Patrick Thom

Patrick Thom

I have just retired after 36 years teaching French and German. I love the poetry of those languages and want to keep exploring them now that I have more time. I also like translating poetry.

Location UK

Activity

  • @HughRobertson Thank you for this, Hugh. Your scholarly references, here and elsewhere, very much enrich the conversation.

  • @MaryR Thank you, that is really helpful - and it fits in so well with the ideas expressed at the end of Senghor's 'Femme noire'. You are right of course that ultimately everyone will have an individual response to a poem, or indeed to any creative work, but I suppose what I wanted to do in this course was to focus on 'things we can all say' rather than...

  • @StephenEvans I tend to agree with you. I think there is a way of seeing which days are going to be facilitated from the outset: if there isn't, there should be. I shall research further.

  • Guilty, I confess! You might even think that it was my Protestant heritage that made me prefer a paraclete to a monstrance, but again the requirements of rhyme were paramount.

  • Mary, I must take issue with you! Given your decided statement in response to Hugo's poem that you disagree that there is no activity in death, I wonder that you do not see in Plantin someone who is awaiting death as a state of consummation. "If for this life only we have hope, we are of all men most to be pitied", as St Paul says. It leaves us with a...

  • @HughRobertson This is indeed the same Christophe Plantin. Professionally a publisher of the works of others, he is, I believe, only known to have written this one work himself.

  • Thank you very much for these comments, FM. I think you are the only reader so far to note 'les yeux qui braillent', a sound verb used of eyes. As you elegantly put it, the tears are getting a voice. I remain persuaded that this young poet knows exactly what she is doing at every moment and retains perfect control within a highly informal structure.

  • Thank you, Hugh, for this detailed and accurate analysis.

  • Thank you, FM. Having read it through again, I see that there are a few others. This is because, oddly, the video transcripts are provided by a transcription service rather than directly from my scripts. I will endeavour to upload a corrected version.

  • Thank you, Kathleen. I especially like your point 4. I have not really included such poems in this course, but presentation on the page can become very important.

  • @MarıeWoods Thank you so much, Marie. I was about to join in with a comment in response to some of those above, but really you have said it all with great lucidity. More than many poets, Senghor allows us so much space, so that it is never 'either/or' in matters of interpretation, but always 'both/and'.

  • Hi Alison, thank you for your many comments. With the plants placed on the tomb, as with almost all such imagery, I don't think there is a single strand of meaning and therefore a right or wrong answer. I would certainly see the holly chosen as being evergreen and thus enduring when other things appear to die, but also you are right to point out that most...

  • Thank you, Hugh. I think you have hit on a very important point here, when you say “I wondered about the Greek chorus, usually associated with Greek tragedies.”. While the poet conjures up the illusion of raw spontaneity, this is actually a highly-controlled creation from an educated young woman. The use of “choeur grec” opens up a whole world, not just of...

  • I have re-uploaded the video and it now appears to work, verified by one of the Futurelearn technical team. I have also added another copy of the translation that was included in week one.

  • Hugo's daughter Léopoldine died in a boating accident at Villequier on the river Seine. The village lies some 15 miles inland, but Harfleur is the nearest fishing port, so as Hugo walked to the site of her grave, he would have seen the distant sails of the fishing boats coming back in to harbour.

  • In response to a participant request, I have added as a pdf a translation of the Victor Hugo extract discussed in this article. Do please let me know if you find any more poems or extracts for which I have not provided a translation.

  • Yes: well spotted!

  • Thanks for these comments, John, with which I largely agree. It would have been possible merely to provide a literal rendition to convey the sense, and perhaps that would have been the wiser choice. It was, I confess, rather more fun, to attempt rhyming and metrical versions. As soon as one does that, however, one inevitably makes choices which move away to a...

  • @StephenEvans Hi Stephen, sorry about this. It was an oversight, not deliberate. I have provided translations for all the full poems, but I neglected to do so for this portion of a poem. I have done a translation and shall upload it no later than Wednesday - I don't have access to it today. Patrick Thom

  • @HelenT Hi Helen, what I am doing is joining the course on a number of individual days. The way that Futurelearn presents this is to give the range as just one day. It will say the same on Wednesday, when I join the course again. I am away from my diary today, but I can let you know on which subsequent days I will be there, but don't worry, there will be...

  • I apologize to all learners for the technical issues in the formatting of this article. I have added two pdfs, one showing the stress pattern of the English iambic pentameters and one showing the extract from a Victor Hugo poem in the way I had intended. I hope that this will solve the problems that have been encountered.

