Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Now stir the fire, and close the shutters..."

Patrick Kurp who blogs at Anecdotal Evidence suggests, with John Betjeman, that some things are best read in a particular environment:
Here is Sir John Betjeman writing in First and Last Loves (John Murray, 1952):
“Every winter I read The Task by William Cowper, and twice or thrice those wonderful books in it where he describes a Winter Evening, a Winter Morning and a Winter Walk at Noon. The frost blades of north Buckinghamshire, the snowed-over woodlands, the dog that gamboled in the snow, the bells and post horns, the cups of tea, melted, dead, silenced, evaporated for nearly two hundred years, come to life again.”
Betjeman (1906-1984) is a poet and chronicler of English buildings and places who, I sense, has never successfully crossed the Atlantic, perhaps because he sounds so very English to American ears. He writes in a tone we might call enlightened nostalgia....

.... Consider this passage from, Book IV, “The Winter Evening”:
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful ev’ning in.
With Collins and Smart, Cowper was one of the mad English poets of the eighteenth century. At least three times he tried to take his own life, and he spent years in various asylums. His faith and the writing of hymns were his refuge, as was the cozy winter world he depicts in The Task. You can see why Betjeman habitually read the poem during the cold months. He continues:
“Winter is the time for reading poetry and often I discover for myself some minor English poet, a country parson who on just such a night must have sat in his study and blown sand off lines like these, written in ink made of oak-gall:
Soon as eve closes, the loud-hooting owl
That loves the turbulent and frosty night
Perches aloft upon the rocking elm
And hallooes to the moon.”
The author of those lines is a poet new to me, the Rev. James Hurdis (1763-1801), a vicar in West Sussex. The passage comes from “The Favourite Village,” published in 1800, the year of Cowper’s death. .... [more]
Anecdotal Evidence: `The Smell of the Old Book'