Lay for the Day 22nd
This elegy for Ronnie Wathen, poet, piper and mountaineer, reflects his
fascination, shortly before his death, with Byron and particularly with
the episodic epic Don Juan, which is written in the stanza I have
attempted below. (The second stanza is a second.)
Gordon, Lord Byron mad, bad, and dangerous to know
was born on this day in 1788.
for Ronnie W.
Im taking up this stanza in remembrance
Of a dear friend just recently departed
And hoping I can make of the encumbrance
Of the triple rhyme, as he in his art did,
A lively, tripping reel and not a glum dance.
Theres one verse almost done before its started,
And on we race, without let-up or up-let,
To take the final fence, the closing couplet.
that Ill get the hang
Of the mettlesome form and make it canter
Or trot on command, like Byron who rang
The changes on it, finding it for banter
Much better suited than for Sturm und Drang
Or any kind of windy, wordy cant a
Crime of which he accused the Lakers gang:
Of that, and being Judases to freedom,
And, worst of all, so dull he scarce could read em.
Now Ron, who died untimely
late last year,
Was of this stanza lately much enamoured
And got his bardic mill in such high gear
That just before his sudden end he hammered
Them out by the dozen. He could be freer
Thus, it seems, to shape his thoughts as they clamoured;
As though his brain was troubled by the rumour
Of what it nursed within a lethal tumour.
What kind of man was
this I elegise?
A poet by calling, by class patrician;
Direct in his speech, of substantial size;
A climber, a father and a musician,
An Irish piper on whom were no flies.
From such a thumbnail sketch of his condition
You really know no more than next to nothing
Of who he was, that good man, Ronnie Wathen.
There are colourful
That other, older friends could tell, Im sure.
What he was like at thirty or at twenty
I can only guess. How in the wide, pure
Air of the mountains or in some cramped tent he
Looked, let others relate. Im of a newer
Generation, and one perhaps less truthful.
But heres a fact: he seemed forever youthful.
I said before hed
heard the Muses call,
Yet he was rather tardy in responding.
Perhaps he resented being her thrall,
Which is, after all, a painful, desponding
Position that can drive you up the wall;
And arty pretensions were not Rons thing.
But she had her way with him in the end,
Sending verse as fast as it could be penned.
Apart from Lord Byron
(his final choice
Of mentor), the one whose spell wouldnt break,
With whom he plunged head over heels, was Joyce.
He had long stretches of Finnegans Wake
By heart, and wakened for me its weird voice.
He could play the pipes and, for heavens sake,
At the same time recite that dense, Morphean
Language an achievement close to Orphean.
In fact most things
Irish Ronnie revered;
Her rocks and her rivers, her soaking rains
And the splendour of skies suddenly cleared.
As for the music, it ran in his veins
As Guinness does in hers. Hed mountaineered,
Piped and rambled her crags and pubs and lanes.
Did he long, like the good (or wicked) lord,
To work and wield, or fall on, freedoms sword?
I doubt it somehow.
However hed grieve
Or rage at the wrongs done the Emerald Isle,
His heart was gentle. To shatter and cleave
The heads and limbs of folk was not his style,
Even for a higher cause. To bereave
One widow and two children was a vile
Enough deed, and though hed battle all
Night in an argument, he wouldnt brawl.
So there you have him
or perhaps you dont:
An upright, downright man all round; just mad
Enough to be sane; maddening too, I wont
Deny; strong and generous, with a scad
Of talents to boot. On the Wathen front
Alls quiet now, and reaching a decad
Of these stanzas borrowed from Byron he
So much liked, Ill end: God bless, goodbye Ronnie.
Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar