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Saturday 12 May 2012

Lost/Love at Sea, or Guided by Hidden Stars


Ships in Distress in a Raging Storm: Ludolf Backhuysen, c. 1690, oil on tinplate, 150 x 227 cm (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Thomas Wyat[t]: Sonnet: My galy charged with forgetfulness

My galy charged wth forgetfulness
..Thorrough sharpe sees in wynter nyghtes doeth pas
..Twene Rock and Rock and eke myne ennemy Alas
..That is my lorde sterith wth cruelnes
And every owre a thought in redines
..As tho that deth were light in suche a case
..An endles wynd doeth tere the sayll apase
..Of forced sightes and trusty ferefulnes
A rayn of teris a clowde of derk disdain
..Hath done the wered cordes great hinderaunce
..Wrethed wth error and eke wth ignoraunce
The starres be hid that led me to this pain
..Drowned is reason that should me confort
..And I remain despering of the port

Thomas Wyat[t] (1503-1542): Sonnet: My galy charged with forgetfulness (transcription from Egerton MS 2711, British Museum)


Watercolor illustration of the Ship from Marot's Visions de Pétrarque, based on Petrarch's Canzone 323: artist unknown, 16th c. Manuscript Phill. 1926 at Berlin Staatsbibliothek. from Bildindex der Kunst und Arkitektur; image by Michael Hurst, 27 November 2011

Frank O'Hara: To the Harbormaster

I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks, it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

Frank O'Hara: To the Harbormaster, 1954, from Meditations in an Emergency, 1957


Illustration of the Ship from Marot's
Visions de Pétrarque: artist unknown, c. 1540s;
manuscript SMM2 at Univ. of Glasgow; scanned from Les Poetes Francais de la Renaissance et Petrarque; image by Michael Hurst, 20 September 2011

John Berryman: Sonnet 15
What was Ashore, then?... Cargoed with Forget,
My ship runs down a midnight winter storm
Between whirlpool and rock, and my white love's form
Gleams at the wheel, her hair streams. When we met
Seaward, Thought frank & guilty to each oar set
Hands careless of port as of the waters' harm.
Endless a wet wind wears my sail, dark swarm
Endless of sighs and veering hopes, love's fret.

Rain of tears, real, mist of imagined scorn,
No rest accords the fraying shrouds, all thwart
Already with mistakes, foresight so short.
Muffled in capes of waves my clear signs, torn,
Hitherto most clear,—Loyalty and Art.
And I begin now to despair of port. 
.............................................(AFTER PETRARCH & WYATT)

John Berryman: Sonnet 15, from Sonnets for Chris, 1952, published as Berryman's Sonnets, 1967


Watercolor illustration of the Ship from Marot's
Visions de Pétrarque, based on Petrarch's Canzone 323: artist unknown, 16th c. Manuscript Phill. 1926 at Berlin Staatsbibliothek. from Bildindex der Kunst und Arkitektur; image by Michael Hurst, 27 November 2011

Petrarch: Rime CLXXXIX (Passa la nave mia colma d’oblio)

Passa la nave mia colma d’oblio
..Per aspro mare, a mezza notte, il verno,
..In fra Scillo e Cariddi; et al governo
..Siede 'l signore, anzi ’l nimico mio.                                       
A ciascun remo un penser pronto e rio,
..Che la tempesta e ’l fin par ch’abbi a scherno:
..La vela rompe un vento umido, eterno
..Di sospir, di speranze, e di desio.                                           
Pioggia di lagrimar, nebbia di sdegni
..Bagna e rallenta le già stanche sarte,
..Che son d’error con ignoranzia attorto.                                
Celansi i duo miei dolci usati segni;
..Morta fra l’onde è la ragion e l’arte:
..Tal ch’i’ ’ncomincio a desperar del porto.

Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca), 1304-1374: Rime CLXXXIX


illustration of the Ship from Marot's Visions de Pétrarque: artist unknown, c. 1540s; manuscript SMM2 at Univ. of Glasgow; scanned from Les Poetes Francais de la Renaissance et Petrarque; image by Michael Hurst, 20 September 2011

My ship loaded with oblivion
..Passes through sharp seas, in the middle of night, winter,
..Between Scylla & Charybdis; and at the rudder
..Sits the lord, [who is] also my enemy.
And every oar [is] a thought ready and evil
..Which seems [to hold] in scorn [both] the tempest & the goal:
..The sail bends with an eternal wet wind
..Of sighing, of hope & of desire.
Rain of tears, clouds of disdain
..Drench and drag at the already wearied shrouds
..That are twisted by ignorance & error.
Shut out, my two sweet accustomed signals;
..Dead beneath the wave are reason & art
..So that I begin to despair of reaching port. 

