The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.
Poem posted Saturday 31st December 2016.
The Storm Cone
This is the midnight - let no star
Delude us - dawn is very far.
This is the tempest long foretold -
Slow to make head but sure to hold.
Stand by! The lull 'twixt blast and blast
Signals the storm is near, not past;
And worse than present jeopardy
May our forlorn to-morrow be.
If we have cleared the expectant reef,
Let no man look for his relief
Only the darkness hides the shape
Of further peril to escape.
It is decreed that we abide
The weight of gales against the tide
And those huge waves the outer main
Sends in to set us back again.
They fall and whelm. We strain to hear
The pulses of her labouring gear,
Till the deep throb beneath us proves,
After each shudder and check, she moves!
She moves, with all save purpose lost,
To make her offing from the coast;
But, till she fetches open sea,
Let no man deem that he is free!
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Kipling's poem appears to be concerned not immediately with rough coastal weather, but with the forecast of it and a warning to inshore shipping by the hoisting of the storm cone; it then continues graphically to describe what might be in store for ship and crew if they fail to get well clear of the hazardous coastline in time.
But is this perhaps a warning of some much greater catastrophe looming ahead?
Bearing in mind Kipling's considerable poetic track record in military matters, government and power blocs - 'Tommy', 'Danny Deever', 'The Sergeant's Weddin', ' Cities and Thrones and Powers' etc., consider now a few dates: the poem was first published in 1932, fourteen years after the end of The Great War in 1918 and, although Kipling himself didn't live to witness it, WW2 was to begin only seven years after his poem was printed. And there are other records of his strong feelings about England's unpreparedness. Was this his warning that while Germany was rapidly re-arming itself, Britain remained - in naval terms - 'Not Under Command', with another world-changing war in the offing? Was the vulnerable 'she' of this poem a 'Dirty British Coaster' or the 'Ship of State'? Or neither? Can you suggest a variant spin?
Poem posted Wednesday 27th December 2016.
Christmas Eve, and three of the clock.
'Now they are all on their knees,'
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in the hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
'Come; see the oxen kneel
'In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,'
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Poem posted Sunday 25th December 2016.
La Figlia Che Piange
O quam te memorem virgo...
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair -
Lean on a garden urn -
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair -
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise -
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave. weave the sunlight in your hair.
So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind leaves the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.
She turned away, but with the autumn weather
compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon's repose.
T. S. Eliot (from 'Prufrock and Other Observations')
Nobody without an education in classics - this means most of us, and certainly includes me - is ever going to find Eliot an easy read but, like so many things in life, the effort can be more than amply repaid by the results. La Figlia Che Piange (literally 'The Daughter Who Is Weeping', generally translated as 'Young Girl Weeping') is the name of a carved stone tablet that a friend of Eliot suggested he look for in a museum during a visit to Italy. It is said that although he searched many times, Eliot never found the artwork depicting the young woman standing by a garden urn. It follows, then, that his poem is written from the imagination rather than from the viewed memorial to a young woman. Eliot's own classical studies had led him to the Latin epigraph taken from Virgil's 'Aeneid' in which Aeneas greets Venus, who is disguised as a huntress, with the words "O quam te memorem virgo...", (Maiden, by what name shall I address you?". This of course was the question occupying Eliot's mind while composing his poem about a young lover whose elusive stele had thwarted all his attempts to locate it.
I am in no way qualified to offer a scholarly reading of this poem, only to share my own essentially shallow interpretation. In stanza one, I first imagine the poem's speaker being an onlooker observing the break-up of a love affair, struck by the girl's "resentment" and willing her to fling the offending flowers to the ground. In the other two verses it seems to me that the speaker also becomes the poet himself. attempting to choreograph from his own imagination the unfound tablet's scene, a preoccupation which continues to disturb his nights and even his siestas. No doubt this poem, like so many other great works, will remain for my speculation, unless someone comes forward with a more comprehensive explanation. In the meantime, the adjective 'thwarted' might be applied fourfold, albeit in varying degree: to lover, observer, poet, and to me.
Poem posted Wednesday 21st December 2016.
Somewhere Around Christmas
Always, or nearly always, on old apple trees,
Somewhere around Christmas, if you look up through the forest,
You will see, fat as a bullfinch, stuck on a high branch,
One lingering, bald, self-sufficient, hard, blunt fruit.
There will be no leaves, you can be sure of that;
The twigs will be tar black, and the white sky
Will be grabbed among the branches like thumbed glass
In broken triangles just saved from crashing to the ground.
Further up, dribbles of rain will run down
Like spilt colourless varnish on a canvas. The old tins,
Tyres, cardboard boxes, debris of back gardens,
Will lie around, bleak, with mould and rust creeping over them.
Blow on your fingers. Wipe your feet on the mat near the back door.
You will never see that apple fall. Look at the cat,
Her whiskers twitch as she sleeps by the kitchen fire;
In her backyard-prowling dream she thinks it's a bird.
John Smith (from 'A Landscape of My Own', Robson Books)
Poem posted Saturday 17th December.
Ode on Solitude
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day.
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixt; sweet recreation:
And innocence, which most does please
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was born to Catholic parents, his father was a successful London linen merchant. At that time in England, Catholicism disqualified one from various 'rights' including University education and the electoral roll, and even Catholic schools were illegal, although in some places becoming tolerated. From early age the young Pope suffered ill-health, including a form of tuberculosis and respiratory problems; deformity rendered him a hunchback, and his growth was stunted to around four feet six inches (less than a metre-and-half). Despite all these drawbacks, Pope worked his way through education wherever it could be found, reading widely of the Classics, becoming multi-lingual, meeting and associating with and learning from literary masters of the day. He never married.
Why, in view of my belief that it is the poem which is important, not the poet's life, do I offer these notes? Well, I'm also of the opinion that all serious poetry is, to some extent whether great or small, autobiographical. I have to square these two convictions. There is always a tendency to read a poem as if the speaker is also the poet, and it is sometimes not until we are well into the narrative that we can be pretty sure one way or the other. Often it may be biographical fore-knowledge which colours our conclusion.
Having now read the Notes for yourself, why not try reading the poem afresh; see if the balance is altered.
And does it matter?
Poem posted Wednesday 14th December 2016.
Woman in the Crowd
For Jeannie, in a slow winter, 1992.
Your Mum and I down town -
new mall, old market place -
and in the shifting crowd
briefly perhaps your face,
Two youngsters of your own,
with half a lifetime gone,
your home a world away
from home and moving on.
Yet here you are
where albums hold you still
freeze-framed along the years;
your paintings in our hall;
your laughter, letters, tears
wring in locked drawers;
and sometimes, in the folds
of dreams, a daughter's call -
we waken to your name -
a known kick on the wall
of the spent womb.
Maurice Rutherford, Love is a four-Letter World, 1994.
-To Jeannie on her Birthday, 2016.
