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The more narrative and meditative verse of Tomlinson also employs similar strategies of rhyme and enjambment but the lines tend to be longer than four beats. There are poems where movement is still the main concern—Knowledge, Verse and Providence—but it is not conveyed with the immediacy of poems where the lines are short. Short lines can convey the impetus of onward motion because the jump from line to line the eye has to make induces speed in reading more so than in sliding along lines. In Tomlinson, the push of enjambment adds to the momentum, giving many of the observational poems the spontaneity and immediacy of notes taken on the field. Perceptible motion is more often than not conveyed through short lines, allowing finer movements to be contemplated through longer and slower lines. There are many examples one can cite where observable movement chimes with movement of the poem. These are the most lyrical, in the sense of the lyric I have been developing here. Some of them are: One day of autumn, The Leaper, The Blossom and, from his last collection, Swifts, with which I’ll end my discussion on Tomlinson.

 

Swifts

Swifts do not sing:

What they do well

is sleep on the wing

moving always higher and higher

in their almost entirely

aerial existence, alighting

only to nest, lay eggs,

rear their young and then

back to the airways

to teach them there

the art of high-speed darting

with narrow swept-back wings

and streamlined bodies:

when swifts descend

they cannot perch, they cling

by hook-shaped toes

to walls and so crawl

into sheltered cavities, into gaps

in eaves and church towers

where they can nest. Summer visitors

they seem always about to leave

and when they finally do

scream in their hundreds

that the time is now,

that the south awaits,

that he who procrastinates

has only the cold to explore

for those succulent insects

who are no longer there[1].

 

 


[1] NCP, p 684.

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