Wednesday, August 26, 2015

grig grig grig chew chew

I typed an answer to one of Scott's comments and deleted it because it was a comparison between Charlotte Smith and John Clare; it said that Clare could write a poem with some natural thing or event as the subject whereas nature, in Smith's sonnets, was a route that brought her to the subject of melancholy – but I realised what I had done and so deleted – no, I said mentally, consider her singly, in herself, doing this and be inspired by Clare, in his natural history prose, praising some other poet for observing nature in itself, or criticising because the other poet is a city boy who has relaxed himself into a phrase that has been worn in for him by others, not observed, about a nightingale (which is why, when I see Clare saying that he likes Smith for her observations, I imagine him thinking of the phrase "mossy nest" in her poem On the Departure of the Nightingale (1827), "the lone brake that shades thy mossy nest" – for the fact that it puts moss correctly in the nightingale's nest, which is the sort of detail he notices himself; and he will see the same thing eight years later when his verse The Nightingale's Nest is published in 1835.

… no other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots : dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within,
And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare,
What scarcely seem materials, down and hair


Deep adown,
The nest is made a hermit’s mossy cell.)

Considering then the notion of correct retention, and the matter of considering a thing singly, and my mind goes to his transliteration of a nightingale's song, which was published by Margaret Grainger, over a century after he had written it, from a document that she refers to as MS A58 II:

Chee chew chee chew chee
chew – cheer cheer cheer
chew chew chew chee
– up cheer up cheer up
tweet tweet tweet jug jug jug

wew wew wew – chur chur
woo it woo it tweet tweet
tweet jug jug jug

tee rew tee rew tee rew – gur
gur – chew rit chew rit – chur-chur chur
chur will-will will-will tweet-em
tweet em jug jug jug

grig grig grig chew chew

wevy wit wevy wit
wevy wit – chee chit
chee-chit chee chit
weewit weewit wee
wit cheer cheer
cheer pelew
pelew pelew –
bring a jug bring a
jug bring a jug

I relate this to the other occasions when he records his attempt to "prick" or notate a tune that he has heard a gypsy play on the fiddle.


  1. interesting. almost as if poets fit somehow into their own geometric system, able to borrow theorems from others, but must warp them in such a way as to fit into a creative niche they have intuited as a sort of highway that makes sense in an individual meaningfulness; like painters capture the essence of what they see, but each sees slightly differently; as it were... i like this chain of thought writing, except i forget at the end how i started it; which is maybe the point?

  2. You're fitting into your own geometric system as you go.

  3. The thing itself, that's the stuff. I like the transmission of the moss from Smith to Clare; it's a good thing to imagine, isn't it? Someone should make a map of how images move from poem to poem, sinking into the groundwater as it were and then rising up through the heartwood of a new work. A complex map I'm sure. A completely arbitrary abstraction, of no real use.

    I am interested these days in the thing itself, of not making comparisons and seeing how much I can observe about a thing rather than just pointing at some other thing and saying it's like or unlike that other thing. I'm going to start drafting a new novel in January or so, and one of my rules for this book will be that I'm not allowed similes. I have to offer up my own observations of things in themselves. Though on my blog yesterday I compared "Heracles" to "King Lear," so obvs I am weak-willed.

    "bring a jug bring a jug" That is fantastic, isn't it? Transcription of birdsong is impossible, no way to be honest and also make it look as beautiful as it sounds, but this is a fabulous effort.

    1. He used the transcription in one of his poems, but without "bring a jug," and he frames it with "I listened," (like one of those fantasy authors who starts the book by telling you how the protagonist went from the real world into the imaginary country, versus one who starts the book inside the imaginary country itself).

      "'Wew-wew wew-wew, chur-chur chur-chur,
      Woo-it woo-it ' : could this be her ?
      'Tee-rew tee-rew tee-rew tee-rew,
      Chew-rit chew-rit,' and ever new,
      ' Will- will will-will, grig-grig grig-grig.'
      The boy stopt sudden on the brig
      To hear the 'tweet tweet tweet' so shrill,
      The 'jug jug jug,' and all was still."

  4. The moss coming up again in Clare, coupled with the knowledge that he must have read the nightingale poem in Smith's Sonnets, is an interesting piece of information to have. I can't use the words "inspired by," because he would have noticed the moss on his own (he is observant enough to debate with himself over the colour of the eggs, "in number five, | Of deadened green, or rather olive brown"), and I can't write "coincidence" either, because it's still possible that he remembered her "mossy" while he was writing his Nest. I can't bring the two pieces of information completely together with a "because" (as in, "he wrote about the moss because she did") but I can't separate them either.