Sunday 13 December 2020

"To blame the fledgling is unjust./It toilets when and where it must"

At least there's been some relief today. 

After what seems to have been an eternity, Radio 4's 4.30pm Sunday poetry spot has finally paused from being endlessly 'woke' and brought back splendid, short-breathed Roger McGough and Poetry Please

Today's guest was poet laureate Simon Armitage, of whom I'm a fan. He chatted to Roger and chose his pick of listeners' choices. 

And they were great picks too, though the programme began with part of a medieval poem translated by Simon himself called The Owl and the Nightingale, "full of medieval toilet humour" according to Roger - as we heard.

Roger was right that it's "lovely stuff". Here's The Owl defending his reputation to an equally argumentative Nightingale:

I undertake essential tasks
Where people live, performing acts
That folk find helpful, doing good
Where humans house their stock of food. 
I prey on vermin, dusk to dawn, 
Both in the church and in the barn. 
It is my pleasure in Christ's house
To hunt down every filthy mouse.
No rodent will live safely there
While I patrol it from the air.
Alternatively, I might choose
Some different dwelling for my roost.
Great trees stand in the wood, and there
The sturdy boughs are never bare,
But overgrown by ivy vines,
Whose leafy tendrils intertwine, 
Whose verdant tones are never lost
Through any winter - snow or frost. 
My stronghold in those trunks and arms,
In summer cool, in winter warm,
Is always green and always bright
When yours has disappeared from sight.

The extract's closing couplet ran as follows: "To blame the fledgling is unjust./It toilets when and where it must" - which is certainly true.

AE Housman, William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare and Wilfred Owen followed, along with a trio of modern female poets, Alison Brackenbury, Lorna Goodison and Shivanee Ramlochan.

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