Poem posted Saturday 10th December.
To fillet any poem cannot be fair, and to top-and-tail a MacNeice masterpiece and discard all the flesh must rank very high on my Crime Sheet. However, having already quoted the opening lines of 'Autumn Journal', I feel it only right, regardless of the heavy hand of accusation on my shoulder, and being conscious of my own share of the collective guilt for inhuman acts committed during WW2, to give equal treatment to the closing pages of this account of a nation's somnambulism through Prime Minister Chamberlain's "peace in our time" appeasement dream, into the phony, soon to become brutal, war I knew as a youth:
(extract from xxiv)
While we sleep, what shall we dream?
Of Tir nan Og or South Sea islands,
Of a land where all the milk is cream
And all the girls are willing?
Or shall our dream be earnest of the real
Future when we wake,
Design a home, a factory, a fortress
Which, though with effort, we can really make?
What is it we want really?
For what end and how?
If it is something feasible, obtainable,
Let us dream it now,
And pray for a possible land
Not of sleep-walkers, not of angry puppets,
But where both the heart and brain can understand
The movements of our fellows;
Where life is a choice of instruments and none
Is debarred his natural music,
Where the waters of life are free of the ice-blockade of hunger
And thought is free as the sun,
Where the altars of sheer power and mere profit
Have fallen to disuse,
Where nobody sees the use
Of buying money and blood at the cost of blood and money,
Where the individual, no longer squandered
In self-assertion, works with the rest, endowed
With the split vision of a juggler and the quick lock of a taxi,
Where the people are more than a crowd.
So sleep in hope of this - but only for a little;
Your hope must wake
While the choice is yours to make,
The mortgage not foreclosed, the offer open.
Sleep serene, avoid the backward
Glance, go forward, dreams, and do not halt
(Behind you in the desert stands a token
Of doubt - a pillar of salt).
Sleep, the past, and wake, the future,
And walk out promptly through the open door;
But you, my coward doubts, may go on sleeping,
You need not wake again - not any more.
The New Year comes with bombs, it is too late
To dose the dead with honourable intentions:
If you have the honour to spare, employ it on the living;
The dead are dead as Nineteen-Thirty-Eight.
Sleep to the noise of running water
To-morrow to be crossed, however deep;
This is no river of the dead or Lethe,
To-night we sleep
On the banks of Rubicon - the die is cast;
There will be time to audit
The accounts later, there will be sunlight later
And the equation will come out at last.
Louis MacNeice (from 'Autumn Journal', Faber and Faber Limited, 1939).
- with apologies for the missing middle months, and a recommendation to read the entire poem, which is guaranteed to be still available carrying the 'ff' logo long after "we that are left grow old".
Poem posted Wednesday 7th December.
Opening the Welcome page to this website, in answer to the question "Why poetry?", I wrote, "Because poetry happens". And so it does, sometimes in unexpected settings. Today's poem was written within hours of its young author's facing the executioner.
There is no precisely dated record of the birth of Chidiock Tichborne; the only certainty is that he was executed on the 19th September 1586, a married man aged between 23 and 28. The story goes something like this:
Chidiock's ancestry dates back to the twelfth century when the family were rich landowners at Tichborne, near Winchester . Chidiock Tichborne was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and both Chidiock and his father had brushes with the law more than once when caught returning from visits to Italy, bringing home Catholic items of worship, illegal at that time. However, the young Tichborne was not to be deterred, religious zeal leading eventually to his involvement with a scheme to murder Queen Elizabeth and have the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots enthroned in her place. When, in June 1586, the plot was foiled, Chidiock was found guilty, imprisoned in the Tower and sentenced to death.
Considering his life of religious fervour, you may find it surprising that the poem is not addressed to the God he worshipped:
(written on the night before his execution)
My prime of youth is but a frost of cares;
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain;
My crop of corn is but a field of tares;
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
My life is fled, and yet I saw no sun;
And now I live, and now my life is done.
The spring is past, and yet it hath not sprung;
The fruit is dead, and yet the leaves be green;
My youth is gone, and yet I am but young;
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut, and yet it is not spun;
And now I live, and now my life is done.
I sought my death, and found it in my womb,
I looked for life, and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I am but made:
The glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
Poem posted Saturday 3rd December 2016.
In August 1938 I was nearing the end of my first job as Office Junior with Shell Mex & B.P. Limited at Saltend, East Hull preparatory to taking a similar post nearer home in West Hull, with Hellyer Brothers Ltd., Trawler Owners, on St. Andrew's Dock. I was approaching my 16th birthday, earning pocket money and something towards my keep in a world of perpetual sunshine, starlings, horse droppings and the potpourri of aviation spirit, molasses, hops, hides,fats and fish. A world of workers, whistlers, sleep-walking through a fog of false peace preceding a war to be fought for six years, which would prove longer than the truncated lives of some as yet unborn in Holderness Road, or Coventry, or Dresden, Leningrad, Hiroshima; a war whose effects are still in evidence today.
At this same time, down in the south of England, a man born in Belfast, by this time into his early thirties, was beginning to chronicle this period of uncertainty from his own feelings and observations of life around him, and his beautifully written account perfectly captured and defined an overcast pre-war Britain. That man was Louis MacNiece, and his work, 'Autumn Journal'. Here, to set the scene, are the opening lines:
Close and slow, summer is ending in Hampshire,
Ebbing away down ramps of shaven lawn where close-clipped yew
Insulates the lives of retired generals and admirals
And the spyglasses hung in the hall and the prayer-books ready in the pew
And August going out to the tin trumpets of nasturtiums
And the sunflowers' Salvation Army blare of brass
And the spinster sitting in a deck-chair picking up stitches
Not raising her eyes to the noise of the 'planes that pass
Northward from Lee-on-Solent. Macrocarpa and cypress
And roses on a rustic trellis and mulberry trees
And bacon and eggs in a silver dish for breakfast
And all the inherited assets of bodily ease
And all the inherited worries, rheumatism and taxes,
And whether Stella will marry and what to do with Dick
And the branch of the family that lost their money in Hatry
And the passing of the Morning Post and of life's climacteric
And the growth of vulgarity, cars that pass the gate-lodge
And crowds undressing on the beach
And the hiking cockney lovers with thoughts directed
Neither to God nor Nation but each to each.
But the home is still a sanctum under the pelmets,
All quiet on the Family Front,
Farmyard noises across the fields at evening
While the trucks of the Southern Railway dawdle... shunt
Into poppy sidings for the night - night which knows no passion
No assault of hands or tongue
For all is old as flint or chalk or pine-needles
And the rebels and the young
Have taken the train to town or the two-seater
Unravelling rails or road,
Losing the thread deliberately behind them -
Louis MacNeice (from 'Autumn Journal', Faber and Faber Limited,1939)
Hatry: Clarence Hatry (1888-1965) was a financier whose dealings were 'questionable'; the collapse of the Hatry Group has been cited as a substantial contributor to the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
MacNeice's deft touch, "and what to do with/Dick" speaks clearly to me of that nepotistic practice of placing a less than competent son into a privileged managerial position beyond his capability in the family firm, and propping him up with a more able staff, which culture crinkled my 'learning curve' as an office boy on the fish-dock - where 'Dick' held a definitely lower position in the vernacular.
