Here are three extracts which contemplate the theme of ‘place’ in different ways:
The Herefordshire Landscape by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Hills, vales, woods, netted in a silver mist,
Farm, granges, doubled up among the hills,
And cattle grazing in the watered vales,
And cottage-chimneys smoking from the woods,
And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere,
Confused with smell of orchards.
The Lost Land by Eavan Boland
I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.
Is this, I say
How they must have seen it,
Backing out on the mailboat at twilight,
On everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
I imagine myself
At the landward rail of that boat
Searching for the last sight of a hand.
I see myself
On the underworld side of that water,
The darkness coming in fast,
Saying all the names I know for a lost land:
Ireland. Absence. Daughter.
Slough by John Betjeman
Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow. Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans, Tinned minds, tinned breath.
Although each is about place and evoke a sens of place, they are on different levels.
The Herefordshire Landscape purely evokes a sense of place. It is atmospheric, full of visual language that evokes all the senses and gives you an idealistic view of the English countryside. It is peaceful, calm and allows you to picture yourself in the landscape living a carefree life. There are no politics in this world, it is celebrating the pure beauty of place in an escapism way.
Slough is much more political and thought-provoking and is a commentary on modern life. You get a real feeling of contempt for modernity from John Betjeman. It makes definite social comment about progress and place about how humanity with its modern interventions has made a place inhospitable. He actually wants bombs to “fall on Slough!” as “It isn’t fit for humans now”.
The Lost Land evokes a sense of place in relation to identity and exile. The poet is longing for Ireland “saying all the names I know for a lost land”. You get a feeling of desperation and loss from the poet, grief for a place and he is imagining himself looking at the shore of Dublin Bay.
I actually like all three poems in different ways. I love the pure escapism and naive joy in Browning’s poetry. It is a world I want to live in. I also like the thought-provoking nature of the second two poems. All three have given me more ideas to explore around Place.
- How can I explore the sensual nature of place?
- Place is linked to politics and change – how can this be explored?
- I would like to create a triptych of the three poems and the images they invoke.