Seashore with Shipwreck by Moonlight: Caspar David Friedrich, 1825-1830, oil on canvas, 77 x 97 cm (Nationalgalerie, Berlin)


TC said...

This poem of Petrarch's and the rough Anglicized version of it by Tom Wyatt are touchstones, in a way.

A respect way.

The poet Robert Creeley held up Wyatt's line beginning Drowned is reason... as the salient example in English of the effective use of trochaic metre.

Hail to thee, shipwrecked poets, drowned & gone!



Beautiful indeed -- Wyatt's galley appearing here after "Ships in distress in a Raging Storm" like a beacon of light, "touchstone" (in more than a way to me), great recall of Creeley's sense of that penultimate line. And together with Petrarch in the Italian, and in translation (yours?) and Berryman's (which I've never seen) and "To the Harbormaster" (which must be O'Hara's homage to Wyatt, and all the Clement Marot "Visions of Petrarch" -- wow.

"Hail to thee, shipwrecked poets, drowned & gone!" indeed.


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

all that it is itself which,
while had also become

exterior, transitory, those
words went a long way

cloudless blue sky reflected in channel,
sunlit green shoulder of ridge above it

TC said...

Thanks for being there, Steve. Without you, where would I get the courage.

Once spent a nocturnal "hour by the parlour clock" talking about this poem with RC. Wyatt like Campion had been school to him.

Frank's poem by the by is about Larry Rivers.

That literal English version of the Petrarch, at the bottom, evidently cobbled together for my teaching purposes back in the day, is something that turned up with the rest of the dusty closet scholar trove represented here.

ACravan said...

Despite the beauty of this morning in the Hudson Valley, sunny and without a cloud in the sky, the peace only disturbed by the local policemen checking car registration and inspection stickers, poem-on-poem (including Steve's) and picture-on-picture, this completely matches my mood and is deeply affecting. Over the last couple of days, I've been looking at pictures of stormy seas, including some by Albert Pinkham Ryder. Occasions like this make me believe that things happen for a reason, although sometimes it's preferable to think that they don't. Curtis

Conrad DiDiodato said...


all my favourites in a row: how did you know?

TC said...


The Dutch maritime masters, their observation of the sea, nothing quite like it -- this Backhuysen, so dynamic, dramatic in its use of chiaroscuro, and at the same time so carefully observed.

You've reminded me of a book I once ghosted, the life story of a fellow from Selma, Alabama whose promising career as a baseball pitcher had been curtailed by an arm injury, and who then learned to pitch all over again, more or less underhanded (extreme sidearm), started over at the low-minor-league bus-stop bottom level, worked his way up and had a brief period of unlikely success with the Mets, even appearing in a World Series.

He believed it had all worked out for him according to some larger plan, so I suggested we call the book Things Happen for a Reason.

But... and on the other hand...

The things that have been happening around here lately BETTER NOT have been happening for a reason.

Perhaps those hidden stars could tell the story... were the sky not clouded at the moment.

TC said...


I must have been reading your stars.

John McCloskey said...

Only an hour or so ago, I was finishing the chapter in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall where Cromwell is awakened before dawn and told that "Tom Wyatt's been taken up." Immediately Cromwell thinks Thomas More is behind the action, but it turns out that Wyatt and his brat pack have spent New Year's Eve making riot in Westminster, smashing windows, leaping over bonfires and generally comporting themselves like poets under the influence.

Here you have given us another Wyatt, troubled still, but more in command of the situation.

Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

beautiful ...these lines are amazing:
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage of my will"

Delia Psyche said...

"You've reminded me of a book I once ghosted, the life story of a fellow from Selma, Alabama whose promising career as a baseball pitcher had been curtailed by an arm injury, and who then learned to pitch all over again, more or less underhanded (extreme sidearm), started over at the low-minor-league bus-stop bottom level, worked his way up and had a brief period of unlikely success with the Mets, even appearing in a World Series."

At first I thought you were talking about No Big Deal, Tom, because the Bird started out a rookie-of-the-year pitcher and then contracted an arm injury. But he was from Massachusetts. (I grew up in Flint, MI. Mark Fidrych was a big hero around there.)

ACravan said...

