A while back there was a discussion on a number of blogs — including at least Ozarque, Chanthaboune, and The Water Jar, and probably others as well — on poetry and song. Some of the questions these folks brought up were these:

Do people still read poetry, or are songs now the only exposure we get to it?
Is the poetry in popular songs uniformly rotten, and if so, is it in the nature of songs that they should be so?
Is poetry debased by the rotten doggerel in pop songs, or will it eventually be strengthened by the constant exposure of young people to the form?

I was thinking about all this in rehearsal last night, as we are singing a very impressive poem, “Fenscape,” by Jan Godfrey. I tried to find out more about Godfrey, but found only a children’s book author of that name, and a use of the name by poet and novelist Janet Frame, whom I mention only because she comes from the town where Sighkey and my sister live.

In any case, here is the beginning of the poem:

“after winter rain
the enormous sky opens blue eyes to wetlashed wonder
at its own shattered reflection
a blink a breath caught
held in
cracked ice mirrors,
thin-light fingering heaven’s seamless hem”

Leaving aside the problem of what a seamless hem might be, this is a wonderful poem, and I wish I could direct you to it. If nothing else, I have guessed where the line breaks are, based on the music, and I am probably wrong.

Our director, Jason Thoms, set this to music, and it is good listening, too. But it is Serious Music. (The subject of the poem is the Crucifixion, so that is appropriate — Pokey, if you need an impressive modern Easter piece, you might look into it.) Popular songs could just as well use good poetry, but they generally don’t.

“It’s getting hot in here/so take off all your clothes” is of course the example that springs to mind. There is another song which I may not be quoting accurately, but which I heard about a hundred times during one of this spring’s road trips: “There ain’t no harm in my looking at your huh huh.”

It really isn’t the subject matter. Another piece we are singing is the ever popular “Come Again! Sweet Love Doth Now Invite,” which includes this line:

“…To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die
with thee again in sweetest sympathy”

Death being as you probably know a common euphemism for orgasm at the time. It is possible that the rising notes, the rests, and the dynamics make this more evocative when sung than when merely read. Click here for a selection of midi files if you want to hear the tune, or here to hear it sung as a solo piece, or here to read the poem.

It’s pretty good poetry.

Nowadays we often hear madrigals as some variant on this internet joke:



We’re singing mostly in English, though. That means that folks can appreciate the poetry — as long as they can disentangle the words. There are plenty of “fa la la la” bits, though, that being the 16th century equivalent of  “holla holla holla.”

I am taking Lostarts’s excellent advice and finishing the sock right up in my limited knitting time. #2 son’s yarn arrived, and I am in search of a suitable pattern. Lostarts also suggested the Knitter’s Handy Book, which I own but have never used. This would be a good time to try it out, perhaps, although I would really like to be able to show #2 son a picture and make sure I am knitting what he wants. #1 son has also asked for wrist warmers, about which I have been snide in the past. I may be snide about them in the future, too, but I guess I will make him some anyway.

However, my “jeweler’s third hand” also arrived, so I intend to play with my soldering iron while listening to madrigals until time to go to work. Fa la la la la!