Poem of the week – Walter Osborne: Apple Gathering, Quimperlé by Frank Ormsby | Books

Walter Osborne: Apple Gathering, Quimperlé

Weep for the inexperienced orchards of northern France
earlier than the two world wars, their apple-rich largesse
sure ripely to the sap and to the solar
in fertile villages. At Quimperlé,
two ladies are harvesting a tree bent sideways
by the weight of apples, one wielding an extended stick
to carry them to earth, the different in her wake,
bending to collect. Just now their backs are turned
to the blockish bell-tower on the hill.
They appear composed of their tough working garments,
and are aiming to fill that barrow with a recent
cargo of apples. The promise of baking and brewing
is a scent in the air, and the prospect of relaxation
after, say, yet another tree, is what retains them going.
Each of them will wipe an apple on her gown
and shut her eyes and eat it slowly
till the ringing of the angelus bell
units them shifting to the subsequent tree. Now their work has a style,
now they will style the work of the orchard
and can quickly, for all we all know, start to sing
as their arms resume stretching.
Weep for the inexperienced orchards of northern France
earlier than the two world wars …


Frank Ormsby’s multi-stranded new assortment, The Darkness of Snow, ranges over 5 components, every composed of thematically linked poems or sequences. Memories of a Catholic boyhood in Enniskillen predominate in Part I, its epigraph a characteristically rueful citation from one of the ensuing poems: “Where I grew up / the fields had names.” The focus in Part IV is the poet’s expertise of the early phases of Parkinson’s illness, and the closing part, The Willow Forest, issues itself with a fictional war-crimes tribunal whose individuals bear witness from totally different views. While such themes would possibly promise an extended descent into struggling and seriousness, Ormsby brings humour and lightness of contact to his private writing, and lifts the darkness of snow at apt moments all through the assortment. There’s an additional supply of mild and color: a wonderful third part dedicated to poems about artwork, Twenty-Six Irish Paintings. This is the place my eye lastly settled to pick out this week’s poem.

Ormsby’s supply was Julian Campbell’s exhibition catalogue, The Irish Impressionists: Irish Artists in France and Belgium, 1850-1914. Brittany was a favoured location for a lot of of these artists and it appears, from the ease and confidence of his writing, that Ormsby might know and love the area as intimately as they. Whatever the setting, his poems are at all times scrupulous representations of the work. Easily positioned on-line, which is a few compensation for not having them at hand in the assortment, the footage add as much as a revelation of the underpraised achievement of Irish impressionism.

Apple Gathering, Quimperlé by Walter Frederick Osborne. Click on the image to see full-size.

Apple Gathering, Quimperlé by Walter Frederick Osborne. Click on the picture to see full-size. Photograph: National Gallery of Ireland

Walter Osborne: Apple Gathering, Quimperlé is quantity three in the ekphrastic sequence and is each a struggle poem – of a form – and a lament for a misplaced tradition, pre-industrial, and seemingly prelapsarian. Ormsby’s chant, “Where I grew up / the fields had names”, echoes the rhythm of the opening couplet of Louis MacNeice’s Autobiography. (“In my childhood, trees were green / And there was plenty to be seen.”) And MacNeice’s and Ormsby’s traces echo distantly in the enchanted “green orchards” of Quimperlé. At such an unguarded apex of fecundity and ease, we’d additionally bear in mind Larkin’s “Never such innocence once more.”

Ormsby resists intrusion on the work he selects. He stands discreetly again however, as their gently observant elucidator, he units the painted figures in movement, and rearranges the stillness captured by brushstrokes to mirror the poet’s idea of narrative time. In Apple Gathering, after the exhortation of the first line, to “Weep for the green orchards of northern France / Before the two world wars” he plunges us into locality, the rhythm of the seasons and the working day. It’s harvest time, the apples are ripe, and there’s a sure leisurely stress to perform the work, with a future goal, financial but additionally pleasurable, of “baking and brewing”. The angelus bell supplies the two girl-labourers with a approach of dividing their work into manageable parts.

Richard Doody writes that: “A million Bretons answered the French call to arms in the first world war. A quarter of them never returned. Bretons were killed and wounded at a rate twice the national average.” But the poet’s retrospective consciousness of the devastations inflicted by each world wars shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the portray’s innocence. Osborne died lengthy earlier than the struggle, of course, in 1903. He was politically an even-handed painter, equally scrupulous in depicting scenes of middle-class and working-class life, extra serious about his medium than any message. The ladies he painted at Quimperlé are clearly poor, however not clearly oppressed: and the land itself, or what we see of it, thus far unbetrayed, rests calmly below the safety of the church and “the blockish bell-tower” looming on the hill above.

Ormsby takes Osborne’s narrative additional. His apple-gatherers obtain an ideal unity of nature and labour after they chew into the apple and discover that “now their work has a taste, / now they can taste the work of the orchard”. The joyous focus stays unspoiled. The largesse of the late summer season orchard shouldn’t be exaggerated, however it’s heightened.

War artists corresponding to Paul Nash, and artist-poets corresponding to David Jones, did lasting work on this eco-elegiac dimension. With the humbler journalists, they’ve branded struggle’s “outrage on nature” into human consciousness, at the very least for current generations. We think about battlefields and see not solely mangled human corpses however bushes diminished to hideous splinters. Ormsby wants solely the easy refrain-like exhortation to point out us this stuff. But first he transfixes time with an angelic picture of the ladies stretching upwards and “for all we know” beginning to sing. After which second the solely track is a eager, and the orchards vanish into smoke and dirt.

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