Friday, August 21, 2015

The Living Dead

Honouring our poetic ancestors


The Winged Horse
By Hilaire Belloc (1870 - 1953)

It's ten years ago today you turned me out of doors
To cut my feet on flinty lands and stumble down the shores,
And I thought about the all in all, oh more than I can tell!
But I caught a horse to ride upon and I rode him very well,
He had flame behind the eyes of him, and wings upon his side
And I ride, and I ride!

I rode him out of Wantage and I rode him up the hill,
And there I saw the Beacon in the morning standing still,
Inkpen and Hackpen and southward and away
High through the middle airs in the strengthening of the day,
And there I saw the channel-glint and England in her pride.
And I ride, and I ride!

And once a-top of Lambourne down toward the hill of Clere
I saw the host of Heaven in rank and Michael with his spear,
And Turpin out of Gascony, and Charlemagne the Lord,
And Roland of the marches with his hand upon his sword
For the time he should have need of it, and forty more beside.
And I ride, and I ride!

For you that took the all in all, the things you left were three.
A loud voice for singing, and keen eyes to see,
And a spouting well of joy within that never yet was dried!
And I ride.

From his 'Complete Verse'. 


'Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc,' says Wikipedia, 'was an Anglo-French writer and historian. He was one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century. He was known as a writer, orator, poet, sailor, satirist, man of letters, soldier and political activist.'

The link on his name, above, leads you to the rest of the article. He seems to have been quite a character!

We are also told: 'His only period of steady employment was from 1914 to 1920 as editor of Land and Water, a journal devoted to the progress of the war.' He was also a politician for a few years, and as a young man did military service for France and then attended Oxford University. 

Wikipedia adds, 'Otherwise he lived by his pen, and often fell short of money.' 

We can relate to that last, can't we? Luckily he was a prolific writer.

He is probably best remembered now for his humorous moral verses. Cautionary Tales for Children, which were really more for adults. The poem I've chosen strikes me as a little out of character in some ways; however it displays his undeniable patriotism and pride in England (as well as a nod or two to France) and its rollicking rhythm, which suits the idea of a horse ride, was quite typical of his poetic style.

It is the tone and language which seem to me to set this poem apart. I love the romanticism of it, and I can't help getting caught up in his love of those familiar landscapes and legendary figures, even though they are far from familiar to me. 

He told an extraordinary tale of how he came to write it, which I take to be a complete fiction, albeit a rather delightful one. You can read it here in his own words.

To me, though, since I first encountered it in my teens in Pamela Frankau's novel of the same title, it speaks of a rejected lover who finds poetry instead. 'I caught a horse to ride upon' — the winged horse, Pegasus, who symbolises poetry. Belloc is exultant that he rides this horse 'very well'. It's all in that last verse. That 'spouting well of joy within' has sustained me too, all my life.

The rejected lover interpretation is open to question, however. The 'all in all' might just as easily refer to religious faith, for instance. In fact Belloc was happily married for 18 years, and his wife's death was some years after this poem was written. Also he remained a staunch practising Catholic all his life. So neither of those possible scenarios holds true autobiographically. The feeling is obviously true though, and the symbolism of the winged horse is well-known.

Belloc actually sang the poem, and you can listen to him doing so at The Poetry Archive — along with a text of the poem containing a number of misprints! (I think it's been transcribed from the sound recording and some things have been misheard and misunderstood.) It's interesting to hear, but I like this one better on the page.

Amazon has pages of books by and about him, not many of them poetry (he was prolific in other genres, including essays). Some have been converted into Kindle. Complete Verse is also available from Google Books, to be bought or read online. And there is a free downloadable pdf of many of his poems, including a number of the humorous ones.


12 comments:

  1. I went directly to the pdf. Thank you. I never read his verse before though his name is familiar to me. Delightful and full of power.

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  2. Thanks for introducing Hilaire Belloc with this wonderful poem Rosemary...

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  3. Excellent poem and article, Rosemary. Interesting that he was one of the most prolific writers in England at one time...admittedly I had never heard of him. After reading this poem, I see Belloc is one to check out further. Thank you for this.

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  4. How I love the rhythm and the repeated message "and I ride" in this poem. It is a very intriguing poetry form, which I cant identify, or maybe he created it along with this wonderful poem. Thank you, Rosemary - I especially loved this one!

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  5. I like the energy of this poem, the ride that gallops in such good rythm, I like even more your skill at summarizing the poet's writing life. You make it interesting and give just the right amount of details.

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    1. Thanks, Myrna, I'm very glad you experience it like that.

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  6. Many thanks everyone! I am away from home, seeing this on my son's desktop and fining it hard to read. Which makes me wonder, do people generally find my posts easy on the eyes or difficult?

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    1. I think if the fonts are a bit bigger it would be perfect...

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  7. A loud voice for singing, and keen eyes to see...

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  8. A loud voice for singing, and keen eyes to see...

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