  • Thank you, Marie, I feel that you have captured very accurately the way in which Hugo constructs the poem.

  • Indeed - the issue of translating poetry is one worthy of a whole separate course, which I might write in future years. Here, I think, the translator had opted to go for a metrical and rhyming version, like the original, so was constrained to provide a last line that fitted in. I feel that the perception, at least in the poet's mind, that both parties were...

  • The music analogy is a very good one, I think. Music can be analysed formally, historically and so on, but that may not say anything about the emotional impact. However, to limit our response to the level of "This is how it makes me feel" is perhaps too personal. We need something which is more generally applicable, hence the toolkit.

  • To be honest, it is very hard for a man to comment on this poem, as I will never know the physical and emotional burden. There are some very good comments here on elements of the poem, but I would invite you to go a little deeper. What about 'tu es belle la jolie mademoiselle ritournelle' in lines 5 and 6? What do we make of 'choeur grec' in line 7? And what...

  • There are some very interesting comments here. From an analytical point of view, we can see that Baudelaire is merely using the albatross as a metaphor and that his focus is on the poet. On the level of emotional response and power of image, however, it's all about the bird, as many of you have said. The poem has in a way escaped from its creators intentions...

  • Thanks, Marie, your analysis here is spot on. We only have Rimbaud's word for it, but he always claimed that this was a real event.

  • Thank you for these comments - they encapsulate for me the greatest value of such a course. Between you, you will mention far more poems than I could hope to fit into the course itself, so that we all help each other to learn more.

  • Welcome all! It's good to meet some learners in this first run of the course. I will drop in on various days over the next few weeks and hope to help you on your journey into French poetry.

  • I enjoy most reading poetry - and being asked to write about it obliges one to read it more carefully and thoughtfully. Sometimes, of course, the response is at a level of feeling that does not translate into sober analytical prose, but sometimes it is a delight to be able to say 'What I love about this poem is...' or more rarely, 'I don't really like this...

  • My wife has been very envious of me for the last four weeks, as I have had this course to keep me happy and stimulated during lockdown and she has not had a course! I have found ideas and poems lodged in odd corners of my brain, and occasionally coursing through my blood, throughout the four weeks. Although introduced to few concepts that were brand new to me,...

  • I don't think I am going to find time for this before the end of the course, but thank you for the exercise - I will give it a go when I do eventually find the time.
    Just for fun, and as a completely different way of approaching the creation of a poem, I am going to try writing a sonnet composed entirely of lines from other sonnets. Anyone else fancy having a...

  • The word 'use' sounds a bit too - well, utilitarian. It is easier to say what poetry does for me. C S Lewis has the category of 'joy', distinct from mere pleasure, a deeper or sharper thing. I find that poems can often bring me joy, a set of responses that are intellectual, emotional and spiritual, often all three at the same time. The way in which a gifted...

  • In the nature of things, this 'comfort blanket' use of literature is likely to mean turning to old favourites, probably undemanding but uplifting. I have a number of novels that I can sink into like a feather bed - I find, for example, that Cold Comfort Farm never fails to lift my mood, however many times I read it. I tend to use poetry much less in this way,...

  • The phrases 'empathy machine' and 'giving name to the nameless so that it may be thought' both resonate strongly. Poetry can give shape, form, voice and articulation to feelings or experiences which would otherwise be amorphous, never satisfactorily captured. But there comes that moment of recognition, of epiphany, where the reader says "Yes, that exactly...

  • I very much like Nathaniel Mackey's discussion of poetry and performance https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69529/sight-specific-sound-specific- . I like the fact that he does not write negatively about 'performance poetry' by others, but merely positively about the already performative nature of his own poetry printed on the page. And I like the fact...

  • I find the extracts from Vahni Capildeo oblique, allusive but also elusive, but maybe I am insufficiently aware of the context. If the question is one of 'authenticity', we are on dangerous ground. Historically, writers have been driven to adopt inauthentic voices, because their authentic voice would not be listened to - the obvious examples are those female...

  • My favourite restaurant critic is Giles Coren in The Times. Witty, waspish, provocative and occasionally outrageous, he spins a web which catches and holds me - and incidentally, having read to the end of the piece, I have found out quite a bit about the restaurant and the food. Other, duller, more pedestrian critics would not have held my attention and I...

  • Since my degree, a very long time ago, I have not had to write critically about poems. As a teacher of French and German at A-Level and to students considering applying for Modern Languages at universities, however, I have done a lot of talking critically about poems in the classroom. More than anything else, it comes down to seeing what is there and...