Poem posted Wednesday 30th November.
The fisher men peered, with slackened lines beyond the breaking waves
But saw no prey.
Their eyes were not so clear as once they were.
The residents called them Snowbirds from the North.
The Osprey, now relaxed with man since being introduced
Dropped in feet first, so close,
the ad-hoc club of Knots and Terns
surprised, swayed sideways.
The silver swimmer never felt the stabs behind
Just mild surprise at climbing quite so high.
A new perspective on it's view of life.
The final portion of it's flight to death.
No time before the end to lose it's breath.
No traveller returns.
Closer to heaven.
Nearer My God.
The Osprey unattended by such lofty thoughts
had time mid flight to shake off excess brine
and re-adjust its shining, forward looking catch.
Yet this torpedo never would be launched again.
My ballet in the air gives way to earthier thoughts.
A takeaway meal for one.
Only the freshest fish.
A telegraph pole to be the Table D'Hote.
The hobby fishers missed the lesson from the King.
They too had wintered here to feed but not to breed.
But would be happy peering,
Waiting for their journey.
John Alderton, Daytona Beach, February 1998.
Poem posted Saturday 26th November 2016.
I have never attempted to log the Rutherford genealogy, and doubt I ever shall, but over the years I have chanced upon a few interesting facts, notably a flourishing fecundity. Even in my generation, where I was one of five children, our family was considered large; my father was one of eight siblings. In a poem written at the cusp of the 18th/19th centuries, we find a Rutherford who lead into battle nine gallant warrior sons. I know that my surname is included with others of the 'Border Reivers', feuding rustlers plundering the borders of Scotland and England. Holidaying a couple of times during the 1980s in the Coldstream area, I frequently came across my own name, above shop fronts etc., and it was from Edinburgh that my paternal grandfather came down to find work in England. Considering all of this, you might imagine my curiosity and fascination on finding the following passage in this long poem by Walter Scott:
Lay of the Last Minstrel
The Goblin Page, omitting still
No opportunity of ill,
Strove now, while blood ran hot and high,
To rouse debate and jealousy;
Till Conrad, Lord of Wolfenstein,
By nature fierce, and warm with wine,
And now in humour highly cross'd,
About some steeds his band had lost,
High words on words succeeding still,
Smote, with his gauntlet, stout Hunthill;
A hot and hardy Rutherford,
Whom men called Dickon Draw-the-sword.
He took it on the page's saye,
Hunthill had driven these steeds away.
Then Howard, Home and Douglas rose,
The kindling discord to compose:
Stern Rutherford right little said,
But bit his glove, and shook his head. -
A fortnight hence, in Inglewood,
Stout Conrad, cold, and drenched in blood,
His bosom gored with many a wound,
Was by a woodman's lyme-dog found;
Unknown the manner of his death:
Gone was his brand, both sword and sheath:
But ever from that time, 't was said,
That Dickon wore the Cologne blade.
Sir Walter Scott
Lord Conrad of Wolfenstein: A German mercenary officer.
Rutherford, Dickon Draw-the-sword, aka the 'Cock of Hunthill'.
Howard, Home and Douglas: natural enemies, but today joining forces, attempting to keep the peace.
But bit his glove: a signal of revenge to come.
Lyme-dog: dog kept on a lyme (leash).
Cologne blade: it is implied that Rutherford had slain Conrad, then taken the Cologne man's sword for his own use.
Poem posted Wednesday 23rd November.
English by Default
The world is smaller now than 'what' it was,
And 'different to' or is it 'different from'?
Do they assert the reason is 'because'
All television broadcasts have become
A model of good English for today?
So 'let's face it' just 'between you and me'
The speakers are not clear in what they say
'At this moment in time' or it may be
We stand 'shoulder to shoulder' as we must;
'I mean' 'you know', the standard is not high;
These flaws of speech are common as the dust
And 'at the end of the day' I could sigh.
So have we 'hit the nail upon the head'?
These people should be careful where they tread.
Jonathan Pool (from 'The Questioner': Thoughts of a Questioning Man,
Janus Publishing Company)
So, we have a changing English.
So, for further thought, please turn to the Prose page, and
Poem posted Saturday 19th November.
In Search of Lost Childhood
Close beyond the angle of the scullery wall, by the galvanized iron water-butt beside which snails clung to the tall spikes of Iris, here may be where my youth is hiding: 'Southernwood', we called it, the twiggy shrub whose strange smell had the power both to attract and to repel, as also did the undulating undercarriage of the shiny-shelled snails.
Artemisia Abrotanum hides behind many another alias; here are two, which Edward Thomas knew:
Old Man, or Lad's-Love, - in the name there's nothing
To one that knows not Lad's-Love, or Old Man,
The hoar-green feathery herb, almost a tree,
Growing with Rosemary and Lavender.
Even to one that knows it well, the names
Half decorate, half perplex, the thing it is:
At least, what that is clings not to the names
In spite of time. And yet I like the names.
The herb itself I like not, but for certain
I love it, as some day the child will love it
Who plucks a feather from the door-side bush
Whenever she goes in or out of the house.
Often she waits there, snipping the tips and shrivelling
The shreds at last onto the path, perhaps
Thinking, perhaps of nothing, till she sniffs
Her fingers and runs off. The bush is still
But half as tall as she, though it is as old;
So well she clips it. Not a word she says;
And I can only wonder how much hereafter
She will remember, with that bitter scent,
Of garden rows, and ancient damson trees
Topping a hedge, a bent path to the door,
A low thick bush beside the door, and me
Forbidding her to pick.
As for myself,
Where first I met the bitter scent is lost.
I, too, often shrivel the grey shreds,
Sniff them and think and sniff again and try
Once more to think what it is I am remembering,
Always in vain. I cannot like the scent,
Yet I would rather give up others more sweet,
With no meaning, than this bitter one.
I have mislaid the key. I sniff the spray
And think of nothing; I see and I hear nothing;
Yet seem, too, to be listening, lying in wait
For what I should, yet never can, remember:
No garden appears, no path, no hoar-green bush
Of Lad's-Love, or Old Man, no child beside,
Neither father nor mother, nor any playmate;
Only an avenue, dark, nameless, without end.
Poem posted Wednesday 16th November.
C. L. M.
In the dark womb where I began
My mother's life made me a man.
Through all the months of human birth
Her beauty fed my common earth.
I cannot see, nor breathe, nor stir,
But through the death of some of her.
Down in the darkness of the grave
She cannot see the life she gave.
