Literary Allusion

In response to Victoria Slotto‘s challenge over on ‘Into The Bardo‘ yesterday, my mind fell to both ekphrasis and response poems, both of which I have done, on more than one occasion, particularly ekphrasis in collaboration with my Grass Roots Poetry Group friends, one such example of which is here.

However, at this time of year my mind begins to wander towards war and our remembrance of those, who were mortally, physically or mentally affected by them; and we are not far away, next year, from having to remember the beginning of a war that should have ended all wars, World War One, on its centenary.  Lord knows, I’ve written enough poems about war, but one comparatively recent conflict that I wrote about, was the Falklands War: ‘Twenty Nine“, which paid deference to the poetic form of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic elegy for a friend “In Memoriam A.H.H.”.  It was this elegy that I used in my attempt to write a Cento, a form of poetry inspired by Samuel Peralta over at dVerse Poets Pub ‘Form for All’, in which Samuel writes brilliantly about this form as “Collage and the Art of the Cento“. It gave rise to “Too Young to Die

This resulting poem has ten stanzas, three of which (stanzas 2, 6 and 7) came from my poem, “Twenty Nine”, the other seven from Tennyson’s. Apart from using, albeit a very small part of Tennyson’s poem, I felt my adjustment of the metre to Tennyson’s tetrameter (compared to my original pentameter in “Twenty Nine”) pays deference, if not allusively, to the great man and his amazing elegy.  So, whilst this is not as much literary allusion as the ekphrastic example I’ve given a link to above, there is an element of allusion in recognition of Tennyson’s work.  So apologies to Victoria, if this is slightly ‘off piste’, but it struck me as appropriate, nonetheless.  If it alludes to anything, it does so to the huge pain that Tennyson obviously felt for his lost young friend that caused him to slave over his poem for seventeen years before he completed and published it; this is the same pain we can feel in grief.


Too Young To Die 

Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in your wisdom make me wise.

Remember this, that we shall ever
Bow our heads and fill with tears
Life’s cup of mercy; recall what sears
The heart, not dim their great endeavour.

Something it is which you have lost,
Some pleasure from your early years.
Break, you deep vase of chilling tears,
That grief has shaken into frost!

That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.

Old Yew, which grasping at the stones
That name the under-lying dead,
Your fibres net the dreamless head,
Your roots are wrapped about the bones.

Whose stolen duty marked by stope
For graves, but far too little memory
Of their names, rough cut in grey,
But for one, they leave us hope

That every day we take their lead
That we may see the need for us
To find a little courage, not fuss
On things that threaten not our needs.

O living will that shall endure
When all that seems shall suffer shock,
Rise in the spiritual rock,
Flow through our deeds and make them pure,

With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul.

Whereof the man, that with me trod
This planet, was a noble type
Appearing when the time was ripe,
That friend of mine who lives in God.

About PoetJanstie

“Life is short and art long, the crisis fleeting, experience penniless and decision difficult” ~ Hippocrates. As a young man, John was sporting and fit. It was then as much his recreational therapy as a cappella harmony singing, music, walking in the hills and writing is now. Playing Rugby Union for over twenty years, encouraged in the early days by a school that was run on the same lines and ethos as that famous Scottish public school, Gordonstoun, where our own headmaster had been as a senior master. This gave shape and discipline to a sometimes precarious early life. His fitness was enhanced not only by playing rugby, but also by working part time jobs in farming, as a leather factory packer and security guard, but probably not helped, for a short time, selling ice cream! His professional working life was spent as a Metallurgical Engineer, Marketing Manager, Export Sales Manager, Implementation Manager and Managing Director of his own company. Thirty five years spent, apparently in a creative desert, raising a family, pursuing a career and helping to pay the bills, probably enriched his experience, because his renaissance, on retirement, realised a hidden creative talent as a writer of prose and poetry. He also enjoys music, with a piano and a fifty-two year old Yamaha FG140 acoustic guitar. He sings bass in three a cappella harmony groups: as a founding member of a mixed voice chamber choir, Fox Valley Voices and barbershop quartets. He is also a member of one of the top barbershop choruses in the UK, Hallmark of Harmony (stage name of the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club), who, for the eighth time in 41 years, became UK Champions in 2019. He is also a would be (once upon a time or 'has been') photographer with drawers full of his own history, and an occasional, but lapsed 'film' maker. In his other life, he doubles as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend and Family man. What he writes is sometimes autobiographical, often political, sometimes dark and frequently pins his colours to the mast of climate change and how a few humans are trashing the Earth. In 2013, he published an anthology of the poetry (including his own) of an international group of poets, who met on Twitter in 2011. He produced, edited and steered the product of this work, "Petrichor Rising", to publication by Aquillrelle. His sort of strap-line reads: “ iWrite iSing iDance iChi iVolunteer ”
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13 Responses to Literary Allusion

  1. how refreshing to read discussion of the old school mechanics of poetry again! and you’ve used them well in this tribute to Tennyson’s art and craft. excellent write!