  • 2/2 Eliot must also be right, I think. Whether they acknowledge it or not, all poets draw on a past rather than producing their work new-forged in flashes of inspiration. It can hugely enrich our understanding of a poem to see what historical, cultural, literary or linguistic forces are in play, either quite deliberately or as evidence that a poet’s particular...

  • 1/2 Prior knowledge of a poet’s biography should not, I think, be essential for understanding a poem. Even if it is deeply rooted in a poet’s individual experience, there must be enough touching points with the shared experiences of readers for it to have a wider currency, otherwise it remains purely hermetic, secret symbols for the initiated. We may make...

  • 2/2 An excellent example for me is Henry Reed’s wonderful poem ‘Naming of Parts’ https://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/naming-of-parts/ It is only as you take note of the varied vocabulary, imagery and sentence structures that you realise that there are two voices, and you have to work out where one stops and the other starts. This then allows you to...

  • 1/2 I find that I am asking two questions:
    1. What is the story / picture / idea?
    2. What poetic means does the poet use to tell the story / paint the picture / develop the idea?
    These are not sequential activities, of course. I will often only understand the story (if I do) once I have worked through a lot of the other elements. As for the poetic means,...

  • Oh yes, that's very good, thanks very much. I like the muscular energy of the translation, just like the bumblebee. I recognize that blundering in and trying to find the nectar, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

  • I think prepositions are important here. A poem will usually be, at least in part, a discussion of something. It is a response to a stimulus from outside or from within the poet's own mind, and that phenomenon, physical or mental, is then discussed. But a poem will not necessarily be a discussion with someone else, in fact it cannot really be within the common...

  • I have very much enjoyed everything this week; as always, discovering new poems, including all of the tulip-themed ones. I remain cautious of the identification of intertextuality which in fact only exists in the reader's mind, not the poets. I particularly liked the sections on ekphrasis and the way in which they made me look afresh at both paintings and...

  • ‘You have to keep a sense of perspective’, they said. ‘You have to get things in proportion’.
    But how?
    How wide is the pier?
    How far away are the ships?
    I imagine a fifteen-storey pavilion of glorious yellow, the spots viewing windows at the different levels.
    In the tenth-floor restaurant they serve – of course – spiced pumpkin soup.
    Or is this soaring...

  • The concept seems entirely logical and reasonable, although I cannot immediately think of any other examples. You could argue, I suppose, that theatre and cinema are inherently intermedial art forms, as they depend for their effect both on words and images/actions. Reading the script is not a true experience of either play or film without the accompanying...

  • And then, as I sigh “What on earth can I do?”
    They’re all ready to play, that unstoppable crew.
    Each one has picked up the appropriate bow:
    Two violins, viola, and cello: “Let’s go”.
    And they strike up: Beethoven. At first a touch shy,
    And then their old fingers begin to fly,
    And those mighty melodies fill the room
    With splendour which pierces the...

  • Glad you liked it! Here is the rest of my translation, in two posts because of the character limit.

    There they all are, the familiar faces:
    The chemist, the merchant, judge, doctor (in braces)
    These small town worthies, like in a bad play;
    Ye Gods! I’d rather be miles away
    But on Sunday the judge has to write me a note:
    “Will you honour us by coming to...

  • Van Gogh's painting already distorts reality, it depicts it through a particular vision. Sexton does the same, I think, in a perfectly valid way. The tree really does look like long hair floating up, whether or not Van Gogh saw it like that. As a North European, I never really see vivid night skies, but maybe in Provence the sky really does boil with stars....

  • Similarly, I really like Donald Finkel's poem The Great Wave: Hokusai https://www.bing.com/th?id=OIP.2cz0tnYCBfagYM_HoGW2WAEsC7&w=261&h=160&c=8&rs=1&qlt=90&pid=3.1&rm=2 It owes its existence to Hokusai's famous painting https://img.theculturetrip.com/1024x574/smart/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/hokusai.jpg , so you could say that the painting is more important....

  • This is really interesting. Mostly, the painter and the poet are doing quite different things. Shakespeare in 'Lucrece' has to evoke the image, to conjure it into vivid life, because it doesn't actually exist. But in most ekphratic poetry, there is no need to do that: the painting exists and we can look at it independently of the poem. This sort of gives a...

  • All art, including writing, creates the illusion that certain things are central. This particular story or that particular scene hold centre stage and we as consumers accept that and don't ask too much about is happening 'off stage'. Bruegel often seems to interrogate this idea, placing the title incident of his paintings in a corner rather than at the centre,...

