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7. A dream of a journey
Visualizing beyond a restricted world.
suggested reading method
To best savour this artwork, please take a moment to eliminate distractions. Consider minimizing all other windows on your computer; putting other devices (phone, tv etc) aside; taking a deep breath, to the full extent of your lung capacity; and focusing solely on the “artwork” section.
Once you’ve processed that to your satisfaction, the rest of the post is optional reading, provided only to share my own impressions and reasons for choosing this piece.
To your loveliness I travel
Through a bronze and yellow land. England burns away November -
Every bough is a lit marvel
Pointing with a sentient hand
To where you stand -
Loveliest ember in the autumn's amber.
by Mervyn Peake, written in the early 1940s
This poem does a lot with a little space.
While I don’t have the exact date (borrowing as I am from another Pelican Poets & Writers discussion booklet), knowing “Leave Train” dates from the midst of World War II lends this account of traveling all the more bittersweetness. Then as now, it is an act of bravery and defiance to travel freely.
In the Pelican group, we discussed the romanticization of the landscape. We thought objectively, England in November isn’t that nice, but these words paint the landscape in enlivened, fiery tones. Perhaps this plays into the poet-speaker’s desire to focus on and appreciate the beauty in the world.
We also noted the unusual rhythm, contrasting long and short lines. This lends the poem a cadence that is easy to read out loud; there is a delicacy in its brevity.
Central to the mystery and abstraction of this poem is that we don’t know who – or what – the poet-speaker is traveling to see. Are they hoping to encounter a person, feeling, or hope itself? Will they reach their destination? The rhyme of “ember” and “amber” gives a sense of finality, even though we are ultimately left in suspense.
Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) was an English writer and illustrator. He wrote books and poems in his own right, including an unfinished cycle called the Gormenghast books. Peake painted works on view in London’s National Portrait Gallery, Imperial War Museum and National Archive, and illustrated some literature we have come to see as classics: for example, Alice in Wonderland, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Treasure Island, and The Swiss Family Robinson. As Peake saw the horror of concentration camps in World War II, his sober renditions of war are contrasted by his lighter, more fantastical pieces.
Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments!
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