The Rain and the Glass: 99 Poems, New and Selected

 

Rain and the Glass

 

Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Nye

 

Robert Nye, author of The Rain and the Glass:
99 Poems, New and Selected, writes about his poetry

 

One afternoon in 1952 for no apparent reason I fell asleep by a window in the front room of the house in an Essex seaside resort where I was living with my parents. It was winter and rain was beating against the glass. In my sleep, which was deep, I dreamed a poem. In the dream it was night and there was a different house and rain at another window. There was no ‘I’ in the dream, only this other house and the rain and the glass, and a very strong sense that the dreamer was the rain and the glass, and all this coming as words and rhythms heard and felt, blindly, not as things seen. The essence of the dream was perhaps rhythm, but its substance came as words.

 

When I woke I wrote these words down, adding punctuation and (later) a title. I was 13 years old. It seemed to me that for a moment I had fallen awake. It was after this dream that I knew what I had to do for the rest of my life.

 

Listeners

 

Listening silence in the glass

The listening rain against.

All in the silent house asleep,

The rain and the glass awake;

All night they listen for a noise

No one is there to make.

 

All in the silent house asleep,

The rain and the glass awake;

Listening silence in the glass

The listening rain against.

All night they listen for a noise

Their silence cannot break.

 

My book 'The Rain and the Glass' contains all the poems I wrote since the publication of my 'Collected Poems' in 1995, together with my own selection from that volume. Here is one of the earlier ones, a poem which dates from the time of the breakdown of my first marriage:

 

Familiar Terms

 

You say I love you for your lies?

  But that’s not true.

I love your absent-hearted eyes –

  And so do you.

 

You say you love me for my truth?

  But that’s a lie.

You love my tongue because it’s smooth –

  And so do I.

 

You say they love who lie this way?

  I don’t agree.

They lie in love and waste away –

  And so do we.

 

For me, the writing of poems is based on a trust in inspiration – it happens – tempered by a mistrust for the actual poem when it has been written down. Some poems, like this one and the dream one, seem to come right first time. Here, though, is a later poem which took many drafts but which I hope reads like a moment’s thought:

 

The Rain Upon the Roof

 

Listen. It is the rain upon the roof

Telling of who you loved but not enough,

Whispering of what is otherwise elsewhere.

 

It would be sweet on such a night to die,

Kissing another’s lips, touching darkly,

Hearing the soft rain falling everywhere.

 

Save that the rain has voices which complain

You never loved enough, you were unkind,

You ran away, you left your heart nowhere.

 

Come back! Come back! The rain’s regret may cease

But I will love you till my dying breath,

And after, if there’s after anywhere.

 

I would say this: No good poem was ever written which was the product wholly of the poet’s conscious mind, when he or she sat down knowing the last line before they wrote the first, or when they worked out the last line, and the lines between, from their own wit, out of a desire to make a poem. This is not an argument in favour of automatic writing. But it is an argument for a poet being a kind of secretary to something more than his or her own little self; and for a poem being an inspired truthful utterance, not a game played with words and ideas.

 

All this begs the question: What is poetry? Coleridge called it “the best words in the best order”. Auden called it “memorable speech”. Both definitions have much to commend them so long as you recognise that notions of order and memory imply measure. Poetry is certainly a measured use of language, and I believe that Coleridge was saying that if you put the best words in the best order then they will fall into a pattern that seems inevitable and which will have the telling force and efficacy of truth. This is a higher and more romantic claim than Auden’s. But then I don’t think poetry is ever just memorable speech. It is magical speech – speech in which the words come in an order which could not be changed without ruining the verity and power of the whole.

 

Rhyme serves a purpose in this, often, which is not unlike the purpose of melody in music. Not only is it an aid to memory, it satisfies an expectancy, and gives the pleasure that comes from responding to a pattern. It is language singing and dancing. You might even say that good prose consists of avoiding meaningless rhyme-sounds and that good verse consists of finding meaning (as well as emphasis) in rhyme-sounds. Rhyme, judiciously used, can be a key aspect of measure. It is perhaps the most mysterious of all sound-pattern repetitions. Though not an essential constituent of poetry, it exercises an extraordinary fascination over both poets and readers. It works.

 

Conflating Coleridge and Auden, I’d claim that poetry is not just saying and not just singing. It is, rather, speech with song in it, the song made by words made to dance. Reading poetry is thus a physical experience as well as an intellectual and emotional one. A.E. Housman recognised this when he noticed that if he let certain lines of verse stray into his head whilst shaving, they always made his beard bristle.

 

Here, finally, are two of the latest poems in The Rain and the Glass. The first is about that feeling of déjà vu which most of us have experienced, and the sense of eternal recurrence which can be deduced from this. Simplicius was a sixth-century Greek neo-Platonist who wrote on these matters, but I cite him mostly because I like his name.

 

After Simplicius

 

Time is a dream and all we do

Will be the same again.

I’ll sit like this and talk with you,

Between my hands this cane.

And we shall kiss again, like this,

Again, and then again.

Again, and then again, like this

We’ll sit, I’ll have this cane

Between my hands, and we shall kiss

And talk, like this, again.

Dear, what I tell you now is true:

Time is a dream and all we do

Will be the same again.

 

The second poem turns upon a beatitude I found in the ‘secret’ Gnostic gospel ascribed to the apostle Thomas, Thomas Didymus, Doubting Thomas, words celebrating the divine spark which is in all of us. It might be worth noting that the poem wonders if such singular words are no more than the calling of birds (or poets!) blown on the wind, as it were.This poem was written in a sort of low fever in the summer of 2004. In my fever I thought I could understand all that Gnostic stuff. Now the fever has gone I have only the poem, without the understanding.

 

Words on the Wind

 

I heard a voice calling

‘Do not be afraid

For blessèd is he

Who is what he was

Before he was made.’

 

They came on the wind

Those singular words

And on the wind went.

Perhaps all it was

Was the calling of birds?

Perhaps all there is

Is the calling of birds

As they’re blown on the wind

And we just mistake it

For singular words?

 

God knows I don’t know

But now night is falling

I am what I was

Before I was made,

And this is my calling.

 

The craft, as has been noted, is long to learn. And the last lesson (like the first) may be that craft at best is only half the story, for poetry is not a product of the will. I have spent my life trying to write poems, but the poems gathered in The Rain and the Glass came mostly when I was not.

 

Robert Nye

May 2005