READ IT AND WEEP

The Weekend Australian - Review - - BOOKS -

IAM not a weeper. I’ve never seen a male friend cry (aside from an un­sea­son­able co­in­ci­dence of ‘‘pollen in the air’’ af­ter a screen­ing of The Lord of the Rings: The Re­turn of the King). Aus­tralian men get the cry­ing dried out early. We’re told to ‘‘suck it up’’. Tears are mocked. And this is why the ex­cel­lent Po­ems That Make Grown Men Cry, edited by fa­ther-and-son Bri­tish writ­ers Anthony and Ben Holden, is so im­por­tant.

Here, world-class male writ­ers, ac­tors, di­rec­tors and thinkers write can­didly about the po­ems that bring them to tears. From the lit­er­ary world, there are se­lec­tions by Sal­man Rushdie, Clive James, Ian McEwan, Sea­mus Heaney and Christo­pher Hitchens. From in­tel­li­gentsia, Rowan Wil­liams and Richard Dawkins. From drama, Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Fry, JJ Abrams, Colin Firth, Daniel Rad­cliffe and James Earl Jones. And that’s just the start.

So what makes Darth Vader and Harry Pot­ter cry? In­jus­tice, na­ture, chil­dren’s lul­la­bies — but mainly death, and its am­pli­fi­ca­tion of love.

Les Mur­ray’s The Wid­ower in the Coun­try ‘‘brings on the water­works’’ for Nick Cave. There, grief ra­di­ates from a farmer’s ‘‘Christ­mas pad­docks aching in the heat,/ The wind­less trees, the net­tles in the yard’’ and his point­less day of work. For McEwan, it’s an­other Aus­tralian poet, Peter Porter, con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide in An Ex­e­quy, a lament for his late wife: When your slim shape from pho­to­graphs Stands at my door and gen­tly asks If I have any work to do Or will I come to bed with you.

Critic John Carey and ac­tor Chris Cooper speak of the stun­ning pain of los­ing a child. For Carey Ben Jon­son’s On My First Son is still ‘‘un­safe — to try to read aloud’’: Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy … Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, ‘‘Here doth

lie

Ben Jon­son his best piece of po­etry.’’

Los­ing a par­ent moves Rad­cliffe and poet Po­ems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the Words That Move Them Edited by Anthony Holden and Ben Holden Si­mon & Schus­ter, 336pp, $32.99 Ben­jamin Zepha­niah. Rad­cliffe chooses Tony Har­ri­son’s Long Dis­tance I and II: If that poem ‘‘doesn’t bring you up short’’, Rad­cliffe writes, ‘‘you have a heart the size of a snow pea!’’ Zepha­niah cites Dy­lan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gen­tle into That Good Night, a poem of smash­ing, rail­ing grief. It’s ‘‘the des­per­a­tion in his ‘voice’ as he is will­ing his fa­ther to live … that moves me to tears’’.

Men aren’t good at telling their mates they love them (sober, any­way). Nick Laird’s choice, WS Gra­ham’s Dear Bryan Win­ter, speaks to this. Gra­ham starts jok­ily: This is only a note To say how sorry I am You died. You will re­al­ize What a po­si­tion it puts Me in. Are you still some­where With your long legs And twitch­ing smile un­der Your blue hat walk­ing Though my mother was al­ready two years

dead Dad kept her slip­pers warm­ing by the gas, put hot wa­ter bot­tles her side of the bed and still went to re­new her trans­port pass. And you, my fa­ther, there on that sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears,

I pray. Do not go gen­tle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dy­ing of the light. But later Gra­ham’s ban­ter breaks down as he ques­tions whether any­thing of his friend and walk­ing com­pan­ion re­mains: Across a place? … I find It dif­fi­cult to go Be­side Hous­man’s star Lit fences with­out you. And no­body will laugh At my jokes like you.

War makes Hugh Bon­neville, Hitchens, Barry Humphries and James cry. The ed­i­tors move from the naive beauty of Ru­pert Brooke’s The Sol­dier (‘‘If I should die, think only this of me ...’’) to Dulce et Deco­rum Est, Wil­fred Owen’s satire on the Ho­ra­tian proverb, ‘‘it is sweet and no­ble to die for one’s coun­try’’: If you could hear, at ev­ery jolt, the blood Come gar­gling from the froth-cor­rupted

lungs … My friend, you would not tell with such

high zest To chil­dren ar­dent for some des­per­ate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et deco­rum est Pro patria mori. In Humphries’s se­lec­tion, Siegfried Sas­soon’s Ev­ery­one Sang, we have ‘‘a pic­ture of … soldiers in a mo­ment of emo­tional re­lease’’: Ev­ery­one sud­denly burst out singing; And I was filled with such de­light As pris­oned birds must find in free­dom, Wing­ing wildly across the white …

James’s choice is a poignant med­i­ta­tion on im­mi­nent death. In Ca­noe, Keith Dou­glas floats on an Ox­ford river with his love be­fore leav­ing for World War II: Well, I am think­ing this may be my last sum­mer, but can­not lose even a part of plea­sure in the old-fash­ioned art of idle­ness. ‘‘The mo­ment that melts my eyes,’’ writes James, who is se­ri­ously ill, ‘‘is to­wards the end, when the young woman in the ca­noe is pic­tured as mak­ing her jour­ney alone’’: Whis­tle and I will hear and come again an­other evening, when

this boat trav­els with you alone to­ward If­fley: as you lie look­ing up for thun­der again, this cool touch does not be­to­ken rain; it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly. Dou­glas uses na­ture for emo­tive force: sum­mer’s day re­flects the cou­ple’s love, the rain­swept river elegises their sep­a­ra­tion in death.

Se­bas­tian Faulks’s choice, Sa­muel Tay­lor Co­leridge’s Frost at Mid­night, uses na­ture for a dif­fer­ent ele­giac pur­pose. Co­leridge sits by a ‘‘low-burnt fire’’, watch­ing frost ‘‘per­form … its se­cret min­istry’’ as his ‘‘cra­dled in­fant slum­bers’’. The peace of win­ter mid­night brings him to con­sider, via sym­bolic land­scape, how the

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