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John Ciardi: How does a poem mean? 
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Post Re: John Ciardi: How does a poem mean?
Fairport Convention does a song called "Matty Groves" which is based on an early English ballad. There are some similarities between this and Childe Maurice.

Matty Groves

A holiday, a holiday, and the first one of the year
Lord Donald's wife came into the church, the gospel for to hear
And when the meeting it was done, she cast her eyes about
And there she saw little Matty Groves, walking in the crowd
"Come home with me, little Matty Groves, come home with me tonight
Come home with me, little Matty Groves, and sleep with me till light"
"Oh, I can't come home, I won't come home and sleep with you tonight
By the rings on your fingers I can tell you are my master's wife"
"But if I am Lord Donald's wife, Lord Donald's not at home
He is out in the far cornfields bringing the yearlings home"

And a servant who was standing by and hearing what was said
He swore Lord Donald he would know before the sun would set
And in his hurry to carry the news, he bent his breast and ran
And when he came to the broad millstream, he took off his shoes and he swam

Little Matty Groves, he lay down and took a little sleep
When he awoke, Lord Donald was standing at his feet
Saying "How do you like my feather bed and how do you like my sheets
How do you like my lady who lies in your arms asleep?"
"Oh, well I like your feather bed and well I like your sheets
But better I like your lady gay who lies in my arms asleep"
"Well, get up, get up," Lord Donald cried, "get up as quick as you can
It'll never be said in fair England that I slew a naked man"
"Oh, I can't get up, I won't get up, I can't get up for my life
For you have two long beaten swords and I not a pocket knife"
"Well it's true I have two beaten swords and they cost me deep in the purse
But you will have the better of them and I will have the worse
And you will strike the very first blow and strike it like a man
I will strike the very next blow and I'll kill you if I can"

So Matty struck the very first blow and he hurt Lord Donald sore
Lord Donald struck the very next blow and Matty struck no more
And then Lord Donald took his wife and he sat her on his knee
Saying "Who do you like the best of us, Matty Groves or me?"
And then up spoke his own dear wife, never heard to speak so free
"I'd rather a kiss from dead Matty's lips than you or your finery"

Lord Donald he jumped up and loudly he did bawl
He struck his wife right through the heart and pinned her against the wall
"A grave, a grave," Lord Donald cried, "to put these lovers in
But bury my lady at the top for she was of noble kin


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Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:49 pm
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Post Re: John Ciardi: How does a poem mean?
Bob Dylan knew, of course, just about every English ballad in print and produced many of his own. One ballad, "Sir Patrick Spens," was judged by William Harmon semi-scientifically to be the second most popular poem in English. Here's some of what he says about it: "The poem presents its dramatically elliptical narration with superlative economy of design: just a few quick bold strokes and a thoroughgoing reliance on concrete detail. We are not told that the king was worried in some vague way; he is drinking and asking for help. Four brief speeches (king, knight, Sir Patrick Spens, a nameless sailor) and then a focus on the marvelous detail of "cork heel'd shoon" (the last word in Medieval chic) and floating hats."

Sir Patrick Spens

The King sits in Dunfermline town,
Drinking the blood-red wine;
"O where shall I get a skeely skipper
To sail this ship of mine?"

Then up and spake an eldern knight,
Sat at the King's right knee:
"Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That ever sailed the sea."

The King has written a broad letter,
And sealed it with his hand,
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
Was walking on the strand.

"To Noroway, to Noroway,
To Noroway o'er the foam;
The King's daughter of Noroway,
'Tis thou must fetch her home."

The first line that Sir Patrick read,
A loud laugh laughed he;
The next line that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his ee.

"O who is this has done this deed,
Has told the King of me,
To send us out at this time of the year,
To sail upon the sea?

"Be it wind, be it wet, be it hail, be it sleet,
Our ship must sail the foam;
The king's daughter of Noroway,
'Tis we must fetch her home."

They hoisted their sails on Monenday morn,
With all the speed they may;
And they have landed in Noroway
Upon a Wodensday

They had not been a week, a week,
In Noroway but twae,
When that the lords of Noroway
Began aloud to say, -

"Ye Scottishmen spend all our King's gowd,
And all our Queenis fee."
"Ye lie, ye lie, ye liars loud!
So loud I hear ye lie.

"For I brought as much of the white monie
As gane my men and me,
And a half-fou of the good red gowd
Out o'er the sea with me.

"Make ready, make ready, my merry men all,
Our good ship sails the morn."
"Now, ever alack, my master dear
I fear a deadly storm.

"I saw the new moon late yestreen
With the old moon in her arm;
And if we go to sea, master,
I fear we'll come to harm."

They had not sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud,
And gurly grew the sea.

The ankers brake and the top-masts lap,
It was such a deadly storm;
And the waves came o'er the broken ship
Till all her sides were torn.

"O where will I get a good sailor
Will take my helm in hand,
Till I get up to the tall top-mast
To see if I can spy land?"

"O here am I, a sailor good,
Will take the helm in hand,
Till you go up to the tall top-mast,
But I fear you'll ne'er spy land."

He had not gone a step, a step,
A step but barely ane,
When a bolt flew out of the good ship's side,
And the salt sea came in.

"Go fetch a web of the silken cloth,
Another of the twine,
And wap them into our good ship's side,
And let not the sea come in."

They fetched a web of the silken cloth,
Another of the twine,
And they wapp'd them into the good ship's side,
But still the sea came in.

O loth, both, were our good Scots lords
To wet their cork-heel'd shoon,
But long ere all the play was play'd
They wet their hats aboon.

And many was the feather-bed
That fluttered on the foam;
And many was the good lord's son
That never more came home.

The ladies wrang their fingers white,
The maidens tore their heair,
All for the sake of their true loves,
For them they'll see nae mair.

O lang, lang may the maidens sit
With their gold combs in their hair,
All waiting for their own dear loves,
For them they'll see nae mair.

O forty miles of Aberdeen,
'Tis fifty fathoms deep;
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens,
With the Scots lords at his feet.

This page is maintained by Rich Spens



Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:13 pm
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Post Re: John Ciardi: How does a poem mean?
Good call, DWill. A condensed version of Sir Patrick Spense is included in this chapter as well. Ciardi points out a couple of lines that might pose difficulty for the modern reader. As you say, "shoon" means shoes and "aboon" means above. So they wet their hats aboon means the crew members sank, leaving their hats floating on the surface. A stark image to be sure.

O loth, both, were our good Scots lords
To wet their cork-heel'd shoon,
But long ere all the play was play'd
They wet their hats aboon.


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Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:21 pm
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