Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT

I’ve often felt frustrated that, although I’ve worked with the Tarot on and off since I was 16, I’ve never been able to remember the order of the Trumps. A couple of weeks ago, I thought of making up a rhyme to help recall the numbers.

So I did it. It’s just doggerel but others might find it useful, so here it is. I happened to be using the Rider Waite pack. Then I remembered that in the old Marseille pack, Justice and the Strength/Force are swapped around. So I made another version to fit the Marseille pack.

Anyway, here they are. First the rhyme for the Rider Waite pack; then some Notes and Comments; and finally the rhyme for the Marseille pack. One or the other should hopefully fit other packs/decks as well.

Some of the Rider Waite Tarot cards

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT
Rider Waite Pack
 
One’s the Magician, beginning his quest;
Two the High Priestess, a cross on her breast;
Three is the Empress, a goddess you see,
And Four is the Emperor, his orb at his knee.
The Hierophant’s Five, whose good prayers we receive,
And Six are the Lovers, fair Adam and Eve.
Seven’s the Chariot, pursuing its path,
And Eight is for Strength, who can tame the lion’s wrath.
Nine is the Hermit, who lives far from town,
And Ten is the Wheel, where we’re tossed up and down.
Eleven’s for Justice, he’s strict but he’s fair,
And Twelve the Hanged Man, with one foot in the air.
Thirteen’s an old friend, the black flag is his sign,
And Temperance Fourteen, adding water to wine.
Fifteen is the Devil, with souls on a chain,
And Sixteen’s the Tower: destruction and pain!
Seventeen is the Star, pouring spiritual light,
And Eighteen’s the Moon, bayed by dogs in the night.
Nineteen is the Sun, with the children at play,
And Twenty’s for Judgement, the Earth’s final day.
Twenty-one, the World Soul dances graceful and free,
And Zero’s the Fool: could that be you or me?

NOTES:

1. Yes, I know the ‘quest’ is ours, rather than the Magician’s; but I wanted to give a sense of ‘setting out’ on our journey. And after all, surely every magician ought to be on a quest?

2. The ‘cross’ is obvious in the Rider Waite version. In the Marseille, it’s just two crossed straps, so maybe not a real ‘cross’ at all. Also she’s dressed as a female Pope. So the Marseille version could be either ‘Two’s the Popess in her triple crown drest’ or – drawing on the medieval legend of the female Pope – ‘Two is Pope Joan, in her triple crown drest’ (which I like best of all).

3. I associate the Empress, who looks like a bountiful fertility figure, with the Triple Goddess. But as the line ends with ‘you see’, you can put in some other words here if you like!

4. It would have been nice to say ‘his sword at his knee’ but in the picture it’s a round thing like an orb. For the Marseille pack, I’ve adapted to match the picture: ‘his shield at his knee’.

5. ‘Good prayers we receive’ is slightly awkward, but I couldn’t find a better phrase; still, if he prays for us, then we are at least receiving the benefit of his prayers. For the Marseille pack, I’ve changed ‘The Hierophant’ to ‘the Pope’, and altered the words to rhyme with the line about Force.

6. Rider Waite makes the Lovers definitely Adam and Eve. The Marseille pack has Cupid overhead, and the young man turning away from Dame Philosophy in her laurel wreath to go with the lady. Oh foolish chap! Or maybe not. I’ve changed the line accordingly.

8, 11, 12, various changes of wording to fit the differences between packs. The Hanged Man in all packs looks perfectly happy, and seems to be an acrobat. That doesn’t stop him from standing for an uncomfortable betwixt-and-between situation if he comes up in a reading. Even an acrobat doesn’t want to spend all his time upside down. But nor does he deserve the sinister reputation he has amongst non-Tarot people.

13. In the Rider Waite pack, Death has a black flag. For the simpler Marseille design, I’ve said ‘and the skull is his sign’.

15. In Rider Waite, the souls are clearly on chains. In Marseille, it looks like ropes, so I’ve changed accordingly. Choose whichever you prefer.