  • Two instances come to mind. The first is Yala Korwin's 'The little boy with his hands up' The Little Boy With His Hands Up by Yala Korwin (amnesty.org.uk) , which comments not on a work of art, exactly, but on a well-known photograph from the Warsaw ghetto...

  • Most readers will have moments, reading prose or verse, where they come across something that makes them say 'Yes' out loud - or possibly burst into tears - because they have found the perfect expression of a feeling that they know deeply but have never articulated, what Pope describes as 'What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed' in his Essay on...

  • I read English, French and German, which between them have immensely rich poetic traditions, so I find that my longings are largely satisfied by things I can read in their original languages. I do sometimes read translations from Spanish, Italian or Russian, but I rarely venture outside Europe. I love Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, but I don't really...

  • There they all are, the familiar faces:
    The chemist, the merchant, judge, doctor (in braces)
    These small town worthies, like in a bad play;
    Ye Gods! I’d rather be miles away

    The energetic rhythm of the original German is preserved, so that the 'feel' of the two poems is similar.

    Such choices always have to be made: rhyme, rhythm, internal rhymes and...

  • The translator's choices are very much determined by the original text. A sonnet, with formal metre and rhyme-scheme, must really be translated into another sonnet if it is to bear comparison with the original enterprise. As soon as you are looking for rhymes that 'work', there will be a need to distort the original, often involving the choice of a different...

  • This is a very deliberate intertextuality, where Carson's repeated quotation from Keats invites us to consider his poem as a dialogue with the earlier one. I think there may be a further intertext as well, in the amusing conversation in the pub about translating the bank slogan. To me, this recalls the Shakespeare song 'I know a bank where the wild thyme...

  • 'Had we but world enough and time', it would be quite fun to track down all the references and direct quotations - Milton, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and many others - but I wonder to what purpose. I think that's what Forrest-Thomson wants us to do, relying on our instinctive search for meaning and coherence, hoping that we will follow up each allusion. But...

  • I would echo all of @Tim Peters' comments. Merely to echo is not, however, very creative, so let me add a little. Reading Vahni Capildeo's responses to Helen Smith's comments, I am still unclear: does the Yes mean "Yes, that is a valid association to make", or "Yes, that was in my mind when I wrote the poem"? To put it another way, are the intertextual...

  • A dialogue with an old text is a way of commenting both on the past and on the present. I can't think of very modern examples at the moment, but what about Wagner's use of Gottfried von Strassburg's 12th century poem for Tristan and Isolde, or Tennyson's take on Malory for 'Idylls of the King' and the 'Morte d'Arthur'? These are not very much like the Caroline...

  • Both Lowell's 'A tulip garden' and the garden section of Marvell's poem are more about gardening practice than about the flowers themselves. There was a tendency to plant tulips in serried ranks like soldiers on parade, the colours and stripes recalling the bright and varied uniforms of the 17th century. Although the image is military, it is not intrinsically...

  • Interestingly, sometimes the intertext can become much more celebrated than the primary text. Keats' sonnet 'On first looking into Chapman's Homer' is justly celebrated and much quoted, but I wonder if anyone now reads Chapman's translation. It is also really interesting when one text gives rise to others in an entirely different field. It appears that Freud...

  • As @Tim Peters has already said, intertextuality is inevitable for any writer who is deeply or widely read, as most are. It may not be entirely conscious, but there is bound to be a drawing on things lodged in the memory. Foundational texts have superstructures built on them, so the Bible gives Milton his source material for Paradise Lost, which in turn has...

  • @RobEdwards I think it's just a question of the number of feet, unless I have suddenly become innumerate. The sonnet is written in pentameters, 10 feet per line, but there appear to be eleven feet in the first line. The only way you can get it to scan is to to do 'of the' as two short half-feet, with the stress then falling on 'best'. Technically, if I...

  • Thanks for this, Rob. It is, as you say, classical in form but still modern in feeling. I just think it's a shame about the extra foot in the first line! That's probably just me being pedantic, but I really enjoyed it.

  • 1200 characters are not nearly enough, so here are a few more thoughts. Grammatically, Plath saves herself a lot of trouble by putting the subject and verb in the title - you're - which can then be taken as the start of every sentence in the poem. In the current culture wars, I am very suspicious of absolute identity statements, but here I think they work -...

  • I have enjoyed it all; above all the poems, and most especially 'You're', but also the requirement to pin down and articulate thoughts that I would otherwise be too lazy to formulate properly. It has been most stimulating reading others' comments as well.

