When March blows

James McIntosh Patrick, "A City Garden" (1940)

James McIntosh Patrick, “A City Garden” (1940)

In today’s Dabbler Verse feature, two poems about hanging out the washing…

Ivor Gurney was extremely sensitive to changes in the world around him, be it the weather or the seasons. Of course, one could argue that any “nature poet” (e.g., Edward Thomas, Andrew Young, John Clare, William Wordsworth) necessarily possesses such a sensitivity. But in Gurney this sensitivity was particularly acute.

I am reluctant to attribute Gurney’s qualities as a poet to his sometimes precarious mental condition. It would be unfair to him to suggest that his sensitivity was a product of that condition. At the risk of sounding romantic, I think that Gurney can be likened to Vincent van Gogh: the sensuous presence of the world — everything in it — was so deeply felt by both of them that they were constantly at risk of being overwhelmed (both physically and mentally). It would be a disservice to them to describe their sensitivity as a pathology. Perhaps we are the ones who need to catch up with them.

When March Blows

When March blows, and Monday’s linen is shown
On the goose berry bushes, and the worried washer alone
Fights at the soaked stuff, meres and the rutted pools
Mirror the wool-pack clouds, and shine clearer than jewels

And the children throw stones in them, spoil mirrors and clouds
The worry of washing over; the worry of foods,
Brings tea-time; March quietens as the trouble dies.
The washing is brought in under wind-swept clear skies.

Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996)

The subject of the washing drying in the wind brings to mind a lovely poem by Andrew Young.

The Shepherd’s Hut

The smear of blue peat smoke
That staggered on the wind and broke,
The only sign of life,
Where was the shepherd’s wife,
Who left those flapping clothes to dry,
Taking no thought for her family?
For, as they bellied out
And limbs took shape and waved about,
I thought, She little knows
That ghosts are trying on her children’s clothes.

Andrew Young, Collected Poems (Rupert Hart-Davis 1960).

Stephen Pentz curates poems and pictures at the First Known When Lost blog.
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Stephen Pentz curates poems and pictures at the First Known When Lost blog.

4 thoughts on “When March blows

  1. Gaw
    March 27, 2014 at 11:21

    Thanks Stephen – I love that Gurney poem. Amazing assonance (if I recall the term correctly from Eng Lit lessons).

    I can’t see tumble dryers providing similar material for poets…

    • March 28, 2014 at 06:29

      You’re very welcome, Gaw. I’m pleased that you liked the poem. It flows very naturally and conversationally (assonance and alliteration and all) within a hardly noticeable formal structure. And you are certainly right about the poetic possibilities of clothes-lines versus dryers. I still have fond memories of the clothes and sheets flapping in the wind in my grandmother’s backyard in the spring and summer sun.

  2. Brit
    March 27, 2014 at 13:57

    Me too. And I also love the painting by James McIntosh Patrick – had never heard of him before.

    • March 28, 2014 at 06:36

      Thanks for the thoughts, Brit. I discovered McIntosh Patrick’s paintings just a few years ago. Among many things, he works wonders with bare trees and spring and autumn light. I agree with you about “A City Garden”: it is one of my favorites.

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