‘Fable’ and ‘Oh Cherry Trees You are Too White For My Heart’ by Doris Lessing

Originally posted on Poethead:

Fable

When I look back I seem to remember singing.
Yet it was always silent in that long warm room.

Impenetrable, those walls, we thought,
Dark with ancient shields.The light
Shone on the head of a girl or young limbs
Spread carelessly. And the low voices
Rose in the silence and were lost as in water.

Yet, for all it was quiet and warm as a hand,
If one of us drew the curtains
A threaded rain blew carelessly outside.
Sometimes a wind crept, swaying the flames,
And set shadows crouching on the walls,
Or a wolf howled in the wide night outside,
And feeling our flesh chilled we drew together.

But for a while the dance went on –
That is how it seems to me now:
Slow forms moving calm through
Pools of light like gold net on the floor.
It might have gone on, dream-like, for ever.

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‘Fable’ and ‘Oh Cherry Trees You are Too White For My Heart’ by Doris Lessing

There will always be singing; an appreciation of Doris Lessing

Fable

When I look back I seem to remember singing.
Yet it was always silent in that long warm room.

Impenetrable, those walls , we thought,
Dark with ancient shields. The light
Shone on the head of a girl or young limbs
Spread carelessly. And the low voices
Rose in the silence and were lost as in water.

Fable is © Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Author and Poet Doris Lessing
Author and Poet Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing (1919-2013) was  a novelist, poet, and sci-fi writer. This appreciation of Doris Lessing was first published on the Women Writers, Women’s Books Site  in 2013 with thanks to Anora McGaha, and to Barbara Bos who live edited the piece at the time of writing. Thanks to Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd who has allowed me carry Poems by Doris Lessing here at Poethead.

When a person of great age dies, there are many responses about the richness of their life and how we have been blessed by their presence for so long in our world. Yet for me there was and is profound sorrow at the loss to us of Doris Lessing Nobel Laureate, author, philosopher and poet. I do not delude myself that my sorrow is one of intimate connection to her, a whole generation of women writers have that connection to her voice.

My connection to Doris Lessing’s writing began in my twenties when I first read The Golden Notebook, I read almost all her work after that. I am unsure of where the gut tear occurred with my reaction to her work, but here was a writer who did things that I admired. It was difficult to locate her effect on me, but I knew it and recognised it as important to my writing.

Living in Dublin city, I often retreat to a small house in Mayo, where my now deceased friend, Michael McMullin, a philosopher and jungian, had retained a library. His Doris Lessings were collected on the top shelf of his library, alongside some images of Chartres Cathedral, and his Yeats collection. Like Lessing he had attained a great age and had a voracious thirst for knowledge, he was born in Ceylon in 1916.

Michael’s assidious collecting of Doris Lessing was winsome, and he often referred to her. His nomadism had taken him from Ceylon, to Cambridge, to escape from Hitler’s invasion of Paris, to Finland, to Canada, and at the end his life, a hillside In the North-West of Ireland. I did not meet Doris Lessing, but I had met in Michael that intellectual and questing spirit that seems to inflame the diasporist writer. It can only be described as a great and humble presence, their being present to everyone who he/she encounters all the time.

Doris Lessing’s death brought back my own recent loss with a punch. I saw the rumours of her death emerging from early Sunday morning and waited to hear if it were true. My decision to go ahead and link the Lessing poems was an urgent need to show people that there was more to her output, although it is sadly unavailable.

Two years ago while re-reading Lessing in the Mayo library awaiting a death, the Lessing poetry began to make me a bit more than curious. On returning to the city, I thought to do some searches of her writing, as I was aware that she like Ted Hughes, had elements of Sufism in her writing. I was aware that she had written poetry but couldn’t find much. The place to look for the mythological, esoteric, and philosophical mind of the writer is in their poetic output. Poetry is the revelatory act of participation in the world.

Doris Lessing had written a small collection Fourteen Poems in 1959, published by The Scorpion Press, and she had contributed to the Inpopa Anthology (2002). Her poetry isn’t available online. The Scorpion Press Archive is housed at the McFarlin Library (Special Collections) at the University of Tulsa.

