Laverty, Christopher: The Ballad of Lorianna, Ever Brush Away the Sleep, To Winter, and Other Poems

Laverty, Christopher: The Ballad of Lorianna, Ever Brush Away the Sleep, To Winter, and Other Poems., 2020, 68 pp.

One night I met a traveller,
here from an oriental land;
he little spoke, this wanderer,
and held a Shamisen in his hand.
His fingers danced across its strings,
e music told of far-off things

This is the lovely opening stanza of “The Shamisen,” one of 52 works in Christopher Laverty’s fine collection The Ballad of Lorianna, Ever Brush Away the Sleep, To Winter, and Other Poems. This stanza is emblematic of the book, which is grounded firmly in the aesthetic of the English Romantic poets. Take these examples from the title poems:

Quaint Lorianna all adore;
with love’s divine disease
I sleepless pace, and thirst and bleed—
yet can’t the pain appease.

–from “The Ballad of Lorianna”

morning breaks—come see the dove
joyful circle skies above—
come climb mountains castle-crowned—
view the silvered scene around.

–from “Ever Brush Away the Sleep”

Winter—descending from your glacial throne,
you cross the tremulous waters, laying siege
with hands of ice to all that Summer’s grown,
binding the barren landscape to your liege.

–from “To Winter”

So, yes, rhyme and meter dominate the collection as far as form goes; and, regarding content, Laverty makes good use of romantic love and nature worship. However, he also visits darker regions of the sublime. Take these lines from “The Valley of Melancholia”:

Still is the wind. With cries that fill the air,
the haunted voices of the valley share
their secrets awful and enthralling,
of nameless sins and tales appalling

Or these, from “The Children of the Serpent”:

Where are your children, silent knights? To fields and hills they’re gone,
there in orgies of sensation revelling; down pathless ways
they have strayed. A kingdom rich with fruits forbidden they have won—
late beneath the moon with songs and dance carousing in a craze.

Not all the poems are rooted in a timeless land of enchantment. “To Solitude” mentions traffic and smog, and “Two Cities” mentions neon lights. The fine sonnet “On Seeing Manchester at Dawn” features traffic, pavements “tired and littered,” and piled bins. Another sonnet is entitled “On the UK Leaving the EU.”

In fact, the sonnets are my favorite poems in the book. I count 16 of them. “To Beauty,” the opening poem in the book, is distinctly Keatsian. “Last Night” features a vision of a beloved other “still young, turning your head / so gracefully, and laughing—robed in white.” “The Pillar of Tears” gives voice to the nameless slaves who helped build empires. “Drink Not Too Deep” echoes Shelley’s warning of ephemerality in “Ozymandias.” In “On Waking in a Valley in Aveyron,” the poet’s heart is “rekindled like a dormant ember.” Indeed, readers of this book who are aligned with Laverty’s aesthetic will have the same experience.

-Tom Zimmerman, 6 December 2020