For all her love, she cannot tell
Whether I use it ill or well,
Nor knock at dusty doors to find
Her beauty dusty in the mind.
If the grave's gates could be undone,
She would not know her little son,
I am so grown. If we should meet
She would pass by me in the street,
Unless my soul's face let her see
My sense of what she did for me.
What have I done to keep in mind
My debt to her and womankind?
What woman's happier life repays
Her for those months of wretched days?
For all my mouthless body leeched
Ere Birth's releasing hell was reached?
What have I done, or tried, or said
In thanks to that dear woman dead?
Men triumph over women still,
Men trample women's rights at will,
And man's lust roves the world untamed.
* * * * *
O grave, keep shut lest I be shamed.
Poem posted Saturday 12th November.
Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, 2016.
I came last year to live in an 'attended development', in a comfortable self-contained flat. My computer screen-saver is a photograph I took shortly after arrival, showing the green marine growth decking the dark harbour wall - where once I fell, and needed help to rise - with a sunlit view out across the bay. This is a place where retired people come to live, and where people die; no-one comes here to die. Most of my neighbours are here to be near loved- and loving-ones, as also am I. There is no atmosphere of resignation or resentment here; only resolve and resourcefulness to wring the best from the time left to us, however long or short. Ours is a happy home; laughter is heard here every day; we laugh at ourselves and we laugh with each other. Morale, not even spoken of, is high. Yet I doubt there is one amongst us whose resolve would not be reinforced by the example set by Clive James in his book 'Sentenced to Life', which might even prove an efficacious substitute for some of our collective pill-popping.
Here is a sonnet-sized sampler:
Procedure for Disposal
It may not come to this, but if I should
Fail to survive this year of feebleness
Which irks me so and may have killed for good
Whatever gift I had for quick success -
For I could talk an hour alone on stage
And mostly make it up along the way,
But now when I compose a single page
Of double-spaced it takes me half the day -
If I, that is, should finally succumb
To these infirmities I'm slow to learn
The names of lest my brain be rendered numb
With boredom even as I toss and turn,
Then send my ashes home where they can fall
In their own sweet time from the harbour wall.
Clive James (from 'Sentenced to Life', published by Picador @ £9.99)
Poem posted Wednesday 9th November.
Blue Remembered Hills
Sometimes I have heard or read a phrase I'd met before, the use of which was surely intended to suggest some deeper significance which, had I read more widely, might have been obvious to me. This was most likely to happen when in the company of lecturers from English Departments, themselves published poets, who had the squirrel-like tendency in their conversation to hop from one literary twig to another. One such lack to set me regretting my ignorance, was explained to me some years ago, when I chanced upon a poem on the everlasting subject of lost youth. The following short poem by Housman explained the troubling phrase and filled a gap in my education. The poem does little more than scratch an eternal itch, yet I love, and wouldn't want to be without its comforting empathy:
Into my heart an air that kills
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Poem posted Saturday 5th November.
My first motor car was a 1945 Austin 8 with genuine leather seats and a sliding sun-roof, bought for £100 in 1961. At 16 years old and with 70,000 miles behind it, it wasn't long before I was spending as much time lying between the wheels as sitting behind the wheel, a blowing exhaust pipe and silencer being the first wrestling opponents in the fight for the preservation of JV 9356.
I think I must have climbed a little up the ratings to the Wolseley 1500 by the time I attended a poetry reading by Adrian Henri and George MacBeth in Lincoln. MacBeth, although his lamented car was in a thoroughbred league way beyond my aspirations, couldn't have had a more attentive, empathetic and richly entertained listener than me when he read his poem that night:
Death of a Ferrari
in memoriam 840 HYK
It was made for the manager of Crockford's,
Driven in a Monte Carlo rally,
Owned by a salesman, later, at Maranello's,
A retired colonel, then me.
I couldn't afford that wastrel elegance.
I could scarcely carry
The seven-foot, iron exhaust system
When it cracked, and broke, in Leeds.
I loved its worn, greyed ivory leather,
The petrol-blue of its hide.
It growled along at 104
With its bad brakes, and its leaking seal.
I can hear now that famous,
Belly-flustering Ferrari roar
Bounced back off the wall of the underpass
One night, in Piccadilly. It was like the blitz.
All right. So the door was rusted,
Smoke came out of the dashboard wires
The first time I drove it on the M4.
Who cares? It was a major car.
It didn't crash on the motorway,
Or blow up at 150.
It didn't burn itself out over a cliff
Taking a bend too fast, in Scotland.
It was ditched in a car-park
On Willesden Green.
So under the Civic Amenities Act 1967
Section No. 20
Removal and Disposal of Abandoned Vehicles
The Transport and Cleansing Division
Of the London Borough of Brent
Will sell it for scrap.
Some other owner is responsible,
The next sucker in the line.
But I feel tonight a remote sense of guilt
Mixed with a tinge of outrage
To think of the rationality of that great engine
Ripped into shreds,
The camshaft smashed, the radial tyres torn loose,
And the little dancing horse stripped from the grill.
It had electric windows in 1961.
It had the original radio, with its aerial.
It could out-accelerate any car in Europe.
They don't come off the floor like that any more.
Poem posted Wednesday 2nd November.
The Gift of Imagination -
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour..."
- These frequently quoted opening lines from William Blake's 'Auguries of Innocence' - and note that he leaves it open to the reader to see not merely the World and the Heaven, but any world or heaven of our imagination - came to mind recently when I read in an anthology a remarkable poem by a poet whose work I hadn't previously met, Muriel Stuart. It seems unlikely that someone writing poetry of this quality had never read Blake, so was she conscious of the similarities evident in the thought process of the two works, I wonder. And does it matter? I think not. Providing that a work isn't deliberate plagiarism - and it is in the nature of the chosen art that all writers feed off each other - each new work adds flavour to the stockpot. Savour for yourself the subtleties of Muriel Stuart's delightful fancy - and do, please, let us know your thoughts:
The Seed Shop
Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry -
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.
In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century's streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.
Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
Poem posted Saturday 29th October.
John Osborne's poem 'Love's Economy' comes as a deliciously naughty and humorous work in its own right while it also pays homage to the Metaphysical Poets, and raises a cheeky middle finger in the direction of Marx's 'Das Kapital'. It is, in the purest sense of the word, a clever attempt to weave together ancient and modern, and Osborne brings it off in style.
Consider it a form of compound wealth:
In pleasuring me, you gratify yourself.
Your lips and mine conjoin to mint a kiss,
Our bodies ratify a state of bliss,
We give to take, take to give -
A larceny that proves our love.
There is no fee for entry to this bed -
Save all your cares, and all your clothes, be shed:
Why stress, why strive to earn the wherewithal
To buy another dress or blouse or shawl?
Life's greatest pleasures were ever those
Preceded by the discarding of clothes.
