Thursday 13 October 2022

Peter Davidson, "Arctic Elegies"

Peter Davidson was born in Scotland, brought up there and in southern Spain, and educated at the Universities of Cambridge and York. He has taught at many Universities in Britain and on the continent, and is now Senior Research Fellow of Campion Hall, University of Oxford. He published one verse collection with Carcanet in 2008, The Palace of Oblivion. He has published a number of books of literary non-fiction, The Idea of North (Reaktion) in 2005, Distance and Memory (Carcanet) in 2013, The Last of the Light: About Twilight (Reaktion) in 2015 and, last year The Lighted Window, Evening Walks Remembered (Bodleian Editions). His second verse collection, Arctic Elegies, will be published by Carcanet in November.


About Arctic Elegies, by Peter Davidson

This book is shaped around two long elegies, as the title suggests: one is for the Franklin expedition of the early nineteenth century, lost in the arctic with no survivors. The other is a complex, neo-baroque memorial for a dead, cosmopolitan friend, a fantasist who lived a number of secret lives. Much of the collection is about places, regrets and memories – travels in cold upland Britain and European backwaters, traces of the past, remote landscapes, the end of summer. The past is evoked by translations and imitations of Rilke and the Dutch poet Martinus Nijhoff. Elsewhere there are several evocations of the half-forgotten injustices of British history.

In spite of its often-difficult subject matter, the ultimate tone of the book is serene and accepting, especially in the sequence of spiritual poems and songs which bring the collection to a close. These are contemplations of light and landscape, of operations of grace, of reconciliation, purpose and hope, of the wonderful unexpectedly manifested in the quotidian. In his poetry of regret, Davidson offers an oblique poetry of consolation.

You can see more details about Arctic Elegies on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three poems from the collection. 

From Arctic Elegies

Jacobite Song

The falcon flown, far in the starving air
So many lost, this long, half-secret war.
The regiments like snow all overborne
The boat rowed far from the cold shore, long gone.
O blackbird taken in the fowler’s snare
He is now far who will return no more.
The burn is frozen and the bird is flown
The rose is withered and the tower is down.

Snow, falcon, blackbird, water, rose and tower:
Faded, flown, taken, frozen, fallen, gone.

from Arctic Elegy

Cold England mourns in fog and fallen leaves
November twilight drowns bare avenues;
And all my life is evening since you are gone –
Rain in the dark, my long desolation.
O weeping England is a house of ghosts:
Voices at nightfall, whispers amongst dry leaves,
Shadows of young men lost amongst rocks and snows.
I am worse than a widow, I who can never marry –
Because you are not quite dead, I can never live:
So I must mourn through the stone rooms alone,
Embrace the frozen air that is all that can join us now.

Father Willcock’s Evening Hymn
Unfold your kingdoms in the western sky,
Your transient citadels of ash and rose;
Disclose no more,
Your chain of mercies which has shaped our day.
Enfold us in the shadows of your hours,
Within your counterpoints of fading light;
Compose our night
All vast and far in consonance of stars.
That I with all below may raise my heart;
More fortunate than I can hope or know,
If so I may
In your great consort bear but the lowest part.

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