The header picture is a poppy in the front garden. It was taken at about 10 am and the petals are still crumpled from being in the bud. They don’t last long, by 2 pm, as a previous photo showed, they are already losing their petals. It’s a hard life being a poppy. As a man who is crumpled from life, and has bits falling off, I sympathise with these flowers.
Poppy – already falling apart
I am, as I have often mentioned, 61 years old, and have spoken English all my life. I have read extensively and must have heard millions of words spoken. Today, on Pointless, I heard about tall poppies for the first time.
It seems it is a well known idiom, but it has passed me by. It’s not one of these words that has suddenly appeared either, it was first used in English in 1710 and dates back to Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last King of Rome.
It is also, it seems, a common figure of speech in Australia and New Zealand.
I feel happy to have found a new concept in English, but very ignorant not to have already known it.
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com
This is another stock photo, as none of my poppies look particularly tall.
I will leave you with a link to a poem about tall nettles by Edward Thomas. I’ve put it in the blog several times, so sorry to be repetitive, but I can’t think of too many poems featuring tall flowers.
According to Thomas’s Wikipedia entry the Petersfield Museum holds 1,800 books about Thomas in a study centre. I think I’ve read three. The feeling of ignorance persists…
What happened today? Ate bacon, eggs and sausage, couldn’t park outside the shop, packed parcels, sorted coins and saw customers. Not a bad day but not exactly adventurous. It’s the sort of day that used to get explorers in the mood for travel. Thanks to generations of bored explorers there are now no things left to discover, so I needed something different to do.
I thought I’d try feeding poems into on-line translators and see what happened. I used Tall Nettles by Edward Thomas as it’s quite short and he’s been dead for a hundred years so it’s out of copywright.
TALL nettles cover up, as they have done These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough Long worn out, and the roller made of stone: Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.
This corner of the farmyard I like most: As well as any bloom upon a flower I like the dust on the nettles, never lost Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.
I translated it into Welsh, because it’s quite a poetic language. Then I translated it back.
TALL BALLS pay for a length, as they have done
these in many wells, the rusty oblique,
the Long digestion curve, and the roller make of stone:
Only the lamb stomach is at the top of the breathe now.
The corner of the yard I like most:
As well as any flowering on a flower
I like the dust of the flame,
never losing exclusion to experience shower mimster.
No, I couldn’t find “mimster” in the dictionary either. Next I tried Italian.
TALL nettles cover, as they did These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plow Long worn and stone roll: Only the bottom of the elm is on top of the nettles.
I like this corner of the farm: As well as any flower on a flower I like dust on nettles, I’ve never lost Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.
It seems to have stayed closer to the original.
Nettles in the Woods
Then, of course, I had to try Xhosa. For a language that includes a lot of clicks it stayed reasonably close to the original.
RULE is issuing sticks, as it does These many sources, the riding horse, the farmer Long term, and stone roller: Only elm butt elevates fat now.
This farmhouse is my favorite: Together with any bloom of flowers I like dust in the ministry, never lost Besides showing the enjoyment of a couple.
I know what some of you are thinking…
TALL is cut short, as it does The many creams, the rusty crest, wing Long-term value and stone: Communication is too late.
This clogfe bag would like more: Add any flower to the flower I love the dust with fat, and I do not lose it In addition to trying to eat food.
Yes, it’s Welsh, Italian and Xhosa, and no, I can’t find “clogfe” in the dictionary, which is a shame.
So, apart from teaching us to ignore exercises in poetry books, what does this tell us about the nature of poetry?
Let’s be honest – nothing.
It does, however, give a possible insight into the difficult nature of international politics and the role of translators.
And it’s a good argument for keeping computers out of the hands of men with time on their hands.
It also covers the question of his punctuation. I don’t know about you but in some of Thomas’s verse, like the quote at the top of the page, the punctuation seems at variance with the natural rhythymn of speech. This is intentional, though my personal feeling is that it doesn’t improve the piece.
The “Georgian” refers to George V and was meant to show the modernity of the new poetry as it emerged from the time of Victoria. It may have done at the time, but it always makes me think of George III. The fact that the modernists took over after the war also tends to make the Georgians look old-fashioned, despite their intentions.
You’ll need to read the book to get the full details – Matthew Hollis is much better at explaining than I am.
To summarise, as the war came, Thomas was a well-known (and over-worked) literary critic and a difficult husband. He moved to Dymock to be amongst the poets who had congregated there and under the influence of Frost (who had come to England to advance his poetry career) started writing poetry. After much soul-searching, he joined the army, bacame an instructor and, instead of staying in the UK instructing, applied for a commision and went to France . I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say it didn’t end well.
Hollis covers a lot of ground in this book, and does so in depth. Despite this it’s almost always interesting and moves along at a decent pace.
The exception to this is several of the passages dealing with the theory of poetry. However, they aren’t long and don’t hold things up too much. That’s what happens when you have a book about poets written by a poet – the style is good, the information is well handled and you get all the passion you could ask for. But you do get a bit too much discussion of poetry.
It’s an excellent book, with an interesting in-depth view of Thomas’s poetry career and family life set within the literary life of the UK in the lead up to the Great War. You can read it as history or biography or literary criticism.
If you get a chance do read it. I mean, how often do you hear me being this enthusiastic about a book?
Of course, if you aren’t interested in the Great War or poetry, it might not be the book for you.
It sometimes seems that there’s only a handful of people who actually like nettles, and I only like them because I can threaten people with nettle soup when they visit the farm.
Since I started cooking with nettles they have even ruined Edward Thomas’s poem for me – I don’t want TALL nettles, I want small tender ones.
My crop has been under threat for the last two weeks. Last week our Community Payback team, who are usually not industrious enough to do too much damage, were let loose with a strimmer. The nettle patch in the allotment (which I keep for butterfly food despite the folly of breeding butterflies next to brassicas) was comprehensively flattened and they also managed to trim a couple of inches off the tops of last year’s fig cuttings.
I would actually like to take the time to give them some horticultural training but the sort of questions they asked last time we tried it indicate that they will only use the knowledge to get into more trouble, if you know what I mean.
Fortunately I have secret caches of nettles…
The second Great Destruction occurred yesterday when the farmer, in pursuit of a tidy farm for Open Farm Sunday, started cutting grass. Next thing I knew there was the noise of a mower behind the polytunnels and the nettles I’d been carefully concealing from view (I thought) lay dead. I’m tempted to get lyrical about them, brought low in their prime by man and stinking machine, but what is done is done. They are in the compost heap now. “Dead, dead, and never called me mother!” as they say. I had to look that up because although I knew the phrase I didn’t know where it came from.
Plan B is now in action – nettle soup on Tuesday will be made from my remaining plants – picked now and blanched in advance before any more destruction occurs, and the Open Farm Sunday soup samples will be made in advance from my nettles at home.
Did I mention Open Farm Sunday – 7th June? We’ll be in the Education Tent.