So join me on this bed-shaped isle of bliss
Where time distils to now and here and this,
Where nakedness alone is currency,
Where capital equates to penury,
Where all you know and need to know of wealth
Is: pleasuring you, I gratify myself.
The sense of OTT Marxist ideals on wealth and theft comes pretty clearly through as the poem builds towards its witty climax; neither will the Metaphysical elaboration have been missed by many readers. But if you're comparatively new to poetry, it would be well worthwhile scrolling back about four centuries to read, say, 'The Good-Morrow' by John Donne, or Andrew Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress', to consider how, in a sense, nothing changes, yet in the hands of the skillful poet it needn't be left to go stale. Like the three-letter subject itself, it is better if spiced up from time to time. You might agree that Osborne flavours it scrumptiously. If so - or even if it's not to your palate - do please write in and have your say.
Poem posted Wednesday 26th October.
And You, Helen
And you, Helen, what should I give you?
So many things I would give you
Had I an infinite great store
Offered me and I stood before
To choose. I would give you youth,
All kinds of loveliness and truth,
A clear eye as good as mine,
Lands, waters, flowers, wine,
As many children as your heart
Might wish for, a far better art
Than mine can be, all you have lost
Upon the travelling waters tossed,
Or given to me. If I could choose
Freely in that great treasure-house
Anything from any shelf,
I would give you back yourself,
And power to discriminate
What you want and want it not too late,
Many fair days free from care
And heart to enjoy both foul and fair,
And myself, too, if I could find
Where it lay hidden, and it proved kind.
It serves us well to remember that the creation of any work of art, in whatever genre, involves sacrifice whether on the part of the artist, their family or other connections, and there are no fair rules as to how the suffering be shared. Turn now to the Prose page and read a little of Helen Thomas's memoir.
Poem posted Saturday 22nd October.
Think About It
Poetry is said to be a minority interest, especially perhaps in England. Indeed, to say this about the poem in its entirety is almost certainly true, yet of a poem's component parts, it has to be accepted that the opposite is the case. From sunrise to the next sunrise our daily lives are peppered with rhyme, rhythm, repetition, assonance, alliteration etc in a diet fed to us by advertisers, politicians, presenters of radio and television programmes, song-writers, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all! And which of these didn't learn the value of verse as an aide-memoire from their first church or school hymnal?
True, we don't hear a lot of poems being recited, but how would we know how many are being written and lovingly kept under the lining paper of handkerchief drawers or bedside cabinets? Poetry writing isn't usually done in the company of others, rather, as Dylan Thomas says, "...in the still night/When only the moon rages/And the lovers lie abed...". Seldom will such poems be published, and of those that do few will become widely known unless the poet achieves worldwide recognition in some other field. An example is seen in this English translation of a poem written by an Austrian while in his mid-thirties:-
Think About It - poem on Mother's Day
When your mother has grown older,
And you have grown older,
When what was once easy and effortless
Now becomes a burden,
When her dear, faithful eyes
No longer see life as they once did,
When her feet, grown tired,
No longer want to carry her as she walks -
Then give her your arm for support;
Accompany her with gladness and joy.
The hour will come when, weeping
You will accompany her on her final walk.
And if she asks for something, then answer her.
And if she asks again, then speak.
And if she asks yet again, respond to her,
Not stormily, but with gentle calm.
And if she cannot understand you well,
Explain everything to her joyfully.
The hour will come, the bitter hour,
When her mouth will ask for nothing more.
Here is the original poem as published in German:
Wenn deine Mutter alt geworden
Und älter du geworden bist,
Wenn ihr, was früher leicht und mühelos
Nummehr zur Last geworden ist,
Wenn ihre lieben, treuen Augen
Nicht mehr, wie einst, ins Leben seh'n,
Wenn ihre mud' geword'nen Füsse
Sie nicht mehr tragen woll'n beim Geh'n,
Dann reiche ihr den Arm zur Stütze,
Geleite sie mit froher Lust;
Die Stunde kommt da du sie weinend
Zum letzten Gang begleiten musst!
Und fragt sie dich, so gib ihr Antwort,
Und fragt sie wieder, sprich auch du!
Und fragt sie nochmals, steh' ihr Rede,
Nicht ungestum, in sanfter Ruh'!
Und kann sie dich nicht recht versteh'n,
Erklär' ihr alles froh bewegt;
Die Stunde kommt, die bitt're Stunde
Da dich ihr Mund - nach nichts mehr frägt.
Adolf Hitler, 1923
- Yes indeed, think about it!
Poem posted Wednesday 19th October.
To follow Danny North's admirable all-guns-blazing declaration of love for his native West Riding of Yorkshire dialect, I can't resist the urge to hold my head above the iron curtain which separates his homeland from my East Riding birthplace in Hull. When, at age 18, I enlisted in a Leeds, West Yorkshire infantry regiment, I found that as far as my fellow (local) recruits were concerned, Hull was some insignificant halt halfway to Norway (or was that 'Nowhere'?).
Some fifty years later, retired to a nearby seaside town, I was to write the following poem:
Come back soon to a real Bridlington welcome
- notice boards on the main roads west.
Those summer holidays, our nineteen-twenties
parents freed us here, their skinny kids
in handknit woollen swimsuits -
crotches like anglers' landing-nets -
peeing a catch of seawater
between sun-toughened knees;
and schooldays following, bubblegums
of skin peeled from our shoulders
pagefuls of rubbings-out.
Retirement brought us back to spend
the nineties, perhaps to close our book
in the comfort of this place.
But now we find that holidays
mean all the parking spaces filled;
we're jostled off the pavements
by macro-bosoms from McGill,
ogled by Cyclops beer-guts,
leered at by anal cleavages
escaping from Bermudas;
we're tripped by men in sandals
and obligatory black socks;
there's cellulite in armfuls here
and all the very ones who "really shouldn't"
force-feed each other burgers.
From Sheffield, Bradford, Barnsley most,
the locals call them Comforts for the way
they say they've "come for t'day".
And when they've "done us brass" and driven off
westward past the come-back signs -
to the wife's part-time, the old man's emphysema -
what they leave behind for us
(discounting all the parking bays
of dunked-out teabags, disposables and stubs)
is the comfort of a season's end
in open space, the scour of rough seas
and the culling winds of winter.
Maurice Rutherford (From And Saturday Is Christmas, Shoestring Press)
Poem posted Saturday 15th October.
Give it 'em Hot
Give it 'em hot, an be hanged to ther feelins!
Souls may be lost wol yor choosin' yor words!
Out wi' them doctrines 'at taich o' fair dealins!
Daan wi' a vice tho' it may be a lord's!
What does it matter if truth be unpleasant?
Are we to lie a man's pride to exalt!
Why should a prince be excused, when a peasant
Is bullied an' blamed for a mich smaller fault?
O, ther's too mich o' that sneakin and bendin;
An honest man still should be fearless and bold;
But at this day fowk seem to be feeared ov offendin,
An' they'll bow to a cauf if it's nobbut o' gold.