19. The Rider Waite card has a single child, on horseback. You could say ‘With the child who’s at play’ if you want to be purist about it. I think ‘children at play’ is nicer. As there’s a low wall in the Marseille picture, I suspect the children are actually Romulus and Remus, in which case it’s all going to end badly, but never mind.

21. I suppose strictly it should be ‘world’s final day’ as other planets would presumably be judged, not just earth. But I wanted to save ‘world’ for the next card, so too bad! You could say ‘our Reckoning Day’ or something, but I prefer it as it is.

A few of the Marseille Tarot cards

And now here’s the Marseille version:

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT:
Marseille Version

 One’s the Magician, beginning his quest;
Two is Pope Joan, in her triple crown drest;
Three is the Empress, a goddess you see,
And Four is the Emperor, his shield at his knee.
Five is the Pope, who can pray for our souls,
And Six are the Lovers, whom Cupid controls.
Seven’s the Chariot, so drive it with care,
And Eight is for Justice, she’s strict but she’s fair.
Nine is the Hermit, who lives far from town,
And Ten is the Wheel, where we’re tossed up and down.
Eleven’s for Force, who can tame the wild beast,
And Twelve the Hanged Man – not perturbed in the least!
Thirteen’s an old friend, and the skull is his sign,
And Temperance Fourteen, adding water to wine.
Fifteen is the Devil, with souls on a rope,
At Sixteen the Tower falls, but don’t lose all hope!
Seventeen is the Star, pouring spiritual light,
And Eighteen’s the Moon, bayed by dogs in the night.
Nineteen is the Sun, and the child who’s at play,
And Twenty’s for Judgement, the Earth’s final day.
Twenty-one, the World Soul dances graceful and free,
And Zero’s the Fool: could that be you or me?
 

Please feel free to share this, disseminate it, improve it, pass it on, use it for any purpose you like, only don’t copyright it to yourself, please, even in an adapted version. Thank you!

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Wordsworth’s Prelude – and remembering Robert Woof

Dr Robert Woof, with his wife, the Wordsworth scholar Dr Pamela Woof

In the current strange time of the Covid19 lockdown, one unexpected pleasure has been to hear – on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, of all unexpected places – Sir Ian McKellen’s reading of passages from William Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem The Prelude.

It’s a fine reading, in McKellen’s thoughtful, resonant voice, of selected highlights – including the famous ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’ passage about the poet’s youthful optimism regarding the French Revolution.

But for me, a completely unexpected pleasure – though a very poignant and almost shocking one – was to hear, all of a sudden, the episodes being introduced each time by a few brief words in the voice of my old friend Robert Woof, Director of the Wordsworth Trust and Dove Cottage, Grasmere.

Robert (1931-2005) was the world’s leading Wordsworth scholar, and also an extraordinary man: humorous, difficult, charming, eloquent, devious, generous, loveable and much more. It was his work, at the head of a matchless team of staff, that turned Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s former home, from a minor ‘heritage’ destination into a powerhouse of scholarship and creativity, nationally recognised as an exemplary museum and centre of culture and creativity.

Robert was Director when I went in the late 1970s to research my biography of Thomas De Quincey; and it was his idea that I should assemble a team to edit De Quincey’s complete works – a project which came to fruition in a 21-volume edition from the London publisher Pickering and Chatto in 2000-2003.

Robert was a source of endless wise advice and friendly comfort through these difficult projects. His wry sense of humour and his endless knowledge were great resources. He taught me resilience and a lot about handling people (I had a team of ten co-editors to work with!).

He was, above all, a wonderful reader and interpreter of Wordsworth. His rich, gentle, slightly grainy Northern voice was exactly right, and his understanding of the poetry was second to none. In fact, if anyone could have read The Prelude better than Ian McKellen, it might have been Robert Woof.