Tom -- Have continued to enjoy this all day and mentioned it to Caroline at dinner, who will read the post tomorrow. Everything about it immediately "saves" to the brain. We had one of those days where some of the usual confusion actually gave way to clarity because we made some concrete, if mundane, plans and were able to cross to-do items off our list. Breaking for a bit, we drove to a place in Warwick, NY, a pretty area, where they make excellent hard cider from the local apples and pears, a glory of Orange County, NY. We then had great ice cream cones at an elevated location where we could survey miles of the Hudson Valley from our perch. Still, Wyatt's poem and the others, as well as the pictures, stayed with me. Curtis

TC said...


Well, Wyatt was given to what we might now call risk-taking behaviour. But then, his job as ambassador and spy was certainly at least as perilous as such things were in the Cold War scenes Le Carré imagined. And of course the job did mean sailing on those little matchbox boats as pictured in the illustrations from Clement Marot's Visions of Petrarch. The Patrick O'Brian period ships were ocean liners in comparison. I would guess the imagery in the Petrarch standard meant more to Wyatt than it had meant to Petrarch in the first place. For him, after all, Avignon was merely an overland journey.


No, this was somebody whose arm injury had happened BEFORE I ghosted his life story.

Terry Leach.

(And oh, still so very sad about Mark.)


Thanks very much, and it is a pleasure to share that beautiful day vicariously, the elevated ice cream cones especially.

(Spent mine cowering under the covers. Still, as the optimist might say, no harm done.)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.


Creeley's talking/writing about Campion preceded by Pound's -- "Song writers: Herrick, Campion, Waller, Dorset, Rochester." (p. 79 in the ABC) is what sent me to Campion in the first place. I am happy to hear of your spending such "a nocturnal 'hour by the parlour clock."

Jeff Dolven said...

Wonderful thread - I am coming to it late, trying to get a sense of poets reading Wyatt at the mid-century. I'm especially interested in O'Hara, but curious about everyone. Do you know where I might find a citation to the remark by Creeley, or was it made in conversation, or in the unrecoverable classroom?

TC said...

Jeff, if only it were one brave new unrecoverable classroom, with no professors in it!

Recovery, or citation, is a way of paralyzing the past. Cryogenic.

Wyatt was once widely attended to, by those interested in poetry.

Pound introduced the most intelligent of American poets to the metrics of the most inventive poets of the English Renaissance. In Creeley's case, the direct instruction came via Campion and Herrick, both, I believe, given as specimens of lyric excellence in ABC of Reading.

Pound wrenched English language metrics, much as Wyatt had done.

The trochaic emphasis, decisive for working poets. A different kind of sound. Front-loaded.

The figuration of Renaissance lyric informs Creeley.

Lyric in bad odor since the most recent Dumbo Popes, of course.

See just above for the relevant comment of a working poet trained in these things, continuing to "make it new", Steve Ratcliffe.

Frank, another story altogether. Whatever is at hand and gets you through the poem method. Wyatt happened to be at hand. And that Polish rudder.

I see that this post is almost illegible. I will attempt to fix that, and repost it in a somewhat easier to read and slightly expanded version soon. Poetry didn't end at "the mid-century", and I did find, in teaching Wyatt for over 20 years to poetry students, there was an active interest in the work, particularly on the part of those students whose vision had not been clouded by the recent dominance of the medium by academics with opinions but without scholarship, poorly disguised as poets.

Please do keep an eye out and if you're still interested, come back and tell us what you think about the several permutations of this trope once thought central to poetry in English. No citations required.

Jeff Dolven said...

Thank you, Tom. I've been preoccupied with the history of Wyatt's lesson to poets. For a long time, he is known only through Tottel's Songs and Sonnets (1557), where the poems are made metrically tidier in the manner of Surrey, who is the star of the collection. So "I would fain know what she hath deserved" (what you find in the Egerton ms.) gets rewritten as "How like you this, what hath she then deserved?" Elizabethans like Puttenham still think of him as a great refiner of English verse. It takes two hundred and fifty years for the originals to make their way into print, in G. F. Nott's 1816 Works, based on Egerton and some other manuscript miscellanies; from then on, he is a problem and a provocation to everybody, as you say.

Kenneth Muir did an edition with original spelling etc. for the Muses' Library in 1949, apparently the one O'Hara had to hand.

