Sunday, December 28, 2014

The morning and I meet up again

After many leaden days in London there was a bright sun rising over the rooftops this morning.  It seemed a good moment to listen to Alice Oswald's dawn poem 'Tithonus' on the BBC iPlayer (still available for another four weeks).  This was a shortened version of the performance we went to see back in October at the Queen Elizabeth Hall:
'The world premiere of a specially commissioned new poem, read by the poet herself.
In Greek mythology, the Dawn fell in love with Tithonus and asked Zeus to make him immortal, but she forgot to ask that he should not grow old.  Unable to die, he grew older and older, until at last Dawn locked him in a room where, several thousand years later, he still sits babbling to himself.  This is an account of his babbling, written in real time, through a series of dawns from spring to midsummer 2014. It is a poem about survival.
The performance begins in darkness and lasts 46 minutes (the length of dawn in midsummer).'
Looking back on Twitter for my instant verdict then, I see I said "Alice Oswald performing her dawn poem Tithonus last night reminded me of Patti Smith (if she'd done Classics and lived in Devon)."  I was thinking about the similarities in the way they perform their poetry over music, holding you from the start and building to a point where language starts to overflow and key phrases turn into a refrain (I wrote here a few years ago about a Patti Smith performance like this, a tribute to W. G. Sebald).  At the same time I was conscious of the differences - Patti Smith's rock & roll romanticism and New York drawl contrasting with Alice Oswald's classical learning and precise diction.  The comparison feels less obvious with this new radio version, which had slightly less time for the impressive nykelharp accompaniment of Griselda Sanderson and cut the later part of the poem where poor babbling Tithonus repeats the same lines over and over.  However, listening to it rather than experiencing the performance focused my attention much more on the words of the poem itself.  Here are a few from 12 minutes in (I am transcribing from the broadcast so do not have the line breaks); a vision of the coming dawn: 
'...the wood still lost in its inmost unable.  And mist forms an orderly queue for the horizon.  Green ropes of wind.  White silks of field.  And buried under several feet of colour, the eyes can never quite see out, but it is glittering now in the gaps between things.  And a thistle begins to be properly named and certain of its spikes.  What a chandelier of dock flowers dangles from the ground inverted.  So the morning and I meet up again, but not on talking terms.'
Waking up this morning


Hels said...

"So the morning and I meet up again, but not on talking terms." Oh I hear you... I do! It doesn't matter how glorious the colours, how silken the waving fields... some of the world will never ever ever be morning people!

Plinius said...

Agree. I am conscious that my photo is either out of focus or evidence of very blurry windows, but either way that's how I feel when I wake up...