Sadly, Robert died in 2005, just after the completion of the Wordsworth Trust’s new Collections Centre – the ‘Jerwood Centre’ – into which he’d put his heart and soul. Indeed, I think that, though seriously ill, he willed himself to live long enough to see it complete and open.

It was a complete shock to hear his voice introducing a passage of McKellen’s reading. The presenter didn’t mention his name, the announcer never credited him; since the reading was clearly from an archive, I wondered if anyone at the BBC knew who he was, or even realised that he was there alongside McKellen. I’ll admit that I shed a few tears when I heard my old friend’s voice so suddenly, with all his old clarity and thoughtful eloquence.

In these strange days, it was oddly like getting a message from a friend who is gone, in one sense; but who is in another way very much present for me, and will always be.

SAVE GRASMERE: please sign this petition!

We’re all appalled to hear that there are plans to put 10 hi-tech houseboats, with all the attendant infrastructure, noise and disruption, on the lake at Grasmere.

The plans are motivated purely by profit, and are the brainchild of the Lowther Estate, one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in the Lake District.

A petition to stop this greedy and ugly plan is already gathering signatures: please sign it now! – https://www.change.org/p/lowther-castle-and-gardens-houseboats-off-grasmere-save-our-lakes

The extraordinary idea – it’s hard to believe it’s not a nightmare – is to put no less than TEN large powered residential craft permanently onto the lake. Grasmere is one of the smaller lakes, and has always been particularly tranquil. You can hire a rowing boat there for a few hours, and you can fish or swim. But these large crowded permanent powered boats would change the character of the lake and the whole area very much for the worse.

The writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg has written to the press that the plan would ‘rip the heart out’ of the peace and beauty of Grasmere. ‘Should the estate get permission then I would argue that the Lake District could and should lose its status as a World Heritage Site’. The boats – to be used by well-heeled holidaymakers – would, he says, ‘end up as 24-hour music-throbbing discos’. They would also require all the support structures – access roads, charging terminals and many other things – which would destroy the tranquil margins of the lake.

The National Trust are firmly opposed to the plan but they need support as the legal position is unclear

UNESCO World Heritage status depends on the Lake District continuing as a living and working landscape but also preserving its environmental and aesthetic character as a traditional landscape. Its literary heritage has also to be preserved, and the plans would have a seriously negative impact on Town End, the lakeside part of Grasmere village where William and Dorothy Wordsworth lived after 1799.

Claims that opposition to the plans are ‘snobbery’ are totally misguided. For a start, the plans are hatched by Lakeland’s wealthiest private landowner purely for private gain. Secondly, it is important that the diverse character of the various lakes be preserved. Windermere already has a ferry, a year-round steamer service, pleasure boats and houseboats. Many of these features are also present on Derwentwater and Ullswater. That’s where this kind of plan belongs. The smaller and quieter lakes need to keep their separate and varied character, not be pressed into service as noisy, expensive playgrounds.

Grasmere has come into the line of fire simply because it belongs to the Lowther Estate. No doubt their accountants see it as an ‘asset’ that isn’t being properly ‘exploited’. If that attitude had prevailed in the past, we wouldn’t have the National Parks.

So please sign the petition, tell your friends, send them the link, and do all you can to oppose this unpleasant plan!

https://www.change.org/p/lowther-castle-and-gardens-houseboats-off-grasmere-save-our-lakes

A STORY OF FIVE LEMONS

In the past few days I’ve been contacted by quite a number of students from Texas, who told me that my poem ‘Five Lemons’ was set as an essay subject for their IB exam (I’m guessing that’s International Baccalaureate?). They mostly seem to have liked the poem but they also ask for interpretations of it. Since it isn’t possible for me to discuss the poem with everyone individually, I’m writing this to tell the story of the poem and offer a few comments. I hope they’re helpful!

Free stock photo of food, healthy, nature, water

But first, here’s the poem for those who don’t know it:

FIVE LEMONS

Here are five lemons from the poet’s garden,

the colour of white gold and icy sunshine,

flooded with green around the pointed nipples.

