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George Barker
Posted by: Goyambokka (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 04, 2007 02:07PM

Does anyone have the words to a poem by George Barker about a friend who nearly drowned on the Norfolk coast? 'Hydra headed ocean' comes into it I think. Thanks.


Re: George Barker
Posted by: Linda (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 04, 2007 05:22PM

It's in Penguin Modern Poets 3

I do own a copy but it will take me a while to type it out.


Re: George Barker
Posted by: Linda (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 05, 2007 03:14PM

Here you are

On a Friend's Escape from Drowning off the Norfolk Coast.


Came up that cold sea at Cromer like a running grave
Beside him as he struck
Wildly towards the shore, but the blackcapped wave
Crossed him and swung him back,
And he saw his son digging in the castled dirt that could save.
Then the farewell rock
Rose a last time to his eyes. As he cried out
A pawing gag of the sea
Smothered his cry and he sank in his own shout
Like a dying airman. Then she
Deep near her son asleep on the hourglass sand
Was awakened by whom
Save the Fate who knew that this was the wrong time:
And opened her eyes
On the death of her son's begetter. Up she flies
Into the hydra-headed
Grave as he closes his life on her who for
Life has so richly bedded him.
But she drove through his drowning like Orpheus and tore
Back by the hair
Her escaping bridegroom. And on the sand their son
Stood laughing where
He was almost an orphan. Then the three lay down
On that cold sand,
Each holding the other by a living hand.


George Barker

The formatting got lost in the posting. The short lines are indented, by about 3 spaces, in the printed version.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/05/2007 03:20PM by Linda.


Re: George Barker
Posted by: Goyambokka (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 06, 2007 12:36PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Linda.
It's been nagging at me for years and I couldn't find it.
What a great site.


Re: George Barker
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 08, 2007 12:39PM

Yes, thanks for taking the time to type it all up! Some interesting use of language and imagery there. I wonder about a couple of things though:

A pawing gag of the sea ...

Was awakened by whom
Save the Fate who knew that this was the wrong time

I don't follow the 'pawing gag' and the grammar seems wrong on the other two lines. Any typos, or is the rendering accurate?


Re: George Barker
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 08, 2007 12:42PM

anything like Joyce's snotgreen scrotumtightening sea?


Re: George Barker
Posted by: Linda (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 08, 2007 05:13PM

The typing is an accurate copy of what is printed in Penguin Modern Poets 3, c.1962, reprint 1970.

I see the "pawing gag" lines as a great dollop of sea water landed on him just as he had opened his mouth to shout for help.

The other two lines don't make sense to me either.

[www.unowot.com] is a webcam of Cromer beach where this is supposed to have happened.


Re: George Barker
Posted by: JohnnySansCulo (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 08, 2007 05:18PM

Hah ! Everyone knows Penguins can't type ! or is that fly?

probably neither !


Re: George Barker
Posted by: marian2 (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2007 05:14AM

Not typos - possibly there's an 'understood' (ie assumed but not put in )question mark. It means - she was awakened - but, (since there was no-one else there noticing,and the drowning man couldn't shout loud enough to reach her) who could have awakened her ? - except the Fate, who knew that it was the wrong time (for him to die) and so opened her eyes. 'Save' is often used to mean except, but is confusing in this poem because someone is saved in its more usual meaning at the same time.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/09/2007 05:15AM by marian2.


Re: George Barker
Posted by: Goyambokka (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2007 07:40AM

I agree with Linda over the 'pawing gag' lines, Hugh. It captures, for me, that smothering moment when the sea knocks you down and under.
However, although I understand the meaning of the 'Fate' lines, they are clumsy. Is it deliberate?


Re: George Barker
Posted by: marian222 (86.153.107.---)
Date: July 04, 2007 04:21AM

That sort of clumsiness, more a roundabout and obscure way of putting things is a feature of a lot of poetry, it's something that has gradually gone out of fashion over two or three hundred years. Aptness and conciseness are fairly modern virtues of poetry in my experience, for a long time poetry was expected to need a lot of work to understand it, so to be for 'educated' people, not the masses. Now it's gone the other way and seen as elitist by many people, straighforwardness and unusual metaphors that are very easy to grasp have been in fashion for some time. One of the reasons Hughes and Heaney evoke such extremes of emotion - you love them or you hate them - is that they need a lot of thought and reading to understand them, unlike much of the poetry produced today.




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