Berrigan has some great remarks on O'Hara and "My Galley": "I'm not quite sure that he always...that he had central ambitions and he wrote 'major' kinds of poems. Many of his models are impeccable and he returned to them time and time again, Wyatt being one of them...he returned to a number of times. Bill Berkson has pointed this out, of at least one or two, in his piece in the (Poetry Project) Newsletter, that a particular poem of Wyatt's, one particular poem, will lead Frank to writing a number of different poems until he eventually comes up with a poem like 'To the Harbormaster' and the other poems that he wrote, before he comes up with 'To the Harbormaster' are good poems in themselves. And when he comes up to 'To the Harbormaster' he's gotten the poem that he's going after, and that doesn't mean he was in the consciousness of going after something. He was can find...Frank always had models and like uh he was very inspired by music, by painting, by whatever, by prose, by his own ideas" (210).

TC said...

My dear Jeff, you seem to have missed the part of my comment in which I mentioned I had taught Wyatt for 21 years, this by use of large hand versions of the original mss, from the Egerton and other mss (which I had also studied in the BM and elsewhere many years earlier, while at Cambridge), inscribed on 48" x 36" sheets of architectural paper, in script as closely resembling that of the originals as I was able to make them, through many years of spending nights literally kneeling on the floor measuring and lettering, using a straight edge and ruler. With these text-sheets, or "scrolls" as B. Berkson termed them, serving as graphic examples, I taught Wyatt's metric, the history of the English "broken-back" line, the drama of Wyatt's willful distortion of Petrarch, and so on.

The Muir edition unfortunately departs so frequently and erratically from the mss as to be, in my view, of little use. The only edition to date to reflect the actual first state of the poems in any way is that of Carrier, which I used as cross reference in the inscriptions of the texts.

The matter of Tottel proved difficult to teach, as the students, quite understandably, had never previously experienced metrical instruction of any kind, under any system (though interestingly, they did seem to have heard somewhere of Theory).

But this steers us back toward the "professor" issue, or more properly the issue of the American university system, by which Wyatt has never been particularly well served, the distinguished work of T Greene apart.

And finally toward the issue of NY school coterie verse, and our dear Ted, whom I knew quite well, with whom I collaborated often, and whose ideas of the sonnet were shaped by Shakespeare and in particular Spenser -- he kept The Faerie Queene upon his desk, and probably plundered it for lines as frequently as any other "boke".

(This sort of random stealing of lines, it ought to be understood, is quite distinct from an investigation of metric, which is the sort of study Creeley applied to the poets of the Renaissance -- again, for working purposes, to gain access to certain kinds of effects, not to simply reproduce.)

As for Ted's babbling gibberish about To the Harbormaster, that's the sort of approximate articulation which I supposes passes for critical judgement on Ted's part, an inimitable "technique" of bullshitting your way over or around a subject, entertainingly -- and is, as such, of course, a total embarrassment. You see, when it comes to academics "citing" poets of "the mid-century", this is commonly what happens. A clueless professorial cleverness at work upon a casual and hasty Teddish know-nothingism yielding... a citation.

Or should I have said "uh" once or twice there, to lend a touch of verisimilitude to the diorama?

In any case, as I've said, you've now alerted my attention to the presentational shortcomings in this post, and I do intend therefore to repost it before long, if I am able. There is an additional example of the Wyatt being engaged in a very interesting way, and with respect, by someone actually alive now, yet -- this exchange has convinced me that work ought to be introduced into the conversation.

That post may or may not be completed before the next meeting of your seminar, but such are the velleities of scholarship, as I am sure you would understand.

I'll look you up and send you a notice, Jeff.

(You see, by the way, I am the rare sort of disaster which occurs fifty or sixty years on, when one has received a Junior Fellowship... yes, THAT kind of Junior Fellowship... and TURNED IT DOWN.)

Jeff Dolven said...

I'm following in your footsteps then, Tom! Or at least, as you point out, some of them. I do love teaching Wyatt that way, across the editions. It is an exercise I sometimes set to take a poem from Egerton and regularize it per Tottel; then, sometime later, to take a version from Tottel, or one of Surrey's smoother efforts, and rough it up, break the back of a few lines, etc., per the manuscript Wyatt. I'll keep an eye and an ear out for further postings.

TC said...

Thanks again, Jeff.

Sometimes I think the deepest pleasure in Wyatt's poetry for us may lie in the mystery, the feeling of strangeness, our not knowing just what he thought he was up to, and our suspecting he was learning as he went along, the tentative encounter with Petrarch becoming a kind of armed confrontation, the English retaining an awkwardness and a roughness where the romance had been smooth, the sense of a struggle, a grappling, as of bending heated metal...