On Not Being Milton
Read and committed to the flames, I call
these sixteen lines that go back to my roots
my Cahier d’un retour au pays natal,
my growing black enough to fit my boots.
The stutter of the scold out of the branks
of condescension, class and counter-class
thickens with glottals to a lumpen mass
of Ludding morphemes closing up their ranks.
Each swung cast-iron Enoch of Leeds stress
clangs a forged music on the frames of Art,
the looms of owned language smashed apart!
Three cheers for mute ingloriousness!
Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting.
In the silence round all poetry we quote
Tidd the Cato Street conspirator, who wrote,
Sir, I Ham a very Bad Hand at righting.
Note: an “Enoch” is an iron sledge-hammer used by the Luddites to smash the frames which were also made by the same Enoch Taylor of Marsden. The cry was: “Enoch made them, Enoch shall break them!”
Milton wrote sixteen-line sonnets.
Cahier d'un retour au pays natal is a 1939 book-length poem by Aimé Césaire, a Martinician poet writing in French as distinctly provincial as Harrison's English.
"Branks" is a metal device with a flat iron bit, a medieval punishment for scolds.
A central theme to Harrison's poetry is the war between the One True Speech of the Englishman (exemplified by Received Pronunciation) and the language as it is actually spoken by the English. He's written poems celebrating Cornish (now dead) and Keats's Cockney accent, and his family poems are filled with Northern dialect.
E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class is a touchstone for Harrison ("From The School For Eloquence" begins with a quote from it), hence the Luddism and the Enochs and the loom-smashing here (not to mention the Cato Street conspiracy).