Give me a crust tho' it's dry, an' a hard 'en,
If aw know it's my own aw can ait it wi' glee;
Aw'd rayther bith hauf work all th' day for a farden,
Nor haddle a fortun wi' bendin' mi knee.
Let ivery man by his merit be tested,
Net by his pocket or th' clooas on his back;
Let hypocrites all o' ther clooaks be divested,
An' what they're entitled to, that let em tak.
Give it 'em hot! but remember when praichin,
All yo 'at profess others failins to tell,
'At yo'll do far moor gooid wi' yor tawkin an' taichin,
If yo set an example, an' improve yorsel.
Poem taken from Yorkshire Lyrics - Poems written in the Dialect as Spoken in
the West Riding of Yorkshire.
I love my accent, I love Yorkshire, and I miss it greatly. I think this poem is a fine example of the type of talking Yorkshire people are renowned for. Both figuratively and literally. We are known for our truth telling, and this lovely poem is a teacher of that, but the way we talk is almost as famous, and I am often at the sharp end of people taking the michael out of it. Sometimes it's the people I love (Jenna all the time!) to which I know it's just friendly infatuation with my accent, and those I don't know at all, just random people, which I always feel is rather rude of them. Either way I'm proud because it's a stamp on me, much like my tattoo's, that I simply can't wash off. It is my flag, it is my family crest, it is my mark that I carry with pride, for the land I grew up in was cold and hard, but the people warm and loving. That is Yorkshire, that is the North.
Poem posted Wednesday 12th October.
Wind In The Crescent
The great bridge did not lead to you. I would have reached you navigating the sewers at a command from you. But already my powers were, with the sun on the verandah windows, gradually spending themselves.
The man preaching on the Crescent asked me "Do you know where God is?". I did, and told him. He shook his head. He vanished in the whirling wind that snatched up men and houses and lifted them on high, upon pitch blackness.
This is a prose translation of the following Italian poem:-
Vento Sulla Mezzaluna
Il grande ponte non portava a te.
T'avrei raggiunta anche navigando
nelle chiaviche, a un tuo commando. Ma
gia la forze, col sole sui cristalli
delle virande, andavano stremandosi.
L'uomo che predicava sul Crescente
mi chiese "Sai dov'e Dio?". Lo sapevo
e gliolo dissi. Scosse il capo. Sparve
el turbine che prese uomini e case
e li sollevo in alto, sulla pecce.
These two versions are taken from 'The Penguin Book of Italian Verse', with plain prose translations. I don't suggest that it is fair to compare verse with prose, nor do I intend to do so; I simply want to argue that in the sheer musicality of his native language the Italian poet 'has it all going for him'. All those melodious open vowel word endings, in such abundance that he can afford to drop a few along the way, as in the elisions, T'avrei, L'uomo, dov'e when it suits, and still have some to spare. Yes, you might say the Italian poet has got it made - well, I might, because despite my scant knowledge of it, I love the language. This doesn't mean I wouldn't proudly defend my own native English, northern accent and all, to the last word.
On the subject of languages, 'Brewer, The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, compiled by The Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LLD, first published in 1870, quotes the following 'Characteristics of European languages':-
L'Italien se parle aux dames.
Le Francais se parle aux hommes.
L'Anglais se parle aux oiseaux.
L'Allemand se parle aux chevaux.
L'Espagnol se parle à Dieux.
An all-male audience, then. Any comments?
Poem posted Saturday 8th October.
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
It is a special pleasure to post this poem requested by Kathy Sumnall of London - that's London, Ontario, Canada. Welcome, Canada! How wonderful that this website reaches you, wire-less. Marvellous, especially to one who, as a lad, would tune in to short-wave wireless broadcasts from stations with strange, sometimes exotic-sounding names - Riga, Stuttgart, Cincinnati, Schenectady - their sound waves tantalisingly, repeatedly fading, then almost returning, like the waves of an ebbing tide, until they were beyond hearing, half a world away, and my tuner-twiddling resumed to the invasive bleed-in of multi-frequency Hilversum. Welcome, Canada, indeed!
In direct contrast with the previous Dylan Thomas poem, there is nothing 'difficult' in Margaret Atwood's arresting poem which simply, slowly and effectively superimposes itself on the mirror we vainly look into. The delicacy and beauty of the thought process in this writing comes startlingly through, and remains when after the final stanza we turn away from the looking-glass. All of this was expressed to me by Kathy when she sent in her request with admirable verbal economy, writing, "...it's fab." Quite so, Kathy, it is, it is!
Poem posted Wednesday 5th October.
Especially when the October wind
Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
By the sea's side, hearing the noise of birds,
Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.
Shut, too, in a shower of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees
The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
Of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water's speeches.
Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
Tells me the hour's word,the neural meaning
Flies on the shafted disc, declaims the morning
And tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow's signs;
The signal grass that tells me all I know
Breaks with the stormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven's sins.
Especially when the October wind
(Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
With fists of turnips punishes the land,
Some let me make you of the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled birds.
Like many of us, you might find this Dylan Thomas poem difficult to understand on a first reading. Certainly it is complex, challenging, teasing, but who can not be captivated by the musical composition of language Thomas uses. A second reading might confirm, and go some way towards fleshing out the impression of hardening autumn weather presaging a winter, with the raven "coughing" in the bare branches, the world closing in on a poet and his word hoard, set against the beauty of autumn's colours and the glow of a reddening sun in which he sees his "shadow crab".
I'm not sure of the depth of 'meaning' in this poem, nor do I know if further 'interpretation' would increase my pleasure, but I'd warmly welcome your views, dear reader.
Poem posted Saturday 1st October.
In the beginning, this Poetry page opened with a sonnet to my Mum; today I redress the balance and offer a cri de coeur to my Dad.
Postscript To My Father
' Über Sternen muss er wohnen'
- Friedrich Schiller, 'An die Freude'
Those not-forgotten soured days, the booze-
blitzed nights, dawn absences - the man I knew
but mostly didn't. Dad, tonight I choose
to break with these and find a later you,
the one I took to golf, saw home again
drunk on the laughter of a fluked par-three,
and baited-up for, once, on Hedon Drain -
work-knackered, dragging your redundancy -
that time you grassed a 2-ounce roach and caught
the smit, remember? Lately, those few days
snatched in maturity return - hard-bought,
the bill paid in advance. If there were ways
of reeling-in snagged lines to cast again
in new-found swims, could you or I resist?
Some unfished pool: who knows what specimen,
what sport, what joy! This time, the catch not missed
like football in the park or Guy Fawkes Night,
the conkering we never got to share
or subtleties of keeping-up a kite...
These got away before. Dad, if I dare
believe you'd found an afterlife, I'd wish
- no, pray - this postscript reach you, there above
tonight's brief stars: I know a stream, a fish
which, lured, hooked and landed, could be love.
