On a ‘fire of joy’ . . .

A crescendo of musket fire in the celebration of French Alliance Day by the National Parks Service, USA.

A few days ago I mentioned Clive James’ collection of poetry that he had treasured throughout his life, The Fire of Joy. Definitely one for my wish-list, that. Anyway, I was reminded again of this joyful fire as I did some research for the latest task in our little writing group: ‘trespass.’

In the introduction of the assignment, I’d twigged on a parallel thought, that line of W.B. Yeats to ‘tread carefully, for you tread on my dreams.’ The stimulus poem had been about a kind of rambler, walking on a path that was not his own, a trespasser self-consciously guilty in his enjoyment of the pursuit.

I followed my research deeper into the google-depths, and unearthed a soupçon of delight. Yeats himself had deprecated one of his most famous poems, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, in favour of another, The Cap and Bells, which, he remarked, was more likely to win love for the poet. The dream-treading effort, by contrast, he suggested was more likely to lose love.

Ruminating on these ex post facto opinions, I felt a fire of joy moving my fingers over the keyboard, and a poem with two perspectives arose from experiences sequestered within my memory bank. I felt as if I was on fire myself.

It was an interlude of delight, a true internal fire of joy, and my assignment for the writing group is finished. Whether it stands alone, without the notation to provide context, that Clive James eschews in the extant blog entry introducing his book, is another matter. But it stands within my heart, as it were, and perhaps that’s the most important thing.

Sometimes we say, in writing group, the poem exists for the poet, and then it exists on a different plane for the reader. Perhaps it won’t sing when it’s out there, perhaps it’s only a song in the poet’s own sensibility. In that context, its potential universality doesn’t matter.

What does matter is the singing, from wherever it comes, and to wherever it goes.

2 responses to “On a ‘fire of joy’ . . .”

  1. What a triumphant last paragraph, Larry. It’s all in the singing!

    Thanks for sending me running back to Yeats.

    Here’s another interpretation of the John Clare poem, ‘Trespass’, that you mentioned. The poet is barred from the land that once was held in common by the Enclosures and is lamenting having his own rights being trespassed upon… cf Wordsworth wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’ in the Lake District. I’m guessing the land in the south, where Clare lived, was more profitable to enclose. Clare’s poem is twenty years younger. Maybe that made a difference to his roaming rights too??


    1. Well, that’s very intriguing, Fiona! That interpretation must be right, but to me Clare hid his discomfiture at being barred from public/common land quite well, in perhaps the same way that if somebody bumps into us, we say ‘Oh, sorry!’ Not a sensibility you find in North America, I’d venture. Is that a particularly English sort of passive aggression? Times and styles change so dramatically: in my attempt to create a formal annotation for my poetic effort, I had to emphasize that Yeats used the vernacular of his day to characterise the relative effects of the two poems he referenced. That felt weird, and yet inclusive, appropriate. At any rate, good luck on your own forays into ’trespass’ . . . can’t wait for our next session to reveal all the earnest efforts!



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