Academic journal article Hecate

Response to Judith Rodriguez's Note on Aileen Palmer's 'The Swans / the Wanderer'

Academic journal article Hecate

Response to Judith Rodriguez's Note on Aileen Palmer's 'The Swans / the Wanderer'

Article excerpt

    Odysseus heard the sirens: they were singing
   no luscious music, but an air-raid warning
   across the dark, that scared some people, bringing
   beds to the holes they'd sleep in till the morning
   with some security, perhaps. Uncaring
   Odysseus went his way to sleep securely
   (no matter where--he'd been so long seafaring,
   and when he was required they'd call him surely).
   Odysseus heard the swans: it was alarming
   the song they sang: their tones were deep and ringing,
   but put them down at first as merely charming,
   and some of it seemed nonsense they were singing.
   Odysseus tried to close his busy mind,
   not guessing they might sing for all mankind. (1) 

I thank Judith Rodriguez for extending and illuminating my reading of Aileen Palmer's poem by drawing attention to John Manifold's poem 'The Sirens'. Palmer may have met John Manifold in London--she did meet John Cornford--although I have found no direct reference to their meeting. She respected his poetry, particularly 'the colloquial, apparent simplicity of his expression within the frame-work of traditional verse-forms'. (2) She was to emulate this style, which was consistent with their communist politics of writing poetry for the ordinary people.

Palmer wrote 'The Swans / The Wanderer' in hospital in 1948 and she refers to poems by John Manifold several times in her manuscript '20th Century Pilgrim', written while she was receiving treatment there. While she does not specifically mention 'The Sirens' in the manuscript, she does refer to 'the sheaf of Manifold (only in typescript)' on the chair by her bed that she 'had used a great deal at some times', indicating that, possibly through her parents, she may have had access to copies of his poems before publication. (3)

The sonnet Palmer wrote is clearly a response to Manifold's but, as Rodriguez observes, negates his vision, transforming the sirens' 'luscious music' into an air-raid warning siren. In the sextet, she takes up Manifold's reference to swans and makes them stand in for the bird-women of Homeric legend. This final section carries, I agree, a rebuke to Man[ifold]'s 'sexual flippancy' and over-confidence. Curiously, Manifold lists [Thomas] Morley among the composers whose music his sirens are singing. When I first read Palmer's sonnet, I was reminded of the music of another composer of the late sixteenth century English Madrigal School, Orlando Gibbons. …

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