Friday, May 22, 2009

Darwin, Padel, Oxford and Tigers (Oh My)

It's a thrill to see Ruth Padel named the Oxford Professor of Poetry, the first female ever elected to that role since it was created in 1708. I'm excited to hear she hopes to draw poetry and science closer together(she comes by it naturally - her great-great-grandfather was Charles Darwin, and she is a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London.) Here's one of her lovely poems:


Water, moonlight, danger, dream.
Bronze urn, angled on a tree root: one
Slash of light, then gone. A red moon
Seen through clouds, or almost seen.

Treasure found but lost, flirting between
The worlds of lost and found. An unjust law
Repealed, a wish come true, a lifelong
Sadness healed. Haven, in the mind,

To anyone hurt by littleness. A prayer
For the moment, saved; treachery forgiven.
Flame of the crackle-glaze tangle, amber
Reflected in grey milk-jade. An old song
Remembered, long debt paid.
A painting on silk, which may fade.

CLICK HERE for more poems by Padel.



  1. Hi Julie--I have to admit I'm not usually a big fan of poems where the poet seems to be referring to something private and doesn't tell what it is...and that's the feeling I get here.

    But the language--oh my. I want to copy "Flame of the crackle-glaze tangle" and carry it around with me, just for the power and heat it holds. Yum!

  2. Julie,

    Hooray for Ruth Padel! I love finding poems with connections to science. When I was an elementary teacher, poetry was an integral element of my science units. My students read and wrote poems about the science topics they were learning about in class.

  3. I agree with Elaine: Hooray for Ruth Padel and Hooray for science+poetry!

  4. "a painting on silk, which may fade"

    I love this last line! This is the beauty of the moment, which I am always looking for, and which I believe lasts and impacts us far more than we realize based on the fading nature of the moment. Every time I read this poem I love it more. Thx!

  5. Laura - I know, it's hard sometimes, when a poem doesn't tell us exactly what it means. Accessibility is what makes poets like Billy Collins and mary Oliver so popular, with good reason. But I like the mystery of this - its effect on me is like modern art where something about the combination of shapes (the suggestion of shapes, maybe) makes me linger, and the longer I linger, the more I see. To me, the tiger drinking at the forest pool is thirsty for all these things which "quench" the thirst - all these strange, soothing things. Oddly, it's the poem of a person, not a wild animal - or is Padel saying these desires are natural, animal? Or is she saying we are slightly dangerous animals ourselves, that we don't just want the moon, we want the "red moon / Seen through clouds, or almost seen." We're complicated animals, with complicated desires - not unlike thirsty tigers? I like the fact that the poet says it indirectly, that it means different things to different people, and that it takes real work to find what the poem means to me, and that I'll be puzzling over it for days. Which is what makes a poem rest someplace in the back of my mind until the perfect moment when something happens, something comes along, and I think, "Ah - just like Padel's thirsty tiger." I like the delay of that, the idea that it will mean even more to me as I live my life and experience different things. And the fact that it's wrapped in such beautiful language is the icing on the cake.

  6. Julie, LOVE your explanation of how you feel about mysterious poems. I do enjoy mystery in poems, and thinking about the different possibilities of a poem, but sometimes I get the feeling that the poet is writing about a personal experience to which the reader is not privy--and yet the poet doesn't give me enough of a pathway into the poem for me to connect with it. Especially if the poem doesn't happen to resonate with my own experiences.

    If the poet's writing about something of her own, but the description/phrasing/mood/whatever happens to fit some (unrelated) experience of MY own, I can more easily get into the poem and revel in it.

    For me, it's like the difference between watching someone in the distance grieve or being pulled into the grief with them by knowing their story, their experience.

    This poem felt to me like watching someone else have wonderful thoughts...but it didn't make me feel them myself. That's all. I do really love the imagery, though. Gorgeous.