Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Learn a Poem Challenge - The Lamentations of Damaris by George Métivier

The challenge has gone round at work – 'learn summat! It’s good for you!' (This challenge being part of a campaign to make us fitter, healthier, wiser and more mindful). 

Well, all right then. I will learn something. I’ll even pick something from the list of suggestions. Let’s consider these: “learn how to cook something new”. Daily I slave avail-lessly in an experimental fashion with vegetables and pots and pans trying to make something that approximates to edible matter. I reckon I’ve got that one covered. For the time being. Thank you. Berry much. 

Next: “learn how to fix something” – this I can do. I will do. This I need to do, in fact. 

Come to think of it, I really better get on and fix that bike of mine. With wet weather being so much more common now that winter’s properly in the post winging its way here-wards, the brakes I’ve been meaning to sort properly for a while, well, those are now deadly. And today, out of the blue, the blooming cable for my blinking rear derailleur on my goodness-knows-wonderful bike went and popped off with a pop sound like a pair of trousers splitting on my oversized behind.

I’ll fix that. But I want to learn something else. “learn a poem” says the Health Promotion Unit poster. Perfect! Here goes.

I will memorise and recite part of a Métivier poem (George Métivier: the author of the first Guernsey dictionary, wrote in the local language). I've chosen The Lamnetations of Damaris, which, despite being very specific to the 1820s in this Norman isle, feels timeless for me, as a Guernseyman, especially with its mention of somebody angry at the States knocking something down. Come on. The protagonist/persona of Métivier's poem "bitterly blameth the States" (chés tout-en-travers d'Etats!). It could be set in 2020 for all we know.

Please forgive my reading. Mea culpa, as always. The text, I'll post below. Video pending. Bisous.


Lamentations of Damaris

Old Fountain Street's all in a flutter,
Its dwellers are all in a stew,
There is growling from garret to gutter,
That the old must give place to the new!
Damaris harangueth her neighbours,
And bitterly blameth the States,
For enacting such wide demolition
Like aught but beneficent Fates!

Quoth the Dame: "I have lived in my rat-hole,
In quiet, for sixty odd years!
My blessed, old dirty, old attic,
The hearth of my hopes and my fears!
But the poor must submit to the wealthy,
The humble bow down to the grand;
We had better be laid 'neath the daisies,
In the churchyard of Mister Durand!
"It is said that pride preludes destruction,
But we are annoyed all the same;
Yes, Sirs, you may sulk or look smiling,
But I'll say what I think of your game!
To treat an old creature like me, so,
And pull down my crib as it stands,
Whence one can from the third-story window,
With one's opposite neighbour shake hands!

"My father and mother have dwelt there,
Have eaten their soup and their bit,
Have gathered their bairnies about them,
In that blessed old niche where I sit,
Aunt Ann spent her evenings with glee there,
And there, as young bairns, we were nursed,
Yet you harshly drive out the old woman,
Would it were in a coffin, feet first!"

(translation taken from J. Linwood Pitts’ anthology The Patois Poems of the Channel Islands, 1883)

If you'd like more background on the poem, I'd recommend the Priaulx Library's excellent page on it. Additionally, they have this page here on Fountain Street as it existed in 1763. Clearly, Métivier's not the only one to say that the top story windows in opposite buildings on 'old Fountain Street' came so close that residents were able to shake hands from building to building. Seems like those States Works boys were doing the right thing when they brought those homes down to widen the way. Still, Damaris lost her home, so I can see it from her point of view. (enough rambling).

Before reading this poem I didn't know that Damaris is a figure from the Bible, one of Paul's letters to be precise. She was present at one of Paulie's speeches, it says in Acts.

By the way, the text of the poem I have included above is abridged. My video of the poem, which I'm trying and failing (at the moment) to upload here, features an even more abridged version.

from Patois Poems of the Channel Islands

Georgie Boy himself

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