Maurice Rutherford (And Saturday Is Christmas, Shoestring Press)
My father, of whom it has to be said had a rather short fuse when in his cups, made a success of his working life to which he devoted long hours earning what was considered 'good money' to bring up a growing family, but at the cost - to all of us - of his sharing in what is now called 'quality time'. Each summer, Mother took the family to the seaside on holiday; I remember Dad joining us only once, for a mid-fortnight Sunday in Filey! Not until the demise of the Hull trawling industry robbed him of his raison d'etre did he find and enjoy some of the pleasures he had sacrificed to a binding Occupational Loyalty.
Today, my 94th birthday, I see Dad freeze-framed in his eighties a popular,gentle man, softly spoken, still very much my elder and wiser than I shall ever be.
Poem posted Wednesday 28th September.
No words of mine are necessary in introduction of today's poet or of the theatre director/actor whose comment on his choice follows the poem:-
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements,
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Doomsday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Philip Larkin, 'The Whitsun Weddings', 1960
Larkin's poem is wonderfully and painfully deceptive. It leaves a punched stomach. It has no main verb, and is a rolling, gentle evocation of a peaceful world. Our own after knowledge provides the smack to the guts. It is reminiscent of Auden's 'Musee des Beaux Arts' in its deception. I used a line from it, 'August Bank Holiday Lark', as the title of Debbie Andrew's award winning play for Northern Broadsides in 2014.
Poem posted Saturday 24th September.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
On the wall of the high altar in Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere is Stanley Spencer's painting 'The Resurrection of the Soldiers which was painted shortly after World War One,or The Great War, the War To End All Wars, as it erroneously became known; It was inspired partly out of Spencer's experience during the war in which he served for a time in Macedonia. The dust jacket of my 'Oxford Book Of Twentieth Century English Verse', chosen by Philip Larkin, has, by kind permission of The National Trust, an illustration of this arresting painting.
This week's poem, sent in by David Morrish, 'The Second Coming', by W.B. Yeats, was written at around the same time, based on his own experience of the war. I first came across this poem because of its inclusion in the Larkin anthology which wears this arrestingly illustrated jacket.
Poem posted Wednesday 21st September.
I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust
A mountain down and down
Between my feet a loch shines in the brown,
Its silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.
My lungs say No;
But down and down this treadmill hill must go.
Parishes dwindle. But my parish is
This stone, that tuft, this stone
And the cramped quarters of my flesh and bone.
I claw that tall horizon down to this;
My shadow jumps huge miles away from me.
Alan D'Arcy wrote from London to say, "l don't really have a favourite poem; there are a lot I enjoy, but for different reasons (and moods). Here's one of Norman MacCaig's who, as you'll know, wrote a lot of good 'uns. This one is 'Climbing Suilven' and comes from his Riding Lights". [Hogarth Press, 1965].
How right you are, Alan, Norman MacCaig did write fine poetry, and he read them very well to an audience. I once attended a reading he shared with the blind poet John Heath-Stubbs in Grimsby, Lincolnshire and was moved by his infectious enthusiasm for his subject. More recently, during a televised interview, I was even more deeply disturbed by the poem he'd written shortly after the death of his wife, the opening lines of which I remember, though perhaps not quite correctly as,"She dies. Everywhere I go, she dies. No sunset, no city scene, no lurking beautiful mountain but has her death in it." This occurred not long after my own wife had died, so of course I was vulnerable, but isn't it at exactly times like these that poetry is at its most potent: the poet's exploration of his own feelings matches precisely those of the reader/listener. Not only Suilven but all Highland mountains were MacCaig's 'other love'. Come to think of it, there were a number of interests he was passionate about, as diverse as his solitary fly-fishing on the remote lochs, and his companionable social drinking lifestyle. He was at once sensitive and courageous - you'd have to be brave to register as a conscientious objector during WW2 - and his sensitivity to the natural world is well evidenced in the poem Alan requested.
Poem posted Saturday 17th September.
Back in the early days of my interest in poetry I was asked: had I read Matt Simpson's work. No, I hadn't. "You should, I think you'd like it". So, I did - and I did. A letter of appreciation to Matt led to our becoming firm friends. Sadly, Matt died in June 2009, but the memory and strength of our friendship live on. In a pamphlet collection titled Dead Baiting published by 4 Eyes Press, Matt had expressed his own definition of friendship whilst recording an angling friend's practical declaration of it. In paying homage to Matt, fine poet and much-missed friend, I have chosen one of a sequence of elegies Matt wrote in memory of his fishing partner who had died in 1982.
His First Barbel
Over drenched fields spooked with shapes
snorted by cows; over gates and styles melting
in dew; rodbags snatching at bramble,
waders skidding on blood-red clay: that day
we fished frustratedly, dawn to blue-green dusk,
until he found the spot to cast in - legering worm
on gravel; and then his rod-end tugged, his line
became a singing violin, a fish kicked surface;
saw him lift, kiss it, sober as a man marrying;
into waters that were chuckling, ease it back.
And again, again - finding a shoal, six more
bronze and whiskered barbel crashing water
to his net; called me, set me down, showed me where
and how to send my lead, my spiked knot of worm,
wanting to share, wanting the joy of it for me.
In his lifetime Matt befriended, encouraged, and in his day job tutored many aspiring young poets, and I'm sure he would have applauded the following poem by Gavin Ewart, and his Liverpudlian sense of humour would have embraced the cheeky idea of a fictitious Mancunian poet arriving to step unto his vacated place:
A New Poet Arrives
A new man flies in from Manchester.
Death to the Public Schools,
Ready to piss in the eye of the Old Universities.
A big woolly striped scarf around his neck,
The hunched antagonism of a left wing student.
How right he is!
Through immense spectacles he sees clearly
That only a New Movement can save our souls.
Wordsworth's great break was pecking at that apple.
The tree of knowledge,
Dividing line between the past and future.
Take off those vestments, and those vested interests.
Show as a naked soul. You must admit
He's onto something.
Change, in the Arts, is nearly always good.
Poems posted Saturday 10th September.
When Katy was setting up this website for me, I asked Carol Rumens would she be kind enough to let me have one of her poems to help get the site off to a good start; she readily responded, 'yes'. This week we are privileged to post her poem, which arrived accompanied by her apology for having taken so long over her choice. This is typical of Carol's generosity - not so much the apology, but more her patience in searching through the mass of published work for just the right poem, the one which is, in her own words, "still dear to my heart". This lovely, tender, sad evocation of an age we'd like to think has passed, takes the form of the 'villanelle', which description will be of no help to those not familiar with the term, yet many will know by heart the opening line of one: Do not go gentle into that good night, by Dylan Thomas. Is it because the villanelle is such a difficult, tight-reined form that we see few being written today? It certainly does take practice and patience to pull it off with success. Let's enjoy Carol's poem, then dwell a while on how the expert does it.
