Part 2: Traveller’s Tales
As I stated earlier, 1966 was a significant year: it was also the year Seamus Heaney published Death of a Naturalist. The two poets had basics in common: rural settings, anecdotal structures, a backward looking, to some extent, revisionist standpoint, a particular style of language use. For Heaney the language is an aural experience; metaphorical, wrought, highly percussive, using the resources of language to communicate but also inveigle an Irish, Catholic, tonality into the English canon.
For Kopland the language is conversational, ‘parlando’; yet at the same time the reader senses that each word is weighed, placed precisely. The subtexting is that of the common man in a society wrenched out of true by ‘the european experience’
Whereas Heaney takes issue with cultural identity, Kopland takes issue with time: the depredations of time on physical and mental processes, and through this the concepts of human worth, value, and continuance.
Both writers gained world status.
In the later poems we have a moving away from recognisable environments; the sentence structure becomes less concrete, more impressionistic. There also emerges a surer handling of expression that is both probing and exploratory. It allows into the life experience some measure of immanence, mystery, some of the magic of Under the Apple Tree:
An Empty Spot to Stay
Go now into the garden, dear, and lie
in an empty spot where the grass grows tall.
That’s what I’ve always wanted to be,
an empty spot for someone, to stay.
Is this Kopland’s ‘paradise’? The nostalgic paradise readers detected in Kopland’s earlier period, he takes issue with, because it cannot be separated from an authoritarian, dare we say, predestined, design. Kopland is, if anything, a materialist, anti-mystic. ‘Everyone finds a lost paradise in my poetry, a longing for it. I don’t long for the past, I long for experience (…) and experience is new, now.’
A change has taken place, perhaps a distrust of exposure, of identity. But at the same time there is reaching out of national identity, to universality.
Kopland set about dismantling all the certainties and structures of his position; he became a wanderer, a traveller. In the true Dutch manner.
In Breughel’s Winter, based on the Hunters in the Snow painting, we have:
… At their feet the depths
grow and grow, become wider and further,
until the landscape vanishes into a landscape
that must be there, is there, but only
as a longing is there.
At our most objective there is still the desire for objectivity, that internal filter of all we perceive of the world, and what we are doing in it. Is it possible to go beyond even that, as in The Surveyor:
…he is a hole in the shape of
a man in the landscape.
and longing? See Conversation with the Wanderer:
What I want, he says, perhaps
I wanted to be a bird, a swallow
I saw, there, high in the mountains
as it was there, the moment I
disappeared from view, something
that exists beyond myself.
Notice that placing of ‘I’, it is in the same position in the Dutch. And the playing with tenses: drama and dislocation, as though we are entering indeterminate territories.
This is fully realised in Bay, which deserves to be quoted in full:
It stays and it stays, it does not fade away:
a yellow beach with empty chairs,
a green and blue-green sea with little boats,
greyish mountains around it, and over all
a thin, lilac, coagulated light.
There was a movement before, something was moving endlessly,
it was the breathing of the sea, the gentle rasp
of the little boats at anchor, the gradual
darkening and disappearance of the bay:
something was about to arrive and it came, it came,
this was happiness.
Something motionless remains, a moment in which
the beach has been deserted, the sea grows still,
the anchor chains fall silent, the light retains
that ancient lilac, and nothing disappears – moment
in which the bay lies as it is, forever,
and a longing for the moment to pass.
An unpeopled landscape; except it is anything but. The sense of suspended time is masterly. Dutch is a stress-based poetry, like ours. Stress sets up expectations, onward flow, development, argument and conclusion. The Dutch here avoids rhyme; the rhythm, based on the iambic, is frequently endstopped, falling with feminine endings, that defuse the tensions. The lines are beautifully cadenced; the repetitions only help further to arrest movement. Yet movement is desire, longing: it is the raison d’etre of the piece. Recognition, here, is acceptance of contraries, of the wandering ways of our sense of ‘onward’. The form and structure convey as much as the text does.