My younger daughter cuts one into quarters,

careful of fingers, bites the white-furred pith out,

devours the quartz-white segments with her eyes shut,

sighing and swaying in the sharp enjoyment.

 

Here are four lemons from the poet’s garden:

one perched on three, a perfect tetrahedron.

The poet’s widow showed me where to pick them,

kindly and shrewd, helping me find the best ones,

holding the branch down while I snapped the stalks off,

the cold breeze in our faces from the mountain.

We’ll halve this one and squeeze it over couscous.

 

Here are three lemons from the poet’s garden

still in the bowl, turned in a neat triangle,

yellower now. My elder daughter chooses,

after long thought, one for her still-life painting,

the twisted leaves like green airplane-propellers

with a Cezanne pear and a Braque violin,

fractured into art-deco Cubist slices.

 

Here are two lemons from the poet’s garden

below his tall house on the terraced hillside,

red earth black-pitted with his fallen olives

between the gnarled trunks trailing silver foliage,

beside the boulders of the dusty torrent

rainless above that sea of sparkling turquoise.

The juice is perfect for a tuna salad.

 

Here is a lemon from the poet’s garden,

the last of them. Long is the poet gone,

silent his grave on the hilltop under the cypress,

long the shadows drawn by moon and sun

out from the low walls and high gate of the graveyard.

I press the waxy peel to my face and breathe it.

There are no words for what the fragrance tells me.

 

So here’s the story. In 1997 I was asked to edit The White Goddess, Robert Graves’s wonderful book about myth and poetic inspiration, for a new collected edition of Graves’s writings. Graves (1895-1985) had died twelve years earlier, and though he was an English poet and novelist (best known probably for I Claudius), he had lived in the village of Deya in Majorca. His son William invited me over there, to see Graves’s own copy of the book, which had many corrections and alterations that needed to be put into the new edition.

I was hugely excited because it was reading Graves’s work that had first turned me on to poetry, something which changed my life and has dominated it happily ever since.

La Casa de Robert Graves

So I went to Deya. Robert Graves’s house, where his widow Beryl still lived, was on the hillside just outside the village. It had a sloping garden with fruit trees and olive trees. Beryl welcomed me into the house, where nothing had changed since Robert Graves’s death. His hats were still on the hatpegs, his coats were in the closet in the entrance hall. Beryl said ‘You’d better work in here!’ and took me into Graves’s study.

Everything was just as he’d left it: his pens and pencils, coins and little pebbles and other trinkets were on the desk, his books were on the shelves, there was an unfinished letter which he’d never signed lying on one of the surfaces. The atmosphere was electric: completely magical. So I sat in Robert Graves’s chair, at his desk, surrounded by his books and possessions, and Beryl brought me his copy of The White Goddess with all his markings in it, and I began work.

Each day Beryl would give me lunch. Although she was living out in the Majorcan mountains, her household was completely English. She had two cats and a little dog, she had the Times Literary Supplement delivered every week, she had an ‘Aga’ stove, and for lunch she made things like scrambled eggs on toast, and bananas and custard. She was delightful.

At the end of the week I had finished my work on the book, but before I left Beryl took me down into the orchard below the house and helped me to pick the lemons, just as I’ve described in the poem. (The ‘dusty torrent’ is one of the ‘torrents’ or watercourses which run down the parched Majorcan hillsides between the olive groves; they fill up with water at certain times of year, or in summer at certain hours when the limited water supply is opened up to flow in that direction – the neighbours take turns to have the water, because it’s so scarce – so the ‘torrent’ is really more of a ‘channel’.)

I took the lemons home, and the poem describes what happened to them.

Now, about interpretation. Some people have asked me what the poem means, or to give them an interpretation, or to explain it to them. I don’t think that is really possible, because a poem doesn’t have just one meaning. It means different things to different people. Obviously we can all agree that a lemon is a lemon, and that turquoise is a colour we recognise; but once the poem is written it becomes an object, a thing that people can look at from different angles and turn over in their minds and reflect on. And everyone will come up with a different interpretation. There’s no single ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ interpretation, and I love it when people see things in my poems that I didn’t know were there!

