At the source of the longest river / The voice of the hidden waterfall / And the children in the apple-tree / Not known, because not looked for / But heard, half-heard, in the stillness / between two waves of the sea.
TS ELIOT Four Quartets: Little Gidding

Hi! My name is Robert, aka The Solitary Walker, former editor of The Passionate Transitory, and this is
The Hidden Waterfall, my new site devoted to poetry discussion. We choose poems, we read them, we think about them, we discuss them. If you want to take part, please use the relevant comment box; all serious contributions are eagerly received. The lit-ernet is full of cursory summaries and shallow shorthand — so let's develop a deeper, more questioning, more intellectually satisfying approach to poetry appreciation. I'm thinking it would be good to feature rather-less-well-known 'difficult' poems, rather than popular 'easy' ones, but any ideas and suggestions about content are welcome. There is no pressure to join in, no time limit for responses. Whether you wish to contribute, or just read along, or aren't interested at all, that's fine. Participation should be for the fun of it, and out of a love of poetry and its greater understanding. I'll probably be posting a fresh poem every couple of weeks or so, but there are no hard and fast rules on this exploratory site. A little background reading about each poet and his/her life and work may be useful.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

3. 'In Praise Of Limestone' by WH Auden

'In Praise of Limestone' ends our brief time with Auden, though I think I will return to this challenging, most individual writer. What an extraordinary poem it is — subtle and complex, oblique and ambiguous, fond and humorous, deep and light and serious as ever. Annoying, if you will, because of this. Yet, in its style and diction, clear-minded, clear-headed, clearly expressed. And full of memorable lines and phrases.

A word about context: it was Auden's first visit to Italy with his lifelong friend and sometime lover, Chester Kallman. This was the first poem Auden wrote in Italy. Limestone landscape was a beloved and symbolic landscape of Auden's, an integral geology of his native Yorkshire. Limestone is also a major part of the Mediterranean landscape. It is a soft, porous, sedimentary rock, fluidly forming underground streams and lakes, caves and caverns. 'Gennel' is a Yorkshire dialect word for a narrow alleyway between houses.

But what on earth is this poem all about? I have lots of ideas, but I hope these may emerge in a general discussion about the poem with some of you.

A few of those great lines and phrases:

 . . . Mark these rounded slopes 
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath, 
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs 
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle, 
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving 
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain 
The butterfly and the lizard . . .

Their eyes have never looked into infinite space 
Through the lattice-work of a nomad's comb . . .

'I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing; 
That is how I shall set you free. There is no love; 
There are only the various envies, all of them sad.' 

. . . but when I try to imagine a faultless love 
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur 
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this Robert. Much to live out of. I hope to return to the poem over the next days and join in the conversation as it sinks in.

    Thank you for this blog. A longer, less known, perhaps more difficult poem every few weeks is a real gift.