kipling:

“We are greater than the Peoples or the Kings,
Be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!
Our touch can alter all created things,
We are everything on earth – except The Gods!”

Curiosity piqued, I searched for more information and eventually found that it’s a stanza from a piece called; “The Secret of the Machines (Modern Machinery)” a poem which I’d never heard of before. First published in 1911, it describes the (then) burgeoning modern mechanical world and somewhat like Robert Louis Stevenson’s “From a Railway Carriage” it has an almost mechanical metre to it. I’m not going to reproduce the whole piece here, seek it out if you are similarly intrigued (there is a link below), but I’ve set out a few lines. The work starts in quite an upbeat manner, describing all manner of good things that machines can do:

“…And now, if you will set us to our task,
We will serve you four and twenty hours a day!”

But towards the end there is a solemn and somewhat sobering warning:

“…We can neither love nor pity nor forgive.
If you make a slip in handling us you die!”

Wow! That’s as true now as it ever was, today’s overwrought Elven Savety notwithstanding. I read the poem through a few times, digesting something different with every pass. It’s a wonderful piece; it certainly pushed the right buttons in my emotional response unit interface.

The poem ends in a slightly whimsical and almost existential manner:

“…Because, for all our power and weight and size,
We are nothing more than children of your brain!”

In my honest opinion I think it’s fantastic, fantastic as in extraordinarily good and fantastic as in whimsical and full of imagery. Where has this poem been all my life?

It may be trivial, reading for the first time a poem that’s been around for over 100 years but it’s the sort of thing that really makes your day; it made my day.

Another poem which I really like is “Jenny Kiss’d Me” by Leigh Hunt which was originally published in 1838; But unlike “The Secret of the Machines”, I have known of “Jenny Kiss’d Me” for a long time. As you may imagine from the title it is somewhat different in character to “Machines”, it’s also much shorter and dare I say, sweeter. It still brings a smile to my face every time I read it, it’s such a simple thing, a bit like me I suppose, but once again it just pushes the right buttons:
Here’s the whole thing:

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.

Maybe it was something to do with having had a schoolboy crush on a Jenny, many years ago (sorry Jen if you’re reading this, and no, Kezza didn’t know…), maybe, maybe not, I knew the poem before I knew the Jenny, but eight short lines pack so much in. I love it.

Yes, of course I wrote poems as a young man, doesn’t everyone go through a poetry phase? Again, maybe, maybe not. I also painted pictures; I was even known to do the odd wall here and there, notably my bedroom walls in a striking tangerine colour, mainly to match the Tangerine Dream concert poster I had at the time. Friars, Aylesbury – August 14th, 1975, my first and only Tangerine Dream gig.

Some of us never really come out of the poetry phase, even if we don’t actively still write the stuff; it’s more of a state of mind, I think. A couple of years ago, thinking that I’d start writing again, I dusted-off my little cache of poems and read through them. I was pleasantly surprised in that most of them seemed to have stood the test of time. Sure, some are a bit cheesy (And in my heart all the beautiful verse and those flowery words still exist), some are a bit pretentious (My eye is lost in finite bounds and stares like subject poetry) but on the whole, I though they weren’t that bad. I’d written one poem called “Atlas shrugged”, maybe you can see where my teenage mind was at, I’d listened to Rush, I’d read Ayn Rand. I was young, fresh out of school, earning money and the world was my lobster, oyster, whatever.

So yes, I thought I’d see if I could start writing poems again, I’d had an idea you see, the ideas have always come I suppose, I’d just never done anything with them, but I had this idea floating around in my head, so I tried to get it down on paper. I succeeded; I think. It turned into a piece which I rather fancifully entitled “Four million tonnes per second”.

As I said, I wrote poetry many years ago and yes, as I stated above, I still have copies of those poems but here, from 2013:

Four million tonnes per second

I
Gotta mobile phone and a very good job
Gotta mortgage pension interest free loan
A first class 4 by 4 package holiday
Gotta little red car gotta go go far
Gotta go go go, gotta go got no time

Gotta three point plan with a gilt edged review
Gotta play-back payback fund with good profits
A spectrum emulator and games to play
I read a book once it told me I could win
Gotta go go go, gotta go got no time

Gotta girl friend boy friend a live in lover
Gotta red hat hatchback I got va va voom
A dollar yen avoirdupois spreadsheet report
I got out of my mind what was I thinking?
Gotta go go go, gotta go got no time

II
I had a friend once, we laughed, cried, wished
we spent long days under empty skies
out of my mind
we laughed, cried, wished; dreams and memories
thought for what was right but I had no time
and I had to go

I had a friend once we laughed, cried, wished
but I had no time and I had to go
out of my mind
I read a book once It told me how to win
What was I winning?
out of my mind

I had a friend once who told me about the sun
hydrogen to helium to memories. I saw the sun once
hydrogen to helium
what was I thinking?
thoughts to dreams to memories
out of my mind

III
four million tonnes per second
hydrogen to helium
four million tonnes per second
four billion years
got no time
I think I’ve got no time
four billion years
got no time
I had a friend once
Had no time
Told me about the sun
four million tonnes per second hydrogen to helium
for millions of years
I had a friend once
got no time
I never saw the sun
four billion years
I never looked before
four million tonnes per second
I had a friend once
told me about the sun

IV
So I looked and watched the sun set
and then I saw the stars…

Well, no, it probably won’t win any prizes but the very act of writing it had a very pleasing effect.
So, there you are, I not only talked a bit about poetry, I wrote a piece on-the-fly as it were.

Link to The Secret of the Machines on the Kipling Society website.

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