That’s as it should be. A poem isn’t a riddle that has a single correct answer. It’s more like a painting: everyone can look at it, and each person can find something different there. And as long as what you find fits with the words, then it’s right. The more meanings the better!

I can add few details. Obviously the poet’s garden – for me – is Robert Graves’s garden. (But maybe it could be any poet’s garden!) The grave is his (sorry about the repetition of the word ‘grave’, it can’t be helped!) – a very simple village grave in the small churchyard at Deya on the hilltop, which does have a low stone wall and then a tall gate which sticks up. But again it could be any poet who has died.

In the poem I think I’m a bit sad at the end as I smell the fragrance of the last lemon. It’s my final contact with the place and the experience, and with Beryl, and it’s like a gift from the poet himself; but there are some things you can’t put into words, so the poem ends maybe with a touch of sadness, a memory that’s valuable but also admitting that even in a poem you can’t say everything.

So my warmest thanks to all the people who wrote to me, for your generous appreciation of the poem. I hope you really enjoyed it even though it came to you as part of a test – maybe not the best way to meet a poem! I hope it left some happy pictures in your minds, and also a pleasant scent of lemons!

If you ever want to visit the the house – La Casa de Robert Graves – the website is here:

http://www.lacasaderobertgraves.org/en/

In the garden at Deya – with some more lemons!

 

THE JANUARY MAN

I’ve just finished reading Christopher Somerville’s entertaining, vivid and thought-provoking book, The January Man. In outline, it’s an account of the year, month by month, describing a walk (or sometimes several walks) in a different part of the United Kingdom for every month.

Somerville is well known as the Times walking correspondent, so he’s ideally qualified to guide us, whether it’s on the Norfolk coast or the remote island of Foula in the Shetlands. But his book is about much more than walking.

Besides beautifully-written observations of nature – trees, birds, insects, fungi – as the seasons turn, the book explores Christopher Somerville’s many enthusiasms: it’s full of fascinating reflections on music and poetry, ecology and folklore, tall stories, old buildings, modern farming and a thousand other things. At one moment, Somerville is recreating a youthful hitchhiking expedition that took him and a friend all the way to Istanbul; the next, he’s recreating a long-gone country fair in Wiltshire, now almost forgotten but a few short generations ago so important that half a million sheep and 750 tons of hops were sold there annually, and cheese was traded by the ton.

As if that’s not enough, the book sketches – lightly and engagingly, in touches that build up month by month into a vivid portrait – memories of his father, a taciturn man who never spoke much about his quietly courageous war service, and even less about his top-secret work at GCHQ. Walking together on long-distance footpaths was, mostly, the closest father and son came to shared communication. It’s all perfectly judged: moving and fascinating without any sense of emotional overspill. Quite an achievement, and one that will touch a verse with many of us whose parents were from that emotionally-reticent generation.

Christopher’s website is at www.christophersomerville.co.uk – For a link to order the book, see foot of this page.

As a bonus, the book introduces us to Dave Goulder’s great folksong, ‘The January Man’, from which it takes its title. I can’t find Martin Carthy’s performance of that fine song (the version mentioned in the book) so I’ll put in a haunting version by the Albion Christmas Band with some charming if slightlky kitsch astrological imagery (no offence – as I wrote once in a poem about Mexico, in some contexts ‘kitsch is authenticity’!).

The January Man is definitely one of my books of the year: the perfect Christmas present for anyone who loves walking, or the countryside, or loves odd facts and surprising stories. Add a beautiful cover painting, and a link to download a free walking guide from Christopher Somerville’s website, and what more could you ask? I’m already realising how lazy I’ve been this year. The shortest day will soon be past; and then I swear I’ll lace up my boots and be on the move again. Thanks, Christopher!