Poem introduction

Interviewer: In what you say, in the very business of what it is you bring to light and give utterance to there is also a very big element of the instinctive, the instinctive formed by years of devotion to your craft, isn't there?

If You Came

Pitter: Yes, indeed. A very big element of that obscurity which is one of the mysteries and one of the glories of poetry, because labour as we may and labour as we must we can't tell really from whence it comes, and this is why I have always honoured the noble obscurity of poetry and deprecated the slovenly obscurity: I would clear away every slovenly obscurity I could and labour to make myself as clear as my plain meaning could be carried in order that the noble obscurities, if they come, may have their full weight and value. Because even in scraps and crumbs of poetry, in bits of old ballads, bits of ballads that Shakespeare embeds for instance - they make one's flesh creep with this mystery which is as much of the flesh as the spirit I think: "Childe Rowland to the dark tower came" - he felt it too or he wouldn't have so embedded them into his text. And such phrases as "How should I your true love know?" beyond their content, their plain meaning, there are depths of mystery, of obscurity if you like, and this is one of the major characteristics of poetry, one of its great raison d'ệtres and something we should be thankful for when it comes, and which we should labour to make clear and not to let anything slovenly through, so the thing itself, when it suddenly appears, may be seen to appear.

Interviewer: Yes, precisely - one's objections to slovenly or pretentious obscurity is not that one thinks poetry should be crystal clear, but that the real complexities of it are hidden under the clutter. Well this is something that one finds no trace of in your work at all - there is never any of this, as it were, secondary obscurity, all the obscurities are there in the nature of the experience that's being treated. If you take a poem like this one, 'If You Came' - would you read us that one? 'If You Came'?

Pitter: Gladly.

If You Came

If you came to my secret glade,
Weary with heat,
I would set you down in the shade
I would wash your feet.

If you came in the winter sad,
Wanting for bread,
I would give you the last that I had,
I would give you my bed.

But the place is hidden apart
Like a nest by a brook,
And I will not show you my heart
By a word, by a look.

The place is hidden apart
Like the nest of a bird:
And I will not show you my heart
By a look, by a word.


from Collected Poems (Enitharmon Press, 1996), by permission of the publisher. Recording used by permission of the BBC

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