Poetry Persists: W.S.Graham, ‘The Soldier Campion’
In this new blog series, we give space to the passions we have access to: namely, reading and writing. We’ll choose a poem every week, to read and to discuss. This week, Toby’s pick.
The sky above me heralds no new arrivals from America.
There are no white stripes across it, but it is in fact entirely azure, cloudless and without contrails.
The world is far from quiet though; thrushes, crows, chaffinches and even insects seem to have found a louder song to sing.
I cannot hear the hum of traffic: here in rural Cornwall, roads have fallen silent, just as they have wherever you are in the world.
Our little school has never been about selling holidays.
We have always been much more interested in exploring the potential of language in our context – in our little corner of the world, in classrooms without walls – the sea, the countryside.
And in this hiatus, in this global trauma, our school has all but stopped, but language and context persists.
We have decided that each week we’re going to write about words. Not, I hasten to add, in order to attract you to our shores.
We want you to stay at home, and we want you to stay safe.
We’re going to write as a token of resistance.
There will be a time to visit us. But it is not now.
Cornwall is for me (and has long been) a magnet, a pull, and now I feel tethered to it.
When I worked in London years ago, I would dream of Cornwall, its greenness, its beaches, its blue seas, bluer than I could hardly have imagined, its quiet country roads, its wild unkempt hedgerows.
The season’s shift is marked here – the northern hemisphere dictates. Winter is cold, quiet and wet, lasting longer than we expect. But in Spring, there is a pronounced difference. Daffodils or narcissus bloom in early February, so too camellia and primroses. Most trees are leafless now – ash, oak, hawthorne, but gorse is beginning to flower.
In May, throughout the summer, and until September, my favourite flower shows its colour: the Pink Campion. It persists for months, seeming to burst through nettle and bindweed, the way stars seem to prick the night. It is little, but it is mighty.
W.S. Graham wrote about the flower in his poem ‘The Soldier Campion’. I love the way he has captured the flower’s resistance:
The Soldier Campion
Campion so small and brave
Shaking in the Cornish wind
Guard the Lady well whose arms
Are bright upon your shield
When below your hill you see
The banners of an army come
Cry out with your little voice
Growl upon your little drum
The ragged Robin at your side
Shall your gallant sergeant be
And the elver in the pool
Your Admiral upon the sea
Campion red, upon your hill
Shaking in the Cornish gale,
Guard the lady for whose sake
I’ve written down this tale.
If you read this and it doesn’t make sense, I don’t think it needs to.
I think poetry can sound like sense, despite its madness.