Theme History In Poems

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In the Poems ‘Cypresses’ and ‘A Sad Story’ DH Lawrence and Gillian Clarke write about past events in their respective poems, and both explore ways in which history is remembered, or lack thereof.
In his poem ‘Cypresses’, Lawrence features ‘Tuscan Cypresses’ through which he explores the Etruscan civilisation and writes about past events and civilisations. Throughout the poem he alludes to the idea that trees provide a link to the past, first asking ‘is there a great secret?’ that they are hiding.

The first two stanzas of the poem contain 3 questions, the use of these creates the impression that Lawrence is looking at the trees to try and find the answer to questions about the Etruscans. Lawrence of course knows that the trees will not provide him with an answer, as the secret is ‘dead with a dead race and a dead speech’, here the repetition of ‘dead’ cements the idea that the race of people is gone, and further adds to the sense of hopelessness that Lawrence may experience on his quest for answers to his questions. Despite this, Lawrence still looks to the trees, thinking of them as something that the Romans did not destroy and as such the civilisation is ‘darkly monumental in you’ the adverb ‘darkly’ creates a rather morbid tone as it alludes to the idea that the trees saw the slaughter of the Etruscan people, and that the trees now perhaps serve as monuments to their death, almost like graves, it could alternatively be read as the trees simply serving as a link to the past, as trees are sturdy and old, they have connotations of time passing and as such in this poem evoke a feeling of a connection between the old Etruscan people, and the trees that have been left behind.

He spent a great deal of time in the Mediterranean whilst travelling with Freida, as such it is no wonder that Lawrence feels inclined to know more about the future of the area, and provides reason as to why he includes so much Greek Mythology in his poems, such as in ‘The Argonauts’ and ‘The Greeks are Coming!’. Lawrence seems dissatisfied that there are not many reliable records for this civilisation as we ‘have only Roman word for it’ which suggests that this period of the past was poor recorded, due to this Lawrence wishes to ‘bring their meaning back to life again via the Cypress trees, in the hope that through them some secrets of untold Etruria may be revealed. Here he writes about the past as if he longed to know more, and sees the past as being recorded by the area around it.

Similarly, Clarke explores the idea of history in her poem ‘A Sad Story’ which focuses on the tale of ‘five young servant girls found dead’. In this poem, like Lawrence, she explores how there is often a lack of documentation of past events, especially of those who are thought of as insignificant, like in this case. This poem is written in sonnet form, in iambic pentameter with an abc/abc/def/def/gg rhyming scheme. The fact that this poem is written as a sonnet may perhaps provide an even more melancholy tone to an already morbid poem, as the dark themes in the poem contradict with the sonnets connotations of love, as such the rhyming scheme, which typically gives a poem a lighthearted feel, contrasts with the sombre subject matter, which further adds to the sadness of this event, and the fact that it is widely forgotten from history.

This is totally dissimilar to Lawrences poem, which he wrote in free verse with no strict rhyming scheme, this may be because Lawrences poem seems more like a trail of thought, rather than a rigid record of an event like Clarke’s. Clarkes poem opens with ‘places are made of hearsay and story’ which may be suggesting that is is the events that happen in a given area that provide it with importance. She then goes onto say that ‘there’s talk in these trees’, here ,like Lawrence, she is using trees as a means to convey a story, as as stated before trees have deep connotations of the past and of long forgotten history. Here we see a large similarity as both poets see the area of an event as having some sort of connection to it, and as preserving it as a story and memory. Gillian Clarke creates emersion in the history as she creates a sense of drama through vividly imagery, such as ‘the house woke to cold ash’ which serves as a stark contrast to the usual ‘thirty hearths burning’, with Clarke going on to make further comparisons between the usual morning routine and the one in which the girl are dad, she is creating an importance to the story and a sense of loss.

Despite this seeming importance, She goes on to call them ‘people of no account’, suggesting that they were of no particular importance outside the household. This is similar to Lawrence claiming that the Etruscan’s ‘made so little noise outside the cypress groves’ which also suggests that outside of their area, they were little known. With Clarke going on to make a tripling list ‘No names. No documents, No graves’ the repeated use of ‘No’ further cements the idea that a lack of documentation led to just ‘talk of a tragedy’ rather than any real sense of mourning.

These two poems, though different in presentation and structure, are definitely similar in their underlying message of history lost, despite this, they both talon history being preserved in the world around, them in the trees, in nature. As such Clarke and Lawrence both write about the past as if it is indeed important and is worthy of remembering.
Lawrence and Clarke further explore ideas of the past in the poems ‘Piano’ and ‘family’. In these poems, the poets explore their own backgrounds and account experiences that they were faced with, in this case, Lawrence provides an intimate look into his childhood, whereas Clarke provides a broader overview of struggles that she may have experienced when growing up in rural Wales.

