The dream shifts from England to India when Armitage references Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa’s work, Meghadūta, in which an exile uses a passing cloud to send a message of comfort to his wife. The cloud is persuaded to take the message because of the amazing landscapes and scenery it will soar over: “fan-tailed peacocks, painted elephants, embroidered bedspreads of meadows and hedges, bamboo forests and snow-hatted peaks, waterfalls, creeks…”
A hopeful, romantic gesture, that of the cloud which makes the “meeting” between the exile and his wife possible, albeit only virtual, and opens the way to an optimistic ending for us, living the pandemic today: the journey we have unwillingly undertaken is certainly a “ponderous one at times, long and slow but necessarily so”. We need to accept and endure while we wait for the time in which it will be possible to meet again and exchange a real, physical embrace at long last.
The poem is made up of 17 couplets which alternate a two-stressed line with a four-stressed one as if to make the idea of a “separation” also graphically visible on the page. The verse is free, without a regular rhyme scheme, reflecting the uncertainty and fear of the situation. The word “But” in the 17th line acts as the 9th line does in a sonnet, i.e. as the “turn” (volta) which splits the poem into two halves and carries us into a different time and place, the beauty of which cannot prevent us from realising how cumbersome and seemingly endless this journey is.
The incipit of the poem evokes Ezra Pound’s epigraph to his first successful collection of poems, Lustra (And the days are not full enough And the nights are not full enough And life slips by like a field mouse Not shaking the grass). The same simplicity, intensity, directness of expression which characterize imagism, in turn indebted to Japanese haiku, can be found in Armitage’s poem which moves away from fixed metres and direct moral reflections, subordinating everything to what T.E. Hulme, the father of imagism, once called the “hard, dry image”, that of a life which slips by, empty and meaningless, leaving no trace.
The two “vision[s] in a dream”, instead, recall S. T. Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, not only in that both poems focus on fragments of something which is not yet complete or completed, dreamlike and hallucinatory in its tone, but also in the underlying message about human fragility and limits. Coleridge’s poem can be read as an extended metaphor about the power of creativity which is limited, fragile, and quickly lost while Armitage’s poem can be seen as an invitation to recognize man’s structural limits and frailties, today as in the past, here as elsewhere. We may act as if we are in control on the surface but we need to come to terms with our innate weakness.
A message of patience, as opposed to the frantic rhythm of life we are often used to, is what Armitage believes can be learned with regards to dealing with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. “We need to take things slowly, be patient, respect and trust the Earth: only this way our society may emerge from the pandemic slightly slower, and a lot wiser, at the other end.” If what counts now is to trudge on and never give up, despite everything, once all this is past it will be vital not to lose our memory of what we experienced, or, worse still, file it away and go back to where we were. If we want to make sense of this pandemic, this is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it, from shaping all our thinking around the economy to slowing down and reconnecting with our fellowmen.
Read the poem Lockdown by Simon Armitage. Create a PowerPoint presentation of the main themes in the poem and connect the poet’s message to the UN Sustainable Development which have to do with respecting and trusting the Earth or to those linked to reconnecting with our fellowmen.
Referenze iconografiche: Graham M. Lawrence / Alamy Stock Photo, steven gillis hd9 imaging / Alamy Stock Photo, Triff / Shutterstock