It is five years since David Kennedy edited a splendid volume of essays, Necessary Steps (Shearsman) and I was reminded last night of how wide-ranging and imaginative that volume is. As the blurb says this is ‘a collection of essays about poetry’s continuing importance in bringing clarity to questions of attachment and separation, possession and loss.’ I was particularly struck by John Hall’s contribution titled ‘Falling Towards Each Other: Occasions of Elegy’ in which he reflects on forms of loss, especially deaths, and the forms and practices of words that we use to define and negotiate these. Referring to J.H. Prynne’s ‘Shadow Songs’ (first published in The English Intelligencer) he talks of the poem singing in the shadows of a sense of loss and, in a footnote, recalls Thomas Campion’s poem from A Booke of Ayres, ‘Follow your saint’. Campion writes of following
‘with accents sweet’ whilst yet never being able to overtake because the ‘sad noates’ always ‘fall at her flying feete’. The image here is of a fall, as it were, just behind the flying feet (at her heels) and in turn this reminded me of Thomas Hardy’s elegiac yearning to follow Emma in ‘The Going’. Hardy recognises that he cannot ever catch a glimpse of his dead wife again even if he were to follow ‘with wing of swallow’, those long-distant and swift travellers of the air. The dead are always JUST beyond the graspable. It also reminded me of the lines towards the end of W.S. Graham’s ‘The Thermal Stair’ where he asks Peter Lanyon ‘why is it you’re earlier away’; lines in which the domestic smallness of the movement are given perspective by juxtaposing them with the earlier hint at an evening in the pub where the ‘dark-suited man/Has set the dominoes out/On the Queen’s table’. ‘Has’ possesses a presence which suggests that ‘earlier away’ is a matter of going home. This essay is a delightful glance at the world of elegy and its importance within the minds of those left behind.