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Jason Kyle Howard Reads "Poppies On Ludlow Castle"

Jason Kyle Howard Reads "Poppies On Ludlow Castle"

This poem is one of several in April Twilights that is reflective of Cather's interest in—and apparent "fan girl" admiration of—the then newly emergent and popular English poet, A.E. Housman. Upon her first travels to England and France, in 1902, she was determined to meet the Shropshire poet. After "tracking the man the length and breadth of England," first in a tromp around Shropshire and then, finally, in an "awful" and dark suburban boarding-house near London, the reality of meeting her idol seemed more out of her images of a Dickens novel than of the poet's pastoral origins. In a remarkable 1903 letter to Viola Roseboro she described their meeting: "Do I know a Shropshire Lad? Do I? Isn't the internal evidence of my own verses all against me? Why I've been Housman's bond slave, mentally, since his volume first appeared some six years ago."

While admittedly depressed by their visit it did not diminish her enthusiasm for the poet. "I think he is making about the only English verse that will last, the only verse of this decade I mean...He does it all so beautifully from the country boy's standpoint that the castle is just 'Ludlow Tower' to him, as it is to the lads who walk there with their girls on Sunday afternoons." In a 1902 letter to her friend Dorothy Canfield she descrived the lure of Ludlow Castle: "It is one of the most perfect Norman-Elizabethan compounds in England and one of the least visited...yesterday we bribed the keeper and climbed the circular stairway to the very top of the old Norman keep, and there, over ivy, ivy, ivy, walls and walls, the ruined splendor of a thousand years, on the topmost turrets, a thousand scarlet poppies flaunted their color and nodded and balanced themselves in the wind...I have been madly a-doing those poppies in every metre I know ever since I saw them, and all are alike unsuccessful." 

Poppies On Ludlow Castle

Through halls of vanished pleasure, 
And hold of vanished power,
And crypt of faith forgotten,
I came to Ludlow tower.

A-top of arch and stairway,
Of crypt, and donjon cell,
Of council hall, and chamber,
Of wall, and ditch, and well.

High over grated turrets
Where clinging ivies run,
A thousand scarlet poppies
Enticed the rising sun.

Upon the topmost tower,
With death and damp below,—
Three hundred years of spoilage,—
The crimson poppies grow.

This hall it was that bred him,
These hills that knew him brave,
The gentlest English singer
That fills an English grave.—

How have they heart to blossom
So cruel gay and red,
When beauty so hath perished
And valor so hath sped?

When knights so fair are rotten,
And captains true asleep,
And singing lips are dust-stopped
Six English earth-feet deep?

When ages old remind me
How much hath gone for naught,
What wretched ghost remaineth
Of all that flesh hath wrought;

Of love and song and warring,
Of adventure and play,
Of art and comely building,
Of faith and form and fray,

I'll mind the flowers of pleasure,
Of short-lived youth and sleep,
That drank the sunny weather
A-top of Ludlow keep.

Jason Kyle Howard Biography

Jason Kyle Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words, an essay collection that explores how the land and culture of Kentucky have shaped American music through the work of musicians including Dwight Yoakam, Naomi Judd, Joan Osborne, Nappy Roots, Matraca Berg, Jim James, and others. He is the author of the acclaimed essay and oral history collection Something's Rising (co-written with bestselling novelist Silas House), which was hailed by the late Studs Terkel as "a revelatory work" for its unflinching look at mountaintop removal coal mining through the eyes of thirteen environmental activists.

Howard's essays, features, and commentary have appeared in publications including the New York Times, Oxford American, Salon, The Nation, The Millions, Utne Reader, Paste, and Sojourners, and on C-SPAN's Book TV and NPR. A widely acclaimed music writer, he has interviewed musicians spanning all genres including Yoko Ono, Carly Simon, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Griffin, Naomi Judd, and the legendary folksinger Jean Ritchie. Howard is editor of Appalachian Heritage, a literary quarterly based at Berea College, where he teaches and directs the creative writing program.

He serves on the graduate faculty of the Spalding University School of Creative and Professional Writing, and holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and degrees from The George Washington University and the University of Kentucky. Howard's work often engages themes of history, popular culture, sexuality, female iconography, and the intersection of place and identity. A street haunter in the tradition of Virginia Woolf, he has an enduring love of walking, tea, dogs, rivers, trains, cardigans, hot water bottles, rose and violet creams, live music, English history, and Anne Boleyn.

For more information, visit Jason's website HERE.