Alison Greenlee, Librarian at the McFarlin Special Collections Library located for me a copy of the book in my Alma Mater, University College Dublin. I made an appointment to go in as soon as I could and transcribed a selection of the poems for myself. The next step was to contact Jonathan Clowes Ltd, who are Doris Lessing’s agents.

Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd, Doris Lessing’s Literary Agents, worked on my behalf to bring Doris Lessing’s poetry back online. We corresponded initially by letter and I procured a temporary 12 month licence to add Lessing to my index of women poets. I wanted her to be recognised for her entire body of work and not alone the novels. After the initial permissions to carry the Lessing poetry were given, the first letter went awol and had to be re-issued, I put them up and shared them regularly across multiple social media platforms including FB, Twitter, Salon.

I wrote about the poems on Open Salon. There were 3,000 hits on the poetry over the two blogs. People contacted me to say that they wanted to read the books, that they had no idea that she was a poet, and that they were heartened to see a woman poet of great age appearing on their computer screens, as there is often a problem with having older women visible in the media.

The following year, I sent Olivia Guest a synopsis of the reaction to Doris Lessing’s poetry and we agreed to extend the licence for another 12 months. She was surprised that the reaction to lessing’s poetry had been so widespread and curious. I sent her screenshots of the data and emails regarding the works.

This year of 2013, I again contacted Olivia and reminded her that my licence to carry the poetry was about due to end and that it gave me great sorrow to take the poems off my index, people were always looking for them, they accounted for a lot of searches for women writers, alongside Dorothy L. Sayers and Nelly Sachs.

last week I received an email that made me sadder. Doris Lessing had little confidence in her poetry and her agents were happy to allow me keep them indefinitely because they did not see the possibility of a re-issue.

This is the email that Olivia Guest sent me recently,

Dear Christine

We’d be delighted for you to host the poems for longer especially if you’re getting such good reactions. Doris Lessing was never very keen on her poetry and didn’t think it was any good so I doubt we will see a re-issue but at least this way, they are available in an alternative form.

Many thanks and best wishes

Olivia

The Megaliths Series, by Ann Madden (Irish Artist)
The Megaliths Series, by Ann Madden (Irish Artist)

I wondered then if Doris Lessing knew over these years that I had the poems and that they had caused such a reaction on the Poethead ? I still do not know if she did. Last week I announced on Poethead that I would be retaining the poems for sometime, and that I had received the above letter, blogged it in absolute delight, because it is a small but profound part of her writing jigsaw and it allows us to call her a poet.

To a mind like Lessing’s, death is a transformation and not an ending. Yesterday, after I decided to honour her writing and look again at the story of the poems, I closed up my blog for the day and took a walk with my daughter. When I got home, I saw that there were upward of a thousand hits on the Lessing letters, articles, posts and poems.

Today there is a similar amount building up. People want to know that questing intellect and they are searching. If I could say one thing to Doris Lessing, it would be that her poetry is the source and cause of joy and many, many people feel her loss in this world.

RIP Doris May Lessing (1919-2013)

 

Note: November 2014: Since the time of writing this piece in 2013, the stats for the Lessings posts have changed.

  • Open Salon, An Appreciation of Doris Lessing- 2360 views
  • Poethead Posts On Doris Lessing  – 2184 Views , 1319 Views, and 4673 views

s200_christine_elizabeth.murrayChristine Murray is a City and Guilds qualified stone-cutter. Her poetry is published in a variety of print and online publications. Her poem for three voices, Lament, was performed at the Béal Festival in 2012. Her Chapbook Three Red Things was published by Smithereens Press in June 2013. A collection Cycles was published by Lapwing Press in September 2013. A dark tale The Blind (Poetry) was published by Oneiros Books in  October 2013. Since time of writing this appreciation She (Oneiros Books) and Signature (Bone Orchard Press) were published in 2014.

 

 

There will always be singing; an appreciation of Doris Lessing

A note from Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd.

