Archives for posts with tag: culture

“The Darkling Thrush” by the English author and poet Thomas Hardy is one of those poems to which I return again and again. It is a truly beautiful piece of writing, one of those poems which hits you deep in the guts.

The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware

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The breeze russles in the leaves. Would that I could become one with the breeze, fly away and be lost among the trees. Would that I could be truly free, not caught up in this mundanity.

“Maria, lonely prostitute on a street of pain,
You, at least, hail me and speak to me
While a thousand others ignore my face.
You offer me an hour of love,
And your fees are not as costly as most.
You are the madonna of the lonely,
The first-born daughter in a world of pain.
You do not turn fat men aside,
Or trample on the stuttering, shy ones,
You are the meadow where desperate men
Can find a moment’s comfort.

Men have paid more to their wives
To know a bit of peace
And could not walk away without the guilt
That masquerades as love.
You do not bind them, lovely Maria, you comfort them
And bid them return.
Your body is more Christian than the Bishop’s
Whose gloved hand cannot feel the dropping of my blood.
Your passion is as genuine as most,
Your caring as real!

But you, Maria, sacred whore on the endless pavement of pain,
You, whose virginity each man may make his own
Without paying ought but your fee,
You who know nothing of virgin births and immaculate conceptions,
You who touch man’s flesh and caress a stranger,
Who warm his bed to bring his aching skin alive,
You make more sense than stock markets and football games
Where sad men beg for virility.
You offer yourself for a fee–and who offers himself for less?

At times you are cruel and demanding–harsh and insensitive,
At times you are shrewd and deceptive–grasping and hollow.
The wonder is that at times you are gentle and concerned,
Warm and loving.
You deserve more respect than nuns who hide their sex for eternal love;
Your fees are not so high, nor your prejudice so virtuous.
You deserve more laurels than the self-pitying mother of many children,
And your fee is not as costly as most.

Man comes to you when his bed is filled with brass and emptiness,
When liquor has dulled his sense enough
To know his need of you.
He will come in fantasy and despair, Maria,
And leave without apologies.
He will come in loneliness–and perhaps
Leave in loneliness as well.
But you give him more than soldiers who win medals and pensions,
More than priests who offer absolution
And sweet-smelling ritual,
More than friends who anticipate his death
Or challenge his life,
And your fee is not as costly as most.

You admit that your love is for a fee,
Few women can be as honest.
There are monuments to statesmen who gave nothing to anyone
Except their hungry ego,
Monuments to mothers who turned their children
Into starving, anxious bodies,
Monuments to Lady Liberty who makes poor men prisoners.
I would erect a monument for you–
who give more than most–
And for a meager fee.

Among the lonely, you are perhaps the loneliest of all,
You come so close to love
But it eludes you
While proper women march to church and fantasize
In the silence of their rooms,
While lonely women take their husbands’ arms
To hold them on life’s surface,
While chattering women fill their closets with clothes and
Their lips with lies,
You offer love for a fee–which is not as costly as most–
And remain a lonely prostitute on a street of pain.

You are not immoral, little Maria, only tired and afraid,
But you are not as hollow as the police who pursue you,
The politicians who jail you, the pharisees who scorn you.
You give what you promise–take your paltry fee–and
Wander on the endless, aching pavements of pain.
You know more of universal love than the nations who thrive on war,
More than the churches whose dogmas are private vendettas made sacred,
More than the tall buildings and sprawling factories
Where men wear chains.
You are a lonely prostitute who speaks to me as I pass,
And I smile at you because I am a lonely man.”

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

The sound of humanity soon receeds, I hear the birds singing in the trees. Their song so beautiful my heart will break, come morn or evening their song they make. So sad and poignant it fills my heart, bird’s music surpasses mere human art. Man shuts his ears to nature’s power, in texting and inanity we waste many an hour. Obsession with technology leaves us bereft, all this facebooking can not stave off death. We cower from nature frightened and small, technology has caught us in it’s thrall.

I have read Harry Clifton’s Monsoon Girl innumerable times, however I remain unable to fully comprehend the poem. On the surface Monsoon Girl is about an affair between a westerner and a Thai girl, however when one delves deeper Clifton provides hints that the girl may be a prostitute “Your nudity dapples the walls with shadows, and splashes the mirrors like a vision, in the blue light that bathes you, a pleasure-girl on a lost planet, sincere but only at night …”. The term “pleasure-girl” hints at a lady who in return for the things which money can buy provides sexual services, in other words a prostitute. However the words “We’ll come here again, as we did before …”. may suggest a mistress rather than a prostitute. In Thailand the line between prostitute and mistress can be very thin.
Clifton intimates that the relationship is not one of equals, ” … and dream the rainy months away on pampered beds where forgetfulness lies down with executive power …”. It isn’t explicitly stated but the implication is that the man in the poem is a rich western executive availing himself of the services of a Thai sex worker. Alternatively the girl in the poem may be an employee of the powerful executive who is engaged in an affair with him either out of love, for money or, perhaps a mixture of motives.
The poem ends with the implication of exploitation, “elsewhere the night will separate us, having sowed within you miscarriage of juice forever …”. I’m not sure what to make of these lines. Perhaps the man in the poem has infected his partner with a sexually transmitted disease rendering her infertile.

(For Monsoon Girl by Harry Clifton see The New Poetry edited by Michael hulse. Bloodaxe Books, pages 174-175).

When lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray,—
What charm can soothe her melancholy,
What art can wash her guilt away?

The only art her guilt to cover,
To hide her shame from every eye,
To give repentance to her lover,
And wring his bosom, is—to die.