Still looking out to sea, a guest poem sent in by Martin Davis, who writes... You've run a poem by Carol Ann Duffy before, (Valentine, Poem #865). I've thought of suggesting this one, Prayer, in the past, and, as with so many things, not got round to it. However, having been struck by the quiet restraint of the Whitman poem, and its relevance to post-September 11th emotions, I really feel that I should put it forward now. It's got the best of Duffy's direct simplicity, and it has an oblique angle on the theme of the sea as both symbol and backdrop.
(Poem #987) Prayer
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself. So, a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands and stare at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift. Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts, that small familiar pain; then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train. Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales console the lodger looking out across a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls a child's name as though they named their loss. Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer - Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
I think that most people have some form of words that they fall back on in times of stress; it's perhaps one of the well-springs of poetry. Obviously prayers ('Pray for us now...') are a basic form of this, but there are others - Bob Marley's No woman, no cry - Everything gonna be all right...is one. Duffy's brilliance is to take a very naturalistic rhythm - few people who hear this read aloud realise that it is quite a formal sonnet structure - and then, right at the end, to touch on a secular litany that is so intimate that anyone I've ever discussed the poem with feels that she has had an extraordinary insight into their life. It's that last stanza that may need some explanation and I'll be interested to see how well this poem crosses cultures. Rockall, Malin, Dogger, Finisterre are all sea areas in the shipping forecast issued by the Meteorological Service, and broadcast by BBC Radio Four. The shipping forecast always follows a set pattern, a formalised routine. You can read the current one at : [broken link] http://www.met-office.gov.uk/datafiles/offshore.html Read it out loud and savour the words as they roll off your tongue! There's a map of the shipping forecast areas at : [broken link] http://www.met-office.gov.uk/leisure/shiparea.html The broadcast goes out at 12.30 and 05.30, so that you tend to catch it if you can't sleep late at night or if you've woken up early, worrying - and then you follow the coast of the British Isles in your mind's eye and think of those working the dark sea areas, and sometimes you feel soothed. There is a short biography of Carol Ann Duffy, a complete list of works and a full bibliography at : [broken link] http://www.sbu.ac.uk/~stafflag/carolannduffy.html The site also includes a good summary of the press reaction to her suggestion for the post of Poet Laureate, and the pusillanimity of the Prime Minister, who was worried how her appointment 'might play in Middle England'. Martin