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Thanks Monty. Yes, there is still a place for the classic forms, at least because they impose what I personally like poetry to contain, however subtly, a rhythm, a metre. I even try to ensure any free verse that I write also has a rhythm, although this so much depends upon how it is read and, in the case of different pronunciations spoken by different English speaking accents and dialects, which syllables within a certain word are stressed. But that’s for another longer discussion, I think.


  2. John, no apologies needed…au contraire. This touched me so deeply as my own father, whom I never knew, was a victim of war. Your writing is beautiful and thought-provoking and the flow and rhyme of the poem, perfect. I wish you would get this published. There should be a huge demands for anthologies that deal with war/peace right now.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Victoria, just what my confidence needed before I toddle off to bed. Thank you for a generous comment.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      You may have a point about war and peace, Victoria, it could be the time to produce such an anthology; I shall put that thought in my back pocket for the time being, as I have bitten off quite a number of other projects to chew on for the next year or so, I think.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      To lose your own father to war must have been so hard for you and your mother, goodness me. On a literary note, how much do you think this may have influenced your own writing and poetry in particular. I don’t remember seeing much about war in your blog, but then I don’t think of you as a ‘war-minded’ personality, but the exact opposite…


      • It’s been a huge influence on my life and writing, John, although I was only 3 months old. I feel like I somehow absorbed my 23 year old mother’s grieving which, no doubt, let me toward a life of working with death and dying. I write more than normal about death. As for war and peace, it seems my whole life we have been at war. It’s useless and I, like most of us, feel utterly hopeless. On the other hand, I’m a huge supporter of the military and veterans. I’m one of those who cry when I see a flyover. My dad was a B-24 bomber pilot who flew out of England. I think it’s possible, imperative even, to support these people if not the causes. I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to displays of patriotism. On the other hand, I see the value of the world becoming more united but frankly have a hard time it will ever change in my lifetime. Part of me would like to flee to an island. Ha! Confused, ain’t I?


        • PoetJanstie says:

          In truth, I think I am very old fashioned, Victoria, in fact I often think I was born after my time, partly perhaps because I was cared for mostly by my grandmother (b 1886) until I was 12, and thereafter, much loved by her. I am certainly with you on supporting our service men and women to the hilt, which doesn’t extrapolate to supporting the politics and other powerful establishments with nefarious interests in conflict. I too choke up on fly pasts, as well as other commemorative events, particularly because my Dad was an RAF Spitfire pilot in WW2, but, unlike your Dad, in spite of being shot down, he survived and lived until he was 87. His brother, my Uncle John, a medical doctor also in the RAF, was sadly killed early in WW2.

          I can no longer accept or tolerate politians, whose pro-war rhetoric is littered with lies disguised as justification that ‘appeals’ to the common conscience, whose true allegiances are clearly not to peace, justice and the common good. I suppose it could be argued that WW2 was justifiable, because the rampant fascist Nazis were intent on conquering Europe and would have changed the course of our history forever, had you guys not been brought into the European campaigns, which I guess can be credited as much to Winston Churchill’s powers of persuasion as to the imact of Pearl Harbour. So I owe your Dad as well as my Dad and his brother my gratitude for being here, for having the freedoms we enjoy, for being able to speak out freely against war and for peace.

          (P.S. Speaking of war and peace, Jamie’s hatched a plan, which I am supporting) …


          • I think we’re of a like mind, John. I knew Jamie’s post was coming but I’m late getting to e-mail today. I hope to be a part of it as well. My guess is that there are not many in England, the US and other countries involved in WWII, who of our generation, who were not somehow touched by its impact. I read novels set in England during that era and I can’t help but repeat the famous line: “Oh the horror!” And on it goes.


  3. Jamie Dedes says:

    A lovely poem, John, with a sense of old-fashioned respect and love. Understated. A lovely response.


  4. cloakedmonk says:

    What a difficult task to take on! Blending into another’s style, and especially Tennyson! Bravo. (I wanted to put another explanation point, but thought maybe I am overusing my exclamation point.)


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