It’s late at night. I’m working from my parents’ home and hear a strange muttering from the bedroom next door. I can’t hear the words, only a rhythm. No, not the sound of creaking beds (their nights of passion such as they are savoured in my absence).
It’s my mother muttering...
It’s a rhythm which is neither chant nor song. It can only be the reciting of verse.
What was I hearing? Listen…
And if you’d like to hear the 1936 original with the sound of a steam engine, and evocative music by Benjamin Britten (with John Grierson classic recitation) watch this YouTube video:
Learning to recite a poem off by heart has been my mother’s daily night-time habit since she was prompted by the rhythm of ‘Fortune Favours the Tea’, one of my longest poems. It was designed to be a potted history of tea. The truth of climate chaos has long since made its first verse archaic but the infectious rhythm remains, so I’ve updated it so you can have a go at reading it out loud!
On the brink of extinction to the rhythm of our fears
Beneath the dirty blanket of our fossil fuelling years
There are people just like me, rebelling nonetheless
For the love of all the little things: we know that ‘more is less’
And we’re buzzing for the bee and we’re loving poetry
And the steaming cup we’re serving up? Our destiny!
The beat of the refrain gets under people’s skin. Over the past decade of performing it, there’s something immensely moving to find an audience instinctively joining in with the last phrase and hearing feet tapping!
This is the beauty of rhythm.
As commanding poet, Salena Godden (who serendipitously happens to be featured on Radio 3’s The Verb while I’m writing this) says, ‘I think rhythm’s really important… with poetry it’s what’s not being said as what is being said and those silences and the places you might take a pause.’
When nature behaves out of character, loses her footing, is driven to erupt and weep tsunamis because of our unthinking and relentless focus on productivity and growth, our instincts sense it. We feel increasingly uneasy.
It’s so easy to lose touch with the rhythms of nature as technology drowns them out. We even have trouble responding to the rhythms of our own bodies.
So how do we get back in touch? Just as it is with ‘getting’ the rhythm of a poem, we need to follow the advice of Walter de la Mare who said well over half a century ago in the anthology ‘Come Hither’ ‘all poetry, unless its charm is to be wasted, should be heard, with the inward ear at least, if not with the out: and the intonation, like the rhythm, is part and parcel of its meaning’.
Let us return to sound and listening. And, ironically, as we head into the world of rhyme it’s one of the few posts which doesn’t boast an audio track. Why? Because you are it… read more here.
P.S. On the subject of rhythm, who do you think is my favourite drummer of all time? The one whose made his home in the Foundations, cheeky thing!