Author and Poet Doris Lessing
Author and Poet Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing died a matter of days after I had received permission to carry some of the poems from her Fourteen Poems on this blog indefinitely. I had put up the following note and message and see no reason to remove it. I am happy that I have carried her work for a few years.  I wrote a brief tribute to Lessing’s writing and influence on my writing life here.

 

Dear Christine

We’d be delighted for you to host the poems for longer especially if you’re getting such good reactions. Doris Lessing was never very keen on her poetry and didn’t think it was any good so I doubt we will see a re-issue but at least this way, they are available in an alternative form.
 
Many thanks and best wishes
 
Olivia


A note from Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd.

Doris Lessing’s Poems

Olivia Guest of Jonathan Clowes Ltd. has informed me today that they are willing to extend my Doris Lessing licence and so I have returned the poems here. Thanks to Olivia and Jonathan Clowes for an extended opportunity to share Doris Lessing’s work on Poethead. 


I spent some time in 2011 looking for permission to host two Doris Lessing poems on Poethead. In 2011 Lessing’s literary agents, Jonathan Clowes Ltd. very kindly permitted a limited copyright for ‘Fable’ and ‘Oh Cherry Trees You Are Too White For My Heart’ to be carried on this blog for a longer period.

I  have blogged about Doris Lessing, Nobel Laureate, writer and poet both on this blog and on Open Salon blogs. I thought to publish the Lessing search-engine terms and statistics since my publication of the poems in 2011.

Doris Lessing’s Poems, statistics (to date)

 

I have recently opened Poethead on Open Salon as an experiment in widening out the blog’s readership. Blog hits both on Lessing, and on Dorothy L. Sayers translations of The Commedia have increased since then . The following is a link to the Salon post on the Lessing collections at the McFarlin Library,University of Tulsa.

Discussion about the permissions and transcription process for the Lessings are available here.  For my last month of hosting the works I will likely Tweet the poems on a weekly basis at http://www.twitter.com/Celizmurray .

Doris Lessing’s Poems

‘Fable’ and ‘Oh Cherry Trees You are Too White For My Heart’ by Doris Lessing

Fable

When I look back I seem to remember singing.
Yet it was always silent in that long warm room.

Impenetrable, those walls, we thought,
Dark with ancient shields.The light
Shone on the head of a girl or young limbs
Spread carelessly. And the low voices
Rose in the silence and were lost as in water.

Yet, for all it was quiet and warm as a hand,
If one of us drew the curtains
A threaded rain blew carelessly outside.
Sometimes a wind crept, swaying the flames,
And set shadows crouching on the walls,
Or a wolf howled in the wide night outside,
And feeling our flesh chilled we drew together.

But for a while the dance went on –
That is how it seems to me now:
Slow forms moving calm through
Pools of light like gold net on the floor.
It might have gone on, dream-like, for ever.

But between one year and the next – a new wind blew ?
The rain rotted the walls at last ?
Wolves’ snouts came thrusting at the fallen beams ?

It  is so long ago.
But sometimes I remember the curtained room
And hear the far-off youthful voices singing.

 Fable  from Fourteen Poems by Doris Lessing

 

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart,
And all the ground is whitened with your dying,
And all your boughs go dipping towards the river,
And every drop is falling from my heart.’

Now if there is justice in the angel with the bright eyes
He will say ‘Stop!’ and hand me a bough of cherry.
The bearded angel, four-square and straight like a goat
Lifts a ruminant head and slowly chews at the snow.

Goat, must you stand here?
Must you stand here still?
Is it that you will always stand here,
Proof against faith, proof against innocence ?

Oh Cherry Trees You Are too White For My Heart, from Fourteen Poems , by Doris Lessing.
 

Oh Cherry Trees You Are Too White For My Heart and Fable, two Poems 1959 are Copyright Doris Lessing, are reprinted by kind permission of Jonathan Clowes Ltd., London , on behalf of Doris Lessing.

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Author and Poet Doris Lessing
‘Fable’ and ‘Oh Cherry Trees You are Too White For My Heart’ by Doris Lessing