O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea,
And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free –
The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me.
The pale mews plained below us, and the waves seemed far away
In a nether sky, engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say,
As we laughed light-heartedly aloft on that clear-sunned March day.
A little cloud then cloaked us, and there flew an irised rain,
And the Atlantic dyed its levels with a dull misfeatured stain,
And then the sun burst out again, and purples prinked the main.
– Still in all its chasmal beauty bulks old Beeny to the sky,
And shall she and I not go there once again now March is nigh,
And the sweet things said in that March say anew there by and by?
What if still in chasmal beauty looms that wild weird western shore,
The woman now is – elsewhere – whom the ambling pony bore,
And nor knows nor cares for Beeny, and will laugh there nevermore.
Beeny Cliff March 1870 – March 1913 by Thomas Hardy
It was my birthday earlier this month, and this CD was a wonderful surprise gift. It features the incomparable Alan Bennett reading poems by Thomas Hardy, A E Housman, John Betjeman, W H Auden, Louis MacNeice and Philip Larkin. He also introduces each poet, and talks about their lives and work.
The CD is the audio from a television series, Poetry in Motion, broadcast by Channel Four in 1990 (those were the days). I used to have a version on audio cassette, but it unspooled irretrievably and snapped, as did the second version that I bought to replace it. Take note anyone who is drawn to the romance and nostalgia of the audio tape. It will eventually unspool, breaking your heart, and quite possibly your cassette player.
So, I have been without this much-loved collection for several years, and I was thrilled to have it in my life again. There are some wonderful poems, but what really makes it special are Bennett’s readings, and the little anecdotes and insights that he adds.
I could have picked any one of a number of poems to represent the collection, but I eventually settled on Beeny Cliff by Thomas Hardy, because it’s very lovely, and just a little bit sad.