When pupils used to ask me why people bother reading poetry, why they don’t just read prose, I always used to tell them about the way poetry was described to me when I was in school. That prose chooses the best words, but poetry sets down the best words in their best order.
Travelling back from work in London today (and still stinging, both literally and metaphorically) from the indignity of tripping and falling flat on my face in front of an exhibition hall full of people, I spotted a poem on the wall of the tube train carriage which I thought was the perfect example of this. It’s a translation of a poem by a medieval monk called Colmeille the Scribe and I think it’s translated in Seamus Heaney’s latest collection of poems The Human Chain.
Anyway, the lines that struck me were a description of his work, writing on the vellum manuscript:
My hand is cramped from pen work.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.
I thought that the “blue-dark beetle-sparkle of ink” was so evocative of when you’re writing, and the light just catches the wet ink making it gleam. I can almost see Colmeille writing in a drab monastic cell, but with the words on the page gleaming like jewels. Fanciful, perhaps, but it brightened my day.
thanks to Icelight (Flickr) for the photo