An Invitation To Join In
In sharing this Poetry page with friends and well-wishers my hope is to stimulate a dialogue about poetry.
I invite you to submit, via the Contact page, a favourite published poem which you have read so that we can share it here. It would be greatly appreciated if you'd add a few words on what it is you like about the poem.
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!
Posted on Saturday 23rd March 2019 (originally posted on Wednesday 19th October 2016).
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)
Posted on Wednesday 20th March 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 15th October 2016).
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.
Posted on Saturday 16th March 2019 (originally posted on Wednesday 12th October 2016.).
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?
Posted on Wednesday 13th March 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 8th October 2016).
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!
Posted on Saturday 9th March 2019 (originally posted on Wednesday 5th October 2016).
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.
Posted on Wednesday 6th March 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 1st October 2016).
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 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.
Posted on Saturday 2nd March 2019 (originally posted on Wednesday 28th September 2016, my 94th birthday).
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
Posted on Wednesday 27th February 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 24th September 2016).
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.
Posted on Saturday 23rd February 2019 (originally posted on Wednesday 21st September 2016).
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.
Posted on Wednesday 20th February 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 17th September 2016).
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.
Posted on Saturday 16th February 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 10th September 2016).
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)
Posted on Wednesday 13th February 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 3rd September 2016).
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 (originally posted in 2016), 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.
Posted on Saturday 9th February 2019 (originally posted on Saturday 27th August 2016).
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)
Posted on Wednesday 6th February 2019 (originally posted on Sunday 21st August 2016.).
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.
Posted on Saturday 2nd February 2019 (originally posted on 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.
Posted on Wednesday 30th January 2019 (originally posted on Sunday 7th August 2016).
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 on Saturday 26th January 2019 (originally posted on Thursday 28th July 2016.)
Too Much Light
My cataracts invest the bright spring day
With extra glory, with a glow that stings.
The shimmering shields above the college gates -
Heraldic remnants of the queens and kings -
Flaunt liquid paint here at the end of things
When my vitality at last abates,
And all these forms bleed, spread and make a blur
Of what, to second sight, they are and were.
And now I slowly pace, a stricken beast,
Across a lawn which must be half immersed
In crocuses and daffodils, but I
Can only see for sure the colours burst
And coalesce as if they were the first
Flowers I ever saw. Thus, should I die,
I'll go back through the gate I entered when
My eyes were stunned, as now they are again.
Poem posted on Wednesday 23rd January 2019.
Tired from getting up and getting dressed
I lie down for a while to get some rest,
And so begins another day of not
Achieving much except to dent the cot
For just the depth appropriate to my weight -
Which is no chasm, in my present state.
By rights my feet should barely touch the floor
And yet my legs are heavy metal. More
And more I sit down to write less and less,
Taking a half hour's break from helplessness
To craft a single stanza meant to give
Thanks for the heartbeat which still lets me live:
A consolation even now, so late -
When soon my poor bed will be smooth and straight.
Poem posted on Saturday 19th January 2019.
Traces and External Signs
A withdrawal from form
like the lock of hair found sewn
inside your uncle's waistcoat pocket,
the inherited made strange
by its unrelatable colour.
Did you slip the suit on?
And if so did you breathe differently
as if equipped with an aqualung,
ladder or canister of oxygen?
Poem posted on Wednesday 16th January 2019.
We Being Ghosts
So many of my friends are dead, and others wrecked
By various diseases of the intellect
Or failing body. How am I still upright?
And even I sleep half the day, cough half the night.
How did it come to this? How else but through
The course of years, and what its workings do
To wood, stone, glass and almost all the metals,
Smouldering already in the fresh rose petals.
Our energy deceived us. Blessed with the knack
To get things done, we thought to get it back
Each time we lost it, just by taking breath -
And some of us are racing yet as we face death.
Well, good to see you. Sorry I have to fly.
I'm struggling with a deadline, God knows why,
And ghosts keep interrupting. Think of me
The way I think of you. Quite often. Constantly.
Poem posted on Saturday 12th January 2019.
The End of Marriage
Night was and they swayed into it:
a pair of scissors, of sails
turning only into themselves
more other than become.
It is often five o'clock.
Her husband has contracted not
to speak of her and she has forgotten
where to go. Where does everyone go?
Poem posted on Wednesday 9th January 2019.
When I left that house I took a key
to a door I never opened.
It's not the theme that interests me
but the variation.
So much is with me so soon
I lean towards the rest:
the needle's hesitation,
the song caught in the breath.
One day I'll learn to listen
to the city beneath the snow,
the agony in the irony,
the lover as I go.
Poem posted on Saturday 5th January 2019.