Saturday 28 July 2012

Within the woodlands, flowery gladed

After the dream-world of yesterday's Stevenson poem - a peaceful garden, all cultivated lawns and marble statuary, very definitely nature tamed by man - here's an idyll which is a little more rural:

Within the woodlands, flow'ry gladed,
By the oak trees' mossy moot;
The shining grass blades, timber-shaded,
Now do quiver under foot;
And birds do whistle overhead,
And water's bubbling in its bed;
And there for me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

When leaves, that lately were a-springing,
Now do fade within the copse,
And painted birds do hush their singing
Up upon the timber tops;
And brown leaved fruit's a-turning red,
In cloudless sunshine overhead,
With fruit for me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

Let other folk make money faster;
In the air of darkened towns;
I don't dread a peevish master.
Though no man may heed my frowns
I be free to go abroad,
Or take again my home-ward road,
To where for me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

This is Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of a text by the dialect poet William Barnes. The original is actually titled 'My Orcha'd in Linden Lea':

'Ithin the woodlands, flow'ry gleaded,
By the woak tree's mossy moot,
The sheenen grass bleades, timber-sheaded,
Now do quiver under voot;
An' birds do whissle auver head,
An' water's bubblen in its bed,
An' ther vor me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

When leaves that leately wer a-springen
Now do feade 'ithin the copse,
An' painted birds do hush ther zingen
Up upon the timber's tops;
An' brown-leav'd fruit's a-turnen red,
In cloudless zunsheen, auver head,
Wi' fruit vor me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

Let other vo'k meake money vaster
In the air o' dark-room'd towns,
I don't dread a peevish measter;
Though noo man do heed my frowns,
I be free to goo abrode,
Or teake agean my hwomeward road
To where vor me the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea.

I posted another poem by William Barnes last year, 'The Castle Ruins', which is also charming (and worth the effort it takes to decipher the dialect!). But the star of 'Linden Lea' is Vaughan Williams' setting, of course; I love how the piano accompaniment just takes off in the last verse!

The vocalist in the video above is Ian Bostridge, who does it wonderfully - but this version is a vintage delight:

I was thinking about 'Linden Lea' partly because of what's been in the news and on everyone's lips in Britain today: the Olympics, and particularly last night's opening ceremony. It seems to have been a roaring success, but for me it is a reminder of how alien so much of modern culture has become to me. The whole thing - the noise, the crowds, the vast expense of money, the glorification of all that's urban and modern and new; and what comes with it, the media chatter, the exaltation of corporate culture, the endless flood of opinion and comment, the Twitter-shallow level of discussion and thought - I'm afraid I don't understand how anyone can like it. The story of Britain that ceremony told isn't a story I recognise; it's not a story I believe to be true, based on my own knowledge of history and literature. It's a myth for a country that no longer learns its own history, and based on the favourable commentary of my acquaintances on facebook, it's a myth which is very popular. That's fine; I understand the need for myths and shared narratives, and there's no requirement for them to be accurate. But it's so very far from my own imaginative world - and so I begin to wonder, how did I get so separated from my contemporaries and the world we have to live in?

I don't have a sense of superiority about it; this alienation from all the modern world values is not going to work out well for me, since this way lies discontentment, failure in the eyes of the world, and loneliness. I don't care about failure, and I can work on learning contentment; it's the loneliness that's worst, the sense of being isolated from the people around you, and with a few blessed exceptions I've been used to that all my life. How do these people think? How can I form relationships with them, or talk to them about anything, when they don't care about what matters to me, and I don't understand what matters to them? My outlook on this is not ideological, but purely selfish - let other folks make money faster, and do whatever they like, as long as there are one or two people willing to share my mental world with me! I don't ask for much in the way of imaginative sympathy: one person to employ me and one to love me, and I wouldn't need anything else (and the employer is optional). Honestly, my mental world is a very nice place: it basically looks like this blog, all poetry and pretty pictures, with a bit of amateur etymology thrown in. Why don't more people want to live there rather than in the noisy flashy Olympic world? I don't get it.

Anyway, I've been daydreaming about escape: away from the town and the tourists to a world that makes more sense, that has a place for me. And so it's comforting to think that for all one's tendency to assume it's a modern problem, William Barnes felt exactly the same way a hundred years ago; that's what 'Linden Lea' is all about. For this reason, I'll probably be posting some more literary idylls in the next few days. In the meantime, if anyone would like to join me in a cottage in the woods, with no television and no internet, for the duration of the Olympics, that would be great...


Ginro said...

Agree with your sentiments exactly. Your world is a beautiful place.

Priscilla said...

I'm realizing now that it's a shame I never did any Vaughan Williams in my voice lessons. Too much focus on learning languages other than English!

You've made me really curious about the opening ceremony--I only saw the second half, starting partway through the parade of nations. The one thing I noticed was that orchestra director Daniel Barenboim was graciously permitted to help carry in the flag, but then the main musical feature was Hey Jude. Talk about where people's loyalties are...

Clerk of Oxford said...

Yes, there was far too much pop music for my taste - and the closing ceremony tonight will apparently have even more. My vision of Britain doesn't involve the Spice Girls! In retrospect I think I was a bit too critical of the opening ceremony, but still, a bit more Vaughan Williams wouldn't have done any harm...