In ‘Piano’ Lawrence recounts memories of childhood through the framed narrative of a woman singing to him. This familiar experience took him ‘back down the vista of years’, this may show a connection between the love and affection he felt for hi mother, and the connection he feels to ‘the woman singing to be’ which is likely the older Freida, the noun ‘vista’ has connotations to a pleasing experiencing, which suggests that the particular memory is a great comfort to Lawrence and reminds him of a time which he felt complete closeness with his late mother. A very intimate and detailed image is created, with Lawrence ‘pressing the small, poised feet’ of his mother as she sings. This very warm scene Cretes a sense of closeness with his mother, with the fact that she ‘smiles as she sings’ creating a comforting tone as he remembers the experience. This cheerily nostalgic tone is contrasted by the supposed ‘insidious mastery of the song’ here the speaker realises that he is now an adult and cannot go back to those days.

Despite this the scene ‘betrays [him] back’ as he is once again overcome with the sentimental memory of ‘Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside’ which creates a cozy atmosphere, with the harsh coldness of winter outside, and the comforting warm family scene of inside the ‘cosy parlour’. The persona ‘weeps to belong’ which may suggest that he is so deeply missing his past, that his longing to belong may suggest that he does not feel happy with his current state of being, and wishes to go back to being. You naive child. This poems juxtaposes the memory from the perspective of a child, with that of a now adult person. He refers to them as ‘childish days’ suggesting that hw was then ignorant to the world, due to his loss of childlike innocence he seemingly rejects his ‘manhood’ for a while, and ‘weeps like a child’.

This sentimental nostalgia breaks the image of a strong man, who is capable of withholding such strong emotion, due to him saying ‘like a child’ he is suggesting that it is unusual for an adult to react in such a way. Here Lawrence is portraying the past through a nostalgic poem, he logs for the past and seems only able to look backwards in this poem, unable to live in the now, which is shown as the present singer is signing in ‘vain’ as he is unable to focus on it due to his backwards cast mind. He writes about the past a something to long for, as something to always be remembered.

In contrast to the intimate insight we are provided by Lawrence, in Clarke’s poem ‘Family’ we are given a broader look at a experience that defined a great portion of the ‘making the beds for the dead’ anthology, this being the 2001 Foot and Mouth Crisis. Unlike Lawrences poem, in which the memory takes place in music and sound, Clarkes memory is one of silence, with the people being described as ‘so still and silent’ this immediately sets a different tone to the poem, one with a far more somber mood, as silence and stillness have connotations of sadness and almost fear. Clarke then goes onto say that it was ‘undated, anywhere’ this is in contrast to Lawrences where the memory took him back to Winter Sunday evenings.

This statement makes the memory seem more widespread, as if it was something that many people could remember, which it was, since the foot and mouth crisis was indeed very far reaching, particularly in rural Welsh farms. Despite this memory appearing to be so sad and forlorn, Gillian Clarke says that they will ‘clean up and start again’, being able to move on what happened in the past and look ahead to the future. This contrasts to Lawrence’s poem where the persona is unable to focus on the present due to old memories. This shows a fundamental difference with these two poems. In Lawrences poem, the past is portrayed as something to ling for, something where times are better, whereas in Clarkes poem the past is something to lear and move on from. However, Simla to Lawrences poem, ‘Family’ also ends on a rather sorrowful note, with the person realising that things can never go back to being as they were before.

This is illustrated through vivid descriptions of what the past was like, and what the farm is like now. When Gillian Clarke lists things that will never happen again, for example ‘they’ll never hear the wind sing in the pipes of the gate’ it cements the tragedy and and shows the long term impact of it, with her also describing the present ‘stench of putrefaction, burning tar, burning flesh’ it shows the brutality that the farm has seen, with the slaughter of animals. A sense of loss is prevalent in this final stanza, with sweet smells of the past such as ‘grass-saps and pollens’ being juxtaposed with ‘burning tar, burning flesh’, the sensory images show how he impact of the event on all levels, and finales It too. So, as Lawrence did, she ultimately finishes the poem on a sense o loss, here loss of a livelihood, and Lawrence with the loss of innocence and childlike naivety.

As Welsh poet Laureate, and having grown up in rural Carmarthenshire, it is certain that Gillian Clarke would have spent a great portion of her life emerged in Welsh Culture and countryside, as such it serves as no surprise that in her poem ‘family’ we are able to make assumptions that this is something sh may have seen and experienced during the 2001 crisis.

In these two poems, loss permeates them both, with them both presenting the past through something lost, however the differ in how their persona deals with it, Lawrence with misery and weeping, and Clarke with getting back up again and persevering. As such though these two poems initially appear similar on a base level, when compared against each-other, it becomes clear that the way Lawrence felt with nostalgia was not very healthy, as it contrasted with the strong sense of perseverance as ‘endurance bred into them’.

Cite this paper

Theme History In Poems. (2020, Sep 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theme-history-in-poems/

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