A Case of Deprivation
A shelf of books, a little meat -
How rich we felt, how deeply fed -
But these are not what children eat.
The registrar rose from his seat.
Confetti danced, and thus were wed
A shelf of books, a little meat.
We sang, for songs are cheap and sweet,
The state dropped by with crusts of bread -
But these are not what children eat.
They came demanding trick or treat?
We shut our eyes, and served instead
A shelf of books, a little meat.
Then on our hearts the whole world beat,
And of our hopes the whole world said
But these are not what children eat.
Two shadows shiver on our street.
They have a roof, a fire, a bed,
A shelf of books, a little meat -
But these are not what children eat.
Carol Rumens (Star Whisper, Secker, 1983, London)
Poem posted Saturday 3rd September.
De boom die mijn vader plantte
uit zijn tuin pak ik een bijl
en tak voor tak
breek ik de boom
en aan het werk
de miljoen gestoorde spaanders,
het vuur van de nacht.
Ik zorg alleen voor as.
(uit het Engels vertaald door Jan-Willem Ankers)
The tree my father grew
from his garden I take an axe
and branch by branch
I break the tree
and set to work
the million maddened bits,
the fire of night.
Only for ash I keep.
(English translation by Jan-Willem Ankers)
In the closing paragraph of my introduction to this website I invite others to share in the pleasures of poetry. Today, still blushing following last week's posting of friendly panegyric, I crawl out from behind the settee to suggest there can be few better demonstrations of sharing than we find in the collaboration of six poets from Britain and the Netherlands, resulting in the bi-lingual publication from which I have chosen this week's poem by Daljit Nagra, a British/Asian poet translated by Jan-Willem Ankers.
I am grateful to Five Leaves Press (email@example.com) for permission to post this 'heart and head' poem taken from the 2006 publication By Heart - Uit Het Hoofd, edited by Victoria Briggs. It would be interesting to receive your thoughts after having read both the English and Dutch, to print and share them with others.
Poem posted Saturday 27th August.
The Remarkable Maurice Rutherford I am pleased to call my friend of many years.
The start of this love fest was a slim volume of his wonderful poetry dropping un-announced on my doormat with a note from him in his wonderful handwriting to a fellow Hullite. “Poetry not selling like hot cakes. Please enjoy.”
The first one I read made me laugh out loud. The second made me weep. I rang him within an hour and our friendship was born. Later I read a selection of my favourites on Humberside Radio with Maurizio on the other side of the studio glass wiping a tear. He reads them much better.
A great writer makes you feel that you could have written what you have just read because that’s exactly what you feel if only you had thought of it.
A great writer of wit will lead you down the garden path and not reveal the quick reverse to come.
A great writer of poetry shows you his heart of truth.
Maurice does all this. I love him.
John Alderton, August 2016
Here is the poem I'd like to share:-
When I am dead, my dearest
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894)
Poem posted Sunday 21st August.
Orchid-lipped, loose-jointed, purplish indolent flowers,
with a ripe smell of peaches, like a girl's breath through lipstick,
delicate and coarse in the weedlap of late summer rivers,
dishevelled, weak-stemmed, common as brambles, as love which
subtracts us from seasons, their courtships and murders,
(Meta segmentata in her web, and the male waiting,
between blossom and violent blossom, meticulous spiders
repeated in gossamer, and the slim males waiting.)
Fragrance too rich for keeping, too light to remember,
like grief for the cat's sparrow and the wild gull's
beach-hatched embryo. (She ran from the reaching water
with the broken egg in her hand, but the clamped bill
refused brandy and grubs, a shred too naked and perilous for
life, offered freely in cardboard boxes, little windowsill
coffins for bird death, kitten death, squirrel death, summer
repeated and ended in heartbreak, in sad, small funerals.)
Sometimes, shaping bread or scraping potatoes for supper,
I have stood in the kitchen, transfixed by what I'd call love
if love were a whiff, a wanting for no particular lover,
no child, or baby, or creature. 'Love, dear love,'
I could cry to these scent-spilling ragged flowers,
and mean nothing but 'no' by that word's breath,
to their evident going, their important descent through red, towering
stalks to the riverbed.
It's not, as I thought, that death
creates love. More that love knows death. Therefore
tears, therefore poems, therefore long stone sobs of cathedrals
that speak to no ferret or fox, that prevent no massacre.
(I am combing abundant leaves from the icy shallows.)
Love, it was you who said, 'Murder the killer
we have to call life and we'd be a bare planet under a dead sun.'
Then I loved you with the usual soft lust of October
that says 'yes' to the coming winter and a summoning odour of balsam.
This poem, gratefully received from Anne Stevenson, written at Hay-on-Wye, was published in 1982 by OUP in a collection titled Minute By Glass Minute.
Poem posted Sunday 14th August.
Balsam impatiens. Leaves
oval, slightly toothed. Flowers
fine-petalled with a full lip,
a hood and spur of silk.
On this slow autumn day
the apple branches lean
against the grass, the white
seeds ripen privately
in the apple's darkness.
Noli me tangere.
Balsam is purple, yellow.
The pods explode in my hand
as the beat of a trapped
animal there, the seed
on my palm. The hawsers
of the pod recoil, greens
never seen before, damp
silks worn new, still shaking.
Himalayan balsam, found
in stony places, secretly
especially by streams.
A handwritten, colour-illustrated copy of this beautiful poem, as delicate as the subject it explores, was given to me by its author, Gillian Clarke on 8th February 1980. I feel sure you will enjoy it as much as I do. It recalls a day at Lumb Bank where Gillian and the late Frances Horovitz were tutors and Anne Stevenson guest reader, 'popping' the balsam seeds on the banks of the river Colden. Gillian went on to become the present Laureate of Wales.
Poem posted Sunday 7th August.
Sonnet: Through Mother's Eyes
(In celebration of the successful cornea-grafting operation
performed shortly after Mother's death, using her eyes in
the restoration of sight to someone unknown)
An ear for music, eye for pretty sights
were gifts she'd share with anyone who cared.
She gave a rhythm to the spoken word
and lent her eyes to brighten starless nights;
she saw life's colours, not mere blacks and whites,
perceived a peacock in the plainest bird,
lit optic beacons when her joy was stirred
by children's songs or colourbox delights.
She showed her gratitude in later years,
bequeathed her eyes that others might see still,
and I'm aware, as I soliloquize,
that though my words may fail to reach her ears,
by some coincidence - and surgeon's skill -
my poem might be read through Mother's eyes.
Maurice Rutherford from Slipping the Tugs, 1982
'Through Mother's Eyes' was the first sonnet I'd ever written and it stands as a departure point for the many more that followed, some of which I plan to include in the poems I shall be adding to this page from time to time. I should also be pleased to consider any requests via the 'Contact' page.
Poem posted Thursday 28th July.