Beech Leaves – Brief Poems by Richard Aldington

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Richard Aldington (8 July 1892 – 27 July 1962), born Edward Godfree Aldington, was an English writer and poet. He was born in Portsmouth, the son of a solicitor, and educated at Dover College, and for a year at the University of London. He was unable to complete his degree because of the financial circumstances of his family. By the age of 19 he was capable of reading Greek, Latin, French and Italian. Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry magazine,  said he looked like a footballer. He met the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) in 1911 and they married two years later. In 1915, Aldington and H. D. relocated within London. Their relationship became strained by external romantic interests and the stillborn birth of their child. He joined the army in 1916 and was wounded on the Western Front. He never completely recovered from his war experiences, and may have continued to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

Aldington and H.D. attempted to mend their marriage in 1919, after the birth of her daughter by a friend of writer D. H. Lawrence, named Cecil Gray, with whom she had lived with while Aldington was at war. However, she was by this time deeply involved in a lesbian relationship with the wealthy writer Bryher, and she and Aldington formally separated, both becoming romantically involved with other people, but they did not divorce until 1938. They remained friends, however, for the rest of their lives.

He went into self-imposed “exile” from England in 1928.  He lived in Paris for years. living with Brigit Patmore, and being fascinated by Nancy Cunard whom he met in 1928. After his divorce from H. D. in 1938 he married again. His novel, Death of a Hero, published in 1929, was his literary response to the war. It was written while he was living on the island of Port-Cros in Provence as a development of a manuscript from a decade before.  He went on to publish several works of fiction. He also wrote biographies of figures as diverse as  D. H. Lawrence (Portrait of a Genius, But…, 1950), Robert Louis Stevenson (Portrait of a Rebel, 1957), and T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Inquiry, 1955).

Aldington died in Sury-en-Vaux, Cher, France on 27 July 1962, shortly after being honoured and feted in Moscow on the occasion of his seventieth birthday and the publication of some of his novels in Russian translation. According to The Times obituary notice, “An angry young man of the generation before they became fashionable, he remained something of an angry old man to the end.”  On 11 November 1985, Aldington was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.  The inscription on the stone is a quotation from Wilfred Owen.  “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”

 

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RICHARD ALDINGTON AND IMAGISM

Richard Aldington was a founding poet of the Imagist movement, a style marked by a minimalist free verse that incorporated succinct and vivid images. His poetry forms almost one third of the Imagists’ inaugural anthology Des Imagistes (1914). Ezra Pound, whose famous poem is parodied in Penultimate Poetry 1914 , (see below),  had coined the French-style term imagistes for H. D. and Aldington in 1912. Pound was looking for good poetry to send to Harriet Monroe for Poetry , and he had been meeting Aldington and H.D. in a Kensington tea-shop to discuss their poems. At this time Aldington’s poetry was unrhymed free verse, whereas later in his verse the cadences are long and voluptuous, the imagery weighted with ornament. Aldington was convinced that experimentation with traditional Japanese verse forms could provide a way forward for avant-garde literature in English.

Aldington interrupted his writing career to serve in the army during World War I. The trauma of modern trench warfare affected him deeply, and his post-war writings, some of which are included below,  convey an extreme pessimism that some critics have attributed to shell shock. Aldington’s writing shifted “from Imagism to verse of the Pound-Eliot kind, and then to the novel,” according to critic Douglas Bush.

Terry Comito writes in Dictionary of Literary Biography that Aldington “had a gift for evoking with considerable fluency large, uncomplicated emotions that readers have often found easy to share, and his champions frequently cite Aldington’s verse in order to argue that contemporary poetry need not be obscurely intellectual.”

 

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Brief Poems by Richard Aldington

Epigrams

I

Your mouth is fragrant as an orange-grove
In April, and your lips are hyacinths,
Dark, dew-wet, folded, petalled hyacinths
Which my tongue pierces like an amorous bee.

II

Your body is whiter than the moon-white sea,
More white than foam upon a rocky shore,
Whiter than that white goddess born of foam.

***

New Love 

She has new leaves
After her dead flowers,
Like the little almond tree
Which the frost hurt.

***

October 

The beech-leaves are silver
For lack of the tree’s blood.
At your kiss my lips
Become like the autumn beech-leaves.

 

 

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Images

I

Like a gondola of green scented fruits
Drifting along the dark canals of Venice,
You, O exquisite one,
Have entered into my desolate city.

II

The blue smoke leaps
Like swirling clouds of birds vanishing.
So my love leaps forth toward you,
Vanishes and is renewed.

III

A rose-yellow moon in a pale sky
When the sunset is faint vermilion
In the mist among the tree-boughs
Art thou to me, my beloved.

IV

A young beech tree on the edge of the forest
Stands still in the evening,
Yet shudders through all its leaves in the light air
And seems to fear the stars –
So are you still and so tremble.

V

The red deer are high on the mountain,
They are beyond the last pine trees.
And my desires have run with them.

VI

The flower which the wind has shaken
Is soon filled again with rain;
So does my heart fill slowly with tears,
Until you return.

 

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Penultimate Poetry (1914)

The apparition of these poems in a crowd:
White faces in a black dead faint.

***

Evening

The chimneys, rank on rank,
Cut the clear sky;
The moon,
With a rag of gauze about her loins
Poses among them, an awkward Venus —

And here am I looking wantonly at her
Over the kitchen sink.

***

Girl

You were that clear Sicilian fluting
That pains our thought even now.
You were the notes
Of cold fantastic grief
Some few found beautiful.

 

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Insouciance

In France (1916–1918)

In and out of the dreary trenches,
Trudging cheerily under the stars,
I make for myself little poems
Delicate as a flock of doves.

They fly away like white-winged doves.

***

Living Sepulchres

One frosty night when the guns were still
I leaned against the trench
Making for myself hokku
Of the moon and flowers and of the snow.

But the ghostly scurrying of huge rats
Swollen with feeding upon men’s flesh
Filled me with shrinking dread.

 

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LINKS

The section of the Imagists site devoted to Richard Aldington .

The poems of Anytea of Teaga as translated by Richard Aldington.

The Poetry Foundation page on Richard Aldington.

The PoemHunter page on Richard Aldington.

 

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