  • A lot of what we are doing is, for me, about learning to look: learning to look at and for things I was not previously aware of, and to look more closely at things which I thought were familiar or which I could take for granted. In terms of enjoyment, I very much liked comparing the Bradstreet and Shakespeare poems and discovering Plath's 'You're' - a pure...

  • The sun bursts hazel on my shoulders.
    She is away.
    She is the point of any sky.
    She is the accident that happens.
    And why I asked
    for spirals stitched where she might perch:
    fjord blue, holm green, scarlet, sand,
    like her bloodline, Iceland to Arabia:
    because her hooded world’s my hand –
    She is away.

  • I have mentioned her before, but I find the physical appearance of the poem beauté formol by the French Canadian poet Chloé Savoie-Bernard striking; https://www.lesvoixdelapoesie.com/poemes/beaute-formol With capital letters or punctuation, for example, it would be a very different poem. That said, it is still the sight of the words and hearing reading of the...

  • Patrick Thom made a comment

    I confess to being a bit suspicious of 'concrete poetry' of this type. I have seen some that are really just a one-idea joke: once you've got it, you've got it, and there isn't really anything else there. But I haven't read much and I am open - a bit - to persuasion. As to the page as a frame, though, and the interaction between words and space, I concede that...

  • What a wonderful poem! I had not come across it before and shall recommend it to all expectant mothers of my acquaintance. For me it is above all else playful, joyful and full of almost limitless possibilities, unmarred by any of the things that go wrong in life. I find the rhythms playful; like the foetus, they never quite settle into a rhythm. Line 2, for...

  • Although not a musician, I connect with Penny's approach. Some years ago I wrote a piece for publication in the school magazine. I was quite pleased with it, but when it appeared in print, I realised that one sentence was wrong, it would have flowed much better with the addition of one other word of three letters. As published, it had the wrong rhythm and thus...

  • I do not think it is possible to say that there is just one way of reading this sonnet, and I can imagine hearing several equally persuasive but different versions. The opening line has to start with two unstressed syllables, I think, followed by two stressed ones in unperfect. In line 7, the sense also seems to go against the normal pattern. I would certainly...

  • In addition to the two eminently sensible comments made already, I would add that you can attune your ear by hearing yourself. As I attempt to read poetry out loud, trying to give appropriate value to each word, I try at the same time to listen to the sounds I am making. Do I stay within the metrical pattern, or does the content seem to demand that I vary the...

  • I am interested in the notion of the 'national language'. I do a certain amount of translation (for fun) of French poetry into English. The standard French classical metre is the Alexandrine, a hexameter. In English this just doesn't feel right, so I always translate into pentameters - challenging, as I now have only ten feet to play with rather than twelve,...

  • If we are talking about poetry generally, it is almost impossible to assign an order of importance to these points. If we are talking about an individual poem, it may become clearer. A well-constructed poem will typically use all of these to have its effect, all working together to produce a whole - not necessarily a harmonious whole, as the poet may be aiming...

  • Both poems are written in iambic pentameters, but while Shakespeare's is a sonnet (3 quatrains ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG), Bradstreet's is of only 12 lines, being six simple rhyming couplets. Formally, then, hers is the simpler poem. Because of this formal simplicity, the thought too is simpler, with each couplet holding one idea, whereas Shakespeare can develop...

  • Patrick Thom made a comment

    I found Penny's article fascinating, as I tend to do almost exactly the same things when approaching a poem, but in the opposite order. My first question is 'What's the story?', because there usually is some sort of story behind the poem, even if I have to take that word story very loosely. Once I've got an answer to that first question, I then ask 'What are...

  • I recognized most of these as words and could describe some of the forms, but if you gave me an unseen poem and asked me to assign it to a particular category, I am not sure that I would be successful.

  • Patrick Thom made a comment

    There seems to be quite a lot of flexibility in the ways in which the ghazal structure is used by modern writers. Some of them, such as Anthony Madrid, don't really seem to adhere to the formal constraints at all. This is one of the places where translation becomes so difficult, and I guess that in the original Urdu, Persian or Arabic the rhyme is more evident...

  • In such a compressed poetic form there is no space for exposition of something outside the experience of the reader, which is why sonnets tend to deal with universals like love and death. If we know that this is a love poem, that establishes a frame of reference for us and that particular sonnet then becomes one of the innumerable riffs on that familiar theme....

  • I find that sonnet-writing is a sort of game, a huge challenge to the writer's skill. Anyone can say what they want to say eventually if they sprawl across the page, but to compress meaning within fourteen lines, following a strict metrical and rhyming pattern, and still to say something striking, memorable and worthwhile is a great art. I find that the...

  • Patrick Thom made a comment