Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Farmer Takes a Wife: The Poetry of Love and War


The fictional Clovis Fossey, a farmer from the pages of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, does not want to attend any book meetings. "My farm is a lot of work, and I did not want to spend my time reading about people who never was, doing things they never did." He's not much interested in poetry, either, but thinks that it might give him an edge in wooing an eligible widow. Mr. Fossey's exploration of poetry leads him to Wordsworth on behalf of the widow and then to Wilfred Owen for his own edification. Owens' WWI poems struck a chord in Fossey's heart because he, too had served in the trenches.

A friend put The Oxford Book of Verse- 1892 to 1935 into Fossey's hands. The revered William Butler Yeats chose the verses in this anthology, and Clovis Fossey has a strong opinion about his selections:

"They let a man named Yeats make the choosings. They shouldn't have. Who is he and what does he know about verse? I hunted all through the book for poems by Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sasson. There weren't any--nary a one. And do you know why not? Because Mr Yeats said--he said 'I deliberately chose not to include any poems from WWI. I have distaste for them. Passive suffering is not a theme for poetry.'

Passive suffering? ...I nearly seized up. What ailed the man? Lieutenant Owens, he wrote a line,
 'What passing bells for those who die like cattle? 
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.' 

What is passive about that, I'd like to know. That is exactly how they do die. I saw it with my own eyes, and I say to hell with Mr. Yeats."

I love Mr. Fossey, the literate farmer. He imbibes poetry that embrace the great themes love and war--classic fodder for the poets' pen. Some folks think poetry is for dreamy-eyed visionaries, but  this war veteran-cum-farmer finds it of great benefit. The Wordsworth poems roll off his tongue and he snags the charming widow. The war poems of Owens and Sasson are healing salve, helping him make sense of the horrors he witnessed.

Most of all, I love how poetry makes Clovis Fossey a man of confident opinion. He has a view of the world, and he isn't afraid to defy even the great William Butler Yeats.

It was Wordsworth who noted that  "poet is man speaking to man".  The Clovis Fossey vignette is a perfect illustration of this lovely truth.


1 comment:

Go quickly and tell said...

Wonderful selection today and an even better ~ a reminder of a book I enjoyed very much.


FWIW - Lots of folks are fond of Yeats, and I am trying. His Easter 1916 did not speak to me. His political leanings may have something to do with my distaste, but I can prove that :-\